Manchester by the Sea, and a few more movies

#186  [archive]

Manchester by the Sea

Lee Chandler (Casey Afleck) is the handyman at an apartment complex, surly and with a bad attitude and looking for a fight. Without revealing too many plot details, there's a tragedy, and then a bigger tragedy, and eventually Chandler gets cornered into taking custody of his 16-year-old nephew. He might be up to the task, or might not, and that's the crux of the drama. 

Can't remember the title, but 'irresponsible ass takes custody of a child' is a plotline I've seen played for laughs. Was it John Candy?

There aren't many laughs here. This flick is painfully serious about peering into one schmuck's life, and the lives of everyone around him.

It's not constructed like an ordinary movie of three acts and 24 scenes. Mostly Manchester is a two-hour montage of little moments, like — Chandler shovels snow, watches his pizza as it microwaves, looks at a room for rent, forgets where he parked his car, etc. It seems realistically real, so I'll call it 'cinema du real'.

The cinema du real here is effective, but sometimes it's almost too du real, like in the aftermath of a tragedy, when Chandler has to tell the cops what happened — all of which we've just seen. The re-telling takes about five minutes, over sad and loud orchestral music to remind you that there's been a tragedy and that Chandler is sad.

Later there's a funeral, with opera for three wordless minutes, to remind you again that there's sadness, and because it's so du real, you'll be sad, too.

I should be raving about Manchester by the Sea, because it's inarguably excellent, but there's a problem: Chandler is an ass. Even when he predictably starts the 20-years-too-late process of growing up, he remains kind of a jerk.

The only likable characters here are the kid, and Michelle Williams as Chandler's ex-wife, but she's given only one scene to seriously act in, and otherwise gets no scripted dialogue except to yell at Chandler when he's an ass, which is most of the time.

Have we met? I'm antisocial, introverted, a hermit who doesn't answer the phone or doorbell. My entire world is structured to keep me away from guys like Chandler.

If my purpose on this page is nudging you toward good movies, consider yourself nudged. Manchester by the Sea is frickin' terrific. But, you'll have to spend two hours with an unlikable schmuck.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Dark Crystal (1982)

"In the valley of the Mystics, there lives a Gelfling, Jen. The Skeksis killed his family, destroyed his clan. Only Jen survived, to be raised by the wisest of the Mystics. But there is a prophecy. A thousand years have passed, and now, once more, the world must undergo a time of testing. Now it must be healed, or pass forever into the rule of evil. At this time, Jen is the chosen one. Today, Jen's pipe gives no comfort. For today, his master lies dying. And a journey must begin; the journey of Jen."

Once upon a time, Muppets were wildly popular for laughs, but Jim Henson wanted to do drama. He wrote and co-directed (with Frank Oz) The Dark Crystal, which is not at all funny and looks fantastic — live-action Muppetry against gorgeous perhaps animated scenery and backgrounds.

All these creatures, powered by the imaginations of Henson and Oz, move so realistically you'd almost believe they're alive, except for the movie's two main characters — mostly human-looking 'gelflings' with unpleasantly stretched faces that look plastic. 

Again other than the leads, each of dozens of new Muppet characters are given voices that are raspy, or throaty, or scratchy, or squeaky, or phlegmy, or some combination of these. Only the main guy and gal gelflings speak without someone vying for Best Overacting in a Voice Role. An hour and a half of raspy, throaty, scratchy, squeaky, phlegmy dialogue gnawed at my nerves.

This was the monthly movie with my brother and sister-in-law a few months back, and they loved it. I respect it. It's an epic fairy tale well-told with passion and grandeur, but under the grandeur it's a fairy tale, and maybe I'm too old for fairy tales.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Eiger Sanction (1975) 

[Streaming free]

The Eiger Sanction is one of those movies I had a hankering to see when it first came out, but never did. For nearly fifty years it's been low-level on my list. Now I've seen it.

Clint Eastwood directs and stars, playing Dr Jonathan Hemlock, an art professor with a secret collection of million-dollar masterpieces, who's also an expert mountain climber, and a retired but still world-renowned assassin. A blind, evil albino coerces Dr Hemlock into one last kill, which will involve climbing a grueling cliff called the Eiger.

Despite being Eastwood and in fine shape, Dr Hemlock gets pudgy old George Kennedy to train him for the ascent. Along the way, Hemlock is seduced by a black female spy named Jemima and a mute Indian named George, and deals with a charming gay bad guy (Jack Cassidy) whose pet dog is named Faggot. There are also half a dozen rape jokes.

All of this is played very seriously, though the author of the book it's based on claimed it was supposed to be satire. The dialogue is often snarlingly arch and delivered archly, which is campy fun. The mountain-climbing sequences look great. The story, obviously, makes no sense.

Verdict: YES, but it dangles perilously over the edge of MAYBE.

Google, by the way, tells me that the Eiger exists, and that Eastwood actually climbed it for this flick. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

• Coming attractions •

Asteroid City (2023)

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

China 9, Liberty 37 (1978) 

The Cook (1918)

Doctor Who (second season, 2006)

Good Night, Nurse (1918)

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) 

The Scarecrow (1920)

Stalker (1979)  

Street Trash (1987)

Wisconsin Death Trip (1999) 

The YouTube Effect (2022)  

    ... plus occasional schlock and surprises

    • And then •

A Night in Casablanca (1946) 

Atomic Cafe (1982) 

The Bat People (1974) 

Brainwaves (1983) 

Cell 2455: Death Row (1955) 

Downsizing (2017) 

Hobo (1992) 

John Wick (2014)

Love Happy (1950) 

Motel (1989) 

Nothing But a Man (1964) 

Romper Stomper (1992) 

Scarecrow (1973) 

Scared to Death (1947) 

Secret Weapons (1985) 

Squirm (1976) 

Taoism Drunkard (1981) 

Who Farted? (2019) 

You Can't Take It With You (1938)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

 Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. Claude I Forgot ReignsSeptember 25, 2023 at 1:19 PM

    Incidentally Honnold discusses Eiger Sanction in the second of those clips above, get all excited

  2. If my downloads work, I'll have Honnold's The Breakdown and a few others you've recommended. The Holy Mountain is, of course, about as close to holy as any movie can get.

    Were you ever one of those climbing nuts, or only friends with some?

    I accidentally climbed Mount Somethingorother once, which is really just a steep hill, in a Wisconsin state park. Looked it up online; it's 961 feet tall. We barely reached the top, and making our way down again was much more difficult and dangerous. It was truly the closest I've yet come to death.

  3. I'm with Doug, I'm from a part of the country that is absolutely flat. My first time in Colorado as a kid, I told my friends we should walk toward the "mountains" (actually just foothills) and climb them. First observation: big things look closer than they actually are. We ran short of water and then smashed the last bottle on some rocks by accident when climbing. The walk back involved standing in front of a sprinkler for awhile and hoping it would turn on before mercifully finding a gas station and buying a 12 pack of Mountain Dew. It was mighty perilous.

    1. Well that sounds vividly unpleasant. Were y'all just thirsty toward the end, or was it hot enough to be truly a danger?

      Definitely noticed on my cross-country drive to Seattle, even at 65 mph the mountains take their sweet time getting closer.


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