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.

 

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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.