Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea


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!


Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

The characters in "Moonrise Kingdom"

The characters in “Moonrise Kingdom”

Wes Anderson’s 2012 romance film, Moonrise Kingdom, was the film that introduced me into his wonderfully surreal world of zaniness. Right from the first viewing, I knew I wanted to watch it again and again and again. Anderson creates a love story that is sentimental (although not sappy), quirky, charming, and oh so joyful.

During the summer of 1965, two pen pals make a secret pact to run off together into the wilderness after meeting a year earlier at a church performance of Noye’s Fludde. Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) is a 12-year-old orphan and Khaki scout living on New Penzance Island. One day, he escapes his boy scout camp with some belongings; making scoutmaster Randy Ward (Edward Norton) feel worried. He makes a call to police captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) to find the missing boy and decides to organize a search party to find him.

On the other side of the island, Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), also 12-years-old, is living with her three younger brothers and her parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray). She’s a reader, likes to look at things through her binoculars, and doesn’t like to be bothered. She escapes the house with her books, binoculars, a record player, and her cat. Then, her parents become involved in this search party before a violent storm comes through the island.

From the first sequence, I knew I was in for a treat. Seeing Wes Anderson’s gorgeously odd style is like watching a painting coming to life or a dream coming true right before one’s eyes. Seeing Bob Balaban narrating the story is like watching a news reporter dressed up as a gnome. Seeing the sweet romance between Sam and Suzy blossoming is like watching two real kids having an affection for each other. The music by Benjamin Britten (mainly “Cuckoo”) resembles their love for one another. Seeing the climactic storm sequence is like something read out of the book of Genesis. This movie reminds us why we don’t get a lot of good romance films that avoid cliches.

Moonrise Kingdom is a symbol of nostalgia, young love and a need to escape. Personally, this is Wes Anderson’s most personal film and will always be my favorite of his films.