January tends to be when Hollywood tosses out its junk, productions that were plagued from the get-go. Yes, “Dolittle,” that’s you!
This weekend — besides that hyper-hyped Robert Downey Jr. mess — finds two strong films nudging their way into theaters with another good movie bowing on Amazon Prime.
Here are my quick takes on each.
“Les Miserables”: Screenwriter/director Ladj Ly powers up Victor Hugo’s classic in his pedal-to-the-metal debut, staging a showdown between police and rebellious youths in Paris. Ly’s contemporary adaptation is relevant and energetic as it hones in on a project city. It’s one of the most bracing, accurately observed dramas of 2019, capturing the powderkeg divide that exists between the law and the public. A best international feature Oscar nominee, “Miserables” takes a pulse on civil unrest with more depth and nuance than “Joker” did, and features a haunting performance from Issa Perica, portraying a boy seething and ready for retaliation after he’s shot. (A-)
“Color Out of Space”: A good Nicolas Cage film? What the hell. On an occasion a decent one slips by (“Mandy” and “Mom & Dad”). And with the right director and role, Cage can get his bat-shit crazy act on and have it actually match the material. Here, he gets that chance and nails it. Richard Stanley’s scary, gross and altogether colorful adaptation of one of H.P. Lovecraft surreal mindmessers is a treat. A family starts to loses their minds, and the occasional body part, once a meteor slams into their land. Even the llamas go a bit daft. Horror hounds will bay at the moon over this. (B)
“Troop Zero”: Set in a small town in 1977 Georgia, this warm, not sugar coated family-friendly indie celebrates kids and adults on the outsider, considered too often as “misfits” by townsfolk. Centered around an upcoming girl troop jamboree wherein the winning team will then get featured in a NASA promotion, “Troop” is both touchingly scripted (by “Beasts of the Southern Wild” writer Lucy Alibar) and energetically directed by debut feature filmmakers Bert and Bertie — a talented female directing duo. Making it more appealing are the dust ups between Viola Davis — a co/producer — playing a reluctant scout leader and her uptight/former friend and rival troop leader, played by Allison Janney. What delicious fun they have sparring. Be prepared for young actress and narrator Mckenna Grace to steal your heart in the part of determined Christmas Flint who is mourning the loss of her mom and looking up to the stars for inspiration. (Debuting and available to stream Jan. 17 on Amazon Prime) (B)