November came and went rather quickly, wouldn't you say? Between the Cubs and the Election (and its aftermath), there was a whole heck of a lot of distractions. Don't worry though. I was still keeping up on all the latest movie releases. And, even though I wasn't able to post all the individual reviews I wanted, here's a handy primer on what you may have missed:
DOCTOR STRANGE: you can read my full review here. SEE IT.
TROLLS: you can read my full review here. SEE IT.
HACKSAW RIDGE: A well-crafted, old-fashioned tale of heroism on the battlefield that is neatly divided into three different sections. The battle sequences at the end prove the most horrific and engaging. Nice to have Mel Gibson back in the director's chair and he stages carnage like nobody's business. Your grandparents will think this movie is amazing. SEE IT.
LOVING: Low-key, nuanced true story about an interracial couple fighting to have their marriage recognized by courts and the state. Subtle acting turns by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, and director Jeff Nichols wisely avoids pouring on sentiment and hackneyed dramatic twists, if sometimes at the expense of heightened emotional engagement. SEE IT.
ARRIVAL: A smart, surprisingly emotional sci-fi tale about communicating with aliens. To say more about it would spoil some of its main pleasures. Amy Adams is excellent in an understated turn, and director Denis Villeneuve continues to astonish with his visuals and confident command of the story. SEE IT.
ALMOST CHRISTMAS: This is one of those large ensemble holiday comedies that can be counted on to make you feel good, even if it's not very good. Safe to say, I don't think this will become a new holiday classic. Unsuccessful mix of broad farce and weepy melodrama. SKIP IT.
THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN: One of the true delights of the year. Pitch-perfect teen comedy with a serious side that proves to be a great showcase for leading lady Hailee Steinfeld. Any comparisons to John Hughes classics are apt. SEE IT.
BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK: Oof. Ang Lee is an undisputed master of his craft, but this is a complete misfire. Weird directing choices abound. The movie looks artificial and the dramatic arcs are just as fake and unbelievable. Wastes a fairly unorthodox cast (Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker). SKIP IT.
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM: Those Harry Potter fans jonesing for a new fix are in for a treat. J.K. Rowling has expanded the wizard universe to a familiar, yet different and equally engaging story and cast of characters. Eddie Redmayne is perfect in the lead role. The character and production design are endlessly fascinating. The costumes are gorgeous. The movie casts a spell. SEE IT.
THE HANDMAIDEN: A crazy, erotically charged con artist tale from the director of Oldboy. The script is interestingly structured, and never plays out as you might expect. For adventurous moviegoers only though. SEE IT.
BLEED FOR THIS: Yet another boxing story aimed to give a young male star a shot at Oscar glory. This one stars Miles Teller as an egotistic jerk who gets in a car crash and has to work his way back in the ring. Nothing you haven't seen a million times before, and done better. SKIP IT.
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS: Tom Ford's follow-up to his debut film, A Single Man, easily avoids the sophomore slump. Tense and sardonic, with an excellent performance by Jake Gyllenhaal in the story-within-a-story. Narratively clever, frustrating, and memorable all at the same time. SEE IT.
MOANA: Disney has done it again. A rich, lushly animated fable about a young woman setting off to find a demi-god to help save her village. Excellent new songs by Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda, among others, and Dwayne Johnson is a hoot as the demi-god, Maui. Seriously, is there anything that guy can't do? SEE IT.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA: Kenneth Lonergan doesn't make very many movies, but when he does, audiences need to sit up and pay attention. This is a deeply human tale of redemption covering the spectrum of emotions - at turns gut-wrenching, funny, and profound. A little too long and the ending underwhelms, but Casey Affleck gives a career-best performance. SEE IT.
BAD SANTA 2: This sequel is well past its prime, coming a full 13 years after the original. I don't think anyone was clamoring for more, and we've seen Billy Bob do this shtick in countless other movies since. Sloppy and unfunny, with a crude-to-be-crude streak that leaves talented folks like Kathy Bates and Christina Hendricks having to phone it in. SKIP IT.
ALLIED: Handsome Hollywood drama featuring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in full-on movie star mode. The trailer gives away too much (per usual) and even when director Robert Zemeckis tries to generate suspense, it never really thrills, but it's a perfectly entertaining mainstream film for grown-ups, which is a rarity these days. SEE IT.
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