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The Way Back
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Throwing everything AND the kitchen sink into a star-studded, white-knuckle monster prequel, this trip to Skull Island offers rollercoaster pacing, breakneck thrills, and entertaining abandon without even trying to equal the 5-star status of the vaunted classic. In this R-rated fantasy adventure, an expeditionary team (Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Corey Hawkins, et al) explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden.
Rather than spawning an unwanted follow-up (Son of Kong, we're looking at you), Kong: Skull Island takes the most fascinating segment of King Kong and fleshes it out as an amusement park ride (not in the tired Jurassic World manner either). Indeed, this flick is pure wish fulfillment for classic film buffs. Moviegoers familiar with Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's original get a certain itch scratched in a most enjoyable way. Okay, that sounds dirty but take heed: Early on in that 1933 gem, searchers embark on an expedition to Skull Island, a place of pre-historic monster mash-ups previously unknown to modern man. As that film has loftier goals (85-year-old spoiler alert: The great ape gets captured, falls in love with Fay Wray, and makes an ill-advised climb up the side of the Empire State Building), the brief taste of the H.G. Wellsian Skull Island leaves audiences wanting more. Rather than trying to satisfy persnickety cineastes with another retelling of Beauty & the Beast, Kong just wants to be really tasty popcorn. Putting together a hodgepodge of explorers played by A-list stars and having them ripped apart one-by-one in a Land of the Lost during the 1970s might seem like a bad cinematic idea but the execution ends up to be as good as one would hope from a big budget B-Movie. If only Peter Jackson's overrated 2005 re-do was this exciting!
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts knows exactly what he's doing. Armed with a winning screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly (based on a story by original Kong fan John Gatins), he sets the funtastic tone within the first 20 minutes by having Kong knock an Army attack copter right out of the air and eat one of the plastic soldiers inside. Hiddleston, Jackson, Goodman, Larson, Hawkins, and John C. Reilly embrace the spirit of the B-Move and gleefully run with it. Bloody and gutsy aplenty, the movie uses the R-rating as if it were more butter to pile upon this bucket of popcorn. What works most in the production's favor, however, is the brisk editing. The running time is just that: a collection of moments that sprints to the end. Though talk of a further monster mash-up between the King and Godzilla looms, Skull Island stands testament that all hope should not be abandoned for a thrillride that winks and nods while cities get leveled.
To Sum It All Up: Advanced Skull Set
Feted for its Furiously over-the-top set pieces and acting, the latest installment in the Fast & Furious franchise vrooms further away from street-level action and someway somehow finds decent traction as a globe-spanning spy adventure. In this PG-13-rated actioner, a mysterious woman (Charlize Theron) seduces Dom (Vin Diesel) into the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, causing his crew (Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludicris, et al) to face trials that will test them as never before.
Thankfully, this gleefully overblown sequel begins with a street race to keep a few tires grounded in the genre from which it came--crime-thriller. Granted, the street race takes place in Havana and the scene is shot in a style reminiscent of a '90s music video but it's a street race for pink slips all the same. Originally played out as Point Break with cars, the series has slowly elevated itself to ridiculous heights of blockbusting, trading in hot-rods for tanks and handguns for WMDs...and yet, it's often quite entertaining. Like the Marvel Universe, Fast & Furious keeps stacking the deck with bigger personalities, improbably proving that when you throw everything at a franchise to see what sticks, sometimes everything sticks. Oh, there are plenty of eye-rolls to be had at the expense of the Pierce Brosnan-era Bond-worthy plot and the arch heaviness with which the characters deliver their lines (Hobbs: "You're gonna close your eyes on World War III or you're gonna saddle up and save the entire damn world."), but every extravagant moment is purposeful and calculated (and honestly, in keeping with the 007 comparison, the only place to take the series from here is to a Moonraker level). Plus, it's hard to pay too close of an attention to Fast & Furious dialogue with all of the excitement popping on-screen. Besides, being too observant of this script might cause nausea.
All involved know exactly what's going on here. With Theron and Helen Mirren newly installed in the series to winning effect (joining Kurt Russell who's a holdover from the last go-round), there's no telling who might get slotted in next. The fact that the producers are spawning Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) off into their own series, however, hints that there might be oversized vacancies left soon to fill. Who would've thought that director F. Gary Gray's music video for Dr. Dre and Tupac Shakur's "California" would someday NOT be the most insanely plotted narrative on his CV? He keeps the action moving at a steady clip. The only major slip-up comes courtesy of the length. Actioners work best if they're under two hours. Hey, audiences can only take so much mind-numbing extravagance!
To Sum It All Up: Grand Toretto
In trying to spring the murky, muddy, and muddled Pirates of the Caribbean series from the creative depths of Davy Jones' Locker by bringing in a new villain and directors, Disney's murkier, muddier, and even more muddled latest instead sinks any interest in future installments. In this PG-13-rated adventure, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) searches for the trident of Poseidon while being pursued by an undead sea captain (Javier Bardem) and his crew.
Save for the first chapter, The Curse of the Black Pearl, this franchise never sailed smoothly. The first half of the second sequel, Dead Man's Chest, charts a fun familiar course but then quickly delves into an unnecessarily complicated abyss where humor goes out the window. Waterlogging the storyline with confusing, long, and, frankly, dull otherworldly tangents was merely done to stretch out a thin plot to accommodate a third flick, At World's End. With On Stranger Tides, the producers bought a very popular swashbuckling fantasy novel and STILL managed to make a boring movie. In Dead Men Tell No Tales, said tale lacks originality, the comedy falls flat and the action fails to throw off any sparks. In fact, it's a tale that shouldn't have been told at all. It's not as if moviegoers were clamoring for more high seas hijinks from a series that was left for Dead years ago.
The single most interesting and reliable X-Factor of the series is, of course, Captain Jack Sparrow. Johnny Depp's brilliantly daft Keith Richards-inspired take on the character was once considered so "risky" that Disney flirted with firing the actor for such an off-beat portrayal. With his latest take on the pirate, it seems like he is imitating his past performances--not channeling the character. It almost feels as if one of the Cosplay actors dressed as Captain Jack in front of Mann's Chinese Theater stands in for Depp. Javier Bardem stands and delivers just fine but it's hard to distinguish his ghostly heavy from that of Bill Nighy's Davy Jones in the grand scheme of things. Overall, however, it's the directors, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Bandidas, Kon-Tiki), who must got down with the ship. The Pirates of the Caribbean series may have already had a sinking feeling but their miscalculated take on the humor and explosive set pieces in the movie just dashes whatever remained of the series against the rocks.
