Manchester by the Sea is Tragic, Hilarious Oscar Bait.

Manchester by the Sea stars Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, a janitor who must become the guardian of his nephew when his brother dies of a heart attack. The film is written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan.

The film begins with Lee Chandler’s daily janitorial routine. Chandler comes across as quiet yet competent. However we also see Chandler’s dark side when he loses his temper with a customer and he gets into a fight at a bar. One day Lee learns that his brother Joe has died of a heart attack so Lee moves in with Joe’s teenage son Patrick.We learn through a flashback that Lee accidentally caused the deaths of his three children when he drunkenly forgot to place a screen in front of his fireplace. Lee and Patrick must figure out where Patrick will live following the death of Patrick’s father.

Manchester by the Sea is an easy watch due to the strength of its characterization. It’s the kind of film that makes you uncertain whether you should be laughing or crying while watching it. I’m always impressed by movies that can pull off this kind of tonal balance.

While Manchester by the Sea is clearly successful at what it attempts to do, I find myself questioning how much I should champion this film. The film is being marketed as an award-winning film and it looks the part. Manchester by the Sea is the type of film that fits so easily into an award ceremony. If it doesn’t win at least a few awards, then it will at least garner several nominations. For this reason I feel that I should avoid giving Manchester by the Sea more credit than it will most likely seem to possess during award season.

Manchester by the Sea is a great film with some serious emotional gravity. It will feel incredibly powerful while you watch it but it will disappear from your memory shortly after you leave the theater. The more I think about Manchester by the Sea, the more I want to conclude that the movie is fluff, a simplistic story that fits into an existing system that fails to present anything new or noteworthy. Manchester by the Sea is not a film that will challenge you or make you aware of something from a new perspective. Its film that knows exactly what it needs to do and does so in a workmanlike fashion, catering to your desires like a butler in a rich man’s house.


Hell or High Water Review

Hell or High Water is written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by David Mackenzie. While I am unfamiliar with Mackenzie, I know that Sheridan wrote the script for Sicario which is one of the best films of last year. Once I knew that Sheridan had wrote the script for Hell or High Water, I rushed to the theater to see the film. That was the first time I had been to the theater in several months.

Hell or High Water stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as two brothers who rob banks to pay banks. Pine plays the quiet and intelligent brother while Foster is more of loose cannon. The brothers’ plan is to steal only a few thousand dollars during each robbery so that the FBI will not get involved. Jeff Bridges plays a nearly retired cop who decides to investigate robberies with his partner played Gil Birmingham. We spend significant amounts of time with both duos and the dynamic between both is quite entertaining. The brothers’ goal is to pay the debt on a reverse mortgage so that their mother’s home will not be foreclosed. This honorable intention justifies their illegal behavior in my mind and provides a commentary on the difficulty of surviving in the United States where debt slavery is a very real problem. I was definitely on board with the brothers’ goal.

One of my favorite things about Sheridan’s writing is the realistic quality of the dialogue. Everyone from Pine to the most ancillary character sound incredibly realistic. The most attention grabbing scenes in the film are not the heists but the interactions involving everyday people living in Texas. Truly this is a testament to Sheridan’s abilities as a writer. As a psychology and linguistics nerd, these scenes are by far my favorite in the film.

Hell or High Water does not contain an agenda. The film simply presents a realistic story and lets the audience draw their own conclusions. I find this kind of film so refreshing because it seems the majority of films in theaters these days are needlessly complicated. Hell or High Water is as entertaining as film gets for me. While I could nitpick certain elements that bothered me, I would much rather celebrate the movie for what it accomplishes than degrade it for minor personal annoyances. I would hope to share my appreciation for this film so that others can understand and share in my love for it.

Hell or High Water is an interesting second step for Sheridan. Sheridan has made a film with more local color that seems more personal than Sicario. With Hell or High Water, Sheridan has transitioned near seamlessly from one project to another.

The Nice Guys (2016) Movie Review

The Nice Guys is the latest film from writer/director Shane Black. The film stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as detectives in 1977 Los Angeles searching for a girl who is involved in some shady dealings.

Shane Black is known for creating films such as Lethal Weapon and Iron Man 3. I had no real exposure to Black’s films prior to watching The Nice Guys.

I regret not seeing this movie in theaters because it is truly a fantastic film. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are both perfectly cast and there is a ton of humor in the film. I don’t usually laugh at movies but this film had so many moments that were simply hilarious. I was pleasantly surprised at just how funny this film was.

