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Reviews

15 Dec 2016
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Be prepared to get your heart ripped out by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea, one of the more emotionally powerful movie experiences of 2016. Affleck plays Lee, who must return to his hometown and raise his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), after his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. Lee is a true mess, and we learn through flashbacks what got him to his messed-up state. He’s battling some major past tragedies on top of his brother’s death, and there’s no telling how things will work out for him and Patrick. The flashbacks are brutal, revealing things that go beyond terrible; it’s no wonder Lee is having coping issues. Affleck has turned in good work before, but nothing like what he does in this film. He’s incredible. Williams turns in a blistering performance as Lee’s ex-wife, and a scene Affleck and Williams share together is guaranteed to knock…
15 Dec 2016
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La La Land is an all-new, original musical from director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) that is surprisingly low on melodrama while full of vibrancy, beautiful tunes, outstanding set pieces and a stunning sense of realism—that is, for a movie in which the characters bust out singing. This is the best “original” movie musical ever made. I’d put it up there with Les Miserables, the best adapted movie musical I’ve ever seen. In short: This baby is a masterpiece, and a complete joy to watch. The story follows wannabe actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz composer Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they try to make it in crazy Los Angeles. They meet and don’t like each other much at first, but then they fall in love, which provides Chazelle and his performers with ample opportunities for musical numbers that surprise at every turn. In what will go down as one of the year’s…
08 Dec 2016
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A jilted husband uses the power of the pen to mess with his ex-wife’s mind in Nocturnal Animals, an engaging and dark-hearted film from director Tom Ford. Amy Adams, on fire in 2016 even after you deduct points due to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, plays Susan Morrow, a bizarre art-gallery owner stuck in a rut. Her bland but gorgeous husband (Armie Hammer, also having a good year) is ambivalent toward her; she’s borderline broke, and generally unhappy. She gets a manuscript in the mail from ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). He was a struggling writer while the two were together, but now he just might have written the novel that could get his career going. Susan agrees to read the advance copy—and the story within, to say the least, freaks her out. The film’s screenplay, written by Ford and based on the novel by Austin Wright, takes a…
08 Dec 2016
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Director Otto Bell’s documentary The Eagle Huntress actually plays out like a cool, dramatic adventure film as a young girl aims to be the first eagle hunter in her family. Aisholpan, a 13-year-old Mongolian girl living with her tribe, has always been fascinated by eagles, and wants to become a champion eagle hunter like her father and grandfather. (They hunt using eagles to catch game, rather than actually hunting eagles.) The film follows her through her initial training, including the capturing of her own baby eagle on a treacherous cliff side. (This kid isn’t messing around; she really wants this.) It’s fascinating watching the eagle acclimate to its new home; you feel a little sorry for it, but its captors feed it well, and it certainly bonds with Aisholpan. It’s an amazing animal, and there’s a lot of joy in simply seeing food going into its mouth. It’s also amazing…
01 Dec 2016
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Director Jeff Nichols, who has already made two excellent movies in Mud and Take Shelter, released a very good movie earlier this year called Midnight Special. Here, in late 2016, he has released another excellent one. Loving, written and directed by Nichols, recounts the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose interracial marriage was ruled illegal by the state of Virginia in 1958, banning them from the state and sending their lives into constant turmoil. Put on probation with the threat of 25 years in prison if they were caught together in Virginia, they were forced to live a good portion of their married life in exile. The movie covers their lives from the time they decide to get married due to Mildred’s pregnancy, through the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage unconstitutional in 1967. That’s nine years during which two people…
01 Dec 2016
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Director Chan-wook Park (Oldboy, Thirst) seems to have made a relatively tame movie by his standards—at least for a good part of The Handmaiden’s running time. A young woman (Tae-ri Kim) is recruited by a scam artist (Jung-woo Ha) for a robbery plot involving another young woman (Min-hee Kim) and her uncle (Jin-woong Jo). The movie happens in three parts, and it plays out like a simple mystery-thriller for some of the time. But, hey, this is Park we’re talking about, so the fact that you may wind up seeing some octopuses and severed penises by the film’s end should not come as a surprise. Yes, this one goes delightfully off the rails and winds up being another gonzo great from one of cinema’s nuttiest directors. The Handmaiden goes from being a standard thriller to a darkly comic statement on sleazy men and their icky porno … or something like…
24 Nov 2016