To Sum It All Up: Swashbuckled
Though it doesn't exactly die on-screen, Ben Affleck's stylish but stale latest presents a Gangsta's Paradise that recycles characters and situations seen time and time again in better 1930s-set mob classics. In this R-rated crime thriller, a group of Boston-bred gangsters (Affleck, Chris Messina, et al) set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.
After turning out back-to-back hit A-Grade dramas The Town and Argo, writer-director Affleck had his pick of H'Wood projects, including taking a go at Justice League. Instead of teaming Batman up with other DC heroes, he chooses a different Dark Night, one exuding flourish but ultimately mired in clichés. He should have stuck with the Caped Crusader--not just because Live By Night lacks a unique oomph, but because his singular talents could have definitely improved upon Zach Snyder's less-than-stellar Justice League. Teaming up again with South Boston-born novelist Dennis Lehane (their first collaboration, the excellent kidnapping puzzler Gone Baby Gone, marked the auspicious start of a truly gifted filmmaker), Boston-bred Affleck sees an ambitious chance to leave a mark on the gangster genre, award-winning bestselling book in-hand. What results, however fresh the source material, somehow feels like a long slow walk in Alligator shoes. Punctuated by moments of visual spark (the climactic set piece, a bloody affair set entirely inside an oceanfront Miami hotel, is an exciting symphony even though you already know it note-for-note) and inspired casting, the adaptation hardboils down Lehane's more complicated story into something more pedestrian and bland.
Affleck leads a capable cast that stands and delivers, among them Messina, Chris Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller, Scott Eastwood, and Brendan Gleeson, with Elle Fanning being the standout. They all seem to be having a great time playing Gatsby with Guns (having a slightly better time than the audience, at least), but no one here is walking away with an award. More boorish than noirish, their playing field is an all-too-familiar turf that looks grand (cinematographer Robert Richardson deserves special mention) but is ultimately more of a trope-ical than tropical paradise.
To Sum It All Up: Bored-Walk Empire
A Beauty of a remake with its sumptuous visuals and endearing players, this live-action take on an animated classic manages to be a different Beast for better and worse--edgier, zippier, and often fresher. In this PG-rated adaptation of the Disney-fied fairy tale, a monstrous-looking prince (Dan Stevens) and a young woman (Emma Watson) fall in love, much to the chagrin of her self-absorbed suitor (Luke Evans).
1991's Beauty and the Beast very possibly ranks highest among animated musicals, not to mention it's arguable standing as Disney's greatest 'toon. Just as with Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book (Snow White & the Huntsman is more of an out-and-out re-do), moviegoers are right to be more a little scared - than prepared - for the Mouse House re-imagining what amounts to an already polished and pristine jewel in their crown. And yet, like those other remakes, it all works beautifully...for the most part. Though Disney's Belle never felt like a damsel in distress, V.2 sees fit to engage in gender politics which also spills over into the characterization of supporting player LeFou, who now has more than a platonic shine for lunkheaded heel Gaston. While there's no question that such empowerment could only enhance the characters and story overall, this inclusion feels more like it was shoehorned in because of topicality than integrated organically. Such an 'upgrade' should feel like a natural fit--not like it was forced.
There's a lot that screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos and Stephen Chbosky get right with their update, however. The backstories of the players get fleshed out (we finally learn about Belle's Mom and see more of her father, for example), as does this enchanting world in general (the inanimate objects come to life in the Beast's castle serve as more than comic relief than the first go-round). Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn) deserves much of the credit, however, managing to stage the wonderful musical numbers such that the audience feels like they're seeing them for the first time (as there are new songs in the mix, some of them actually ARE first-timers). His canvas, encompassing town and forest and castledom, exhibits a magical quality not altogether different from the original, but oftentimes moodier and more sarcastic in keeping with modern insensitivity, er, sensibilities. Without a letter-perfect cast, however, the characters wouldn't jump off the screen. Watson, Stevens, Evans, Kevin Kline, and Josh Gad bring a lively and colorful energy to the goings-on. Though they don't hit every note perfectly, they sell through the wonderment all the same.
To Sum It All Up: Be Their Guest
Checking all of the obligatory sequel boxes as it unfurls, a super-sized second helping of Guardians of the Galaxy brings more action, gags, and story to the fray but lacks - albeit slightly - the taut fun abandon that made the first volume gel so well. In this PG-13-rated sci-fi actioner, the Guardians (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, et al) must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill's true parentage.
Of course, expecting Vol. 2 to surpass the out-and-out awesomeness of the original simply asks too much of a follow-up. Guardians of the Galaxy ranks as one of the top comic book movies of all time, on par with Superman and The Dark Knight. Moviegoers are right to assume that the sequel abides by the laws of the Andrea True Connection. In regards to set pieces, comic situations, and screentime spent on each character, it's a case of more, more, more. Not all of it melds together in the fantastic way of the first go-round, however, because more plotpoints equal sprawl. It's not confusing, mind you--just busy and overlong at the expense of the overall joyride. What the movie gets more right than wrong is in furthering the Guardians' development as a family, showing that all familial units experience peaks and valleys. Returning players get fleshed out more, new players get added into the mix, and the dynamic between them all becomes the fulcrum.
