Manchester By the Sea (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 137 min.). One of the most emotional films I have seen in some time, "Manchester By the Sea," written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, is filled with superb acting by Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges, all three of whom received Academy Award nominations for their work. Its three other Oscar nominations are for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Direction, the latter two for Lonergan.
Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a solitary janitor in Quincy, Mass. who has trouble relating to people. The unexpected death of his brother (Kyle Chandler as Joe) leaves Lee the sole guardian of his 16-year-old nephew, Patrick (Hedges of "Moonrise Kingdom") and draws him back unwillingly to Manchester, N.H., where he used to live with his ex-wife (Williams as Randi) until a devastating tragedy broke up the marriage and led to his moving to Massachusetts. However, the details of that tragedy, which nobody seems to want to talk about, are not revealed until flashbacks midway through the film, and they are soul- and heart-wrenching.
Patrick is a typical teenager and a bit more. He plays two sports for his high school, including ice hockey, and he is in a band with one of the two girls he is dating. According to Patrick, Joe allowed one of the girls to stay overnight a lot. In addition to the house, Patrick will inherit at age 21, there also is a fishing/charter boat that needs a new motor. Lee's first thought is to sell the boat, but Patrick resists. Early on, and at times throughout the film, there are flashbacks to a memorable fishing expedition on the boat with the two Chandler brothers and a very young Patrick. Although he is generally withdrawn, and even depressed, Lee tries to build a connection with Patrick; yet he is hopeless with making small talk with the mother of one of Patrick's girlfriends. The whole girlfriend situation provides much of the film's humor, while the flashbacks are treated more as memories that come to the surface. Some of the other humor is bleaker, such as Joe's body having to be placed into a freezer until the ground thaws enough for burial in the spring. A twist on this leads to one of Hedges' best scenes. However, the most emotional, most affecting scene in the present is when Lee comes across Randi on a random street and she tries to take the blame for casting Lee aside. Another good scene between the two of them is a flashback when Lee comes home from a fishing trip and Randi is sick in bed.
Overall, the film is firmly rooted in place and has exceptional dialogue. Affleck already has won a Golden Globe and a couple other awards for the role. Bonus features include audio commentary by Lonergan, which is described as a conversation; three deleted scenes (5:50), which all involve flashbacks, including a good scene for Williams and another for Chandler as Joe); and a brief making-of featurette (16 min.) that has reflective interviews with the actors, a brief appearance by producer Matt Damon and massive spoilers. Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 3 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
Departure (Wolfe DVD, NR, 108 min.). The setting and outstanding acting also are central to this film, written and directed by Andrew Steggall, which is due on DVD and video on demand March 7. Set in the countryside of Southern France, the dialogue is in both French and English. The story is a brooding coming-of-age drama, complicated by the breakup of a marriage. The English mother (Juliette Stevenson as Beatrice, a staple of many a TV miniseries and "Truly, Madly, Deeply") and her teenage son Elliot (Alex Lawther of "The Imitation Game") have gone to their French vacation cottage in order to pack up their belongings, as the cottage is being sold. Elliot, who wants to be a writer like several of the gay authors he mentions, also is gay himself and he begins a courtship with a handsome lad (Phenix Brossard as Clement) from Paris, whom he first sees stripping and diving into the local reservoir for a swim. It is an unlikely friendship as Clement fixes motorcycles and is not at all bookish, but he seems to enjoy Elliot's attention.
Stevenson is solid as usual, while Lawther plays what unfortunately has to be described as a self-absorbed prig. Lawther's Elliot is far too precious in his words when talking to Clement. Sometimes, it is almost as if he is putting down Clement, even as he is drawn to him physically. Eventually, even Beatrice is drawn toward Clement, as he offers to help them pack up their belongings for their departure. While Lawther is "acting," Brossard is a breath of naturalistic fresh air. He draws the audience's attention, as well as the other two characters'. However, the dialogue is the weakest part of the film. First-time feature director Steggall presents scenes without much background on why the characters act as they do. Late in the film, there are some explanations, but from a character viewpoint, the film is disjointed. Finbar Lynch plays the standoffish father, who shows up late in the film.
