Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Impressions: It is true, I have some leftover bitterness towards Boston and surrounding areas from living there for a little over a year. It’s not at all what I feel for the rest of New England area; I have nothing but lovely memories of my 5 years living in Vermont.  But that aggression in the air, as portrayed in this movie is all too real. Riding the T or a bus to work, I often felt as if a physical altercation could break out any second. And I am sure not all those people had things as horrible as what happens in this movie happen to them. It is an attitude that this movie captures perfectly. I felt it acutely when I lived there.

This is a VERY depressing movie. It has the distinction of being the only movie I saw made in 2016 that fits in the “shoot-your-knee-caps-off” category of depressing. I knew it was a sad movie, and avoided it for a while. But I did not realize just how depressing, until I saw it. It is beautifully shot, and captures the mood and emotion of a place better than anything I have ever seen. It is also terrifically acted. The dialogue is just there to fill the space, it’s really the silences that convey the emotion and the underlying plot.

Something horrible has happened to Lee, and he has run away from Manchester.  He returns to help take care of his teenage nephew, but has to face his past. I’ve seen You Can Count on Me by the same writer/director, which also, interestingly features a messed up uncle. Although in that film, everyone else is portrayed as messed up to some degree as well. Here it seems everyone else has it relatively together, but Lee just keeps messing up and ends up deciding that the only solution is to try to protect everyone else from himself. While there are some lighter scenes thrown in with the teenage nephew trying to juggle his many girlfriends, this movie is very heavy. Some scenes are so heart wrenching I don’t think I could see them ever again.

Facts: A slow moving story set in New England, about a tragedy and its toll on the man who feels responsible and his wider family dynamics.

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

Impression:  I’ve fairly recently become reacquainted with the fine acting of the kiwi actress Ms. Melanie Lynskey through an amazing and short lived series called Togetherness written and directed by the Duplass brothers. At this point I am thinking I really should make an exception to only reviewing films here and review that show as well, because it very much deserves it, and I keep feeling compelled to bring it up in multiple reviews. I have of course originally seen her as a teenager in an amazing and disturbing little film called Heavenly Creatures more than 20 years ago where she starred alongside a young Kate Winslet.
In her latest acting reincarnation, Ms. Lynskey’s gift is basically looking like a frumpy middle aged mom, lulling the audience into believing she is playing a really boring, yet likable character and then doing something to shock them. She does this both in Togetherness and in this movie in different ways. But while this is something the script calls for, her unique talent is in being so damn believable as both: a frumpy mom AND a badass. So, yes this movie is worth watching for Melanie Lynskey first! But also for an amazing role for Elijah Wood who plays a nerdy heavy metal listening, martial arts practicing, church going loner, who becomes her sidekick. And the premise, and the hilarious writing. The only unfortunate thing is the ultraviolence that takes place in the last 30 minutes of the movie, which will probably turn off some of its potential audience, but then also earn a cult following with the people who dig it. I am definitely not a fan of pointless ultraviolence, but in this movie, it is in some sense inevitable. The movie starts with a very basic premise: the main character is annoyed with people, and the way they treat each other. She tries to confront people who are assholes in hopes of changing the world, or at least changing the world that surrounds her. But at every step along the way, the consequences of her actions are more and more amped up until she gets involved in a mass carnage scene at the end. But since the premise of the movie is that every action leads to some over-reaction, there was no where else for the plot to go, but to more and more extreme ends. In conclusion, the first 2/3 of this movie are fabulous, the last 1/3 will probably not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Facts: A nerdy nurse, tired of people being assholes to her, goes out seeking vigilante justice and  gets messed up with some sketchy characters.

Ignorant Fairies (His Secret Life) (2001)

Impressions: The film opens with a sequence showing a woman who seems to be leading a very happy, if not perfect life.  She is married to a great guy, she has an important job where she is respected. Ok, maybe she doesn’t get along with her housekeeper. A major tragic event interrupts her life, and leads her to seek answers to her past, which leads her into a world completely foreign to her.  Through her sadness and confusion, she slowly gets sucked into this world, and keeps revisiting it. The communal type life, the fabulous Sunday meals on a gorgeous terrace overlooking rooftops of Rome are all so attractive that she soon becomes a part of that community.  The shots of food preparation, the splashes of color, the colorful characters, they are all like something very much out of an Almodovar movie. Who wouldn’t want to be preparing food with these people every Sunday?

Facts: A sudden tragic event, leads a woman into a world she knew nothing about, and sends her on a major re-evaluation of her identity and place in the world.

Extras: In 2001 when I saw this film, it was titled Ignorant Fairies. For some reason for the American distribution it got renamed into His Secret Life. This is still my favorite movie I have ever seen during 11 years of going to TIFF and probably close to a 100 movies. Getting to see it by not making the line to another one, made it even more of a treat, and actually inspired the way I do festivals from then on: always open to serendipity and suggestions, and very light on prep and background, because my favorites have always been the ones that did not sound interesting when I read the descriptions. It’s maybe also inspired how I live my life, but that’s a whole other post :).

