This may not be the cheeriest movie of the season, but it's so skilfully written, directed and acted that it's impossible not to be pulled into its powerfully wrenching drama. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan (see also 2011's sleeper masterpiece Margaret) creates characters so vivid that they get deep under the skin, and he allows his actors to so fully inhabit them that they become unforgettable.
This is the story of Lee (Casey Affleck), a janitor who is hiding in Boston from his past. When his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has a heart attack, he returns to his hometown Manchester to take care of Joe's 16-year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), who isn't remotely happy about this set-up. But Joe's estranged wife Elisa (Gretchen Mol) has vanished, and Lee's ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) has started a new life. So while Patrick struggles to maintain his independence, Lee tries to build some sort of relationship with him. But both are still reeling with pain over things that happened to them over the years.
Yes, the central theme here is grief, and Lonergan piles mountains of it onto these characters. As details about their back-stories are revealed, the intensity of the emotions becomes nearly unbearable, and yet neither Lonergan nor the actors ever give into sentimentality or trite sermons. This is achingly realistic, an exploration of how people survive even the worst things life can throw at them. And Affleck delivers his best performance yet in the role, a devastatingly transparent turn that holds the audience in rapt attention. Newcomer Hedges matches him beat for beat as a deeply likeable teen whose prickly reactions make him even more sympathetic. And both Williams and Mol add some blistering electricity as women struggling to reinvent themselves. In just a few scenes, Williams very nearly steals the film.
Continue reading: Manchester By The Sea Review
Hydraulic fracturing might not be the most compelling subject for a movie, but it provides a topical backdrop for this engaging drama about ethics. It also lets actor-screenwriter Damon reunite with his Good Will Hunting director Van Sant for another strikingly well-made movie centring around a handful of strong characters. And while we know what the filmmakers feel about this contentious issue, at least the script isn't heavy handed about it.
The story takes place in a rural New England town, where oil company workers Steve and Sue (Damon and McDormand) are trying to secure the leases needed to drill for natural gas. The farmers badly need the cash to keep in business, but a retired science teacher (Holbrook) voices concern about the potential dangers of "fracking". He's joined by environmental activist Dustin (Krasinski) to turn the town against Steve and Sue's multinational corporation. And Dustin even starts to meddle in a budding romance between Steve and local teacher Alice (DeWitt).
The script is cleverly constructed to make us wonder who is telling the full truth. There are obviously risks associated with fracking, but have they been exaggerated by politically motivated campaigns? Damon plays Steve as a straight-arrow, a nice guy who genuinely believes that the process is safe. Meanwhile, Krasinski is a but more slippery as the grassroots voice of caution, and the terrific McDormand gets all the best lines.
Continue reading: Promised Land Review
It's the class of 1999's 13th reunion (huh?), so the entire gang returns to East Great Falls. Jim and Michelle (Bigs and Hannigan) now have a 2-year-old son, which has interrupted their sex life; Oz (Klein) is a B-list TV star with a supermodel girlfriend (Bowden); the now-married Kevin is worried about rekindling his high school romance with Vicky (Reid); Finch (Thomas) is a world traveler who clicks with Michelle's band camp pal Selena (Ramirez). And then there's party-boy prankster Stifler (Scott), who hasn't changed at all and leads them into all manner of trouble.
Continue reading: American Reunion [aka American Pie: Reunion] Review
But this is a lighter movie, focussing on romance rather than weighty themes.
David (Damon) is a hotshot Congressman destined for greatness when a past indiscretion derails his Senate campaign. Not to worry: the Adjustors (Slattery and Mackie) will put things back to plan. But in the process there's a blip: David meets Elise (Blunt) and can't get her out of his head. He also discovers the existence of the Bureau, and subverting their plan becomes his goal. So they call in feared Adjustor Thompson (Stamp), and over the next four years the cat-and-mouse game escalates.
Continue reading: The Adjustment Bureau Review
Over the course of three seasons, Greenlight made mountains out of molehill-sized production problems for the benefit of its drama-craving audience. The program also took joy in vilifying bullish producer Chris Moore, a headstrong professional whose chief crime was trying to keep unfocused amateur film makers on track. Not surprisingly, the weekly episodes ended up being more entertaining than the theatrically released films.
Continue reading: Feast Review
Joy Ride has clearly learned from similar, high-octane road thrillers like Breakdown. It calculates every move, but seldom do we see the surprises coming. The film explores the misadventures of a college student named Lewis (Paul Walker). Lewis is a nice guy, having just bought a used car to travel all the way across the country to help a friend in need (Leelee Sobieski). Along the way, he also stops to post bail for his troublemaking brother, Fuller (Steve Zahn), and give him a ride as well.
Continue reading: Joy Ride Review
After reinventing the sex comedy in 1999's American Pie, AP2 had a high bar to live up to, and miraculously, it has done so. It actually outdoes the original (by a mile) when it comes to juvenile and crude humor. And the sex gags... jeez, the dick jokes come rapid fire, one every minute. It ain't Woody Allen, but damn if it isn't utterly hysterical.
Continue reading: American Pie 2 Review
Stolen Summer tells the poignant tale of two energetic 8-year old youngsters living in the hazy days of Chicago circa 1976 where disco music and polyester profoundly dominated the scene. Pint-sized rabble-rouser Catholic schoolboy Pete O'Malley (Adi Stein) is sternly lectured by his teacher and told that he must change his mischievous ways over the summertime. And so Pete is released from school with some serious thinking to do while he basks in the glory days of the upcoming summer. But Pete's overworked firefighter father (Aidan Quinn) and stay-at-home mother (Bonnie Hunt) are harried by all their responsibilities and just don't have the time to cater to all the personal and emotional needs of their brood. Thus, Pete has to find his own way to spiritual salvation.
Continue reading: Stolen Summer Review
After a half hour of setting up the leads (Luke Wilson and Denise Richards, co-workers in a finance film which is featured endlessly in the first act to the point of mind numbness), Wilson finally asks Richards out on a date -- after a year of pining for her. Things immediately take a turn for the worse when Wilson runs his car into a crazy homeless man (Jay Lacopo), who ends up joining them for the rest of the evening. Get it? He's a third wheel! And he's kooky. How do we know he's kooky? He sings on the bus and makes hand shadows on the wall.
Continue reading: The Third Wheel Review
Now that the Greenlight formula is well established, it comes as no surprise to find Speakeasy falling right in line with the films we've seen before. It's basically a family drama, it has elements of a period piece scattered throughout, it's got a disabled person or two, and its screenplay eventually wraps around to where things began. Simple, small, and manipulative, this is what Project Greenlight has become all about: It's the Lifetime Network of the indie cinema movement.
Continue reading: Speakeasy Review
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