Tag Archives: Film Review

The Red Turtle

Movie Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Director: Michaël Dudok de Wit

Synopsis: An allegory of family, nature, innocence and more, The Red Turtle revolves around an unnamed man who becomes stranded on island which refuses to let him go.

The Red Turtle’s plays on the saying ‘no man is an island’. Life, its value and its purpose, stem from our connections with the world, and our loved ones. The life and identity of the unnamed man before being cast away are never revealed. At The Red Turtle’s beginning, he bursts from the water amid a dark storm. Devoid of anything, the man’s arrival on the island is his rebirth, from which he begins to adapt to the island, until one scene where he falls asleep, slowly forming the shape of the mountain which peaks the island.

The man becomes part of the island, and the island becomes the world. The Red Turtle lets us witness the cycle of life with an intimacy of a documentary, as scenes focus upon the rainfall in a monsoon, birds flying in the dusk, or the havoc of a storm. The island’s wildlife being to react to the man, adopting the air of children. The wildlife and its behaviour endears us the island providing levity, but also emotional impact, when the harshness of life bears down.

Director de Wit years of effort to create The Red Turtle has forged a masterpiece which requires little dialogue to connect us with the unnamed man’s trials and tribulations. Instead, de Wit uses the island itself as a series of props to convey emotions and ideas to us, alongside eerie dream sequences and the haunting lullaby soundtrack. De Wit’s spartan art style, blending Asiatic economy with a European colour palette, renders the vibrant island alive.

The Red Turtle, which was eventually backed by Studio Ghibli, epitomises the power of animated film. The genre is as profound and provocative as other forms of cinema and can be appreciated by adult audiences. This is a beautiful film which will stay in your eyes and your mind long after viewing as you ponder of its meaning. That being said, The Red Turtle is not a film for children. At times my attention wavered, and when viewing it at the Southbank in London, the bulk of the audience were in their 30’s or older. For parents looking for a good animated film for children below 14, I recommend Belleville Rendez-vous, which is below and a favourite of mine.

I have said little about the film’s plot for fearing of spoiling the story.  The trailer for The Red Turtle is below, but I would strongly advise you to not watch it before viewing the film. Having only watched the trailer after viewing the film, it is a better experience The Red Turtle blind, allowing the twists and turns to have their full weight.

Do watch de Wit’s earlier short film, Father and Daughter, before viewing The Red Turtle. It is linked below the review and acts as an indirect and helpful prelude to ideas and themes in The Red Turtle.

By Saul Shimmin

The Red Turtle Trailer

Father and Daughter (full-film)

 

Belleville Rendez-Vous trailer

Alien: Covenant

Movie Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Cast: Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Michael Fassbender

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: The Covenant and its crew are carrying 2,000 colonists towards a new life deep into unknown space. Just like the original Alien, the crew stumble across a distress signal from an unexplored planet. The covenant follows the signal and horror ensues.

Halfway through Alien: Covenant one of the characters declares that ‘if one note is off, the whole symphony fails’. His words are prophetic for the film itself.

Alien: Covenant is an enjoyable film with scares equalling the terrifying Alien.  Unfortunately, Alien: Covenant shares the same problems as Prometheus. It self-proclaims its own profoundness and complexity but buckles under this ambition, resulting in occasionally poor dialogue and plot omissions. Only Scott’s renewed focus upon the monsters distracts you from Covenant’s flaws until the film ends.

The film evades any of the questions raised by Prometheus, concluding without any finality to the Alien arc. The cliff hanger ending was well-delivered, but exposes the whole film to be mere kindling for another sequel. Nor does Alien: Covenant provide an explanation of past events for new viewers.  I found the film engrossing, but Alien: Covenant will confuse the uninitiated, and disappoint fans expecting answers to Prometheus.

Alien: Covenant does have many merits. Scott has repeated the pragmatically futuristic design from Alien, coupled with CGI, to create a grounded and believable world. Alien: Covenant is genuinely terrifying, with Scott returning to the slasher-esque feel of the original as the crew scramble to fight or flee from the monsters. The monsters themselves do fall flat  in earlier scenes where they are clearly computer generated, but their menace grows, especially when they appear in glimmers before snatching their prey.