The scenery is gorgeous, and Steggall likes wide shots of that scenery, usually with a solitary actor passing through in "miniature." The bonus features are three entertaining interviews Steggall has with actors Stevenson (8 min.), Lawther (7:32; here Steggall says it is like Elliot was writing the story in his notebook as the film went along) and Brossard (6:31). During the interviews, there are some silent clips from the film and, in the case of Brossard, clips of shooting a few scenes. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.5 stars
Nocturnal Animals (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 116 min.). In the film, written, directed and produced by Tom Ford ("A Single Man"), Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal play a divorced couple who have not spoken in 19 years. She is now Susan Morrow, married (probably unhappily as there are indications he is cheating) to Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer) and with a grown-up daughter. Her ex, Edward Sheffield, is somewhat of a mystery, until he sends her a manuscript copy of his novel, dedicated to her. If the viewer catches the many clues, subtle and not so subtle, in the book, whose plot is shown with Gyllenhaal playing the role of Tony Hastings, the book is a bit of revenge at Susan.
The world of Susan's life is presented as beautiful, if a bit sterile and emotionally detached. She runs a cutting-edge art gallery, having abandoned her college dream of being a painter. How cutting-edge is the gallery, well there is the disturbing art gallery opening at the film's start that features four or more naked obese women dancing. The world of the novel is gritty and physically and emotionally violent. In it, Tony and his wife (Isla Fisher as Laura) and daughter (Ellie Bamber as India) are forced off the road by a group of thugs in two cars. They include Karl Glusman as Lou, Golden Globe winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ray and Robert Aramayo as Turk. The women are forced into another car. When Tony escapes but cannot find them, he turns to a West Texas lawman (Michael Shannon, nominated for an Oscar for his work here). There are also flashbacks to how Susan and Edward's romance began and ended.
Ford works really well switching from the present to the book, giving both Susan and Edward's perceptions of a shared loss, viewed through reality and perception, and how each reacted to it. Susan may have moved on, but the manuscript makes her question her choices. Edward has finally become the author he always wanted to be. While the story in the novel is visceral at times, Susan's present is kind of boring. Overall, though, the complicated tale is well told.
The sole bonus feature is a three-part look at making the film (11:18), including building the story, the film's look and director Ford's eye. Ford, for his part, points out some of the connections, such as the red velvet sofa and the green Pontiac GTO. Ford, who worked as a designer and then for 10 years as creative director for Gucci menswear, has the actors use some of his personal clothing. The action in the film's manuscript may be fictional, but to a slight extent the accident mirrored something that once happened to me and escalated to violence, so it was even more impactful. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 1.75 stars
Dead West (RLJ DVD, NR, 114 min.). When I first heard this title, my immediate thought was vampire western, which is not even close. Director/co-writer Jeff Ferrell, along with writing partner Lance Gilbert, has created a psychological examination of a serial killer, with nearly all the violence being off-screen. As played by Brian Sutherland, the killer is very charismatic and has a killer smile (he is very Bill Paxton-like); however, the film lacks a satisfying plot. Basically, the killer has been disappointed in love and now seeks the right blonde woman, but knives to death all the women who disappoint him -- including two who actual discuss the murders beforehand with him.
The killer, who goes by a variety of fake names, but is referred to as others as The Ladykiller, meets Charlene in a honky-tonk bar, but he kills her in the alley out back. For the first half of the movie, the killer is chased by Charlene's brother (Jeffrey Arrington as Tony), who eventually proves to be no match. In fact, their "showdown" is one of the most disappointing points of the film. By the way, the killer drives a bright orange Chevy Malibu that the police apparently cannot find, yet Tony can. After the film's best sequence -- the killer picks up Lila (Bethany Jacobs) at a drive-in during a double feature of "Maniac" and "Vigilante," and his murder of her mirrors the action on the big screen -- the killer hooks up with Roxy (Meagan Karimi-Nasar), whom he feels could be the one he could love.
