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.

Advertisements

The Wild Life Review

wild life2So I just saw the new animated import from Belgium called The Wild Life and honestly I am still processing it. While I can’t really tell you it is a “good” film it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. And it makes a lot of unusual choices that at the very least make it a bit of a curiosity.

First of all, The Wild Life looks way better than I expected it to be. I did not see it in 3D because the 3D trailer looked awful and I’m glad I didn’t. The animated action sequences are pretty impressive. They are long quickly paced and intense. Going into the film I was expecting a comedy but there are actually not that many comedic moments. Most of it is shipwrecks and fights. The water was really good for this kind of budget.

wild-life3The character design all looked textured and better rendered than I was expecting. I honestly think the animation is as good if not better than anything we’ve seen from the Ice Age films in a long time.

The one exception to that rule is the cats…I pretty much hated everything about the cats. I hated their animation, characters, vocal performance, story arc, everything.

wild-life-5It’s kind of cool they do not use any celebrity voices and everybody except the cats fits very well with their parts. It’s kind of strange that all of these animals on this tiny island all have different accents but if you don’t over-think it, it works.

wild-life-4Robinson Crusoe is actually a pretty likable character and his bonding with the animals is more authentic than I thought it would be. I was thinking Crusoe would be more of the villain invading the island but actually he and the animals bond quickly and there are a lot of charming scenes with them working together. It’s not reinventing the wheel or something but I enjoyed it.

And like I said the action is a lot of fun. It’s very fast paced and imaginative and at times very tense. There is even death to a character that would never die in an American animated film.  There is also a pregnancy that felt so strange. I’ve never seen anything like it in an animated film.

Unfortunately some of the action goes on a bit too long and the story wasn’t compelling enough to carry my interest the entire film. I got bored in several sections. I’m not sure what they could do to make it better but I nodded off a couple of times.

Still, this is the kind of movie that people will love to use hyperbole on and declare it the worst thing ever but it’s not in my opinion.  One review I read said “few have failed as confoundingly as The Wild Life” Now that I can get behind.  It is a strange movie. There’s no doubt about that, and I guess its watchability depends on your tolerance for the odd choices it makes.

But if you can ignore the bad stuff like the cats and focus on the good things like the animation and the action, I think it is worth watching. I personally would rather watch this film than a lazy unambitious effort like Ice Age: Collision Course but that’s just me.

If any of you see The Wild Life let me know. I am anxious to talk about some of the strange story elements with someone else who has seen it.

Overall Grade- C-

The BFG Review (Spoilers)

bfg2So The BFG came out while I was in Spain but I have been able to catch up and saw it on Monday. And what did I think after I saw it? It was okay but it could have been much better. Like Bridge of Spies last year I left feeling underwhelmed by Steven Spielberg’s latest offering. I will still never understand why Bridge of Spies got nominated for best picture and was on so many top 10 lists. Beats me! To me both films have the same problems. Neither are awful films but they are both kind of boring and forgettable.

The BFG was my 4th most anticipated film of the year so suffice it to say I am very disappointed by this response but this year seems to be the year of the disappointment at the cinema. Oh well! It’s not a total disaster by any means so let’s talk about it.

bfg3Written by Roald Dahl, The BFG, tells the story of a little girl named Sophie who is taken from her bed in an orphanage in the middle of the night by a giant named BFG (Big Friendly Giant). He takes her to Giant Country where he is the only nice giant.  The rest like to eat humans or “beans” as they call them. It turns out that the other giants are bullying (another tolerance message for 2016) the BFG and Sophie will have none of it.  The BFG is kind of like the Sandman and he brings dreams to humans. Sophie and BFG create and execute a plan to involve the Queen of England to capture the Giants and live happily ever after.

Disney's THE BFG is the imaginative story of a young girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and the Big Friendly Giant (Oscar (TM) winner Mark Rylance) who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country   Penelope Wilton is the Queen, Rebecca Hall is Mary and Rafe Spall is Mr. Tibbs. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film is based on the beloved book by Roald Dahl.

The casting is probably the strongest part of The BFG. Little Ruby Barnhill is a revelation as Sophie. She’s not too adorably cute and precocious but is still very charming. She feels like a real little girl.  Also Mark Rylance is warm and natural as The BFG. I also enjoyed seeing Penelope Wilton of Downton Abbey fame as Queen Elizabeth. She gets some much needed laughs especially trying frobscottle, the flatulence inducing soda BFG loves.

In some ways watching The BFG felt a little bit like what a Richard Linklater film would be like if he tried fantasy.  It doesn’t have a strong plot but is mostly about relationships and characters talking. The problem is Linklater is a master of dialogue where let’s be honest that has never been Spielberg’s strength. It takes an hour and a half for anything to really happen in the film.  Most of it is BFG explaining the world to Sophie.

bfg6One thing that confused me is why is BFG the only giant who has a house and a job? He’s the only one that has heard of a snozzcucumber? The giants are never shown going into London to get ‘beans’ as they call it so what do they eat? What do they do all day? It’s like they exist just to bother BFG. They literally sleep right outside his house. Isn’t that odd? They seem horrified when a rainstorm comes in the film but they live outside. Surely they would be used to rain?   I don’t remember in the book, but I thought they went and did things in the city.  Why is BFG the only one who collects dreams?  Who gave him that job? Who told him how to do it? Are there other giants doing it in other cities and towns? You get the idea. There are lots of questions

bfg5The production design is wonderful throughout. I loved the jars of dreams and when BFG and Sophie dive into the dream world it looked magical. This will probably sound like an unflattering comparison but the way the dreams looked kind of reminded me of the fairies in The Black Cauldron. I also liked the labels on all the dreams like ‘I is naked at my wedding’. That was very creative. The motion capture on Mark Rylance as BFG was also excellent. It felt like a real character that actually looked that way- not the pasty look in early motion capture films like Monster House and Polar Express.

bfg 9Spielberg does make an odd choice that I don’t really understand in the narrative. They add a backstory to BFG that is not in the book. In this version BFG had a previous boy that he raised who wore a red jacket. Sophie gets taken to his little room still full of drawings and things. The boy even taught BFG how to read and write. But he was eaten by the Giants.  I don’t see what this adds to the story? I don’t know if this was supposed to create tension but it felt unnecessary to me. Sophie is already threatened by Giants. We don’t need them to be more threatening. Is it supposed to make BFG more sympathetic and wounded? I guess but that never really pays off. It kind of ends up feeling awkward more than poignant.