Scott, when interviewed in a Q and A about Alien, said that if you cast properly for a film you have done half of the work. For Alien: Covenant, Scott stuck to his maxim. The cast is a solid roster who convincingly portray the Covenant’s crew. Danny McBride (Tennessee) and Katherine Waterston (Daniels) stand out from the cast. In the past Waterston has stuck to roles portraying damsels in distress. At Alien: Covenant’s beginning, it seemed that Waterston would repeat that role, but she transforms into the pragmatic leader of the survivors. Danny McBride, known for comedic roles, suits the slightly more serious character in Alien: Covenant. It would be great to see him in similar roles soon.

One of the best aspects of the film is the power play within the Covenant’s crew. Certain characters, as tragedies unfold, either break or harden, letting us witness a power shift between the crew from Alien: Covenant’s beginning to end.

Michael Fassbender, as identical androids David and Walter, delivers a great performance once more. Both characters are mirror opposites of each other, developing a twisted father-son relationship, repeating David’s own relationship with Peter Weyland, the androids’ creator.

Other characters may seem underdeveloped, but Alien: Covenant is a monster film, with a vast cast to boot. Given the circumstances, it would be difficult for many of the characters to be well-developed before they die off. However, the lack of expostion for David causes his surrounding air of mystery to dwindle, transforming him into a vaudeville villain.

David’s character underlines what might be the central flaw of Alien: Covenant and Prometheus. Both films require a near complete focus and prior viewing of Scott’s earlier sci-fi films, to understand and appreciate their stories and themes. Personally, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, through their focus on artificial intelligence and conflicts between the creator and the created, are spiritual successors to Blade Runner.

For the every-man, Alien: Covenant will likely disappoint and confuse as much as it may entertain.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

The Handmaiden- Review

Movie Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Director: Park Chan-Wook

Cast: Tae-Ri Kim, Jung-Woo Ha, Min-Hee Kim, Jing-Woong Jo

Synopsis: Thief Sook-Hee (Tae-Ri Kim) is hired by conman Count Fujiwara (Jung-Woo Ha) to aid in his plan to steal the rich Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Min- Hee Kim) away from her Uncle Kouzuki (Jin-Woong Jo). Yet a simple con trick spirals into an exquisitely filmed sexual thriller laced with the weirdness and humour which hallmark Park Chan-Wook’s films. The Handmaiden is a must see for fans of Park Chan- Wook.

Stoker was the first Park Chan-Wook film I saw. The experience of watching Stoker was akin to a dream before waking where the world is vivid and surreal yet so close to our own. While Stoker‘s gothic overtones lingers in your mind, The Handmaiden haunts with its visceral autopsy of male fantasies, which occasionally devolves into a sexploitation but with better cinematography. The film echoes a restrained ambience of weirdness throughout refraining from the excesses of David Lynch. The Handmaiden bristles with a visual opulence matching the decadence tasted by the Japanese elite which Lady Hideko and her uncle belonged to. Yet beyond the physical trappings, grandiose manor, and clean city streets which are revealed, there is a richness in every scene, particularly when the camera pans across the landscape. The verdant greens of mature firs revealed during a night-time drive clash with the blazing sun and roaring blue waves beating against the cliffs upon which Uncle Kouzuki’s estate sits. The Handmaiden may not be Park Chan-Wook’s masterpiece, but surely presents his mastery of film.

The Handmaiden commences as a scheme to dupe Lady Hideko and slowly becomes a tale about women fighting against a male society that fetischizes and manipulates them. For a film that is an unfettered delve into sexual desire, the setting of Japanese controlled Korea in the 1930’s is a politically barbed statement towards Japan. The backdrop of Japanese rule coupled with the sordid desires of Uncle Kouzuki and his entourage of respectable Japanese noblemen eerily reminded me of the Comfort Women.

The Comfort Women were young women in the Asian countries conquered by Japan during the 1930’s and World War Two who were forced to be sex slaves. This dark sliver of history remains inflammatory between Japan and its Asian neighbours, where the events of World War Two are fresh wounds compared to Europe. While The Handmaiden bears no explicit reference to Comfort Women, the film’s depiction of sex and desire loses any whiff of eroticism once the connotations strike home, morphing The Handmaiden into a graphic attack on Japan’s misdeeds in Korea. Delving into hard subject matter is nothing novel for Park Chan-Wook, and his brand of black humour prevents The Handmaiden from excessive brooding. Both Count FujiWara and Uncle Kouzuki deliver comic relief, helping to humanise their selfish and deceitful characters.