A huge gamble in that they weren't members of the Avengers or Spider-Man, the first Guardians thrived by spotlighting the largely unknown - yet fully formed - characters and their interaction with one another. Casting played a key role in this, getting everything letter perfect down to Vin Diesel's different inflections for his character's only - though oft repeated - line, "I am Groot." Here, their camaraderie is on fine display again, as is that of the influx of newbies (Kurt Russell, Pom Klementieff, and Sylvester Stallone among them). Everybody's role gets beefed up, which beefs up the overall story. Vol. 2 is only 11 minutes longer than its predecessor, but it feels lengthier because of all of the padding caused by the numerous threads. Though they pull from the comic books as source material to a large degree, James Gunn and Nicole Perlman's script for the first flick has a monumental task in setting up this interstellar world and, yet, brilliantly feels like a amusement park ride as it does exactly that. The second finds Gunn, who returns as director as well, working solo. The heavy lifting of setting up the Guardians is done but, on the other hand, there's heavier lifting yet in following up such par excellence. This is not to say that he fails. In fact, much of Vol. 2 absolutely soars and the movie as-a-whole succeeds for the most part. It just suffers a bit of a Thanksgiving effect. The pants feel a bit tight after such a varied and filing meal that sets you up for another round.
To Sum It All Up: Space Jam-Packed
Making the most out of a Hard-R rating and a career-best lead performance, this violent but thought-provoking kitty definitely has claws when it comes to closing out the most popular X-Man's run with a blockbusting but altogether satisfying bang. In this R-rated future-set actioner, a weary Logan (Hugh Jackman) cares for an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart), but their attempts to hide from the world and their legacies get upended when a young mutant arrives (Dafne Keen), pursued by dark forces.
From the opening scene, this very loose adaptation of the "Old Man Logan" storyline from the Wolverine comic series doesn't shy away from body counts or subverting superhero movie tropes. In fact, in this world-weary future, the only recognizable things are Logan and Professor Charles Xavier. With Logan, the X-Men franchise and its extensions have jumped ahead many years without fully explaining the Hows and Whys. Not connecting these dots proves far more intriguing as it gives the tone and setting a nebulousness akin to a certain classic trilogy of Spaghetti westerns where the main character has no name. Set in a really down and dirty time for mutants, itself very western-esque, both of these characters are very blue in two very different manners--emotionally and filthily. This is to say, it's a downbeat landscape in which most of mutantkind has been wiped out and this depression manifests itself in the form of many F-Bombs and obscene shouting matches. While working 'blue' would seem to fit Logan's curmudgeonly persona like a glove, moviegoers will be surprised how well it suits the typically do-gooding Prof. X as well. What results is a road movie that allows each character to show a decent amount of heart as these two aging meta-humans undergo a lot of human changes. Oh, there are blood, guts, and set pieces aplenty but this is the most adult extension of the X-franchise for other reasons. Indeed, even set in a latter-day dystopia, this is the most grounded of X-Men outings because our heroes ultimately face off with their own mortality. At times head-turning and heart-wrenching in the same scene, this swan song goes for broke in all of the best ways.
Mind you, Logan won't win awards for its dialogue (as much as the story isn't typical, the lines are oftentimes downright pedestrian) but it's still a comic book movie at heart and comic book movies aren't striving for David Mamet diction to sell through the plot. And what a plot it is. The fact that writer-director James Mangold (who shares screenwriting credit with Scott Frank and Michael Green) even positioned this as the final go-round for fan favorite Wolverine - or that Fox greenlit it - amounts to shear bravery (what was borrowed and built upon from the comic book alone deserves plaudits). Just listen to the summary: A graying and wrinkled Agent X drops F-Bombs and aggressors while navigating a very pessimistic western landscape with his old boss and a young girl who just might be the world's most powerful mutant. Such a bold move sounds more like stupidity as opposed to bravery but the end result is brilliantly executed. Hugh Jackman has played this role 8 times before but here, he is free to color outside of the lines. Lived-in at this point, he stretches Logan's skin to a ridiculously nuanced degree--never to the point of feeling false though. Likewise, Patrick Stewart gives a supporting turn that breaks the heart but also feels quite appropriate. Heath Ledger received an Oscar posthumously for his performance as the Joker, proving that comic book characters are worthy of H'Wood gold. Jackman and Stewart very much earn their tears as well.
To Sum It All Up: Truth and Claw
A very welcome return to form from the filmmaker who gave audiences one of the greatest supernatural thrillers of all time, M. Night Shyamalan's twisty scary-good latest Splits its aces beautifully between psychological and supernatural horror...and both of them play a winning hand thanks to staggeringly brilliant multi-multi-faceted performance by James McAvoy. In this PG-13-rated thriller, three girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula) get kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities (McAvoy) and try to escape before the apparent emergence of a more sinister 24th.
The writer-director's previous film, The Visit, boasted decent thrills and a solid twist but hardly made up for the Trifecta of awfulness comprised of The Last Airbender, The Happening, and After Earth (okay, so only the second of these can be called out-and-out 'awful,' but it's so patently bad that it brings down anything else in its blast radius). Split, however, finds Shyamalan in top form, on par with his second best, Signs, and approaching the level of expert craftsmanship of genre evidenced by his - and one of the horror's - best, The Sixth Sense. It would be hard to reach the mantle of that particular gem, but it tries its damnedest and viewers are the better for it. Serving up a crackling good story that amazingly doesn't demonize mental illness, it gives the troubled kidnapper at its core, Kevin Wendell Crumb, personalities both good, bad, and downright ugly. Plus, it shows him seeking treatment and what happens when he doesn't follow doctor's orders. And yes, just like that old chestnut filmic amnesia, it stretches credulity beyond recognition but the suspension of disbelief is worth it for the twisted and thrilling character study that it provides. Believe it or not, however, his is not the main character. That honor falls on Casey Cooke who makes a great foil to the many faces of Crumb. She comes with a heart-breaking backstory but manages to get the heart pumping thanks to her never-say-die heroism in the face of unspeakable terror.
Without the actors to pull this all off, Shyamalan's complicated captivity narrative would be for naught. Taylor-Joy, who honed her horror chops with Witch, a very different but nonetheless killer thriller, makes for a very convincing heroine, earning every tear and mad tear. McAvoy, however, sells through 23 different personalities, each with different inflections, tics, and looks. It's a veritable masterclass in acting and it's beyond head-scratching that he didn't nab an Oscar or Golden Globe nomination. This particular genre has never been highly regarded by the H'Wood elite (The Exorcist getting bested by The Sting at the 1973 Academy Awards--'nuff said), but such a slight is really downright scary.
