Tower Review

tower4I don’t know if I love Tower more because I see a lot of movies or because it is genuinely a great movie. Either way I loved it. Here is something completely different and powerful that really got to me. It’s perhaps the best message movie I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly up there.

Tower is set in 1966 when a sniper began shooting people from the bell tower at the University of Texas. For several hours the sniper shot people at will including a pregnant woman and a little boy delivering newspapers. All of these people we hear from but in the most unique way. Like any documentary the witnesses and victims are interviewed but it is mixed in with rotoscoped animation depicting the events of the day.

tower2This wasn’t just a gimmick but a way to feel immersed in what was going on that could never be achieved through stale photos or live action reenactments. The rotoscoping felt stark and somehow made everything on a very surreal day seem even more so.

There are so many stories Tower tells but the most moving had to be a woman named Claire who is pregnant and left on the hot concrete bleeding. Most are fearful to go out in the open where the sniper will kill them to help her so she just lies on the concrete. Then a selfless act comes into play and it was very moving.

towerOne interesting aspect is the victims had never really talked about the incident or dealt with it until the making of the film. It just shows what a different society it was back then. Now they would all be writing blogs and books but back then you kept your mouth shut on all trauma you experienced in life. I can’t imagine living like that. It is so different than my life!

tower3I also liked how it wasn’t just hero fluff piece but a variety of responses. There is one woman who admits ‘I was a coward’ and then another amazing guy who basically becomes John McClane. He was incredible!

I wouldn’t be surprised if you see this on my top 10 list. It was so different and it really moved me. It’s been such a great year for documentaries but this is the one that took artistic risk and it really paid off. They do have a message about school shootings and violence today but to me it was powerful and given just the right amount of attention to not be over-bearing. It could have easily gone the propaganda route but it doesn’t.

If you get a chance to see Tower let me know what you think.

Overall Grade- A

Why I Hate Ranking Films

I had a bit of an epiphany today my friends. I realized talking to my friend that I had begun to feel very negatively about La La Land. This is strange because I really did enjoy the film and gave it an A-. It was a bubbly, beautiful breath of fresh air. My opinion of the film was pretty much the same from when I saw it and yet I felt negative about it. What had changed? Well, I thought about it and realized it is ranking! Ranking may just ruin movies for me.

Last year when I created my best of 2015 list I sat down at end of the year and thought about the films I liked the most. I also tried to have a variety on the list so it wasn’t all the same kind of movie. This was challenging but overall produced a list I am happy with.

However, this year has been different. I have been keeping a 2016 movie ranking over on letterbox all year. Whenever I see a movie I put it on this list and move it around as I ponder it. This seemed like a great way to keep track of the movies I’ve seen and my opinions on the year as a whole.

But there’s a BIG problem!

Let’s take today for example. When I saw La La Land I said I didn’t think it was as good as Moana and Sing Street. These both had better songs and I connected more with them emotionally. But I still had La La Land very high because I really did love it. The problem comes is in justifying its placement on the list I kept thinking about the flaws and the reasons why it ‘deserved’ to be where it is at. It’s like I had to focus on the flaws in order to make my ranking valid.

The challenge is I have tons of films I loved/liked for different reasons. For example, Manchester by the Sea took me a bit to get into but certain scenes affected me the most of any film in 2016. How do I rank that vs a film like Pete’s Dragon, which I did not cry as much but it dazzled me throughout. How do you even compare films in completely different genres? I’m sitting making my list trying to decide if I like Hacksaw Ridge better than Your Name? It’s impossible. The two movies have nothing in common, but I loved them both.

Another example is I thought Hell or High Water was basically a perfectly executed film except for one plot hole. This plot hole doesn’t matter to me but where do I rank it? Like I said I have about 30 films that I love about the same so it forces me to nitpick these small problems that I don’t really care about just to differentiate them for the ranking.

And yet I feel compelled to do top 10 lists because I enjoy reading them and it does provide closure for the year. Perhaps my strategy last year is the best way- just make the top 10 list at the end of the year and move on instead of it being this ongoing thing?

I know some people have algorithms and charts that help quantify their rankings but I don’t like that. There may be a movie which on paper has issues but impacted me more than a more technically perfect film.

What do you think? How do you think I should go about ranking films? Can you relate to what I am saying about comparing films can make a viewer focus too much on the problems? I would love to hear your insight.