The Handmaiden is close to a masterpiece but is flawed by its own focus on sex. The film is advertised as sexual thriller, far beyond the fodder of 50 Shades of Grey. Yet The Handmaiden’s unbridled depiction of sex, both in reality and fantasy is intentionally perturbing to the point where I longed for the film’s end. Moreover, the ending disappointingly devolved into soft porn, pandering to the very sexual desires the film had earlier lampooned.

The Handmaiden is a film that should be seen for its beauty and its oddity, but I could not stomach repeated viewing.

Target Audience: Fans of Park Chan-Wook of adult age, so parents, keep your DVD copy in a safe place.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer see below:

 

Free Fire

Movie Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Director: Ben Wheatley

Executive producer: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Arnie Hammer, Ben Wheatley, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor, & Sharlto Copley

Free Fire is one long Mexican stand-off between gun smugglers and I.R.A. members after a deal goes south. Trapped together in the confines of a disused factory upon the dilapidated waterfront of 1970’s Boston, Free Fire is a more refined version of Reservoir Dogs. Laced with humour, especially from South African gun smuggler Vernon (Sharlto Copley), Free Fire is a refreshing romp that other action films could learn from. Ben Wheatley delivers a brilliant action film which does not attempt to be overly serious or complex.

By sporting such a large cast including well-known and recognisable actors, Free Fire risked becoming filled with half-developed characters acting as padding for the plot. Yet Free Fire’s setting of a locked room is the film’s biggest strength. It focuses our attention towards the battle to survive, leaving only a few brief pauses where we learn about the many characters through interactions and scraps of dialogue. Given the backdrop, the characters feel real as they squabble, try to outsmart their opponents, or simply survive.

Having been a fan of Ben Wheatley since A Field in England, it seems that pitting characters in a closed environment is becoming one of Wheatley’s tropes.

The action stands out in Free Fire. Instead of being a slick set of choreographed scenes, characters fire haphazardly and nervously as they scramble for cover, while bullets ricochet off the walls. No one is smoothly despatched in the film. Every character suffers injury upon injury which adds to the film’s dark humour. Nor is the film purely focused around the action. Subplots of romance, betrayal and rivalry quickly emerge between characters before and in between the shooting.

The cast all deliver great performances, but Sharlto Copley, as bumbling and arrogant South African gun runner Vernon, steals the show. Arnie Hammer (Ord) was a suprising favourite due to his rivalry with hardened IRA member Frank (Michael Smiley). Although Free Fire is an action-comedy which has no main character, there is no competition between the cast to be the comic relief, as each character has their own moment to shine.

There are a few moments near the end, where Free Fire‘s pace begins to falter, but otherwise this an enjoyable film.

Free Fire is a great film that you should go see while it is in the cinema.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

Logan 

Movie Score: 5 out 5 (The only classic Marvel film so far)

Director: James Mangold

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Richard. E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, and introducing Dafne Keen.

Saul’s Review

Logan stands alone as a classic film from the superhero genre. Remove the abilities, and Logan is a gritty film contending with violence, desperation, hope, and family. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart return to roles that have defined their careers, delivering their best performances as The Wolverine and Professor X. Out of the two, Jackman truly shines,depicting Logan not as a hero in any sort, but as a man crushed by a hostile world, frayed by years of hiding and tainted by a long life of misery. Set in a dystopian premonition of Trump’s America, the superheroes in Logan are not invincible, but vulnerable, and it is their vulnerability which makes them so dangerous. This is the most human superhero film ever made. Nor does the film waiver, like so many blockbuster films, from its own serious tone. Logan unflinchingly shows the consequences and deaths which ensue The Wolverine’s actions.

