Dear, beloved, gentle readers I confess I fear for the very sanctity of my precious immortal soul, as this trailer made me cackle like a cacodemon;
Sometimes, when you think the cinema you are constantly exposed to can seem staid and similar a broadside thunders, and your expectations are beautifully shattered. The reputation of Moonlight hustled up a high bar of brilliance, coalescing since its rapturous responses throughout the festival circuit of 2016. Initially, during the first part of my screening I was intrigued but I wasn’t necessarily immersed – an early, flashy single take that dervishly swerves around a scorching Miami neighbourhood smacked a little of indulgence, and setting yet another film in a narcotic nested centre of the African American experience could only make me think that we’ve been here too many times already. But then one early scene pours from the screen in such indecipherable beauty, when mid level drug baron Juan (Mahershala Ali) teaches a young boy, Chiron (Alex Hibbert) how to swim in the Miami surf, and this deeply moving film never looks back. Juan has taken this neglected and withdrawn boy under his wing after discovering him wondering through some ruined tenements in the ghetto of Liberty City, his father absent, his mother grappling with her own substance abuse demons.
Barry Jenkins adaptation of screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue charts Chiron through three formative periods of his life, as a boy, as a gangling and sullen teenager (played by Asthon Sanders) and then as a young man (a broodingly fragile Trevante Rhodes), his moniker shifting from school nickname to street name through a procession of identities. That is just one of the connective tissues that emphasise the underlying currents of self and soul that permeate the picture, beautifully rendered in a trio of linked performances from three previously unknown actors. Although I was initially perturbed by the unfolding of yet another tale of African American experience unfolding in the ghetto, of slinging on the corners and avoiding 5-0 it soon becomes clear that this is merely the backdrop of a wider psalm on our perceptions of the self and how these can change through time and circumstance, the id in a constant state of flux and evolution. Naomi Harris (better known as Moneypenny in the latest Bond’s) as Chiron’s mother and Ali (the fixer Remy in House Of Cards) are both fantastic support, surrounding Chiron with fully rendered adults to his wounded interior, with all their complexities and contradictions in full display.
For a sophomore effort (his first film, Medicine For Melancholy is already being reassessed) this is a film which is deeply accomplished, fully deserving of the panoply of awards it has attracted and its affinity with the best work of Wong Kar Wai and Lynne Ramsay, both cited by Jenkins as crucial influences. The palette is that of combining intimate, handheld closeness coupled with broad widescreen environments, James Laxton’s cinematography brilliantly blazing within the alabaster Miami sun and a twilight of shimmering oranges. Through these designs the film levitates, hovering in that space between self daydream and cognitive inquiry, where crucially Laxton lights the space, not the characters so they can work and move within the dimensions of specific scenes. Carefully orchestrated through the performances, score, masterful manipulation of exposition and colour schemata Moonlight weaves through the influential moments of this young man’s life, before alighting on a devastating emotional conclusion, without resorting to the usual closure of the screen-writing 101 playbook.
A rather lazy but accurate pitchline for the film has devolved to Boyhood meets Boyz In The Hood. Rather more beautifully I’ve heard Moonlight compared to ‘Caravaggio in Florida’, and as a culturally shrewd punctuation mark on the Obama era, of racial advancement and civic progress for gay rights, whch forms a an important thread but not the entirety of Chiron’s story. What is clear is that beyond the surface sexual and racial politics is that Moonlight is a cartography of shifting identities, not just of his life and struggles but also those of his mother and other ancillary characters, divorced from the usual social realist take on growing up poor, in troubled circumstances in modern America. Rather forlornly one hopes that it can overcome the steam train of the undeniably entertaining, skilled yet in comparison rather hollow La La Land come Sunday night, but I’m sure the Academy will favour another valentine to itself rather than this infinitely more complex meditation on masculinity. Believe the hype, this is a major film from a major new voice, aching and vibrant with bittersweet beauty;
Yes, I know, more trailer filler, but this has just been revealed at a midnight Sundance screening and it got punters very excited, managing that almost impossible mix of deft comedy and disturbing horror which is exceptionally rare outside of An American Werewolf In London and the Evil Dead franchise;
Interesting, timely title, and this has mostly gone down a storm at Sundance – looks good;
There has been an increasing aptitude of buzz for Moonlight growing over the past few months, another Sundance flavoured hit which seems poised to break through from the independent world into a modest, but successful multiplex bow. That could be no mean feat for a film about a young black gay dude who is suffering ritual abuse, in todays world that wouldn’t immediately strike me as a box office blast;
I’ll probably try and give it a chance relying on the strength of the reviews, some have cited the giddy heights of Wong Kar-Wai at his best, although having seen the rather dull and pedestrian The Grandmaster last week that’s not exactly propelling my excitement….
