Film Brief: Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea — especially in the early going — is as clunky as its title.  Poorly executed flashbacks, a bane of cinema, and a general lack of mastery behind the lens greatly hinder the picture.  Yet from these inauspicious roots a strong story, held together by solid performances, pans out.

No doubt this will be one of the dozen or so pictures nominated as best of the year; for me: good but not great.  7/10

Comparison Notes (recommended): My Name Is Joe, Crazy Heart

DVD Log: Room

Once upon a time, IFC and Sundance channels aired good indie films, and uncut.  One of them was Room (2005, Cyndi Williams), and I was struck with a chunk of it strongly enough to purchase the DVD, as this was in the period prior to being able to choose what I could rent or stream.  Some ten years on, I finally got round to watching it.

Anyhoo, not sure what I was thinking as this is an amateurish effort and mostly a waste of time.  Too bad because there’s a seed of a good but unrealized idea.  Pi — with perhaps some familiar thematic elements — looks like some kind of masterpiece by comparison.  Do not confuse with the very good Room of last year.  2/10

Film Brief: Arrival

Ugh.  If you’re looking for wonder, awe, magic and mystery along the lines of Close Encounters, 2001, Alien, Moon, or The Box, keep looking. Honestly, this made me reminisce for Skyline.  What’s not boring is either ridiculous or inept, and to make matters worse an impotent, muddled world peace message is unfolded through the second half.  A semi-intriguing alien language course salvages Arrival from the absolute dregs.

I suppose you could say that at least they’re trying; I would answer, not very hard.  3/10

A magnetic, majestic, eloquent and deeply soulful talent has passed

leonard-cohen-post-text-block-1aA couple comments.  It was long ago, but I may have first become aware of Leonard Cohen by way of the great Oliver Stone picture Natural Born Killers; his songs so perfectly fit that maniacal road trip:

And now the wheels of heaven stop
You feel the devil’s riding crop
Get ready for the future: it is murder

And an observation: I haven’t dug into it much, and in fact was not aware of it until yesterday, but Cohen was another artist who produced right up to his death — in that beautiful tradition laid down by Warren Zevon (with whom I’ve at times confused Cohen — inexplicable I know), the man in black Johnny Cash, David Bowie, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

leonard-cohen-post-text-block-2aEach of those musicians presaged their own death in their final works.  Leonard Cohen’s last album, released less than a month before he died: You Want It Darker.

Binders full of Certain Women


Lane from Mad Men as an American in Montana — and just as frustrated with life? What’s not to like?  Another bonus: placing Certain Women in Livingston — a town I became quite fond of a couple years back.  Tom Huddleston, Time Out:

The setting is Montana in winter, where the Rocky Mountains roll down into the dry, open plains. …it’s hard to recall a movie with such a precise, immersive sense of place, and the very specific mood that comes with it.

That central Montana setting bound me with instant affection to this film.  Now to the “buts.”  I have an “everyday life” tag — and Certain Women has become the mother of all “everyday life” tags.  There are no sweeping dramatic developments to be found here, yet the film is compelling.  On paper, there’s not much to substantiate my “story matters” mantra.  But this is not paper; it is — as David Lynch would say — the language of cinema.

Another potential problem related to the first is that presenting in this slice-of-life way the three exclusive stories do not allow any of them to build to a crescendo.  Potential, I say, because that’s the point — as much as anything else — of Certain Women.  7/10