While the leads act well, some of the supporting acting is uneven, particularly an over-the-top performance by Aurelio Voltaire as Roxy's pimp, Sug White, who stole the money she was saving to open a beauty parlor. The film does not handle the passage of time well; for example, at one point we are told it is two weeks later, when it looks like it could have been the next day. Also, the film, which was made in 12 days at 30 locations, is too slow at times. Bonus features include audio commentary by Ferrell, Sutherland and composer Semih Tareen, plus a lengthy making-of feature (68:52), that includes each actor talking about their character. Grade: film 2 stars; extras 3 stars
Havenhurst (Brainstorm Media, cable VOD and digital HD, NR, 84 min.). In this tidy little horror film, Julie Benz "Dexter," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") stars as Jackie, a recovering alcoholic who checks into the gothic Havenhurst apartment building, run by Eleanor Mudgett (Fionnula Flanagan). Jackie is given the same apartment as her friend Danielle (Danielle Harris), who has mysteriously disappeared along with her druggie boyfriend, Jason. While Jackie has a policeman (Josh Stamberg as Tim) look for Danielle, viewers have already seen Danielle and Jason viciously killed in the film's opening. The film is from the producers of "Saw" and "Amityville: The Awakening."
Eleanor has one rule: stay straight/do not lapse. If one does, they are evicted, but eviction at Havenhurst means being killed or worse. The New York City building apparently houses 3,000 residents and has a massive numbers of elevator buttons. As such, Havenhurst resembles a haunted house from a different error. Many of its secrets lie in hidden passageways, hidden rooms and even walls that shift. Reference is made to a similar, albeit smaller, famous killer house in Chicago (which also recently cropped up on the TV show, "Timeless"). Jackie befriends a young girl (Belle Shouse as Sarah), who is being abused by her mother's boyfriend -- this leads to a particularly gory middle of the film. While the film's setting is great, and there is one very big startle, there is more running around than actual terror. I did like that the twist ending, for once, was unexpected. Grade: film 2.75 stars
Spirit of the Game (Sony DVD, PG, 98 min.). This film tells the true story of a group of Mormon missionaries who help the fledging Australian basketball team train for the 1956 Olympic Games, with the aim of uniting a nation still reeling from World War II. The film centers on DeLyle Condie, 20 (Aaron Jakubenko), who, after he is harshly dumped by his fiancé, leaves behind his college basketball career to become a missionary for the Mormon church. At the time, Condie was the MVP of the University of Utah basketball team.
The missionaries have a casual relationship with the Australian locals through friendly basketball games, until the mission president forbids participation in sports. However, Condie proves the value of the sport as an evangelical tool, after an impromptu game at a local prison. Given permission to play again, Condie and a group of his missionary colleagues put together a team called the Mormon Yankees to be an exhibition team for the official Olympic teams to play as practice. When they begin winning against many of these teams, it leads to a brutal rematch against the esteemed French team, which serves as the film’s climax. Notable names in the cast are Kevin Sorbo ("The Adventures of Hercules") and Australian actress Denise Roberts ("Headland" and "Home and Away" TV series). The sole bonus is a behind-the-scenes look.
From Dusk Till Dawn: Season Three (eONE, 3 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, NR, 448 min.). Based on the film written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez, with Rodriguez developing the TV series for his El Rey network, the horror-crime show starring the Gecko Brothers (D.J. Cotrona as Seth and Zane Holtz as Richie) continues to thrive. This set includes all 10 unedited episodes, plus cast and crew audio commentaries for episodes one, nine and 10; a three-part catch-up on the series; four featurettes, including looks at two new monsters; four looks inside the episodes, including one on new characters; a season three wrap-up; a look at the season's best kills; a deleted scene; a look at the evolution of a fight scene; and one called, "When Sex Machines Collide."