A great final performance

In Logan, The Wolverine has shifted from being a man with nothing to lose as seen in earlier films, to a man who wants to die. It takes an actor with an understanding and an appreciation of a character, like Hugh Jackman, to successfully affect such a subtle shift. Down to his physicality, The Wolverine is a broken man, shuffling onto the opening scenes, dragging himself against the worries of the world. Although he is older and wearier of violence, The Wolverine’s anger is unbridled once provoked rendering him even deadlier than ever. Director James Mangold, who directed The Wolverine before Logan, understands the character, and is able to present a darker depiction of The Wolverine, injecting enough levity into the plot to stop Logan delving into melodrama.

Professor X is no longer the leader of the X-Men but an ailing and elderly man who has moments of lucidity. Patrick Stewart always fitted the role of Professor X, but in Logan we see two refreshing sides to the character. Professor X alternates between a caring grandfather figure towards the young mutant Laura (Dafne Keen), to a stern and mainly ungrateful father and mentor to The Wolverine. Both Stewart and Jackson had great chemistry together in earlier X-Men films, but Logan’s focus upon the pair adds to the close relationship these characters have, and how ultimately, they need each other.

Dafne Keen, without revealing too much about her character, is the mirror to The Wolverine. Her youth and rage matches The Wolverine’s weariness and age. While watching her character, she repeats many of the mannerisms, and flaws, of a younger Wolverine, and clearly needs his help to accept who she is.

Despite William Boyd, of Narcos fame, delivering a great turn as head villain Donald Pierce, lacing his role with humour and a clear admiration for mutants, it is Stephen Merchant who surprises as mutant Caliban. Merchant’s performance was refreshingly serious, with his comedic quips only adding to a character who I became quickly attached to. I hope Merchant receives more serious roles as a result of Logan, he definitely has the talent to succeed.

Weird West

Logan is a hybrid of dystopian and Western themes which draws from Rian Johnson’s Looper’s setting and themes of family, love and redemption. It is a credit to Mangold and screenwriter Scott Frank that Logan steps onto well used tropes, but remains unique. By straddling the America-Mexico border, the film subtly comments upon temporary America, juxtaposing the desolate but peaceful Mexico borderlands with the aggressive patriotism and debauchery of El Paso, Texas.

Broad landscape panoramas of Mexican plans cut against well scripted fight scenes that flit between steady cam and fixed camera shots. The car chases scenes take inspiration from Mad Max: Fury Road, delivering moments which appear like a choreographed dance. Pitting The Wolverine and Professor X against The Reavers, mechanically enhanced mercenaries, evens the odds. Every encounter with The Reavers is a hard-won fight, as opposed to earlier X-Men films where it was all too obvious which side would succeed.

Verdict

Not since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight has a superhero film felt as grounded in realism, where actions have a cost and the characters are not fantastical, but people trying to better the world, however bleak. If you have the time, go see Logan.

Recommended audience: Comic-book lovers, Marvel Fans and anyone who does not want to see a typical blockbuster film.

Hagood’s review:

I couldn’t think of a better send off for my favorite member of the X-Men. This “final” Wolverine film surpassed Superhero clichés in the best way: intense drama. Deadpool & Guardians of the Galaxy both circumvented such clichés, but did so by mocking or over-exaggerating them. After a string of decent Wolverine movies (X-Men Origins: Wolverine & The Wolverine), Logan does more than deliver breathtaking action. It brings intense emotion fueled by complex characters.

The movie starts with a weakened and aged Logan dedicatedly nursing the sick Professor X south of the Mexican border. Neither he nor Professor X have a true purpose in life. Both struggle in their day-to-day lives, but then enters the young and tumultuous mutant, Laura (the debut role of the superb Dafne Keen), who is being hunted by mercenary Donald Pierce (played by rising star, Boyd Holbrook).

Suddenly, these two aging mutants have a purpose to live: Protect the last child of their race.

But the plot goes deeper than “racial” eugenics. It boils down to the fiercest bonds humans share: Family. This is where Logan bests its Marvel and DC brethren. Most gloss over such important bonding elements and instead focus on delivering a massive third-act battle royale, which can be fun, but quickly becomes boring. Logan does both: it packs in several concentrated and extreme battles, but it doesn’t withhold the quiet moments where characters connect.

My only gripe with Logan is that at 2 hours and 17 minutes, it is a bit long. Honestly, I cannot recommend a scene to shorten or cut, so maybe it doesn’t need a cut.

Please, go enjoy this pleasantly deep Marvel film.

