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Recent Movies: Manchester by the Sea; Fantastic Beasts; The Red Turtle; Live Theatre: My Night with Reg

March 2, 2017

Recent Movies

Manchester by the Sea

Two parallel stories take place in this film: in the present, Lee Chandler (played by Casey Affleck) is a reserved janitor in a small Massachusetts town who must deal with tragic family news and travel to a nearby small town to help deal with the aftermath; in the other story, Lee’s past is told – a past in which he was married to Randi (Michelle Williams) and raising three small children.

In the beginning, it takes a while to get used to the fact that almost every character in this film is a potty-mouth. But once this hurdle is passed, it’s relatively easy to show an interest for these folks even if we don’t quite warm up to them. The screenplay by Kenneth Longergan (also the movie’s director) is quite clever in how it gradually reveals elements of the past and how they explain present circumstances.

It’s great to see Williams in a role that is rough-edged. So often, she has been typecast into mousy, quiet characters. Even if she plays such characters well, it’s great to see another side of her talent. Near the end, her talents are top-notch in a scene in which she makes amends for her past. She’s quite gripping here and it’s a shame she spends too little time on screen.

Affleck certainly does a fine job in his role as well but it’s difficult to see why his performance has dominated the awards season. As someone with a difficult past and dealing with a current tragedy, it’s easy to seen why his character is so restrained. Though there are occasional outburst moments, the role would have been more complete if there had been a scene of catharsis – like the previously mentioned one for Williams.

Like the recent “Moonlight”, “Manchester by the Sea” is a fine film but I personally find both films somewhat over-rated.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

In the 1920s, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a wizard who arrives in New York City from Great Britain with the intention of travelling further to Arizona. He ends up getting mixed up with a would-be baker (Dan Folger), another wizard (Katherine Waterston), and strange events from somewhere in the magical community causing havoc on the city.

As this film was written by J.K. Rowling and directed by Peter Yates, much of the jollity of the Harry Potter series is repeated here. The visual effects are magnificent as is the set design and all else that help recreate another time and place long gone by mixed with the supernatural.

Occasionally, the story seemed incoherent and difficult to follow though it seemed easier to understand near its conclusion. Luckily, its light-heartedness, fine acting and able directing saved the film from falling to a mediocre level.

RATING: * * * (but just barely)

The Red Turtle

A man is deserted on a tropical island. He tries to leave it until the mysterious title character enters his life. “The Red Turtle” is an animated film co-produced by Japan, France, and Belgium.

With a mix of the supernatural and life’s simple joys and sad times, the effect of this movie is mesmerizing. The choice of no dialogue, with the rare exception of the shout of ‘hey’ was a very wise one. The characters’ facial expressions tell more than words ever could. The simplicity gives extra responsibility to the animators as well as the music compositions by Laurent Perez del Mar and they come through with flying colours.

The life moments in the movie’s second half are those with which most viewers can identify with a few exceptions. This is a wonderful contrast to so many other recent films that seem to require a university degree in film comprehension to just keep up. Instead, “The Red Turtle” has done what no other recent movie this season has done so far: it made me feel something. I almost wept at least twice.


RATING:   * * * 1/2

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENTS:   the animation team; plus the music by Laurent Perez del Mar

Live Theatre

“My Night with Reg” by Kevin Elyot at the Panasonic Theatre, Toronto

With three scenes taking place in a London flat in the 1980s, a group of gay friends converge during fun times and sad times.

There’s so much to praise in Elyot’s play. Let’s begin with the clever device of a frequently mentioned character who never actually appears but who has so strongly affected the lives of the others via infidelity and promiscuity. While this might make the story sound like heavy drama – and it is to a degree – it is told with such hilarity and wit that it also wins as a comedy. Jeff Miller and Martin Happer are particularly funny as, respectively, a sharp-tongued jet-setter and a no-nonsense bus driver.

After a scene has ended and the next one begun, there is also cleverness in the way the audience is brought up to speed with all that happened offstage during the transition – some events quite shocking and sad. To top it off, Elyot’s characters are rich and varied and not just in economic class. While some seem active and lucky in sexual encounters, others are less so in their appeal to manifest such “fun”. Yet it is also clear that the most sexually active aren’t necessarily happy.

With such a rich tapestry of characters and a superb blend of pathos with humour, “My Night with Reg” was a wonderful experience.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

Upcoming Movie Reviews:  Lion, Toni Erdmann, La La Land, 20th Century Women, Hidden Figures, Paterson, The Salesman, I Am Not Your Negro


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