This has been a long time coming. Widely touted as one of the years best and dare I say it ‘important’ films, this Sundance stormer finally gets a full trailer – and it looks pretty lacklustre if you ask me. I’m hoping that like Room the marketing executives have got all syrupy and decided to target as wide a market as possible, by effectively cloaking what is an immensely powerful film, according to most of the feedback emanating from those Utah mountains. We’ll find out toward the end of the year;
Conincedently I’m preparing a little something on the remainder of the year and some future plans so stay tuned, minor announcements are en route….
Clearly we are punting out into Festival season and there is something in the water, as at an unprecedented level I’ve got press screening requests flooding my inbox – would I like to see a special preview of Legend? Can you make it to a screening of the acclaimed Greenpeace documentary How To Change The World? No and yes respectively, but some of us still have a (swiftly changing) day-job y’know. Since TiFF is warming up I’m also being asked if I’d like to interview some talent across the pond – am I available to interview the composer behind Sicario? Alas no, I’m in London and there is a Atlantic ocean between us, but best of luck and I’ll be seeing the film anyway at a special preview I’ve already got in the diary for the last week of the month. Clearly with all the other mortal migration going on in the world it sucks to be me with all these privileged first world problems, a not dissimilar accusation levelled at the creative forces behind Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, adapted from his debut novel by scribe Jesse Andrews. I took this project on by reputation alone, I hadn’t even seen the trailer but the buzz it had generated from Sundance is still reverberating, so I threw caution to the wind and strolled along to the world of cine yesterday afternoon. Thankfully, this wasn’t a completely wasted journey.
The ‘me’ in this axiom is Greg (Thomas Mann), anxious, insecure, rudderless and in most other respects an atypical American teenager, drifting through the various clique led shoals of his Pittsburgh High School like a particularly nervous and curdled fish. Earl is his best friend (Ronald Cyler II), a more confident and spirited chap, the duo working together as budding cinephiles to remake and pastiche classics of world cinema in their abundance of spare time. Whether its a lo-fi 16mm Bergman tribute or a stop motion Kubrick influenced sock-puppet play the team have produced an oeuvre of over 42 films, constructed over their long friendship, ranging from Truffaut’s the 400 Bros to Welles Senior Citizen Caned. The dying girl is Rachel (Olivia Cooke), tragically diagnosed with leukaemia, and as their parents are mutual acquaintances Greg is instructed by to hang out with her as the decent thing to do. Their initial mutual antipathy starts to defrost as they get to know each better, and led by Greg’s self-referential voiceover the film charts their trials and tribulations over one long year of treatment and tantrums, where they both mature and make hard choices about their uncertain futures.