Target audience: Teenage males (for the bloody action) and serious movie aficionados

For the trailer follow the link 

John Wick: Chapter 2

In this sequel to 2014’s sleeper hit, John Wickthe action picks up where the original ended. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is still tracking down his 1969 Boss 429 Mustang, the car that Russian thug-prince Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) stole after killing Wick’s puppy. Wick quickly dispatches the remainder of the Russian syndicate and attempts once again to retire from the assassin brotherhood. However, the loathsome Italian mob boss, Santino D’Antonio (played tremendously by Riccardo Scamarcio) recalls a debt from the night of Wick’s “impossible task” that allowed him his freedom. The boss, Viggo Tarasov, alluded to this night in John Wick and how his freedom had a price. In exchange for his prior aid, D’Antonio demands that Wick assassinate his sister, Gianna, who is about to become the head of the Camorra, a title which her brother desires for himself.  

I will stop there because I don’t want to give too much away.

Movie Score: Five out of Five (Classic)

We at Title Roll Reviews, try to reserve this “Classic” ranking for only the most superior movies, but I have to bestow this title on John Wick: Chapter 2. It not only made me incredibly happy, but its director, Chad Stahelski , also kept the action tight while keeping the atmosphere lighthearted despite the gratuitous gore.

My favorite aspect of Wick Chapter 2 was that the producers and Stahelski refused to recycle the first movie for some easy money. Instead, they expanded the world of Wick, adding restraints to the deadliest man on the planet. Wick Chapter 2 also mimicked the exoticism of earlier Bond films.

The first movie’s scale was small: Local Russian mob v. Wick. While its body-count was extremely high, the writers set the movie exclusively in New York. The characters hinted at a larger assassin network and it was this well-established world with smartly funny rules that provided John Wick with a solid foundation that set it apart from increasingly boring action movies like Jason BourneThe Mechanic, and any recent Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Expendables, The Last StandSabotage, etc.) Wick 2 expanded its scope, revealing the intricacies of Wick’s world and some of his past while maintaining Wick’s intrigue (I pray they never make a prequel).

Also, Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad showed impressive restraint in both John Wick’s resources and in the amount of violence in certain scenes. For example, instead of jumping right into Wick’s famous double-tap, in the first action sequence Wick only uses hand-to-hand combat. This trend of restraint continues throughout the movie. Wick constantly running out of ammunition, adding a sense of realism to the world.  We all know that guns have to be reloaded and ammo is not just laying around downtown NYC, a fact that most action movies seem to forget. The one death that revealed the writer’s greatest restraint was Gianna’s. I won’t spoil it here, but it was quite different and most importantly, it was believable in relation to her character.

john-wick-2-baba-yaga

Finally, Wick Chapter 2 took us to interesting places: the Roman Forum ruins and very futuristic locations in New York. They retained a hint of exoticism that James Bond used to have, with the ruins hosting a strange dubstep group that provided a fun backdrop for a fight. The museum in NYC that hosted the final showdown was beautiful and extremely well shot. It contained vibrant colors and countless mirrors. I have no idea how they choreographed the fighting and camera-work so kudos to Stahelski and his stunt coordinators.

Most importantly, Wick Chapter 2 does not take itself too seriously. There are added moments of humor and winks to the audience that it knows how ridiculous its premise is. I applaud Kolstad for striking this balance between humor and badass badassery.

Please, skip Fifty Shades Darker and talk your significant other into seeing this phenomenal movie. Yes, it is brutally violent, but it is vastly better made than that BDSM garbage.

Target Audience: Teens, adults, gamers, and anyone who enjoys action flicks.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Kong: Skull Island (2017) – Teaser/IMAX Poster

kong-imax

Outlook: Skeptical

I’m not gonna lie. The images for this film are stunning. Google “Kong: Skull Island Posters” and you’ll find a trove of majestic photos that exude a distinctly retro/comic-book vibe. By the way, I’m a huge fan of Legendary Pictures, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, and John C. Reilly and most of them are coming off successful projects: Larson (RoomTrainwreck), Hiddleston (The Night Manager), Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), and Reilly (The Lobster). On the surface, this film appears ready to knock critics’ socks off and rule the box-office.

