‘Manchester By The Sea’: Review

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Grief and despair are so often chronicled by film and television because it’s an easy way to elicit emotions in characters and thus trigger a reaction in the audience. Nowadays we’re so brainwashed into what we think this means when watching it portrayed in media where everything has to be overdramatized to further stress a point to make sure its intent is 100% coming across. Nine times out of ten, in real life, things aren’t that cut and dry and it isn’t so easy to explain motivations behind actions and reasons behind emotions. Manchester By The Sea knows all of this and infuses it into every scene, making every frame of the film resonate in its real world fidelity.

Manchester By The Sea is a raw nerve of a film led by Case Affleck’s frayed end. Casey Affleck is a mind-blowingly good actor who plays sullen and downtrodden like it’s his life’s work (I guess because it pretty much is). Somehow after all this time and after amazing performance after amazing performance it still feels like Affleck is undervalued, under-appreciated and underrated, but with this latest performance he aims to put all that in the past.

Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a tired of life janitor doing the minimum to get by, who’s forced back into his old life and former town after his brother dies and leaves custody of his son to Lee. As the film unfolds you see exactly why Lee had such a hard break from his former life, a mind-numbing tragedy that leaves Lee barely able to function mentally at times and leaves him in a pseudo state of paralyzed despair. Of course Lee and his nephew Patrick have different ideas on how this guardianship thing will work out, with Lee wanting to cut bait from town as soon as possible and bring Patrick back to Boston, but with Patrick not wanting to leave town. We’ve seen this story thousands of times before, two opposing forces with opposite goals who of course will come together in the end in solid unity, expect that doesn’t happen here, because Manchester By The Sea doesn’t do things how movies typically do. Try as he might, Lee is too crippled by his former life, the memories, his walking tragic reminder of an ex-wife, to competently give Patrick the life and parenting that a teenager needs. Instead, Patrick stays in Manchester-by-the-sea (the town its set in and obviously the film is named after) and Lee goes back to his old life. Even back in Boston with the small tethers of his previous life rattling around in his brain, it’s too much for him to handle and something he can’t, and won’t, let be inflicted on another person.

Nothing wraps up neatly in the film, as most things don’t in real life, there’s no grand reunions, reconciliations, understandings or rekindling of relationships, it’s just a reshuffling of the deck. Kenneth Lonergan directs an open wound of a film that is expertly prodded by the damaged souls of Affleck as Lee, Michelle Williams as his ex-wife and Lucas Hedges as Patrick. It’s a film that isn’t interested in how things have been done, but in how things are done, no matter how sloppy, messy and anticlimactic it might be, because that’s where true raw emotion is found, in the places that people don’t want to look.

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WCW Monday Nitro/PPVS: 1996

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 10.44.23 PMWCW Monday Nitro 1996, or how the NWO took over and drove anything that was fun about the program into the ground. I mean, at first glance the idea of the NWO is pretty cool. Two top guys from WWF defecting over to WCW and henceforth really kicking off the battle between the two companies. Unfortunately, right out of the gate, it no longer became a WCW show, but rather NWO Monday Nitro. As I’m sure behind-the-scenes things dictated Scott Hall and Kevin Nash didn’t sign with the company for a couple thousand bucks and a place at the mid-card, oh no, this is WCW, so they paid them an astronomical amount and put them at the top no matter what, with them never relenting the main event status.

Now enter Hulk Hogan, Hulk predictably goes heel, and after all this time it lands with a thud that only Hogan could deliver. Leave it to Hulk Hogan for him to turn heel and somehow be just as cheesy and boring as he is as a babyface. Eric Bischoff would later join, in a hilarious series of moments where he was to be signing Roddy Piper for a match with Hogan, but then just shows up after and revealing, oh yeah by the way, that he’s been an NWO member this whole time. So now the quote-un-quote head of WCW, Bischoff, is a prominent member of the group, although it is pretty hilarious because you can always tell in storyline it always seems like Hogan, Nash and Hall just keep him around to utilize his position as the head of the company to finagle matches and decisions that they want.

One of the chief problems of the group, and something that gets grossly parodied in the years to come, but is actually evident pretty early on is how many members (and tertiary ones, at that) end up in the club. Hogan, Hall and Nash is the perfect sect, but then they add in Bischoff, The Giant, Ted DiBiase, nWo Sting (the dumbest thing ever), Vincent, Buff Bagwell and etc. etc., I’m not going to exert myself and type out all the names. They water this thing down right off the gate and have so many geeks and second-rate guys that it becomes a comedy show of members rather than this tough and intimidating group.

And probably my main problem is the idea that this is group is entirely filled with guys 35+ who can’t work and are getting pushed as THE main thing in the company because of what their image WAS in the wrestling world, while the younger guys toil away in the mid-card. You can literally load up any Nitro and see a match with any combination of Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio etc. and see a fantastic match, yet they continually get shoved down the card because of these nostalgia acts of old men acting like teenagers (but, I mean, it’s also not like DX in WWF was doing anything different, despite being not as old). Related to this they bring in Roddy Piper at the end of the year to face Hogan at their big event of Starccade and I mean it’s fun to see Piper back and it’s a nice jolt to the system to see him go up against Hogan, but less said about any of the actual wrestling the better between these two guys. I mean, nobody can cut a promo like Piper, but that only gets you so far, and only serves the point of WCW’s reliance on past acts and gliding off the popularity of stars made from other companies.

