Guys Guide to Films — James Mandell's Annual Holiday Round-Up

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Every year my lovely and talented husband shares his take on the films that get a lot of buzz during awards season. Even though his reviews don’t necessarily agree with mine, his Guys Guide to Films ends up getting insane traffic, so who am I do deprive him of bandwidth?

Guys Guide to Films — James Mandell’s Annual Holiday Round Up

Rogue One Collateral Beauty Review Guys Guide to filmsguys guide to films arrival reviewIt’s been a mixed year for films, with the best releases coming out just now. Thus, this speed-read round-up of available fare my film critic wife has shared via screenings and screeners stacked high. Here’s what I managed to see, arranged by recommendations: Go, No, Maybe, Date Night and Family Fare.

Guys Guide to Films:




Cool and collected scifi alien visitation yarn that’s cleverly written, deftly acted and directed. Amy Adams nuances the role of a linguist who must decipher some multi-dimensional concepts. Written by brilliant short-story writer Michael Chiang, it stays with you.


Engaging WW2 story w Brad Pitt playing a skilled American spy infiltrating German operations, then falling for French co-star Marion Cotillard. Clever writing keeps you in suspense, with fine detailing throughout.

 Dr. Strange

One of the cooler Marvel flix to come down the line, as Benedict Cumberbatch takes on the role for the first of like, ten sequels he’ll do over the next 25 years.

 The Founder

Slow, plodding indie biopic detailing Ray Kroc’s McDonald’s journey (played by Michael Keaton) from failed travelling salesman to virtual inventor of the world’s greatest franchise that every entrepreneur will find utterly fascinating.

 Hell or High Water

Buddies jack banks in the dusty Southwest. Earthy cast – Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges playing the wizened cop on their tail — entertaining action and some intriguing twists.

Live by Night

Ben Affleck wrote, directed and stars (tsk, such a talent) in this entertaining gangster film set in the early 20th century. Lots o’ shoot-outs and assorted bank robberies, combined with a half crazy, half love-y romantic protagonist psycho killer (every family has one, right?). That dude sho’ can rock a fedora.

 The Lobster

Bleak dystopian future society gives its single adults six weeks at a chilly resort hotel to find their life mates or be summarily turned into an animal of their choosing. Uh HUH… Add the guests’ lobotomy-like personalities and it’s surreal, bizarre, quietly comedic and mysteriously riveting.


Guys Guide to Films:



Collateral Beauty

Will Smith plays a guy suffering loss, then picks up support from a gaggle of Hollywood A-listers who wonder how in the hell their agents convinced them to make this stinker.


Booze-crazed gold prospector Matthew McConaughey (balding with pot-belly), desperate for the strike of a lifetime, nails the ugly side of greed and excess as he alienates all around him, including the audience.


An interracial couple is victimized by Southern segregation laws and hatred in the 1950’s. Compelling story stays stubbornly undercooked with long moments of staring and thinking as the unlucky couple tries not be noticed. And stares. And thinks.

 Manchester by the Sea

Why is every movie about overwhelming grief “important”? Why are we so attracted to watching artful portrayals of miserable people leading tragic lives? Why, why, oh God, WHYYYY!!??  Ahhh, that felt good…


An African American boy living in the projects must confront his awakening sexuality via school bullying, his drug-addicted mother and a whole lot of internal emotion and non-synaptic action as he perfects a blank, open-mouthed stare.

Nocturnal Animals

Jilted novelist husband writes a worst-nightmare novel about psychotic hooligans who terrorize an innocent family with a nightmarish and bizarre aftermath, then sends and dedicates it to the ex-wife who jilted him. GOOD fer you, bud!

Patriots Day

Mark Whalberg is a colorful cop in a faithful re-telling of the Boston Marathon bombing. Which should’ve been made as a period piece 20 years from now.

Rules Don’t Apply

A primer on how to be a passive-aggressive asshole, it’s Warren Beatty’s mirthless bio-pic about Howard Hughes and his stultifying personality, which drove people mad with frustration. Out of which comes a wacko love story and a cornucopia of dysfunction.  Bring a good playlist and earbuds.


