Movie(s) of the Week #12 (2017)

Not quite movie of the week but without competition, here’s a not quite original, but also a not quite horrible poster:

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Sunday

  • From a House on Willow Street (2017): Not having seen a horror movie in a while, FaHoWS got its chance to impress. As a genre-mash, wherein some fools kidnap a girl for ransom who turns out to be possessed, it started well enough. The build-up was swift, culminating with a couple of yelp-scares to warm me up. Unfortunately, as the movie progresses, the scares stay the same and the storyline becomes less convincing by the minute, with some rather conventional, if good looking, escalation scenes and gore. By the end, it feels like a bit of a mess, so I checked out early and got myself a candy bar. Had I missed the two minutes before the finale, I would’ve had a hard time understanding what was going on; not having missed them, it still didn’t make much sense, barring the obvious plot requirements. Shame, really, because in spite of its cliches and underwhelming acting at times, the visuals are great and Carlyn Burchell does a good demon-girl impression. 5/10

Movies of the Week #11 (2017)

I’m getting sloppier and sloppier. Typical.

Movie of the Week:

Toni Erdmann (2016)

tonierdmann

 

Monday

Hrútar (2015): The Icelandic movie about two brothers and some sheep proved darker than expected, yet serious to the bone as well. When Gummi loses against Kiddi (i.e. the two bro’s) in a local competition about who’s got the more impressive sheep – ram, actually – he takes it upon himself to investigate the well-being of his brother’s flock. I’m not quite sure whether it starts out as a ruse or whether his concerns are real, but Gummi reports to the authorities that some sheep might be infected with scrapie. Surprise, surprise, they actually turn out to be and the whole community is forced to sacrifice their sheep and take a two year hiatus from any sheep rearing- and they weren’t doing it as a hobby, either. While some decide to give up altogether, Kiddi refuses to comply and takes it out on Gummi, as their feud escalates. In its dry fashion, Hrutar is not devoid of humour, and keeps away from excessive sentimentality. Not the briskest experience in terms of pace, it might take a while to get into it, with rewarding results in the end. 7/10

Wednesday

Les saveurs du Palais (2012): In my chase of the foodies, watching a movie about former French president Mitterrand’s private cuisine slots in naturally. Framed contrastingly for the lead character, inspired-of-true-events Hortense Laborie, the story starts somewhere in the Arctic as a couple of Australian filmmakers try to squeeze some information out of Hortense, turned polar chef by choice. She might be unwilling to cooperate, but we get the whole story nonetheless – her call to the Élysée Palace, her authentic, French, the-way-my-grandmother-used-to-do-it cooking, her talks with the president, her struggle with bureaucracy. A lot if it is by the numbers, if well executed. The only reason the movie stands out is thanks to Catherine Frot’s performance of a not-quite-complete character. 6/10

Sunday

Toni Erdmann (2016): The synopsis of Toni Erdmann is preposterous: A practical joking father tries to reconnect with his hard working daughter by creating an outrageous alter ego and posing as her CEO’s life coach (IMDb). If anything, it’s not even preposterous enough to express what really goes on in the movie. As Winfried, aka Toni, surprise-visits his daughter Ines in Bucharest, where she does the usual pants-and-suit job for a consulting company, things escalate quickly from awkward family visit to absurdist bonanza. Toni Erdmann does two things exquisitely: flesh out a couple of characters on the brink of self-denial and set/frame them perfectly against expatriate corporate life in the quirkiness of Romania. The end result is a deeply personal, humorous, dissociated and yearnful existential ride into 21st century modernity. Just perfect. 9/10

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010): The Return of the GIFs

You know, people walk up to me on the street and ask: Tributary, why do you love the sappy, the immature, the stories of teenage wonderment? Is it because you missed out on them and are somehow trying to experience everything vicariously?

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Yes, it probably is.

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The epitome of my journey of missed adventures is Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Directed by Edgar Wright, *insert manly heart emoticons here*, it’s the only comic book adaptation I’ve ever been smitten with. In short, it tells of how Scott has to defeat seven evil exes of his to-be girlfriend in order to win her for himself. While not in the synopsis, but just as relevant, the movie also has Scott surpass his own insecurities and fears in a battle with himself – really, the ultimate battle.

