2017 Summer Movie Review: A Ghost Story

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C (Casey Affleck) wakes up as a ghost in David Lowery’s magnum opus, A Ghost Story. (Source: Rolling Stone)

How can something so simple go somewhere so deep?

After Disney’s surprisingly wonderful remake of Pete’s Dragon, director David Lowery returns to his indie roots with the Sundance hit A Ghost Story. It reteams the duo of the sluggish yet decent Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. It might turn people off who expect it to be a straight-up horror film. With a budget of $100,000 and shown in the 1.37.1 aspect ratio, Lowery explores the afterlife through the eyes of a person wearing the cheapest Halloween costume in the world. This is a strange yet devastating roller-coaster ride through the afterlife.

C (Casey Affleck) is a musician living in a house in rural Texas with his wife M (Rooney Mara). They both keep hearing bumps in the night; trying to find the source of the sounds. As C dies from a car crash, he wakes up in the hospital in a white sheet with two black holes for eyes. As a ghost, he walks back to his house to reconnect with M. No one seems to notice he still exists. C’s ghost goes on a journey through the past, present, and future.

In his first Sundance feature-length hit Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Lowery pays homage to Terrence Malick with films, such as Badlands and Days of Heaven. It comes as no surprise for A Ghost Story that it has ties with Malick among other directors. Ranging from faraway shots and long takes, Lowery and cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo put it to good use with every shot, accompanied by Daniel Hart’s haunting score. They are nothing short of breathtaking!

A Ghost Story features very minimal dialogue. The old saying, “Actions speak louder than words”, is rather appropriate here. In one particular scene, the ghost watches his wife grief in silence while eating a whole pie. During the long take, we see her get more upset after each bite until she rushes to the bathroom to throw it up. As devastating as the scene is, it’s quite impressive to see it done in one take. It proves how talented Rooney Mara is.

Affleck’s performance is one of the most subtle yet ambitious performances to date. Fresh from winning an Oscar for Manchester by the Sea, he spends most of the movie in the bedsheet without delivering a single line (with the exception of a few in the beginning and the end of the film). With the theme involving the endurance and perception of time, Affleck’s ghost spends time observing his wife move out of his house as other people start to move in; including a Hispanic family and one of the partygoers (Will Oldham) talking about the end of the universe. “We do what we can to endure…you do what you can to make sure you’re still around after you’re gone,” he says, summing up the film’s main idea.

A Ghost Story may not be for everyone. It doesn’t move at a fast pace. However, for those who are patient and willing to give it a shot, be my guest. You might love it or hate it. For me, one of the main reasons why I think this one of the best films of the year is that it’s full of originality, which is rare for movies nowadays. This definitely requires repeated viewings.

4/4

My Thoughts on the 89th Oscars Ceremony

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Mahershala Ali accepting his award for Moonlight at last night’s Oscars ceremony. (Source: FOX News)

Oh man–what a night!

It was actually a fun Oscars ceremony! One of the funniest things host Jimmy Kimmel does on his talk show is trash talking Matt Damon (it’s kind of a long story). When he walked on the stage, he cracked jokes about the nominees (including Meryl Streep receiving her 20th Best Actress and starring in hundreds of “mediocre movies”), politics (not to mention references to Donald Trump), and, of course, his feud with Damon mentioning that he backed out of playing the lead in Manchester by the Sea to star in The Great Wall, one of the biggest box-office bombs of 2017 so far.

Another one of my favorite segments Kimmel does on his show is “Mean Tweets”. This is where celebrities read their mean tweets. Some of them are really funny, while some of them are just horrible. I was so proud he did it last night during the ceremony! There were a lot of montages, and I loved how we get to see actors talking about their experiences with some of their favorite movies and falling in love with a certain actor from that film, and having them present on stage. Charlize Theron and Shirley MacLaine (The Apartment), Seth Rogen and Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future), and Javier Bardem and Meryl Streep (The Bridges of Madison County).

A lot of people boycotted last year’s Oscars due to the lack of diversity in the nominations. The president of the Academy Cheryl Boone Isaacs made a wonderful speech proving that “Art has no borders.” Meaning, the nominations will be more diverse in the coming years. Denzel Washington became the first African-American to receive the most Best Actor nominations (5). African-Americans Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) and Viola Davis (Fences) both won their Oscars for their wonderful performances in supporting roles, and definitely well-deserved!

