Manchester by the Sea


Grief is an emotion best shared.

Grief is an emotion best shared.

(2016) Drama (Roadside Attractions/Amazon) Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, C.J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton, Tate Donovan, Jami Tennille Mingo, Anna Baryshnikov, Liam McNeill, Gretchen Mol, Kara Hayward, Joe Stapleton, Brian Chamberlain, Christian Mallen, Oscar Wahlberg, Ruibo Qian, Tom Kemp, Chloe Dixon, Matthew Broderick, Quincy Tyler Bernstine. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

 

Joseph Conrad famously wrote that “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” but like all aphorisms, it isn’t always true. There are some things, some horrible terrible things, that may not necessarily kill us but they destroy us emotionally, mentally and spiritually. They turn us into the living dead, unable to recover, unable to die.

Lee Chandler (Affleck) is someone like that. He works as a handyman/janitor in several apartment buildings in Quincy, Massachusetts, taken for granted and overlooked – and quite happy in that circumstance. He’s good at what he does, but when he gets guff from the tenants he tends to give it right back. He hangs out in bars, ignoring the come-ons of attractive women and then getting into meaningless bar fights, exploding over the slightest provocation.

His routine is disrupted with the news that his big brother Joe (Chandler) has died suddenly. Joe has had heart problems for years so it isn’t completely unexpected but it is still a devastating blow. Both brothers are divorced but Joe does have a son Patrick (Hedges) that lives with him since it turns out that his mom (Mol) is a raging alcoholic. Lee for whatever reason has been unable to forgive her for this. Lee goes back to Manchester-by-the-sea, a North Shore town where he grew up but he has left for good reason.

To Lee’s dismay, it turns out that Joe in his will named Lee as Patrick’s guardian. It also turns out that Joe has left enough money that will assist Lee in paying for things that Patrick will need. Lee has no intention of taking care of Patrick in Manchester – he wants Patrick to finish out the school year and then live with him in Quincy until he goes to college but Patrick balks. His whole life is there in Manchester – two girlfriends and a truly bad garage band – but he doesn’t want to start over, particularly with his Uncle who is taciturn, grim-faced and possessed of an explosive temper that gets him into trouble.

Lee’s ex-wife Randi (Williams) is seeing someone else but seems eager to re-connect with Lee, which Lee seems absolutely against. There are those in town who seem to have some sort of issue with Lee as well; most seem to shy away from him, as if he’s a bomb with a hair trigger. Bit by bit, we discover why Lee has these walls up…but can anything bring them down?

Most Hollywood movies dealing with a broken man (and Lee Chandler is most assuredly broken) who is forced unwillingly to become responsible for a child (although Patrick is 16 years old) usually end up with the broken man being fixed by the experience. Manchester by the Sea is a refreshing change from that trope as Lee is changed, but not fixed. The pain he is in is still there when the movie ends, and it is clear that pain will always be with him – and understandably so. What he has to live with is not something that people can just fix and forget.

Affleck, who in many ways has always been in the shadows of his brother Ben, has emerged with this performance. Oh sure, we always knew he could act – Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and several other examples are proof of that. Here though he is an odds on favorite to win the Best Actor Oscar and is a lock to get at least a nomination. This is the kind of performance that sears the soul of the viewer and stays there; it is a performance one can view again and again and still find something fresh and new about it. It is the step one takes from being a good actor to being a great one, and it is worth celebrating – we can always use great actors and Casey Affleck has become one.

Much of the movie is concerned with grief and how different people experience it. One point that Lonergan makes is that no matter how together someone seems on the surface, eventually that pain must manifest itself in some way or another, either through tears or walls or both. There are several scenes – a late film encounter between Lee and his ex, the moment when Patrick finally breaks down, the aftermath of a tragedy – that are as important as any you’ll see in a movie this year, or any other for that matter.

This is a movie firmly entrenched in working class values. Hollywood has a tendency to either mythologize those values, or condescend towards them. Lonergan does neither; he simply presents them as he sees them and allows the audience to draw their own conclusions. He doesn’t shy away from allowing people to think either; there are a lot of concepts here worthy of post-movie discussion and while it can be a hard movie to sit through, it is rewarding because of that reason. The subject matter is heavy and Lonergan refuses to take short cuts or dumb things down.

I know a lot of people mistrust Hollywood as a bastion of liberal elitism and there’s some justification for that. Those people who feel that way should see this movie. It is a celebration of life in the midst of pain and death. It doesn’t shy away from the realities of life but it doesn’t wallow in them either. It finds the quiet bravery of just getting up in the morning without making a fuss about it. In short, this is one of the best movies of 2016 and one which you should make every effort to see.

REASONS TO GO: A show-stopping performance by Casey Affleck is one of the best of the year. Grief is looked at in an honest and realistic way. The attitude is completely working class in a good way. This film doesn’t dumb itself down for its audience.
REASONS TO STAY: The pacing is a little bit on the slow side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of foul language, some sexual situations and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The project was originally intended for Matt Damon to direct and star in, but conflicts with The Martian forced him to withdraw.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/29/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews. Metacritic: 96/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Angels Crest
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT: Vacancy

New Releases for the Week of December 9, 2016


Office Christmas PartyOFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

(Paramount) Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Jamie Chung. Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck

The CEO of a large company wants nothing better than to close down the branch that her hard-partying screw-up of a brother manages. The Chief Technical Officer wants to save the jobs of the people there. The only way to do it is to close a big sale and the only way to do that is with a Christmas party of epic proportions.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug use and graphic nudity)

