Catharsis: Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea

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Some people argue that movies are supposed to provide entertainment or escape. That’s true of some movies. But film is first and foremost art, and the purpose of art is to illustrate (or demonstrate) what it is to be human. Pick any of the superhero movies – those are escape, because it’s human to fantasize what it would be like to be something other than boring old human. Then of course there’s the flip side, the movies that remind us what it is to be human. What it is to feel.

The film features an idea by Jon Krasinski and Matt Damon turned into a 137-minute meditation on grief by writer and director Kenneth Lonergan. It’s a story about a handyman living a banal life, who is summoned home to take care of his nephew following his brother’s death. He left his hometown Manchester-by-the-Sea to run away from something, which is revealed during the course of his story. After the movie, I characterize Casey Affleck’s character Lee Chandler as a man that’s unable to find his catharsis.

I picked the poster above for a reason. Michelle Williams, who plays Affleck’s ex-wife Randi, has a total screen time of maybe ten minutes but serves an important purpose. In a pivotal scene towards the end she becomes a mirror against which we can hold Lee up to. Some people can find their catharsis, move past traumatic events and continue to live life. Randi has, Lee has not.

I believe that this is the key element of the movie that the people who rate it highly appreciate. They see the humanity in the characters, particularly Lee, maybe Randi, and this reminds them of their own losses, their own grief and journeys towards catharsis. Perhaps viewing the film even serves as a moment of catharsis for some, which may explain the people who cry upon viewing the movie. Such is the power of art.

Here’s to the Fools Who Dream

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“She told me
A bit of madness is key
to give us new colours to see.
Who knows where it will lead us?


And that’s why they need us.
So bring on the rebels,
The ripples from pebbles,
The painters, and poets, and plays.


And here’s to the fools who dream;
Crazy, as they may seem.
Here’s to the hearts that break.
Here’s to the mess we make.”

Breathtaking, colourful, exhilarating, melancholy, hopeful. La La Land is a movie for anyone with a streak of art in their soul. You root for the protagonists to make it, both in the entertainment business and in their own hearts. The file harkens back to a time when the movie musical was king, when films like Singing in the Rain and An American in Paris were the greatest things on the silver screen. But what gave the film life were the performances of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and the vision and skill of writer and director Damien Chazelle. I thought Whiplash was a triumph. I believe that La La Land is a landmark film for this century. You owe it to yourself to see it, if you haven’t yet.

One with the Force

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Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia Organa
October 21, 1956 – December 27, 2016
She drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.

The most ubiquitous picture of Carrie Fisher is that of her as Leia Organa, clad in a golden bikini, laying at the feet of Jabba the Hutt. The second most ubiquitous picture of her has Leia with a blaster in hand. Thus, Carrie Fisher was the original Star Wars princess, that was adept at both harnessing her appeal without a sex scene, as well as taking out the bad guys. She was succeeded by Natalie Portman’s Padme Amidala, Daisy Ridley’s Rey Skywalker (wink) and Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso. I suppose it’s unfortunate that it all begins with the iconic golden bikini, but everything that follows is Carrie Fisher’s legacy. She played Leia with strength, courage and wit, and was not the typical damsel in distress of the 1970’s. While a legion of young boys worshipped her for her looks, a legion of young girls worshipped her because she kicked ass just as much as Luke and Han.

Of course Carrie Fisher grew out of the Princess Leia role, and as evidenced by the work she’s done in the past forty years that had nothing to do with Star Wars. It’s a full circle moment though that she had just completed her work on Episode VIII of the new post-Lucas trilogy before her death from a heart attack. Gone at 60 years old, far too young for the greatest Princess of my generation, the Star Wars generation.

She is one with the Force, the Force is with her.

Amazing

George Michael
June 25, 1963 – December 25, 2016

George is the second icon of ’80s music to pass away in 2016, following Prince. I feel his passing greatly, as he is on the list of five artists that dominate the soundtrack of my life. His music accompanied me from my teens to twenties, from the early Wham! days in my teens to the nuanced covers of his worst commercial album in my thirties, music that I love dearly despite its lack of popularity. George had one of the most expressive, most flexible and subtly powerful voices around, being able to do quiet ballads and Freddie Mercury power songs with ease. In his later years, his struggles with addiction, legal issues and the loss of his life partner tinged most everything he did with an undercurrent of pain and weariness. Just as the joy of Wake Me Up Before You Go Go was everywhere when he was starting up, the struggles of being who he was and the things he went through can be felt in the strains of Jesus to a Child. I’ll never get to tick that item on my bucket list to see George perform live. The world is poorer for his less.

Thank you George, for sharing your amazing talent with the generation of kids that grew up with your music.

I struggled with the video to accompany this post, cycling through many tracks. I settled on George’s cover of The Long and Winding Road because… well, it feels right. Listen to it. You’ll understand.

A Mighty Pen

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Written earlier this month, in recognizance of the English Gunpowder Plot of 1605. (And yes, thank you Alan Moore for V for Vendetta, the movie isn’t as terrible as you make it out to be. But no, it doesn’t adhere to your vision.)

I have found that one of the pens that Neil Gaiman uses to write, I now enjoy immensely as well. It’s a German-made Lamy 2000 fountain pen, with the classic black Makrolon body. My version sports a medium nib, which writes a finer line than one would expect from a medium. The pen’s girth, weight and balance are all perfect, and I’ve been able to write many pages without the hand cramp becoming an issue.

All that, and the pen has a unique look, inherited from the German Bauhaus design movement. It’s quite attractive in its industrialness.

I acquired this pen with a bottle of Lamy’s limited edition Dark Lilac ink, and that was the first ink that I loaded into the pen via its piston. The partnership has been so good that I’ve gone through a few pen-fulls of the ink and haven’t yet felt the need for a change. I’m not even a fan of purple, but this shade has just the right feel of formality and rebelliousness to it that’s appealing to my sensibilities.

La plume est plus forte que l’epee!

Make Good Art

“And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

Make it on the good days too.”

Neil Gaiman