"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

The Old Man and the Gun: A Review

MV5BOTk3NjU5MjIxM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjU0OTU2NTM@._V1_.jpg

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. No need to see this rather dull and insipid bit of psuedo-nostalgia in the theatre, but if you stumble across it on cable feel free to watch it if you want…it is entirely harmless and toothless…which is what is wrong with it in the first place.

The Old Man and the Gun, written and directed by David Lowery, is the ‘mostly’ true story of Forest Tucker, a career bank robber. The film stars Robert Redford as Forest, with supporting turns from Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover and Tom Waits.

I like David Lowery as a director, I don’t think he is Scorsese or Kubrick or Malick, but he is an interesting filmmaker. I found Lowery’s last venture, A Ghost Story, to be a really daring art house film which is one of the reasons why I was excited to see Lowery’s latest project The Old Man and the Gun. Even the graphics for the advertisements and trailer of the movie were intriguing to me, as they had the look and feel of a 1970’s Robert Redford movie, most of which were pretty darn good.

And so, I headed to the theatre hopeful that Lowery and Redford had recreated some of the movie star’s 1970’s magic in what could very well be his last film. Sadly, The Old Man and the Gun does not live up to its premise, its collection of talent or even its marketing.

The Old Man and the Gun is the flimsiest of nothing-burgers that is so devoid of substance and drama that it plays more like a 90 minute commercial for itself than an actual cinematic experience

Unknown-1.jpeg

The Old Man and the Gun is a shockingly dull and derivative affair, and it is a remarkably mainstream enterprise considering the director’s last picture bent space and time while starring a ghost with a sheet over his head and was highlighted by a women compulsively eating a whole pie in a single take.

The Old Man and the Gun is, to put it as bluntly as I can, nothing more than an old person movie in every single way. Old people love seeing movies about old people…especially old people doing un-old people things like robbing banks (such as 1979’s Goin’ in Style or the 2017 remake) or being astronauts (Space Cowboys) or something equally moronic. Old people will love this movie because it is a lot like them in that it has no teeth and moves real slow. Old people will like this movie because it is little more than an hour and a half of watching Robert Redford be charming…oh and Sissy Spacek be charming too…and, like prunes and Matlock, old people like that sort of thing.

The most damning thing I can say about this film, or any film really, is that there is not a single real or genuine moment in this entire movie. Everything in this maddeningly unsatisfying film is manufactured horseshit that feels more at home in a Lifetime movie or on the Hallmark channel.

Robert Redford is an often under-appreciated actor, and it wasn’t just his 1970’s heyday that highlighted his talents, as his work in 2013’s All Is Lost was also a reminder of his stellar ability. But in The Old Man and the Gun, Redford looks and feels every bit his 82 years and has most definitely lost a step. Redford matches the listless pace of the film and coasts through the movie on “charm autopilot” from start to finish.

While Redford is most definitely charming, his Forest Tucker character is not even remotely a real human being, even though he is based on a real person. The film never sheds any light into the real Forest, preferring to skim the surface and play things for cutesy shits and giggles.

Redford and Lowery had a chance to really create something special with Forest Tucker, to dig into the character and unearth his soul, but instead they chose to take the safe and easy route and make a entirely forgettable film.

Unknown-6.jpeg

One of the foundational problems with the movie is that Lowery’s script, like his direction, is tepid and flaccid. There are numerous opportunities to explore deeply dramatic and relevant themes throughout the story, such as Casey Affleck’s character, Det. John Hunt, and his interracial marriage in early 1980’s Texas, or the darker side of a sweet-talker like Forest Tucker who makes his living committing armed robberies, but Lowery ignores these things and instead chooses to make a stultifying elderly romance.

None of the talent assembled for this movie is able to overcome the insipid script or their under-written characters, as Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Sissy Spacek and Tom Waits all give rather rote and lethargic performances.

The Old Man and the Gun is a dead-eyed failure of a film because it is only about the Old Man and not his Gun or his relationship with his Gun, and on top of that the Old Man has no scars, no wounds and ultimately no soul. The film suffers terribly because of its decision to focus on the vapid, the vacuous and the shallow.