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If ever one needed to use this word, one would describe SPvtW with it: quirky. Add to that the dose of self-consciousness and self-irony the movie is imbued with and you’ve got some strong points of reference. Even so, what sets Scott Pilgrim apart is its ability to express all this through both dialogue and visuals, with a spot-on soundtrack to patch anything that requires patching. A lot of that has to do with Wright’s zippy editing and its use to create a very particular kind of visual/narrative humour – because stories about the love struggle are a dime a dozen. Equally, though, it’s important to me that Scott Pilgrim feels so real, because he’s not an all around nice guy just desperately waiting for the (literal) girl of his dreams.

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When things come together, they come together all around and the cast assembled for SPvtW is perhaps surprisingly high-calibre. The standout is Kieran Culkin, playing Scott’s gay roommate Wallace, who brings a lot of cynicism to Scott’s aloofness. One of my favourite lines comes about when Wallace ‘comforts’ Scott over the perspective of coming in second best:

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And one could argue that is objectively true, even if all the exes are caricatures of what our own psyche makes us think those who came before us must have been like. There’s a lot of interplay between the literal and the figurative, which really defines what dating and relationships come down to. Ultimately, there’s also a question of fit and choice between people – to which extent you can and have to consider lovers as homogeneous beings, rather than composites. The conclusion to the movie lends itself to different outcomes, which were actually filmed and included as alternate endings. It’s just that our investment throughout goes into one character, making it a simple choice in the end.

Wright is fantastic in that his style is easily identifiable,  yet not overbearing. Whether you spend time with Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), The Worlds’ End  (2013) (a.k.a. The Cornetto Trilogy), with Scott Pilgrim or with the ever-delightful series that sort of started it all, Spaced (1999), you’ll feel his presence. That in itself is not so surprising, but the consistent freshness of everything he’s done so far truly impresses me. Just watch them all!

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I love Scott because he’s so contrary and silly and that’s what I hope to grow up to be some day.

*****

Movies of the Week #10 (2017)

Slow, slow week once more, in what is shaping up to be quite the Spring-slump. It happens all the time, after a strong year debut, one-movie-a-day kind, life sets in, questions bubble to the surface (why am I here, what am I doing, what the heck was Primer (2004) about?) and movie-watching grinds to a halt. What can you do?

Movie of the Week:

I, Daniel Blake (2016)

i daniel blake

Tuesday

  • I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017): Why not start the day with a piece on societal revenge of the underdogs? In a movie that’s thematically related to God Bless America (2011), but less mayhem-y and more focused, Netflix has produced a relevant and memorable story. When Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) gets burgled and receives little to no help from the police, she sets out to track the purported criminals herself, using her laptop tracker. In her aid comes Tony (Elijah Wood), a more than slightly asocial fellow who empathizes with Ruth’s cause and also is eager to vent his anger. The temptation is to say that the movie is about taking a stand at the arrogance of those who have too much, which might be true, but it applies generally to just defending decency. With two forlorn and depressed central character, IDFaHiTWA (haha) brings this across well, as they overcome their apathy and timidness in the face of the brutish and bullish. It’s the manner in which this contrast to the sensitivity of Ruth and Tony is portrayed that makes the movie feel relevant and true. 7/10

Wednesday

  • Aliens (1986): There I was, planning to watch some Barcelona misery, only to realize my provider didn’t broadcast the game. Instead, I flicked through the channels and caught the opening credits of Aliens, which, you guessed it, I love. The only reason it’s not the MotW is because I’m trying to be mature and relevant, for a change. There’s so much I could comment on that makes Aliens a joy to watch, one of the best sequels ever made and a trove of snippy comments and snarky one-liners, that I wouldn’t know where to begin. So instead all I’m going to write is that, for me, Aliens matters not so much because it created an oft-used template for action-loaded creature features, but due to the breadth with which it develops on the foundation of the original. A lot of the time it feels like you’re in it with a bunch of friends. 9/10

