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Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Very unsettling; Kenny Lonergan is a genius screenwriter
Manchester by the Sea is a very unsettling movie. So unsettling that my mind couldn't stop wrestling when the credits started to roll, "is that it? This can't be it." I wanted to see more post-ending stories that could weave the movie to a taut conclusion. But my yearning was tossed aside. I had no choice but to leave the cinema.
The movie tells the story of Lee Chandlera custodian in Boston who unclogs toilets for a living, drops the f bomb in front of his customer without even once turning his tongue, and punches people who glance at him at the barwho, due to an unfortunate incident, has to drive back to Manchestera fishing town where he once resided. Only to discover, with bewilderment, that his brother chooses him to be the guardian of his nephew Patrick. And the rest of the movie explores the uncle- nephew relationship and how the two come to cope with the arrangement.
Lee is a someone whom, after sharing a conversation with, you would wonder if there's something wrong with him. Why doesn't he engage in small talk? Why doesn't he smile? Why is he so aggressive? Kenneth Lonergan takes us to the Zen-like oceanic Manchester and cleverly unfolds tragic past that has been haunting Lee. The storytelling is character-driven through dialogues and reactions. Mr. Lonergan really understands people and successfully crafts out their essences. There is one scene that particularly struck me. Patrick opens the freezer and some meat packages fall down to his feet. He peers at the sight and suddenly has a mental breakdown. The seemingly absurd and comic scene is an explosive moment that bares Patrick's innermost anguish. That is a succinctly done-well character development. The screenplay is intelligent because it knows exactly the materials to awe the audience by slowly revealing bits and pieces of the characters without explicitly rushing to the point.
What makes Manchester by the Sea a good movie to me depends largely on the acting and the fact that it is a Kenneth Lonergan's movie. Casey Affleck, with no objection, earns the spotlight. His portrayal of a disheartened man who doesn't want to deal with anything anymore is depressingly human. Lee doesn't care if he's being socially insensitive and does what he has got to dodrinks beer, works, and tries his best to be a father figure for Patrick. The rest of the castespecially Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges who bear the burden to carry the movie forwardis also solidly heart-wrenching to watch. A mediocre performance even in one scene would definitely reduce the story's emotional and comedic impact. And I can't imagine anybody else directing this movie. As Matt Damon put it, "this is a completely Kenny Lonergan movie." The playwright understands his script the best. Every scene has its intention and another director might not have been able to do it justice.
Leaving the empty cinema perplexed, I was contemplating intensely about the whole movie on the way back home. I realized something. The trip to Manchester was all about understanding why Lee Chandler is who he is. There's nothing more to demand more from him. Even though I, like all other supporting characters in the movie, long for Lee to recover and be responsible for his life and his nephew. But I had learned to be sympathetic. It seems like everyone in the movie is judgmental against Leelike how people are in general without considering what he has been through. The realism of Manchester by the Sea takes emotional pain seriously, like we all should.
La La Land (2016)
"It's so surreal!" is the sentiment of my cross-dimensional trip to La La Land. Throughout the journey, my modes of transport constantly switch from land to air without a prior notice as the jazz was blaring and songs were impeccably cutting in. It was a ride like no other, shifting elegantly from reality to dreams and evoking the nostalgia of Singin' in the Rain. The transition is just so perfect that you'd adore how fantasy was woven into life to the point which you might have to scream your lungs out, "goddamn it! this is too beautiful for me to handle."
I would've literally screamed when the movie was about to start because some people around my seat were talking and commenting like they were some god-like movie experts whom everybody else was eager to seek opinions from. Shut up you insensitive self-centered conversationalists. Thankfully the scene jingled instantly and riveted me from all nuisances. I thought I knew what kind of movie I was expecting when the drivers stomped out of their vehicles, hopped on the roofs and performed an upbeat song in the middle of traffic. My feet were tapping on their own accord and I couldn't wait to see the main characters singing out their stories. But unlike other movies in which the characters express feelings in a fabulous way. The song halted and everyone just returned to their cars like nothing had occurred. The musical intention unfolded itself. The songs don't tell the story. They are the story.
I'm not going to bother you with the plot because I think everyone should approach this movie without a clue. Trust me. The story is so simple that you may not give it a second thought. But the way the mastermind behind Whiplash told it is enthralling. One of my most favorite scenes is when Mia came to her movie audition and was asked to improvise a story. The transition of lights and speech to music was so good that you'll resent me if I provide more detail (and I won't). "Here's to the ones who dream", sang Mia. I feel that it was more of a message for those who don't. "So bring on the rebels / The roles from pebbles / The painters, and poets, and plays". It was like a protest to confront a materialistic society to not give up on dreamers, their hope, and imaginative contributions. That was the whole point of La La Land. Follow your dreams and don't care what others think. The concept is old. But I'm glad people like Damien Chazelle still believe in it and encourage everybody else to bravely pursue the path of "the fools".
The ending is either wonderful or sad or wonderfully sad or sadly wonderful depending on your own perspective. It brings back to my mind the memories of the Casablanca, especially the play-it-Sam moment and that unforgettable ending in which Ilsa had to choose between getting in the plane with Victor Lazslo or staying with Rick Blaine. I just simply can't put my thoughts into words when the last shot of La La Land faded.