November 27, 2016

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea *****

Casey Affleck is remarkable in his role as Lee in Manchester by the Sea. He's a solitary man with demons, though we don't know what they are until well into the film, and when the story is revealed we completely understand who he is.
Now he has to go home to deal with the death of his brother and figure out what to do with his 16-year-old nephew, whose father named Lee as his guardian, without telling Lee.
"Because he knew I'd say no," Lee tells the attorney.
Affleck hits just the right notes of stoicism and grief, and much of his performance is in his face, not his words. It's a subtle and restrained performance and I can't imagine he won't be nominated for an Oscar for this performance.
Newcomer Lucas Hedges as the nephew Patrick also gives a wonderful and authentic performance. Kenneth Lonergan's direction was just right in this film, and all the actors live up to his high expectations.
There are no neat little bows in this story. It's a gritty story about gritty people, struggling to survive.
Five stars out of five for Manchester by the Sea.

November 26, 2016

Movie Review: The Edge of Seventeen **

The Edge of Seventeen is an implausible coming-of-age story that doesn't work until the final act.
There's Nadine (Hailee Steinfield), who's supposed to be a nerdy outcast but who's too beautiful to have ever been anything other than head cheerleader or homecoming queen. But okay, if you can buy that part of the premise you might like this contrived story.
A couple more of my many problems with the story: As a seventeen year old she "accidentally" sends a pornographic text to a guy she has a crush on (there's no believable lead-up to this crush, no chemistry, and this guy is such a drip that one has to wonder what she sees in him), and when he texts her back to ask if she wants to hang out she thinks he really just wants to get to know her. He does, of course, but not the way she hoped.
And after she finally understands what he's after (duh...) she gets out of the car and runs away, only to call her teacher (Woody Harrelson as a curmudgeon in another unbelievable relationship) who comes to get her. Nice, right? How does she have his private phone number? But, whatever, he picks her up and takes her to his house. WHAT??? He takes her to his house? In what world would he not be arrested? And why didn't he just take her home?
But up until this point we're led to believe that he's single, making his actions even sleazier, so this scene is contrived to show us that voila! he's a family man with a lovely wife (what does she possibly see in him?) and baby.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (Nadine's house which of course isn't a ranch) there's the stereotypical neglectful mom (Kyra Sedgewick) and the older brother who's the golden boy, who Nadine has never gotten along with.
Spoiler alert: In the final act everyone's happy, with themselves and each other. Sweet, but not sweet enough to sit through the other 45 minutes.
Two stars out of five for The Edge of Seventeen.

November 18, 2016

Movie Review: The Eagle Huntress *****

I don't often call movies perfect. Usually there are at least one or two small things I would change, but The Eagle Huntress is perfect.
This is a documentary about a young girl in a remote part of the Asian mountains who wants to be an eagle hunter, a right reserved for men, and handed down from generation to generation. Not only is she not a man, she's not even a woman - she's a 12 year old girl; a girl with admirable courage and fearlessness and heart.
Dazzling photography, a magnificent score that enhances the action and the scenery, an elegantly written and edited story. It's a sensitively told, heartwarming and uplifting story about the human spirit.
Watch this trailer and then go see this amazing film.
Five of five stars for The Eagle Huntress.
(I have no idea what other documentaries will be nominated for Oscars this year, but none can be better than this.)

October 31, 2016

Halloween: The Anti-Cinderella

As a child I wanted nothing more than to be Cinderella for Halloween. I remember one year when I was a cowboy. Not a cowgirl - a cowboy. I remember being a scarecrow and a baseball player. But what I remember most is the year I was a wolf. The costume was a red onesie-type thing with a tail, and it had a red full-head wolf's mask complete with fangs and icky red fur.
Talk about anti-Cinderella.
The only good thing about that wolf costume was that Mrs. Williams, my third grade teacher, said she was going to give out a prize if she couldn't guess who you were and I thought, "How the fuck is she going to know who I am in this thing?"
Well, not in those exact words. I was 8, after all.
Mrs. Williams went up and down the rows and put her hand on each kid's head and said their name. Of course it was easy with the princesses and the cowboys and Indians, but there were a few of us with full-head masks and I was sure I was going to win. But when she got to me she never even hesitated, just said my name and moved on.
Sheila Bennett won that year. She was a black cat. She didn't even have a full-head mask. She wore black makeup and whiskers and a mask over her eyes. And she acted just like a cat; licking her paw and "washing" her head and sitting by Mrs. Williams' chair and meowing. Everybody knew it was Sheila. Except that ignorant (sucker) Mrs. Williams.
The thing is, I used to get my cousin Ken's Halloween hand-me-downs because he was one year older.
But he was a boy. I was not.
And my mother was too mean to buy me a Cinderella costume. Mean, just like that wicked stepmother. And she was apparently immune to my tears because I shed a lot of them over that wolf thing.
It scarred me for life.
I blame Ken. If only he'd wanted to be Cinderella.