Sunday

  • I, Daniel Blake (2016): The latest Ken Loach film is a heartbreaking tale of the Sisyphean struggle with the bureaucracies of the social welfare system. Daniel Blake, recovering from a massive heart attack, is told by his doctors that he cannot work, yet a less qualified bureaucrat deems him ineligible for financial assistance following a dire, standardized phone interview. Getting an appeal through on this decision appears arbitrary and hopeless, while the effort required to seek jobs which the man cannot even perform becomes a Kafkaesque task in order to receive some unemployment benefits. In spite of this bleak outline, feeling like quite a load, the movie is caustically humorous a lot of the time and deeply humane in approaching its characters. What makes it really shine is its conviction and how it finds nuance in unexpected moments, for better and for worse. If I am to have a gripe, it’s because of a lack of subtlety and the odd scenes where Loach is dogmatically demonstrative. But, really, I, Daniel Blake is pretty special. 9/10

Movies of the Week #9 (2017)

There was more than a bit of surprise during last week’s Oscars proceedings, with the kind of surprise being more surprising than the surprise itself. After the right people came on stage to take the big prize, Best Picture, for Moonlight (2016), things came back to normal – and by normal I also mean this echo chamber experience that is Hollywood.

Movie of the Week:

Ana, mon amour (2017)

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Monday

  • Moonlight (2016): Catching up on my Best Picture winner ASAP was an inevitability. With universal acclaim, the film has found room on almost all top ten lists for the year and it’s plain to see why. All around, there is little in terms of faults one can throw at it, given that it stands out through anti-stereotypical characters and smooth, intelligent cinematic construction. As we follow Chiron’s evolution, it’s easy to see in him a reflection of certain expectations and norms, given the precarious background he comes from, the bullying, the loneliness. The mimetic dimension of his character is beautifully conveyed, especially in the portrayal of his twenties, when he goes under the nickname of Black. Identity is equally precarious and precious and Moonlight tells a compelling story about it. However, I found it difficult to emote with the earlier parts of the film, as it seemed…culturally foreign, somehow. This is a silly thing to say, I’ve seen so many movies about realities I knew nothing about, but Moonlight was, perhaps, too American in its social themes and undercurrents for me to instantly latch onto it. Maybe the matter isn’t even about the movie being American, I’m not sure. Towards the end, I was almost on board, but it took longer than expected. Hey, whatever, don’t listen to me, I can barely articulate my criticism, just watch it because of how well it tells a story elliptically. 7/10

Thursday

  • Ana, mon amour (2017): And talking of elliptical stories, here’s another one: Netzer’s follow-up to the excellent Child’s Pose (2013) shares some elements with its precursor, but takes a different angle to the emotional roots and psychological ties of family life. A complex and layered film, it is framed in the present, but plays with the chronology of events to suit its thematic anchors: how relationships shape their protagonists and create inherent tension, abiding by no morality punch-card. While pertinent and polished in its construction, I found it hard to stay connected emotionally, especially as the characters evolve elliptically and the change in their dynamic feels abrupt. The full review here7/10

Saturday

  • Logan (2017): I managed to trick my mother into going to watch Logan with me (it’s rated over 8 on IMDb! over 90% on Rottentomatoes!), although not even I had seen the last two movies in the X-Men franchise. It didn’t really matter, of course, as Logan ends up being a grim, occasionally brutal superhero flick that covers its bases well and is anchored by Hugh Jackman’s grumpy McGrumpinson of a character. I do wonder if I’ll ever really like another comic book movie again, especially in regards to these blockbusters that are being churned out with agreeable competence, but no distinctive features. Logan does get close at times to being different, especially in its first half, before stretching the action out for too long, and just about recovering to seal the franchise with solemnity. 7/10

Ana, mon amour (2017): The Relationship Hive Mind

Netzer’s follow-up to the excellent Child’s Pose (2013) shares some elements with its precursor, but takes a different angle to the emotional roots and psychological ties of family life. A complex and layered film, it is framed in the present, but plays with the chronology of events to suit its thematic anchors: how relationships shape their protagonists and create inherent tension, abiding by no morality punch-card. While pertinent and polished in its construction, I found it hard to stay connected emotionally, especially as the characters evolve elliptically and the change in their dynamic feels abrupt.

anamonamour

Our couple is Toma and Ana, two lovers who meet during university and, more than anything, fall into a relationship. They are both cultured individuals and complete each other well, as Ana suffers from anxiety attacks and Toma is seemingly always there to support her. The movie proceeds to take us through the usual familial meet and greets, which prove traumatic and lay the groundworks for all the ensuing/existing psychological trauma. Those scenes have a sense of caricature about them, with ‘traditional’ values of partner screening proving funny and harrowing at the same time. But they prove to be just pieces of an ambitious human puzzle, which ends up taking us down an exploratory route devoid of superfluous emotion.

