Movie review: 'Manchester by the Sea' and 'Man Down' hit theaters Friday, Dec 2
Roadside Attractions, 2016.

December is upon us and with it comes the final push of award-caliber and big-blockbuster movies hitting theaters. This week is a relatively slow week of releases, with only one high-profile film premiering. Here is a look and a quick review of all of the films opening on Friday, Dec 2.

"Manchester by the Sea"

This film was just named the Best Movie of the Year by the National Board of Review, and for good reason. It's written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan ("Margaret," "You Can Count on Me") and stars Casey Affleck in what is an Oscar-worthy performance. He stars as Lee Chandler, who has been emotionally crippled with grief over the loss of his family and his past indiscretions. He is thrust into caring for his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges, in a break-out performance) after another tragedy strikes the family. Not equipped for such responsibility and barely able to keep himself alive, the story unfolds realistically and beautifully. It's heart-breaking in that it feels like a real slice-of-life and like life, it doesn't wrap up and solve all of life's problems over the course of two hours. Affleck's performance and Lonergan's subtle direction make the film worth watching and then some.  Michelle Williams - always fantastic - plays Lee's ex-wife and has some head-turning scenes, but not enough to warrant any strong consideration. Kyle Chandler and Gretchen Mol also star. This is not a "feel-good" movie nor does it try to sugar-coat its subject matter or its characters. But it is a deeply effective and moving portrayal of a man who must endure, despite not having the strength or the know-how to do so.  Grade:  A-.

Genre: Drama.  Runtime: 2 hours, 15 minutes, Rated R.  Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges.  Directed by Kenneth Lonergan ("Margaret," "You Can Count on Me").

"Man Down"

Shia LaBeouf is perhaps better than he's ever been as U.S. Marine Gabriel Drummer, but he is lost in this convoluted and lifeless war-time thriller. Told across several different timelines, the story is ambitious but not done effectively.  In one timeline, LaBeouf is training for a combat mission in Afghanistan and we see him with his wife (Kate Mara, given nothing to do) and young son. In another, he is sitting down with a military psychologist (Gary Oldman) discussing a recent "incident" that is kept a secret from the viewer for much of the film.  Then, in some post-apocalyptic future, Drummer and his long-time friend and fellow soldier Devin (Jai Courtney) hunt down some bad guys in search of Drummer's lost family.  The film attempts to tackle the effects of PTSD, but this soulless jumble is nearly too much for any audience member to endure.  Grade:  D.

These films all open locally on Friday, Dec 2, 2016 (check for showtimes).