Tag: Casey Affleck

A Ghost Story

agsWe’ve all been there in our younger years: cut eye holes out of a sheet, throw it over yourself and roam the hall pretending to be a ghost. But despite Casey Affleck’s character looking the quintessential trick-or-treater, A Ghost Story delivers a haunting and ephemeral existential tale rather than cheap jump-scares.

Early in the film, Affleck’s character, C (the protagonists being named by a single initial), dies and returns as the aforementioned sheet-clad ghost. Still and solitary, he haunts every frame of the film, sadly observing his grief-stricken lover, M (played by Rooney Mara), move out of the house he loved so dearly.   Years pass and C’s ghost remains stubbornly fixed to the land, silently observing the house’s various occupants come and go. Thematically, A Ghost Story traverses many topics but its core is rooted in a solid sense of place and examines what it means to be attached (both physically and emotionally) to a piece of land. It is little surprise then, that the story was born out of an argument Director David Lowry had with his wife about moving house. 

Lowry elides time beautifully as he succinctly shows years of tenancy compressed into minutes. Meanwhile, C’s quest to retrieve a mysterious note that M slipped into a crack in the wall soon after his death remains tantalisingly just out of reach—the note being the film’s central plot device and providing the only semblance of conventional narrative structure in a story that is otherwise very meditative in its intention.

Certainly a far cry from his previous directorial outing, Pete’s Dragon, Lowery has delivered a slow burn that is painstakingly meticulous, indulgent and patient. There is a palpable sense of David Lynch or Terrence Malick in Lowry’s aesthetic scope; the long takes, the camera’s limited but very deliberate movement.  The culmination of which projects an almost unbearable dreamlike sense of loneliness. A five-minute continuous take of Rooney Mara’s character alone in her kitchen eating an entire pie sums up the film’s approach. Mara delivers a tour de force of non-verbal acting in this scene that is simultaneously rewarding and frustrating. It will have you scratching your head along with the film’s other elusive messages about relationships, grief, mortality and the ruthlessness of time … but, boy, it’s wonderful to watch.

A Ghost Story may not be for everyone—it requires a great deal of patience and a willingness to embrace the unconventional but put in the effort and you’ll be rewarded with a film that is both original and sublime.

See my reviews here at Witchdoctor.

Manchester by the Sea


mbtsIt’s Oscar season and the nominated films are being released thick and fast.  One of the contenders, Manchester by the Sea, is the third feature film by director and writer Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret), who was originally best known for his work as a playwright.  Here, Lonergan has brought to the big screen a heartbreaking tale of social tragedy.

Lee (Casey Affleck) is a janitor working in Boston. He is extremely withdrawn and clearly carries unexplained baggage from his past that periodically bubbles to the surface with outbursts of anger.  When his brother dies he is reluctantly dragged back into his dark past, both emotionally and physically, to the town where he grew up, Manchester (yep, it’s by the sea).  He is forced to face his demons and become intimately connected to the people he had previously withdrawn from.

Structurally the film presents two timelines; the present day Lee who is quiet, withdrawn, and unsure of himself as he deals with the weighty issues surrounding the custody of his nephew (Lucas Hedges) and relationship with his ex-wife (Michelle Williams).  In contrast, this is intertwined with flashbacks of his confident and outgoing past self. As the film progresses, both personas gravitate towards one another on a collision course that generates a burning curiosity regarding the reason for his regression, but it also comes with a foreboding sense of dread.

Some of its most harrowing moments are contrasted against the comically absurd and mundane details of everyday life. The crucial and distressing scene that explains Lee’s torment is comically offset by ambulance officers struggling with a jammed stretcher. Such moments allow for humorous relief but also serve to flesh out the gravity of Lee’s personal struggles.

One of the film’s great strengths are the performances.  Michelle Williams makes wonderful use of her limited screen time, and Casey Affleck’s nuanced portrayal of isolation and withdrawal is a tour de force of onscreen acting.  His ability to show a maelstrom of rage and despair bubbling just beneath a thin veneer of control is riveting to watch — and all within a frame that eschews closeups. It’s no surprise he landed the Golden Globe and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get the Oscar nod too.

Despite a couple of minor false steps (Michelle William’s character had too little screen time, and I had some reservations over the musical score), Manchester by the Sea is a wonderfully haunting portrayal of grief and regret — worth seeing if none-other than for Affleck’s performance alone.

Rating: 4 suppressed feelings out of 5

You can see the published review here.

Top ten memorable scenes: #6 The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

This is a beautiful film by New Zealand born director Andrew Dominik. A long slow burn that ratchets the tension up to this final scene. It troubles me to show this as a standalone as it really should be seen within the context of the entire film to be fully appreciated. That said, this scene still stands up as an amazing piece of cinema in its own right. Acting chops are really shown by the superb cast (Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, and Sam Rockwell). Dominik cleverly orchestrates the suspicion and relational manoevering of Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) and Jesse James (Brad Pitt) culminating in four minutes of mastery shot by Roger Deakins. Roger would have to be my favourite D.O.P. and this scene shows why … it is nothing short of amazing. Unfortunately the YouTube clip below doesn’t capture the scene in its entirety but its the best I could muster up.