Manchester By The Sea – Movie Review

Manchester By The Sea is absolutely one of the most depressing movies you’ll this year. It will drag you through tragedy, depression while sprinkling a few glimmers of hope.

Release Date: December 16, 2016
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, Lucas Hedges

Manchester By The Sea tells the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a loner living in Boston. Lee is forced to move back to his hometown to attend to the death of his estranged brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler). Lee is the only adult relative of Joe and it is up Lee to not only plan all of the arrangements of the funeral, but also act as temporary guardian to his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lee is not the social type and he finds it almost impossible to maintain any kind of a relationship because of his drinking and his past.

Manchester By The Sea follows Lee as he figures out what to do with his nephew. Lee is adamant about not being his guardian and just as adamant about Patrick not going back to his birth mother, Elise (Gretchen Mol). The history of the Chandler family is told in flashbacks.

Clearly, the goal of this film is to rip your heart out. Casey Affleck is perfect as the loner, who’s past has shut himself off from the world. He plays guilt and self-loathing with ease. Lucas Hedges has great range having to play the angst-ridden teen, who has no relative left other than his non-communicative uncle.

There’s no better way to put it than Manchester By The Sea is a film that punches you in the face, in the guts and just keeps on punching. It’s clear in this movie about tragedy, that over the course of the film, you will find out why Lee Chandler is a loner with no hope for a future and what happened to his happy life and his three super cute and adorable children.

Let’s also not forget that the tragic flashbacks overlay the films central story, which is the death of Patrick’s father and the current whereabouts of his mother, Elise. More sadness for you, the viewer.

Manchester By the Sea is a good movie. But at the same time, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan presents to his audience an emotionally draining movie. There are times, you wish the actors were not so talented and did not play their characters well, because then you would have a moment to detach from the movie and breath. Ultimately, we do connect with the grief and sadness of the main characters, which I guess is the main goal of the film. This is a film you need to prepare yourself to watch.

The Queen of Crime – Newport Beach Film Festival Review

As part of the Pacific Rim Showcase of the Newport Beach Film Festival, The Queen of Crime is the Korean entrant to this year’s festival. It is the story of a mother, who investigates a $1,200 water bill that was mysteriously charged to her son.

Release Date: April 24, 2017
Writer: Lee Yo-Sup
Director: Lee Yo-Sup
Cast: Soo-Jang Baek, Som E., Ji-Young Park

Mi-gyeong (Ji-Young Park) is the owner of a local beauty salon just outside of Seoul. One afternoon, she receives a mysterious phone call from her son, Ik-soo (Dae-Hyeon Kim). Ik-soo is a law student in Seoul and has somehow managed to rack up a $1,200 water bill in his dormitory. Ik-soo is just 4 days away from taking the bar exam and does not need the distraction of a $1,200 water bill. Rather than just pay the outrageous bill, Mi-gyeong pays her son a visit in order to help investigate the bill.

Mi-gyeong’s arrival is not welcome by her son, who needs to concentrate on his studies in order to pass the bar. Mi-gyeong insists that she will not be a distraction and only needs two days to clear up the matter. In her investigation Mi-gyeong learns that her son’s dorm room shares the water bill with his next door neighbor. Mi-gyeong enlists the help of the building’s maintenance man, Gae-tae (Bok-rae Jo) to help her. In fact, she develops a motherly bond with Gae-tae who has no mother to look after him.

Mi-gyeong finds that her son’s neighbor is less than willing to help clear up the matter. In fact, the other neighbors complained about loud noises and suspicious activities coming from the apartment. It appears there is a larger mystery than the flagrant waste of water. Soon, Mi-gyeong’s meddling begins to interfere with her son’s studying, which leads to him wanting his mother to just pay the water bill and leave.

The Queen of Crime is a light comedy thriller, but very subtle at that. If this were an American film, the story would be littered with goofy over-the-top characters. Everyone would be mugging for a laugh. Refreshingly, The Queen of Crime plays the comedy grounded. These are real people with minor quirks but they could be someone you know. The supporting cast includes a law student, who likes to study outside and has a shoe fetish; a lonely gamer, who left the police academy where her father is the commissioner; and the maintenance man, who is a little slow on the uptake.

The crime story is not complicated. The movie reveals one clue after the other at a nice pace. The real fun is watching Ji-Young Park as the concerned mother, who only wants the best for her son. She plays it normal, not like the stereotypical meddling mother. She has good intentions with the aged wisdom that only a mother can have. She treats everyone vital to the case like only a mother can do with soft assurance that she is their advocate and the stern warnings of a mother lion protecting her cubs.

There are plot holes in the mystery. The film uses flashbacks when witnesses describe what they saw. We start to see the crime played out in interview segments. But there are moments when the camera follows the criminal and although we are a party to the motivation for the crime, there is no way for Mi-gyeong to know any of this information because only the criminal knows this part of the crime.

