The Handmaiden

Korean director Chan-wook Park’s (Oldboy) latest film The Handmaiden is an amazing adult thriller. It is twisty and erotic and romantic and funny and utterly surprising. And very hard to review because the many plot twists that make it so fun to watch have to be kept secret. No spoilers here. It is reminiscent of The Grifters or Sleuth with people trying to con one another from start to finish, and the audience’s assumptions proved wrong again and again. At its center is the story of a con artist The Count (Ha Jung-woo) who finds a job for one of his minions, pretty young Sookee (Tae-ri Kim), as the handmaid to a very rich and very attractive young Japanese woman Lady Hidekowith (Min-hee Kim) with the aim of his seducing and marrying her for her fortune. But needless to say, it doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Mainstream Chick’s Quick Takes: Office Christmas Party; Miss Sloane; Jackie; Lion

Comedy. Drama. Suspense. History. Politics. Lots to choose from at the box office this weekend. And it’s all pretty good, even awards-worthy. Except for Office Christmas Party. That one’s just for fun!

Office Christmas Party is not destined to become a holiday classic. But it’s still plenty of fun in the moment, thanks to a Santastic bundle of comedic talent. Too many sub-plots clutter up the nativity scene a bit, but here’s the gist: The uptight CEO (Jennifer Aniston) of a tech company cancels all holiday parties and threatens to close the Chicago branch run by her dufus brother Clay (T.J. Miller) unless he can seal a lucrative deal with a potential client (Courtney B. Vance) by year’s end. With the help of his Chief Technical Officer (Jason Bateman) and a talented techie (Olivia Munn), Clay throws caution (and his sister’s orders) to the wind and throws an epic office party designed to impress the client, boost morale, and save everyone’s jobs. Let’s just say the party – which the head of HR (Kate McKinnon) insists on calling a “non-denominational holiday mixer” — goes off the rails big-time, devolving into a drug and alcohol-fueled physical comedy extravaganza.

Aquarius

Aquarius is the name of an apartment building overlooking the beach in Recife, Brazil. Clara (Sônia Braga) is the only resident there. A beautiful woman in her mid-sixties, she loves her apartment, and try as hard as they might, the company that has bought out all the other residents cannot persuade her to take their very generous offer so they can build another high-rise like those surrounding her. But to Clara this is her home, where she loved her now deceased husband and raised her children. It is where she is planning to die, after a life well-lived. The developers suffer under the mistaken notion that they can force this old woman out. But Clara is not going!

Manchester by the Sea

Thanksgiving may not seem like the best time to see a movie about grief, but Manchester by the Sea is so much more. It’s a family drama that tackles issues of loss, healing, and hurt in a smart, poignant, and often humorous way. And it puts Casey Affleck firmly in the running for a best actor nomination, and possibly even the win. Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a man haunted by his past, who returns to his hometown of Manchester, Massachusetts to take care of family business after his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies somewhat suddenly of a heart ailment. Lee never expected that the ‘family business’ would include guardianship of his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). But it does.

Allied

Allied is a good ol’ fashioned romantic thriller starring Brad Pitt and Academy-Award winning actress Marion Cotillard (La Vie en rose) as Max and Marianne, a Canadian intelligence officer and French resistance fighter who are thrown together for a dangerous, top-secret mission behind enemy lines in 1942 North Africa. They fall in love awfully fast, but it seems real enough. They get married. Start a family. Gaze adoringly into each other’s eyes. Until one day, Max is told that Marion is actually a German spy, and if the proof is substantiated, he must kill her. Ouch.

Moana

Moana is classic Disney. Solid, dependable, kid and adult-friendly, catchy tunes… exactly what we’ve come to expect from the makers of Frozen and Zootopia. In other words, you can’t go wrong throwing in with Moana for a family-friendly movie outing over the long Thanksgiving weekend. The film is not as easy-breezy and infectious in the moment as Dreamworks’ Trolls, but it has a much stronger story and message that puts it up there with the likes of Mulan and Pocahantas. And maybe even Frozen, for those eager to let that one go. The earworm from this movie: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson singing “You’re Welcome.” Thanks a lot, Rock. Anyway, here’s the gist:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them should satisfy all those eager to revisit the magical world created by Harry Potter scribe J.K. Rowling. It’s a fun, fantastical ride that sets the stage for a whole new series of characters and adventures — supposedly four more films’ worth. Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything, Les Miz) is endearing as Newt Scamander, a shaggy magizoologist who inadvertently lets several magical creatures loose into 1920s NYC and must get them back into his bottomless suitcase (it must be made of the same stuff as Hermione’s bottomless bag) before all of New York catches on to the city’s secret world of witches and wizards. Harry will read all about it some 70 years later while studying at Hogwarts. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In this story, Harry doesn’t exist yet. Fantastic Beasts is a spin-off in reverse. A prequel of sorts. Here’s the gist:

Loving

It’s been several weeks since I saw Loving. It was the final day of the Middleburg Film Festival and I felt inspired, almost humbled to watch the movie in Virginia, the state at the center of Loving, which is based on a true story. It never occurred to me that its wide release would coincide with the immediate aftermath of one of the most divisive Presidential elections in U.S. history. An election that would threaten the very foundation of the Supreme Court and potentially undermine precedents it has set to right the wrongs of history and protect a citizen’s right to marry whomever they want, regardless of race or sexual orientation.

Arrival

Arrival is very… cerebral. It’s about a linguist (Amy Adams) who is recruited by the military to help translate communications from aliens that have landed in Montana and 11 other sites around the world. The “action” (such as it were) all takes place in a basecamp set up in a field, and aboard a spaceship that resembles a giant egg or shell-shaped rock. The vessel opens itself up to visitors every 18 hours, and that’s when Dr. Louise Banks (Adams) and her colleague, sciencey guy Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), try to figure out who the aliens are, and what they want. It’s like E.T. as a deep, psychological drama. Inception-esque, slow to unfold, mind-bendy. The type of movie that movie nerds will want to see multiple times. I found the movie interesting overall, but a tad boring in parts, especially in the middle. That’s probably because I figured out one of the big plot twists fairly on and was eager for validation. But hey, no spoilers. Here’s what I can tell you:

All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone

This is without doubt the perfect film for this particular time in America! The question this documentary poses is what the hell is wrong with our current media and why don’t we have journalists doing the work that I.F. Stone did so well back in the day. I’ll admit not knowing much about I. F. Stone before seeing this one. Apparently he once said, “All governments lie,” and the duty of the press is to ferret it out and keep them honest. More than being a biopic, this one looks at Stone’s influence on modern day independent journalists. With interviews from Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi and may others, it skewers the news that most Americans depend on to keep them informed and suggests that it is just an extension of an entertainment-centric dumbing-down strategy to keep the people ignorant.