Unknown-7.jpeg

Towards the end of the film, Lowery gives us a montage of Forest Tucker and his history of breaking out of prison. It is the only remotely interesting thing in the entire movie and that is because that sequence is basically an homage to Robert Redford’s career and a tip of the cap to his monumental filmography.

If you really want to pay tribute to the great actor and movie star Robert Redford, go watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jeremiah Johnson, The Candidate, Three Days of the Condor, All the President’s Men, The Natural or All Is Lost and stay aware from the insidiously vacant and nostalgically saccharine The Old Man and the Gun.

©2018




A Ghost Story : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SEE IT IN THE THEATRE.  A warning : This is an art house film, if your tastes run to the more conventional, you will probably hate this movie. You've been forewarned!

There is an old story, I think it is about legendary producer Robert Evans, that recounts a Hollywood big wig wanting to re-make Moby Dick, but this time...from the whale's perspective. I kept thinking of that as I watched writer/director David Lowery's mesmerizing A Ghost Story. Don't be deceived, A Ghost Story is not a horror film, although it has moments of creepiness, rather it is a ghost story, but this time...from the ghost's perspective. 

The film is not your typical ghost story in that it is more a meditation on the nature of time, place, existence and grief. As someone who has suffered the relentless slings and arrows that accompany the unexpected death of a loved one, I can say that A Ghost Story acts as an intriguing philosophical salve that cools the hot wounds of being forced to contemplate the fragility of life and our own impending mortality. This theme must be in the forefront of the collective unconscious at the moment because other great artists besides director David Lowery have recently made films that touch upon this subject. Both Olivier Assayas with his fantastic Personal Shopper and the enigmatic Terence Malick with Song to Song have delved into the depths of our existential despair and discovered dramatic treasure, and so it is with Lowery and A Ghost Story.

A Ghost Story stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, both of whom give impeccable performances. Following up on her stellar work in Terence Malick's Song to Song, Mara does masterful work as "M" opposite Affleck's "C". Mara is blessed with the ability to draw viewers in to her character's private world while at the same time appearing to be impenetrable to the those around her.

Rooney Mara is an actress at the top of her game and may be the best actress on the planet at the moment. She is an utter joy to behold in this film, where her master of craft is on full display. She doesn't have much dialogue, but she fills every moment with a specificity and attention to detail that render her work riveting, bordering on the hypnotic. She fills the screen and her character with such clear intentions that there are no wasted movements or moments. Most actors struggle when they don't have words to say, but Mara has proven herself to be an exquisite artist who never succumbs to the alluring temptation to creatively meander.

There is one moment in particular from Mara that resonated with me. The moment occurs right before the "pie scene" that has gotten so much attention on the internet. In the lead up to that scene, Mara throws something away, and then she takes a short beat and actually looks into the garbage can. In the hands of a lesser talent, that moment never would have occurred, but with Rooney Mara, she made a distinct choice and it filled a rather mundane moment with intrigue and artistry. You can't help but watch the scene and wonder…what is in the garbage can? What is she seeing and what does it mean to her? And when coupled with the context of the narrative at that moment, it makes for quite compelling cinema.

Casey Affleck also gives a strong performance, which is remarkable considering the circumstances he is working under. Affleck, coming off his Best Actor Oscar, looks to be an actor who is willing to take chances and commit himself fully to even the most challenging of artistic visions. He, like Mara, never wastes a single moment on screen, and fills his silence with a powerful and tangible humanity that can be both chilling and heartening, but never fails to captivate.

As for the film itself, director David Lowery proves himself to be a unique filmmaker. He is certainly influenced by his fellow Texan, Terence Malick, but that influence never falls into creative sycophancy. Lowery is not the virtuoso talent of Malick, but like Malick he embraces silence and stillness in his films, and philosophical topics in his stories. The other thing that Lowery and Malick share is an artistic courage and comfort outside the mainstream. 

What I liked the most about A Ghost Story is maybe what other people will like the least about it, namely that it has a deliberate pace and uses long, slow takes in order to let the drama and the characters unfold in a sometimes painful, but always interesting, way. It is rare to find directors with the confidence to let the camera keep rolling for sometimes excruciatingly long scenes, but Lowery successfully coaxes viewers into the story with this technique. It is also difficult to find actors who are comfortable with that style of directing, but Lowery succeeded in the casting room by getting two phenomenal artists to sign on to play the parts.