I enjoy the Pacific Rim Showcase at the Newport Beach Film Festival. It continues to blow my misperceptions of foreign films, thinking that the United States is the best at film and storytelling. There is a level of maturity in filmmaking you see in U.S. films, but one must not confused the cultural differences of foreign films as inferior.

The Queen of Crime is a fun mystery with a fantastic lead in Ji-Young Park. Foreign films are worth the work involved in reading subtitles, but the storytelling is just different than what we’re used to as well as the same.

Hell or High Water – Movie Review

Hell or High Water follows the parallel paths of the Howard brothers, who rob the banks that hold their deceased mother’s mortgage and the grizzled veteran lawman assigned to capture the brothers as his last case.

Release Date: August 26, 2017
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Director: David MacKenzie
Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges

Hell or High Water is a movie that plays on every emotion. For example, you want to sympathize with the Howard brothers. Sympathize as much as you like, they are still criminals. It makes no judgment, while judging.

Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is a recently divorced father who is about to lose the farm of his youth. The bank that owns the note on the farm is about to foreclose on the farm and the stress of the situation lead to her death. Toby is a man with nothing and sees the farms as the only thing he can give to his children. Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) is his recently released convict brother. His wild side and impulsiveness is nothing but the foreshadowing of trouble.

The boys have decided to rob the very bank that prey upon their mother and ultimately hope to pay off the mortgage in time before foreclosure. In order to get enough money that have to travel throughout the back roads of Texas hitting one branch after the other.

Following the Howard boys is veteran lawman, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges). This is Marcus’ last case before retiring and he brings along his partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), who will eventually take over for Hamilton after his retirement.

The setting of Hell or High Water is intriguing, especially for a West Coaster, like myself. Taking place in the outlands of Texas is a return to the old days of crime investigation. Stripped of the internet and high priced forensics and Hamilton and Parker use the old method of fact, evidence and profiling to figure out the pattern of crimes perpetrated by the Howards and where they will strike next.

High or High Water succeeds as a great movie for two reasons. The movie is a cat-and-mouse caper. The Howards try to stay one step ahead of the law, while never knowing who is chasing them or even if they are being chased. They also have to managed to pull off the perfect crime. It’s one thing to commit a crime and bank robbery is a difficult crime to pull off. But it is also another thing to never be caught and never be considered a suspect in that crime. Oh, and did I mention that Tanner is a hot head?

That’s the mouse, there is the cat. Without the high priced technology of CSI or Law and Order, Hamilton and Parker have to catch up to the mouse and see that justice is achieved.

The other reason this movie is great is the characters. Taylor Sheridan gives you a glimpse straight into the heart of the four leads. For the Howards, you want to sympathize with them. You want to root for the bad guys. But at the same time, you marvel at the brilliance of Jeff Bridges the actor portraying a wise and smart mouthed agent. His back-and-forth with his Native American partner is fun to watch and mildly uncomfortable as it walks the line of friendship and racial ignorance.

It is clear that Hell or High Water deserved its Best Picture nomination. It’s a story that’s been told before where its brilliance comes from its character study.

The Long Excuse – Newport Beach Film Festival Review

The Long Excuse is the Japanese entrant in the Pacific Rim Showcase at the Newport Beach Film Festival. It is the story of grief as a man struggles to come to grips with the death of his wife and becomes the caregiver to the children of the his wife’s best friend.

Newport Beach Film Festival
Release Date: April 24, 2017
Writer: Miwa Nishikawa
Director: Miwa Nishikawa
Cast: Sôsuke Ikematsu, Masahiro Motoki, Eri Fukatsu

Sachio Kinugasa (Masahiro Motoki) is a famous author in Japan and a celebrity on Japanese talk shows. His drinking and temper has lead to an emotionally dead relationship with his wife, Natsuko (Eri Fukatsu). Natsuko and her best friend, Yuki Omiya (Keiko Horiuchi) leave one night on a bus excursion for a girls weekend of fun. While Natsuko and Yuki are away, Sachio takes the opportunity to have an affair with a younger woman in their home.

After a few hours of passionate love-making, Natsuko sees a story of a tragic bus crash on the side of a snowy mountain. The next day, Natsuko discovers that his wife was killed on that bus along with Yuki. As a public figure, Natsuko puts on a brave face for the national news and becomes something of a figurehead for the victims.

Natsuko must somehow deal with his grief but finds that he is unable to emotionally cope with his loss. Natsuko explodes at a party where his publisher wants him to write about his experiences. At the same time, his agent is worried because Natsuko’s last few books have not sold well. He suggests that Natsuko become the host of a show that spotlights his tragedy.

