This Week at the Movies: ‘Fantastic Beasts,’ ‘Edge of Seventeen,’ ‘Manchester By the Sea’

  • The big, big, big new release of the week is, of course, Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them, author J.K. Rowling and director David Yates’s return to the Hogwarts universe, which is somehow both sweet, inventive, and bold (certainly by Hollywood franchise stands) in its aesthetic inventiveness, yet also forgettably safe as far as narrative is concerned. Read our review here, and our interview with the film’s composer, James Newton Howard, here.
  • Also out this week in wide release is The Edge of Seventeen, a terrific high school comedy/drama from first-time writer/director Kelly Freamon Craig. Star Hailee Steinfeld comes on like a roman candle, capturing the very specific jerkiness of a cynical outsider teen, and there’s no one way Craig wants you to feel about her – so she can be a million contradictory things at once, just like so many women of this age are. She’s a mess that movie teens (even in great teen movies) rarely have the luxury of being, and Craig carefully constructs a narrative and a world around her that seems familiar. That relatable quality is not based on a resemblance of other high school films, but rather from our own teenage years, which so often feel like a tunnel you’ll never come out of. Here’s our full review.
  • Our limited-release pick of the week is Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea, a genuinely moving piece of work – all the more impressive since the writer/director rarely, if ever, reaches for his effects. Set in a tight-knit seaside Massachusetts town, it tells the story of two tragedies that befall one family, about a decade apart; one of them is everyday and one of them is the kind of personal horror that can come to define your life, try as you might to resist it. Yet this is also a warm and very funny picture, finding its humor in the kidding-on-the-square so essential to these familial relationships. Our full review is here.
  • Also recommended, with some reservations, is Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, which finds the designer-turned-filmmaker in total command of his aesthetics, if less in control of his tone. It requires a bit of wrestling, in other words; powerful and potent in some scenes, empty and easy in others. But when it works, it really works, and it’s bursting at the seams with terrific performances (by Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, and many more). Here’s our full review, along with a briefer look from the Toronto Film Festival.
  • Andre Royo (“Bubs” from The Wire) brings his easy-breezy authenticity to Hunter Gatherer, a loose, frowzy story of an ex-con returning to his Los Angeles neighborhood and trying to put his life back together – particularly the relationship that fell apart in his absence. Writer/director Joshua Locy creates a community of colorful characters and relationships of genuine warmth, all the while positioning his protagonist on the razor’s edge between heartbreak and instability. Read more in this month’s indie guide.

And bumping up from limited to wide release this week are Moonlight (more here and here), Bleed For This (more here), and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (more here). If none of those do it for you, well, there’s still plenty of good stuff knocking around from last week, or on the Blu-ray shelves and VOD menus. Happy viewing!