There is one scene in the film which may be the best scene I have witnessed this entire year. It is a monologue, and in a film with very little dialogue it stands out not only for its verbosity but for its intellectual eloquence. This monologue is at once an existential wail into the abyss and also a vivid clarion call to life. The monologue also sums up the philosophical underpinnings of the film, which are fascinating to say the least and will resonate with any human who has ever contemplated their own existence. 

In conclusion, A Ghost Story is a wonderfully original piece of work from director David Lowery, that boasts sublime and meticulous performances from Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. A Ghost Story is in execution and intention an art house film through and through, so if your tastes tend toward the more mainstream, you will not only dislike this movie, but loathe it. But if you are an adventuresome cinephile or someone who has carried the cross of intense personal grief, or both, A Ghost Story is well worth your time and hard earned money, and I highly recommend you make the effort to see it in the theatre. 

©2017

Manchester by the Sea : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 14 seconds

My Rating : 3 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : See it on Netflix or Cable

Manchester by the Sea, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, is the the story of Lee Chandler, a janitor in Quincy, Massachusetts, who must return to his hometown of Manchester by the Sea, in order to take care of things after his older brother dies. The film stars Casey Affleck as Lee, with notable supporting turns from Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges. 

Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler

Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler

At its heart, Manchester by the Sea is more a character study than a narrative driven film. As a character study it does well, but sadly as a compelling narrative it doesn't measure up. The best part of the film without question are the performances of Casey Affleck and Michele Williams. Affleck is an underrated actor who has turned in some remarkable performances in the past, most notably his exquisite portrayal of Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Affleck's work in Manchester by the Sea is contained, genuine and confident. Affleck allows silences to work for him and never pushes to hard for a pre-ordained result. 

The problem with Affleck's performance, and with the film as a whole, is that the character Lee Chandler, is not a unique or original one. Chandler is yet another emotionally repressed and remote Boston guy with a quick wit who expresses himself exclusively with his fists and only after he's had a few beers. I think with Manchester by the Sea we have officially hit Peak Boston. In addition to last years Oscar winner Spotlight, we've also had Black Mass, The Town, The Fighter, Ted, Gone Baby Gone, The Departed, Shutter Island, Mystic River, and Good Will Hunting just to name a few. I enjoyed many of those films a great deal, but enough already. Lee Chandler is just an extension of a thousand other Boston movie tough guys with limited emotional intelligence but who have wicked shahp tongues, hahts of gold and fists of fury. Affleck brings this all too often seen character to life with great skill, but that doesn't make it any less predictable and tiresome.

My Funky Bunch will get you!!

My Funky Bunch will get you!!

Having spent a great deal of time in Boston I can tell you that I have never met a real-life Lee Chandler (or the thousand other Boston movie tough guys), he might as well be a unicorn who poops rainbows. This Boston tough guy unicorn has dominated much of popular culture for the last twenty years or so, but that doesn't make it true. While everyone in Boston may think of themselves as tough guys, they sure as hell aren't. Yes, there are most definitely some tough guys in Boston, without a doubt, but certainly not more than anywhere else, and at this point I think there are more movies about tough guys from Boston than there are actual tough guys in Boston. What I think Boston has more than anywhere else are insecure guys with inferiority complexes who wish they were tough, so they write tough guy characters as wish fulfillment. Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Mark Wahlberg have made careers out of playing the Boston tough guy unicorn. Good for them, they have done it well. Sandy Duncan made a career out of playing Peter Pan, but that doesn't make him real either.  

Tough guy Brothers!! Wahlbergs in da house!!

Tough guy Brothers!! Wahlbergs in da house!!