The Nice Guys also succeeds on a technical level. You just know while watching that Black and company made every effort to make this film as good as possible. This is most visible in the production design meant to replicate a 1977 Los Angeles setting. Every scene in the movie feels perfect and the plot slowly builds to an incredible climax.

This is the kind of movie that I hope to watch again because I know there will be details that I missed the first time around. From experience I know that if I feel willing to watch a movie twice, then that movie is something special.

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

I have not been going to the movie theater lately. This is because there are not many interesting movies in theaters right now. There are a couple of interesting films here and there but nothing that really grabs me. Everybody Wants Some!! is an exception to the tendency of mainstream films to be unappealing. I am surprised that my local Century theater is even showing the film. Perhaps living in Portland means that movie theaters must show more lesser known titles.

Everybody Wants Some!! is about college baseball players in the year 1980 on the last weekend before school begins. The movie feels like one big party. I loved it. The protagonist of the film is Jake, a pitcher and freshman who is wise beyond his years but still behaves like a typical twenty-something dude. He lives in a glorified frat house with the rest of his teammates. You get to watch these dudes in their unending search for booze and female companionship, which is a lot of fun in my opinion. Being a former baseball player I could relate to these dudes pretty easily and I found many of them likable personalities. The best thing about this film is the fully realized nature of its characters. The film lacks a clear character arc. Linklater is clearly trying to make a fun movie. Much like Dazed and Confused was following one night of shenanigans, Everybody Wants Some!! follows a weekend of shenanigans. You could look for moments of change in the characters but that would be missing the point. This film is meant to be fun and it doesn’t ascribe to typical techniques of storytelling.

I wish more movies were made like this one. It’s the perfect escape from the struggles of daily life. You can briefly escape to the world of these baseball players and look at them sort of like animals in a zoo. That may be a strange way to phrase it but thats how watching the movie felt for me and I loved every second of it. I could see this movie would be grating to some who would find the behavior of these dudes unpleasant. Everybody Wants Some!! is not for everyone.

I recently discovered Richard Linklater after watching Boyhood. I realized that he is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today and I consider myself lucky to be living while he is making films. Linklater has reached Tarantino status where his films are given mainstream exposure despite their lack of mainstream appeal. Linklater makes whatever he wants and we watch it because he is Richard Linklater, a filmmaker deemed important by the relevant authority. It’s easy to envision an alternate world where Linklater’s films never caught on but he would probably create the exact same films under those circumstances. It never feels like Everybody Wants Some!! is catering to you in the way that so many films do nowadays. The point of creating is to make things that you want. A prioritization of the Audience’s desires over the filmmaker’s is the defining feature of commercial art. I am happy that Linklater has not sold out despite his popularity.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Quick Review

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of those classic science fiction films that you always hear about but never sit down to watch in its entirety. The premise is brilliant in its simplicity. What if alien seed pods were to grow exact copies of humans? The copies incorporate all of a person’s memories and physical traits but none of their emotions. It reminds me a lot of an episode of the twilight zone.

In a sentence, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a very entertaining film. I am always impressed when movies that were made several decades ago can be this entertaining. It did take longer than usual for me to accept the world because it feels so different from the present-day, but It would be wrong to hold this against the movie. The characters are well-rounded enough and I imagine the world felt realistic to people watching the film in 1956. The best thing about this movie is how quickly life goes down the drain for the main characters. In just a few days, the protagonist goes from a normal doctor to a blabbering mad man. This character’s downward cycle is really fun to watch.



The Diary of a Teenage Girl Review

Here’s a movie that you probably didn’t know existed. It didn’t get oscar buzz or win awards but I think it’s one of the best movies that came out in 2015. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a coming-of-age comedy/drama based on a graphic novel of the same name. It premiered at Sundance and had a limited release in August of 2015. It’s the story of a 15-year-old girl named Minnie who has an affair with her mother’s boyfriend named Monroe. With this kind of taboo relationship it’s easy to label it as statutory rape because that is what the law says. This movie does not give you that easy answer. The relationship between Minnie and Monroe is consensual. It’s easy to understand why a teenage girl would be attracted to an older man and vice versa. Their relationship is more natural and healthy than most relationships depicted in the media.

I love movies that don’t provide easy answers, mix different tones and possess human characters. This movie does all of those things. It could definitely be watched a second time as there is a ton of information and meaning packed into its shots. The team responsible for making this movie had a solid idea of what they wanted to accomplish.