NWO aside, my favourite things from 1995 remained my favourites for 1996, albeit in much smaller doses. The Four Horseman are still great, especially with Ric Flair, who unfortunately was out a lot of the year do to an injury (I think, I never looked up if there was a different reason for this or what). Ric Flair getting interviewed by Mean Gene is something that I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of.

Like I mentioned, the cruiserweight matches are far and away the best things on the show, and I guess it shouldn’t be amazing to me how many great matches they had when you saw the talent involved. Conversely, it’s amazing WCW didn’t do anything with them, I mean they eventually kind of did, but nowhere near the heights they would’ve gotten if they actually gave these guys concentrated pushes, but nope, everything must fall to the wayside for NWO to “succeed.”

Lex Luger and Randy Savage remained bores who couldn’t work anymore (or to begin with with Luger), and I thought we finally got rid of Savage, but it looks like he’s coming back again. We finally get Scorpion Sting which I’ve been waiting for, because I could never take the Surfer Sting seriously, but unfortunately nothing really happens and they eventually start booking him like a moody emo teenager where he just hangs out in the rafters looking all sad and gearing up for a year+ build against the NWO that pretty much everybody knows how that turns out…

I’m still entertained by this show, and especially excited now that I’m heading into 1997 where the WWF vs. WCW war really starts cooking and where WCW makes their grand rise as THE wrestling promotion, the one that is unstoppable and is ready to be the king of the wrestling world for years to come, until they do all this WCW stuff that you see dark shades of even now, but eventually gets darkened like a thick sharpie and they go from 100 to 0 real quick.

‘Arrival’: Review

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Dennis Villeneuve has fast become one of my favourite filmmakers and one of those people who I’ll see his name next to a project and know I’ll be seeing it as soon as possible. So much so that I’m now looking forward to his reboot/sequel/whatever of Blade Runner, and I could not have cared less about the original one. Incendies first launched him into the limelight, and with his four year run from 2013-2016 of Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario and now Arrival, Villeneuve has proved that he’s no fluke and has a ton to say through a variety of film genres.

A common thread through all of Villeneuve’s films, and one that becomes abundantly clear watching Arrival if it wasn’t already, is that he’s chiefly interested in the human condition. How people react in increasing times of physical, psychological, and even extraterrestrial avenues of stress and how this informs them as humans. How these feelings are intrinsic to each person around the world whether you’re confronting family strife, emotional instability, high pressure job situations or just some damn aliens.

Arrival works because Villeneuve is so skilled at balancing everything this film needs to be, from sci-fi to a character drama to a philosophical study. Because this is a Villeneuve film he takes something standard (at least in sci-fi fare) like an alien invasion and doesn’t just go the simple route of seeing them lay waste to our society or set everything up for an epic 30-minute space battle, instead the film takes a step back and thinks about what REALLY might happen if aliens descended upon our world tomorrow. Villeneuve makes the reality of this situation shine so bright and dim that it makes the otherworldly aspects that much more starker, and scarier, because of what its implications mean on us everyday humans.

Amy Adams is the perfect vessel for all of this because she, like Villeneuve, is so skilled at portraying a wide variety of person for the job that needs to be done. She is believable as an expert communicator trying to decipher what these aliens are trying to get across, she is believable as a mother with grief, hardship and confusion seemingly informing her every move and she is believable as someone who isn’t just content with seeing things at face value.

The film features a clever twist on the idea of a “twist” where I even hazard to really even call it a twist. We find out that Louise’s visions she’s been having throughout the movie (including of her dead daughter) are flash-forwards and that the presence of these aliens is to reveal that time can be literally viewed as a flat circle, changing the idea of time.

When we first view the film chronologically we interpret what we assume are flashbacks, but only later realize that they are flash-forwards. Just as in the narrative film universe where the characters discover that they can view time as a flat circle, us viewers of the film now unlock that ability and retroactively feel the same experience of the characters and click into this mindset of seeing everything at once, even if we didn’t know it and were confused by it at the time.

I feel like it’s almost too lazy to call this a “thinking man’s” sci-fi film, and I mean it is, but it still feels like too much of an easy brush to paint it with. It works much like Villeneuve’s other films because it puts you in the situation because it feels so real and lived in no matter how fantastical, makes you try and answer the questions being posed to the characters in the film and actually provokes thought and emotion that sticks with you. Arrival isn’t interested in tricking you and making you out to be a fool, but rather taking a roundabout way in showing you how things you might have thought looked so concrete and definitive are often always anything but that.

