Archive | November, 2016

Manchester by the Sea

23 Nov
Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck star as exes in Manchester by the Sea

 

Heartbreak and resentment fill nearly every frame of Kenneth Lonergan’s emotionally charged drama that delves into redemption and atonement in ways that are so bleakly real and to the bone, it lingers with you days later — something few movies have done so far this year with the notable exceptions of Moonlight, Loving, and The Handmaiden.

Manchester by the Sea begins with the tedious anguish of unclogging a stopped up toilet. It’s immediately apparent that the handler of the plunger, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), suffers from more than just the stench of the task at hand. Lee’s a quiet inward man who toils as a handyman/janitor in Boston until his brother’s weak heart beckons him back to the town of the film’s title — a 40 minute scoot north —where we learn that Lee had existed before in happier and more prosperous times. The gorgeous seaside town itself becomes a story of two sides, the well-to-do living in stately green-lawned manses while the working class fishermen nestle up in cozy, but cramped cottages along pot-hole marred lanes. Lee’s past there is a ghost he doesn’t want to confront and the cold chalky grey of winter descending poetically underscores his aching dread. Continue reading

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The Trump supporter profile on film

21 Nov

Angry white men on film: Seven times cinema got to the Trump vote before us

Most of us in the proudly liberal-leaning Hub are still in shock from Donald Trump’s historic and controversial “win” last week, making the demagogue the 45th president-elect. Throughout the presidential campaign there were near-riotous breakouts at Trump rallies and the candidate famously offended minorities, immigrants and, most resoundingly, women. “The Art of the Deal” Don looked primed to go up in flames at any turn and got away with language and behavior that would get any wage-earning wonk fired without a second consideration, but come Nov. 8 there was pushback from a certain populace in mid- and and Southern states who had been suffering quietly through the long, slow manufacturing ebb and were left out of the high-tech, life sciences and servicing surges – the non-college-educated white male, known as hard-working union members in more prosperous times, who had previously delivered swing states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan blue. We on the coasts scratch our head why, slow to realize the cold sting of disenfranchisement as a powerful motivator. Below are seven films that delve into the psyche of the dislocated white male, usually outcast, antisocial and operating outside the law:

 

“Hell or High Water” (2016)
Boston-born Ben Foster and Chris Pine (the new Captain Kirk) play brothers desperate to keep the family farm by heisting banks. Foster’s Tanner, just out of the slammer, has been there before, but Pine’s Toby is divorced and struggling to stay afloat financially and maintain a relationship with his progeny. The bureaucratic bank holding the homestead’s deed plays the heavy, and Jeff Bridges checks in as the sympathetic, but dutiful sheriff caught in the mix on the eve of his retirement. Pine and Foster make the frustration of hopeless conclusions, and the flight against them, deeply palpable. David Mackenzie, the British-born director who turned in the saucy “Young Adam” (2003), renders the Texas setting like a sequel to “No Country for Old Men” and registers one of the best films of the year so far. See also: “Out of the Furnace” (2013).

 

“All the Right Moves” (1983)
A young Tom Cruise plays a high school football star in dying steel-mill Pennsylvania who values his gridiron prowess as a way out of the economic dead-end, but his strict coach (Craig T. Nelson) may have other ideas. The death of the working-class American Dream and the despair as big biz going overseas for cheaper labor remains pointedly relevant. See also: “Hoosiers” (1986)  Continue reading

The Handmaiden

6 Nov

Park Chan-wook’s sensual psychodrama “The Handmaiden” begins in the epic bowels of conflict and strife, but it’s truly a cloistered affair where nothing is as it seems, growing increasingly more constricted over its nearly two and half hours. It holds its rapturous tease over us with scrumptious visuals, artful poise and dips into kink and gore that would give the Marquis de Sade reason to smile. Most remarkable, however, is that Park, best know for the violent tale of liberation and atonement, “Oldboy” (2003), part of his infamous “Vengeance Trilogy,” transposes Sarah Waters’ “Fingersmith,” a Victorian-era feminist romance, to Japan-occupied Korea in the 1930s. It’s not the first time the Seoul-based auteur has adopted foreign-penned work – his 2009 vampire tale of self-repression, “Thirst,” was in fact based on Emile Zola’s “Therese Raquin.”

102716i-the-handmaiden-bThe term “fingersmith” refers to either a midwife or a pickpocket. Given the film’s title you might assume the former, and we start off by meeting Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri), a young Korean who tends to infants whose fates are more likely dictated by matters of profit than the kindness of charity. But the reality is it’s both – and fingers in general play a large part throughout. Sook-Hee’s plucked from among the nannies by the dashing Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) to become handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), who lives in a stately manse that would be a perfect fit for a Merchant-Ivory project. As quaint as this all is, we learn quickly that all is not that tidy and proper; Fujiwara isn’t Japanese, or even a nobleman – just a shrewd opportunist trying to get ahead during tumultuous times, and Sook-Hee, for all her nurturing, wholesome innocence, has a past of using her dexterously light fingers for illicit gains. Continue reading

Doctor Strange

6 Nov

What is it about superhero movies that takes top-shelf thespians and reduces them to two-dimensional ashes? Patrick Stewart was able to maintain his poise in “X-Men,” and Robert Downey Jr. formed an amiably snarky extension of himself as brash billionaire Tony Stark in “Iron Man,” but mostly actors slap on the muscle suit and spout platitudes. Don’t get me wrong – I love seeing Chris Evans square-jawed and righteous as Captain America, but what’s he like first thing in the morning? Is he a grump, does he loosen up after two beers, and does he ever have a bad hair day? Answers mortals need if they’re to relate.

110216i-doctor-strangeFor all their power and pop, these tales of the übermensch are pretty pat affairs; backstory and arch-villain, that’s how they go, a two-step do-si-do. “Doctor Strange,” sadly, is no exception, despite the more cerebral and human orientation of its protagonist and the inspired casting of Sherlock Holmes himself, Benedict Cumberbatch, as the doctor. It’s not for Cumberbatch’s lack of effort, but anytime you have a team of writers – three, in this case – tying to communally distill the tortured essence of an uber-being grappling with a newly acquired superpower, loss of former self and world annihilation by some unhinged megalomaniac with his hand on the button and a battalion of minions on call, you’re in a dark place. And we’re not talking about inner conflict.

The film begins promisingly enough, with Cumberbatch’s Dr. Stephen Strange showing off his cutting-edge skill as a neurosurgeon – grandiloquently so. He’s an arrogant can-do with a god complex, and would either bond immediately with Downey’s Tony Stark at a cocktail reception or get locked in a nasty head-to-head vying for the alpha male spot. Everything’s hunky-dory – there’s even playful banter and a spark of romance with the fetching, overworked ER doc (Rachel McAdams) – until Strange’s Lamborghini goes off the road, the result of distracted driving (looking at cranial scans while bobbing and weaving at 100 mph). In the crash, the doc’s life-saving hands are shattered, recovery is frustratingly slow and no procedure, no matter how experimental, can get him back to his scalpel jockey self. Broke and broken, Strange heads off to Kathmandu after hearing of a mystic cult where the mind heals the body. Continue reading