When a movie is adapted from a source it can be difficult to determine what is original. A good rule of thumb is to look at what the author of the original work has said about the adapted work. In this case author Phoebe Gloeckner has not said very much, according to Wikipedia. The only revealing tidbit is that that writer/director Marielle Heller first created a play before the film so she was probably the most qualified person to make this film.

If you are at all interested in strong female characters, taboo relationships or good movies, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is required viewing. The world needs more movies like this one. It’s unfortunate that the film did not reach a wider audience but maybe that is a good thing. In a few years I could absolutely see this movie having a devoted cult following.


Dope Review: 2015’s Best Movie about Drug-Dealing Ghetto Nerds

Dope is about three ghetto nerds living in an area of Compton known as The Bottoms. These ghetto nerds are huge fans of 90s hip-hop and stick out like sore thumbs in present-day Compton. The protagonist ghetto nerd, Malcolm, is invited to a party by drug dealer, Dom, where he winds up with a backpack full of powdered MDMA (molly). Malcolm and his friends decide to sell the molly. This is the primary plot. Malcolm must also balance his college application to Harvard and his budding relationship with a girl named Nakia.

This movie is energetic. Once it starts you are immediately drawn into its world and characters. Sometimes it feels a bit unrealistic but I was willing to suspend my disbelief for this movie. Parts of this movie were really fun. I especially liked Blake Anderson’s hacker/drug dealer persona. Anderson brings enough exaggerated charm to make his character memorable. There’s no need for Anderson’s character to be realistic so he has freedom to make it as wacky as he wants. I would watch a movie based on this character’s life and probably like it more than Dope.

I have only a couple of complaints with this movie. Firstly more could have been done to make Malcolm and his friends more likable. Malcolm, Jib and Diggy are interesting on the surface but I did not get a good sense of their real personalities. This is a problem I have with a lot of movies these days. There’s not enough psychological substance to the characters. Fortunately this movie doesn’t need a lot of psychology because it has so much else going for it. It looks amazing.

I am happy that Dope exists. It’s relevant for dealing with issues of race and unique in its subject matter. There simply are not enough movies dealing with ghetto nerds in present-day Compton, California. Although it was hard for me completely buy in to the movie’s world, I felt it was absolutely worth two hours of my time. This movie can only get a greater following with more online exposure.

The Witch (2016) Review

There’s something about watching a movie you don’t quite understand. You can appreciate what’s happening but you know that you are missing something on a deeper level. The Witch feels like a documentary about a typical New England family in the 17th century. It’s an incredibly immersive world and everything about it feels real. The Witch may be one of the most perfect movies that I have seen. It accomplishes something that few horror films have. I do not hesitate in calling The Witch my favorite horror movie of all-time.

There’s a certain “je ne sais quois” feeling to The Witch. Something lurks beneath the surface. Something unsettling yet subtle. A feeling that is both terrifying and ecstatic. It has something to do with the supernatural elements of the film. So many horror movies are unwilling to give a face to the horror. Let the audience imagine the horror because their minds will always create something more horrifying than what actually exists on screen. The Witch plays this game for a little while but it also does not. We actually see the titular witch early in the movie when she steals the family’s baby. There is a truly haunting sequence where the witch slaughters the baby and rubs its blood on her body and broomstick. It’s unequivocally terrifying and it gives you an idea of what the family is up against.

The Witch is a bit slow at times, but I was always engaged with what was happening. Everything is authentic to its time period. I will definitely be watching this film with subtitles as soon as possible. I can’t recommend this film enough. I am so happy that I had the opportunity to see it in theaters. I was recently terminated from my movie theater job so I am no longer able to see free movies in theaters. The Witch will go down as the last film I saw as a movie theater employee.

This is a somewhat short review. I will not be writing on this site as frequently because I will have to start paying for movies again. But fear not loyal readers because I will still be writing about whatever I am streaming via Netflix or watching through some other method. If you came to my site for hot takes on the latest blockbusters hitting the big screen, then you will be disappointed.

Congrats on making it to the final paragraph. If you are still reading, give me a recommendation of something to watch on Netflix or wherever. I will be eternally grateful for your sharing of taste.


Scanners (1981) Review

Do you ever start watching a movie only to abandon it half-way through?

Such was my experience watching Scanners. Don’t get me wrong, Scanners has some very interesting things going on. The special effects are pretty awesome. A dude’s head explodes and people make the strangest looking facial expressions that I have ever seen. What would it feel like if someone were reading your thoughts? According to the facial expressions in this Scanners, it would feel like you were getting shocked with a taser

Scanners is directed and written by David Cronenberg. That name implies particular qualities, so it makes sense to start a discussion of Scanners with a discussion of David Cronenberg and all that is associated with him.