However, the movie’s director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is largely untested. He has only one movie under his belt, the indie-coming-of-age comedy Kings of Summer. I have yet to see this movie, but the plot looked promising and it’s currently rocking a solid 76% on RottenTomatoes.com. Nevertheless, it’s an indie-film with a budget of probably no more than $15 million. Kong, on the other hand, enjoys a budget that RottenTomatoes estimates to be about $190 million. It also boasts a studded cast that I’m sure had big and possibly unwieldy personalities, not to mention monumental special effects that such a monster-blockbuster requires. That’s many balls to juggle for a rookie director.

Also, the plot looks horrendous. After watching this trailer, all I thought was so what? Ok, there is a giant gorilla named Kong and he’s pissed that American soldiers are attacking his “kingdom.” Beyond this simple plot, the trailer provides no hints that the movie will attempt to rise above it. That worries me. At least Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) maintained some mystery surrounding the King instead of flying straight into him as soon as the explorers enter Skull Island’s airspace.

I’m incredibly skeptical of this film. I assume that Warner Brothers, the studio distributing the film, signed on to Skull Island in hopes of capitalizing on the monster craze that it reawakened in 2014 with Gareth Edward’s blockbuster Godzilla, which Legendary Pictures also produced and Warner Bros. distributed. That movie was beautifully shot and filled with wondrous CGI, but the entire story dragged and by the end, I was bored with the omnipotent, nuclear beast. I worry that the same fate awaits me in Kong: Skull Island.

Moonlight

Moonlight follows the life of Chiron, a boy raised in a volatile household and drug-ridden neighborhood, from childhood to manhood. Director Barry Jenkins divides the movie into three sections: LittleChiron, and Black. Each part corresponds to a different stage of Chiron’s life: elementary school, high school, and life as a young adult. Jenkins delivers a heartfelt story that provokes audiences to the point of almost being infuriating. At each stage of his life, Chiron navigates different ordeals: living with a drug-addict mother, discovering his sexuality in a non-accepting environment, and finding his path in life. Moonlight is only Jenkins’ second full-length feature film and it is distributed by the burgeoning film company, A24.

Film Score: Five out of Five  (Classic) 

Everyone needs to see this movie, but not everyone will enjoy it. On its surface, Moonlight appears to be another Boyhood due to their similar plots about following a boy through pivotal moments in his life. Moonlight, however, is about much more than just a boy growing up. Instead, it expertly questions a wide variety of things: the ethics of drug-dealing, masculinity, teenage love, and self-identity.

Moonlight excels in dealing with each conundrum Chiron faces, but the movie’s strongest moment comes in its third act, Black. Here, Chiron is a young man, dealing drugs in Atlanta to make a living. One day, a high school friend/lover, Kevin, phones Chiron to tell him he’s been on his mind. After the call, Chiron goes to visit Kevin in Miami and arrives in a pimped-out Cadillac, wearing a gold grill, and playing a throbbing hip-hop song that exclaims “Ya’ll fucking with the wrong muthafucka.” With each of these facets of his appearance Chiron attempts to exude a tough facade and hide his true nature and homosexuality.

I highlight this act because Jenkins beautifully sets up a realistic persona for Chiron, then just as realistically tears it down. Despite his macho demeanor and muscled up form, the audience can tell Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) is still struggling with his identity. This is not because Rhodes overacts or Jenkins overtly tells the audience that Chiron is struggling. Instead, the audience learns of Chiron’s inner-struggle due to his awkward stuttering and inability to maintain eye contact with Kevin after seeing him for the first time in a decade. A teenage girl might say “Awwww that’s so cute that he’s so awkward.” It is not cute. What it is, is a mastery of acting and storytelling. Chiron’s facade, the act he’s been hiding behind and polishing since he went to juvy, falls apart after Kevin admonishes him for dealing drugs and living this false life. The penultimate moment happens when Kevin goes over to his cafe’s jukebox and puts on Barbara Lewis’s “Hello Stranger.” The song fits the scene perfectly and forces the two men to share their first real moment of the night. Both of their adult-selves disappear, and they become two teenagers, again, in love.

