Manchester: Art Film Revisited

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Manchester by the Sea reminds me of those old art films I used to force myself to sit through in the 1960’s.  But everything old is new again.   This is a beautiful film with incredibly fine acting, but it is agonizingly long.  It takes 3/4 of the film to get to the source of Lee Chandler’s (Casey Affleck) problem.  And how would you like to spend 2 hours and 17 minutes with a seriously depressed guy?  When I got out of the theater I was in need of a very stiff drink and at least an hour of psychotherapy.  The film is grindingly slow – with a few chuckles you can count on the finger of one hand.  Lee Chandler, who slogs out an existence as a maintenance man in an apartment complex in Boston, is forced to return to the scene of all his ills when his big brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies leaving a 16 year old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) in Lee’s care.  Patrick is the bright spot of the movie because he can’t get a handle on all that has happened and is happening to him – and resorts to attending to his raging hormones.  He is a natural.  I have to applaud Affleck who almost never cracks a smile and can’t even carry on a normal conversation.  So unless Affleck is actually a seriously depressed guy, his acting is convincing.  The movie rolls along in the present with flashbacks into the past as the family story unfolds.  Both brothers are abandoned by their spouses.  There are some painfully teary moments – especially when Lee meets his former wife (Michelle Williams) on the streets of Manchester.  Of course, the musical score plays into the melancolia with a boys chorus singing in the background, stringed instruments, etc.  It’s a set up – so be prepared to cry.  I fully understand what the director was trying to achieve in this film – telling the story of a man caught in the most debilitating tragedy imaginable – and forcing him to try to function in the real world.  Well, it just sucks – not so much the movie – but the story line.

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Rogue One: This Ship has Sailed

If you are a Star Wars fan you will either hate me or thank me – probably hate me.  But this edition of the Star Wars saga is a big yawn.  The movie gets its title from the call letters of the imperial cargo ship stolen by a motley group of rebels out to steal the plans of the Death Star.  Felicity Jones is a bright spot in a really boring script – she plays Jyn Erso, the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), an engineer who is drafted by the imperialists apparently to fine-hone the Death Star.  In fact, the cast is excellent: a renegade imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed), a hard-boiled resistance type (Diego Luna) (Jyn’s love interest), a blind monk (Donnie Yen) (I loved him), a bearded nut-job (Wen Jiang), a dorky droid, and an extremist militant with 2 artificial legs and a breathing problem (Forest Whitaker)  – all the fine elements are here – even the arch-type villain (Ben Mendelsohn) is delightfully hateful fortified by his enormous ego (remind you of anyone?).  The problem is the script. There are few edge-of-the-seat scenes.  But there are a lot of fires, explosions, death rays, all the trapping of what should have been a scary excusion into the galaxies.  Cities fall, whole planets implode.  Alas, for me it was still a crashing bore.  Sorry, Star Wars fans.  I saw this in 3D – and that was a mistake.  It really doesn’t heighten the experience and there were few scenes where meteorites or other foreign objects flying from the screen caused me to duck.  2D is enough, I think.  Better yet, watch it when it comes out on Netflix.  This is not Academy material. Okay, maybe someone will like the special effects.  But this will not get a nod from the Academy for original film script  (Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy) or masterful directing (Gareth Edwards).  It is a shameful waste of star talent.  By the way, I love series films – like the DC comics movies – always a fresh set of characters and a fresh script.  And did you know Disney asked the critics not to reveal the plot and “spoil” the ending for anyone?  No worry – the movie spoiled all by itself.

Nocturnal Animals – A Double Feature

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It takes a special eye and mentality to fully appreciate Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. Susan (Amy Adams) is a successful, sophisticated owner of a fashionable LA art gallery with a second husband who travels a lot, mostly in the company of other women.  Susan has a daughter who doesn’t seem to be a big part of her life.  When Susan mysteriously receives a manuscript written by her first husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) (wish he had changed that to Hall or Smith),  she is caught up in the novel.  In fact, Edward has dedicated the book to her.  In her mind’s eye, Edward becomes the book’s protagonist – Tony – and his wife and daughter look remarkably like Susan and her daughter – same fair skin and long red hair.  But the story in the book is so disturbing that Susan is forced to put it down several times.  When she does, her own story emerges. We see her early years with Gyllenhaal, their short marriage years, and poignant bits that shape her character and hollow out her life.  Interestingly, one of the reasons Susan abandons Edward way back when is her lack of faith in his creative ability and an unwillingness to wait for his creative spirit to emerge.  Instead, she settles for a life designed by her mother – just as her mother long ago predicted.  But this is a story of a life shattered by a violent crime – in the book and metaphorically in Susan’s real life.  It is the story of revenge on the highest and best level – with a wonderfully ironic ending.  This is a beautifully filmed movie – even with the bleak landscape of the West Texas desert.  The supporting roles in the film are well cast with Michael Shannon as the Texas cop, and a great cast of villans in Carl Glusman, Robert Aramayo and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (where do they find these people?).  This is a film worth seeing more than once – and when it comes out on DVD, I’ll be seeing it again – there are delicious layers to uncover in this film – and I intend to peel away at them.  PS:  I wish we could see Gyllenhaal in more films.  He’s that good.

Allied: Back to the Past – See It!

