Review: Manchester by the Sea offers the potential for hope

Manchester by the Sea is a story that revolves around unimaginable tragedy, devastating grief and hope for possible healing. Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler who receives a call that his brother Joe has died (not unexpectedly) and goes back to his hometown to help out. Besides handling Joe’s affairs, an issue arises as to the guardianship of Joe’s 16-year-old son (Lee’s nephew), Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges and whether Lee is willing or able to take on this responsibility.

Casey Affleck (as Lee) and Lucas Hedges (as Patrick)
Casey Affleck (as Lee) and Lucas Hedges (as Patrick)

As the story unfolds, we learn that Lee has previously experienced a horrendous tragedy along with his wife, Randy, played by Michelle Williams. It is here that Affleck reveals his outstanding talent for his credible portrayal of a man who is attempting to move himself forward despite his nearly paralyzing grief and self-blame. Williams gives a predictably excellent performance and even though her appearance in the movie is relatively short, her presence is felt throughout the movie especially after the tragedy experienced by both Lee and Randy is revealed. Hedges also gives an excellent performance and the remaining actors do a very good job as well.

In light of this background, the dialogue continues with the ongoing interactions between Lee and his nephew, and the challenges they both face given the circumstances in which they find themselves. While the interchange is at times funny and even sarcastic, the use of humor is merely a defense mechanism as the movie tries to divert its viewers from the very difficult events and themes that have arisen and loom in the characters.

Casey Affleck (as Lee) and Michelle Williams (as Randy)

The tragedy’s severe impact on Lee has no doubt changed him forever. He becomes a loner, shut down and isolated. However, Lee’s interactions with his nephew fosters  the viewer with hope, yet who is left wondering whether this could be an opportunity for Lee to be able to find meaning in his life once again. Unfortunately, Lee’s devastation and loss are so vast, one cannot help but question whether he ever will be able to actually move forward at all.

The movie, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, while very well done and beautifully filmed, has a chronology that can be a bit difficult to follow at times. But overall, it is an excellent film and well worth seeing. It is one of those films that stays with you for days afterwards, pondering its themes and reliving its highly memorable yet disturbing moments while holding onto the hope that people like Lee who have had they worlds turned upside down and badly shaken, can somehow find their way back to a life that has meaning, love and renewal.

A Charlie Brown Halloween?

For many adults, it seems that they either love Halloween or they just don’t like it and try to avoid it. For me, Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. This probably has something to do with my birthday falling near Halloween so all of my birthday parties growing up were Halloween-themed and often costume parties. And nothing was more fun than trick-or-treating. Before going out, I would transform myself into whatever I wanted to be that year – costumes were serious business. 

Then I, together with a bunch of friends would go roaming door to door, singing in chorus, “trick or treat” and hoping for anything other than apples and raisins to be dropped in my bag. We proceeded through the neighborhoods for hours – literally until our legs were falling off – or so to speak. Arriving home late, I would then empty my over-filled bag onto our kitchen table and my mother would carefully separate anything suspicious looking and the rest was cleared for consumption. In the days ahead, I munched on the treats I had worked so hard to get except the raisins which I hated. And as the years went on, I continued to trick-or-treat in high school and then in college, even though some people would question “aren’t you a little too old to be doing that?

Ready for Halloween or Pie, Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved
Ready for Halloween or Pie, Photo courtesy of Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

A couple of years ago, I moved to a house in a cool neighborhood in Los Angeles that I was convinced would be great for Halloween. I was excited at the prospect of having lots of trick-or-treaters visiting our home. Or so I thought. Last year, to my surprise, we had no trick-or-treaters. In my denial, I decided that we had gotten home a bit too late that night and had missed them all. But this year, I knew it would be different and I was going to be ready.

So a couple of weeks before Halloween, I decorated the outside of the house as if I was competing for the “best scariest house on the block” award (I also decorated the inside too but that’s another story). I had plastic skeletons’ arms coming out of the planters, and witches’ legs were sticking up out of the ground as if she had had a bad landing. 

