Saturday, October 29, 2016

'Moonlight" - Review


Taking place mostly in a rough drug infested neighborhood of South Florida near Miami, the film “Moonlight” revolves centrally around the emotionally heartbreaking story of one young man's personal story told across three defining chapters in his life. The first delving into his withdrawn shy adolescence, then from the perspective of total isolation as a teenager devoid of any close friends and then as a 20 something adult man who is extremely guarded in making new relationships of any kind. In each three phases of his life the film tracks his daily struggles to find the courage within himself to accept his sexuality which is culturally taboo.

“Moonlight” is a brilliantly crafted film from new comer Director Barry Jenkins.  It bathes itself in an authentic minute to minute reality that makes you feel you are occupying the same space. Mostly because the Director Jenkins had the courage for his cast to have long meaningful well-paced heart felt conversations with each other that at times were uplifting and other times would simply leave your soul crushed in half; you feel the pain and the torment.

The story’s structure overall is a very quiet and grounded film that takes no sharp turns from one scene to the next. There are no surprise endings or gimmicks to spring on you. No faux subplots to distract you. There is not one false move in the films story telling. There isn’t even an obvious sex scene which one would be surprised by given the core plot of the movie is the emotional matter of the young man trying to understand his own sexuality.   

From the look of the film it’s obviously clear that “Moonlight” is a low budged film. But because the characters seemed so real in the moment the entire film’s story make it feels much bigger and grander than itself. It moves with a magnificence for the viewer’s benefit to understand the emotional conundrum of the young’s man’s journey. You don’t judge him or his story – you observe.

MOONLIGHT IS NOT ABOUT SEX. But what Moonlight is, is something both uniquely special, uniquely raw and uniquely authentic. It is also something that is very delicate. Something that is emotionally soaring. Something that is magically executed. Something that is very well acted across the board.

“Moonlight” is perfect each step of the way. And superlatively speaking, “Moonlight” is one of the best films for 2016. It will be in my Top 10 and has a good chance to be Nominated For an Academy Award as Best Picture.

4 Stars  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Serious Contenders for Best Picture Nominations 2016

Lester’s Serious Contenders for
Best Picture Nominations 2016
 Date: October 16th, 2016:
Hello All:

Based solely on what I have read - researched here is the first of future updates until the end of 2016 (not my preferences) those films that are serious contenders to receive one of a possible 10 coveted Oscar Nomination for Best Picture for 2016. Blue highlights mean they are almost currently a lock.

“20th Century Women” - The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s. Annette Bening who always gives an A+ turn performance, could she finally find her path to Oscar gold as Best Supporting Actress? We will see.

“Arrival” - A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating of aliens who have landed pnm earth and want to communicate with humans. Amy Adams is on everyone early lips as possibly winning her Oscar here for Best Actress. Don’t be surprised if Director Denis Villeneuve also gets a Best Director nomination, as well as Actor Jeremy Renner getting a Best Supporting nomination. Director Denis Villeneuve is the hot new Director in HW everyone wants to work with.

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” - 19-year-old Billy Lynn is brought home for a victory tour after a harrowing Iraq battle. Through flashbacks the film shows what really happened to his squad - contrasting the realities of war with America's perceptions. Directed by Ang Lee who won Best Director Oscars for Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi, as well as got a nomination for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for Best Picture which won eventually won Best Foreign Language Oscar. Director Lee always does brilliant top quality work.

“Fences” - An African-American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. Denzel Washington Directs and Acts in this film and could garner him a double nomination along with co-star Viola Davis (Doubt, Antwone Fisher and The Help) for serious consideration for the Best Supporting Actress category.

“Hacksaw Ridge” - WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Directed by Mel Gibson, will his reputation in HW hurt the film’s chances here? Actor Andrew Garfield (Spider Man reboot and The Social Network) is consider a solid contender for a Best Actor Nomination.

“Hell or High Water” - A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family's ranch in West Texas. Actors Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster as well screen writer Taylor Sheridan who also penned the words to “Sicario” are almost certain to receive serious Oscar nominations consideration for their respective categories. Also Director David Mackenzie could get some consideration as well.

“La La Land” - In the heart of Los Angeles, aspiring actress Mia serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions while dedicated jazz musician Sebastian plays in dingy bars in order to scrape by. The two meet and fall in love, but, as success mounts, the dreams they worked so hard to maintain threaten to rip them apart. Actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are on a lot of possible short list for respective Best Actor – Actress Nominations. Some are already saying this film is “magical”. We will see.