If you are into Rotten Tomatoes, skip those reviews on this movie.  Those reviewers just didn’t get it.  Roger Ebert did – so read his review as a back up to this one. “Allied” is a nostalgic trek  back to the old WWII movie genres with espionage, drunken orgies, high romance, mystery, intrigue and battle scenes (albeit, scenes of the London blitz).  This is not quite “Casablanca” which is where this movie is initially set.  Pitt is rather wooden as our romantic hero (Max Vatan) – a Canadian officer/flier who teams up with Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), a French Resistance fighter,  to take out a German ambassador.  You’ve seen the previews:  they fall in love, marry and things get hairy when Pitt is told that his wife is a German spy.  What they don’t tell you is that if Marianne is indeed a German spy, it is Pitt’s job to take her out.  So unlike “Casablanca” where the love story begins with a past betrayal,  this story starts with the romance and possible future betrayal.  Although Pitt is a bit of a disappointment (though Ebert loved him), yet Cotillard’s passion, smile and spirit let us see past Pitt’s failings and believe in the enormous passion this couple shares.  But Pitt is still outrageously handsome – and he looks like the old baby-faced Pitt of the past.  One of my favorite scenes is Max and Marianne’s first sexual encounter – in a car out in the desert during a raging sandstorm. Another fascinating scene is watching a childbirth in the hospital parking lot in the middle of a full-out blitz.  The film is quite beautiful and the War fashions, scenery and customs look authentic – and nostalgic in a way for me – so reminiscent of those old War movies of the past.  I love the story – the mystery, the espionage, the tight-assed and unsmiling brass.  There are also bits of wonderful irony like the juxtaposition of a family having a lovely Sunday picnic on a blanket with a downed German plane in the background (think Hitchcock).  I love it!   So DO NOT STAY WAY FROM THE THEATERS JUST BECAUSE SOME UNINFORMED REVIEWERS JUST DIDN’T GET IT.

Hawaii Lure: More durms & Less Singing

If you have read James Michener’s “Hawaii” this is not it.  This is Disney, afterall.  But almost 2 hours of really loud and somewhat forgettable songs is a bit too much.  However, my 8 year old granddaughter Evie loved it.  She named at least 4 characters she really identified with, and when they were rolling the final credits, she was literally dancing in her seat (she is a dancer).  So she was definitely smitten from the get-go.  My 12 year old grandson Nathan said it was “okay.”  What he liked best was when the demi-god Maui, the dude who stole the heart of the mother earth goddess,  stopped just short of cursing.  But that’s a 12 year old for you.  The story is ancient – the young girl must find her own way in the world (or ocean) and in the process brings life and a rich sailing/wayfaring  culture back to her people.  Dwane Johnson is a very funny Maui.  And my son immediately recognized the music of the South Pacific fusion band Te Vaka.  Visually, it is a beautiful piece of animation – the colors are vivid and breathtaking at times.  But the story is a bit too long – the little 4 year old next to me was starting to lose interest in the last half hour.  This is a movie for kids, and I may be wrong, but I think the songs are not terribly memorable.  My 3 year old granddaughter is absolutely mesmerized by Frozen’s “Let it Go.”  So maybe there is a song in here that will capture young hearts.   This is not a romantic adventure, so it may not seriously interest pre-teens.

Found: Fantastic Beasts

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I have found the beasts and they are indeed fantastic!  What a great adventure for the imagination,   the intellect, and the child-like sense of wonder at the fanciful.  J.K. Rowling’s screen-writing debut is a winner.  It’s a longish film by today’s standards, but the film carries us along at a wonderful pace.  The special effects with the fantastic creatures are so engaging – and the special effects in general are far beyond my wildest expectations.  The adventure takes place in 1920’s New York City as Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) gets off the boat from England with a suitcase full of magical creatures. Newt is a former student of Hogwarts – there is some question as to whether he graduated or got kicked out.  Newt’s life instantly becomes entwined with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a WWI vet and aspiring bakery owner (he’s a no-maj, an American Muggle), and there is a mix up with suitcases.   Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), a discredited auror with the MACUSA (the Magical Congress of the United States of America), attempts to arrest Newt and Jacob – but it all goes up in smoke.  There are other wonderful characters who appear and disappear in a puff of smoke or glare of light. Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) is up to no good – just look at that face, the slicked back hair and the black great coat.  And Jonny Depp makes a cameo appearance in the end. I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone – although I could probably repeat the entire plot to you and you would still be scratching your head watching the film. The choice of the 1920’s is itself magical – such fun to see all those old style of clothes, cars and edifices and the wonderful rag-timey musical score.  What a treat for the eyes and ears.  This movie is a delight and I have promised myself to see it again in 3D (all the 3D shows were sold out).  I am a Harry Potter fan, but as that series progressed the films got darker and darker for me – and I found that uncomfortable.  But there is nothing dark about this film – sinister characters, yes.  But it is all just a wonderful experience.  Enjoy!

Mr. Church – Quite Palatable -DVD

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I know Rotten Tomatoes panned this film, and it’s a shame – because we can all enjoy a few movies like this one – with real people in real life situations.  Eddie Murphy is delightful as the cook who came for 6 months and stayed forever.  Be prepared to cry – and what’s wrong with that?  We cry because we care for the characters – they are alive for us; we relate to the story – we’ve been there. One thing that may be off-putting is that Mr. Smith, though a wonderful cook, is very mysterious about his personal life – and this later presents problems for the other players who have a natural curiosity about this man of mystery.  Things I like about this film are the pace, the heart and the surprises.  I’ve always liked Murphy and, though a favorite comic of mine, he is good at playing a straight character.  The messages in this film ring true for me – no man is an island, we are predestined to repeat the crimes of our parents, and life is fleeting – our legacy is always those we leave behind.  I rented this from Red Box.