A dull young city bus driver writes child-like poems his empty-headed wife adores. You could I-movie yourself talking while driving the 405 and make a better film.


Two Portuguese missionaries try to preserve Christianity in 17th century Japan, refusing to apostatize while their followers are slowly tortured to horrible deaths. Simulating the same effect on the audience, Martin Scorsese’s “passion project,” is a reminder to never go see someone’s passion project.


Guys Guide to Films:




Denzel Washington stars and directs this Willy Loman-like Pulitzer prize play of a 1950’s African American family that measures itself against quiet urban racism and dashed dreams. Long static stage scenes, emotional and excessive dialog make for a challenging viewing commitment.

Hacksaw Ridge

In Mel Gibson’s biopic of a WWII soldier’s stunning leap of faith, scenes of tender love, family conflict and religious devotion are – hacksawed — with depictions of searingly violent battle, dismemberment, carnage and wartime horror. Overwhelming, emotional and In Freakin’ Tense.

Miss Sloan

Hot-shot Washington lobbyist grinds 80-hr weeks on speed and male hookers, bullying co-workers and senators with brains and bravado. Something’s gotta give as Jessica Chastain gamely skirts the limits of her talent while attempting to work things out.


Wisely beginning with a press crush in the aftermath, the first half of this Tom Hanks/Clint Eastwood effort is a bit soapy, but once we get into the nitty-gritty it’s engrossing, as various simulations and government hearings examine the details of this memorable event.


TV-style doc on the extraordinary surge of the US prison population due in great part to the privatization of the American prison system and subsequent corporate responsibility to keep ‘em filled and profitable. Chilling.


Guys Guide to Films:

Date Night


Hidden figures

A group of gifted African American women work as human “computers” in the early days of the NASA Mercury program, dealing with passive segregation and arrogant males as they prove their invaluable worth. Quite the story, expertly and entertainingly told. Full of rockets, astronauts, determination and heart.

La La Land

Corny, obvious and manipulative, sprinkled with moments of charm and creativity. Bound for box office records and Academy awards, I thought the songs were forgettable, the story arc overcooked. I’m in the minority and your date will L-U-V it.


Deep Space schmaltz stars Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, who take video dating to a whole new level. Tech and human eye candy + an engaging storyline make for tasty sci-fi entertainment.


Guys Guide to Films:

Family Fare


Captain Fantastic (on demand)

A highly educated, socially bankrupt father (Vigo Morgenstein) takes his six-kid family off the grid and into the woods to eschew society’s excess. Unexpected moments, high-falutin’ logic and fierce family love move this film into thought-provoking, funny and wondrous moments.

 Hunt for the Wilderpeople

New Zealand mountain folk foster a troubled kid and an unplanned adventure in the bush. Simplistic and obvious, kids will enjoy depictions of discovery and connection.


A young boy in India gets unexpectedly separated from his family and begins a 20-year journey to find himself and those he left behind. Beautifully told and uplifting, the kid is fascinating, the storyline emotionally winning.


The latest Disney female-hero Nat Geo saga places the future of a paradisiacal island nation on the shoulders of its spunky ‘tween queen. Girl-powered delight.

A Monster Calls

Sensitive, artistic fiercely determined kid gets bullied while dealing with Mom’s third stage cancer, then meets a nightmare-inducing tree monster who presses him towards self-awareness with sledgehammer force. Heartfelt parable will likely overwhelm youngsters. Worth watching with your teenager.

Queen of Katwe

Non-Disney looking Disney film about a gifted slum girl in Uganda who gets a shot at becoming a world-class chess master. Heavy African accents are worth listening closely to for their lyricism in a winning story of love vs the elements.

 Rogue One

Rebels attempt to thwart the opposition. Like this past election, no outside opinions will change anyone’s mindset.


Guys Guide to Films — James Mandell’s Annual Holiday Round-Up

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Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award winning journalist, author and film/TV critic. She can be heard regularly on Cumulus radio stations throughout the US, and on BBC Radio.

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