While Moonlight, like Fences, challenges stereotypes of masculinity, this movie is at times the complete opposite of Fences . Where Fences is garrulous and often quite loud, Moonlight utilizes silences. For instance, in the above scene, it is in the quiet moments between Kevin and Chiron that the audience sees Chiron’s love for Kevin. In Fences, Troy (Denzel Washington) would have expounded his love loudly and with as many words as possible. Fences had a warm, softly-yellow visual style creating an aged look, while Moonlight utilized such cinematography for stressful nighttime scenes. For example where Chiron’s mother calls him a faggot, or where Kevin confronts him about why he drove all the way to Miami to see him. In other nighttime scenes, Jenkins switches to a stark style that is more alike to what our eyes perceive in real life. During these scenes, good things happen: Chiron finds love on a beach and Chiron is reunited with Kevin in the cafe.

Please, please, please go see this movie. I deem it a new classic. It grapples with so many issues that I do not have the space nor the wisdom to do them justice. Not to mention the supporting cast is phenomenal. Mahershala Ali, Naomi Harris, and Janelle Monae excel in their respective roles of drug dealer/mentor, mother/drug addict, and girlfriend/mother-figure.   

As always, we welcome your comments.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

 

 

 

 

La La Land

La La Land is a joyous movie, brimming with energy, music, and life. The movie follows, both separately and jointly, the lives of ambitious jazz-man Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), and hopeful starlet Mia (Emma Stone). After a meet-cute worthy of a good chuckle and several “chance” encounters, Sebastian and Mia start dating, but as their respective careers take off, their relationship deteriorates. This is writer/director Damien Chazelle’s third feature film and his first after 2014’s tremendous Whiplash.

Hagood’s review

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

I’m a fan of Damien Chazelle. When I heard that he was making a movie with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, I was overjoyed. After seeing Whiplash, I knew he was going to be one of the best directors of my lifetime with his very grounded and certain vision. Watching  La La Land has cemented my admiration for Mr. Chazelle. He has taken his passion for jazz and flawlessly weaved it into two extremely different genre movies, Whiplash and La La Land. The former, a serious drama, and the latter, a lighthearted, musical love story. Despite differences in tone, both films revolve around the world of jazz. While I maintain that Whiplash was the better of the two, mainly for J .K. Simmon’s insane performance as Miles Teller’s band conductor and its triumphant drum-solo-fuck-you climax, La La Land is only slightly less impressive.

La La‘s music is its foundation, which makes sense since it is a musical. However, I hold that it is the music that is this movie’s most impressive attribute. Whether it was the uplifting opening number, “Another Day of Sun” or  the song “Someone in the Crowd” and it’s accompanying pool-party scene, both had me crying with happiness.  My hat is off to composer Justin Hurwitz. In “Someone in the Crowd,” “Another Day of Sun,” and John Legend’s “Start a Fire,” Hurwitz’s music soars, driving the plot along with glee, then with “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme,” “Planetarium,” and “City of Stars,” he slows the music’s momentum but impressively manages to keep all the emotion of the high energy songs.

The most remarkable element of the music is that it’s all original, yet somehow by the end of the movie, I felt that I had known these songs for years. I am no musician so please forgive me if I butcher anything in the coming sentences. Each song is very different in pace and emotion. Some are instrumentals and some are lyrical. Hurwitz mixes the score with a free-form jazz number then goes straight to Legend’s pop-ballad. Yet they all form a cohesive whole and a great album that I’ve listened to several times through over the past two weeks.

I think meshing different styles, whether musical or cinematic, is Chazelle’s strength. With two excellent films under his belt, I am now looking forward to his upcoming movies with the same verve I do of a Christopher Nolan, a David Fincher, or a Ridley Scott film.

Target Audience: Older teenagers, adults

By Hagood Grantham

 

Saul’s review

Film Score: 4 out of 5

Every Sunday growing up, the drive home would be filled with musical numbers from Elaine Paige’s radio show. Each time Elaine’s voice materialised through the speaker, I fought the urge to open the car door, and roll onto the M62.

I have never, nor will I ever, like musicals.

La La Land immediately bursts onto the screen with a dance number of bright colours and happy people spanning the length of a gridlocked highway bridge, to the shimmering mirage of downtown Los Angeles. Watching La La Land begin its ode to the Golden Age of Hollywood and musicals, I felt the same childhood urge of nostalgia to flee.