Shortly after moving into our house, I had purchased the obligatory plastic pink flamingos to go on the front lawn. However, this year, I couldn’t believe my luck when I found online, black plastic flamingo skeletons that I bought and strategically placed on the front lawn near a “dying” pink one. It couldn’t have been more perfect. I carved a jack-o’-lantern and placed it outside along with a Mexican terra-cotta jack-o’-lantern that I bought at  Sunset Nursery, a favorite of mine. I even had scary Halloween sound effects ready to go on my iPhone so as soon as I opened the door, the trick-or-treaters would think that they had come to a real haunted house. I was ready and eager with anticipation.

Jack o' Lantern, Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved
Jack o’ Lantern with bad acne, Photo courtesy of Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

The back story is that I actually thought that I would be missing most of the trick-or-treaters this year because I had a work obligation that would keep me from getting home much before 8:30 p.m. However, I was thrilled when the meeting unexpectedly cancelled and I knew I could be home by around 6 p.m., just in time for the beginning of a fun and frightful evening teeming with trick-or-treaters. I couldn’t wait!

Fighting the typical heavy Halloween traffic, and carefully following the directions for the fastest route home as promised by Waze, I arrived just after 6 p.m. I ran into the house to carve one more jack-o’-lantern which I decided was necessary to ensure a successful night. Then, I carefully lit the candles inside the two real jack-o’-lanterns and the one made of terra-cotta. They glowed with the spookiness of a ghosts eyes. I carefully checked the placement of the plastic skeletons’ arms and the witches’ legs to make sure everything was as realistic as possible. And of course, the black flamingo skeletons along with the dying pink one were lurking on the front lawn for unsuspecting kids in costumes to be freaked out by the spooky and icky sight. I had purchased bags of the “really good candy” assorted packets of different kinds of M&Ms — only the best at our house – which I placed in a large bowl right near the front door along with a dish of candy corn, a necessity at Halloween. With everything all set, I impatiently waited and stayed close to the front door, my heart beating faster than a bat’s wings.

Before I knew it, I noticed it was 630 p.m., then 7, then 7:15, then 8 p.m. and no trick-or-treaters. What in the heck was going on? I could hear giggles, fake screams and excited voices up the street so I was relieved to know that they were on their way. I waited with anticipation but still, there was no knock on the door. Was our house just too scary and creepy?

I suddenly decided that what I really needed was to hire a sign spinner – you know, those guys that stand on the street corners twirling signs to get your attention to buy new homes? I decided that a sign spinner standing at our corner near the adjacent main street would do the trick (no pun intended). “Hey everyone, there’s great trick-or-treating at the spooky house up the street with the best candy” the spinner would convince everyone driving by. So I quickly Googled “sign spinners Los Angeles” (I Google everything) and found a few companies to call. Dialing each as quickly as I could, I found that all of them were closed — at 8 p.m. on Halloween? Didn’t these companies know that their services might be needed for people like me in need of trick or treaters? Then I blamed myself, “why didn’t I think of this sooner? I should have had a sign spinner. Darn!

Jack O'Lantern "Scar Face" Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved
Jack O’Lantern “Scar Face”
Photo courtesy of Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

At about 815 p.m., I decided to investigate the lack of trick or treaters further so I took a walk up the street to where I had heard the giggles and pretend screams earlier in the evening. Just up the street from our house, there were still bunches of trick-or-treaters doing their thing. As I walked along, I got funny looks from some of the parents, and even one mom asked me where my costume was? Did she really think that I was actually trick-or-treating? (Yes, I had actually and finally given up trick-or-treating a number of years ago — at least 3). After they walked passed, I had to stop myself from running back after them to tell them (persuade them?) that there was great trick-or-treating just a half-block down the street. I continued to walk through the neighborhood admiring (with some envy) the other Halloween displays, feeling secretly glad there hadn’t been a decorating contest after all.  I just couldn’t figure out why these kids were not coming down our street.

