Manchester by the Sea
I was in a bit of “Oscars fever” when I decided to pick up Manchester by the Sea. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the film, but I knew it was going to be a major downer judging from the trailers and bits of talk I heard after it came out. But I also assumed that it was going to be a pretty good movie, if its 6 Oscar nominations were anything to go by. And boy, I have to say that it is both an amazing movie and a serious downer.
You just definitely need to be in the right kind of mood to watch this movie. It isn’t one of those “what’s new at the Redbox” kind of movies. You have to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. I have a hard time thinking of another film in recent memory that felt so real, from its overall story, to its resolution, to the little bits of comedy found in the smallest everyday things. There were several shots where it felt like they ran it a dozen times, and ended up choosing the messiest take. I mean that in the best possible way, because the acting just felt so honest and simple. Casey Affleck is absolutely astounding in this movie, and I say that as someone who’s been a fan of him for quite some time. I really hope he finally gets recognition this year. I haven’t seen most of the other male performances, but I have a hard time believing any of them are as good as Affleck in this movie.
Lucas Hedges also gives the performance of a lifetime. I’d only ever seen him in Moonrise Kingdom before (and as basically a featured extra in Dan in Real Life), but he blew me away in this one. All of the performances are so raw, and really paint the picture of this small town and its inability to forgive a man for doing something terrible. I kind of saw the reveal about Affleck’s character coming from a mile away, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not the event that leaves a lasting impact on the viewer, it’s how that event shaped the rest of a man’s life. The ending is sad and leaves things unresolved, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If you care about acting and cinematography, and are sick of all the over the top films getting all of the attention, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. Just be prepared to cry. Because you’re going to cry.
Speaking of Oscar movies, I actually watched this one the night after watching Manchester by the Sea. Despite both being dramas, these movies could not be more different. First, the bad. I have to say that as a film, I was pretty disappointed in Hacksaw Ridge. It certainly isn’t bad, I’m not crazy. But this is considered one of the 9 best films of the year, and was directed by Mel Gibson, who I think is a phenomenal director, say what you will about his personal life.
The first 10 minutes or so of the film take place back in time, during the main character’s childhood. It does not make a great first impression, as this is easily the worst part of the movie. The acting and dialogue are incredibly melodramatic, and there’s a large amount of unnecessary green screen that just doesn’t look quite right. Things get better when events jump to the near present in the movie’s timeline and Andrew Garfield takes center stage. I’ve always said Garfield was a great actor ever since seeing him in Never Let Me Go back in 2010, and it’s great to see him be able to capitalize on his obvious talent in higher profile movies. I’d say he definitely earns his Oscar nomination here, but to me personally, it doesn’t come anywhere close to Casey Affleck. Obviously that’s incredible subjective, but so is basically every award ever. Garfield crafts an interesting character based on a real life person, and takes on a physicality and personality that I’ve never seen him attempt before. It’s really cool to watch.
I was expecting the movie to take off when the war scenes start, and to a certain extent, it does. There’s some really great cinematography and editing here, as well as some powerful music and sound effects. However, and this already makes me feel gross just to type it, the impact of the horror of war is really lessened for me nowadays. There have just been so many war movies that I’ve seen in the past 20 years that it’s hard for yet another one to feel special. The gore and death and explosions don’t make for an engrossing experience by themselves, and Gibson leaves a little too heavily on them here. Some might even say he goes a bit overboard with the gore. Despite some unnecessary melodrama in the early going and a few errors in editing, Hacksaw Ridge is a solid movie about an incredible true story. But to be honest, the story itself is more powerful than the movie, and that’s unfortunate.
I have complicated feelings about Arrival. For the first 90 minutes, I was completely enthralled. It actually took my wife and I well over 2 hours to watch those 90 minutes because we would keep pausing the movie to talk about our theories and feelings. But once the movie hit the third act, I couldn’t help but feel immensely disappointed, as the story devolved into the most cliched, ham-fisted ending they could have possibly concocted. It was one of those times where it was obvious that the movie was made so that everyone could enjoy it, not so that it could really leave people with questions. God forbid we not get closure when watching a movie (for the opposite example of this, see Manchester by the Sea). But I can’t go into detail about the ending for the sake of not spoiling everything, so I’ll just say that every single theory my wife and I came up with was better than the actual ending. That’s not me bragging, that’s me lamenting some lazy, lowest common denominator storytelling.
Arrival sets a great tone. The music, cinematography, and directing are all top notch. Some of the special effects are less that stellar, but that only really shows in the climactic scene. It did take me out of the moment for a bit, but it’s forgivable. All in all, I really did enjoy the ride. Even though the resolution wasn’t what I wanted, it was still fun to experience the twists and turns, and the film does a great job of establishing the stakes and constantly building them. Props to the writing, acting, and direction on that one.
Amy Adams is great, because she’s great in everything. How has that woman not won an Oscar? And she’s not even nominated this year? Burn everything down! But in all seriousness, I do think it’s cool that Arrival is nominated for Best Picture, despite my somewhat reserved praise. Arrival isn’t a historically fictionalized drama or a character study or a war movie or a film about someone overcoming adversity and changing the world. It’s a movie about aliens, and it’s nominated for Best Picture. That’s neat.
And now for something entirely different! Obviously, Jason Bourne isn’t nominated for any Oscars, but I was already reviewing 3 other movies, so I figured that I might as well make it 4. And at least it did come out in 2016! As for Jason Bourne, I have to say, this movie did not need to exist. That might sound harsh, because it isn’t an awful movie, but it adds nothing essential to the Bourne franchise and the lazy spy movie tropes are really starting to show. Honestly I felt a bit like I was watching an episode of Cinema Sins (check out the YouTube channel if you haven’t already).
Really, though, it was hilarious to watch this movie and hear all of the cliches. “Zoom in and enhance.” If they could enhance the picture, wouldn’t they have already done it before zooming in? Breaking down hacker language into simple metaphors so that us stupid people can understand. Using some kind of dumb visual aid while they’re hacking that shows a wall being broken down, rather than anything even close to the actual code that’s being used. Making sure they get in all of the buzzwords like “virus” and “reverse hack.” Honestly the only thing that got me through this movie was Matt Damon. I would watch that dude in anything, but this just seemed like a waste of his time.
Some of the action is cool, but there wasn’t anything that hadn’t been done better by another action movie, including ones from this very same franchise. I just think they need to put Bourne to bed. The original trilogy is fantastic, and while I didn’t love The Bourne Legacy starring Jeremy Renner, at least back then they were trying to take the franchise in a different direction. This one just felt like a lazy cash in.