Tag Archives: Moonlight

Top 5 Films of 2017 (So Far)

We’ve reached the point in the year where it’s safe to start legitimately putting together a rough outline for your top 10 films of the year. Your number one might be displaced come December, or a handful of others might infiltrate the rest of the list; but it’s likely that those you’ve already decided are your favourites, will still be there or thereabouts by the time we compile our End of Year Awards. Continue reading Top 5 Films of 2017 (So Far)

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Moonlight

“For a long time I tried not to remember. Tried to forget everything.”

Moonlight is a strange film. I don’t mean creepy-strange; I mean that it’s a tough film to talk about and review without spoiling anything. This Oscar nominated drama about the life of a young black kid growing up in Florida seemed as if it would be just like any other of its ilk. But when you go into these films having not seen a trailer for it yet, you do so with little expectations (besides of the fact that it already received its Oscar nominations) and you can just sit and enjoy. And that’s what I did.

Told across three acts, Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a young boy who lives on the poverty line with so many like him. What makes him different from his peers – dealing with a drug addict mother (Naomie Harris), struggling with money, and living in a time and place where drugs are a relatively viable option as a career or a habit – is that he is also struggling with his sexuality at the same time.

Being from a time and a place where it’s not considered ok to even question your sexual orientation, Chiron has a lifelong fight ahead of him that we witness from the perspective of a young boy, a teenager in high school and as a grown man.

Moonlight is a weirdly understated film. While it has all the hallmarks of a perfect Oscar film; when you leave the cinema, you almost feel like there’s something missing. I honestly can’t put my finger on it. I want to say I felt empty when I left, but that’s not the right word. I got everything that I wanted (and more) but it just left us with no conclusion, no real ending and nothing to be happy about. Maybe that’s the point?

The three separate actors that play Chiron (Alex Hibbert as “Little” Chiron, Ashton Sanders as Teen Chiron, and Trevante Rhodes as “Black” Chiron) all do a great job in making the character their own in their respective acts. It’s clear that each actor in the different stages of the young man’s life sees a whole new set of troubles and a whole new way to illustrate Chiron’s character, dependant on their age and surroundings. It’s an interesting take on what I can only imagine to be a really difficult thing to portray once, let alone three times.

I would have liked to have seen more from Naomie Harris’ character as Chiron’s drug-addicted mother who, even during his young high school days, only pays attention to her son for her own selfish reasons. She was so very good in the role that more of her would have been great. The same goes for singer Janelle Monáe, who plays Theresa, the girlfriend of a drug dealer and the only stable person in Chiron’s life. She was so good with the little that she had to do, I really wanted to see more of what she could have done.

Grabbing all the glory though (and a nomination for Best Supporting Actor), is Mahershala Ali. And deservedly so. As Juan, an immigrant drug dealer who befriends Chiron at a very young age and teaches him that it’s ok to be himself, he does a splendid job. Much the same as everyone else in Moonlight, I would have liked to have seen more of him, but what we did see was outstanding.

More or less around this time last year, I battered The Danish Girl for taking a story that should have enlightened and informed people that haven’t lived through the situation it is portraying, in a time when more people need to understand it, and wasting it with shit performances and storytelling. Tom Hooper’s biographical drama starring Eddie Redmayne felt insulting and left me apathetic to a situation I would like to be able to understand more clearly. Moonlight is the exact opposite.

It is impossible for me to even comprehend what it must be like to live through these situations. I don’t say that in a macho “I’m straight god dammit” kind of way; I say it in an “I want to know what it’s like, please try to help me understand” kind of way. There’s only a certain amount of these films you can watch for sheer entertainment value before you start hoping that a point emerges; and I believe that Moonlight does just that. I mean, I didn’t suddenly turn into a young black kid in Florida wondering whether or not I was gay! But it did tell its story with a passion that I don’t think I’ve seen recently – certainly not in that shockingly poor biopic from last year – and I can honestly say that I came out of the cinema ever so slightly humbled. It’s just a beautiful film.

