The Film Fix: Just Mercy opens, plus what’s streaming in January

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By Jonathan W. Hickman, The Film Fix

Below are reviews and capsules of both big-screen films and streaming selects coming up this month. Review rating … A “Fix” is recommended with a rating between 6 and 10. A “No Fix” is not recommended with a rating between 1 to 5.

IN THEATRES

Just Mercy (review) 5/10

Despite the good intentions of talented director Destin Daniel Cretton (“Short Term 12”), this adaptation of the book from writer/attorney Bryan Stevenson is just another watered-down courtroom drama. Stevenson’s source material, by stark contrast, is about the systemic problems that plague America’s criminal justice system.
Part of the movie’s missteps is in casting action star Michael B. Jordan as the thoughtful and tenacious Stevenson. Jordan is a fine actor, but he’s entirely wrong for this role. The book convey’s Stevenson’s tender empathy for his clients. Jordan is a take-charge physical actor, but Stevenson, based on my read, was successful because of his restraint and reliance on the law.

However, Jamie Foxx is well-cast as Walter McMillian, who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death row in Alabama. Luckily, Stevenson’s efforts uncovered shameful prosecutorial and police abuses, eventually leading to McMillian’s release. But the weight of the real world injustice is undercut by a focus on familiar emotional notes played in so many films.

“Just Mercy” seems like a movie that used to be in vogue when John Grisham was popular. Fans of the book will be left wanting and empty.

STREAMING SELECTS

Netflix

What Movie to Watch: City of God (January 1) – Given the mainstream success last year of the foreign-language film “Parasite,” now might be a great time to use your streaming subscription to catch up on some other subtitled classics. Co-directors Fernando Meirelles (“The Two Popes”) and Kátia Lund’s “City of God” is the moving story of two kids who take very different paths to elevate themselves from the slums of Rio. This crime epic, nominated for four Academy Awards, is on the level of early Scorsese.
What to Binge: Lost in Space – Season 2 (streaming now) – I had forgotten about this great show until my daughter pointed out that the long-awaited second season dropped on Christmas Eve. Picking up seven months after the first season, the Robinson family has to battle an unfamiliar planet and the conniving Dr. Smith (a devilish Parker Posey) in hopes of rejoining their fellow travelers.

Extra Credit Binge: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (January 24) – With Parts 1 & 2 behind us, Part 3 of the edgy, teen-skewing, and often scary series finally arrives. Strongly cautioned are parents, as this one might not be appropriate for children 14 and under.

HULU

What Movie to Watch: The Art of Self-Defense (January 6) – One of last year’s sleepers, this dark comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg and Alessandro Nivola, suggests that the measure of a man is his ability to punch forcefully with one’s foot. In the film, meek and unassuming Casey (Eisenberg) joins a dojo run by a mysterious sensei (Nivola) with surprisingly transformative results.

Amazon

What Movie to Watch: Troop Zero (January 17) – Seen at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, this 1977 Georgia set comedy-drama looks like a fresh coming-of-age charmer. Cast includes Mckenna Grace (“Gifted”), Viola Davis, Jim Gaffigan, and Allison Janney.

Apple TV+

What to Binge: Servant (streaming now) – Executively produced by M. Night Shyamalan, who also directs two episodes, this series starts slow, but then takes its grip on you. Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under” and “Torchwood”) and Toby Kebbell (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) play the Turners, Dorothy, and Sean, a Philadelphia couple grieving the loss of their infant son. To move on, they care for a lifelike child doll and even hire a nanny named Leanne (Nell Tiger Free). But when the toy suddenly becomes a real boy overnight, Leanne has some explaining to do. “Harry Potter’s” Rupert Grint plays Dorothy’s inquisitive younger brother.

Disney+

What to Watch: As Disney’s streaming service opens a new year, it will be interesting how they keep their database fresh. In January, we do get the enjoyable Jamaican bobsledding comedy “Cool Runnings.” Still, it remains to be seen how the Mouse House can hold viewers that gushed over “The Mandalorian” without something new and exciting each month.

THEATRICAL TEASERS

Bad Boys for Life – Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are back (the last installment was in 2003). The boys seem in good shape for one last adventure (yeah, right, that depends on box office). An Albanian mercenary serves as the heavy this time around. Stepping in and taking over directing duties from Michael Bay is the team of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (see “Gangsta” and “Black”). This “Bad Boys” outing should be filled with lots of explosions and punchlines.

ARTHOUSE CORNER

Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2020: Animation & Live Action (Landmark Midtown Art Cinema on January 31) – One of the advantages of watching a collection of short films is that there’s bound to be something for everyone. And you might even see something unique before it’s turned into a feature (take last year’s live-action short winner “Skin,” for example).

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Jonathan W. Hickman is an entertainment attorney, filmmaker, college professor, and novelist. More about Jonathan can be found by visiting: filmproductionlaw.com.

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