All We Had

(Gravitas) Katie Holmes, Stefania Owen, Richard Kind, Luke Wilson. A young mother of a teenage daughter flees yet another ill-advised boyfriend and heads out on the road. When the money runs out and the car breaks down, they are stranded in a small town where a kind-hearted diner owner gives her a waitressing job and the two find out that the world may not be as bad a place as they thought it was. Look for a review for this here on Cinema365 shortly.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

The Bounce Back

(Viva) Shemar Moore, Nadine Velazquez, Matthew Willig, Kali Hawk. A relationship expert appears on a talk show whose host is convinced he is a charlatan. Of course, you know he’s going to fall in love with her and in doing so must confront the painful truth of his past relationships.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, language and brief drug use)

Frank and Lola

(Paladin) Michael Shannon, Imogen Poots, Justin Long, Rosanna Arquette. An up-and-coming chef and an aspiring fashion designer have a torrid affair. It seems to be everything he ever wanted – until a man from her past appears on the scene, calling into question everything he thinks he knows about her – and himself.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Premiere Fashion Square Cinemas

Rating: R (for some disturbing violence and language throughout)

Manchester by the Sea

(Roadside Attractions/Amazon) Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler. A janitor living in Boston is shocked to discover that he has been named guardian of his teenage nephew after his older brother dies. Moving to his hometown – a quaint New England fishing village – his life is transformed by the experience.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language throughout and some sexual content)

Miss Sloane

(EuropaCorp) Jessica Chastain, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, Allison Pill.  Elizabeth Sloane is one of the most formidable and successful lobbyists in Washington. She is known for doing whatever it takes to win but when she takes on the most powerful opponent of her career, she must choose whether winning is worth the price she must pay for it.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language and some sexuality)

Pick of the Litter – November 2016


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

(Warner Brothers) Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Colin Farrell. One of the most anticipated films of the year is here as we return to the Wizarding World created by J.K. Rowling – with a script by Rowling herself! Set in the 1920s, it involves Newt Scamander, a studier of magical creatures, is returning after a world tour seeking out rare and amazing creatures when he stops in New York City. There, his suitcase – carrying many of the beasties – is accidentally opened, releasing them into the Big Apple. Now, he must retrieve the creatures during a crisis in the American magical community and stay clear of the Muggles (in America called No-Mag) before finding a way home. David Yates, director of the last three Harry Potter films, is aboard. Incidentally, Rowling recently announced that the three-movie series would now be expanded to five. November 18

INDEPENDENT PICKS

The Ivory Game

The Ivory Game

(Netflix) Kief Davidson, Richard Ladkani. The largest mammal on Earth is being hunted into extinction. Poachers in Africa are killing the African elephant at a terrifying rate, taking their tusks for ivory and selling it to willing buyers in China. Animal activists go undercover to stop the ivory trade and save an entire species from the extinction that actually benefits the poachers in that it drives the price of their merchandise up the less elephants that remain. Leonardo di Caprio is the producer of this important documentary. November 4

Elle

Elle

(Sony Classics) Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling. A successful businesswoman, owner of a videogame development company, is sexually assaulted in her own home. When the perpetrator gets away without revealing anything about his identity, she is understandably upset. Determined not to let the criminal change her life, she determines to figure out who he is. However, she enters a game of cat and mouse in which the stakes are life and death. Renowned director Paul Verhoeven is behind the camera for this one. November 11

Notes on Blindness

Notes on Blindness

(Bond/360) Dan Skinner, Simone Kirby, Eileen Davies, Miranda Beinart-Smith. In the summer of 1983 shortly before the birth of his first son, writer/theologian John Hull lost his sight. Trying to make sense of the way his life has been irrevocably changed, Hull recorded an audio diary of his experiences and insights. Those audio cassettes with the voices of Hull and his wife Miranda are used as voiceovers for this amazing film which gives the sighted the closest thing to imagining what it’s like to be blind without actually losing their sight. November 16

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea

(Roadside Attractions) Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler. Kenneth Lonergan, a writer/director of some renown, may have produced the movie he will be remembered for here. Affleck plays a janitor who has been estranged from his family; when his brother passes away suddenly, he is shocked to find out that his brother named him guardian of his only son in his will. At first he doesn’t want the responsibility of raising his nephew when he can barely take care of himself, but as time goes by he discovers that raising a man can be much more rewarding than he ever knew. November 18

Officer Downe

Officer Downe

(Magnet) Kim Coates, Alison Lohman, Lindsay Pulsipher, Mark Neveldine. In a city ruled by larger-than-life crime bosses, a superhero is needed to take them down. Well, this city doesn’t have one but it does have Officer Downe, a rough-and-tumble cop who won’t let a little thing like death get in the way of serving justice. This is based on the graphic novel of the same name and is produced by the same people who brought you Crank. November 18

Lion

Lion

(Weinstein) Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman. In this amazing but true story, a little boy accidentally gets on a train and ends up in Calcutta, thousands of miles from home. Lost in the streets of a brutal city, he is adopted by a kind-hearted Australian couple. Years later, now a young man, he longs to find the family he once knew that only exist now as scraps of memories he can barely identify. Despite having very little to go on and a vast country to search, he makes the journey to find himself – and the other family that he once had. November 25

Mifune: The Last Samurai

Mifune: The Last Samurai

(Strand) Toshiro Mifune, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Keanu Reeves. The Japanese icon Toshiro Mifune redefined what screen heroism was. Legendary director Akira Kurosawa routinely cast him in roles that required the attributes of a samurai warrior and Mifune responded. Without this team, American movies would never have been the same and yet outside of cinema buffs his name is little known in the States. This documentary with an all-star line-up of commentators seeks to rectify that injustice. November 25