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


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

A Disparaging Comment on Woman in Gold

Just a quick note — I won’t see Woman in Gold, which is being panned by critics as an insipid piece whose only strength is Helen Mirren’s performance.  But now I know why: it was directed by Simon Curtis, whose only other feature was the anemic My Week with Marilyn — where again a terrific starring performance (Michelle Williams) was wasted.  Gorgeous painting, though.  Reckon it should be for $135 million.

Gustav Klimt - Gold Portrait

Ryan Gosling Movies on Netflix

After I posted yesterday on Blue Valentine, I was surprised to find out that it is available  via streaming on Netflix, which is like having a free rental if you already have the subscription.  A quick follow-up revealed that three more Gosling pictures are available: Lars and the Real Girl, Drive [prior post], and All Good Things (with Kirsten Dunst).  I recommend all of these, but Lars and the Real Girl was my introduction to Gosling and is an utterly charming, delightful picture.  When I saw Crazy, Stupid, Love. a couple years later, I had forgot that this sophisticated ladies man was the same actor who played Lars, a character that Ebert described as:

a painfully shy young man who can barely stand the touch of another human being. He functions in the world and has an office job, but in the evening, he sits alone in a cabin in the back yard of his family home.

When I connected the disparate Crazy, Stupid and Lars roles to the same actor, I was struck by the range of Gosling.  Mixing in his other performances, you’d be hard pressed to make a case for another actor who’s any better.

All Good Things - click for trailer

All Good Things – click for trailer

Be Mine, Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine Poster

When I saw the trailer for Blue Valentine (below), I knew I had to see this movie.  I wasn’t disappointed, and you won’t be either.  But don’t expect a happy-go-lucky rom-com; this isn’t that.  The trailer had me thinking this would be a more upbeat movie, so I was taken aback a little at its downbeat nature.  But it has stuck in my head since I saw it a year or so ago.  The lasting impact reminds me how good it was.  Roger Ebert brilliantly wrote:

Derek Cianfrance, the film’s writer and director, observes with great exactitude the birth and decay of a relationship. This film is alive in its details. Toward the end of the six years, when Cindy is hardly able to remember why she wanted to marry Dean, Cianfrance observes the physical and mental exhaustion that has overcome her. And the way that Dean seems hardly to care — just so long as Cindy remains his wife and his watcher, which in his mind was the deal. Dean thinks marriage is the station. Cindy thought it was the train.

Recommended for anyone who wants to see a powerful love story played by the two best actors of their generation in exceptionally intimate roles.  9/10

Film Brief: Take This Waltz

Michelle Williams is perhaps the best actress in her age group (she is 32) working today.  She has made two serious real-life romance/relationship movies, Blue Valentine and Take This Waltz, playing in each a wife who has some degree of dissatisfaction with her marriage.  In Take This Waltz, she is eminently watchable and pretty much mesmerizing for the entire movie, seemingly ever on the cusp of flight.  Williams is supported by other excellent cast members at the top of their game.  When the Oscar nominations were announced, there were film critics who felt that Williams deserved a Best Actress nomination.  Her performance is that good, and certainly much more deserving than the odds-on favorite, Jennifer Lawrence in the quite lame Silver Linings Playbook [prior post].

But I wanted more from this movie.  It lacked the type of climactic payoff that makes a movie memorable.  On the other hand, I was not bored at any point, so a mild recommendation: 6/10.  If you like Michelle Williams, go for it, but put the considerably better Blue Valentine ahead if you have not seen it.  It pairs Williams with Ryan Gosling, probably the best actor in that same young age group working today.  At some point I’ll post on his string of great and diverse performances.

Film Brief: My Week with Marilyn

My Week with Marilyn (2011) is a clunker of a movie.  Michelle Williams, playing Marilyn Monroe, is an excellent actress and does a great job here; you are given what seems to be an authentic and insightful look at the troubled idol.  But a great performance by a central actress, in this case, cannot make up for a weak, nearly non-existent and passionless bit of storytelling, nor for uninspired performances from the supporting cast.  4/10.