As an aside, some people in the cinema were taken aback by the explicitness of a sex scene, which I would rather deem justified, due to the Freudian aspects of Netzer’s approach – and a meaningful character-building moment.

The attention to detail in fleshing out Ana and Toma provides the characters with a lot of depth. They are, as one would say, profoundly human in their imperfections and the manner in which this comes to the surface as their relationship evolves feels very true. The movie puts psychoanalysis at its core, turning it into an indirect plot device, which sometimes looks like a black box. More important though is how Ana and Toma react to change, in particular to Ana’s gradual self-empowerment (thanks to a mixture of religion and psychoanalysis), which fundamentally alters Toma’s role as ‘the saviour’. It all becomes a matter of identity, of shaping and losing it, as defined by relationship roles, rather than intrinsic traits. Quite interestingly, the first scene finds the protagonists discussing Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil – the subjugation of morality to Christian dogma and the idea that good and evil are not quite opposites. By the end of the film, the overwhelming sense of some moral misappropriation between Ana and Toma can and, perhaps, should be seen through this lens, with no clear distinctions at hand for who is in the right and who might have been wronged.

While all this is intense and fascinating stuff, the chronological structure creates a bridge I couldn’t cross. On the one hand, the technical execution of the to and fro was handled well – it’s impressive how different degrees of a receding hairline can create a sense of time. Although some nuances are lost, that ends up challenging the viewer and keeping him engaged. On the other hand, because of gaps in time, Ana is difficult to grasp. She becomes a completely different person, which goes so far as her accent changing, and due to the elliptical nature of the story, she also feels emotionally like a third character in the relationship. Whereas Toma is more consistent throughout, Ana is fractured, making her feel foreign and inauthentic.

This is part of the reason why the second half of the film lost some momentum. Upon its conclusion, which tries a little twist and then goes one mile too far by trying to explain it, I wasn’t engaged any more. It’s a shame, because there is so much pain and sacrifice in Ana, Mon Amour that it really makes love feel like penance and weaves an exquisite psychological pattern to justify the claim. For the exploration it undertakes in what drives the two lead characters, both so well portrayed by Postelnicu and Cavallioti, it is commendable.

***

Movies of the Week #8 (2017)

I planned to watch my remaining Oscar contenders this week and make some informed choices. Not that it matters, we all know La La Land (2016) will sweep them – with merit. Instead, I went down memory lane again and compensated my dietary restrictions with food on (junk) film. Additionally, I found myself at a restaurant boasting an open kitchen, sat just across from the counter where all the orders I couldn’t eat were being readied. Awesome!

Two diametrically opposed movies for MotW, because you don’t argue with nostalgia.

Movies of the Week: Trainspotting (1996) / Il Postino (1994)