The tag line for writer / director Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is: “The story of a lifetime”. That certainly rang true in more ways than I had anticipated.

2017 in Review: January

rock

“Daddy’s gotta go to work.”

2017 has begun – and with it, my challenge to see a film a day for the duration of the year. 365 films before New Year’s Day 2018 should at least be a half decent way to watch a bunch of films that I either haven’t seen for ages or wouldn’t usually watch.

I tried and failed miserably last year, but I’m determined to make a decent go of it this time and so far, it is going pretty well. Months like this one would make it impossible to just list all the films I saw, there’s no way I can write that amount of film titles and make it interesting; so let’s try it this way.


expendablesWeek One

2017 started with a bang. We waited up for the fireworks and we watched a film. By 2am on the first day of the year film one, The Expendables, was in the bag. With a bunch of new films out that day, including Assassin’s Creed and A Monster Calls, my count was climbing nicely with, I shit you not, seven films done by the end of the day.

The rest of the week wasn’t that successful, but it honestly didn’t need to be. I had done a week’s worth of films on day one so everything from here was a bonus. A pair of Ted films and the end of The Expendables trilogy paved the way for us to start the next series on our pile of shame: The Fast and The Furious. We got through five of those movies in week one, dotted around shit sci-fi with Kill Command, a ghastly “horror” film in The Lesson and a surprisingly fun action revenge flick in I Am Wrath.

The first few days of the challenge ended with the surprisingly fun The Wolverine and the bloody awful Sisters. I’ve definitely had worse weeks.


avengersWeek Two

Back to work after the Christmas break meant no more cramming films during the day. But a new phenomenon was showing it’s head in our house. As well as the animated movies, my kid is wanting to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. She’s been asking for ages to watch Avengers Assemble, so I let her. And she loved them. Now she’s going through a load of the films in the MCU, with varying degrees of success, and enjoying them for the most part. She asks for them, I add them to my count. Win-win.

A couple of Oscar-bait films with the ghastly La La Land and Manchester by the Sea early on before we finished off the last two Fast and Furious entries. A fun popcorn horror flick in the form of the silly The Windmill Massacre, followed by the cut to pieces waste of space The Bye-Bye Man. Topping them off with the umpteenth viewing of Rob Zombie’s 31.

The week ended with more preparation for upcoming sequels with the final cut of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. What a way to end the week.


xxx-return-of-xander-cageWeek Three

We have a pile of blu-rays stacked up next to the TV. It’s our pile of shame. I vowed to have it cleared by the end of January and dammit that’s what I’m trying to do. This week was all about a shit film or two at the cinema – xXx 3 the worst culprit – and banging through these films I keep buying but not watching.

In Bruges, V for Vendetta, La Femme Nikita and Captain America: Civil War filled our week nights nicely this week. With our own Nikita’s comic book film love spreading to asking for Spider-Man films, I’m starting to regret letting her watch them. But I can’t help it, I love the look of amazement on her face when she watches them. As shit as some of these films are; more for the list. Finally managed to find time to rewatch the awesome Krampus too.

A pretty productive seven days that ended with a triple-bill at the local Odeon. A family trip to see Sing, followed by Jackie and Lion that evening.


ghost in the shellWeek Four

Now things are getting complicated. It’s the first big game release of the year and I’m dying to play it. I now have to figure a way to balance playing Resident Evil VII with film watching this week. I’ve watched plenty so I’ve got some wiggle room, but this is where I got complacent last year. So a balancing act it has to be.

But a ton of MCU films in the evenings means that once the kid is in bed, it’s guilt-free xbox time! I’ve racked up an unbelievable number of films in the last few weeks, but it’s not over for January yet. For the first time in years I sat down and watched the classic Ghost in the Shell, a film that never stops being good. For the first time I watched it with the English dub and the voice work actually did more to persuade me that Scarlett Johansson will be worth watching in the remake.

This week also saw the Oscars nominations released, which gave me an enormous list of films to source and watch before the awards in a few weeks’ time. In a roundabout way, this led to chat about documentaries, which led to me rewatching (and the wife watching for the first time) last year’s Zero Days and the thoroughly depressing, life ruining 13th.