To Sum It All Up: The Best of the Beast
Building off of the block-busting success of the The LEGO Movie, a fun-tastic merging of snark and family friendly that was everything a flick about a plaything should be, this Dark Knight rises to even greater heights thanks to its innate ability to satisfy both kids and the kids in all of us. In this PG-rated animated piece of pop-art, a cooler-than-ever Bruce Wayne (Will Arnett) must deal with the usual suspects as they plan to rule Gotham City, while discovering that he has accidentally adopted a teenage orphan (Michael Vera) who wishes to become his sidekick.
With The LEGO Batman Movie, WB and DC Comics zero in on a more cohesive, entertaining, and character-driven flick than the best parts of the Caped Crusader's most recent appearance, Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was also funny but for entirely wrong reasons. In winning fashion, LEGO Batman goes so far as to even tease audiences with a riffy retelling of the Dark Knight's long strange trip through pop culture history. Of course, the funhouse tone and LEGO Batman's hilariously self-absorbed 'voice' have slowly been developed in both video game form and in The LEGO Movie before being built upon here, but this standalone truly kicks this version of the character up a quantum notch. This brings up another impressive point: This iteration is based on a toy and video game--two nearly impossible thresholds to pass when it comes to adaptations. What's more amazing is that there are five writers listed for this adaptation (Seth Grahame-Smith, of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter non-fame, gets story credit), which is usually a bad sign that too many cooks are spoiling the broth. Instead, it would appear that each screenwriter used their specific gifts to work on developing and strengthening the many individual characters in this soup. Indeed, the multitude of LEGO figurines pulled from the Zeitgeist could've very easily made for an overwhelming candy-colored experience, but this is never allowed to happen to any blockhead big or small. Hell, even the walk-ons don't get the short-shrift. Supporting players and cameos abound in this, a gleeful extension of the DC Universe in which Harry Potter and Doctor Who get to play (everybody from Superman and Alfred the Butler to Voldemort and Daleks take part in the monkey business). Somehow, all of the pieces fit together wonderfully, especially the story, voices, and - most importantly - the sumptuous animation. Sure, the obligatory message that accompanies an All Audiences feature (in this case--the importance of friendship) gets laid on thick but the movie's snarky zippy delivery keeps the tongues of all involved planted firmly in cheek. What they've given us is a riff on a specific piece of pop culture that further riffs on pop culture in general. The only possible deficit is that some of the jokes may not age well, but most of the brands included have already stood the test of time.
With franchise fatigue setting in for audiences in regards to some series, moviegoers are right to be wary when it comes to broadening The LEGO Movie into offshoots. If Batman is any indication, however, LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Marvel would be welcome additions on the block if they approach their brand with the same well-rounded level of art, appreciation, and zaniness.
To Sum It All Up: Super, Friends
A Rogue agent in all of the right ways, this superb Star Wars Story might have much of the franchise's storied mythology running through its DNA but its edgy design and execution speaks of a bold and exciting jump into a new hyperspace for the historic series. In this PG-13-rated sci-fi adventure, the daughter (Felicity Jones) of an Imperial scientist (Mads Mikkelsen) joins the Rebel Alliance in a risky move to steal the Death Star plans.
Part sci-fi flick, part sequel, part war movie, part prequel, and part character-driven adventure, Rogue One is many things to many moviegoers but the whole package proves quite entertaining, able to satisfy new fans while pacifying most long-time diehards save for the true curmudgeons. As the central plot involves the blueprint for the Death Star, a key plotpoint in the first act of Star Wars Episode IV from 1977, it's not spoilerish to say that the franchise's latest entry leads right up into that very same flick. It shares much with that vaunted classic, including characters (some beloved, some minor) and interlinking storylines (some kickass, some Easter egged). In fact, it even spackles (fearing a deadly backlash, the words "improve upon" will be avoided) certain plotholes from the original trilogy and provides audiences with a throughline to the second trilogy. This intermingling of past, present, and future gets done exceedingly well, especially considering these strands never sacrifice the crackerjack standalone story at the movie's center. Set during Imperial-Rebel wartime, this is a Beings-on-a-Mission film involving a disparate group of humanoids, aliens and one hilariously sarcastic droid (think: The Darth-y Dozen). Though it's a one-off, it never feels completely foreign from what's come before. In fact, because it bridges generations so well, it feels rather organic. Where Rogue One smartly diverges from the trilogies, however, is in regards to presentation. The famous scroll at the outset of all preceding chapters gets nixed, as do the wipes and dissolves that were nods to the Golden Age of H'Wood that spawned the Buck Rogers serials which in turn inspired Star Wars. At this juncture, audiences know that everything old is new again (they're seeing a companion piece to a 40+ year-old iconic film that digitally recreates the late Peter Cushing, for Chrissakes) and they don't need to look into the past any more than they improbably have. To this end, director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) uses a decent amount of hand-held in incorporating an overall grittier style than the franchise has ever seen.
Working from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, screenwriters Chris Weitz (About a Boy) and Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) weave in a roster of fascinating characters that don't get short-changed by the action and excitement around them. Though Jones's Jyn Erso makes a fantastically solid lead, everybody stands and delivers. Forest Whitaker, for example, gives an intriguing turn as Saw Gerrera, a character first introduced in the animated Star Wars TV spin-off series, The Clone Wars. Again, we get the mixing of old and new, with the new being a very fresh performance. Perhaps, more than any film in the franchise since Episode IV, Rogue One refreshingly interjects more Eastern philosophy into the fray through the characters of Chirrut Îmwe (a blind warrior who puts faith in the Force to hone and guide his hands, played by Donnie Yen) as well as Baze Malbus (a mercenary who was once the protector of a sacred temple, played by Wen Jiang). They also provide a great deal of humorous moments, which the often deathly serious film uses to its full advantage. Indeed, the entire package is an even mix--tone, genre, casting, and style...not unlike a certain landmark film 41 years ago in a galaxy far far away.
To Sum It All Up: One for the Ages
An inspiring story not aspiring for originality, Hidden Figures forgoes new math for simple arithmetic, boasting a different kind of edginess just in telling a tale of marginalized trailblazers that needs to be told and seen. This is not to say that such storytelling is easy work, however. For a teaching moment to be this heartwarming, entertaining, and rousing, it takes a very intelligent design and the true beauty of the film comes down to how the whole production explains a complex problem involving segregation and empowerment with such a single, satisfying solution. This PG-rated drama presents the story of a team of female African-American mathematicians (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae) who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program.