“Lion” - A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family. Stars Dev Patel (Sum Dog Millionaire) as well as Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

“Loving” - Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married who eventually take their case to the SCOTUS. Actors Ruth Negga (World War Z) and Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty) are on a lot of possible short list for respective Best Actor – Actress Nominations. We will see. Director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Mud and Take Shelter) is another hot new Director everyone now wants to work with.

“Manchester by the Sea” - An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.  Actor Casey Affleck is on everyone’s possible short list for a Best Actor Nomination. We will see.

Moonlight” - A timeless story of human connection and self-discovery, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. This film breaks new ground as a rare and touching story about growing up black and gay.

“Nocturnal Animals” - An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband's novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale. Top A List cast with Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Armie Hammer and Laurie Linney. If Amy Adams does well here she could knock herself out of Oscar consideration with two competing performances i.e. “Arrival” in the same year.

“Passengers” - A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early. Big star appeal with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in this Noah’s Arc – Adam and Eve deep space love story.

“Rules Don’t Apply” - An unconventional love story of an aspiring actress, her determined driver, and the eccentric billionaire (Howard Hughes) who they work for. Directed by Warren Beatty.

“Silence” - In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and propagate Christianity. Could this be Actor Liam Neeson’s time (Taken and Schindler‘s List) to win an Oscar for Best Actor. We will see. Directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese.

“Sully” - The story of Chesley Sullenberger, an American pilot who became a hero after landing his damaged plane on the Hudson River in order to save the flight's passengers and crew. Not Director Clint Eastwood’s best work, but Tom Hanks Oscar quality performance could be enough to bring this film across the finish line for another BP nomination for C.E.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Birth of a Nation - Review

The Birth of a Nation

Set against the antebellum South (the time occurring before the Civil War),The Birth of a Nation” follows Nat Turner, an enslaved Baptist preacher who lives on a Virginia plantation. Nat is both rare in being a literate slave and preacher, as well favorably thought of (as far as being a being a slave goes) by his owner Samuel Turner.

With rumors of mass slave insurrection beginning to swirl in the air, a White cleric convinces financially strapped Samuel to start using Nat to sermonize to other local slaves, thereby hopefully quelling any notions of an uprising. Samuel seeing the good in the idea accepts various locals offer to use Nat's preaching prowess to subdue the slave unruliness. But Nat’s time away from his own plantation he begins to witness the countless atrocities directed both against himself as well as his fellow slaves. These acts of brutality help’s Nat sees the religious good in the idea of all out retribution and begins to surreptitiously orchestrate the un-thought for that time an all-out uprising against White slave owners and their families in the hopes of leading his people to freedom. So, on the historic date of Aug. 21, 1831, Nat Turner's rebellion took whole as Nat began his personal quest for justice and freedom which led to the historic violent rebellion in Southampton County Virginia.

“TBOAN” has its flaws. One, in the first hour is the pacing of the films editing which was a bit too “snapshot” quick from scene to scene. There could have been a tad more development of the back story of the white “escaped slave patrols”. Acting almost ghostly in their appearance in the film they come across merely as unauthentic and very underdeveloped characterizations of men who seemed more like primordially born barbaric savage soulless men who’s jobs were to roamed the earth to simply engage in perpetual violence who also just happened to be white. There was also early a slightly clunky story line involving Nat’s transition from a child and having an unusual gift “not to be wasted” because he knew his letters into a decent man of both great Christian faith and an abiding love for his family and his fellow slaves. Overall these are minor effects on the film and ultimately just hiccups along this film’s 2 hour journey.

What does endure from this film, especially in the second hour of Nat’s’ story is his slow and heartfelt evolution from being an enslaved man to a full man who not unlike any other human walking the earth at that time simply wanted to matter out of life of being more than a permanently shackled and brutalized people who could be instantly killed (and often were) "for no reason but being black".

Actor Nate Parker who plays Nat Turner, also produced, wrote and directed “TBOAN” delivers a fine and promising debut effort here. And while there are long stretches where certain scenes were very conventional and a bit uneven in its execution losing the film’s momentum of what we know is to come in the way of the rebellion, overall the story delivers exceptionally well some scenes of great emotional depth, humanity and punches to the gut. It also delivers moments of raw savagery that even I could not imagine, one in particular involving two slaves who refused to eat literally made me wince at the screen. This and other moments in his film depicting American slavery turned my stomach into an emotional and intellectual ball of anguish that I once again had to question how any living soul could ever feel morally justified by either man’s law and religious Christianity doctrine to do such unthinkable things to other humans.