Cinema trips felt limited this week though. Although I finally got to see the outstanding Hacksaw Ridge and the thoroughly crap Denial; they were both overshadowed by last film I saw this month, the brilliant Moonlight – a film whose review I start writing the second I’m done with this.

Overall, a solid month. Saw some amazing movies and some real dross. But my count is looking good and healthy.

One month down, eleven to go.

Films seen this month: 60

Current count, as of 31st January: 60 of 365.

Vancouver International Film Festival 2016

Our Vancouver-based writer, Nicholas Lay (of In Layman’s Terms), recently found himself in the midst of the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival. Here, he rounds up seven of the more intriguing pictures featured this year…

godspeedGodspeed

Drama / Gangster

Director: Chung Mong-hong

Country of Origin: Taiwan

As an avid lover of classic Hong Kong cinema, the news that comedy legend Michael Hui (of the Hui brothers) was starring in Taiwanese director Chung Mong-hong’s new gangster flick, AND that said gangster flick was playing at VIFF, meant it was almost inevitable that Godspeed would be the first ticket I purchased at the festival this year.

A purveyor of satirical, character-driven comedy since the 1980s, Hui’s wise-but-cynical cab driver spins Mong-hong’s winding yarns into dry, droll gold as he and his companion, the wonderfully blank Na Dow, cruise down to southern Taiwan in order for the latter to perform the sort of drug deal we all know is going to go badly wrong.

Godspeed won’t be for everyone, but if you’re in the foreign language market for a violent, darkly humorous, subtle technical achievement (Nagao Nakashima’s ranging cinematography is gorgeous at times), then definitely make a note of this one for later.

Watch the trailer here.


Hello Destroyer

Drama

Director: Kevan Funk

Country of Origin: Canada

Without doubt the most depressing film I’ve seen this year (seriously), Kevan Funk’s debut feature, Hello Destroyer, is a bleak, painfully frank examination of the cycle of violence forever present at the heart of Canada’s national pastime.

Flirting with the blurred boundaries of an enforcer – regardless of the level the game is played at – the focus is Tyson Burr, an up-and-coming rookie riding the only talent he has ever been pushed to develop in the hope that, one day, his career may reach the pinnacle that is the NHL. Instead, one overly zealous decision, one single product of the nurturing he has received at the hands of the system; sees him gradually nudged back toward the cold, hard reality of the small town BC life he so desperately wants to escape.

The excruciating, systematically ruthless descent of Tyson as both a hockey player and a human being is ramped up by Funk’s intense style and a haunted, empathy-inspiring turn by Jared Abrahamson.

Trailer yet to be released.

inavalleyofviolence

In a Valley of Violence

Western

Director: Ti West

Country of Origin: USA

Those who’ve seen writer/director Ti West’s acclaimed micro-budget horror flick, The House of the Devil, will be familiar with his ability to transform a basic premise, a limited cast, a lead character who spends a large portion of time on their own, and plenty of glorious homage-paying into a workable, enjoyable picture. Finally moving away from horror, West turns his eye to the old school Western.

In a Valley of Violence follows a similar pattern to The House of the Devil, and certainly lives up to its name; as West holds nothing back in this backwater tale of fully justified (trust me, you’ll agree) revenge. Ethan Hawke stars as the wandering gunslinger, while John Travolta makes a random, but welcome appearance as the local Marshal.

There’s nothing all too groundbreaking about the film as a whole, but it looks great and West’s writing – particularly the comedy – is strong, as is the timing provided it by his cast. The modern subtext, deliberate or not, of Hawke’s character’s past and the small town setting – like recent neo-Western, Hell or High Water – is equally as interesting, but, if I’m being honest, the highlight is one hundred percent the quite marvellous canine performance of Hawke’s trusty mutt, Abbie.

Watch the trailer here.