Certainly, the true events on which Hidden Figures is based didn't unfold so breezily in real life and the actual hidden figures themselves didn't enjoy such a breezy journey. This is a film meant to fuel the soul of all filmgoers, however, especially women and people of color. Its intent is to raise the spirits--not look back in abject anger. This is why their story has been re-purposed as a crowd-pleaser. With a PG rating, it is meant to be accessible. If it encourages action as well, this is only a good thing. But Hidden Figures's main purpose is to inform, honor, and celebrate, which the film does with great dignity and grace.
Adapted from the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi's screenplay provides the perfect template for this successful rendering. The casting only sweetens the pot. Spectacular turns by veterans Henson and Spencer as well as relative newcomer Monae (a breakout role, to be sure) drive the strong narrative. The great supporting performances of Kevin Costner, Jim Parson, and Mahershala Ali likewise deserve mention but this is definitely the ladies' show. As director, Melfi has pulled off a ridiculously impressive feat. Not only does Joan Q. Filmgoer learn about some criminally overlooked figures from American history, but she feels pretty damn good about doing so.
To Sum It Up: All Plusses, No Minuses
Anchored by a beguiling starring performance, maudlin exercise Jackie offers a tantalizing glimpse into the private affairs of Camelot in its darkest hour that ultimately barely leaves the surface. In this R-rated drama based on real events, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her family's legacy following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy.
Not only does Portman look and sound exactly like this pillbox hat-popping American (her public persona at least), but the rest of the period aesthetics prove spot-on as well. The minutes, hours, and days following JFK's assassination that played out in public get re-created to a hauntingly realistic - almost naturalistic - degree-a blood-covered Jackie cradling her husband's body, Lyndon Johnson getting sworn in as president aboard Air Force One, JFK, Jr. saluting his father's casket standing out in particular. If only the script had that same meticulous drive to uncover the truth. Screenwriter Noah Oppenheim barely gets the dust off of the marble veneer of this icon let alone puts a crack in it for all to see inside. It's something more than superficial but far less than satisfying. That Portman makes it all so watchable despite these shortcomings stands testament to her awe-strikingly chameleonic turn.
Insomuch as director Pablo Larrain deserves plaudits for the exacting details brought to life as a result of the brilliant casting and production design, he likewise deserves demerits for the music. Mica Levi's overpowering orchestration not only literally sounds like a funeral dirge, it's so obtrusive that it drowns out the actual drama. At times, it's so loud and overused that it's almost laughable in an ironical way. Who needs the cast commentary of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when the film's own score sounds like the outro to a '50s soap opera?
To Sum It Up: Camelot...I know it gives a person pause
A streamlined thriller that could very easily have strayed into treacly Movie-of-the-Week territory in less assured hands, the efficient and effective Patriots Days gives filmgoers a moving account of true events that ultimately celebrates - not exploits - its human core. This R-rated drama based on real events presents the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists responsible.
The narrative moves laterally between the points of view of victims, policemen, federal agents, terrorists, and health providers but make no mistake about it--this is a detective story that ultimately hones in on one central character. Indeed, Patriots Day is a Who-Done-It with a true blue American tragedy at its center. Granted, the 'true' part is, at times, nebulous. Several real-life law enforcement figures featured in the book Boston Strong by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge get pared down into one All-American Hero, an earnest Boston patrolman with a bad knee and self-doubt. Truthfully, they had to give this character some flaws because he's played by Mark Wahlberg, who has already played real-life people (All the Money in the World), All-American Heroes (Invincible), Bostonians (Ted), cops (We Own the Night), and sometimes a role that checks a good number of these boxes at one time (The Perfect Storm, The Fighter, The Departed). His casting alone could've earmarked Patriots Day as something boring, routine, or -worse - potentially pantomime, but Wahlberg's character ultimately and believably becomes the audience's eyes and ears because his performance doesn't involve wearing a heart on his sleeve...not much, at least. In fact, the entire production - casting included - seems to be one controlled environment. Though the harrowing events depicted are very visceral, they come from straight-forwardness and not sentimentality. Emotions get stirred but it doesn't feel like one's strings are being pulled. Oh, there's definitely string pulling happening, but it doesn't feel like a blatant exercise. All involved mostly let the facts speak for themselves and that's what makes Patriots Day stand out as an A-Grade ripped-from-the-headlines thriller. Sure, a very complex, weeks-spanning story gets boiled down into one two hour and fifteen-minute film but it is neither dull nor dismissive of the details.
Peter Berg deserves much of the credit here. A reputable director able to turn out dark comedies (Very Bad Things), hard-hitting dramas (Friday Night Lights), and summer blockbusters (Hancock), his CV recently zeroed in on a specific bent: fact-based thrillers starring Mark Wahlberg. Thankfully, following the disappointingly unthrilling exercise known as Lone Survivor, their collaboration yielded the solid and suspenseful Deepwater Horizon. This paved the way for their most satisfying collaboration yet, Patriots Day. Sure, he stacks the deck with recognizable stars (J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, and John Goodman are among the cast), but he never lets them get too showy aside from an occasionally arch line reading (at one point, Bacon's G-Man states, "He needs to walk like them, talk like them...walk into a tornado and walk out the other side like it's a gentle fucking breeze"). Thanks to Berg, the master string-puller behind the curtain, it all nonetheless works exceedingly well.
To Sum It Up: Boston Strong
A threequel arriving 15 years late to the party, the sometimes diverting xXx: The Return of Xander Cage capitalizes on the career resurgence of Vin Diesel, making good on its title but not much else. In this PG-13-rated spy actioner, Xander Cage (Diesel) gets left for dead after an incident, though he secretly returns to action for a new, tough assignment with his handler Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson).
