We follow the taciturn hero of Barry Jenkins' amazingly affective film Moonlight from roughly age 8 to 26, as he is battered physically by neighborhood bullies, emotionally by his drug-addled mother and psychologically by his own queer identity. Each of the actors playing the lead -- who variously goes by Little (Alex Hibbert), Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and Black (Trevante Rhodes) -- are uncannily expressive despite collectively delivering less than two pages of dialogue during the film's 2 hour run. Their eyes, their sloping shoulders, skittish response to physical contact and their silences speak powerfully of their disconnection from life and of the soul-deadening effect of the Liberty City projects. Early in the film, the boy Little is befriended by a drug dealer named Juan (an Oscar-worthy Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend (Janelle Monae), who feed and shelter him when the boy's mother (a terrific Naomie Harris) runs him off so that she can consort with a boyfriend or fire up crack rock, which, coincidentally, she buys from Juan. Through those caring surrogates the boy begins to feel worthy of love though his journey to self-acceptance is by no means assured. It is that uncertainty (possibility?) that makes Jenkins' film so resonant, as resonant as it is beautiful. Highly recommended.
Friday, November 11, 2016
Denis Villeneuve's Arrival is a puzzling alien-contact picture that packs quite a wallop and has a marvelous resonating conclusion. The film stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker as members of a U.S. military operation to establish contact with scoop-shaped craft over Montana, one of 12 alien vessels hovering around the world. Adams plays a university linguist; Renner, a Los Alamos physicist; and Whitaker, the chief army officer directing the operation to crack the alien's beautiful but cryptic language and find out why they're here. Villeneuve, who also directed the wonderful Sicario from last year and 2013's unnerving Prisoners, has given the film a pacing and density that might turn off those looking for more flash and spectacle. I was drawn into the cosmic mystery at the heart of the movie and the enigma of the space visitors and the humans chosen to reach out to them.
Saturday, November 5, 2016
Mel Gibson is a certain director -- deliberate and robust, not interested in subtlety or nuance. His world is stark and painful. His film Hacksaw Ridge is all of that and as uncompromising as its hero, Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector during WW II who saved the lives of dozens of American soldiers during a bloody battle in Okinawa. Doss, played by the wonderfully engaging Andrew Garfield, is the son of an embittered WW I veteran, a terrific Hugo Weaving. The younger Doss wants to serve but his religious convictions keep him from taking up a gun. Still he enlists as a noncombatant in an infantry platoon. After attempts to first get him to quit and then to imprison him fail, Doss becomes a medic and in that capacity becomes a war hero. Gibson is no stranger to sanctimony and this film puts God front and center as the motivation for Doss's extraordinary feats but avoids asking why God would allow the savagery that fills every frame in the last third of the picture. The film is part celebration and part indictment and as sickening as it is self-righteous.
Friday, November 4, 2016
Scott Derrickson's trippy Doctor Strange is weighed down a bit by the mystical hoodoo spouted by the bald and ever-fascinating Tilda Swinton, as The Ancient One, to the crassly egomaniacal surgeon DOCTOR Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is looking for life after a career-ending accident and ends up leading a battle against dark forces threatening the known universe. The picture is kept aloft by its fantastical effects that are as close to the cosmic tableaux in Marvel comics as any I've seen in this impressive (and impressively reliable) series of pictures. Magical characters move between locations, time and dimensions, bending physical space into jaw-dropping Escheresque landscapes and often cracking wise while doing so. It's a lot of fun and for hippies of a certain age might prompt an acid flashback or two. Recommended.
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