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Holiday Roundup: ‘Little Women,’ ‘1917’ highlight busy holiday season

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Left to right: Emma Watson as Meg March, Florence Pugh as Amy March, Saoirse Ronan as Jo March and Eliza Scanlen as Beth March in “Little Women.” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

The holidays are always a busy time at the box office. Whether it’s big-budget blockbusters trying to capitalize on audiences having time off or awards contenders barely squeaking by the deadline, there are plenty of options to check out. Here are some of our favorite new releases from this holiday season to save you from going to see “Cats.”

“1917”

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George MacKay as Lance Corporal Schofield in “1917.” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Come for the one-take gimmick, stay for the epic and intimate look at the atrocities of World War I.

Sam Mendes’ latest is far more than a “gimmick,” though. What he and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins are able to accomplish in “1917” is truly astounding. While it may not technically be filmed in a single take, the shots fit together seamlessly to give it that impression. As a result, you’re thrust directly into the action from the very start, accompanying Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) every step of the way on their journey deep into enemy territory. By following along in the one-shot tracking style, you truly feel like a part of the mission, and the over-the-shoulder look only adds to the claustrophobia and intensity.

Unlike 2017’s “Dunkirk,” “1917” gives audiences personable characters they can connect with and care about their wellbeing. While you’re accompanying Blake and Schofield, Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns made sure to insert plenty of personal anecdotes to help audiences get to know their protagonists. Because of this, seeing the dangers the characters are exposed to instantly become that much more thrilling.

On top of the visual accomplishments in “1917,” Thomas Newman’s score is brilliant. It perfectly matches the epic scale of the film and adjusts well to the more intimate moments. I dare you to find a score from 2019 that’s more integral to a film.

“1917” is a breathtaking achievement in filmmaking that’s incredibly captivating from the very first frame. Watch this one on the biggest screen you can find.

Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5

“Little Women”

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Saoirse Ronan as Jo March and Timothée Chalamet as Theodore ‘Laurie’ Laurence in “Little Women.” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Heading into “Little Women” I was a little hesitant. I’m typically not too keen on period pieces from the 19th-century, but I should know better than to doubt Greta Gerwig. In her remake of Louisa May Alcott’s novel, Gerwig crafts a uniquely modernized yet authentic version of the classic story.

While it still takes place in the late 1800s, this version manages to feel surprisingly contemporary thanks to casual dialogue and excellent performances by everyone involved. Saoirse Ronan plays the leader of the sisters, Jo March, and she’s joined by Florence Pugh as Amy, Emma Watson as Meg and Eliza Scanlen as Beth, plus Timothée Chalamet as Laurie Laurence, Laura Dern as Marmee March and Meryl Streep as Aunt March.

Everyone is wonderfully charming, but Ronan, Pugh and Chalamet are the clear standouts of the cast as the trio’s love triangle takes center stage. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ronan and Pugh up for Best Actress and Supporting Actress, respectively, come February.

Oh, and speaking of scores, Alexandre Desplat’s work in “Little Women” is beautiful, coming in a close second to Newman’s “1917.”

“Little Women” is thoughtful and sentimental, overflowing with love and important messages from a timeless story.

Star Rating: 4 out of 5

“Bombshell”

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Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson and Margot Robbie as Kayla Pospisil in “Bombshell.” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Bombshell” is a film in which its performances outweigh the film itself.

Jay Roach’s exploration of the sexual assault scandals at Fox News that brought down network head Roger Ailes features a star-studded cast with a number of powerful performances. However, as moving as the individual efforts may be, the film as a whole isn’t as neat and effective as it could have been.

Charlize Theron leads the way as Megyn Kelly, a role likely to earn her an Oscar nomination, but Margot Robbie is the true star of the film. Robbie plays a new character created for the film, Kayla Pospisil, a young anchor looking for her big break at the network. As Kayla starts off as an eager up-and-comer, but after being exposed to sexual misconduct, Robbie completely transforms her character.

The film has a number of stylistic issues – essentially trying to channel an Adam McKay-style of fourth wall breaking commentary – but it isn’t able to pull it off with as much success. Tonally, Roach can’t ever seem to decide on how he wants the movie to feel, and the same goes for the pacing, which suffers from being very inconsistent.

There’s no denying the story behind “Bombshell” is a necessary one for people to hear, and for the most part, the film lands the most  important moments and handles them well. However, most of that is due to the talent of the film’s leading ladies, and not a particularly adept script.

Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5

“Just Mercy”

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Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stevenson and Jamie Foxx as Walter McMillian in “Just Mercy.” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Fasten your seatbelts for this one.

Based on Bryan Stevenson’s book by the same name, “Just Mercy” tells the true story of Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) as he founded the Equal Justice Initiative to help wrongly-convicted death row inmates clear their names. The film focuses on the early stages of Stevenson’s career and his case defending Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx).

With “Just Mercy,” it’s more about the subject matter than the film itself. Director Destin Daniel Cretton creates a perfectly good film that hits all its marks, but it never does anything special to cement itself as an extraordinary movie. When you have a story as compelling as this one though, sometimes that’s OK. Instead of overdoing things from a technical perspective, Cretton sits back and let the subject matter, as well as strong performances by Jordan, Foxx and Tim Blake Nelson, do the work for him.

You’ll leave the theater equally heartbroken and infuriated, and that means “Just Mercy” has done it’s job perfectly.

Star Rating: 4 out of 5

For more coverage of everything that hit theaters over the holidays, check out our reviews of “Uncut Gems,” “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” and “Jumanji: The Next Level.”

Zach Goins View All

Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Charlotte, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.

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