After some promising turns in weightier fare (Saving Private Ryan, Boiler Room) Vin Diesel became a star and then rejuvenated his stardom by sticking to what he knows best, namely the Riddick trilogy and The Fast & the Furious franchise...so it makes perfect sense that he would mine some other dated properties that likewise didn't tank. xXx wasn't great in 2002 and it certainly isn't great now. In fact, Diesel even gave up on this series once himself by sitting out Part Two (Ice Cube stepped up in his stead). Part Three exists simply because it's a good fit for its charismatic star, who is still cresting in the white-hot wake of Fate of the Furious and all that preceded it. Hell, if Babylon AD hadn't babbled off at the box office, we might very well be sitting through Babylon HD instead. But here we are, revisiting an extreme sports action-soaked two-fer that should've been a one-fer. Indeed, the first xXx is a rote rock 'em sock 'em love child that resulted from merging three not-entirely-strange bedfellows: action star Diesel, spy flicks, and the X-Games. Featuring a key moment in which Xander Cage snowboards out of a helicopter, it is overblown and brash but certainly fits the bill for moviegoers who would get behind a separate 007 series starring just James Bond's stunt double. One scene toward the end of the flick perfectly sums up the xXx experience: Diesel, racing a tricked-up Pontiac GTO along a river that's host to a fast-moving submarine armed with a biochemical agent, remarks to the impossibly beautiful Asia Argento, "I have to get on that submarine." The audience can only reply, "Of course you do, Vin."
With director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) taking over for Rob Cohen (Stealth), The Return of Xander Cage manages to give audiences a reheated and similar tasting second helping of these same preposterous antics. He has a new love interest (Deepika Padukone), but romance has never been Diesel's strong suit. Flexing and blowing stuff up while riding a dirt bike are more in his wheelhouse and there's plenty of that. The best moment arrives when Cage (and Diesel by proxy) give an appropriate nod to the past, namely 2005's State of the Union. Hey, the movie knows exactly what it is. If only it knew when to quit.
To Sum It Up: Sporting Not-So-Goods
Flying quite a bit lower than The Aviator in terms of scope and entertainment value, Warren Beatty's lightly comic take on Howard Hughes charts a sometimes enjoyable - though not always breezy - old H'Wood romp. This PG-13-rated comedy presents the unconventional love story of an aspiring actress (Lily Collins), her ambitious driver (Alden Ehrenreich), and their eccentric boss (Beatty), the legendary billionaire Howard Hughes.
The good news is: Rules Don't Apply ranks better than Beatty's last two turns in the director's chair (Love Affair, Town & Country). The bad news is: this ain't Heaven Can Wait (which hasn't aged well) or even Bulworth (which has improved exponentially with age, but more on that later), the two entries on his director/star CV that also qualify as out-and-out comedies. In an unparalleled H'Wood career that astoundingly bridged the Studio era (Splendor in the Grass, Bonnie & Clyde) with the Maverick '70s (Shampoo, McCabe & Mrs. Miller) and continued through the rise of independent cinema (Dick Tracy, Bugsy), this star simply has little - if nothing - left to prove. He's the living legend who made Reds, for Chrissakes. He wouldn't benefit from, say, showy Oscar noms in the December of his years a la Christopher Plummer (Beginners, All the Money in the World). Mind you, such a feat wouldn't be beneath him. Rather, he's an icon who's already accomplished so much that such prizes wouldn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. For him to make a film like Rules Don't Apply means that he's either bored, has a strong interest in the fascinatingly enigmatic Hughes, or probably a little bit of both. It's as if Beatty wondered what the lift of the eccentric billionaire would look like through the lens of Preston Sturges. With this basic framework in place, he puts a screwball love triangle at the center and lets the comedy ensue...at least in parts. Oftentimes clunky, the pacing of Rules Don't Apply just isn't consistently fun or fast-paced enough. Perhaps, he should've emulated Sturges' style a little closer.
Rules Don't Apply certainly has its moments though. Most of these moments come courtesy of the casting, which sees Ehrenreich, Collins, and a dynamite supporting cast shine even when the shenanigans slog along. Also, from set design to costuming to music to the photography - his crew nails the look and feel of the '50s. For a film with the title "Rules Don't Apply," however, Beatty's latest doesn't really take chances. Remember, this is the director who gave audiences the edgy and prescient political comedy Bulworth, which makes a hell of a lot more sense now than it did in 1998 and it made a lot of sense then. Rather, what results is a throwback that plays it safe. With better editing, it could've instead played it for laughs which was the whole damn point.
To Sum It Up: Retro Ill-Fitted
In sparing not a word of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winner, Denzel Washington's brilliant unabridged treatment of his searing family drama packs an emotional wallop thanks to spot-on performances and a narrative that's allowed to breathe because it's not, well, fenced-in.
In this PG-13-rated drama, a working-class African-American father (Washington) tries to raise his family (Viola Davis, Jovan Adepo) in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life. In our hyperlink-filled culture, there are far too many jumping off points before you get the whole story. The long-form has become abridged to accommodate short attention spans. This is not new, however. The works of William Shakespeare have appeared in a digest form pretty much since first hitting the screen. When Kenneth Branagh spent $18 million adapting the entirety of Hamlet into a 4-hour H'Wood film in 1996, the move seemed rather bold. A limited release kept the film from making a profit in theaters, but glowing reviews and awards soon followed. For much the same reason, Washington's latest turn in the director's seat deserves much the same response-if not more because his setting doesn't allow for as much latitude as the certain tale of a Danish prince. And, before any classics muckety muck gets heated with this review for comparing the author of Fences to the Bard, let them be reminded: When it comes to "The Pittsburgh Cycle," you compare Shakespeare to Wilson.
