Jumping down the artsy Berlinale ladder means dipping my toes into Oscar contenders and another Schwarzenegger classic. For a change, I have a hard time picking the movie of the week. I’ll go with Manchester by the Sea, because it hits so many right notes and the characters are pretty great and I’m pretentious, but at the antithesis of it I could have gone with John Wick: Chapter 2, a hell of an action romp with the character depth equal to Keanu’s acting chops.
Movie of the Week:
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
- Lion (2016): Sad to say, I’m not quite feeling Lion. The story of Saroo, an Indian boy living at the wrong side of the poverty line with his mother and brother, starts out portraying their struggle for survival, the day to day grittiness of the kind of work no child should have to do. Then poor Saroo gets stuck on a train, is freighted around the country for a while, to the extent that nobody can help him find home again. Ultimately, he gets adopted by a family in Australia and after growing up to be a real hunk, starts to seriously contemplate finding his mother and brother again. What irked me more than anything was the weird pacing of the movie, with most of the time spent in what I would have considered early exposition (the getting lost part), and less time on the complexities of adapting to a new family and the search itself. It just didn’t work, the character felt detached and the resolution didn’t carry an emotional punch. Underdeveloped secondary characters didn’t help either, and it all stems from the way the movie is structured. The cinematography is the best thing Lion has going for it. 6/10
- Red Heat (1988): I was worried for a second I might need to justify rating a six-times Oscar nominated movie as highly/lowly as an 80s cop-comedy with Arnold passing off an Austrian interpretation of an American interpretation of a Russian accent. Thankfully, in spite of its charm and a bunch of ridiculous scenes that are worth spending some time with this Walter Hill movie, I couldn’t overlook numerous bland attempts at humour and a profoundly unlikable turn by Jim Belushi. And Rocky 4 did the whole American-Soviet thing better, which is saying a lot. 5/10
- John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017): John. Watson. Oh, you don’t remember? It’s fine, I had no recollection of the first part either, but a mention of a dog triggered something fuzzy. The second part picks up immediately after the first ended, as Wick turns up to recover his treasured vehicle and even shows a willingness for reconciliation. Then some dude knocks on his door with a pledge thing, forcing the man to go do some dirty work – not before an initial rejection, leading to the torching of Wick’s home. The execution is viciously cool, self-reflectively over-the-top and a lot of fun, which is why this whole thing works. Great editing and a proper musical theme set up a distinctive vibe in the moments of flow, during all the commotion and the countless head-shots – and not the daguerreian kind. Keanu Reeves, for all his blandness, is managed well, required to reproduce mostly concise lines of dialogue, delivered with angry aplomb. But where the movie stands out is in the world-building, which becomes apparent towards the end, as the whole scope of this secret man-hunting agency comes to the fore. The intricate system is all-encompassing and bears a weary sense of ‘wow, was this curtain here all long’? What’s even better is how seamlessly it forms as the story – excuse me, action unfolds, with it suddenly being absolutely normal by the end. Pretty awesome. 8/10
- Manchester by the Sea (2016): It’s only director Lonergan’s third directing job, but his writing chops have been on display in a few well regarded movies, like Gangs of New York (2002) and the highly accomplished You Can Count on Me (2000) (see what I did there?). You couldn’t necessarily say so after watching Manchester by the Sea, which is not only written with almost profound deftness, but also carries you away in the midst of a tight community where forgetting is hard. It proves hardest for the lead, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), who has to return home after his brother’s passing and sort out things for the family and his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). The characters are just great, with the rapport between Lee and Patrick especially touching. Unfortunately, a lot of the limelight is directed towards Michelle Williams, because it makes commercial sense and, sure, the three scenes she’s in are good – and she’s good too. Yet, for me, her character was not among the most exciting ones – or, rather, it was exciting, but for what wasn’t on screen, which also goes to underline how well what is on screen resonates. I wonder why I haven’t fallen in love with the movie and I’m not sure I have the answer, but it’s really solid and personal and real – and there’s no reason to begrudge it any of the attention it’s been getting. 8/10