Presumed Guilty (2009)

Impressions: Mexican documentary about the inner workings of the legal system, might seem like a relatively dry topic, but it was actually fascinating, and compelling throughout. My favorite thing about documentaries is coming across one on a topic I know nothing about, and would not have even contemplated seeing, until I was already there. “A Great Day in Harlem” was another great example of this. This film follows a guy accused of murder through the whole ordeal including living in prison, his appeals, and a face-off with the witnesses. Some of the processes are mind boggling, especially the witness face-off, and the fact that once convicted no amount of evidence can convince anyone of anything is frustrating.  The two young lawyers who took on the case, use the filmmaking process itself as a tool in their fight to free an innocent man. Very interesting and really well done, you should see it! If you ever had your doubts, this one definitely makes you not want to end up in a mexican prison!

Facts: Two young Mexican lawyers fight to free a man convicted of a crime they have ample evidence he did not commit.

Extras:  I originally had very brief notes which I wrote in 2009 after seeing this film at TIFF. In order to write a more meaningful opinion, and jog my memory some,  I looked at the wikipedia page on it. It’s apparently become the most watched documentary in Mexico, breaking box office records, and was eventually banned in 2011, causing it to be even more popular. It would be very interesting to see what someone from Mexico thought about it. The system and the process were all very new to me, and made me wonder if it’s common knowledge that this is how the system works.

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Impression: My favorite movie of all time! It’s silly, but clever, laugh out loud funny, and smart. It has a lot of elements the 12 year old me loved and still loves: rule breaking (they are bank robbers), a strong female character who plays off all the stereotypes to outwit the guys, comedy and trickery. I am a huge fan of Kevin Kline, and the character of Otto is the highlight of his career.  In it, he creates the most ridiculously amazing caricature of the stupid but full-of-himself American, and he does not hold back.  All the characters are caricatures and over the top, and it’s what makes the comedy work. Although thought up by Monty Python regulars John Cleese and Michael Palin, the movie does not veer into the surreal, but manages to stay funny and clever.  After a successfully pulled off bank robbery, the 4 participants start to form alliances with each other to trick the rest and keep the loot for themselves. The top schemer is Wanda, who keeps each guy believing she wants to run off with him and the diamonds, but as the plot develops trust is eroded and no one trusts anyone.  As the boss of the group is arrested, Wanda turns her sights on his lawyer, played by Cleese as a stereotypically stuffy upper class Englishman. “And when he heard your daughter’s name was Portia…he said, why did they name her after a car.”
But there are too many hilariously brilliant sequences to recount here. The name of this blog comes from my favorite exchange where Wanda finally gets tired of Otto’s posing as an intellectual, and calls him an ape, to which Otto retorts “Apes don’t read philosophy” and she answers with”Oh yes they do, Otto, they just don’t understand it!” I could watch this one over and over again. And I have!
Facts:  A brilliant comedy that opens with a bank robbery but it all goes gleefully wrong as the robbers try to outsmart each other to be the one that walks off with all the loot.

Mountain (2015)

Impression: Who knew all kinds of kinky things go on on the Mount of Olives at night? Beautifully shot, and amazingly acted, it’s kind of a Virginia Woolf novel set in an Orthodox Jewish family, but with a more sinister ending. Manages to touch on more individual themes of loneliness and isolation, but in a very subtle way also on politics. There is very little dialogue, but there are a lot of long scenes showing the main character’s boredom, and unhappiness. A small cramped house at the edge of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives is kind of a perfect visual metaphor for the smallness of the world she inhabits. But she soon discovers nefarious activities going on just outside her front door at night, and becomes intrigued. She is introduced to a whole different world, and the inability to communicate with her husband (a Yeshiva teacher who studies late into the night and never has time for her) becomes more and more intolerable, until she finally takes decisive action. This was a stunning debut feature, and I am excited to see more from the same director, Yaelle Kayam.

Facts: A woman in an unsatisfying marriage and four kids, discovers people leading very different lives come to hang out just outside her cramped world in a tiny house at the edge of a cemetery.

The Wait (2015)

Impression: The best movie I saw at TIFF 2015, and the best movie I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s Piero Messina’s first feature. He was the assistant director on The Great Beauty, though. From the first stunning spiraling shot of a Jesus statue, to the ending shot of Juliette Binoche, this movie is not only gorgeous throughout, but it masterfully builds tension. And it’s not because you don’t know what will happen, it’s exactly because you DO know from a few minutes into it what must happen, that this is incredible. It’s hard to say anything more about the plot without ruining it, so I will stop there. Oh yeah, and Juliette Binoche is the greatest living actor. There is an amazing preview of this one on youtube which shows you how gorgeous it looks but reveals absolutely nothing of the plot. Watch it!
Facts:  A woman in a gorgeous Italian villa hosts her son’s French girlfriend.  No more can be said without revealing the plot.