Chuck Klosterman In Three Sections

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I feel like you can break down Chuck Klosterman’s bibliography into three types of books, so that’s what I’m gonna do. Firstly, you have the “essay” books. These are the books that Klosterman is most famous from and for, including Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota, Sex, Drugs And Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto and Eating The Dinosaur, among others. They include essays whether on an overarching topic or not, and just his random thoughts and muses from things on music, sports, sociology and such, drawing on an idea from a piece of pop culture. Secondly, we have his narrative fiction novels with Downtown Owl and The Visible Man. These are his foray into fiction storytelling, but still are just basically a different conduit for him to wax about small town America or frame his theories on human interaction through a different book medium. Lastly, are his essays with an overarching theme that ties each essay and chapter together such as I Wear The Black Hat: Grappling With Villains and But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About The Present As If It Were The Past. These have essays that may vary in topic, but are still about the theme at large and contribute to a corner of that picture, hoping to paint something new with all these ideas tackling it from different directions. I’m not here to say anyone is better, it’s just interesting to see the progression Klosterman has taken in how he intends to approach his ideas, since it’s a clear leap from one idea to the next in how he frames these books.

1. Essays

I think “Fargo Rock City” is his best book, and coincidentally or not it’s his first one, mostly because it doesn’t fall into any boring memoir traps and focuses on the topic at hand rather than shoehorning himself into everything. When I first heard it was a memoir I was a little apprehensive because I could care less about how popular music affected one dude because it’s literally the same case for millions around the world. Klosterman always talks about the minutiae and differences about growing up in a small town in the mid-west, but he always does it with a tone where he seems to think he’s the only with this upbringing and that there aren’t millions of people who have grown up the same way he did and he’s not honouring us with this special look into small town lifestyle. Anyways, “Fargo Rock City” was good because he focused on the music and charted how it progressed and grew in and of itself and didn’t relate back to himself that much.

“Sex, Drugs And Cocoa Puffs” isn’t as good as “Fargo Rock City” mainly because it lacked the throughline that his first one possessed. I never really buy into that thing where people say you either love something or you hate it, but with these certain Klosterman essays I find you’ll either 100% agree with his opinion/theory or will 100% think he’s off base and thus think his whole argument is dumb and pointless. I love dissecting pop culture and I love how Klosterman will take a seemingly random thing like The Real World, Pamela Anderson or Saved By The Bell and explore some tangential themes of societal roles, sexual identity and ideas about perceived time and identity. Like, I said before, though, if you’re on board with the idea or piece of pop culture, you’ll love it, and thus I know this book would be most popular with Gen Xers, but I can easily see someone hating it due to his wild posits and smug attitude.

Killing Yourself To Live: 85% Of A True Story is a lot like “Fargo Rock City” in that it’s a memoir framed around rock music essays, except this time it’s a lot more memoir-based and focused on the various women in Klosterman’s life and how his relationships succeeded and failed with them. Suffice to say I could not have cared less, because there’s nothing more I hate than writers writing about their love life because they always treat it like some life or death thing that seems so important to the person living that life, but to us reading it it always feels so trite and vapid.

While his first two books have some connectivity, they’re largely just an excuse to write about whatever. Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade Of Curious People And Dangerous Ideas and Eating The Dinosaur on the other hand are just truly a collection of random essays, and thus they all average out to be pretty average with some good and some not-so good. Again, I gravitate to the music essays, so “IV” is great in that it features a ton of his profiles on bands that are maybe some of my favourite things of his to read.

2. Novels

I was really interested to see how Klosterman would fare entering the realm of novels and while they were fine in and of themselves, they didn’t really offer anything new. Downtown Owl is right within his wheelhouse where he gets to paint a picture of small town life, that he is very good at, even when he’s being weirdly elitist about it. He’s great at connecting you to these characters and this small-town world in such a short amount of time.

The Visible Man has a cool concept of a guy that can make himself invisible, but Klosterman doesn’t take it on a “fun” route or anything like that, rather it’s more about the terror it brings to the humanity of those in possession of this power that you wouldn’t think about on a surface level. I did like this framing device because it was a smart and easy way for Klosterman to tell a story, but also an easy way to get out all his theories and ideas about human behaviour that he normally would just have in a pop culture essay. He was able to siphon his thoughts through a psuedo Hannibal Lecter type character (ie. someone being pried for info while they pontificate about random stuff to get into the head of the interviewer). Unfortunately, the novel is quite short and doesn’t really go anywhere in its story or ends up at any credible philosophical ending.

3. Connective Theme Essays

Klosterman’s most recent books “I Wear The Black Hat” and “But What If We’re Wrong” tackle his essay approach in a whole other way. Each essay is made to build up the overarching theme of the book, villains in the first book and the idea about how we think about certain things in the past or present in the latter, whether it be through his usual haunts of music, sports and so forth or through more scientific examining. I felt that “I Wear The Black Hat” failed because while its parts were good it didn’t really add up to anything new, it just confirmed whatever everybody always knows/thought about the concept of “villains” in modern culture.

“But What If We’re Wrong” takes Klosterman books to another level because he actually goes to experts about things and interviews them, because they know all about the scientific side of things, while Klosterman then covers the sociological and culture side of things. He outlines the thought and backs it up with the scientific thought and then approaches it with his idea and what he believes it says about a certain thing.