Natsuko pulls himself out of his situation by befriending Yuki’s husband, Yoichi (Pistol Takehara) and his son, Shinpei (Kenshin Fushita) and his preschool daughter, Akari (Tamaki Shiratori). Yoichi is a truck driver and does not know anything about keeping a house clean, cooking meals and caring for children.

Natsuko decides to watch the children during the day, while Yoichi works. Natsuko can write his next book as Shinpei goes to school and Akari watches television. It turns out that Natsuko is pretty good at this parenting business. It does not take long for Akari to pull away from the television and appreciate Natsuko’s cooking. Shinpei, on the other hand, is frustrated because he is unable to keep up in “cram” school because of the parenting duties he has to take over with the absence of his father.

The Long Excuse is a movie about grief and the inability to move on with life after tragedy. Sachio rarely spends time in his former home and would rather be at Yoichi’s home with the children. Yoichi, on the other hand, has decided to just disappear from life especially since Natsuko is there to “raise” his children. Both men dealing with the same grief in different ways.

The film is no Manchester By the Sea, which takes a heavy hand at grief. In this case, it takes a real look at the average man left behind after tragic circumstances. It is also interesting to see it all from a Japanese perspective. There is a poignant discussion between Natsuko and Shenpei as he tries to explain why it is good not to cry at death, while at the same time explain that Shenpei’s father’s crying is appropriate.

There is also two separate moments with Natsuko and Yoichi need to slap sense into one another, while at the same time both men have no real authority to say anything. Instead they admonish each other from their own flawed viewpoint.

The Long Excuse is a sweet film about two men struggling to go on with life, when grief leaves them emotionally paralyzed. Culturally speaking, it’s hard to see watch scenes of corporal punishment against children, especially when they don’t deserve it. There are also times when you may wonder if the actor is over acting or acting like a person from Japan.

Class Rank – Newport Beach Film Festival Review

Class president Veronica helps her fellow student Bernie run for a seat on the school’s board of education. At the same time, they push one another out of their comfort zones.

Release Date: April 21, 2017
Writer: Benjamin August
Director: Eric Stoltz
Cast: Olivia Holt, Skyler Gisondo, Shawn Kavanaugh, Bruce Dern, Kristin Chenoweth

For Veronica Krauss (Olivia Holt), her high school education is a stepping stone to her aspirations of sitting on the United States Supreme Court. Her dreams are threatened when she finds out that she is currently ranked second scholastically in her high school. She believes that her below perfect position will make it impossible to attend her choice Ivy League school.

Bernie Flannigan (Skylar Gisondo), on the other hand, is an awkward teen who feels his education is being diminished because his school chooses to fund French classes, while Bernie knows that Chinese is the language of the future. Week after week, Bernie attends his local school board meetings in hopes of one day enacting real change in his high school.

Veronica decides that the whole idea of a class ranking system is flawed and wants it abolished. The current school board is not willing to change precedent. With no hope of abolishing class ranking, her only hope is to help Bernie run for a seat on the board of education.

Bernie is somewhat of a social misfit. He lives with his grandfather Oswald Flannigan (Bruce Dern) because his parents passed in skiing accident. He is content writing blogs and submitting articles to the local newspaper. Veronica lives with her mother, Janet (Kristin Chenoweth) who works on Law and Order: Special Victims Units. Janet dispenses wisdom that is best suited for Benson and Stabler, instead of her teenage daughter.

Both Veronica and Bernie are forced to step out of their comfort zones to win the election. They find that they the need each other to help them grow into maturity.

Class Rank is a sweet film about the friendship of Veronica and Bernie. Surprisingly, it is less about the cutthroat world of small town politics, but it’s a story about finding love in unexpected. It is lite storytelling with heart and innocence. This may not be the most original story, but writer Benjamin August and director Eric Stoltz tells an engaging story, that you will fall in love with.

In a day of contentious politics, Class Rank puts the political ideology in the background. Bernie’s ideas for the local school will make any liberal and conservative cheer and boo.

Ultimately the acting and character interactions are what makes this movie fun. The character of Bernie is awkward and quirky and could be considered borderline Asperger, but Gisondo manages to give him sympathy while at the same time make him a viable candidate for the small town. Holt manages to walk the line between being a school leader and the insecurities of being a school loner.

There is also the joy of watching Bruce Dern play Bernie’s grandfather. What easily could have been the grumpy old man, Dern’s portrayal of Oswald shows a man who loves his grandson, wants to see him succeed and take advantage of his senior status.

Class Rank is a simple story of pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones and allowing our friends and family become the catalyst for change.