Think of it this way, New Englanders fanatically love their sports teams, and there are lots of sports commentators and writers that hail from Boston, hell most of ESPN is from Boston. You know what doesn't come from Boston, or all of New England for that matter? Professional athletes. New England produces lots of people who talk and write about sports, but not many who excel at them. The statistics are pretty amazing. If you take the populations of Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island and add them together it comes to 11,136,698, which makes New England the 8th most populous "state" in the U.S. If you look at the number of professional athletes that come out of New England, the region terribly underperforms compared to its population rate. For instance, there are currently 11 NFL players from New England which ranks them 34th out of 46 states(46 instead of 50 since you combine the New England states into one) which is well below their population rank of 8. There are 6 NBA players from New England, which ranks 21st out of 46 states, again well below their population rank. And there are 13 MLB players which ranks 12th, much better comparatively, but still below their population rank. And you can't blame the lack of athletes on the cold weather either, as a state like Minnesota which has about half the population of New England, at 5.5 million, outperforms New England in two of the three major sports (NFL 20, NBA 7, MLB 6). Why am I rambling on about professional sports and New England in a review of Manchester by the Sea? Well, because the same thing holds true for tough guys…Boston produces a lot of guys who talk and write about being tough guys, but not a lot of actual tough guys. Which is why, after all my time in Boston, I have never met a Lee Chandler…or a Will Hunting, or a whatever tough guy little Marky Mark Wahlberg is pretending to be this week.

Michelle Williams as Randi

Michelle Williams as Randi

You know who I have met? A Randi, Lee Chandler's wife played by Michelle Williams. William's portrayal is so great that she gets completely lost within it. Her accent is spot on and never forced or mannered. Her character is so well done that you feel like you know her personally. Williams is one of the best actresses working today and her work in Manchester by the Sea is a testament to her glorious talent and sublime skill. Her Randi is so real and so human that it hurts to watch her even as she luminously lights up the screen. Williams allows Randi to hide in plain sight, making her a marvel to behold.

Lucas Hedges does a good job as well as Lee's 16 year old nephew. Hedges plays the awkward coolness of adolescence with a bravado and innocence that suits the character and the story very well. I am not very familiar with Hedge's work, but am looking forward to seeing what else he does after his solid performance in Manchester by the Sea

Sadly, the entirety of the other supporting actors, including Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol and Matthew Broderick, as well as the smaller roles, are really not good at all, in fact, they are distractingly bad. The supporting actors try to hit the Boston accent just right, but they either hit it too hard or they hit the wrong note with it. Look, the Boston accent is a difficult one for non-natives to master, even two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks has embarrassed himself on numerous occasions trying to do one, but that doesn't mean it isn't crucial to the film. Whenever you hear a bad accent it takes you out of the movie going experience. You are reminded once more that what you are watching is fake and your suspension of disbelief gets broken. Chandler and Mol are both very good actors, Chandler's work on Friday Night Lights and Mol's on Boardwalk Empire and in The Notorious Betty Page are monuments to that, but in Manchester by the Sea they are overwhelmed by the accent and are never able to ground their performances in any sort of truth. 

At the end of the day, Manchester but the Sea is a decent enough film, but not nearly as great as it thinks it is. The film has an air of art house hype and arrogance to it that it never lives up to. While Affleck's performance kept me captivated for two hours, and Michelle Williams kept me enthralled for the entirety of her brief screen time, the film itself lacks that sort of artistic charisma due to a shortage of originality. 

Casey Affleck and Luke Hedges

Casey Affleck and Luke Hedges

I recommend you see the film on Netflix or cable in order to witness firstly, Michelle Williams outstanding supporting acting and secondly Casey Affleck's layered lead performance. Another positive for the film is that it also has the scenery of the New England coastline as its background which is gorgeous to look at and is beautifully shot, and adds a picture post card setting to counter Affleck's inner demons, of that there is no doubt. While I didn't hate Manchester by the Sea, I also wasn't deeply moved or artistically impressed by it either. It is a middle of the road film buoyed by two strong performances. Unless you are itching for a night out, in my opinion you can wait for the film to show up on Netflix or cable before seeing it. 

And maybe, just maybe, since with Manchester by the Sea we have undoubtedly hit Peak Boston, the center of the cultural universe can now shift slightly further west to some other city with a deep seeded insecurity and inferiority complex…maybe to Philadelphia, although they had Rocky, or Baltimore, although they had The Wire, or Pittsburgh, or Cleveland or…Toledo…anywhere but Boston. Enough already with the Boston thing. With Manchester by the Sea we have officially reached market saturation of Boston-ness, it may have been fun while it lasted but I think it's time to move on. Goodbye Boston…hello Buffalo?

©2016