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Tuesday

  • Burnt (2015): Every man, woman and child needs to get a required dose of food porn a quarter. Burnt delivers just that, with a macho, do-it-all lead, portrayed by Bradley Cooper, who is searching for his third Michelin star after a self-imposed hiatus, the span of cleaning one million oysters. Although panned by critics, most will still begrudgingly accept that the movie is more fun than it deserves to be. I agree with the latter assertion, and was only really bothered by one pivotal set-up that’s both predictable and underwhelming. Also, it would have been worth capturing my face when I recognized a particular musical piece, originating from Donnie Darko (2001). Yum. 6/10
  • Jackie (2016): The only contender I did watch, turned out to be this rather unusual movie about Jackie Kennedy, portraying the former first lady of the US in and around the hours of the assassination. She didn’t grow on me with ease, yet I found myself fascinated by the inner tension the protagonist provided. The whole affair feels really tight around your neck, severe, austere and vulnerable, just like Jackie herself in those hours and days. I adore Natalie Portman, so naturally I ended up fawning over her. Nonetheless, something felt amiss, a higher purpose, a side of transcendence perhaps, to go with the combination of patriotic despair and political squalor. 7/10
  • Passengers (2016): How bad could it really be, right? God-awful bad, that’s how bad. It hurt my brains, really it did. Resident Evil bad! Right, get a grip. The movie has no personality at all, just like the interior aesthetics of the colonial spaceship carrying five thousand plus souls to a planet 130 light-years away. When a pod containing Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) misfires and wakes the man up some ninety years before the due date, an interesting premise is established. A few minutes and a montage or two later, things get really controversial, as Jim, overcome by solitude, starts chillin’ like a villain with Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence, but, seriously, that name!) and they have sex at some point. Oh, sorry, spoiler alert. Then the ever deteriorating ship starts choking up, a new plot element is introduced to solve the unsolvable situation our heroes find themselves in, and, surprise, all ends reasonably well. Except if you start wondering about some of the practicalities of what you’ve just seen or try to give a crap about a by-the-numbers romance in space. I kinda wanted to like this, me fawning over JLaw as well, but failed miserably. Shame on me. And shame on those who wrote this stuff. 4/10

Thursday

  • Trainspotting (1996): Having decided to indulge on some T2 the following day, a revisit of the original was required. One of my favourite movies back in the early 00s, Trainspotting has aged reasonably well, although the flair of drug-induced, over-narrated stories is not quite as popular now. Danny Boyle does a great job in offering an aggressively paced portrayal of a group of heroin addicted friends at their lowest, smacking hard at anything that moves, with consumerism and stifling societal expectations bearing the brunt of things for the first half of the film, as the latter repositions itself on more of an existential skewering of its protagonist(s). Some of the shockingly gross and deplorable moments haven’t lost their kick, with the descent into a toilet bowl full of diarrhea in search of the excrements containing two narcotic suppositories still amongst my favourites. Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. I think I’m still working on these. 9/10

Friday

  • T2 Trainspotting (2017): It was an almost impossible task for Boyle to come close to what he delivered in the original, since Trainspotting was about the disengaged, drug-riddled youth and its pursuit for instant gratification – and now all the characters found themselves in their forties. It’s much harder to be riveting, sharp and incisive about middle age. T2 feels like a film without a voice, especially in contrast to its predecessor. It’s competent enough and has some good moments, but mostly feels insignificant. The meta-nostalgia line that Boyle & co try to walk didn’t win me over, quite the opposite in fact. And whereas Trainspotting also offered some really sweet tunes of the 90s, anchoring it even more in the groveling depths of the decade, T2 lacks the same definition. It doesn’t help that the storyline is unimaginative, or that the characters are dull. Just sitting there in the cinema, getting all emotional and whatnot, I got a sense of something I am not used to – anger. Anger that such a banal sequel was allowed to exist. 5/10

Saturday

  • Il Postino (1994): For a cozy dinner with friends, I had to impromptu change my Oscar viewing choice when one of our group declared to have seen them all. I had rewatched bits of Il Postino a few weeks back and felt like indulging once more in the fictional story of Pablo Neruda’s (Philippe Noiret) real-life exile in Italy and his friendship with Mario Ruoppolo (Massimo Troisi), the local postman. Ruoppolo is a person with little education who somehow intuitively manages to connect with Neruda’s poetry. The dream-like fairytale is framed by a distinguished musical score and Massimo Troisi’s spectacular performance in the leading role. While it might come across as overcooked for some, Troisi’s portrayal demands empathy, with no pretensions and soapy lines of self-enlightenment. It feels natural and believable or, rather, he feels natural and believable. The fact that Troisi himself tragically passed away of a heart attack a mere twelve hours after filming was finished tucks on your heartstrings and completes the romantic tragedy. Michael Radford has produced a truly gentle movie about our connection with writing in general and poetry in particular. It comes to show that just last week, at a book presentation, one of the authors told a story of a train meet-up with a fellow who used to work as a station attendant, where he spent most of his time reading poetry. There’s something there and whatever it is, Il Postino captures an expression thereof. 9/10

Movies of the Week #7 (2017)

Jumping down the artsy Berlinale ladder means dipping my toes into Oscar contenders and another Schwarzenegger classic. For a change, I have a hard time picking the movie of the week. I’ll go with Manchester by the Sea, because it hits so many right notes and the characters are pretty great and I’m pretentious, but at the antithesis of it I could have gone with John Wick: Chapter 2, a hell of an action romp with the character depth equal to Keanu’s acting chops.

