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One of the great pictures of last year or any year, “1917” arrived in Long Beach theaters last week. And “Like a Boss” is an R-Rated comedy that in the past would have featured guys, but this time stars two women.

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HOME VIDEO RELEASES

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is a magnificent contemporary take on a classic fairy tale of queens and spells, of fairies and talking animals.

It’s a movie dramatic enough to be scary for children but not too childish for adults, featuring the imperious Angelina Jolie as Maleficent.

Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) is ruling as Queen of the Moors when she accepts a marriage proposal from Prince Philip and she accepts. Maleficent Jolie puts a curse on the parents and the battle is on.

Solid entertainment by a group of total professionals.

Recommended.

Gemini Man

One of cinema’s biggest stars, Will Smith, checks in, playing not one, but two parts, in “Gemini Man.”

Directed by the great Ang Lee, it features great action sequences, an interesting story but clunky dialogue, which ultimate dooms the movie to failure.

Smith plays two roles: both Henry Brogan — a younger cloned version of himself, sent to kill the old version.

Much like “The Irishman,” computer work was used to create the younger version.

This time, it’s pretty remarkable, with the younger version, known as Junior, being somewhat thinner, with a smoother face and more athletic ability than the older version.

This is a convoluted effort and director Ang Lee spent too much time on special effects and action and not enough on plot.

This is a good choice for home video as it definitely wasn’t worth spending $13 in the theaters.

Recommended.

Jexi

A hard-R-rated comedy from some of the guys involved in the Hangover movies has plenty of potential, about a man whose life is completely taken over by the artificial intelligence program on his new phone. The phone voice, Jexi, comes from Rose Byrne whose talents are much better used in “Like a Boss” in theaters this week, reviewed below.

Not recommended.

THEATRICAL RELEASES

1917

Just arriving in general release, not only is “1917” the best movie of 2019, it belongs on the list of one of the classic war films of all time.

It reminds us that war is a most unpleasant business. It’s dirty and it’s frightening.

If you haven’t heard by now, director Sam Mendes designed the production to look as if it was shot in one continuous uninterrupted take. It wasn’t, of course, but it’s extremely difficult to pick up the edits.

There aren’t any intense close-ups and fast paced editing,

This uninterrupted action contributes to a high level of tension throughout the movie. It starts and doesn’t let up.

It emphasizes the unmanageable nature of war for soldiers and how things continue to move forward with little chance to control the direction.

There are momentary pauses to allow you to catch your breath — soft green fields, and, outside a farm, a cherry orchard with soft white blossoms. But it’s mostly just straight ahead.

The leading characters are relatively unknown actors Dean-Charles Chapman as Blake and George MacKay at Schofield.

Chapman (“Game of Thrones”) and MacKay are perfect as the everyman of thousands of young men sent to war who are committed, but frightened and desirous of returning home.

They’re sent on a mission to stop British troops from advancing into an attack that is an ambush, which could lead to the deaths of hundreds of British soldiers. One of soldiers that might be saved is Blake’s brother.

Several other high-powered British actors make brief but significant contributions: Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong. These actors, totally capable of carrying a movie on their own, contribute immeasurably in small roles.

The tension is helped by the fact that Mendes brought the movie in at 1 hour, 59 minutes. That’s a remarkable effort. Other important war movies were much longer: “Saving Private Ryan” (two hours, 49 minutes), and “Apocalypse Now” (two hours, 33 minutes). Even the 1930s classic “All Quiet on the Western Front” was released at two hours, 32 minutes.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins (“Blade Runner 2049,” “Shawshank Redemption,” “Fargo and “Skyfall” makes a masterful contribution to the impact of those movie.

Five Palm Trees.

JUST MERCY

Injustice against minorities in the United States is not a new subject, but it seldom is presented with as much emotion and intensity as in “Just Mercy.”

Based on a true story, Jamie Foxx delivers a masterful yet restrained performance as an African-American unjustly imprisoned for the murder of a white woman in Alabama in 1986.

It’s easy for a movie about injustice and degeneration to end up preaching to the audience, but “Just Mercy” focuses on individuals to bring home the impact of the story.

Michael B. Jordan (“Creed” the recent “Rocky” sequel) switches gears here as Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard-educated lawyer who heads into the racist south to help the wrongly imprisoned.

Walter McMillan, known as Johnny D (Foxx), was convicted of a crime he couldn’t possibly have committed. (He was elsewhere at the time in the company of dozens of witnesses.) Evidence that would have acquitted him was purposely kept out of the trial.

