Manchester by the Sea
When his older brother dies, a man is charged with the guardianship of his teenage nephew, and he is not happy about it because he has major problems of his own.
First of all, I want to say, this is not a happy movie. In fact it's very, very sad. And I am not giving anything away by saying that. Star Casey Affleck hosted "Saturday Night Live" last Saturday and he himself said the same thing. I am just warning you. But that doesn't mean I didn't like this film. In fact, I liked it very much.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) has left Manchester to escape a tragedy in his own life. He lives in Boston as a janitor/handyman for several apartment buildings, making minimum wage and living in a gloomy basement apartment. He is not a happy guy, and it is established early that he doesn't talk much and isn't very friendly. His idea of a good time is getting drunk at the local dive bar and then punching people in the face if they look at him funny. Lee is not a happy camper.
When his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), dies and Lee finds out that he has been given guardianship of his brother's teen-aged son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Lee is also not happy. He likes the kid but there is no way he wants to go back to Manchester and live. We learn why in a series of flashbacks where we learn about a tragedy in Lee's life and what happened to Lee's marriage to Randi (Michelle Williams).
But Lee does go back to Manchester to try to persuade Patrick to move to Boston with him. But Patrick has no desire to leave. He has not one, but two girlfriends, he is on the hockey team and he is in a band. Patrick has a life in Manchester and has no intention of leaving. The two have an uneasy relationship as they try to figure out what to do next.
Neither Lee nor Patrick are easy characters to like. Lee is nonverbal, closed up and angry, and Patrick is selfish, closed up and angry, and yet, because of the great performances by Affleck and Hedges, we care about what happens to these characters.
Little brother Casey Affleck's acting chops can certainly stand up to big brother, Ben's, in this portrayal of a man who has shut down emotionally. Ben's character in "The Accountant" was similar, but I think Casey has the edge here and will not only be nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award but could run away with it. Casey definitely has the Affleck acting gene.
Michelle Williams has a small but memorable role as Lee's wife. She is an acting chameleon. She can play Marilyn Monroe or here, a Boston working class young woman, accents and portrayals always right on, and in another interesting acting turn, she is currently in production to play Janis Joplin.
And then there is Lucas Hedges. He is amazing as a sixteen-year-old having to deal with the death of his Dad and the prospect of moving away from everything he knows. And he's not a very likable kid, but then, who is at 16?
Written and directed by playwright Kenneth Lonergan, this is a study in grief and guilt, and the script is brilliant in showing the lack of communication that stands in the way of helping others with their guilt and grief. The dialogue overlaps as the actors talk over and into each other and never quite connecting. Guilt and grief is a toxic affliction far worse than being addicted to alcohol or drugs. Patrick's mother (Gretchen Mol) is seen in before and after scenes, the before as an addict and then later a recovering addict with the help of religion and her religious husband (Matthew Broderick, in a very small role). People can recover from drugs and alcohol with treatment, and even through religion, but for guilt and grief over tragedy, there is often no cure.
Film is a visual medium and for me, the signs of a great movie are visuals replacing exposition or dialogue - one of the most famous examples is the marriage montage in "Citizen Kane" where the beginning and end of a marriage is shown in less than three minutes. Here Lonergan uses every chance he can to tell the story visually. A close up of a Massachusetts license plate is all we need to see to know we are in Massachusetts. Lush music playing over a series of montages moves the story forward without words. Beautiful.
Also the gorgeous and languid cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes that captures the tranquility of the quaint and quiet New England towns and countryside belies the turmoil inside almost all of the characters. It's a sad movie but a human and, even, hopeful one.
Rosy the Reviewer says...an Academy Award Best Picture and Best Actor nomination for sure.
***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!
Central Intelligence (2016)
In high school, Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) was popular and voted "Most Likely to Succeed" but grows up to be a rather ordinary accountant until he reconnects with Robbie Wierdicht, an awkward and bullied school mate now going by the name of Bob Stone (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). This film asks the question "Is there life after high school?"
