Short takes on December cinema

Exclusive to MeierMovies.com, December 20, 2019

If you’re searching for something to watch at the cinema in late December, check out these brief reviews (and links to longer reviews) of recent movies. (And for ratings and rankings of ALL the 2019 films I’ve seen, visit my Yearly list, which also contains ratings and rankings of feature films for each year going back to 1911.)

Image copyright the Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Star Wars: Episode IXThe Rise of Skywalker (4 ¼ stars: great)
Though it’s derivative and overstuffed, J.J. Abrams’ film is a spectacular and emotionally resonant conclusion to the saga. Read my review here.

Cats (3 stars: above average)
Despite what we’re hearing from millennials, who seem to have no knowledge of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and can’t wait to tear it apart on social media, Cats is actually decent. I recommend it for fans of the stage production and for those who appreciate a little weirdness and whimsy. Read my review here.

Bombshell (3 ¼ stars: good)
This is the mostly true story of the sexual-harassment charges levied against Fox News chief Roger Ailes by Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly and several other female staff members. Directed by Jay Roach and buoyed by the strong performances of Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, John Lithgow and especially Margot Robbie (as the lone composite character in the otherwise all-real lineup), the film is an occasionally powerful, occasionally predictable look at one of the defining chapters of the recent Me Too movement. It’s also the only time in human history that liberals and objective journalists will sympathize with Fox News anchors, and rightfully so.

Richard Jewell (3 stars: above average)
At 89 years old, Clint Eastwood still knows how to tell a good story. And, like Bombshell, this is a mostly true tale. The film explores the life of accused Olympic Park bomber Richard Jewell, who was actually a hero and helped save lives, despite the FBI floating a false story of potential guilt back in 1996. With sympathetic acting by Paul Walter Hauser as Jewell, Sam Rockwell as his attorney and Kathy Bates as his mom, Eastwood’s movie lays out a mostly satisfying narrative, despite some clunkiness at the start. But the film deserves just 3 stars instead of 3 ½ because of some poor and apparently political choices, one of which casts aspersions on not just the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter who broke the story but on print journalism in general. With that false accusation – plus an odd visual emphasis on the Confederate battle flag, which was part of the Georgia state flag at the time – Eastwood seems to be sending an ill-suited political message that detracts from an otherwise well-crafted film.

Uncut Gems (2 ¼ stars: slightly below average)
If you know the Safdie brothers, you know going in that their new film will be a wild, anxiety-inducing ride. In that regard, it does not disappoint. However, it’s one thing to make the audience suffer along with the main character (Adam Sandler, in an unexpectedly strong performance); it’s another to make us suffer because of the film itself. Loud, grating and lacking a character arc, Uncut Gems simply wore me down. There’s no denying its emotional power, and, admittedly, a movie does not require a character arc, but it would have been nice to have a reason to root for or against the characters, or be given a reason to truly care about anything happening on screen.

Image copyright Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures

Little Women (2 ¼ stars: slightly below average)
Skip Greta Gerwig’s new adaptation of Louis May Alcott’s classic story and instead read the book, or watch the 1994 and 1949 film versions. Read my review and analysis of the previous movie versions here.

A Hidden Life (1 ¾ stars: below average)
Legendary writer-director Terrence Malick is one of the cinema’s kings of color and light. And A Hidden Life is the latest addition to his cinematographic canon. But like many of his recent films, this World War II narrative – or lack thereof – is a tedious exercise in impressionistic storytelling, complete with cloying voiceovers, minimal dialogue, an unconventional structure, pretentious framing (heads chopped off) and ridiculous repetition. (Is he really showing us another scene of the Austrian Alps?) Though the story – based on truth – is a noble one, the nearly three-hour runtime and rapid-fire editing make Life hard to live through.

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