“We Do What We Can To Endure…”
Fresh from an inevitable and well deserved Oscar win for his performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea, Casey Affleck returns to the big screen alongside Carol and The Social Network star Rooney Mara in A Ghost Story, a supernatural drama written and directed by David Lowery who reunites with the duo after previously working together on the 2013 drama Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. With an eerie, off-kilter sensibility, a staggeringly ambitious ideas narrative and one of the most affecting musical accompaniments of the year in film, Lowery’s latest is unlike anything seen on-screen this year, a film which utilises the basic horror trope of a common haunted house movie but then manages to expand its’ horizons into something which resembles closer an allegorical mix of themes which evoke everything from Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life to Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. With little dialogue and a raging art-house aesthetic, A Ghost Story is a film undoubtedly not for everyone, but for those with the patience and willingness to embrace its existence, Lowery’s movie is an exquisite work of art.
Shot in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1, or in televisual and layman’s terms, 4:3, A Ghost Story follows a sheet cladded Casey Affleck who after passing away due to the events of a traffic collision, follows his unnamed wife, portrayed by Rooney Mara, throughout her life after his death, all within the confines of the dated home in which they both shared. With directory David Lowery utilising the retro and “boxiness” nature of the aspect ratio to ensure the audience understands the claustrophobic nature of the film from the point of view of Casey’s spectral presence, the film utilises endless long shots and unbroken edits for the first half of the movie, including the now infamous one-shot “pie scene” and a chilly, uncertain introduction to Affleck’s transition from life to death, and whilst at times the pace of the movie does begin to falter, the second half of the movie in which Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar seemed to be a obvious blueprint for the direction of the narrative, concludes the film in a stunning and ambitious fashion. A Ghost Story isn’t a movie which belongs on the big screen, instead, Lowery’s latest is more akin to a museum piece where examination and steadiness is key to admiring its’ beauty, and whilst the film doesn’t hold together everything it intends to accomplish within such a short amount of time, A Ghost Story is undoubtedly an unforgettable and bold moviegoing experience.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Can’t Beat It. I Can’t Beat It, I’m Sorry…”
Arriving on a weekend packed to the rafters with a wide range of movie releases, the release of Manchester By The Sea carries with it the annoyingly unavoidable air of hype which has engulfed it over the past few months or so, resulting in an inevitable array of Golden Globe nominations as well as being tipped as one of the top contenders for the upcoming Academy Awards which takes place next month. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan, whose previous credits include screenplays for Gangs of New York and Analyze This, Manchester By The Sea follows in the footsteps of La La Land by being a film which lives up to its’ high expectations, a touching tale of loss, sorrow and the chance of redemption held together by a simply outstanding performance from Casey Affleck who undoubtedly will walk away with the Oscar for Best Actor next month, and a sharp, snappy screenplay which dissects the everyday notions of family and friendship upon an overarching melancholic plot thread which acts as the central cornerstone of a movie seeped in utterly believable human emotion.
Cowering throughout the movie in an unbearable understated embodiment of repressed emotion, Affleck’s Lee Chandler is a complex shadow of a character, one who is brought back to his titular homeland after the death of his brother and one whose societal absence verges on the edge of a complete dissociation with anyone around who shows him the slightest bit of attention. Add into the mix Lucas Hedge’s Patrick, the son of Lee’s lost brother, and the film begins to unravel a parallel between the past and the future, one which balances out loss with a chance of redemption for a character who could easily burst into a complete and utter meltdown at any moment throughout the film. Subsequently, the commanding performance of Affleck ironically leads to the film’s only real setback, with Michelle Williams strangely seeming rather absent and underused, alongside other characters which come and go rather too swiftly. Ultimately, Manchester By The Sea is Affleck’s movie entirely and the down-to-earth dramatic turns and realist decisions by his character result in a film which is up there with the most rewarding dramas to be released in recent memory and for a film which is just under two and a half hours, it seemed strange to be leaving the cinema by actually wanting more, the sign of a cracker if ever there was one.