Take My Nose Please – Newport Beach Film Festival Review

Joan Kron, Editor-At-Large for Allure, dives straight into the center of image, aging and plastic surgery. It is easy to believe that Hollywood favors the beautiful far above the average. Take My Nose Please is screening at the 2017 Newport Beach Film Festival.

Newport Beach Film Festival
Screening Date:
April 22, 2017
Director: Joan Kron
Cast: Emily Askin, Jackie Hoffman

Take My Nose Please follows two comedians before, during, and after their journey into cosmetic surgery. Emily Askin is an improv comedian and actress, who desires a more refined nose. Veteran Broadway comedian, Jackie Hoffman considers herself ugly and has made a career from it, finally decides to get the face-lift she wanted since she was a teen.

Take My Nose Please is a masterful treatise on fixing beauty for women, who for the most part struggle with imperfect appearance far more than their male counterparts. It examines the facts that from the dawn of Hollywood beauty is what sold and many actresses lost their jobs by the age of thirty. In the early years and even today, women have become victims of fake plastic surgeons and/or succumb to the addiction of plastic surgery.

Director Joan Kron also features celebrities, who are most notable for their enhanced appearances including: Roseanne Barr, Phyllis Diller, the late Joan Rivers, Judy Gold, and Lisa Lampanelli. While following the leads Askin and Hoffman, their decision to get plastic surgery was less a decision but more of a convincing to do it now and a soothing of guilt for the decision they made.

Take My Nose Please is not an anti-plastic surgery movie. While at the same time, it is not a pro-plastic surgery movie. It is a complicated subject about a complicated decision with complicated ramifications and Kron does a masterful job in presenting plastic surgery with all its complications.

Kron made the smart choice of following two comedians. As comedians, Askin and Hoffman are deeply introspective about their thought and feelings about the procedures they undertake. They can express their conflict and experiences in a way that the average civilian or even ordinary actress can do. You feel for the plight of Askin and Hoffman and ultimately feel great sympathy for the decision they made.

Take My Nose Please does what exactly what a documentary should do: tackle truly perplexing issues, present the facts, drop us in the middle of the struggle and give us enough information to form a personal opinion.

‘Sled Dogs’ Sheds Light on Animal Cruelty in the Sled Racing World – Newport Beach Film Festival Preview

Explore both sides of the Alaskan Iditarod: Sports Entertainment vs. Animal Cruelty. Sled Dogs comes to the Newport Beach Film Festival this Tuesday, April 22 at 5:45 PM at the Island Cinemas at Fashion Island.

What happens to huskies before and after the Iditarod? That’s the question that director Fern Levitt set out to answer in Sled Dogs, the hard-hitting new documentary that has been described as the Blackfish of the dogsledding industry. The film, which will debut in the U.S. in July, recently nabbed two awards at the Whistler Film Festival in British Columbia, where part of the documentary is set.

Sled Dogs exposes the Iditarod’s dark side, from breeders who kill dogs who don’t make the cut to the barren summertime kennels to the deadly race itself that claimed five lives this year alone.

In many commercial dog sled companies, dogs are continually tethered to a chain and euthanized when they’re deemed no longer useful. In 2011, the public finally learned this disgusting truth after in incident in Whistler, B.C. where 100 dogs were brutally murdered and thrown into a mass grave by a tourism company after an unprofitable season. Sled dog companies and the B.C. government decried the practice, claiming it to be an isolated occurrence; but animal rights activists maintain that this practice is pervasive throughout the entire industry. This explosive documentary weaves together various characters and narratives to explore a truth about the dog sledding industry while posing the question: “Is the abuse seen against “man’s best friend” disguised as entertainment?

The True Story of Survival Comes to ‘Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story’ – Newport Beach Film Festival Preview

In Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story, director Phillip Baribeau tells an intimate and riveting look into the complex layers of trauma, healing, and relationships. The film premieres at the Newport Beach Film Festival today at 5:15 pm at the Triangle Cinemas.

The documentary feature film, “Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story,” which had its World Premiere as the Opening Night Film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, provides extraordinary access into the emotional and inspiring journey of Eduardo Garcia. In a few short moments, this accomplished chef became the survivor of a freak accident — alone, near death and miles from help deep in Montana’s backcountry — hit with 2400 volts of electricity, the strength of a primary high voltage wire.

Miraculously despite severe shock and weakness, Eduardo found the strength to take his first steps toward finding help. The result of the accident was the loss of his left hand and forearm and a recovery which included 21 surgeries. It was during his 48 days in ICU with his former long-term girlfriend and business partner Jennifer Jane with him every step of the way, Eduardo faced yet another health scare — he was diagnosed with Stage 2 testicular cancer.

After months of surgeries and chemotherapy, Eduardo was ready for his next and perhaps greatest challenge — asking, “How am I going to get back to being me?”

There will be a second screening Monday, April 24 at 5 pm.