Here’s what I associate with David Cronenberg:

  • Body Horror
  • Canada
  • The 1980s

Scanners is missing something. While watching Scanners, I realized that the movie was not doing enough to keep me interested. Perhaps that says more about me that it says about the film. Regardless, I knew at the halfway point that if I continued watching Scanners, I would not have a good time. For what its worth, this is a sign that the film failed to keep me engaged.

Films usually keep me engaged in one of several ways. Usually this is a combination of compelling characters, interesting ideas, and visual style. Scanners is a lacking in the compelling characters category. I simply didn’t care what happened one way or another. The main character didn’t have a particular reason why he was tracking down the villain. As a result, the film doesn’t feel human. None of the characters are relatable or convincingly human. What this film needed was more meaningful character interaction, so the audience would actually care about what’s going on. Without that, we are left with a tiresome story held up by a sci-fi premise that doesn’t do enough. Scanners feels like merely a vehicle for Cronenberg to experiment with telepathic characters.

Unless you are especially interested in body horror special effects or telepathy, don’t waste your time watching Scanners. Watch something else that actually care about whether viewers are interested or not. As my first experience with Cronenberg’s early films, I have to say that I am unimpressed. Eastern Promises and A History of Violence were both better films. Perhaps Cronenberg gets better with age. I will probably watch a few more of his early films such as The Fly. Even if its a bad movie, I will still learn something. Sometimes a bad film can teach you more than a good film.

Hail, Caesar Review


Hail, Caesar is an interesting movie.

It has a lot of great actors and actresses performing at a very high level. It has some of the most hysterical scenes in recent memory and it looks amazing, however I found myself bored watching the film. At a certain point, the story started to drag. I stopped caring about the protagonist’s journey and started looking at my watch.

Hail, Caesar focuses primarily on Eddie Mannix, a “studio fixer” employed by Capitol Pictures. His goal is to keep the studio running smoothly. This entails dealing with movie stars such as Baird Whitlock, Hobie Doyle, DeeAnna Moran and Burt Gurney. Each of these performers has their own interesting thread, but the central story involves Baird Whitlock who plays the lead role in Capitol Pictures’ prestige film, Hail, Caesar. Whitlock is kidnapped and it is up to Mannix to find Whitlock while Mannix balances his personal and professional affairs.

It turns out that the people who kidnap Whitlock belong to a Marxist study group. My favorite moments of Hail, Caesar are when Whitlock speaks with his captors who present a very compelling argument for why they deserve Capitol Pictures’ money. They argue that the studio owns the “means of production” and thereby exploits the common man. Income inequality is at an all-time high in the United States, so this part of the movie seems prescient. The film does not portray those working in the studio system as morally righteous. Mannix’s main conflict is his choice between staying at the studio or accepting a better paying and less demanding job with a different corporation called Lockheed. The film portrays Hollywood as corrupt but valuable.

In the end, Mannix chooses to stay with Capitol Pictures. After retrieving Whitlock from the Marxists, Mannix hears Whitlock’s argument that the studio system is exploitative. Mannix responds by slapping Whitlock in the face twice and telling him to go finish his movie. Regardless of his success, Mannix refuses to see the sense in Whitlock’s argument. Mannix’s response seemed to me like an outright dismissal of Whitlock’s speech as crazy talk.

“Capitalism and logic are incompatable”

This seems to be the film’s thesis. Put another way, creating value is the ultimate pursuit in life and the best measure of value is cash. Mannix also places value in the feeling of belonging. This is the other part of his argument for continuing his job with the studio.

What really is belonging?

Belonging means being accepted as a member. Sure, there is a pleasure in being part of a group, but what does this cost? Mannix may be happy staying at the studio for this reason, but the film seems to think otherwise. The true victims of the film are Mannix’s wife and children. They are only present for one scene and it’s clear that Mannix does not value them as much as his career. Mannix’s wife expresses a sadness that her husband must constantly be at work. By forcing Mannix to work long hours, the studio system punishes Mannix’s wife and children. Not only does the studio system exploit its most valuable workers, it also hurts families.

Hail Caesar poses interesting questions about the ills of capitalism in an easy-to-digest package. Capitalism may be harmful, but at least it produces high-quality entertainment. One could look at the present economic state of the U.S. and point out even more problems caused by unhindered capitalism. While Hail Caesar is not the most entertaining Coen Brothers’ film, I appreciate its existence. The Coen Brothers’ may not be making the insanely entertaining films of their past, but they have focused on larger issues.