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Manchester by the Sea, superb; plus the return of Warren Beatty and some girl power from Disney

Also: Brad and Marion get together in Allied, Amy and Jake ponder Nocturnal Animals and Bad Santa spawns a sequel

 

The big films this week came out on Wednesday, timed to American Thanksgiving. But the best one, Manchester by the Sea, starts today, a bit tentatively I’d say considering its growing reputation.

Also give some thought to a couple of festivals. Turkish films play at the VanCity theatre through the weekend, including the cat charmer called Kedi. It sold out three times at VIFF. There’s info at VTFF.ORG.

And the European Union Festival continues until mid-week at the Cinematheque. Among the highlights still to come is an off-beat comedy mystery called Schmitke, a tale of four generations of “crazies” called Mom and Other Loonies in the Family, a documentary about aboriginal people in Scandinavia and a drama with “horrid behavior and dark farce in Family Party.You can read more at http://www.thecinematheque.ca/eufilmfestival

These are new this week:

Manchester By the Sea:  4 ½ stars

Rules Don’t Apply: 3

Moana:  4

Nocturnal Animals:  3 ½

Allied:  2 ½

Bad Santa 2:  1 ½   

 

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA:  It’s only in one theatre so far but that will change. This film is enjoying major awards buzz because the writing, acting and staging are superb. Kenneth Lonergan, who wrote and directed it, delves into some tangled family connections, regrets from the past and a difficult recovery  from a breakdown.  Surprisingly, it’s also very funny at times. The emotional territory is similar to Lonergan’s breakthrough film, You Can Count on Me, but not as intense because it’s more understated and leavened with that humor.

 

Casey Affleck, as a handyman and janitor wasting away at a Boston apartment building, is called back to his old hometown when his brother dies. He doesn’t want to be there because of some incident from the past which he knows people remember and we slowly learn about. But he can’t get away because he’s appointed guardian of his nephew (Lucas Hedges) a teen who, with two girlfriends and a spot on the hockey team, is pretty well his opposite. That leads to some funny interchanges. As he tries to get free of the obligation and avoid his past, he runs into old friends, including his ex-wife (Michelle Williams), hears bits of gossip and resumes a habit of getting into bar fights.  The film melds all these elements into a realistic drama of small town life and a poignant study of a character trying not to blame himself for what’s past. I’m not going to overthink this one like some critics are doing. Sure there are many themes here, but some are  only for context and to enrich the background. The upfront story is moving enough and Affleck is perfect living it. (5th Avenue) 4 ½ out of 5

RULES DON’T APPLY: I for one am glad he’s back. Warren Beatty as Howard Hughes just fits. He brings out more of the movie-and-airline billionaire’s eccentricities than I’ve seen before. Tommy Lee Jones, Jason Robards and Leonardo DiCaprio got some of them. Warren got the spooky side; as well as the drifting mind, the paranoia, the impulsive imagination, the self-importance and the charm. As a Hollywood insider he probably saw some of it first hand and so the film, in which he plays him, wrote the story and the script, produced and directed, feels authentic. At times it’s a semi-affectionate view of him.

 

We get it through two characters who play out their own story and now and then interact with him.  Lily Collins shines as a would-be starlet being groomed by Hughes’ people and promised a screen test sometime soon. Alden Ehrenreich, as a driver assigned to her, becomes her confidant, and in violation of a strict rule, her lover. He also wants Hughes to invest in a real estate project. That’s the short version.

They’re a sweet couple inside a loony whirlwind 50 years ago. Hughes flings orders about, hires and fires his Mormon aides (Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen among them) stonewalls Congress and travels in a fit to London and Nicaragua (though sadly not to Vancouver, where you might remember he stayed holed-up in the Bayshore Hotel for six months). Beatty’s first movie in 18 years (six years if you count a TV movie) is entertaining and a timely caution about capricious billionaires. (International Village, Marine Gateway, suburban theatres) 3  out of 5   

MOANA: The Disney Corporation took some lumps for this one, although they thought they were doing something good. Cultural appropriation is the charge, and insensitivity the proof. Unintentional, I say. This is a beautiful film for children, and their parents, with a pertinent message: know who you are and be yourself. There’s a strong female empowerment lesson too. None of that is new but worth expounding one more time.

The story draws on Polynesian legends. A young girl (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) wants to save her island society from stagnation. They used to be seafarers but are now forbidden to sail out beyond the reef. “It calls to me,” she sings in one of several tunes by Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s famous for creating the Broadway smash hit Hamilton.

More in New Movies

Films about art and artists with Emily Dickenson, Cézanne and some sparkling Shakespeare

Also Poland’s most important painter versus the Communists and Richard Gere as a political hustler

Searching for a Lost City, eyeing the wildlife of China, honoring the guru of better cities

And there’s more: friends and monsters connect long distance, wartime feelings that don’t go away and the real life of drug addicts

Reviews of Their Finest, superb, Maudie, heartrending, Black Code, a digital-age warning

Also Canadian films get a special day (in some places a week) and a pilgrim trek suitable for Easter
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