Tag Archives: boston

Movie review – Manchester by the Sea

I like a film that has the confidence to play its hand slowly. Very slowly. One that keeps the audience guessing, rather than ramming its plot down your throat from the opening credits.

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In the opening scenes of Manchester by the Sea we see a shell of a man. He’s a janitor, living in a single room in the basement of a block of flats in a Boston neighbourhood. He shovels snow every day. He does the plumbing. He unblocks toilets. He’s disinterested in the siren calls of two women. He drinks alone. We see a man who is both isolated and angry, going through the motions of an empty life.

It’s only in flashbacks that we come to understand the backdrop of Lee’s separation from life, and when he has to return to the workaday seaside community where he once lived, an hour or so north-east of the city.

Back for his brother’s funeral, Lee is shocked to hear that he has been made the legal guardian of his 16 year-old nephew.

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The unwanted relationship, forced on both Lee and young Patrick, is painful to watch. The confident teenager has a much fuller life than his sad uncle, but it seems that he will be forced to move to Boston with Uncle Lee.

But gradually they come to understand better each other’s difficult situation, and we also grasp the tragic reason why Lee is sleep-walking through life.

The acting is understated in the extreme. Casey Affleck, as Lee, says more with his haunted expressions than a mountain of words could ever portray. His is a performance that fully deserves the Best Actor nod. Newcomer Lucas Hedges is sensational as teenager Patrick. And Michelle Williams, Lee’s ex-wife Randi,  will break your heart all over again.

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Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea is not a feel-good movie, but the quality of the writing and the acting, the beauty of the cinematography and the slowness of the hand-playing make this a cinematic joy.

Movie review – Spotlight

Why do so many people cling to religion, like a Titanic passenger to an over-crowded lifeboat? Whether it’s for personal strength, gentle spiritual guidance – or just a habit – I’m afraid I really don’t get it.

Whether I believe in God, or not, is another ball-game, but time and time again, His earthly representatives let Him down, and betray the very people they exist to help.

The institution of the church – in its broader form, across religions – fails so frequently that its message has long been lost, for me and for many others, I fear.

Spotlight is the latest film to shine a dazzlingly bright light on the earthly failings of a disconcerting number of religious representatives. And I’m afraid it paints a terrible picture of the Catholic Church yet again, as so many before. PhilomenaDeliver Us From Evil, or The Boys of St. Vincent are just a few from a depressingly long list, all rooted in fact.

Spotlight is the name given to the Boston Globe’s specialist unit of investigative reporters. They choose stories to dissect in forensic detail, over a protracted period, before potential publication.

In 2001, encouraged by the newly arrived editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), the team pursue the story, initiated a few years earlier by another Globe journalist, of sexual abuse by a local Catholic priest against a child.

But what makes the story of real interest for the editor and for the Spotlight team is the potential cover up of the abuse, led by Boston’s powerful Cardinal Law (Len Cariou).

What follows is a real insight into the journalistic world, as the team dig deeper into the story, interviewing victims, priests, lawyers, police and anyone connected to the expanding web of connected horror.

They discover a systematic cover-up of child abuse by up to 90 Catholic priests in Boston alone over the previous 20-30 years. But what appals them – and us – is the devious collusion of the city’s authorities – the Archdiocese, lawyers, police – that allows confidential settlements to be made, and for the perpetrators to be moved to another parish, where they repeat the abuse.

The movie is told almost as a docudrama,  focusing as much on the mundane journalistic and editorial challenges as the underlying horror. It’s perhaps an unusual role for both Michael Keaton as Walter “Robby” Robinson, head of the Spotlight team, and Mark Ruffalo as Mike Rezendes, the most passionate and driven member of Spotlight. But they convince, with Mark Ruffalo earning a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll complete the conscientious Spotlight team.

Stanley Tucci deserves a special nod. He plays Mitchell Garabedian, an Armenian “outsider” living in Boston, a lawyer who has been quietly supporting past and present abuse victims, long before the Boston Globe scoop breaks.

The movie is a tribute to what the Spotlight team achieved through their painstaking work, so thorough and shocking that it led to similar stories of abuse by priests and cover-ups by the Catholic church in dozens of other cities throughout the world.

And in a painful twist, Robby realises he had all the pieces of the jigsaw in the Globe’s possession 5 years earlier, and let the story slip, allowing even more innocent young victims to be abused.

Religion, eh….who needs it?


Movie review – Black Mass

Well, I suppose it had to happen.

The lights can’t always be green, right? And I guess Novak Djokovich will lose a tennis match one day.

Last night was our third foray to Screen Unseen, the Odeon’s lucky dip movie night. You roll up and have no idea what you’ll be seeing, other than that it’s guaranteed to be a mainstream film, and that it has yet to be released to the wider UK audience. And for just £5 it’s worth the risk it might be a celluloid dog.

We lucked out with our first two ventures – animated Inside Out from the geniuses at Pixar, and the offbeat coming of age movie Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

Last night’s surprise was Black Mass, a biopic of James “Whitey” Bulger. Jimmy was a low-level mobster born and bred in Boston’s rough south side. But for almost 20 years from the mid 1970s he became untouchable, thanks to an unholy alliance with the FBI.

The relationship was intended to bring down the Italian Mafia gang running the city on the other side of the river. It did – eventually – but it also gave Bulger and his gang carte blanche to commit crime on an epic scale.

Johnny Depp plays Whitey. He’s a smart pyschopath, murdering anyone who crosses his path, or who rats him out. And yet he’s an FBI informant, convincing himself it’s just business. His criminal mayhem really gets out of control after losing his son and mother, but he’s clever enough to escape from Boston when it all finally unravels in 1994. He evaded capture until 2011 and is now serving multiple life sentences in a Florida penitentiary.


The FBI agent who facilitated Bulger’s criminal ascent was John Connolly, a childhood friend of both James Bulger and his brother, Billy Bulger. Connolly is arguably a more nuanced character than Whitey, brilliantly acted here by Joel Edgerton. The FBI agent’s own career, and income, soar in direct proportion to Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang’s lawlessness.

Connolly’s innate sense of loyalty extended to not informing on Bulger when the alliance was finally aired, despite Whitey ordering the murder of his long time collaborator. The ex law agent has been imprisoned since 1999 on multiple charges, including taking bribes, informing Bulger of his imminent arrest, and 2nd degree murder.

Amazingly, Billy Bulger becomes a senator and the most powerful political figure in Massachusetts, at the same time as his brother is murdering, drug-running and racketeering. His own demise only happens when he contacts his fugitive brother. Benedict Cumberbatch is an unlikely choice to play the politician, but he does it well, straddling the corridors of power and the rough neighbourhood he was brought up in.

The film is inevitably violent and contains the usual mobster movie f-word blizzard. But it’s a low-rent Goodfellas, a wannabe Godfather, recounting an incredible true story, but without being nearly as engaging as either of those mob classics.

Unless Whitey is reading this….in which case it was a f***ing great movie, Jimmy.