We all remember the most popular kids in high school, those voted "Most Popular," or "Most Likely to Succeed," right? What became of them? Did they succeed? In the entertaining book "Is There Life after High School," President Gerald Ford supposedly remarked in a speech that he still had regrets that he had never been able to achieve Student Council offices in high school and yet he became President. The fact that as President he still remembered the slights of high school tells us how much the high school experience affects us.
Here Calvin Joyner is a star athlete and the most popular guy in high school. Robbie Wierdicht, on the other hand, is an overweight geeky kid, bullied by the popular kids. He is attacked while taking a shower in the locker room and thrown naked right into the middle of a high school pep rally. Calvin takes pity on the kid and covers him with his varsity jacket, and Robbie runs out of the gym, humiliated, never to be heard from again.
Or so we think...
Fast forward 20 years, Calvin is now a soft-spoken, mild-mannered accountant, who is getting flack from his co-workers and boss, and his wife, Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), his childhood sweetheart from high school, is unhappy in their marriage and wants to go to counseling, a far cry from his glory days in high school. He gets a Facebook request from a Bob Stone who eventually lets Calvin know he was Robbie Wierdicht. He wants to meet Calvin, and though Bob still acts a bit nerdy, we discover that our awkward, overweight, homely high schooler has turned into the buff and handsome Bob Stone (but we know he's really "The Rock), and despite his still nerdy ways, he is also a rogue CIA agent. Remembering that Calvin was the only person who was nice to him in high school, Bob pulls him into his current intrigue.
At the same time, the CIA finds out about Bob contacting Calvin and Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) approaches him to help them bring Stone in. She tells him that Stone is a rogue agent who is trying to steal satellite codes to sell to the highest bidder. But when Stone kidnaps Calvin, he tells him that he is after The Black Badger who is the real bad guy trying to sell the codes. Stone needs Calvin to help him get the coordinates to find the Black Badger. Now Calvin doesn't know who to believe. He doesn't know if Bob is a good guy or a bad guy, but decides to help him anyway.
The first half of the film is the big set-up for the relationship and what is to follow and is quite funny, but the second half deteriorates a bit into the usual action stuff and convoluted plot so prevalent in action films today. But still, this is a sweet buddy film with a certain charm and, of course, a message: Be careful who you bully. He might grow up to be "The Rock" and beat the crap out of you, which Bob gets to do when he once again faces the main bully from high school, Trevor Olson, as an adult (Jason Bateman).
Kevin Hart is one of those comedians who makes me laugh just to look at him. His reactions and double takes are hilarious and his main persona is the fast-talking guy whose fast-talking turns into gibberish when frightened. "The Rock," though not really an actor, has made a name for himself as an action hero and does a good job here of making fun of himself.
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber with a script by Thurber, David Stassen and Ike Barinholtz (who you might remember from "Mad TV"), this is a comedy action film that is actually quite funny. The film made a ton of money at the box office so I am sure we can expect a sequel...(and you know how I feel about sequels). But Hart and Johnson are an engaging duo so, who knows, maybe I won't mind so much. I mean, pigs fly, right?
Rosy the Reviewer says...a fun action film with a great message.
Captain Fantastic (2016)
Shunning the amenities of civilization such as running water and electricity, Ben Cash is raising his six children in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest with questionable parenting techniques. But when his wife dies unexpectedly, he is forced back into civilization and to question his hard line philosophy.
Viggo Mortenson plays Ben Cash, a back to the earth type and Marxist, who, with his wife, Leslie (Trin Miller, who is only seen in dream sequences) has been raising their six children - Bodevan (George McKay), Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja and Nai - off the grid in the backwoods of Washington (filmed in my home county)! Ben believes that most of Western society is fascist and has passed his beliefs onto his children. He also believes in survivalism and puts his kids through rigorous (some might call dangerous) activities and does not allow any whining should anyone get hurt. Animal lovers will not like the opening scene where a deer is killed as part of a ritual of manhood when Bo must eat the deer's raw heart. Ugh. All of the children know survivalist techniques, first aid, how to forage for food and basically take care of themselves which Ben believes is essential in a cruel world that won't take care of you. Ben home schools the kids, they meditate, practice martial arts and sit around the fire at night reading the classics and playing music on handmade instruments. Of course Ben plays bagpipes and drives an old school bus but I will try not to judge.
