Which of these movies deserve your hard-earned dollars?

Kristen Stewart continues her action flick trope with <i>Underwater</i>, out this January.

Kristen Stewart continues her action flick trope with Underwater, out this January. Photo: Chernin Entertainment

The post-Christmas rush and the run-up to the Oscars next month has made for a busy week in Australian cinemas.

Trailers and promos are flying at would-be audiences from all direction.

To ease your decision-making process, we’ve dissected three high-profile releases to see which ones are worth your time and money.

Just Mercy

Totally ignored by this year’s Academy Awards after debuting to great acclaim at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, this staggeringly good legal drama further fuels #OscarsSoWhite accusations.

(The only non-white actor to secure a nomination this year was Cynthia Erivo, for her role as abolitionist hero Harriet Tubman in slavery biopic Harriet.)

Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther) was overlooked for a Best Actor nod in Just Mercy, where he plays sharp-suited and quietly powerful real-life Harvard-trained legal ace Bryan Stevenson.

Stevenson, whose memoir the film is adapted from, was the defence attorney who took on the hopeless cases of countless wrongly accused death row inmates, founding the renowned Equal Justice Initiative.

Jordan’s steely but emotionally engaging performance is compelling.

As is Hawaiian writer/director writer Destin Daniel Cretton’s moving screenplay, adapted alongside co-writer Andrew Lanham.

Likewise, Jamie Foxx is magnificent as one of Stevenson’s earliest clients, Walter McMillian.

Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan in Just Mercy, which recounts the story of a civil rights defence attorney fighting to free a death row prisoner. Photo: Participant

All components together, Just Mercy is a rousing film that also makes room for great supporting turns from Brie Larson (Captain Marvel) and Tim Blake Nelson (Watchmen).

Given the central theme of injustice, and the criminalisation and marginalisation of African-Americans, the snub is even more galling.

A towering tribute to incredible tenacity in the face of appalling institutional racism, it’s the best film by far this week.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Tom Hanks has scored a shaky Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his part in this flick.

Hanks plays revered American kids’ TV presenter Fred Rogers in this soft-centred biopic.

Really, A Beautiful Day … is about the troubled journalist with daddy issues who has been deployed to profile Rogers (played by Matthew Rhys, The Americans).

Director Marielle Heller delivered offbeat genius with 2018 literary scam biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which scored three Oscar noms and sadly overlooked for all of them.

While this follow-up has received glowing critical praise, I found it teeth-achingly treacly.

A mawkish and mediocre bore lacking any edge, it’s less interesting even than Morgan Neville’s similarly hagiographic 2018 documentary about Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Fred Rogers hosted Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood from 1968 to 2001. Photo: Getty

From Hanks, it’s more of the same old cheese; a walking caricature of his cuddly grandpa vibe.

Heller saves any attempt to get under his skin until the final shot but it’s too little, too late. Rhys doesn’t bring much to the party either.

Based on real-life reporter Tom Junod, at a touch under two hours, your time would be better spent tucking into his 10,000-word Esquire feature Can You Say … Hero.

As it is, the film feels as overstuffed and air-filled as Roger’s much-loved teddies.


In the wake of the big box office bomb that was the rebooted reboot of Charlie’s Angels, I was worried about Kristen Stewart’s post-Twilight world of action flicks.

Thankfully cinematographer-turned-director William Eubank’s deep-sea horror washes away that stench.

Mainlining an ‘Alien, but with big fish’ vibe, what Underwater lacks in originality it makes up for in lean, mean menace.

Stewart plays Norah, a bleach blonde Ripley clone and engineer on a drilling platform near the base of the murky Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest crevice.

Kristen Stewart trades in vampires for an entirely different beast in Underwater. Photo: Chernin Entertainment

Disposing of all exposition by deploying news snippets during the opening credits, we’re warned unexplained tremors and strange sightings.

Wasting no time in unleashing H2O hell, the station is torn apart by an unseen force almost immediately, exposing the crew to bone-crushing pressure.

French legend Vincent Cassel joins Stewart as Norah’s captain alongside Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones, Iron Fist) as a research assistant with a crush on 10 Cloverfield Lane star John Gallagher Jr.

Disgraced comedian TJ Miller is also present as a bunny-loving asshat.

Picked off one by one, as in Alien the lurking menace is wisely kept to the shadows.

Eubank’s keen eye for kinetic camerawork cranks up the claustrophobia in gobsmacking action sequences, further exacerbated by a scary musical score.

Ignore the whiffy reviews, this Kraken-sized cracker delivers a monstrous punch in a mercifully swift 95 minutes.

All three films open in cinemas on Thursday, January 23 

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