Thursday, December 8, 2016

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA



A FILM ONLY LIBERALS COULD LOVE


Film Review by Fiore 


Director and Scriptwriter Kenneth Lonergan begins his film, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, with entertaining and aspiring techniques.  It begins with a video montage of a scenic New England cove and harbor with crisp, clean images provided by Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes.  The movie immediately shifts to dialogue sequences, used to establish key characters.  During these scenes, which take place in homes and work establishments, the characters’ dialogue is in audio competition with a radio.  At first, it appears the audio mix by Kevin Parker is amateurish; but soon it is apparent the reports from the radio are establishing the background for the characters and the story.  When necessary, the radio reports are louder to accent key elements of the forthcoming plotline.  It’s good stuff, but then both techniques stop and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA spirals into an insipid, depressing snippet of gloom.  This is what the condescending critics in the two letter cities call “a masterpiece”; and what the rest of us call a waste of two hours.

Casey Affleck is Lee Chandler.  He is a janitor and handy-man for an apartment complex in Boston, who does not suffer fools lightly.  He is brooding and dark, due to a tragic event in his past that claimed the lives of his children and disintegrated his marriage to Randi Chandler, played by Michelle Williams.  Lee’s world is turned upside down with the unexpected death of his brother Joe, played by Kyle Chandler.  As part of his will, Joe appoints Lee as guardian of his teenage son, Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges.  Lee, living the life of a martyr for his past, is now saddled with a vibrant young man enveloped in the joys of life.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      THE PING PONG GAME
2.      STALE CONVERSATION

Lesley Barber provides a somber score, but relies heavily on non-original classical tunes to compliment the soundtrack.  One of the key scenes combines the visual elements with the music of Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio Per Archi e Organo in Sol Minore, played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  This music, which is used in other films, is dark and disheartening. The film this music was used most effectively was in James Caan's version of ROLLERBALL, where it was coupled along with excerpts from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.  The morose melodies were used in a collision montage, enhancing their effectiveness. 

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is garnering accolades for the cast.  It is unnecessary.  Affleck is already established as a premiere Indie film actor, much as Ryan Gosling was earlier in his career.  Always be suspicious when a film’s claim to fame is the acting.  Generally, it implies the story is lame and only the thespian qualities of the stars, salvage a celluloid catastrophe.

Bruce Lee said, in ENTER THE DRAGON: “you could say mine is the art of fighting, without fighting.”  MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is a member of a myriad mass of movies that have an ending, without having an ending.  Lee’s version is better.  When the screen went black, I said, aloud: “Don’t tell me that’s the ending?!”  It was; and that is unfortunate because it made all of the dragged-out storyline before it moot.  Suspended conclusions can be effective:  just re-watch John Carpenter’s THE THING for proof.  But, more often than not, they serve as a cruel form of “talus interruptus” for the viewer, and such is the case here.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is being touted as a strong awards contender.  It is the only film from Amazon Studios with a strong promotional push.  This may account for the hype.  Many Hollywood studios are peeved at Netflix, not only for producing its own programming, but for making its show and movies award winning quality.  Amazon is challenging Netflix, and many Hollywood insiders would like to see Amazon take down Netflix a peg or two.  It won’t do that with MANCHESTER BY THE SEA.  

The film is over two hours of utter depression.  There is nothing to enjoy and certainly nothing meriting a second view.  The only people who could possibly revel in this film, are the progressive liberals who are still in shock and disbelief over the elections.  In MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, they have something more depressing than their bashed political aspirations.

Two hours and twenty minutes of gloom and misery presented in anecdotal form, without a solid sequential story to salvage the melancholy; skip this one.




THE GRADE FOR MANCHESTER BY THE SEA = D

Monday, December 5, 2016

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS



VISUALS SAVE MUNDANE TALE

Film Review by Fiore 


NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is garnering a lot of attention this awards season.  It’s the type of film condescending critics from the two letter cities love; a seemingly monothematic oeuvre which works on several levels for those willing to search for hidden meanings.  While the movie is stylish, having the mien of an award winner, it is basically a tale told too long with a lengthy mid-section of esoteric babble causing the film’s pace to slow like the proverbial molasses in January.

Director, producer and writer Tom Ford begins with a simple lover’s triangle tale.  Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) fall in love and marry during their college post-graduate years.  After time, Susan discovers she cannot exist on love alone, and desire the privileges of the silver spoon with which she was born.  She dumps Edward for Hutton (Armie Hammer) and is somewhat content living a loveless life complete with creature comforts.  Edward reenters Susan’s life years later, by sending her a manuscript of his forthcoming novel.  The novel contains all the elements of life she craves – love, violence, revenge and justice.  It is here NOCTURNAL ANIMALS takes a nice turn.