It's all very idyllic if you like that kind of thing (I prefer hot baths and TV), but we soon learn that Leslie has been in the hospital near her sister and parents because Leslie has been struggling with a bi-polar disorder, and when she somehow manages to kill herself, Ben is forced to go back to civilization and face Leslie's parents, who blame Ben for her illness and death. They tell him not to come to the funeral, but, of course, they all do.
Ben and the kids pack up the old school bus and we get to experience the old fish out of water scenario. The kids have read a lot, but despite Leslie and Ben's insistence on their learning critical thinking, these kids have never experienced anything except their lives in the woods, and let's just say that Bo is of an age when he gets that old tingly feeling when he sees pretty girls.
Ben makes no bones about explaining sex and answering all of his kids' questions in the most clinical of ways. In fact, this guy exudes no warmth whatsoever and when his five-year-old asks what sexual intercourse is, he buys her a copy of "The Joy of Sex." Let's just say these kids might have read Tolstoy and Marx, but they were not prepared for malls, traffic and sex. Of course our teenager Bo gets derailed by a pretty girl because no matter how politically committed you are or how much you hate the establishment, you can't deny biology.
And this is where I rant a bit.
I know I said I would try not to judge, but I am not a fan of people forcing their beliefs and lifestyles on their children to the point that they shelter them from everything that might impinge on those beliefs. If you, as an adult, want to go out and live in the woods and have nothing to do with other people, that's fine. You have lived your life, experienced what life had to offer and rejected it. But children who are raised that way from birth are not given the choice to reject anything. They have never had the option because they have only lived the life you have shown them. Growing up in the 60's and 70's, I knew so many people like this and they irritated me then and they irritate me now so I don't like Ben much. And Ben may think of himself as a free-thinking liberal, but he treats his kids in a way that belies his core beliefs and acts more like a dictator. He doesn't even let his kids eat hamburgers.
End of rant.
Despite all of their reading and Dad's explanations, when they all arrive at Grandma and Grandpa's in Sacramento, it's a culture shock. Since the children have had rare contact with the outside world, they are not prepared for it. They say that in every family there is one person who is sensitive to the family dynamic and one child sees the cracks and wants to stay in civilization living with his grandparents. I guess Sacramento can look really good to a kid who has only experienced campfires and hunting. Bo also finally cracks and tells his Dad that he knows he is a freak, that he doesn't know anything unless it comes out of a book.
"I don't know anything about anything!"
Finally when Vesper is injured, Ben finally has an epiphany that perhaps he has been too much of a hardass and maybe he doesn't know everything after all. But despite the desires the children have to experience more of life, when Leslie's parents (Leslie's father is played by Frank Langella) threaten to take custody of the children, we learn that no matter what the hardships and dysfunction, family is family. Family is what you know and what you will always choose.
Viggo is great in this film because he did irritate me so much. It's a testament to his acting ability that I was drawn into his world and believed who he was. But is it me or could Viggo Mortensen and Aaron Eckhart be twins? I always get them mixed up especially since they are both excellent actors. I always have to remind myself that Viggo is the one with dimples on his cheeks and chin who looks eerily like a young Kirk Douglas, and Aaron is the one with just a chin dimple who was in that egregious movie about women "In the Company of Men."
I also really enjoyed the kids. I know, you can't believe I just said that, can you? You know how I feel about child actors, but these kids were not annoying and were really believable as children raised like wolves.
Written and directed by Matt Ross, I really loved the first three quarters of this film but the "rescue Mom" part was far-fetched and had a certain ick factor, but then it won me back with a moving and satisfying ending.
My one question is about the title - not sure where the title came from - but this film is an interesting counterpoint to "Manchester by the Sea (see review above)" in how each film deals with death and grief. Somehow this film didn't get wide release and came and went in the theatres. Too bad, because it's a good one.
Rosy the Reviewer says...a mostly fantastic film that deserves to be seen.
***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***
222 to go!
Have YOU seen this classic film?
You know the saying, "The elephant in the room?" Well, here it is applied to a Columbine- like event.