Seth and Richie continue to fight their way through the chilling world of culebras, the vampire-snake hybrids that control hidden empires in Texas and Mexico. Once the baddest outlaws in the land, the Gecko brothers made a run for the border two years ago to save their lives -- and their fortune. After stumbling into a bar full of bloodsuckers and bandits, they encountered the vampire goddess Santanico, joining her cause to settle an old score, and it won them a place in the culebra world. Now that world is on the verge of violent and destructive explosion as new enemies hell-bent on domination gather to take them down. But, in typical Gecko fashion, Seth and Richie assemble an unlikely crew (some new, some old) to take on the forces of hell.
Season three also features returning actors Eiza Gonzalez, Jesse Garcia, Madison Davenport, Brandon Soo Hoo, Emily Rios and Jake Busey. New cast members are: Ana de la Reguera ("Jane the Virgin," "Narcos") as Lord Venganza Verdugo, one of the seven remaining culebra Lords; Marko Zaror ("Machete Kills") as Zolo, an Aztec warrior trained in Hell; Tom Savini ("Friday the 13th," "From Dusk Till Dawn") as Burt, a retired demon hunter who smokes more medical marijuana than he sells; Maurice Compte ("Breaking Bad," "Narcos") as Brasa, a mysterious Rasputin-like figure who takes on the Gecko brothers; and Nicky Whelan ("House of Lies," "The Wedding Ringer").
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Complete Series (1993-99, CBS/Paramount, 48 DVDs, NR, 133 hours 6 min.). Paramount continues to release box sets of shows from the Star Trek universe. "Deep Space Nine," the second spinoff from the original series, lasted seven seasons and took place, much like "Babylon 5," on a well-used space station that was used for inter-species trading. the set contains all 173 episodes and ports over all the special features from the individual season releases.
Set in the years 2369-2375, most of the action takes place on a space station instead of a starship, although the starship USS Defiant was introduced in season three. The show is noted for its well-developed characters, original and complex plots, and religious themes. Avery Brooks as Benjamin Sisko was the only African-American captain in any of the televised "Star Trek" incarnations. It often showcased darker themes; less physical exploration of space; and, in later seasons, an emphasis on many aspects of war.
The extras, all from the 2003 release (minus the Best Buy bonus discs), are: Season One: Deep Space Nine: A Bold Beginning, Crow Dossier: Kira Nerys, Michael Westmore’s Aliens: Season One, Secrets of Quark’s Bar, Deep Space Nine Sketchbook, Alien Artifacts: Season One, and a production photo gallery. Season Two: New Frontiers: The Story of Deep Space Nine, Michael Westmore’s Aliens: Season Two, Deep Space Nine Sketchbook: Season Two, Crew Dossier: Jadzia Dax, and New Station-New Ships. Season Three: The Birth of the Dominion and Beyond, Michael Westmore’s Aliens: Season Three, Time Travel Files – Past Tense, Crew Dossier: Odo, Sailing Through the Stars: and a Special Look at Explorers. Season Four: Charting New Territory: Deep Space Nine Season Four, Crew Dossier: Worf, Michael Westmore’s Aliens: Season Four, Deep Space Nine Sketchbook: John Eaves, and a photo gallery. Season Five: Trials and Tribble-ations: Uniting Two Legends, Trials and Tribble-ations: A Historic Encounter, Crew Dossier: Miles O’Brien, Inside DS9 with Mike Okuda, Michael Westmore’s Aliens: Season Five, and a photo gallery. Season Six: Mission Inquiry: Far Beyond the Stars, 24th Century Wedding, Crew Dossier: Julian Bashir, Crew Dossier: Quark, DS9 Sketchbook: John Eaves, and a photo gallery. Season Seven: Ending an Era, Crew Dossier: Benjamin Sisko, Crew Dossier: Jake Sisko, The Last Goodbyes, and a photo gallery.