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.)