20th Century Fox
Kristen Stewart in Underwater
See feature review
. Opens Jan. 10 at theaters valleywide.
Ip Man 4: The Finale **1/2
The films in this franchise—with Donnie Yen starring as Ip Man, the real-life legendary kung fu master—have always been a funky mix of melodrama and martial-arts action, so there’s no reason to be surprised that this story would end on the same note. In 1964, the widowed, cancer-stricken Ip travels from Hong Kong to San Francisco, hoping to enroll his rebellious teenage son (Ye He) there. But it’s not an easy world for Chinese immigrants, requiring Ip to get a recommendation from a local Chinese cultural leader (Yue Wu) and deal with hostile, racist elements like Marine gunnery sergeant Geddes (Scott Adkins). The filmmakers aren’t afraid to lay their rallying cries against racist nationalism on pretty thick; Geddes yells at his men about America as the “land of supremacy.” Yen’s serene presence gives it all more gravitas than perhaps is warranted, as we wait for the Yuen Wo Ping-choreographed fight sequences (including one showcasing Kwok-kwan Chan as Ip’s most famous student, the cocky Bruce Lee). It’s busy, lively, earnest, and still a decent send off for an actual folk hero. Opens Jan. 10 at Megaplex Jordan Commons.
Just Mercy ***
Some movies stir your sense of outrage at the injustice of our world, while not necessarily offering a lot more beyond that sense of outrage. Destin Daniel Cretton co-wrote and directed this adaptation of the memoir by Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a Harvard-educated African-American lawyer who moves to Alabama in the 1990s to work for a non-profit legal service for death-row inmates. There Stevenson meets Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), convicted for the murder of a young white woman, where all the evidence suggests he was railroaded. If you’re guessing that Stevenson faces opposition from the white Alabama establishment—including threats both subtle and overt—you would be correct, and Cretton does build into those scenes a genuine tension. But while we righteously fume over the institutional obstacles to freeing a black man who committed no crime, Just Mercy
is stronger in its character moments, most notably from Foxx but also from Tim Blake Nelson as the primary witness against McMillian. The formulaic structure still allows for an appreciation of the grueling, frustrating work of getting a rigged system to admit that it was about to kill an innocent man. Opens Jan. 10 at theaters valleywide.
Like a Boss *1/2
You know you’re in January when lazy-ass movies like this show up at the multiplexes. The antsy, anxiety-filled feeling people have been experiencing while watching Uncut Gems was what I was getting during this hella-predictable girl-power fest. Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne are weed-smoking besties who run a cosmetics storefront on the brink of getting shut down. Enter Salma Hayek’s cartoonishly ravenous beauty mogul, who tries to snatch up their business by pitting the ladies against each other. The once-promising director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl
) doesn’t even attempt to cover up the fact that most of this film consists of scenes that have either been assembled out-of-order (so, you’re just gonna wear the same outfit two days in a row, Tiffany?) or simply reshot. The cast does give their all in being funny when needed, especially supporting players Jessica St. Clair, Natasha Rothwell and Ari Graynor as Haddish and Byrne’s old gal pals, and Billy Porter as Haddish and Byrne’s resident gay friend/employee, who gives the most hilarious exit after getting fired I’ve ever seen. If only the filmmakers gave as much of a damn as they did. Opens Jan. 10 at theaters valleywide.
(R)—Craig D. Lindsey
Three Christs *1/2
How do you tell a story about schizophrenic people in a way that doesn’t feel like the rough equivalent of mental illness blackface? That’s a challenge that this fact-based drama from co-writer/director Jon Avnet never quite navigates. In 1959 Michigan, psychiatrist Dr. Alan Stone (Richard Gere) begins a study at a state mental hospital, working with three patients diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia—Joseph (Peter Dinklage), Clyde (Bradley Whitford) and Leon (Walton Goggins)—all of whom refer to themselves as Jesus Christ. There’s a great deal of hand-wringing over “crossing the boundary” in terms of getting too personally caught up in the lives of patients, and the story might have been compelling if it were genuinely interested in looking at being clinical vs. being compassionate. But mostly what we get is the three actors playing the research subjects being awfully twitchy—Goggins manages best with a little sly self-awareness—as troubled people whose stories feel subservient to Gere’s doctor learning his important lessons. This might be about a mental health system that needs to treat its patients as individual humans, but the movie itself rarely manages to do so. Opens Jan. 10 at theaters valleywide.
You kind of have to have a perverse respect for filmmakers who decide, “You know what? Who actually needs a first act?” Within four minutes of rapid-fire headline/document montage and seeing engineer Norah (Kristen Stewart) brushing her teeth in the seven-miles-deep-in-the-Mariana-Trench drilling facility where she works, the place starts blowing all to hell. The few survivors are left trying to find a way to the surface—and oh yeah, the drilling has released some freaky, heretofore-unknown creatures that are trying to kill them. What results is 90 minutes of pure survival yarn, an attempt at melding Alien
and deep-sea monster movies like Leviathan
and DeepStar Six
that isn’t as expertly crafted as the former, or as unapologetically shlocky as the latter. Because there’s no introductory material to give us any sense of who the characters are, every bit of back-story is grafted on wherever it will fit—or, more often, where it doesn’t actually fit. There are enough claustrophobic genre thrills to provide some diversion; mostly, it’s gloomy, and in such a hurry to get to the action that it forgets to be a story. Opens Jan. 10 at theaters valleywide.