It has been said that James Joyce never wasted a single word or piece of punctuation in his career-every last character was carefully chosen and meant something. So too stands the work of Wilson, an always pointed, poetic, and meticulously crafted treatise on American life. Though the writer speaks primarily from the African-American perspective and experience, his beautifully written (though not always beautiful) characters voice a multitude of universal truths. Here, he gets sole credit as screenwriter and every beat of his seminal work remains intact. His Troy, Fences's protagonist AND antagonist, is both a defeated man and often a defeater of other men. His pro-baseball prospects derailed by a stretch in prison, he has survived the ebbs and flows of life, albeit not gratefully. Undeniably charismatic, he flashes moments of warmth. Unfortunately for those in his orbit, these moments come between long stretches of him tearing down his wife and son as he takes out his bitterness with life on them. He is the architect of his own destruction, of course, which makes this flawed character so rich and undeniably human. In his performance of Troy, Washington mines every possible nuance from a man who puts up so many emotional, ahem, fences. It's an electric turn made all the more electric by Davis' amazing role as his long-suffering but dedicated wife, Rose. These two actors perfected their characters' chemistry during a 2010 limited Broadway run, which makes for a dynamic synergy on screen. You believe every peak. You believe every valley. Other characters, such as Troy's mentally challenged younger brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), don't have quite the same impact on the screen as on the stage. Owing to the fact that the character does so much with so little, going big and loud (we're talking the theater space-not the actor, who does an excellent job) almost robs him of a powerful moment at the end. Also, some directors would have sprawled out the canvas to include more locations...to the detriment of the material, however. The definition of faithful adaptation, Washington's take smartly keeps the setting limited. In fact, save for a select number of scenes, the action rarely leaves Troy's property, which hammers home the point of a piece about barriers. Some filmgoers might call that stagey. This review calls it: the whole damn point.
To Sum it Up: Great Fences Make Great Viewing
A historic true saga that amazingly never feels epic or anything like a history lesson, the appropriately titled Loving brilliantly paints a sprawling panorama with intimate brushstrokes and the audience is the better for it.
This PG-13-rated drama presents The story of Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga), a couple whose arrest for interracial marriage in 1960s Virginia began a legal battle that would end with the Supreme Court's historic 1967 decision. Truthfully, filmgoers don't even know that a cyclorama has been built around them in just over two hours until the end credits start to roll. The audience gets so caught up in the titular couple's tender romance in the segregated south that the landmark court decision that follows (Loving v. the Commonwealth of Virginia) somehow feels less important than their personal vindication. Rather than relegating the bullet points of their lives to actual headlines and news footage, a tired device that many filmmakers would have juxtaposed into the narrative, Loving begins with a very private moment between the couple that immediately makes all viewers sympathetic partners in this journey. Beautifully so, this intimate handling of their lives stays the course throughout the film. And for many, sympathy slowly becomes empathy.
However despicable the facts, there is much to love about Loving's depiction of the harrowing real events surrounding their plight. Let us count the ways. First off, it marks a career best for writer-director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Midnight Special), who gives audiences a fly-on-the-wall - almost immersive - look into the lives of this rock of a couple. His canvas is practically living and breathing-not without style but never being showy, as well as pointed without ever being in your face. Secondly, as if taking you by the hand, Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga lead filmgoers beat for naturalistic beat through their ordeal. Appropriate to the characters, their love is palpable and wholly real without ever getting hot and heavy on-screen. These are normal (in their eyes, at least, despite the mores of the period) and simple (but not simplistic) country folk thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Thanks to their performances and Nichols' understated framing of these performances, the drama never feels anything less than nakedly honest. It's a truthful depiction of a true story that feels incredibly refreshing in the bi-polar political climate of a very divided modern America where bigotry very much remains.
To Sun it Up: Black and White and Gold All Over
Singing and dancing its way into the hearts, minds, and ears of even those who think that Chicago was a complete waste of time, elegant, enchanting, edgy and elegiac tune-up La La Land often looks like an homage to Golden Age H'Wood but sports enough lovestruck spark and - alternately - jaded spunk to qualify it as a true modern-day genre original.
In this PG-13-rated musical, a pianist (Ryan Gosling) and an actress (Emma Stone) fall in love while attempting to reconcile their aspirations for the future amid navigating their divergent careers in Los Angeles. Don't call it a throwback. Indeed, La La Land lovingly tips its hat to such entertainment industry-set musicals as Singin' in the Rain and New York, New York but also charts a millennial-appropriate melancholic course all its own. While some great musicals like All that Jazz get downright bleak, La La Land softshoes into the dark without every fully losing its color and buoyancy. Take for instance a date night rendezvous shot in the Griffith Observatory, which literally sees the leads taking flight and dancing among the stars. This could very easily have gotten so on-the-nose schmaltzy that the scene required an animated Disney sidekick. Instead, the entire song-and-dance - we're taking the film as a whole - knowingly keeps it from tripping over its own feet into a brink called cornball. It knows what it is. It's a dessert and a floor wax...er, rather, it's nostalgic, romantic, and also terminally cynical all at once while dancing backward in high heels. If that doesn't speak to many of today's workaday Americans, then the musical is not only merely dead, it's really most sincerely dead.
Ultimately, La La Land is a hat-trick...albeit a very accomplished hat-trick. To remain vital in that gnat's-attention-span known as modern pop culture, a musical must implant one key feature into the brain of filmgoers: a hummable tune. Just as a western must present at least one key scene set in or that strongly brings to mind the untamed mythic expanse known as the American West, a musical has to boast at least one notable song. La La Land accomplishes this. Oh, "City of Stars" won't ultimately achieve the classic status of, say, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz, but definitely qualifies as toe-tapping and memorable. "Another Day of Sun" proves less of an earworm but backs the film's showstopper moment--a one-take, traffic-snarled freeway song-and-dance number. That this showstopper kicks off the film and a blue note ends it while still making the audience beam from ear to ear speaks to the brilliance of director Damian Chazelle. Neither a jukebox musical nor a Broadway adaptation, his La La Land is a rare beast thought extinct. Building upon his short musical Guy And Madeline On A Park Bench (perhaps a bit too much as the film's only failing is that it runs too long) with a cornucopia and cacophony perfectly suited for the here and now, his musical is original in the best sense. In fact, his hat-trick greatly one-ups 2011 Best Picture Oscar winner The Artist, which was a silent film homage accomplished through shear imitation. La La Land harks back without becoming its forebears--a love letter and a Dear John letter in one fell swoop. Chazelle shares this dignity not just with the genius-level choreographers and songwriters, but mostly with Gosling and Stone who pull all off the whole act with a ridiculous amount of grace and conviction. An impeccable latter-day Vaudeville team, their singing and dancing aren't perfect but you wouldn't want them polished to that vaunted degree. They're relatable...well, at least as relatable as people who break into song on a moment's notice. Working beautifully together, step for gorgeous step and note for lovely note, they provide the heart and soul to a film whose target demo are people with hearts and souls.