This is one of those quirky, ‘indie’ maybe slightly misunderstood films which could go either way, potentially drowning in the waters of pretentious twaddle or bathing itself in the gentle waters of empathy – the mechanics of Michel Gondry, the whimsy of Wes Anderson. It’s not difficult to see why some of the movie crowd have fallen for the picture, as Earl and Greg’s in-film efforts mean that there are plenty of insider jokes and general cinephile celebration, from Scorsese camera moves to Herzog impressions the movie is stuffed with a boundless love for the movies, from both craft and characterisation perspectives. There is also something of a plucky, underdog DIY aesthetic with brief animated interludes which is usual the hallmark of the worst of independent American cinema, but the charm offensive won me over and I was actually a little sad not to spend more time with Greg, his friends and his Pittsburgh plight. Some have criticised it as little more than an indie version of The Fault In Our Stars which is criticism I don’t quite understand, as both films are about maturing and facing mortal challenges without the venerable empathy or experience to process life’s great tragedies, with Earl approaching the material with more of a (dare I say it) slacker orientated sympathy. I understand where these criticisms come from but I think they can be a little unfair, not dissimilar to the barbs that Sofia Coppola receives as her work only being about immensely privileged white people moving through spectacular wealth and opulence, yet boo-hoo burdened with an aching sense of ennui – the heart bleeds. Well, that’s true but that’s the world she lives and was raised in, so maybe you should be able to dismiss such preconceived prejudices and enjoy these films for what they are – heartfelt dramas with characters to become involved in, during a not entirely unsuccessful 100 minute plunder for pathos.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon on only his second feature throws every directorial trick in the book into this, swarming through breathless whip pans, deep focus staging, vertical tilting and tenacious tracking, throwing his camera around Pittsburgh with all the aplomb of a Tourette’s afflicted toddler. As such the visual display is quite self-conscious and attention seeking, but the decisions mostly enhance rather than detract from the experience, helping some of the jokes and dialogue exchanges to land with careful poise, and he’s wise enough to slow things down for crucial emotional character and narrative beats. Full marks for a superb deployment of a Brian Eno sourced score, specifically this which intensifies a crucial scene that we all knew was coming but nevertheless still packs a tear-stained punch, when the film isn’t lifting soundtrack cues and famous themes from the rich seams of world cinema history. The young cast acquaint themselves well with the heightened material, although some more backstory on Earl and Rachel wouldn’t have gone amiss, as Greg’s parents played by Connie Britton and Nick Offerman get more colour and flavour than his peers in the film, particularly the latter who plays against his usual stern right-wing persona as an ambulatory home based psychologist with a strange affection for unusual foodstuffs. This is pleasant, harmless, occasionally humorous fun, with a small kernel of sadness at its core, and just like the titular rhyming couplet I’m trying to finish this review with a rhyme, but I’m afraid that today I just can’t seem to score;
Oh pleassssse be showing at the LFF, could this be this years spirited entry to the centuries best horror films list, or does It Follows still occupy that perch?;
This was the spectral toast of Sundance this year, looks spooky huh? Makes a change from all the zombies, vampires, serial killers and the other exhausted horror tropes, although I assumed that about The Babbadook which didn’t connect with me…….
Waterboarded at Cannes last year and drowned at birth by Warner Brothers in terms of any sort of theatrical release, here is the slightly bewildering trailer for Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut;
Well surely that’s worth seeing? Right? If only just to try and untangle all those rather strange ideas and hinted plot threads, looks to me like David Lynch and Night Of The Hunter spent a New Orleans night on the tequila and mescaline with Harmony Korine. In other news I’ve been keeping a curious eye on Sundance which just wrapped up in the States of course, although I’m quite sad that it isn’t coming back to London this year (and what’s all that about eh? Poor ticket sales? Not enough European distribution drummed up for entries?) it sounds like a few treats are in store, with The Witch starring Finchy no less making some serious waves. Alas as usual there are very few trailers around from any of the winners, so there’s this related to the Gosling instead;
Finally the inevitable and predictable ‘if you didn’t like Inherent Vice then you didn’t understand Inherent Vice‘ patronization has clearly begun, I fully support the notion that yes, sometimes a film can only yield its real intent and qualities on a second or third viewing, but sneering at your intellectual equals for disagreeing with you on a matter of clearly expressed and reasonable opinion is really quite pathetic…..