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I was a little late to the Harry Potter party. I didn’t like the first movie (which was basically a bunch of kids who didn’t know how to act yet participating in a big costume pageant), but thought the second was really good, and loved the third, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The series got a little inconsistent after Azkaban, but the character of Harry Potter rose above the mediocre moments delivered by director David Yates, who helmed the final four movies. Well, Yates is back to helm the next chapter in the Potter Universe, a prequel called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the title of a textbook Harry studied at Hogwarts. The film takes place well before Harry’s time, as the world of wizardry comes to New York City in the 1920s. Unfortunately, Beasts struggles with some of the same problems the first Harry Potter…
24 Nov 2016
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Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig makes an impressive debut with The Edge of Seventeen, a darkly funny take on the life of a modern-day high school outcast. Hailee Steinfeld gives her best performance since True Grit as Nadine, a highly intelligent teen going through an awkward stage when her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her brother (Blake Jenner). Nadine is a practitioner of brutal honesty, which gets her ostracized at school and in trouble with her family. The only one who really stops to listen is a teacher (a hilarious Woody Harrelson) who actually has no choice, given his profession. Craig’s screenplay is first-rate, and her directing leads to some great performances. Steinfeld is good enough here to be considered for her second Oscar nomination, while Jenner (who starred in this year’s Everybody Wants Some!!) is equally good. This film is drawing comparisons to the best of John Hughes,…
17 Nov 2016
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About two decades ago, Contact ticked me off when Jodie Foster supposedly traveled to some distant place in the universe—merely to have a chat with her dead dad. It was a trite storytelling letdown. Director Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival also approaches the subjects of aliens, parentage and everlasting love, but it’s a much, much better movie. Villeneuve is emerging as one of the best visual and pacing directors in the medium today. Arrival follows Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015) and the vastly underrated Enemy (2013) as another movie of definitive vision, style and grace. No doubt about it: This man knows how to make a movie. Amy Adams stars as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguistics teacher crippled by visions of a daughter who died of a rare illness. She lives a life of seclusion; the only things she really does are teach her class and mope around her lakefront home. (Man, that…
10 Nov 2016
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Doctor Strange is certainly one of the weirder Marvel movies, with Benedict Cumberbatch starring as the title character, a sorcerer who can cast spells and slip through passageways in time. The film is an origin story, showing how Strange loses his surgeon’s hands in an accident, travels to India and learns about the mystical arts from The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). I have to admit … I didn’t always follow exactly what was going on, and I found some stretches a little convoluted and boring. But when the movie soars, it soars high, and Cumberbatch winds up being a decent choice for the role, even with his weird American accent. Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) seemed like an odd choice for a Marvel movie considering his horror-film pedigree, but he acquits himself nicely. The movie often plays like a Matrix/Inception mash-up with a little bit of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon thrown…
10 Nov 2016
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Mel Gibson has directed his first movie in a decade—and it bleeds. It bleeds a lot. As a director, Gibson stands alongside the likes of Sam Raimi, David Cronenberg and Peter Jackson as a master of bloody horror. In fact, his latest, Hacksaw Ridge, is an all-out horror film in parts. His depiction of World War II makes George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead look like Zootopia. The movie tells the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a battlefield medic and the first conscientious objector in American warfare history to receive the Medal of Honor. The dude refused to pick up a gun—or any weapon, for that matter—during his time served in Okinawa. That didn’t stop him from braving the battlefields with comrades, eventually saving the lives of 75 men during horrendously bloody battles. Much of the film’s first half is devoted to Doss’ backstory, including a troubled childhood…
03 Nov 2016
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I am grateful for the existence of Inferno, Ron Howard’s latest installment in his Da Vinci Code film series. Without Inferno, Tom Hanks would’ve had no reason to be out promoting a movie around Halloween time. Because he was, he stopped by Saturday Night Live to host for a ninth time. While there, he was in a totally bizarre sketch as David Pumpkins, a weirdo in a haunted house elevator ride accompanied by two beatboy dancer skeletons. The sketch is already a classic. That’s it … that’s the only reason I am grateful for the existence of Inferno. David Pumpkins. The film itself is easily the worst of the series, a series that was already pretty terrible in that both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons blew ass. Hanks returns as Robert Langdon, something the world’s most beloved actor shouldn’t need to do. This series needed to be…