Rather than stay on the mundane lover’s triangle, Ford presents the story of the novel.  In it, Tony Hastings (played by Gyllenhaal in a dual role) and his family are travelling for a weekend excursion, when a group of nefarious no-goods waylay them on the highway.  After a grueling sequence of mischief and torture, Tony’s wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and daughter India (Ellie Bamber) are raped and murdered.  Tony is left abandoned in the middle of the desert.  Soon, he connects with Sheriff Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) who is hellbent on bringing the jackals to justice.

Gyllenhaal is in fine acting form.  He is riding the crest of an acting wave from his powerful performance in NIGHTCRAWLER.  Shannon is just as convincing in his role as he was when playing General Zod in MAN OF STEEL.  Adams offers a strong performance, but one that is not complimentary toward women, indicting them as vindictive materialists.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      THE BOARD MEETING
2.      WAILING AT THE BAR

The true stars of NOCTURNAL ANIMALS are Seamus McGarvey and Joan Sobel, who serve as cinematographer and editor, respectively.  McGarvey shoots both stories with similar shots.  As they are told simultaneously, he dissolves from one tale to the other with the same shot composition.  It is an appealing visual technique.
Sobel does a fine job splicing McGarvey’s shots together, but she stumbles twice, and each is monumental.  

As mentioned earlier, the middle of NOCTURNAL ANIMALS slows to a crawl.  Part of this may be blamed on Ford as scriptwriter, but the sequence becomes too philosophical on a fortune cookie level, and crumbles all the tension and suspense built heretofore. It has the effect of making the two-hour movie seem like a mini-series.  The second is the use of a jump cut in the film’s opening reel.  That thud you hear is the sound of thousands of my former students collapsing on the floor at the mention of the dreaded, mortal sin of celluloid - the jump cut.  Anyone using this technique on any level of filmmaking, should be quartered and shot at dawn. Period.

There is a quite respectable score by Abel Korzeniowski, and certainly Francine Maisler should be credited for bringing Gyllenhaal, Shannon and Adams together as they form a powerful film trio.

It is billed and promoted as a revenge tale, but NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is a simplistic character study wrapped around the eternal lover’s triangle.  It’s clever presentation of a story inside a story is what sets the movie apart.  Without the visual imagery, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, like Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION, is much ado about nothing.




THE GRADE FOR NOCTURNAL ANIMALS = C

Thursday, December 1, 2016

ELIMINATORS



ADKINS, BARRETT TAG TEAM

Film Review by Fiore 


I like Scott Adkins.  He is a former stunt man turned action star.  He can’t act; but, man, he can fight.  He first appeared in a starring role in NINJA.  It was a standard action romp, but the martial arts fight scenes were primo.  Since then, he has had small appearances in larger movies.  He currently has a hallway battle with Benedict Cumberbatch’s DOCTOR STRANGE.  His starring roles have all been in films that go direct to video.  So, Adkins is not on the precipice of winning any thespian accolades, but he is fun to watch in hand to hand or knife sequences.

His latest direct to video flick is ELIMINATORS.  It borrows its storyline from A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, but it is certainly not on that scale.  Adkins is a former federal agent, living with his family in London under a witness protection program. When a couple of drug dealers mistake his house for another, he is forced to defend his family, and in so doing, reveals his identity and location.  The nefarious mob bosses he shined soon sent their henchmen to kill Adkins and his family.  Chief attacker is Wade Barrett, he of WWE fame.  The film also stars Daniel Caltagirone and James Cosmo.

ELIMINATORS is actually a fun movie and one of Adkins’ better endeavors.   There is plenty of action and fight sequences.  The two main battles between Adkins and Barrett are noteworthy.  The action is so much better than Adkins’ previous endeavor, HARD TARGET 2.  Not sure what the scheme of the film was, but Adkins was playing with action sequences that simply didn’t fit his style.  The entire endeavor was so forced and pathetically bad, it was painful just trying to get to the end credits.  

Adkins still can’t act.  He’s improving, but really Barrett carries him.  That’s so telling, it bears repeating.  Barrett carries Adkins in ELIMINATORS.

If you like the action films of the 1980’s, ELIMINATORS will serve as a nice sorbet of nostalgia.  Don’t expect anything great.  Open the brewski and pop the corn, and sit and relax and enjoy.  ELIMINATORS is like watching Monday Night Raw, with one overlapping storyline.




THE GRADE FOR ELIMINATORS = B-schlock.