To Sum It All Up: City of Starstruck
As tender as it is tough as it is true, three-tiered coming-of-age drama Moonlight is a near-master class character study that almost reaches the vaunted heights of its A+ reputation.
In this R-rated Oscar winner, director Barry Jenkins chronicles the childhood, adolescence and burgeoning adulthood of a young, African-American, gay man growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. Truly, in any other year or awards cycle, this film might have found itself in the also-ran category. Given the backlash surrounding the 'Oscars So White' brouhaha, however (in which the Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences barely put forth any African-American nominees), this independent gem improbably claimed the year's top prize. To say that Academy voters gave Moonlight the Best Picture trophy due to white guilt or a self-back-patting PR-move truly undermines a beautifully acted and shot achievement in filmmaking. However, the truth is that Moonlight is good but not THAT good. Weighing the film with these heaviest of laurels only serves to put an albatross around its neck, dashing expectations along the way and undermining its beauty in another way. At times heart-tugging and heart-wrenching (sometimes at the same time), there are many things to love about Moonlight, beginning with its source. The film takes its inspiration from In the Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, an unpublished play by Tarell Alvin McRaney, in more ways than one. Beyond the title and narrative, there is also the matter of color. Almost everything - from the rolling surf where a fatherly drug dealer takes young Chiron for his first ocean dip to the clothes worn by a teenage Chiron's abusive mother to the streetlights of nighttime Miami where a hardened adult-aged Chiron peddles narcotics - exudes an almost ethereal blueish hue. And that's the splendor of Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton's unified vision. Life is not simply black and white; it's black and blue--dark moments punctuated by color. Just look at the film's poster, which showcases the three faces of Chiron as one in stark black and blue. The vicious visceral sense of the term 'black and blue' in regards to bruising only compounds this notion. Notice too that these aforementioned scenes also bely this duality. In these highlighted moments, there's the hurtful but loving mother, the kind-hearted but socially despicable father figure and our protagonist, a lost little boy grown into a callous criminal. There are colorful qualities to these often-dark lives, which is definitely an authentically human quality. Thankfully, Jenkins and Laxton capture this all in a truly cinematic fashion, forgoing handheld in lieu of a good old-fashioned stationary camera. It exudes beauty in tragedy, providing the perfect backdrop as a man slowly finds himself. Alex Hibbert (Little), Ashton Sanders (Middle), and Trevante Rhodes (Big) play three versions of this same person but, together though separate, awesomely and seamlessly provide one solid and wholly believable through-line. They ARE Chiron. With little screen time, their co-stars, Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, both leave a lasting impact felt long after the final credit has rolled. Ali, so ridiculously deserving of his Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor, grounds an unlawful dealer named Juan who, alternatively, has a moral center so strong that he takes a neglected child under his caring wing. Together, Chiron and Juan truly challenge the issue of masculine identity. Again, there is that duality.
Speaking of duality, there are some slight cons. Even with all of its pluses, Moonlight has somewhat limited appeal. If you strip away the visuals (just for argument's sake, mind you), this story has already been seen and heard countless times by audiences. While it beautifully presents a real-feeling coming-of-age story, not a lot actually happens. Despite the presence of guns, drugs and thugs, it is a quiet film without a discernible plot or target audience. This is not to say that it's boring or that these are deal-breakers...at least for some audiences. Indeed, if filmgoers allow themselves to get caught up in the trappings of this story, it will move them--not overwhelmingly so but moving nonetheless. One has to truly be willing to immerse themselves in these blue waters, however, and this experience rarely exhibits a 'wow' moment. Sadly, to many, Moonlight will feel like a slow-moving lesson in monotony.
To Sum it Up: Walk Into the Light
Blacker than midnight in a skillet, seating drama Manchester By the Sea showcases a lead actor and writer-director at their finest, drawing you into a very real-feeling blue note that nonetheless features a lot of high notes both tonally and artistically.
In this R-rated drama, a depressed uncle (Casey Affleck) gets asked to take care of his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges) after the boy's father (Kyle Chandler) dies. Yes, for the most part, it's a downer. There is a deeper darker tragedy at the center of this already tragic story, the collateral damage from which our main character, Lee Chandler, never recovers. Say what you will about the film's funereal tone but there is nary a false feeling or false sounding moment in the entire 137 minutes...nary, mind you. Though that sad page from Lee's past almost feels TOO tragic as it unspools, it's the resulting interactions of the characters involved - especially between him, his ex-wife Randi, and nephew Patrick - that feel note-for-note authentic. Despite the general malaise, Manchester By the Sea's truthfulness - coming to terms with the turmoil scene by scene as much as humanly possible - ultimately makes for an optimistic experience. Life is often a bummer, which all filmgoers can relate to in spades. The fact that this film's authenticity nearly moves the viewer from sympathy to empathy, however, speaks volumes for its emotional punch. And while it's true that some wish to escape a depressive atmosphere when they step into a cinema, these audience members probably shouldn't have wandered into a drama with a movie poster featuring two sullen people and more oak clusters than the most decorated Army veteran.
Lee is a broken man. We know this without dialogue. Casey Affleck has turned in many understated performances where a character fails to deal with some emotional issues (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Gone Baby Gone, The Killer Inside Me), but his turn in Manchester By the Sea takes it a step further. In this very gifted actor's hands, Lee unhealthily shoves down every last feeling such that the internal pain exhibits itself externally and he looks perpetually stooped but coiled, seemingly reticent but ready to strike as soon as someone pushes his buttons. It's an amazing turn worth its weight in Oscar gold more than any other male performance this year. Michele Williams as Randi, meanwhile, meets him beat for beat with a lot less screen time. Both say so much with so little; both performances are truly unforgettable. Without Kenneth Lonergan's masterful screenplay and direction, however, these turns might have very well been rudderless. They chart some rough waters in Manchester but their downbeat experience amazingly gives way to an upbeat outlook thanks to the transparency of all the artists involved. It's a rare film that has you run the gamut of emotions without filmic tricks or manipulation. Here, simply put, reality truly sets in.
To Sum it Up: Deep but Blue Sea