This is the story of Desmond Doss, a real person who stood by his convictions no matter what life, war and death managed to throw at him. Andrew Garfield plays a noble and somewhat saintly pacifist who goes to war, pledging to do no harm—literally. He won’t carry a gun and he won’t kill anyone. He will only help as a medic. Desmond (Garfield) actively chooses to save lives, not take them. It feels too good to be true, but then you get to the end of the movie and you meet the real Desmond Doss. For a few glorious moments you believe that extraordinary people do exist and the world isn’t just a petri dish of filth, violence and hate. That moment soon passes and when it does, you’re left with a triumphantly charismatic performance by Garfield and several well-executed and enthralling combat scenes. I enjoyed the character development in this movie despite some of those same characters indulging in melodramatic pageantry every now and again. I don’t know that I would have nominated Hacksaw Ridge for a thousand Oscars, but I know you’ll certainly enjoy it if you like a good war flick.
Manchester by the Sea
This one starts out somber. Lee’s (Casey Affleck) a handy man at a local apartment complex. He lives alone in a nondescript, tiny, grey garden apartment at this same complex. His days consist of dealing with renters who call him to fix pipes, unclog toilets, make passes at him, berate him, demean him, etc. And then he's informed that his older brother (and favorite person) has suddenly passed away. It’s easy to see why Lee might be a little depressed. And just like that, you go from somber to tragic and right on through to full devastation in under two and a half hours. I know that sounds awful, but this tragedy is expressed with a grace and elegance that creates a captivating dichotomy of emotions. To be honest, after reading about Casey Affleck’s sexual harassment allegations, I wanted to dislike this movie. Unfortunately / Fortunately, this is a well-made movie and Casey Affleck’s performance brought me to my knees. This guy portrays depression with the kind of piercing accuracy that Kirsten Dunst created for Melancholia. Kenneth Lonergan (Director) pairs despair and tragedy with enough dry humor to make this outrageously depressing story not only palatable but beautiful. I wept because I had no choice and the thing is, I love when movies provoke that sort of visceral reaction. That’s sort of what movies are about for me, and even though I wanted to hate this movie, I can’t. It's too good for me to be spiteful.
Jackie is the story of president John F. Kennedy’s assassination told from his wife’s vantage point. It's also a fictionalization of an interview (Jackie's first it seems) after her husband's death. Pablo Larraín (Director) gives us a peek into the life of the queen of our Camelot just before, during and after the death of her husband. After President Kennedy was gone, Jackie had to fight to ensure that she would not be cast aside. She stood her ground against many a powerful man in a suit trying to calm her down and shut her up. She held on tight until she was sure she had cemented her husband's legacy into our nation's history. Natalie Portman does some of her best work in this film. Her honest and brusque portrayal of our former First Lady was nothing I’d expected and exactly the kind of thing I enjoy. Jackie is not a sanitized version of true events. it’s a gritty fictionalization. Not only is the violence of JFK's assassination brutal and raw in its depiction, Jackie’s abrasive nature and manipulative tendencies aren’t softened or brushed aside either. While I found the overall storytelling a little disjointed, it’s nothing that can’t be overlooked while marveling at Portman’s performance.
Kate and Geoff have led a good life. They've been together a long time and created an existence they both relish. They even appear to be living happily ever after. By all accounts, they’re winning at life. They live in a beautiful house in the English countryside, they have lots of friends, and they’ll be celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary in exactly one week. Then, one day Geoff receives a letter and he’s forced to confront something he’d buried deep within his mind long ago. I’d ruin it for you if I told you what was in the letter, so I’ll stop here. What I can say is that there isn’t enough of this kind of storytelling. Not everything happens to people in their youth. Life goes on for lots of us and as we get older, our stories become more complex. That should be more celebrated in film but it’s not. That’s a shame. Fortunately for you and me, we've got 45 years. The cinematography is gorgeous, the performances by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, as the title characters, are devastatingly strong. Director Andrew Haigh's slow paced, almost languid, storytelling gives you ample time to relish every nuance in Rampling and Courtenay's performances. Everything about this movie is intense in its quietness. It’s beautiful and painful and worth every minute.
