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Reel Time | January 2017

Moana: © 2016 DISNEY

Moana

Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), 16, lives on an island in the South Pacific. The sea fascinates the young woman, whose family comes from a long line of voyagers. She is especially close to Gramma Tala (Rachel House), who shares her love for the ocean and tells her about the myths and legends of their people.

When the ocean no longer yields fish and the land no longer provides food, Moana wants to help. Gramma Tala tells her the story of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who caused disaster in the past, but who may be able to help. Moana’s father, Chief Tui Waialiki (Temuera Morrison), is afraid to leave the island and forbids her to sail away. But she goes anyway, with the family’s colorful rooster.

Moana is one of Disney’s best musical animated features yet. Even though the story, by Zootopia’s Jared Bush, is complex because he blends myths from the different island nations of the Pacific, his Maui is a rascal and highly entertaining. Rather than fear him, Moana befriends him. Moana herself is a mighty girl: strong, athletic, and loving. Disney is paying attention to what parents and educators are saying about young female heroines and the images they project.

Moana feels, from an early age, her calling to save her people—and you can see her discerning her vocation and following it. And I loved her relationship with her wise Gramma Tala. There are themes of vocation, adoption, abandonment, care for the environment, generational healing, and courage. Delightful!

A-3, PG ♦ Some peril.


Manchester by the Sea: COURTESY OF AMAZON STUDIOS AND ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS

Manchester by the Sea

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a stoic yet volatile handyman who takes care of four apartment buildings in Quincy, Massachusetts. He grew up on the North Shore and loves the sea. He gets a call that his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), is in the emergency room after a heart attack. By the time he gets there, Joe has died. In a surprise turn, Lee learns that he has been named guardian of his 16-year-old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

Lee is overwhelmed. He and Randi (Michelle Williams) divorced after a tragic accident took their children. Some townspeople are kind to Lee, while others blame him. He cannot get work, and Patrick does not want to leave his home and the boat that he inherited from his father.

Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s atmospheric film picks at a working-class family’s wounds of guilt that cannot heal. Most of the story takes place in winter, when the landscape is barren. However, by the end, we know that spring is coming. Casey Affleck’s performance is brilliant. The most surprising line of dialogue in a film where the main character barely speaks is when Lee explains to Patrick, who has just learned his estranged mother has become Christian, that “Catholics are Christians, you know.” This film should garner some award attention, especially for Affleck.

Not yet rated, R ♦ Pervasive crass language, alcohol, bar fights, brief sexuality.


Jackie: PHOTO BY WILLIAM GRAY/© 2016 TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Jackie

For those of us who remember the assassination and funeral of President John F. Kennedy, the biographical drama Jackie will evoke memories as poignant as they are mythical. Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) meets with presidential historian and journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) at her home in Hyannis Port a week or so after JFK’s funeral. She wants to set the record straight about her husband and what happened in Dallas.

Their oddly matched conversation—she is prickly while he is uneasy—frames the film’s narrative. We get a glimpse of Jackie’s inner turmoil through her conversations with a priest (John Hurt), who is matter-of-fact and wise, and the support of Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard). We experience how incredibly difficult it was for Jackie, from the swearing in of Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) to departing the White House. She is strong, decisive, caring, and in deep pain that she hides from most people. We learn that Jackie and Jack rarely spent the night together and that she accepted him as he was.

Portman assumes Jackie’s breathy voice, elite accent, posture, and movements perfectly. The makeup and costuming for all the characters are incredibly accurate. Jackie loved the musical Camelot, and though Camelot never really existed, it would never come again.

Not yet rated, R ♦ Mature themes, brief violence.