Overall Score: 9/10
“In The Coast Guard They Say You Go Out, They Don’t Say You Gotta Come Back…”
Based upon “The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue” by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, Craig Gillespie’s The Finest Hours is a film that intends to be as gripping and wet-soaked as the shores of Cape Cod but ultimately comes off as more of a damp squib, with a cast including Captain Kirk himself, Chris Pine, Casey Affleck and Eric Bana not enough to save it from the pit of mediocrity it safely floats upon before inevitably sinking into the realms of history. Much like the true-life tale, an anecdote I’m sure incredibly popular and well versed between the secular, sea-wise clans of the U.S. Coast Guard, The Finest Hours is a movie that has somewhat been hidden under the radar and away from the cinematic masses, with not even a trailer being in sight within my many ventures to the world of cine over the course of the past few months or so, and with this in mind, the sheer lack of advertisement and press-hounding may indeed result in the film not exactly finding a key audience. Were it a more intriguing tale of survival in line with other sea-faring adventures such as Ang Lee’s The Life of Pi, The Perfect Storm and even, see it to believe it, Titanic, perhaps The Finest Hours could have been the riveting adventure it perhaps wanted to be seen as.
Adding to the mediocrity is the fundamental saccharin sweet nature of the movie, with the influence of Disney being particularly noticeable within scenes that not only encourage the burning sensation of a face-palm, but also result in either a painful palpitation of a cringe-induced stasis or a desire to swiftly stick fingers down your throat in order to release the sickly build-up of Disney-induced diseases. Aside from the land of over-sentimentality, award for most unintentional psycho, co-dependant girlfriend of the year has to go to Holliday Grainger for her role as Chris Pine love interest, Miriam Webber, a role which could easily be seen as a mid-20th century portrayal of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Seriously, if you aren’t put off by the possibility of a creepy girlfriend by The Finest Hours, then nothing will. In a nutshell therefore, The Finest Hours sure ain’t the film it would love to be, with a sheer lack of threat or suspense killing the film stone dead, a film which requires such in order to be seen as truly worthwhile. See it in a Blockbuster near you. Oh wait, this isn’t 2003. Just catch it when you can, but don’t rush to see it.
Overall Score: 5/10
“To Survive Out Here You Gotta Out-Monster The Monster…”
Of all the epic crime dramas to have graced our screens over the course of the past few decades or so, Michael Mann’s Heat is the top drawer example, a film in which many, including Mann himself, have taken note from and subsequently strived to duplicate in usually unspectacular fashion with only a few breaking the mould and stepping out from the shadow of the perfect combination of style and substance Mann’s masterpiece undoubtedly revels in. In the case of Triple 9 therefore, although not the perfect companion piece to Heat, John Hillcoat, director of the desolate survival thriller The Road, and the violent crime drama Lawless, has at least attempted to create something that adheres to the stylistic nature of Mann’s classic albeit with a dark, twisted and overly gritty core, calling in a A-List cast as it goes. Although Triple 9 carries much more substance than that of the many generic action films released recently, it is a film that plays inevitably and undeniably second fiddle to the mastery of Mann’s tour de force, whilst having a much darker and depressing feel, one which may leave viewers with a sense of unwitting desperation.
The storyline, focusing on deception and blackmail between a group of experienced thieves and the Russian Mafia, headed up in sheer scene-chewing fashion by Kate Winslet, is one that is primarily left slightly to the sidelines, with the undercurrent of the groups plan to engage a “Triple 9”, a scenario of a downed officer, in order to successfully complete a heist and in turn. release them from their dealings with the Mafia, a secondary outfit, providing a support and a reason for the main aim of the movie; to create the most intense action sequences possible. Although the supposed lack of substance leads to an array of questioning after sitting down and actually thinking about it. Triple 9 can be excused for effectively managing to do what it really desires, with the action set-piece in the film being directed and shot in a grit-filled sense of realism that harks back to the bank heist in Heat, a scene that has been regarded by many as the most realistic action set-piece ever captured on film. Indeed not for everyone, with on-screen violence being ramped up rather unnecessarily, Triple 9 benefits from a fantastic ensemble cast, featuring Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Aaron Paul and straight from The Walking Dead, Norman Reedus, all of whom impress, yet the film falls short of the sense of mastery others before it have managed to create resulting in a film that is solely for the set pieces, not for the bigger picture.