The Brand New Testament

Collateral Beauty

Collateral Beauty is a bittersweet drama that could be either a tough watch, or cathartic, for anyone feeling the pain of loss during the holiday season. If I had to pick a target demographic, I’d go with fans of A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, or (to allude to something more current) the television drama This Is Us. It’s about finding the good – the collateral beauty – when life hurls a few ugly curveballs.

Neruda

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda received a Nobel prize for literature in 1974 and is considered by many to be one of the greatest who ever lived. More poem than biopic, Neruda is a creatively told imagining of one portion of his life. In 1948, the Chilean government outlawed the Communist Party (prodded by the US government) and Neruda (Luis Gnecco) suddenly went from esteemed Senator to revered fugitive with the doggedly determined police investigator Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) on his tail. It is through this chase that Neruda’s character and the wide influence of his work are revealed, and Peluchonneau is brought under Neruda’s spell. It is really quite wonderful!

La La Land

Believe the buzz. La La Land IS the best movie of 2016. It’s certainly my top pick for top honors in the Oscar pool. But here’s the twist. I had to see it twice to fully appreciate the story and the spectacle. The first time I saw it was at the Middleburg Film Festival in October, in cramped seats in a hotel ballroom. About a month later, I saw it again – on a big screen, in a real theater, with a good sound system. And I was hooked. It doesn’t fit neatly into any particular genre. It’s part musical, part drama, part comedy, part fantasy, part romance… all packaged together in a unique, thought-provoking, entertaining and bittersweet film about dreams, relationships, and the paths taken – or not taken – in life.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

It’s got that sweeping, familiar-sounding score. And on-screen text that instantly takes you back a long time ago, to a galaxy far, far away. And it’s got battleships, space creatures, men and women ready to sacrifice themselves for a cause, and of course, that Darth Vader guy and some references to the Force. In other words, Rogue One delivers exactly what the subtitle promises: A Star Wars Story. And Star Wars fans will eat it up, especially if they’re well versed in all the characters and chronologies that span decades of Lucas filmmaking. As far as I can tell, Rogue One is the first in an Anthology Series that is not to be confused with the Sequel Trilogy that began with last year’s The Force Awakens, or the Original Trilogy (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) that began in 1977 and spawned a Prequel Trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith) that I somehow managed to miss between 1999 and 2005. Now that we’ve got out of the way… here’s the gist of Rogue One:

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: