Thursday, December 8, 2016

Manchester by the Sea and Nocturnal Animals

                                        Grief Times Two (or Much More)

                                                      Review by Ken Burke        

Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
           Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
A hard-working but quick-tempered young guy is making a living as an apartment-complex maintenance man near Boston when he receives news that his brother has died; he rushes northward to Manchester, MA to see what help he can provide for his nephew only to be shocked at being named the teenager’s guardian, a role that neither of them wants to occur.
                                         Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)
An LA art gallery owner faces both financial troubles and marital breakdown when she receives the proof of a novel from her ex-husband whom she broke up with years ago because of her declining faith in his talent; much of this film is taken up with a visualization of his grim, violent book in which there are clear allusions to the real-life ex-spouses which unnerves her.

What Happens: By chance, I saw the 2 films under critique in this posting just a couple of days apart, noticed some structural and emotive similarities between them, then decided to swirl them together into 1 of my occasional combo-reviews.  However, much as I hope you ever-faithful-readers always abide by my Spoiler Alert above, if you don’t want details from my renowned-far-flung-analyses until you see the subject-at-hand for yourself that warning becomes ever-more-important with these films because of critical plot points that are revealed through impactful-flashbacks as their separate mysteries deepen on screen; thus, I’m giving you another opportunity to not spoil your experience of 2 of the best 2016 offerings (both of which have already won some awards with other nominations pending so I certainly encourage you to see both of them if you haven’t already done so) if you’d rather not learn too much yet by laying out the foundational events of each narrative in my 1st subtopic under this main What Happens heading but saving the critical reveals for the other 2 subtopics within this section of the review.  With these further forewarnings in place, I’ll now proceed to the details, of which you can consume as much as you wish whenever.

Plot Flow in Present Day: I’ll start on the East Coast because I saw Manchester by the Sea (the name of the actual town where this sad fictional story is set uses hyphens, although people in the area as well as all the characters in this film just say “Manchester” when referring to it—and don’t be fooled from this title that that is some sort of cheesy travelogue even though filming was done right in the actual Massachusetts coastal area, furthering the authenticity of the tale) last Friday night, followed by Nocturnal Animals on Sunday.  Both stories offer powerful, penetrating elements of emotional intensity, but I’d say that Manchester …’s a bit subtler in presenting the gnawing-grief of the main characters, which doesn’t ultimately make it any less intense when the 2 are compared.  In Manchester … we get frigid New England at its annual worst with freezing, snow-covered days that illustrate the burden of our chief protagonist, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck)—a maintenance man working in a down-scale-apartment complex in Boston (the suburb of Quincy, specifically) who deals with the daily grind of shoveling snow, hauling trash to the outside bin, putting up with cranky-complaints from the cabin-fevered-residents—and provides an important plot point later on for our other most-notable-character, Lee’s nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), only son of Lee’s older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler).  Lee’s a hard-working, mostly-decent guy, but at times his rising temper gets the best of him, as with a situation where foul-mouthed-tenant Mrs. Olsen (Missy Yager) pushes him too far so she gets retaliatory-profanity in return (leading to a funny scene in the manager’s office where Lee’s told to apologize as these men are surrounded by the ultimate-rat’s-nest of stacks of paper that engulf the room) or a scene in a bar where Lee gets so annoyed by a couple of guys looking at him that he questions them about it, followed by a sudden punch that starts a fight these locals are likely far too used to.

 The set-up in … Animals couldn’t be more different—except that the main character there, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), like Lee, has an ex-spouse—but unlike him she’s living on the much warmer, southern California West Coast, is remarried (for about 19 years), has a teenage daughter (who's seemingly in college, as Susan calls her one night where the girl answers in her bedroom with a guy asleep next to her, so I know she’s not living with either parent nor likely has such separate living [or even parent-approved-sleeping] accommodations if she’s still in high school [or maybe that’s just jealously talking as such an option was inconceivable for me in 1966]), and appears to the outside world to be on the cutting-edge of success with her trendy Los Angeles art gallery (which we’re slowly—along with slo-mo-visuals—introduced to during the opening credits, accompanied by images of very obese women dancing while mostly nude except for white boots, hats, and the occasional enhancements of white gloves, epaulets, a baton, or sparkers, followed by gallery wide-shots that show these images on vertical video screens while the actual dancers are lying, mostly face-down [still nude], on low pedestals).  In reality, despite her lavish home overlooking the LA basin, Susan’s gallery’s in financial trouble; her husband’s (Hutton [Armie Hammer]) career (whatever it is) doesn’t sound very solvent either as he has no time to attend her opening, rushing off to NYC to finalize a deal intended to restore their stability (however, a phone call she makes to him as he’s on the way to his hotel room gives us just enough suspicion that the woman he’s in the elevator with in these early-morning-hours isn’t a business contact)In the midst of all this Nocturnal ... misery (taking place, appropriately enough, so far in night scenes, as opposed to the mostly daylight ones of Manchester …), her life’s changed by the arrival of the final proof of a book, Nocturnal Animals, from ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), dedicated to Susan, with a note thanking her for the inspiration to write it.

 Lee’s life in Quincy takes a major turn as well when he gets a phone call that sends him on a hasty trip toward his home town of Manchester, where his immediate destination is a nearby hospital to meet old friend George (C.J. Wilson)—caretaker of the Chandler family fishing boat, the Claudia Marie, lovingly-named for Lee’s deceased mother (his father, Stan [Tom Kemp], is gone by now as well)—to verify the death of Joe from heart problems.  Lee’s next stop is to pass on this tragic news to Patrick, leading to these long-familiar-relatives getting re-acquainted after a 2-year-absence since Lee moved away from his hometown to seek his “fortunes” elsewhere when he now finds that Pat’s very rooted in Manchester, as a member of his high-school hockey team, band, and a garage-band (pretty awful) of his own, in which the singer, Sandy (Anna Baryshnikov), is one of the teen’s girlfriends (although no sex with her yet like he has with his other girlfriend, Silvie [Kara Hayward], who even slept over at Pat’s home with Joe’s tolerance—again, not my experience; Joe was also divorced, from ex-wife Karen [Ellie Teeves], an alcoholic Joe considered dangerous to their son’s upbringing).  The really-impactful news, though, is that Joe’s will names Lee as Pat’s guardian, which neither of them is excited about, Lee because he doesn’t feel up to the responsibility (yet there are no other relatives to turn to as Lee’s uncle moved away to Minnesota), Pat because he doesn’t want to leave his life behind for a move to Quincy so tension quickly builds, especially with Lee not allowing Silvie to spend the night in the family home anymore (although he does attempt to help Pat finally get a chance to slip off with Sandy by trying to keep her pesky mother, Jill [Heather Burns], occupied, but his inability to make conversation results in Mom’s usual knocking on Sandy’s bedroom door, so any hope of copulation-opportunity will just have to wait, just like the more impactful-details of this story which will soon arrive in my next subsection, What Happens).  

 Until then, though, be aware that another issue of anguish for Pat is the sickening feeling he has about his father’s body being kept frozen in the morgue until the ground thaws in the spring for a proper burial; when frozen food falls out of his refrigerator one night, Pat has a panic attack from the ongoing stress, finally confessing to Lee how much this odd situation bothers him with his father being treated like a slab of meat from the butcher shop.  As we get into the latter scenes of this film we begin to get the full sense of Pat’s accumulating-loses, not just the physical departure of his father but also the estrangement from his mother, a woman’s who now changed so much in the opposite direction that he still can’t connect with her even when she reaches out to do so, leaving him only with an uncle whose awful (although accidental) crime must also weigh on the kid, even though he’s one of the few in the film’s Manchester locale to not revive the memory.

 Meanwhile, back in LA, with nothing else in her life to distract from her insomnia (Edward used to call Susan a “nocturnal animal” because of her spotty-sleeping-habits, adding further irony to this film as it progresses in its revelations of the multiple-uses of this term) while quietly heartbroken that she’s got evidence about Hutton's affair, Susan begins to read Edward’s book which comes alive seemingly both in her mind and on our screen as a tragic story about a Texas family traveling through the largely-deserted (and desert-like) western extreme of the state one night where there’s no one around and nothing much to see (I did this myself once decades ago with a former girlfriend as we drove non-stop from L.A. to Austin over about a 24-hour-period, deciding that we’d rather get through this barren country at night than find a motel and have to look at all that emptiness for hours the next day), until they come upon a couple of cars hogging both lanes of the highway.  All should have gone well as the father, Tony Hastings (pointedly also played by Gyllenhaal), honks for the left-lane-car to move over so he can pass; however, as they go by, snarky-teenage-daughter India (Ellie Bamber) shoots the finger at the receding cars which promptly catch up with speeding-away-Tony, bump him so he runs off the road with a flat tire, then has to deal with swaggering Turk (Robert Aramayo), Lou (Karl Glusman), and scary-as-hell-Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who begins an immediate collection of harassments and mind-games with Tony, wife Laura (Isla Fisher), and India (who tries to call for help but there’s no phone service in this God-forsaken-part of the state).  Initially, Ray and his boys offer to change the tire, then drive to the next town to report the “accident,” but after Tony’s car is road-worthy 2 of these maniacs drive away in it with the women while Tony’s forced to follow in Lou’s car, who goes down a dirt side-road then pushes Tony out to fend for himself.  By the next morning, he’s walked to a house where he calls the police, ultimately finding Detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) assigned to his case.

 There’s much more to this film-within-a-film, but briefly Tony and Bobby find the nude, dead bodies of Laura and India; a year later a robbery leads to Lou being captured, Turk killed in the process.  Bobby and Tony capture Ray (in a stark scene where he’s sitting naked on a toilet outside his trailer) but he’s freed for lack of evidence; Bobby, unconcerned about legal procedure because he’s dying of lung cancer, arrests drunken Ray one night, brings him and Lou to his remote home, gives Tony an opportunity to shoot them but Tony’s hesitant, Ray escapes, Bobby kills Lou in cold blood; shortly thereafter Tony finds Ray in the shack where he raped Laura and India before killing them, with a final confrontation that leaves Ray dead of gunshots, Tony blinded by Ray hitting him in the head with an iron rod, Tony dying as he stumbles around sightless, accidently shooting himself.

Revelations Through Flashbacks: Situations have been bad enough for the Chandlers in Manchester … in the present day, but this film (like the other one) is peppered with short-to-longer-flashbacks that almost interact with aspects of the present, revealing the reason for Lee’s constant knee-jerk-hostility.  These earlier-chronological-scenes begin with the opening credits where we see Uncle Lee teasing much-younger-Patrick (Ben O’Brien) about being a better caretaker for him than Papa Joe, then a scene in the hospital just a few years back where Joe learns his tragic fate that he has congenital heart failure which will eventually kill him (we also meet Lee’s ex-wife, Randi [Michelle Williams], who had a hair-trigger-temper even when Lee didn’t, or at least can be quite irritable as we see in another past scene where she’s sick in bed while pregnant with their 2nd child even though Lee’s still trying his best to be amorous with her).  When next we get insight into these earlier lives of Lee and Randi, she’s chasing a bunch of his drinking buddies out of their home at 2am because their noise might wake the kids; Lee begrudgingly complies but before settling down for some early-morning-TV he walks 20 min. to a convenience store to buy more beer (at least he knows he’s too drunk to drive) but when he returns the house is aflame from a fireplace log that rolled onto the living-room-floor (he forget to put up the screen).  Firefighters are on the scene, with Randi rescued although in shock; however, there’s no way to save the kids so we simply see their covered bodies being removed after daybreak; Lee’s so despondent back at the police station he grabs a cop’s gun and tries to kill himself except the weapon’s not loaded, so now we have a clear answer why Lee’s now divorced while carrying around enough remorse, self-hatred, and despair to keep his life in constant turmoil.  
Likewise, with Susan in Nocturnal …, we also have key plot information presented to us in bits of flashback, beginning with a scene were she and Ed accidently meet again in NYC where she’s in grad school and he’s still trying to find his command of becoming a novelist (they were former lovers at Austin’s U. of Texas, with him in literature, her in art [my alma mater as well for most of 1966-1976, in art as an undergrad, then radio-TV-film for the M.A., communication for the Ph.D.]; however, she lost confidence in her own creativity so I assume she changed her focus to arts management [that fear happened with me too; that's why I shifted gears for grad work to find a more stable career]); soon they’re married but bickering as he chides her to pursue her own visions rather than managing the dreams of others while she’s losing respect for him because she’s critical of his unsuccessful writing, making him defensive.  We know they’re at the breaking point when he finally tells her that she’s starting to resemble her mother (an ultimate insult, based on an earlier flashback between Susan and Mom Anne Sutton [Laura Linney] where overbearing-older-woman warns reactive-daughter away from Edward in that he’s “weak” and won’t be able to provide the material luxuries that she’ll someday realize she truly desires).  Flashbacks also allow us to see how Susan began to move away emotionally from Edward toward Hutton who accompanied her to the abortion clinic where she made the decision to rid herself of what would have been Edward’s child without telling him about it, only to find him standing in the rain in front of their car as they started to leave after the procedure.  She acknowledges in present day that she did a horrible thing to him all those years ago (giving enough time for her daughter to have come along, then grow to young adulthood via Hutton’s paternity), so what she finds in his novel is both disturbing to her in content about the dead women as well as illuminating to her in terms of his finally-manifested-writing-ability.

What We’re Left With: 
The flashbacks used in Manchester … are more frequent, better helping us understand the various tensions and tragedies within the oft-blighted Chandler family, but once we realize the horrid situation behind Lee’s careless destructive act we easily see why he demonstrates acts of self-loathing, insecurity about his ability to care for others, and failure in finding any work at all in hometown Manchester as an alternative to Patrick having to move to the Boston area (in such a small place his well-known-grotesque-legacy prevents anyone from wanting to hire him).  However, he begins to see that the pull of the past has its limits in scenes that deal with both ex-wives in this gut-churning-story.  When Pat’s mother, Karen (Ellie Teeves), attempts to make contact with her son after Joe’s death, Lee won’t even pass on the message but eventually, after another confrontation with his nephew, drives Pat over to her house for a lunch meeting with Karen and fiancée Jeffery (Matthew Broderick) where the son finds his mother is on the wagon, a devout Christian (with a big portrait of Jesus on her wall), and a tense presence that sends him scurrying away as soon as possible.  Then, in an even-more-tension-filled-encounter, Randi runs into Lee in their town one day, expresses her sorrow for how she treated him after the deaths of their children, tells him she still loves him (even though she’s remarried), then essentially begs for his forgiveness which he can’t enunciate, not so much because he carries animosity toward her but more because he’s just dead inside where that whole terrible tragedy’s concerned so he quickly excuses himself to leave her with no closure to their situation.

 He does make an effort toward Patrick, though, first setting up a situation at the Chandler home for the kid to finally have time alone with Sandy, then making a mutual arrangement with George to adopt Pat so he can stay in Manchester until high-school-graduation, then do what he wants with his life (possibly involving the fishing boat, which gets its needed new motor when Lee sells off Joe’s hunting rifles) as Lee heads back to Boston for a new job starting in July (time has moved along here, as the spring thaw finally allows the opportunity to give Joe’s body its long-delayed-burial, which the entire extended family attends).  Things don’t work out nearly so well for Susan in Nocturnal … though, because after finishing Edward’s novel she decides to respond to his accompanying note about them maybe getting together for dinner to ease their own history of long-suppressed-wounds.  She replies by email, he answers saying name the time and place, she makes a reservation at a fancy restaurant, but we leave her lonely (and likely financially-distraught in that little salvation’s likely from Hutton, no matter what business deal he may actually have been working on in NYC) and sad upon final fadeout.  However, in case you don’t think that my rendering of … Animals’ plot and resolutions is adequate, I can point you to 2 links where you can find much more if you like from a couple of guys really devoted to this film: (1) a 9:29 impassioned analysis of the opening and closing scenes; (2) an even longer version (10:12) of similar interpolations (which delves further into the film as a whole, from a man with an even stronger accent than the previous one [although, with my ongoing Texas drawl I shouldn’t complain about how anyone else sounds], but there are English subtitles if you need them [just click on the little CC box on the bottom right 
of the video screen], although a few words don’t get conveyed correctly—it gets comical at times, as these real-time-transcriptions tend to do—but you’ll still get the context of what he’s saying).

So What? Both Manchester … and Nocturnal … are cleverly-engaging in the manner by which they draw us into their mysteries.  In the former, minor characters become aware of Lee, saying “The Lee Chandler?,” giving us reason early on to wonder what’s so significant about this bottled-up-guy who won’t even take the hint of getting acquainted with a woman who accidently spills beer on him in that battleground-bar early on but then takes upon himself to pick a fight for no good purpose until we realize how consumed with shame he is; in the latter, Susan’s gallery associate is surprised to learn she was once married to someone other than Hutton, then with the flashbacks of her earlier-rekindled-romance and its deterioration (verifying her mother’s warning) we learn why she’d be sickened by the 2 murders in Edward’s novel yet it remains ambiguous almost to the end as to why she’d want to reconcile with him (Given the implication that the dead wife and daughter are allusions to the aborted fetus as well as to her—Is this a veiled threat?  Does he mean to do her harm?) unless she’s feeling the same sort of guilt as Randi in Manchester …, hoping to somehow fix the sins of the past while the ex-husbands in both cases are either incapable or unwilling to revisit the scenes of their despair, just as each of these worthy-of-Oscar-nomination-directors also seem hesitant to push themselves forward until the time is right, with Lonergan having only 2 features to his credit (You Can Count on Me [2000], Margaret [2011]) prior to Manchester …while Ford’s done only 1 previously (A Single Man [2009]), but if these offerings are indicative of what they’re capable of then all we can do is hope for more-frequent-projects from both of them (with scriptwriting talent to boot—Lonergan’s written all of his directorial efforts [an Oscar nomination for … Count on Me], Ford adapted both of his screenplays from novels, hopefully to be recognized for this current one).

 Given the different levels of brutality within these stories—Manchester …’s a soul-crushing-event for Lee and Brandi in their separate ways, alienating themselves from themselves as well as each other, which Michelle Williams has to convey in just a few scenes but she does it so effectively that she might find that a new Best Supporting Actress nomination could easily join her 3 previous Oscar nods (for Brokeback Mountain [Ang Lee, 2005; which also featured Jake Gyllenhaal, himself nominated for Best Supporting Actor then] as a Supporting Actress, Blue Valentine [Derek Cianfrance, 2010] and My Week with Marilyn [Simon Curtis, 2011; review in our December 15, 2011posting—our 2nd ever; not the best graphic layout but all of the usual verbiage you’ve come to lovingly expect {haven’t you?}] as Best Actress), a category she’s already won this year from the New York Film Critics Circle (who also factored in her work in Certain Women [Kelly Reichardt; review in our November 17, 2016 posting]); Nocturnal …’s most devastating events come within Edward’s novel but what actually occurred between him and Susan was ego-shattering in its own way—it feels  appropriate that Manchester … softens its flashback-horror with an overall-low-key-approach, including the use of soul-soothing symphonic or opera music on the soundtrack while … Animals(an appropriate shortening in this context) style is aggressive in its novel-comes-alive-segments (with ever-wracking-anxiety building from the early moments of the highway-hooligans-encounter by use of quick-cutting, intensifying music) used as a contrast against Susan’s monochromatic home and work environments, punctuated with violence-themed-artwork, the simplest being a painting in her huge gallery of the stark word “REVENGE” (or the one above of someone being shot), a reference to what the Nocturnal Animals novel seems to be about, from the perspectives of both Tony and his author, giving us (and Susan?) reason to wonder how she’s supposed to interpret the novel's dead wife (especially when portrayed [in Susan’s mind’s eye?] by Fisher, who bears a notable appearance to Adams, just as Gyllenhaal embodies Tony on screen to us [and her?]).

 With the 3 Nocturnal … narratives (Susan in the present, Edward’s book, the various flashbacks) constantly interwoven through quick cuts from one reality to another (providing us with a meta-exploration on the subtle contrast of intensification in art of what we often experience as surface lifelessness in our world, with the novel’s events ghastly even to the point of over-dramatization as contrasted to Susan’s “actual” life grinding to a deadend-halt, even as this is all part of a film itself removed from the normally-mundane-existences of most of us in the audience) we have a successful use of a mysterious, threatening tone (some compare it to Alfred Hitchcock, but I see it more like an unlikely-collaboration between Michelangelo Antonioni [who also does an intriguing exploration of image structuring as part of the structured-imagery of Blow-Up, 1966* {photo above}] and Brian De Palma [with his career of grisly images]) where humor has no entry, unlike Manchester … which is funny for some brief moments, such as Lee’s bungling attempts to talk to Jill while Patrick and Sandy are desperately trying to work in a quickie before Mom gets bored/cautiously-curious again, then comes a knockin’ as usual.

*I don’t mean to get all academic on you, but if you’d like to explore that topic in some depth I can refer you to a journal article co-written by me and my great Mills College colleague Mario Cavallari (recently deceased), which you can download from this site.  However, if your Spanish is as poor as mine, then you can copy and paste the direct Spanish quotes (that Mario used from the Julio Cortázar original short story that the Blow-Up film was adapted from) onto translation boxes at this Google site to turn these quotes into English (or a wide variety of other languages if you prefer).

Bottom Line Final Comments: In a review I did this year (don’t remember the specific one, not about to read back through all of them to find out) I made the somewhat-snarky-comment that you can tell a film’s had difficulty getting made when it took a lot of production companies to finance it (the corollary to this observation is such esoteric fare often has as hard a time drawing an audience if it plays in a small cluster of theaters); however, in the case of Manchester by the Sea there are at least 6 production/distribution entities involved but the buzz has been quite strong ever since it started piling up awards and nominations from a wide variety of professional and critics' groups, with the reviewer-consensus-sites of Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic presenting their overwhelming levels of praise (97% positive reviews at the former, an extremely-rare 95% score at the latter; more details in the Related Links section below)—although the box-office-response is still struggling with only about $4.3 million in domestic (U.S.-Canada) sales so far after 3 weeks in release but it’s spreading to more theaters on strong word-of-mouth so the income might soon increase (especially as more of those awards contests are decided).  Unfortunately (from my own perspective, but maybe not from a lot of those who find our other film to be either too disturbing or convoluted) Nocturnal …’s not even doing that well after the same amount of time on domestic screens, taking in a mere $2.7 million so far, a declining number with its theater count stalling at a paltry 127, so my hopes of seeing this effectively-disturbing-film do well with Oscar nominations is waning as the final onslaught of big-ticket-contenders rolls out during this month and the next. 

 Although, Amy Adams’ well-reviewed-Nocturnal ... role may help boost her chances of a Best Actress nom for the far-more-successful Arrival (Dennis Villeneuve; review in our November 17, 2016 posting)—a film I’m not nearly as enchanted with as most everyone else seems to be—while Manchester …’s Casey Affleck’s already racing ahead of others in his category considerations, with other yet-to-be-seen-contenders likely closing the door on Gyllenhaal’s chances, so if Oscar’s going to be kind to … Animals it seems most likely at this point it will be to Shannon for Supporting Actor, Ford for Adapted Screenplay, and/or Seamus McGarvey for Cinematography (for his great west Texas sunrise desert landscapes plus LA urban landscapes of city vistas, nighttime freeways).

 Such failure to recognize magnificent achievement doesn’t deter me, though, from awarding Nocturnal Animals my rarely-given-prize of 4½ stars, which I’ve done only 3 times before in my 4 years of posting reviews on this blog (The Master [Paul Thomas Anderson; review in our September 27, 2012 posting], 12 Years a Slave [Steve McQueen; review in our November 14, 2013 posting], plus 
Spotlight [Tom McCarthy; review in our November 19, 2015 posting]—the Academy agreed with me on the latter 2 excellent films, giving out 9 and 6 noms respectively for each of them, then 3 Oscars for … Slave, 2 for Spotlight; although we didn’t sync up as much for The Master which got 3 noms, no wins), with my fondness for the disturbing aspects of The Master being the most like my admiration for the similarly-offputting Nocturnal Animals as I’m likely to be standing alone embracing this unconventional work while most of the award-givers will likely be clustering elsewhere, although I can’t say yet (as with my other 4½-star-recipients) if I’ll choose Nocturnal … as my best of the year because of the other highly-regarded-possibilities still out there that I haven’t seen yet, primarily La La Land (Damien Chazelle), Fences (Denzel Washington), Jackie (Pablo Larrain), Silence (Martin Scorsese), and Lion (Garth Davis)—you can look, if you like, in the Related Links section below for the Metacritic site for updated tallies on who’s getting what (with Moonlight [Barry Jenkins; review in our November 10, 2016 posting] recently taking the LA critics’ Best Picture win even as their NYC counterparts chose La La Land for that honor).  Yet, even with my invested-response to Nocturnal … I still have high respect for the heartfelt family dramas being worked out in so many different directions in Manchester …, a terrific film very likely to find itself in serious competition for many honors (which I support), even as I wish that Nocturnal ... had better options for more glory, but I'm sure its filmmakers will be ever-so-content with my lauded laurels.

 To put all of this into final perspective with my usual Musical Metaphor (to give another angle into the insights/viewing experiences/human understandings associated with this posting’s films under review), I’ll go with “Hurt,” the Johnny Cash version (from his 2002 American IV: The Man Comes Around album) at (although written by Trent Reznor for his 1994 Nine Inch Nails album The Downward Spiral) a video which won some awards as did Cash’s audio recording, although he changed an original lyric from “crown of shit” to “crown of thorns” to reflect his end-of-life-Christian-beliefs (Cash’s video came out in early 2003; he died that September), not seeing himself as some equivalent to Jesus as a savior, just someone in a great state of suffering who has to “hurt myself … To see if I still feel,” which seems to be Lee’s modus operandi in his bar fights, just as Susan’s “sweetest friend … Goes away in the end … Full of broken thoughts [she] can’t repair.”  I sense that both of them wish they “could start again A million miles away,” but all they can do is move forward on the road already taken, trying their best to not fall off into the ditch of further despair.  These aren’t easy films to watch, making them all the more valuable in a time of holiday diversion from an honest look back on the year’s many painful events* (including a horrible fire here in an Oakland warehouse which recently took the lives of dozens of people at a musical event happening in a dilapidated structure primed for tragedy but still giving shelter to artists not able to afford our constantly-rising-local-rents, driven by the glut of newly-minted-tech-industry-millionaires bringing gentrification all over the San Francisco Bay Area).

*One last comment on Nocturnal Animals: I saw it at the marvelous Vine Cinema & Alehouse in Livermore, CA (no payola for me [damn it!], just a plug for a wonderful place to watch films) where some of the cinematic harshness of this exceptional film was mellowed out by drinking a tasty porter while watching it; I’d recommend the same option if available to you viewing circumstances.

 And, one last item overall, I’m proud to say that Google statistics shows me today that for the 1st time ever our Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark blog site has topped the 25,000 unique-hits-mark within the last month so I thank all of you who’ve been reading what we (well, me; someday Pat Craig will also give us his thoughts, I’m sure of it) send out for regular global consumption (for now, USA readership is back on top—with 2,326 hits in the previous weekbut Russia’s gaining again with 2,100 as France has become a distance 3rd at 541, with other countries far below those [mostly in Europe, plus Canada] in the top 10, although some weeks we also get such places as Australia, Brazil, China, India, and the Philippines)Your feedback, of any sort, is always welcome.
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We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are too many of them to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 on this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2016’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 26, 2017 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2016 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions hard to reconcile at times as well as the frequent differences between 2016’s award-winners and box-office-successes (that you might want to monitor here), but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices are as valid as any of these others (despite diverging results), especially if you can offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out their ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

Here’s more information about Manchester by the Sea: (33:58 interview with director-screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan and actors Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges but the audio quality is at times very low on the folks from the film but fine on the interviewer; who in the hell engineers some of  these Q &A sessions? [In that sound engineer's defense, though, at other times the speakers don't hold their pics nearly close enough to their mouths when making their comments.])

Here’s more information about Nocturnal Animals: (32:36 interview with director Tom Ford and actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Aaron Taylor-Johnson)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

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