For a long time, movie fans underestimated Blake Lively. Partially because they didn't sneak into Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants at the multiplex in 2005 like I did, and partially because she was a big-time TV star at the tail end of the era when TV and movies were still kind of separate ecosystems. Plus, she came up at the same time as the Twitter/social media/gossip explosion so some of her work was overshadowed by her celebrity profile (leggy, California-blonde fashionista-type married to the dude from Van Wilder). For much of her 20s, Blake Lively suffered from a classic case of "hot chick syndrome," where men fail to take you seriously and women come at you with first-impression animosity, simply because you're what Derek Zoolander would describe as "incredibly good looking."
But Lively was awesome in Oliver Stone's Savages (that movie rules), she stole scenes in Ben Affleck's The Town, rocked The Age of Adaline, and don't forget that time she anchored an entire movie by fighting a shark in The Shallows. It was, however, her co-starring role with Anna Kendrick in 2018 mystery thriller A Simple Favor that woke the world up to the realization that they'd been dismissing a pretty talented star.
Which means this week we get The Rhythm Section, with Lively—now 32 years old and a mother of three—taking her turn at the "hot, ass-kicking assassin" subgenre (see also: Angelina Jolie in Salt, Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow, Zoe Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde, Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight, Bridget Fonda in Point of No Return, and the OG of them all, Anne Parillaud in Luc Besson's 1990 hit, La Femme Nikita).
The Rhythm Section has no pre-screenings available and is released in the doldrum weeks leading up to the Oscars, neither of which is a good sign. But don't count out Lively in the role of a woman whose life is a dumpster fire (ie: junkie prostitute) after the death of her family in a tragic plane crash. Except when she learns the crash was not an accident, she dives into a seedy terrorist underworld to get revenge the best way she knows how: by quickly learning how to be a top international assassin (yay, montages!) and capping fools in a host of exotic locales.
It might sound dumb (and lean on character arc) but action and genre fans should have faith in Blake. Don't forget she made a hit out of a script that can essentially be summed up in one line—Blake Lively vs. a shark.
Also opening this week at the Whistler Village 8, Just Mercy stars Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Black Panther) as a fresh-out-of-Harvard super-lawyer who eschews the big-firm jobs and heads to Alabama to fight for the wrongly convicted or under-represented. Teaming up with a local advocate (Brie Larson, a.k.a. Captain Marvel), Jordan ends up representing a dude (Jamie Foxx) who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death on sketchy (at best) evidence.
Based on real events from 1987, Just Mercy relies on solid performances from a talented cast in a what-you-expect legal drama full of racist cops, racist landlords, and a racist system. Larson's character seems to be around only to reiterate the facts of the case, just to ensure everyone knows that systemic racism and a bias in the law enforcement and judiciary systems is still a thing. At times it feels like writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton (The Glass Castle) is preaching a bit too much, but Just Mercy survives on the talents of its cast, especially Jordan, who continues to prove he is a bona fide movie star.
On the small screen, not much to get excited about, but speaking of leggy blondes, Taylor Swift has her new flick, Miss Americana, dropping on Netflix on Jan. 31. Touted as an unfiltered look at the 10-time Grammy winner, this one, directed by Lana Wilson (After Tiller), has enough moments of authenticity and vulnerability to appease fans but the film is at it's best when it's highlighting the pressures and double standards put on people who grow up in the spotlight (especially women). More of that would have helped this one finish strong.