It's an ordinary day at a high school. The camera follows several high schoolers - John (John Robinson), whose father (Timothy Bottoms) is a drunk; Elias, an aspiring photographer; Nathan and Carrie (Carrie Finklea), a popular couple; Michelle, a homely, shy type who refuses to wear gym shorts in gym; and Brittany, Jordan and Nicole who eat lunch and then go throw it all up in the bathroom together - as their typical day unfolds. We see them wandering the halls, in class, gossiping, eating lunch, doing the mundane things that teens do at school - until Alex (Alex Frost in his first feature film role) and Eric arrive. And then it's no longer an ordinary day.
Directed and written by Gus Van Sant, this is a short but powerful film that takes you into the seemingly mundane world of a high school on the verge of a massacre. Van Sant is probably best known for "Good Will Hunting," but he is also known for edgy films like "Drugstore Cowboy" and "My Own Private Idaho." This film won the Palme d'Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, it's highest honor, and Van Sant also won the Best Director award that year, joining only one other director to ever win both in one year (Joel Coen) .
The film has an improvisational feel that makes it seem like a you-are-there documentary and the "elephant" is the question: "Why? How did this happen and no one saw it coming?"
"Have fun, man," one of the killers says to the other before they head off to shoot up the school.
Van Sant doesn't really offer any answers which makes the film even more chilling, though he adds a homosexual component that I feel the film could have done without. It felt like an afterthought and was a jarring, out-of-context moment. The film was powerful enough without that but that is one of Van Sant's common themes.
The camera work in the film is hypnotic as it follows students from behind as they go about their day. The camera is almost like one of the students following others around or even the killers following their prey and planning their act.
The stars are all young actors who were newcomers, a few who have gone on to more movie roles or local kids who haven't done much since. The only veteran actor was Timothy Bottoms, as John's Dad in a very small part. Bottoms has certainly aged well, but I couldn't help but wonder what happened to his career? He was a hot commodity in the 70's when he starred in "The Last Picture Show" and "The Paper Chase," but though he has been a working actor all along, he never achieved the superstardom it seemed he was headed for. I wonder why.
Why it's a Must See: "...Elephant [is] one of the key American films of the last decade -- a coruscating appraisal of the numbing effect of modern life upon a younger generation."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
Rosy the Reviewer says...hypnotic and brilliant.
***Book of the Week***
Audrey: the 50's by David Wills (2016)
A beautiful coffee table book celebrating the life and career of Audrey Hepburn.
Though she has been dead for over 20 years, Audrey Hepburn remains the epitome of beauty and style, and this book celebrates the decade that solidified her place as one of the world’s greatest stars in film and fashion. Though it gives the basic facts of Hepburn's life: her birth to a Dutch-born baroness, the hardships she endured during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam in WW II and her eventual discovery in England while modeling and studying ballet which led to an acting career that lasted for over 40 years, this book is not so much about the facts of Hepburn's life as it is a celebration through photographs of her career and her iconic screen roles during the 1950's.
Here is a taste:
We see her posing in front of her "name in lights" on Broadway for her first big role as "Gigi" in 1951.
as well as her other films, culminating with her last film in the 1950's, "A Nun's Story" in 1959.
Hepburn went on to make many more successful movies in the 1960's as well, which photographic preservationist David Wills also celebrates in his book, "Audrey - The 60's (2012)."
All of the photos include quotes from Audrey and those she knew - photographers, directors, and costars, including William Holden, who also starred with her in "Sabrina," Peck, Astaire, directors Billy Wilder, King Vidor, William Wyler, costumer designer Edith Head, and more - and "candid" shots of her personal life are interspersed.
Wills has carefully selected this collection of two hundred museum-quality photos, some never seen before, that show why Audrey was such an iconic star. The photos are breathtaking and remind us of the gamine who turned into a legend and still today represents the epitome of grace and casual elegance.
I know it's late but you might still be able to get this for a Christmas or Hannukah gfit for the Audrey fan in your life. It would be a great gift.
Rosy the Reviewer says.. this is a Hepburn fan's delight but if you long for the Golden Days of Hollywood you will also enjoy it.
Thanks for reading!
See you Tuesday
"My New Year's Un-Resolutions"
"My New Year's Un-Resolutions"
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