Feeling defeated, I went back home still holding out a little hope that someone might arrive after all. Unfortunately, no one did. At about 10 p.m., holding my head low like Oz’s scarecrow after realizing he couldn’t scare a crow, I went outside to blow out the candles inside each of the jack-o’-lanterns. The real ones had that familiar burnt pumpkin smell that is so characteristic of the end of Halloween. Feeling like Charlie Brown, the lovable loser from the Peanuts cartoon, I shut off the lights, closed the door and plopped myself down on the couch and gazed mindlessly at whatever was on TV, binging on M&Ms, candy corn, and the pumpkin seeds I had baked earlier in the day.

As I sat there, I thought there’s always next year. Maybe I can decorate our house even better. But then, reality set in, like the overcast skies that blanket Los Angeles in June. So I reluctantly decided that next year, I will forget about Halloween. My bah-humbug friends were right. I will just sit inside our undecorated house with the lights out, watching TV as many of my friends do while ignoring any knocks on the front door in an effort to avoid Halloween altogether. I’m done. 

The next day, trying to numb my stinging disappointment from the evening before, and feeling like I had been all dressed up with nowhere to go, I wandered into a store to look around. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a large display of Halloween items that were 75% off. Hmmm, I thought. Maybe I should rethink this. So I purchased a few new cool Halloween decorations just in case. Now that’s a scary thought!

Olvera Street – L.A.’s First Street

Olvera Street
Downtown Los Angeles

As Piñatas sway
the Fragrance of Taquitos
Fills my Hungry knows.

Olivera Street, Los Angeles
Olivera Street, Los Angeles, Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved


Olvera Street, Los Angeles, Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved
Olvera Street, Los Angeles, Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

Perspectives and Reflections on Age and Aging

When you were a kid, do you remember how a year seemed to last forever? Three months of summer vacation seemed “so long.” And most of us couldn’t wait until we got a little older. At some point, we got “big enough” so that we could stay home alone without a baby sitter. And most of us couldn’t wait to get older so we could drive, stay out late, turn 18 and then 21 when all the fun really began, or so we thought.

Gilbert Chemistry Set
Gilbert Chemistry Set from the 1960s. Photo courtesy of  Steve Karbelnig. All Rights Reserved

I know that at some point during adulthood, I began to realize that the years were starting to pile on even though in some respects I still felt like a kid. I began to wish that my birthdays weren’t coming around so quickly each year. (Of course, it beats the alternative). I remember freaking out a bit when I noticed my first gray hairs (which I promptly pulled out), and then I started noticing that lines were forming on my face. Yikes! I even tried dyeing my hair but then I felt conspicuously like a guy with dyed hair, paranoid that everyone would (and did) notice.

I find myself very conscious of the aging process. I carefully study my face for the presence of new lines, or the status of those I’ve had. I evaluate whether they are getting worse, or deeper. And I have spent fair amounts of money on face creams in hopes they will actually work to remove the lines and wrinkles, or make them smaller as the labels always promise they will. I work feverishly with a personal trainer in hopes of stopping or at least slowing down the sags in my body.  I notice my legs are starting to get that old appearance and that the marks and bruises on them last much longer or don’t seem to go away at all.

I also notice the aging process in my friends and family members. I notice how their appearance changes, how their faces wrinkle, the graying in their hair and beard, the wobble in their necks and wonder if they notice these things about me. I hope that the lighting I’m in hides some of my own aging side effects from those I am with. And I convince myself that I look much younger than my actual age since I tend to feel fairly youthful, at least most of the time.

I can clearly remember that as a kid, I thought that people in their 70s, 60s and even 50s were old. I’m one of the people that is categorized as a “Baby Boomer.” Baby boomers are the demographic group born during the post-World War II baby boom which occurred approximately between the years 1946 and 1964. So as of 2016, us Baby Boomers are presently between the ages 52 and 70 years old, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Now that some of us Baby Boomers have reached these ages, most of us realize that we are not as old as we thought we’d be once we got here.

