By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
In Amarillo theaters this week: A return trip to the world of Harry Potter, an acclaimed new teen comedy and Ang Lee's exploration of modern warfare.
But first, a few notes:
- Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, next week's new films will open on Wednesday, including (at least) the Brad Pitt-Marion Cotillard spy drama Allied and Disney's Moana; I'll have a roundup of critical reactions to them on Monday. That also means that, because of the multiple screens that Fantastic Beasts (see below) and Moana will be playing on, at least a couple of films will close by midweek, so if you've been holding out on The Accountant (just a guess), don't wait for too long.
- No special engagements in the coming week, thanks to the aforementioned holiday, but keep your eyes open for revival screenings of Breakfast at Tiffany's on Nov. 27 and 30, Spirited Away on Dec. 4 and 5, and From Here to Eternity on Dec. 11 and 14; the recent Broadway revival of She Loves Me on Dec. 1; a RiffTrax take on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and assorted holiday shorts on Dec. 1; the adult animated film Nerdland (with the voices of Paul Rudd, Patton Oswalt and others) on Dec. 6; and The Rolling Stones: Olé Olé Olé concert film on Dec. 12.
- And I can't stress this highly enough: Go see Arrival. And soon. It's a brilliant sci-fi drama from director Denis Villenueve about a linguist (Amy Adams) who is called in to help translate when a dozen enormous alien aircrafts enter the Earth's atmosphere. Villenueve, whose previous films Sicario and Prisoners left me a little cold, crafts an ingenious story with screenwriter Eric Heisserer (based on Ted Chang's 1988 Story of Your Life) that plays with your head in the best way. And Adams, one of the finest actresses working, has rarely been better. I know the subject matter sounds both dry and played out (another alien invasion?), but the film is utterly captivating and full of surprises.
Opening this weekend
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
A 19-year-old Iraq War hero is surrounded by media hype on a return trip home in director Ang Lee's adaptation of Ben Fountain's satirical 2012 novel, a National Book Award finalist. And just as Billy is subsumed, so, too, is this film by the chatter about how Lee filmed it. Though most audiences in the country won't see it in this format, Lee made the film to be shown in 120 frames per second, 4k resolution and 3-D; only five theaters, in fact, will show it like that (Amarillo not being one of them, though it will be screened at 48fps at the United Artists Amarillo Star 14). Movies are generally shown at 24 fps: Folks who saw The Hobbit in 48 frames per second may remember how extreme the clarity of the images could be; imagine a frame rate (or, if you'd rather, the intense speed of the images shown, rather than the typical flicker we're used to) that's more than double that. Critics were not at all impressed when the New York Film Festival premiered the film at that rate, and the reviews showed it: Entertainment Weekly's Joe McGovern called it "the weirdest and rarest misfire in his illustrious career." But many critics seem willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt if seen in 24fps (not sure how they feel about the 48fps version). In the film, Billy (played by newcomer Joe Alwyn) and his squad leave a horrifying firefight in Iraq and given an overwhelming heroes' welcome on their return home, exploited for ratings and buzz during the halftime show of a Thanksgiving Day football game. "The souped-up edition ... is a fascinating failed experiment, an attempt to bring Billy’s drama to life with unprecedented immediacy that falls into an uncanny valley between cinema and virtual reality. The images are, somewhat paradoxically, so hyper-real that their artificiality becomes more pronounced; you feel as if you’re sitting uncomfortably close to the costumed holograms of famous actors," writes The New York Times' A.O. Scott. "In more traditional moviegoing conditions the paradox runs in the other direction. The smoothness of the camerawork and the deliberateness of the dialogue make Billy Lynn feel more like a filmed play than an adapted novel, despite the verisimilitude of the settings." (R for language throughout, some war violence, sexual content, and brief drug use; Amarillo Star 14, 8275 W. Amarillo Blvd.)
The Edge of Seventeen
Hailee Steinfeld (Pitch Perfect 2, True Grit) stars as a self-loathing teen in this lacerating comedy from writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig, an emerging talent with only a couple of credits to her name. Steinfeld's Nadine is having a hard enough time in high school following the sudden death of her father, but matters worsen when her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) starts sleeping with her older brother (Blake Jenner, playing Nadine's older brother, not Krista's; it's not that kind of movie). "(Craig's) directorial debut confronts millennial teens with the same authenticity and verve that helped Fast Times at Ridgemont High jumpstart a revolution when it crash-landed into the ’80s," writes IndieWire's David Ehrlich. "Anyone looking casually at the advertisements and coming attractions for The Edge of Seventeen might easily come away expecting something typical — a standard entry in the coming-of-age comedy genre. But while (it) does deliver on the promise of being funny, it’s mostly dead serious and deserving of respect and attention," writes San Francisco Gate's Mick LaSalle. (R for sexual content, language and some drinking - all involving teens; AS-14)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
This little film is just getting absolutely no marketing push at all, right? Well, in case you hadn't heard, it's set in the Harry Potter universe in the 1920s, starring Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) as magical zoologist New Scamander, whose textbook (which gives the film its title) was required reading for Harry, Ron, Heremione and the rest. Author J.K. Rowling has fleshed out Scamander's life for this film and a planned four sequels. The first installment finds Newt exploring 1926 New York, introducing us to American wizards (like sisters played by Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol) and their foes who want to revive the era of the Salem Witch Trials. Generally, critics are finding it rather magical, with some reservations. "While it falters and even bogs down at moments in the storytelling, Beasts is a dazzling spectacle overall and more often spellbinding than not," writes Toronto Sun's Bruce Kirkland. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has all the makings of a huge family blockbuster, but all the bloated traps of those, too. It hasn’t quite got the balance right, but, like the title hints, surely knows where to find the magic formula over the ensuing movies," writes The Wrap's Jason Solomon. (PG-13 for some fantasy action violence; AS-14, Cinemark Hollywood 16, 9100 Canyon Drive)
The Accountant (AS-14); Almost Christmas (AS-14, H-16); Arrival (AS-14, H-16); Boo! A Madea Halloween (AS-14); Doctor Strange (AS-14, H-16); Finding Dory (Premiere Cinemas Westgate Mall 6, 7701 W. Interstate 40); Hacksaw Ridge (AS-14, H-16); The Magnificent Seven (WM-6); Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (WM-6); Pete's Dragon (WM-6); The Secret Lives of Pets (WM-6); Shut In (AS-14); Suicide Squad (WM-6) and Trolls (AS-14, H-16).