October 29, 2016

Movie Review: Moonlight **

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune calls this film "extraordinary," because of "the film medium's secret weapons: restraint, quiet honesty, fluid imagery..."
His definition of 'restraint' must be 'excruciatingly slow.' By 'quiet honesty' he must be talking about all those many scenes where the camera lingers on someone who's not speaking, and by 'fluid imagery'...well, I can only imagine what that means.
I truly thought this film was going to be a gem, and was shocked when under an hour into it I was looking at my watch. Things move very slowly here.
In the first act Chiron is about eight and is befriended by (of all people) his mother's drug dealer, and the drug dealer's lady. But somewhere along the way (in the second act) the drug dealer is gone and we only know he died because Chiron's mother mentions a funeral.
There's one more scene with the drug dealer's lady, so you know she's still in his life, but than pfffft! she's gone. What happened to her? We never know.
So now, Chiron is about 15 or 16, and he's even more morose and silent than he was at eight. Which, believe me, is not engaging.
So then he gets beaten up (this happens regularly in his life) and retaliates and goes to Juvie.
And in the third act he's in his 20s and has moved to Atlanta with his drug addict mom and has turned into the drug dealer who befriended him - same car, same dashboard ornament, same necklace, and those gold teeth that shout "I'm a drug dealer!"
In the end (spoiler alert) he meets up with with his childhood friend who's now a cook in a restaurant in Miami (where they grew up), whom he's been in love with all these years.
Yes, there's a gay theme. Sort of.
He goes to the restaurant where this guy cooks and they reconnect. Kevin, the friend, wants to cook for him and asks him what he wants. "Or do you want the chef's special?" he asks. And a man in the audience says (loud), "Yeah, give it to him," which was very funny. Many people laughed, so you can see what the mood was.
I can't blame the actors for their performances, tho I want to. It's all about the directing. And the writing, but less so.
Two stars out of five for Moonlight.
(But I bet it'll be nominated for a bunch of Academy Awards.)


October 23, 2016

Movie Review: Aquarius **1/2

Aquarius never gives us a compelling reason for Clara's refusal to leave her apartment in the face of pressure all around her. And that's the entire plot of this film.
I wanted to be on her side, but what was her motivation? Sentiment? Stubbornness? Principle? We never know.
This is a very long movie - 2 hours 22 minutes - and there's a lot happening but most of it seems to have no purpose.
I wanted to care but unfortunately never found a reason to.
2-1/2 stars for Aquarius, but only that many because I love Sonia Braga.

October 11, 2016

Theatre Review: Hamilton *****

First question everyone asks: Does Hamilton live up to the hype?
The answer: Unequivocally,  yes. And beyond.
How did Lin Manuel-Miranda ever come up with the concept of doing a musical about Alexander Hamilton, who certainly was not our most famous president?
And then, once he thought of it, how did he come up with the idea of doing it in hip-hop?
And what made him choose all races and ethnicities to play these mostly-white parts?
How did he decide to add amazing choreography?
The answer: Who knows?
But it's genius.
This show a phenomenon. It's clever and smart with perfect direction and amazing actors who all have great voices and dancing abilities, and it brings to life a time in our history that we all need to remember.
There are a few current-day terms sprinkled in ("Awesome!" "Wassup!") that work in the context, but are surprising, and so funny.
And then there are the ditties sung in a sulky way by King George to his errant subjects in the new world. He's a hoot. Here's a sample from his first song, You'll Be Back:
You’ll be back, soon you’ll see
You’ll remember you belong to me
You’ll be back, time will tell
You’ll remember that I served you well
Oceans rise, empires fall
We have seen each other through it all
And when push comes to shove
I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!
This show lives up to everything you expect in a Broadway smash.
Five of five stars for Hamilton.