A Bigger Splash
Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is a bona fide rock star. According to some, you could even say she’s the woman of the century. Whichever way you cut it, Marianne is a big deal and she’s just wrapped up a mammoth-sized arena show. Now she’s in Italy, on vacation with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). They’re staying in a remote location, at a house that’s even more secluded. They look to be having a good time, enjoying each other’s company, the beach, the silence, the stillness. And then, just as they begin to settle into glorious seclusion, an old friend pops by. Although no one seems genuinely happy to see him, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) invites himself (and his daughter Penelope/Dakota Johnson) to stay at Marianne’s fabulously secluded, romantic, Italian hideaway. Not only do Harry and Penelope impose on the couple’s vacation but they appear to interrupt their lives. In fact, it seems that was their intent all along, and that’s intriguing right from the start. A Bigger Splash is a story of desire, temptation and skewed consequence. Swinton is ethereal as Marianne. Fiennes is charismatically obnoxious and borderline obscene as Harry. And, Dakota Johnson is undeniable as the resident Lolita. Luca Guadagnino (Director) creates an undeniably unpredictable sexy story. Just when you think you've got your bearings, everything changes. People are marvelous drama and Guadagnino paints a sumptuous picture of just how dangerous they can be. Everything about this movie feels decadent and the best part is that it still manages to surprise in the end.
Florence Foster Jenkins
FFJ is based on true events. Can you believe that? Someone so deluded and enabled that they’ve lost complete touch with reality? It would be entirely too easy to hate on Florence had Meryl Streep not inhabited her role. She gives an eccentric heiress a soul and grounds the sometimes slapstick-y nature of this comedic drama. Hugh Grant is at his most charming since Four Weddings and a Funeral, and that’s saying quite a bit since he was at peak Hugh Grant back then. Streep and Grant each thoughtfully flesh out their characters, making good use of the dramatic nature of our main character’s true story. Simon Helberg is simultaneously the straight guy and the whackadoodle as Cosmé McMoon. One minute he’s providing a sorely needed (and delicately worded) reality check and the next minute, he’s indulging Foster Jenkins, because it’s almost impossible not to. Stephen Frears (Director) creates a funny and uplifting story with enough dramatic turns to keep things interesting. Wait. That’s not quite right. We promised ourselves we'd always be 100% honest with one another, didn't we? OK then, let me rephrase: This is a funny and uplifting story with almost enough dramatic turns to keep things interesting. Either way, you’ll probably finish this one with a smile on your face, and what’s not to love about that?
The Family Fang
Baxter (Jason Bateman) and Annie Fang (Nicole Kidman) are siblings. Together they had an unconventional upbringing. Their parents are famous performance artists and in their youth, Baxter and Annie participated in many of their performance pieces. At first it was fun, then it was forced, but eventually Baxter and Annie opted out completely. This break in tradition created a rift between the siblings and their parents. As adults, they’re not very close and they're a mess. Then, one day their parents go missing. The police treat this as a crime, but Baxter and Annie treat it like another performance piece. The Family Fang is the story of a dysfunctional family in search of closure, whatever that is. Christopher Walken was made to play Caleb Fang, the erratic and idiosyncratic patriarch of this offbeat family. Walken's way with the offbeat makes a questionable character rather likeable. Bateman brings the laughs without fail, but his dramatic performance is not to be ignored. There's a weight to this performance that grounds the anarchy in this family dynamic. In truth, there isn’t a lot about this movie that makes sense at first, but that’s also what makes it interesting. Jason Bateman (Director) forces us to slow down and think about what we're seeing. His kind of storytelling isn’t straightforward and that’s both good and bad. What Bateman does get across rather clearly is that blood isn’t always thicker than water, sometimes it’s just a mess, and that's okay too. If you relate at all with that last sentence, then you'll probably enjoy this one more than most.