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Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Birth of a Nation (plus A Monster Calls and Patriots Day)

Keeping with the format I adopted last time, my review of the Birth of a Nation comes from Channel 24 and, exclusive to this blog, are another two films that released on Friday that deserve at least a mention. 

(Sorry this is a bit extremely late... holiday laziness...)


What it's about

The (mostly) true story of Nat Turner, the slave/ preacher who used his influence to incite a bloody uprising against slave owners in the American South.

What we thought

Despite intentionally “stealing back” its name from the groundbreaking but morally despicable 1915 D.W. Griffiths film, the Birth of a Nation mostly exists in the long shadow of 12 Years a Slave, the multiple-award-winning modern masterpiece that set a new bar for films about slavery. Sadly for it and its now infamous writer/ director/ star, Nate Parker, it doesn't come anywhere close to matching that film's emotional power, its complex intelligence or its quietly brilliant filmmaking.

This isn't quite to say that there's nothing to recommend about the the Birth of the Nation, as it is an admirably ambitious directorial debut for Parker and its depiction of the horrors of slavery are effective enough – though, it's actually the more subtle and mundane examples of such, rather than the more outwardly and shockingly barbaric, that are most memorable and powerfully drawn. The central and fatal problem, however, is that Parker both writes and directs the film with a bluntness and lack of subtlety that not only makes the film unconvincing as a drama but also utterly fails to do justice to a story that, in real life, was loaded with moral and historical complexity.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Manchester by the Sea

As you'll see, this is one of the more complicated high scores I've ever given.

This review is also at Channel 24

What it's about

After his brother dies, a broken, bitter man named Lee Chandler has to go back to his old hometown to look after his teenage nephew.

What we thought

Manchester By the Sea, for this reviewer at least, is a classic case of a film that is immensely admirable and yet all but impossible to even remotely like, let alone love. It's a film that has been nominated for countless awards and absolutely deservedly so as it is an exquisitely put together and flawlessly acted near-masterpiece – and I detested very nearly every moment of it.

This isn't so much like films that are impossible to enjoy because of their subject matter but are richly rewarding viewing experiences anyway (see Schindler's List, 12 Years a Slave) but more like something like Raging Bull – Martin Scorsese's 1980 tour de force that may be a true masterclass in filmmaking but its main character was such an unrepentant tool that spending even a minute in his company strained my patience and tolerance well beyond breaking point.

Even “objectively”, Manchester By the Sea isn't in the same class as Raging Bull as it is a far more meandering piece of work that never fully achieves its presumed goals but it's actually not a bad comparison. Both films are tough, unforgiving works whose main protagonists are so hard to sympathize with that even the most horrifically tragic things that befall them fail almost entirely to register at all. Casey Affleck is undeniably brilliant here but I hated his character with a passion that surprised me.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Middle School (And a Word or Two on Passengers and Hacksaw Ridge)

Middle School is most definitely not the movie that most people have been looking forward to this week. As such, here are a few thoughts on two of the week's truly noteworthy films.

As you may have guessed, my Middle School review can be also be found at Channel 24 but my thoughts on the other two films, no matter how short, are exclusive to Because Everybody Else Has One.

Man, I really should have come up with a shorter name for this blog, though...


Hacksaw Ridge is a potent reminder of both Mel Gibson's very real skill as a director of visceral, affecting, engrossing cinema (albeit cinema with all the subtlety of a very, very large sledgehammer) but it's also a reminder that it's not always easy to separate the artist from the art.

However much this may be Gibson's "repentance" movie where he makes up for his past sins by shining a spotlight on a genuine hero whose story absolutely deserves to be widely known, I couldn't help but be distracted by an underlying sense that something ugly lies beneath the surface of the film. I admit, had this not had Gibson's name attached to it, I would probably never even consider this but, is it just me, or is the basic gist of the film that World War II was about the ultimate battle between good, white Christian Americans and animalistic, heathen Japanese? Why did the Nazis and the rest of Europe not even deserve the smallest mention?

There are undoubtedly perfectly adequate in-story explanations for this as the film does centre on a specific American-Japanese battle and our hero does come from a small town where it's entirely possible that for him it really was all about the fact that the "Japs" attacked Pearl Harbor and not about a larger war against fascism. Plus, there's really little point in denying it, the Japanese were, by all reports, genuinely notoriously monstrous during the Second World War, which is why they adopted an anti-imperialistic national outlook after 1945 in much the same way that Germany embraced an inclusive, liberal and anti-fascist outlook that has persisted to today. For all I know, Gibson's intentions really were entirely pure with the film and he truly has put his ugly past behind him but I would be lying if I said these thoughts didn't cross my mind at various times throughout the film.