Foxx, who won the Oscar for his portrayal of Ray Charles in 2004, shows that almost two decades later, he still has tremendous skills. Ray Charles was, well Ray Charles, an exuberant performer. Johnny D, after years in prison for crime he didn’t commit, is resigned to his fate and unwilling to believe there’s a chance for his exoneration. Foxx is outstanding in both roles.

Stevenson arrives in Alabama in the late 1980s, and starts an organization with Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) created to help the unjustly accused. He runs up against a society and system that that threatens and insults them both. A bomb threat is phoned into Ansley’s house. Stevenson is stopped and frisked at gunpoint for no reason. On his first visit to the prison to talk to inmates, he is forced to submit to strip search in spite of the fact that the prison rules specifically prohibit that.

Much of “Just Mercy” is a procedural with motions, appeals and searches through boxes of evidence. Yet the story holds the audience’s interest without preaching.

The is just a solid gold collection of actors. Besides Foxx, there’s Larson, who shifts from her superhero persona in the Marvel films and her Oscar-winning role as a kidnapping victim in “Room” in 2015.

Herbert Richardson as Morgan, another inmate on death row, makes a tremendous impact. Morgan, a Vietnam War veteran suffering from PTSD, admits the crime he committed and accepts his fate with a remarkable combination of acceptance and remorse.

Three Palm Trees.

LIKE A BOSS

“Like A Boss” is an R-rated comedy movie that in the past would have featured maybe Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly or Seth Rogan and Owen Wilson as two entrepreneurs who have their company stolen from them and get it back.

However, this time around it’s Tiffany Haddish (Mia) and Rose Byrne (Mel) as the pals and Selma Hayek is the villainous mogul who steals their company.

And it’s just fine. Haddish tones down her usual raucous attitude and Byrne steps it up. The two have a great relationship as childhood pals who have started a cosmetics company that is popular but is struggling financially.

Besides the nasty verbal humor, there are several nice touches. The movie opens with them texting each other before it’s revealed that they’re living in the same house in different bedrooms. They do their taxes on the free sample disk of Turbo Tax. And they drive a car that’s at least 20 years old.

Hayek is perfect as Clare Luna, owner of a massive cosmetics empire who pretends to want to help Mia and Mel but actually is only interested in stealing their ideas.

The diminutive Hayek, with massive hairdo down to her shoulders, walks around in giant platform heels with a golf club, just as an accessory. Don’t all corporate moguls have a trademark?

“Like a Boss” is not too complicated, but it delivers on its promise: a feel-good story with R-rated dialogue and situations that are funny but can’t really be repeated here.

Three Palm Trees

UNDERWATER

“Underwater” is a high quality by-the-numbers thriller that’s pretty much a knock-off “Alien” only instead of outer space, it’s set in an oil drilling facility 36,000 feet down in the Pacific Ocean.

It’s a tight one hour, 36 minutes and it’s occasionally hard to follow what’s going on because of muffled dialogue and chaotic editing, close-ups and dark settings, but it’s exciting throughout. The plot leaves something to be desired, but that’s not the point. The point is the action and the tension.

This movie has been waiting for release for about three years. It was delayed in the purchase of Fox by Disney and now it’s released in January, which is basically a dumping ground for movies studios don’t have much hope for.

Kristen Stewart heads a group of scientists who are in serious trouble after an earthquake damages their underwater laboratory. Their solution is to put on super high tech waterproof diving suits and walk across the ocean floor (more than six miles down) to another facility in hopes of being rescued.

It turns out the underwater drilling has unleashed some force or creature that threatens the group.

Director William Eubank reinforces the claustrophobic atmosphere, with plenty of shadows, hand held work and numerous close-ups of the cast inside their special deep sea suits

The short running time doesn’t allow much character development, but the group includes the usual suspects: one minority, a tough but fair leader, a wisecracking scientist who travels with a teddy bear and the hard as nails mechanical engineer, Stewart.

Don’t’ expect much depth to the characters. And with dialogue like ‘He was a glass half full guy. I prefer it half empty.” And, “Why are you still here?” “That’s what captains do,” it’s a good thing the action is well done.

“Underwater” is about action and tension and that’s what it delivers even if it’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going on.

Two Palm Trees.

FROM THE VAULT

American Beauty

Sam Mendese (“1917”), won an Oscar for “American Beauty,” his feature film directing debut. It was one of four other Oscars, including Best Actor for the disgraced Kevin Spacey.

HOW WE RATE THE FILMS

Home videos are simply rated recommended or not recommended.

New Releases are rated as follows:

Five Palm Trees: Must see

Four Palm Trees: Worth seeing on the big screen

Three Palm Trees: Recommended for home viewing or on the big screen

Two Palm Trees: OK if you’re not paying

One Palm Tree: Skip it. Save your money and your time.

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