Review of reviews: Film
Manchester by the Sea
Directed by Kenneth
An uncle and nephew fumble through grief.
Kenneth Lonergan’s third feature in 17 years is “a staggering American drama, almost operatic in the heartbreak it chronicles,” said A.A. Dowd in AVClub.com. It wouldn’t be nearly as powerful, though, if it didn’t consistently make room for the everyday headaches— like a misplaced parked car—that crop up in good times and bad. The results are “almost unspeakably moving—and at times, disarmingly funny.” Casey Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, a handyman who’s nursing a deep emotional wound when his brother dies and he learns, after returning to his seaside hometown, that his 16-year-old nephew is to be put in his custody. Playing a man broken by past tragedy, Affleck delivers “one of the most fiercely disciplined screen performances in recent memory,” said A.O. Scott in The New York Times. Even when Lee makes a joke, “the force of his pent-up emotion is terrifying.” And Affleck’s co-stars are nearly as fine, with Lucas Hedges particularly good as a teen trading loving jabs with his haunted uncle. Michelle Williams is outstanding, too, “even by her standards,” said Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. Playing Lee’s ex, she doesn’t get many scenes, but when she does, she shows “a level of fearlessness and raw vulnerability that will tear your heart out.”
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Directed by David Yates
A wizard zoologist hunts for exotic pets.
“What a relief to get away from Hogwarts,” said Anthony Lane in The New Yorker. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter spinoff introduces a new story, set decades before Harry enrolled at the storied school, and the result is “a cunning and peppy surprise.” Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander, a wizard who arrives in 1926 New York to find and collect endangered magical beasts in an enchanted suitcase. Redmayne overdoes Newt’s shyness, but the rest of the cast is “sturdy,” and the magic tricks Newt and friends toss off remind us that wizardry is most compelling out in the world, when it “clashes against the iron of ordinary lives.” Unfortunately, Fantastic Beasts “doesn’t really have a plot,” said Dan Kois in Slate.com. Several creatures escape Newt’s suitcase, prompting a hunt through a city awash in anti-wizard prejudice. But Rowling has too many stories and rules to establish for the five-film franchise she’s launching, and this entry gets bogged down by exposition. The best of the Harry Potter movies “benefited from screenplays that combined sharp dialogue with strong dramatic carpentry,” said Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal. This “perfectly pleasant” movie does “little more” than set the stage for a potentially enjoyable franchise. “Here’s hoping for magical sequels.”
Directed by Tom Ford
A socialite looks back on her life’s wrong turn.
Fashion designer Tom Ford has made his second feature film, and it “makes a lot of noise for a movie that doesn’t have much to say,” said Will Leitch in NewRepublic.com. Amy Adams plays a rich gallery owner who loses herself in a manuscript, written by her novelist ex-husband, that relates a violent tale of rape and revenge. Three stories soon intertwine: the dissolution of the couple’s marriage years earlier, the empty life that Adams’ character leads now, and the Texas-based story in the novel. The results are “never dull” and “never not gorgeous,” but the film’s attempt to merge pulp with art commentary never comes off. Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal “do some real acting here,” said Stephanie Zacharek in Time.com. Gyllenhaal plays both the ex and the protagonist of the novel, a man whose wife and daughter are assaulted by three strangers in a nighttime highway sequence that proves “the best in the film—tense and beautifully sustained.” But too much of the movie feels “glazed and remote,” as if it weren’t even made by a human. It’s ultimately “a coffee-table book of a nightmare,” said Ty Burr in The Boston Globe. Though “easy to admire,” it’s also “easy to close the cover on.”