In the end “TBOAN” tries to delivers two basic themes. One, is the historical depiction of Nat Turner’s rebellion of a man literally willing to be tortured and punished that eventually would cost him his life. And the other being the surreptitious power of religion as nothing more than propaganda tool for both the slave owner to be “master over other humans” and the other being a tool to morally propagandized the minds of slaves to be made to feel this was the “Lord’s will” to be sold into lifelong bondage. But in the end the larger and more powerful point revealed in this film was how the institution of slavery was more than stories of shackles, whips, beatings, cotton fields and lynching. It was singularly a system designed to perpetually dehumanize a group of men, women, children and their families from their birth to their graves in all things that matter with the except of the very breath they took.

In the end of the film there is a footnote that comes across the screen that states Nat was slowly hanged until he choked to death, then cut down and dismembered and had his body parts used for axle  grease….......Dehumanizing.   

3 – 3/4 Stars

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Deepwater Horizon - Review

Deepwater Horizon

On April 20th, 2010, one of the world’s largest man-made disasters occurred on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. Directed by Peter Berg ("Lone Survivor"), this film’s story honors the brave men and women whose heroism would save many on board, and change everyone’s lives forever.

PROS: The chaos, explosions and reenactment of human activity, as well as displays of courage are impressive to view. Unless you have been on a floating oil rig before you have no clue or reference point of the size, the technical complexity and engineering intricacies that is involved to manage and operate these behemoths of steel, wire, pipes and wires just to pump oil to make gasoline to insure you keep your car running to gleefully visit your in laws weekly (smiles) or to make life saving medicines and products.

CONS: Where do I begin? First, the screenplay, especially for the first 30 minutes, was nothing short of BP Oil, engineering, techno-babble gibberish that had me scratching my head asking………………. “What the hell did he (they) say?” The dialog was so indecipherable at times to the overall plot I am still wondering what they were talking about to each other.

Second, for me Director Peter Berg falls into that category of director where he is always consistent. He either consistently hits all of his directorial marks as he did in the excellent “Lone Survivor” or he consistently misses all of his marks as he did in the clunker “Battleship”. This film “DWH” is somewhere in between. You the viewer have the advantage going into the theater already having a sense of the basic events leading up and post to the BP oil disaster; so in that respect Berg’s film is easy to follow. But if you didn’t know a single aspect about the events of that day, I would venture to say any reasonable person watching this film would be scratching their heads as I did asking ….”What the hell did they do wrong?”

Third, from a visual point of view Berg must have mounted his camera on the back of Humming Bird that was strung out on PCP. Meaning? Meaning, every frame he seems to jump back and forward so rapidly from the principles  speaking at the time (focusing on them for no more than 4-5 seconds) you see no advantage to this trick other than to make sure you see that person’s lips move during the verbal exchange. He also takes this same nervous energy to the big finale of when the explosion and chaos begins on the platform. The result for me was again you would be hard pressed again to know what was happening.  …What the hell they are they doing now?”........... “Where the hell are they now?” Ultimately this quick trigger camera action made it particularly hard for to know where the crew were at critical moments on the rig as they tried to escape from the fiery inferno. Believe me if this was a crime film you sat through for 1:45 minute running time, you be hard pressed to identify anyone in the cast to a police lineup if your life counted on it. Note to Berg, watch Titanic……….learn.

Inspite of all this you now ask me ………..”So, Lester is it entertaining?........... Yes it is. Hey Lester is it coherent?............ Eeeh somewhat – eeh no so much”. My problem with the film as a whole is that the aggregate effort takes too much liberty at each frame in showcasing the events and the entire story with a conventional simplicity in the execution of what happened that day. There is drama, but it doesn’t grab you by the throat. And while the film (at the very end) pointed out the cost of 11 men their lives, it does little to make it feel more than just a passing foot note. That’s not to mention not one offering of the magnitude of the ecological, economic and political fallout that occur that day as well.

Berg does a solid job of capturing what it looks like for a metal floating city looks like on fire; the intensity and ferocity of the explosion, flying projectiles, steel structures collapsing and basically how terrifying it must have been for all onboard was very, very impressive. But in the end I say that “DWH” is both a mix entertaining and a bit disappointing. And in the end, I was a bit more disappointed in the Direction and Writing than anything else.

3 - 1/4 Stars