Moonlight

Drama

Director: Barry Jenkins

Country of Origin: USA

Riding into town on the crest of the TIFF hype wave, Moonlight became one of the higher profile features at VIFF, due to the elevated levels of chat it enjoyed in advance. A moving journey along the path of one young man’s lifelong struggle as a black homosexual, trying to find his place in a forgotten, poverty-ridden corner of modern America; Moonlight is a highly relevant commentary on the stereotypes and social injustice that still plague a great number of people far more often than the odd flash on the news many of us are privy too.

Writer/director Barry Jenkins visual eye contrasts the striking and peaceful with the deliberately claustrophobic. One could argue he goes a tad overboard with the odd “artsy” sequence here and there, but it’s a minor complaint.

Featuring solid performances from the well arranged ensemble cast, Moonlight is more a conveyance of intriguing, vital subject matter than a “great” film. In these uncertain times, however, it certainly deserves a watch.

Watch the trailer here.

paterson

Paterson

Drama / Comedy

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Country of Origin: USA

Without question the highlight of my VIFF experience this year, Jim Jarmusch’s week-in-the-life of Adam Driver’s bus driving, poetry-composing lead character, Paterson, who lives in the town of Paterson, NJ, is a both a study, and itself a triumph of nuanced creativity, set against the mundane nature of everyday life.

Jarmusch has always been an unconventional filmmaker (in case you’re unaware, one of his films stars Forest Whitaker as a modern day, urban samurai and mafia guardian angel – and it is awesome), and Paterson is no exception to his repertoire. Pulling us in close to his characters’ eccentric normalness with a tight script and beautiful direction, Jarmusch masterfully sets up sequences of tension and relief that are clearly trivial in the grand scheme of things, but genuinely have you on the edge of your seat in the world of Paterson and Co. Moment after moment of sly comedic genius compliments such an approach, with everything from ordinary background objects, to the slightest facial reaction of our lead character playing a part alongside the amusing, dialogue-driven interactions that sustain his various relationships.

Driver, whose career goes from strength to strength, spearheads a top notch cast opposite Goldshifteh Farahani, with further stellar canine involvement (a running theme at VIFF) and a brief, but memorable cameo from Method Man, as Jarmusch revisits the Wu-Tang connection he established years back on Ghost Dog (which, if you’re yet to Google it, is the Forest Whitaker flick mentioned above).

Watch the trailer here.


Under the Shadow

Horror

Director: Babak Anvari

Country of Origin: UK / Jordan / Qatar

We often speak of the literal horrors of war, but rarely does the field of cinematic horror find itself in the midst of the battlefield. Iranian writer/director Babak Anvari sets out to change that with his subtext-layered, Under the Shadow; set beneath the harrowing barrage of Iraqi bombs raining down upon Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war.

The standard premise of a mother and daughter haunted in their own home is given a new lease of life by the backdrop of war, as Anvari dances on our nerves with a tightly wound depiction of his characters’ increasingly desperate predicament. The horror is both further emphasised and enhanced due to the depressingly intriguing military, political, and social quandaries faced by our two lead characters throughout.

Aided by standout performances from Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi, Anvari has fired the gun on adding an extra layer or two to the usual jump-punctuated screamfest formula.

Watch the trailer here.

weirdos

Weirdos

Drama / Comedy

Director: Bruce McDonald

Country of Origin: Canada

Balancing out Hello Destroyer’s dark take on small town life north of the border; Weirdos is veteran director Bruce McDonald’s black and white throwback to the folksy, teen-dream Canadian road trips of the mid-70s.

A true coming-of-age tale, Daniel Maclvor’s witty script follows Kit (Dylan Authors) and his girlfriend, Alice (a breakout performance by Julia Sarah Stone), as they seek out his metaphorically long-lost mother (Molly Parker, House of Cards) across the province of Nova Scotia. Rebellious teenagers having their insular, cherry-picked ambitions dashed on a regular basis is hardly anything new, but McDonald’s comforting sense of awkward calm ultimately succeeds in providing the heartwarming sense of hope necessary to bring the picture full circle.

One of the highlights of VIFF 2016, Weirdos is a softly spoken ride that does its best to convince you that, in the end, everything will be all right.

Trailer yet to be released.