Both Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester By the Sea” and Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” have earned all kinds of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. And “The Gate,” a 1987 supernatural horror film, should have won every Oscar ever made, including that little one they gave to Shirley Temple.
All three movies are currently, or just a few days away from being released on Bluray. Click the titles below for Amazon purchase links.
Manchester By the Sea (2016)
Denzel Washington (“Fences”) and “Manchester By the Sea” star Casey Affleck are currently in a death struggle for the Best Actor Oscar, and as much as I love me some Denzel, my vote goes to Affleck. This has nothing to do with the fact that Denzel has already won two well-deserved Oscars, or the fact that in “The Assassination of Jesse James” (2007) Affleck was robbed of the Gold after delivering the best performance we have so far seen in this new century.
No, Affleck deserves to go home with the gold based solely on this exquisitely powerful, quiet, and heart-wrenching performance that roars to unbelievable heights when we finally learn about The Thing.
The Thing is what annihilated the human spirit of Affleck’s Lee Chandler, a man who functions, just barely, only when far removed from everything he knows and everyone he cares for. When we meet Lee, he is living in Quincy, Massachusetts, and pays the bills working as a jack-of-all-trades custodian for a large apartment complex. Quiet and reserved (until he is not), Lee shovels snow, unclogs toilets, and exists in a basement apartment on a diet of beer.
As Lee sleeps yet another one off in the eternal darkness of the turtle shell that is his one-room hovel, through the only window, we see sunshine and the feet of people passing as they go about the business of living life. Living life is the last thing Lee is interested in. For he only exists, and the exhausting work of existing is something he can hardly tolerate.
An untimely family death takes Lee back home to Manchester, back to family he loves and family he loathes, back to memories he “can’t beat.”
The first half of “Manchester” is mesmerizing, thanks primarily to a flashback structure that knows exactly when to answer the story’s most compelling questions. The second half slips a bit. This 137-minute drama could have easily lost 15 of those minutes. For a long spell, a number of scenes feel unnecessarily repetitious. Instead of wondering what will happen next, you wonder if this is going anywhere.
It does, though, trust me, and where it goes will sit with you for a very long time.
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Director Mel Gibson delivers two movies for the price of one. The first looks and feels like something right out of MGM at the height of its Louis B. Mayer-era — something tailor-made for Mickey Rooney. A superb Andrew Garfield plays real-life Medal of Honor winner Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector unwilling to touch a firearm but desperate to serve his country in the war against the evil of Nazism and Japanese Imperialism.
Doss is an awe-shucks, utterly sincere country boy from the hills of Virginia, and an abiding Seventh-day Adventist Christian. The story’s first half is pure Andy Hardy as Doss falls in love on sight with a local nurse, Dorothy (a breathtaking Teresa Palmer). It is then off to boot camp, where his refusal to even touch a rifle results in all kinds of persecution and prosecution.
Then, just like that, “Andy Hardy Joins the Army” morphs into the second half of “Full Metal Jacket.” Welcome to the sh*t, welcome to the fierce battle for Okinawa against a ruthless, barbaric, suicidal Japanese army; and Gibson appears to go out of his way to connect these one-time savages to our current enemy, radical Islam.
Gibson’s way around complicated action and battle scenes is without equal. While we have already witnessed these other-worldly skills in the Oscar-winning “Braveheart,” and again in the even-more impressive, and mostly dialogue-free, “Apocalypto” (2006), “Hacksaw” is better. Within the perfectly-orchestrated R-rated carnage that manages to make sense of out of all the confusion, there is heart, character, patriotism, and glory to God.
“Hacksaw Ridge” is not the best war movie since “Saving Private Ryan,” it is better than that overrated “classic,” that deserved to lose to “Shakespeare In Love.”
On top of amazing battle scenes, Gibson not only manages to deliver a heartfelt Christian drama, he also reveals a skill thought lost with the end of Hollywood’s Golden-era — the ability to tell a compelling, charming, emotionally moving story devoid of any irony or cynicism. Sincerity and well-crafted battle sequences are the hardest things to pull off in a motion picture. This is why so many filmmakers hide behind the shaky-cam and hipper-than-thou ironic distance.
Welcome back, sir.
The Gate (1987)
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy and look back fondly upon this piece of lightning in a cinematic bottle. Thirteen-year-old Stephen Dorff (who looks less like a child-Stephen Dorff and more like they shrunk adult-Stephen Dorff), stars in this Canadian-produced horror film about a kid who finds a literal Gate to Hell in his very own backyard.
The lightning in the bottle is that this low-budgeter never should have worked. Even in 1987, the special effects were cheesy, and the story is about as rote as they come. Alienated adolescent, nerdy best friend, snooty older sister with mean friends, parents who leave everyone alone in suburban America over the weekend…and then the monsters come.
All of it works, though, primarily due to 85 superbly paced minutes, the legitimate suspense found in those cheesy effects, some real jump-scares and the nostalgia factor. In both look and feel, every scene, every piece of production design, every moment takes you back to suburban America, circa 1987. It is like jumping into your own past for a little while, and there just aren’t many movies that capture a wistful time and place as well as “The Gate.”