Movie of the Week:

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

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Wednesday

  • Lion (2016): Sad to say, I’m not quite feeling Lion. The story of Saroo, an Indian boy living at the wrong side of the poverty line with his mother and brother, starts out portraying their struggle for survival, the day to day grittiness of the kind of work no child should have to do. Then poor Saroo gets stuck on a train, is freighted around the country for a while, to the extent that nobody can help him find home again. Ultimately, he gets adopted by a family in Australia and after growing up to be a real hunk, starts to seriously contemplate finding his mother and brother again. What irked me more than anything was the weird pacing of the movie, with most of the time spent in what I would have considered early exposition (the getting lost part), and less time on the complexities of adapting to a new family and the search itself. It just didn’t work, the character felt detached and the resolution didn’t carry an emotional punch. Underdeveloped secondary characters didn’t help either, and it all stems from the way the movie is structured. The cinematography is the best thing Lion has going for it. 6/10

Friday

  • Red Heat (1988): I was worried for a second I might need to justify rating a six-times Oscar nominated movie as highly/lowly as an 80s cop-comedy with Arnold passing off an Austrian interpretation of an American interpretation of a Russian accent. Thankfully, in spite of its charm and a bunch of ridiculous scenes that are worth spending some time with this Walter Hill movie, I couldn’t overlook numerous bland attempts at humour and a profoundly unlikable turn by Jim Belushi. And Rocky 4 did the whole American-Soviet thing better, which is saying a lot. 5/10

Saturday

  • John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017): John. Watson. Oh, you don’t remember? It’s fine, I had no recollection of the first part either, but a mention of a dog triggered something fuzzy. The second part picks up immediately after the first ended, as Wick turns up to recover his treasured vehicle and even shows a willingness for reconciliation. Then some dude knocks on his door with a pledge thing, forcing the man to go do some dirty work – not before an initial rejection, leading to the torching of Wick’s home. The execution is viciously cool, self-reflectively over-the-top and a lot of fun, which is why this whole thing works. Great editing and a proper musical theme set up a distinctive vibe in the moments of flow, during all the commotion and the countless head-shots – and not the daguerreian kind. Keanu Reeves, for all his blandness, is managed well, required to reproduce mostly concise lines of dialogue, delivered with angry aplomb. But where the movie stands out is in the world-building, which becomes apparent towards the end, as the whole scope of this secret man-hunting agency comes to the fore. The intricate system is all-encompassing and bears a weary sense of ‘wow, was this curtain here all long’? What’s even better is how seamlessly it forms as the story – excuse me, action unfolds, with it suddenly being absolutely normal by the end. Pretty awesome. 8/10

Sunday

  • Manchester by the Sea (2016): It’s only director Lonergan’s third directing job, but his writing chops have been on display in a few well regarded movies, like Gangs of New York (2002) and the highly accomplished You Can Count on Me (2000) (see what I did there?). You couldn’t necessarily say so after watching Manchester by the Sea, which is not only written with almost profound deftness, but also carries you away in the midst of a tight community where forgetting is hard. It proves hardest for the lead, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), who has to return home after his brother’s passing and sort out things for the family and his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). The characters are just great, with the rapport between Lee and Patrick especially touching. Unfortunately, a lot of the limelight is directed towards Michelle Williams, because it makes commercial sense and, sure, the three scenes she’s in are good – and she’s good too. Yet, for me, her character was not among the most exciting ones – or, rather, it was exciting, but for what wasn’t on screen, which also goes to underline how well what is on screen resonates. I wonder why I haven’t fallen in love with the movie and I’m not sure I have the answer, but it’s really solid and personal and real – and there’s no reason to begrudge it any of the attention it’s been getting. 8/10