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Movie Reviews
'Fences': Scales the Dramatic Heights
Denzel Washington's phenomenally touching, multitextured performance in August Wilson's "Fences" sings a heartrending paean to every dad who struggled to make a living, raise a family and preserve his human dignity in the face of herculean obstacles.

'La La Land': On the One Hand, and Then on the Other
The curious idea to have Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling play the sort of aspiring showbiz kids Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell portrayed in vehicles like "42nd Street" (1933) won me over despite the film's unrealistic plotting and a minor litany of incongruities.

'Why Him?': Why Waste Your Money?
In all fairness, Franco's billionaire dolt is occasionally enamoring by virtue of the innocence his lady fair assures lies just beneath his crude eccentricity. His caricature absurdity is even funny here and there. But he lacks the intriguing amiability we like to ascribe our fictional idiot savants.

'Manchester by the Sea': Set your Movie GPS
An intermeshing of various, different periods of Lee's life, while always returning to the present, smartly serves the exposition, engagingly builds the lore, and, daring to be existential, emphasizes the entire time continuum panorama that comprises our existence. It is this overall gist mixed with the minutiae of everyday life and the expectations that attend it, that exemplify "Manchester by the Sea's" Rembrandtesque mirror of our accomplishments, follies, dreams and disappointments.

'Nocturnal Animals': Subspecies: Human
Good thing this is merely the fiction within a novel that Susan, the female lead in director Tom Ford's "Nocturnal Animals," is reading. She can put it down any time she wishes. But all the same it's mesmerizing, and because she senses the story contains eerie messages and symbolism relating to her own life, we join in the enthusiasm.

'Rules Don't Apply': The Politics of Entitlement
At worst this is a mostly harmless, self-deluding sort of identification, and not the far-flung type that props up autocrats. All of which makes us wonder about Beatty's goal. Aside from drolly showing that his acting chops are intact, the progressive humanism that has long been the hallmark of his career is also doubtlessly served in the form of a cautionary metaphor about a relatively recent, historical phenomenon: the billionaire as self-asserting commentator, pundit, oracle and yes, even...

'Moonlight': Illuminating
It is a subtlety among the ferocity, a nod to the human heart and that universal longing oft referred to as love. Framed in this context, it is at once frightening and romantic, yet all the same a positive paean to the commonality of our species. But you knew it was there all the time, shamefully hidden away amidst the Sturm und Drang of those mean streets.

'Bleed for This': Middleweight Contender
Based on a true story, the travail that was "The Pazmanian Devil's" career should please boxing fans who know the history, and perhaps viewers in general who appreciate a good old struggle against overwhelming odds. Miles Teller is convincing as the pugnacious protagonist, a portrayal only enhanced by its decidedly two-dimensional take. There is a hyper-reality here.

'Arrival': Quite a Trip
Now, don't be in a hurry once she gets to the tent-town army compound in Montana where the aliens' ovoid spaceship has decided to levitate about thirty feet off the ground. This isn't going to be easy. You see, as the philologist soon learns, the aliens' communication transcends mere conversation, but rather, encompasses the whole of their being. So it's quite intriguing when smart Dr. Banks, soon the team's tacit prom queen, starts getting hip to the Heptapods.

'Doctor Strange': Physician, Heal Thyself
In director Scott Derrickson's highly entertaining film based on the famed Marvel Comics character of the same name, we learn how the gifted neurosurgeon, superbly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, earns his place among the pantheon of comic book superheroes. While fans of this universe should doubtlessly be pleased by the filmmaker's very imaginative rendition of what they hold so dear, those of us among the great unwashed needn't be afraid to dive in to this all-embracing,...

'Denial': Adding Insult to Injury
Director Mick Jackson's "Denial" is a solid, responsible dramatization of historian Deborah Lipstadt's defense in the English court of a libel suit brought against her and Penguin Books by Holocaust denier David Irving. While it is well written, acted and directed, and treats the subject matter with proper reverence, we can't help but feel there's something missing in this otherwise important, studiously informative chronicle ... something else we want to know. It's a bit hazy at first, this...

'Jack Reacher: Never Go Back': Doesn't Quite Grab You
I contemplated saving approximately 805 words by simply having the above overworked phrase stand as my review of director Edward Zwick's "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back." However, despite its relatively appropriate description of this action-thriller starring Tom Cruise as the title maverick, fear of a random audit by the American Film Critics Oversight Committee induced me to proceed with the usual study in tortured prose that follows.

'The Accountant': Adds Up Smartly
While the hands of our Brave New World's protagonist are indeed sullied enough to cause us consternation, he's usually been driven to it by environmental forces beyond his control. But the tie-breaker is our perception of what lies within the antihero's soul. Unlike those malevolent forces he'll wind up taking on before the closing credits roll, at least he's not inherently evil. Plus, he's usually better looking, too.

'The Birth of a Nation': A Painful Truth
Many scenes will have you cringing from the sheer inhumanity. Expect a random crushing of skulls, families separated, unthinkable, sadistic punishment and, almost as disturbing as the physical violence, there's the utterly disdainful obscenity of believing another person is your rightful chattel. And, because the slave owners possess an ever-increasing fear that the era of free labor might be ringing its death knell, add the resultant aura of seething hatred.

'Queen of Katwe': Commanding Performance
The plot cannily establishes a great contrast in pressing its humanistic message. Mixing chess, once a hifalutin' game of the nobility, with an almost unbearable portrait of bare subsistence, illustrates that the lines drawn between people are ridiculously artificial, and hence destined to be crossed.

 
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