In the meantime, I have decided to make my list private and am not going to share any more rankings with you guys or on social media until I have settled this problem and seen the remaining films. I want something to be a surprise!

Manchester by the Sea Review

manchester4Around this time of the year people throw out the term ‘Oscar bait’ quite frequently. This usually is a way to criticize films that are dramatic and that the studios believe could win Oscars. Some films are clearly not deserving of the studios faith (In the Heart of the Sea…) but in general I reject the term ‘Oscar bait’. To me it is like criticizing the girl in class who studies too hard or is too ambitious. I mean how dare she try to be best in her class… Anyway, I bring that up because Manchester by the Sea is a movie some will criticize as ‘Oscar bait’ but that is stupid as it is actually a gut-wrenching well made film that deserves awards consideration.

Manchester by the Sea is about a man named Lee played by Casey Affleck. Lee is a wounded man who says little and looks perpetually tired throughout the film. At the opening he finds out his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away from a heart attack and he must go to his hometown of Manchester to take care of things. Lee then finds out he has been made the guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) which opens up the wounds of the past and forces Lee to forgive and grow a little bit.

manchester2I admit the first 15 minutes or so of Manchester by the Sea I wasn’t very engaged. I was thinking- ‘oh no. This is going to be super boring’ but then something happened where it started to click for me and it’s hard for me to think of a movie where I was more emotionally engaged this year. I didn’t just cry with Lee. I cried a lot.

I won’t give away spoilers but trust me Lee has reasons to be wounded. His ex-wife Randy (Michelle Williams) also has reasons and teen Patrick has reasons. However, the great thing about the script is I was emotional without feeling emotionally manipulated. I grew to really care about this family. Their agony felt real and their various responses seemed genuine.

For example, there is a scene where Patrick sees something that reminds him of his Dad and he breaks down. A lesser script would have weeping and wailing with the uncle giving a dramatic speech. Here Patrick says ‘I’m having a panic attack’ and Lee says ‘I don’t know how to deal with this’. That is honest writing.

manchester3Manchester by the Sea also uses flashbacks so well. I think Kyle Chandler should have won best supporting actor for Carol last year. I also loved him in Friday Night Lights and Early Edition. He’s a fantastic actor and he’s great here as Joe. You get the feeling he is the one person holding all these fragile pieces together and now he is gone. It’s just devastating.

There are so many places this movie could have gone over-the-top into sentimentality and theatrics but it always makes the more sincere, softer approach. It feels so real and I related to it quite strongly. My family has not had this trauma but we’ve had our own share of troubles, and I could relate to the way someone like Lee shuts down or Patrick pretends he is just an ordinary teen. I think most families will be able to relate to this film.

MBTS_3869.CR2Michele Williams is only in a few scenes but she is so great. In one scene in particular she shows forgiveness and love in just the right way. It was beautiful.

Manchester by the Sea is not an easy watch. It is brutal and gut-wrenching. It also has a lot of profanity so be forewarned. However, if you can handle it, the end experience is worth it.

Most importantly Manchester by the Sea will make you think about life, your pains, griefs and how you treat others. Lee is a wounded man who picks fights at bars and fails to communicate his pain with others. He would be an easy man to judge if we met him in real life. However, Manchester by the Sea reminds us that we should maybe take a step back from our judgements until we understand what the other person has been through. We may go from derision to admiration once we know the whole story.

Overall Grade- A-

ps. I will never look at frozen chicken the same way again.

La La Land Review

la-la-land-reviewsIn 2014 Damien Chazelle directed the music-oriented thriller Whiplash to great acclaim. I liked that movie but not nearly as much as most people I know. His latest music-oriented romance La La Land I like much better, but I still don’t know if I love it as much as most. If there ever was a case of being a bit disappointed a film is only in my top 10 of the year than this is it. It’s lovely, nostalgic and a joy to watch but not the perfect movie I was hoping for.

La La Land starts out as an homage to old school Hollywood musicals like Singing in the Rain and American in Paris. In probably my favorite sequence, we are introduced to the world of LA through a musical sequence on the crowded LA freeway.

la-la-land5Then we meet our lead characters- struggling jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone). They meet through a series of meet-cutes and it is their dreams of artistic greatness that unite them and help them to fall in love. That is the theme of the movie that there is something noble about those who dream and keep trying to succeed in LA.