There is some nice humor particularly towards the end which I enjoyed. The scenes where they are preparing breakfast for BFG was a lot of fun. However, it does seem like a little too late.

bfg11A film that did this story a lot better was last year’s Paddington. It’s about a creature coming to London and meeting ordinary people, with a baddie out to get him. But Paddington is so much sweeter, funnier and has much more story to keep it going. And Paddington’s visuals are equally strong as in the BFG.

One thing Paddington did not have is a score from John Williams. Honestly I think The BFG is one of the best we’ve heard from Williams in a long time. I loved it!

So in the end The BFG is a mixed bag. Great production values, performances, music, with its heart in the right place. It’s not a bad watch it just could have been great and it’s not. The writing isn’t strong enough for how little plot there is, and I was left asking a lot of questions about the giants and the world presented. If the dialogue had grasped me enough I would not have cared about such questions.

I’m bummed because if this had been better it could have been a real catalyst for new stories instead of remakes for Disney.  Oh well. On to Pete’s Dragon, which I don’t care what others say I’m excited for. Ha

I don’t know what grade to give this one because it’s not like I was miserable. It’s passable. I guess I will give it:

Overall Grade- C+

Little Prince Review

little princeFor a while watching The Little Prince I was ready to come on here and be pretty harsh on it.  Until the first hour mark, the movie was honestly driving me crazy but then it somehow turned itself around and became a decent flick.  Usually the ending of films is where they really tank but not in this case.  I kind of wish it had been a short 45 minute special because really the first hour is just two characters talking a lot and telling you why what they are saying is so important.

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD!  (I couldn’t talk about some of my issues without spoiling because it lay within the story).

So let’s talk about that first hour. My big problem was way too much exposition.  At times it felt like a Shyamalan film there was so much talking and not showing!

The plot of the movie is a Little Girl is trained by her mother to keep a tightly planned study schedule.  Truly it seemed a little over-the-top it was so micromanaged.  I mean what kid would want to plan a play date for the next summer?  It strained credulity and made the Mother look really mean.

little prince 4The goal of the Mother is for Little Girl (that’s her name) to make it into a prestigious school called Werth Academy.  They even move just to be in the school boundaries.

little prince8However, Little Girl wants to explore and is drawn to an elderly neighbor known as The Aviator. He tells her about the Little Prince who had a rose that he loves and tries to protect.  As he tells the story we see it played out in beautiful animation that looks like stop motion.

little prince111The problem is not enough happens in the story to be compelling on its own so it becomes a lot of talking about dreams and bold living.  As pretty as it was I grew weary of it.

Then The Prince in the story dies for The Rose at the hour mark.  This causes Little Girl to become angry at The Aviator for the story and it ending so sadly.  She stays away but then he gets sick and she must fly The Aviator’s plane and find the Little Prince on his asteroid.  This is when the story starts going.  We actually see things happen to our lead character!

little prince123When the Little Girl gets to the asteroid, she finds a world where everyone has grown up- kind of an opposite Neverland.  The Little Prince has forgotten his past and has been turned into a workaholic adult.  He is ruled by a man called The Businessman who is hoarding all the stars to steal all the light and happiness from the world. Now this is a story!

little prince14Little Girl then must bring the Little Prince back to his planet and he gets some closure on his lost rose. Little Girl gets a reminder that she cannot grow up too soon.

little prince15When she reunites with her Mother they have a new understanding and she is allowed to be a child a little bit longer while still going to the prestigious school.

Once the action in the story started going I was entertained by the Little Prince, but almost like a fable, the metaphors are very heavy-handed. The Businessman clearly is meant to symbolize the Mother and her routine for Little Girl (they even have a similar chalkboard with tasks listed out), but I didn’t mind it.  I kind of wish the entire movie had started at that point because I really didn’t need the background on the Prince, The Rose, The Girl and The Mother.

Even in the boring sections there is a nice heart to the film, and I did feel attached to Little Girl and her struggles to be understood by her Mother. I just needed something more concrete to happen sooner to get the plot going. The first hour felt a little like reading a greeting card. Sure it looks nice and has a nice message but I needed more story!

The vocal performances are all wonderful, providing a real warmth to the sometimes one-note characters.  Mackenzie Foy (Little Girl), Jeff Bridges (The Aviator), Rachel McAdams (The Mother), Paul Rudd (Mr Prince) are great.  Marion Cotillard is heavily billed and I thought would have a big part but she is The Rose and only has a few lines.

little prince3The animation is stunning throughout The Little Prince and it is worth seeing for that reason alone.  And it does end with real heart that made me tear up a few times.  I just wish I could condense the first hour into 15 minutes! In some ways after that reminded me of Neverending Story in its messaging and tone.  Still, I can’t ignore an hour of tedious exposition.

Overall Grade- C+

Also why this movie took forever and a day to get to a US release is beyond me.  It was written in English originally so it didn’t need dubbing or subtitles.  Why the delay?  That was very annoying.