Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R, for profanity, war violence, sexual content and brief drug use.

Ang Lee’s ambitious, uneven and heroically idiosyncratic drama follows a U.S. Army unit on a premature victory tour during the early days of the Iraq war. The men are trotted onto a Texas football field and into the embrace of the gushing, uncomprehending public — a show of support as surreal and disillusioning as the distant inferno from which these troops have just emerged.

We see a glimpse of that inferno early on, when the camera of an embedded reporter catches 19-year-old Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) rushing to the aid of a sergeant under heavy enemy fire. The media immediately seize on the harrowing footage as a morale-boosting example of American heroism in action.

But the film pursues a more difficult, nuanced conclusion. Patiently and scrupulously, if not always in the most dramatically sound fashion, it devotes itself to bringing these soldiers’ fraught experience into clearer focus — literally. Lee shot at an unprecedented 120 frames per second (five times the usual rate) and in 4K resolution, an enhancement that produces an astonishing crispness.

The trouble with eliminating one visual barrier is that another springs up in its place, and, at times, Lee’s pursuit of hyper-realism winds up merely underscoring the film’s own digital artifice. The peripheral elements — the phony, gestural performances of the background extras, for starters — seem much more obtrusive than they do at the standard frame rate.

Lee’s recurring theme is the unspoken tension between a society’s oppressive traditions and a brave individual who refuses to fit the mold. And Alwyn, a gifted British newcomer, captures that epiphany with a quiet sensitivity that is one of the movie’s few unambiguous triumphs.
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

The Edge of Seventeen
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for sexual content, language and drinking, all involving teens.

 

This drama takes teenagers seriously and meets them on their level. But it also expects the best from them — to be good people, responsible and respectful, even when the greatest of embarrassments rain down.

Hailee Steinfeld stars as the misanthropic Nadine, a misfit with only one real friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). When Krista collides romantically with Nadine’s hunky, older brother Darien (Blake Jenner), Nadine is thrown into a suicidal spiral, a spinout of epic proportions. Every generation needs a defining teen movie, and this just might be that film for this generation.
Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service

Bleed for This
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for profanity, sex/nudity and accident images.

 

Based on a true story, this biography of prizefighter Vinny Paz follows a fairly standard-issue boxing movie formula: the charismatic and cocky young fighter, the inevitable adversity, the rousing comeback, the down-on-his-luck trainer, the moms and sisters and parade of anonymous girlfriends cheering him on.

The unique thing about this story is just how extreme his adversity was: a head-on car crash that left him with a broken neck. Miles Teller takes to the role of the sweet, swaggering dirtbag Vinny with relish. It’s an inspiring story. It’s just that what surrounds it is overly busy, clichéd and rote. You get the sense that the real Vinny is more interesting than the movie. K.W.