A lot of you know that La La Land was my pick for the best movie of 2016, and the movie I’ve seen the most times in the theaters (a total of FIVE TIMES; you can tell I’m downright obsessed with it). I, along with many others, wanted it to win big Best Picture. The movie did set some records. Nominated for 14 Oscars, it tied with Titanic for receiving the most nominations including Best Picture, and Damien Chazelle being the youngest person to win Best Director, at 32 years old. And also, it won the most awards—taking home six. Emma Stone, who took everyone’s breath away with her golden vintage-style gown (just WOW!), won a well-deserved Best Actress for her performance as an aspiring actress trying to make ends meet in Los Angeles. I’m proud to see Casey Affleck, who looks like a Bostonian Jesus with the beard (I mean that as a compliment), deserved his win for Best Actor for Manchester by the Sea.

Last night had a fair share of surprises. When Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced that La La Land won Best Picture, I have never been happier since the New England Patriots won this year’s Super Bowl. Then, there was commotion up on stage. I wondered, “What’s going on?” Jordan Horowitz, one of the producers of La La Land said, “There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture! This is not a joke!” My joy quickly transitioned to a state of shock.

What happened with that mix-up was that Beatty and Dunaway got the wrong envelope. Someone backstage even said so. Then, Beatty realized he was holding the envelope for Best Actress instead of Best Picture. I have nothing against Moonlight (which took home two more nominations for Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali and Best Adapted Screenplay) because it’s a beautiful movie about a young African-American man trying to find who he really is. However, I thought it was a big joke that La La Land gave up their Best Picture to Moonlight. Unfortunately, Horowitz was right. It wasn’t a joke. Director M. Night Shyamalan hilariously tweeted about the shocker saying, “I wrote the ending of the academy awards 2017. Jimmy Kimmel, we really got them!” I woke up this morning to that, and I certainly got a good kick out of it.

But hey–look on the bright side. Moonlight became the first film by A24 to win Best Picture. Here’s to a dozen more!

This has been one of the better ceremonies in quite some time (the one where Seth MacFarlane was the host will always be one of the biggest mistakes the Academy ever made). Congratulations to everyone who won their awards!

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

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Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) looks after his nephew in Manchester by the Sea. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

Over the years, the State of Massachusetts has become one of the most popular filming locations. Particularly there are a lot of great films set in Boston; such as Good Will Hunting, The Departed, Mystic River, The Town, and so on. As a New Englander (Maine, to be more specific), the settings in those films are so familiar to me and the characters remind me of the people I meet on a day-to-day basis. Movies not only set but filmed anywhere in New England area feel just as authentic as its culture.

From receiving unanimous praise since its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Manchester by the Sea is also generating Oscar buzz. I can certainly see why.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is working as a janitor at an apartment complex in Quincy. Living by himself in a studio apartment, he spends most of his time drinking at the local pub. One chilly winter day, he gets a phone call about his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dying from congestive heart failure. Lee sorts out plans for his brother’s funeral while looking after his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges, Moonrise Kingdom), who plays on the high school hockey team and has two girlfriends—Sylvie (Kara Hayward, also from Moonrise Kingdom) and Sandy (Anna Baryshnikov). Once he returns to his hometown, Lee’s past begins to creep up on him.

Kenneth Lonergan has written and directed a raw, funny, affectionate work of art centering on one man’s grief. Casey Affleck’s Lee may be stubborn and selfish, but he tries to connect with his nephew like he did years ago. It’s hard not to sympathize with him. Accompanied by a haunting score by Lesley Barber as well as segments from Handel’s Messiah, the audience sees him go through a lot after his brother’s death. The audiences learn about how and why he left for Quincy through a series of flashbacks—then, having to come back. In one scene, Lee meets his ex-wife Randi (the lovely Michelle Williams) on the street, and cannot make a conversation while she’s expressing her heartache. As devastating as that scene is, it makes up for it with its deadpan sense of humor. Especially when Patrick asks Lee what happened to his hand, Lee tells him he cut it by smashing a window. “For a minute there, I didn’t know what happened,” Patrick replies.

2016 has been a spectacular year for movies. I’ll be happy if Manchester by the Sea or Moonlight takes home the big prize. But, this is a movie about life. Best film of the year!

4/4