However, I must warn you guys. If you are expecting a Broadway style musical you might be disappointed.  La La Land clearly shows Damien Chazelle’s jazz background. In fact, I would call it more a jazz/dance showcase than a musical. In the middle there really aren’t any songs aside from a song played by Sebastian’s band and him playing jazz at a piano. Ryan Gosling rarely sings in the movie and when he does it is more a gravely quiet voice not a Broadway style singing voice. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s just what it is.

la-la-land2There’s more dancing than singing than I expected, and I particularly enjoyed a tap dancing sequence called A Lovely Night. This captured the nostalgia that Chazelle was going for.

The side characters including John Legend aren’t developed very well but it doesn’t really matter because Gosling and Stone have terrific chemistry. You bought them as these struggling artists and hoped they could find a way to both achieve their dreams. la-la-land4The cinematography by Linus Sandgren is lovely and I completely understand why everyone in LA is going so nuts for it- their city never looked better. It would be a funny comparison to look at this and Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups back to back. You couldn’t get two more different interpretations of the movie industry and LA!

However, the true star of La La Land is the score by Justin Hurwitz. It is without a doubt the best of the year. Especially if you love jazz music you will love this score! Most of the songs didn’t stand out to me the way the songs in Sing Street or Moana did but the score was beautiful. la-la-land3La La Land at its core is a movie about work, which is a subject close to my heart and something I often contemplate. The dreams of Sebastian and Mia are ostensibly about their jobs. They aren’t dreaming about families or possessions. In fact, such things are literally hindrances from achieving their dreams. They want to do something great- meaning they want to have their dream jobs in the movies and music.

The interesting question the film fails to ask (and fails in Whiplash also) is does this dream when granted equal a happy life? You will have to see how their dreaming impacts their love in the movie but in my experience happiness is more ephemeral than can be contained in ANY job. Perhaps the movie argues that art/music is where the real happiness comes from but that feels a little hollow to me compared to the happiness of family and faith. Also, the movie dove a little bit into the sacrifices of dreams couples must make in order to be together, but I could have used even more of that.

Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent. La La Land is a beautiful movie about dreamers with a jazz showcase of songs and music. What’s not to like about that? It’s light, fluffy and very entertaining to watch. I did not connect with it as emotionally as Sing Street or Moana and none of the songs were as good as those movies songs but it still was a very enjoyable, engaging film.

I think a lot of people who don’t typically like musicals will like this film because the songs are fairly sparse and done in a jazzy way not a Broadway style. It’s something couples should see together- once on Netflix it will be the perfect cuddle movie.

I guess it might sound like I am being critical of it but I really did love the film. It was wistful, nostalgic and magical. However, I’m not sure how long it will stay with me and if it will be a favorite musical of mine the way I’m sure Sing Street and Moana will. But that’s just me. It’s still really good! You should all see it.

Overall Grade- B

My youtube review

Blind Spot 12: The Ref

ref3For my last blind spot review of 2016 I thought I would pick a less popular Christmas movie to go with this festive time of the year. I decided on the 1994 comedy The Ref starring Denis Leary, Judy Davis, and Kevin Spacey.

The Ref is about a couple, Lloyd and Caroline, near divorce (Spacey and Davis) who end up getting held up by robber named Gus (Leary). The couple is so hateful to each other that Gus becomes a kind of substitute therapist for them.

MSDREFF EC002Their son Jesse is a malcontent going to military school and blackmailing his chief officer. He hates his parents just as much as they hate each other.

ref4Lloyd’s family comes including his mother (Glynis Johns) and sister in law (Christine Baranski).  Gus pretends to be their therapist and continues to give all of the family his guidance, as they are hateful as well. They have a very unusual Santa Lucia dinner that was pretty funny. The last act really comes together where each of the characters kind of learns their lesson.

In some ways watching this movie reminded me of the recent Edge of Seventeen. Both are very well done for what they are trying to be. Both have well writtenh scripts and good acting and both made me laugh on occasion. However, both are about such thoroughly negative people that I found the experience kind of exhausting. I guess I just don’t love movies about unlikable people- no matter how well executed. I admire them but it’s still not my favorite kind of film. In some ways this felt like a David Sedaris piece with this acerbic cynical take on traditional family values.

Nevertheless, if you are in the mood for something different at Christmas than The Ref might be a fun choice for you. It would particularly be a good choice if your family is driving you crazy. You might realize they aren’t so bad after all!

Overall Grade- C+

The Ref earns its R rating with language, lewd dialogue and some mild violence.