“Manchester by the Sea”
Director Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea” earns its wide praise, and it will likely challenge on multiple levels at Oscar time next year. However, like last year’s “Room,” it will leave you as emotionally devastated as any film you have ever seen.
The previews are fundamentally misleading, and you basically have no idea what awaits you. Casey Affleck gives a stunning performance as Lee Chandler, a guy working as a janitor in Boston who returns to his hometown in Manchester when he learns of his brother Joe’s (played memorably by Kyle Chandler) sudden death. Trying to deal with this heartbreaking event, Lee is stunned to learn that he has been made the guardian of Patrick, his teenage nephew. While you are yet to learn the reason, Lee wants the lad to move back to Boston with him, as Manchester carries some devastating memory that he can’t stand to relive.
As wonderful as Affleck’s performance is, Lucas Hedges matches him in his role as Patrick. Though he is confused and distraught over the death of his father, he wants to remain in Manchester so he can continue to participate in sports with friends and pursue two girlfriends while playing in a band.
To make matters worse, Lee runs into his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), and any conversation leaves them both tortured. Whatever happened to this couple clearly destroyed their marriage, and a simple hello only serves to open up old wounds.
With Patrick’s mother (Gretchen Mol) remarried and living in another city where she tries to escape her alcoholic past, it is clear that Patrick’s future depends on Lee. A relationship gradually develops between the two, though Lee’s angst leaves him one step away from bar fights that function as an act of masochism.
Lonergan examines the consequences of a father who can find little meaning in life, much less come close to forgiving himself. His life is a living hell, particularly if he is forced to again live in Manchester. His daily existence is a self-imposed torture chamber.
The question posed by the film is whether Lee can rediscover some meaning in life by fulfilling his obligation to his nephew. You keep hoping that somehow he succeeds, as an uplifting ending will help you overcome the feeling that you have just been through some kind of cinematic shock therapy.
Finally, Affleck and Hedges should receive Oscar nominations in the best actor and supporting actor categories. In addition, while Williams’ role is very small, her performance is so devastating that it is hard to imagine that she will be ignored.
This movie is the true definition of a work of art, and it is a film that you will not forget.
“Moana” follows in the footsteps of “Frozen,” giving Disney another gigantic hit. It is technically perfect, filled with animated characters that look almost human and centers on an open sea adventure that will capture the attention of both adults and children.
On top of that, it has a musical score that is every bit as good as what you heard in “Frozen.” Rather than distract your attention from the story, the songs play hand-in-glove with developing the intriguing plot.
The film centers on Moana, lovingly voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, a princess-in-waiting on a South Sea island. With their food supply disappearing, she ventures on a heroic boating excursion through the South Seas to try to save her people’s way of life. She hooks up with Maui (Dwayne Johnson), a conceited, self-absorbed demigod who reluctantly joins forces to save life on our planet. Their relationship is both satirical and moving, and it is no wonder that this film is knocking them dead at the box office.
As Moana fights to overcome monsters and villains that challenge her on her adventure, she seeks to find a way to rediscover the forgotten heritage of her island people while also hoping to define her own identity. Ironically, like “The Eagle Huntress,” this is at its heart a feminist film showing that girls will not accept a world where they are forced to take a backseat to men.
“The Eagle Huntress”
With the exception of the wildly entertaining “Fantastic Beasts” and “Moana,” none of the films released over Thanksgiving were remotely exceptional. Sliding in almost unrecognized was “The Eagle Huntress,” an adorable film that you simply have to see.
This true story is a girl-powered documentary shot entirely in Mongolia. It concerns a 13-year-old who becomes the first female to participate in a national eagle competition, and the plot will warm your heart while the scenery will leave you enthralled.
A custom in Mongolia for many families is to capture and then train eagles as pets. It is anything but brutal or unfeeling, as these young eagles are treated like members of the family.
After being trained to land on their patron’s arm, many join the yearly competition referred to above that is attended by numerous tourists. This splendid documentary concerns Aisholphan, who tries to become the first female to enter this competition. Despite the encouragement of her father, nearly all of the men in positions of authority reject her as not possessing the needed attributes of men.
The film gives you a chance to view Aisholphan’s involvement with friends at school and her family. Warm-hearted, intelligent and driven, she follows her father’s lead to become what may be Mongolia’s first female legend.
But while director Otto Bell’s approach to female empowerment may prove to be meaningful to everyone but Donald Trump and his closet allies, it is Aisholphan’s relationship with her eagle that makes this film so impressive. She trains the eaglet whenever possible, and the visual footage will surely make this film an Oscar contender.
Regardless, do yourself a favor and see this film. You are likely to fall in love with Mongolia, and you will be better for the experience.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.