As we age, our perspective on age changes. Looking back, during our lifetime, there have been certain historic events involving famous people who were considerably older than we were at the time that they occurred. You will recall that at the time, they seemed much older than we were – because they obviously were. Or so we thought. Now that we are in the ages ranging from about 52 to 70, or older, we can look back at the following events and notice how our perspectives have changed. You will find that all of these people were surprisingly quite young when these events happened. Take a look, see if you agree and let us know your thoughts.

John F. Kennedy (5/29/17), our 35th President, was only 46 when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963. He was only 43 years old when he was elected President of the United States in 1960. Today he would have been 99 years old.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1/15/29) was only 39 years old when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He was only 35 years old when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Price on 10/14/64. He was only 34 years old when he delivered his “I have a Dream” speech on 8/28/63.  Today he would have been 87 years old.

Paul McCartney (6/18/42) was only 21 years old when the Beatles first played on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. This is believed to be the same year that he wrote his classic song, “Yesterday” (although it is credited to him and John Lennon). Today he is 74.

Paul McCartney, John Lennon and the Beatles. Photo courtesy of Steve Karbelnig. All Rights Reserved

Ringo Starr (7/7/40) was only 23 years old when the Beatles first played on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Today he is 76.

John Lennon (10/9/40) was only 23 years old when the Beatles first played on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. He was only 40 when he was killed on December 8, 1980. Today he would have been 76 years old.

George Harrison (2/25/43) was only 20 years old when the Beatles first played on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. He was only 58 when he died on November 29, 2001. Today he would have been 73 years old.

Brian Epstein (9/19/34), the Beatles manager was only 32 years old when he died on August 27, 2967. Today he would have been 82 years old.

Karen Carpenter (3/2/50) was only 32 years old when she died on February 4, 1983.  Today she would have been 65 years old.

Jim Morrison (12/8/43) of the Doors was only 27 when he died on July 3, 1971. Today he would have been 73 years old.

Janis Joplin (1/19/43) was only 27 when she died on October 4, 1970. Today she would have been 73 years old.

Jimi Hendrix (11/27/42) was only 27 when he died on September 18, 1970. Today he would have been 74 years old.

Mama Cass Elliot (9/19/41) of the Mamas and the Papas was only 32 when she died on July 29, 1974.  Today she would have been 75.

Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy (11/20/25) was only 42 when he was assassinated on June 6, 1968. Today he would have been 90 years old.

Marilyn Monroe (6/1/26) was only 36 years old when she died on August 5, 1962. Today she would have been 90 years old.

Judy Garland (6/10/22) was only 47 when she died on June 22, 1969. She was just 16 years old when she played “Dorothy” in the movie, Wizard of Oz.  Today she would have been 94 years old.

Elvis Presley (1/8/35) was only 42 years old when he died on August 16, 1977. Today he would have been 81 years old.

James Dean (2/8/31) was only 24 years old when he died on September 30, 1955. The movie, Rebel Without a Cause, which made him a cultural icon, was released about a month later on October 27, 1955. Today he would have been 85 years old.

John Glenn (7/18/21), was only 40 years old when he became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth aboard Friendship 7 (he was also one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts). On 1/16/98, at age 77, he became the oldest person ever to fly in space aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. He died on 12/8/16 at the age of 95.

Neil Armstrong (8/5/30) was only 38 years old when he became the first person ever to step foot on the moon on 7/21/69. He died on 8/25/12 at the age of 82.

Sunset from Griffith Observatory. Photo by Steve Karbelnig. All Rights Reserved.
Sunset from Griffith Observatory. Photo courtesy of  Steve Karbelnig. All Rights Reserved

Isn’t it interesting how our perspective changes when we see the ages of these historic figures? And yes, we are getting older, and hopefully it’s occurring gracefully. Our perspective about life also tends to change and improve over time along with gaining a little wisdom along the way as evidenced by our gray hairs – or at least I’m told.

Remember, “wrinkles should only indicate where smiles have been.” –Mark Twain.  “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein.  “Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.” – Bob Dylan.  And do not forget what we learned from the song in Disneyland’s Carousel of Progress: “There’s a great, big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day. There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow, and tomorrow’s just a dream away.”