Though the compulsion to escape quickly passed because La La Land is about two creative people grappling with self doubt, and is an excellent story regardless of the musical pieces. Although, I do admit “City of Stars” has been playing on a loop the last few days. Mia is an actress who feels overlooked by an industry indifferent to her efforts. Sebastian is a jazz musician fixated on saving jazz music, but lives in a world where his art form is outdated and under-appreciated. Through their union, Mia and Seb relent to their fears. Seb accepts a steady income and popularity over his ideal that jazz should remain pure. Mia loses faith in her ability to act, deciding she should return to a more normal life. Both characters blame each other for the collapse of their dreams, splitting the pair.

La La Land shares the same themes as Paterson but reaches a different conclusion. A quaint New Jersey town in summertime is replaced by the nostalgia, glitter and facade of Los Angeles. Paterson and Laura overcome their internal obstacles to succeed together.  Mia and Seb splinter apart, as their relationship is not a nurturing pairing, but a test as to whether they are committed to their respective goals. Personally, I think that both couples in Paterson and La La Land are personas of their directors, in one long dialogue about their own trials.

The visual direction of La La Land melds the styles of  Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell. A glowing ember of nostalgia, for both Hollywood and America in the 1950’s pervades the film; from the primary colours of cocktail dresses, to the pastel blue sky trimmed by palm trees, to the broad shots of Art Deco architecture. La La Land’s cinematography exudes the warmth of west coast sunshine, leaving me happier for the experience.

 La La Land is at its most compelling when Seb or Mia are pitted against an indifferent crowd. In Seb’s performance at the diner and Mia’s exit from her first audition, no words are uttered but we share in their struggle to be recognised. The camera focuses upon Seb and Mia pouring out their hearts, only to reveal that the crowds around them, both diner and studio corridor, do not care. I have to praise cinematographer Linus Sandgren and director Damien Chazelle, for using crowds to great effect, especially in the final scene where Mia and Seb are the only ones aware that the song playing is their theme. There was a quiet intimacy in their secret understanding of the song’s meaning, which was especially moving.

However, La La Land drags at the end. The ten minutes where we witness how Mia’s and Seb’s lives would have been together, felt unwarranted. Watching the pair react in turn to Seb playing their song, City of Stars, amidst the silent audience of Seb’s jazzclub, would have been enough. Stone is not a good singer and when she did sing, it was somewhere between talking and humming. It detracted from many of the songs, although her acting and charm made up for it.

Target Audience: People who do not like musicals, but want to watch a film as relaxing as yoga.

By Saul Shimmin

 

Fences

Fences concerns the loquacious, loud, proud and complex man, Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) and his struggles with his subservient family. Fences is based on August Wilson’s play of the same name. Wilson adapted his play for the screen before his death in 2005, on the condition that an African American would direct the film. 11 years later Fences arrived on the silver screen. Denzel Washington took up the mantel of director, and he has delivered a masterful product.

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Troy Maxson is an incredibly complex character that could have easily come off as an annoying asshole if a less capable actor had taken the reigns. Instead,  Washington perfectly embodies Troy being all at once believably angry, vulnerable, happy, and, most importantly, real. I was left breathless several times during the movie as  Washington ran the gambit of emotions in under a minute with ease.

Troy’s character reminds me of Washington’s multi-faceted character in Training Day, Detective Alonzo Harris. Washington delivers another layered performance as Troy, seemlessly revealing different aspects of his character. Washington may add a third academy award to his cabinet this year.

However, Washington wasn’t the only star in this film. Viola Davis played Rose, Troy’s wife. Halfway through the movie, Rose stands up to the intimidating Troy after hearing some tumultuous news and steals the spotlight. You can see the moment at the end of the trailer below. I could rewatch that scene over and over. It’s raw emotion. It doesn’t get any better.

Every character shares the screen with Troy, but he dominates and in the movie’s denouement Troy’s youngest son, Cory (brilliant newcomer, Jovan Adepo) reflects on his father’s pervasive character. Some people might grumble about this movie being too speech heavy, but it’s needed. Troy purposely fills the film to the brim through word count, volume, and screen time.

Troy harks back to a type of man who is difficult to find today. He is a tough father who believes his duty is to provide and protect, nothing more. His love is apparent in his deeds and he uses force to enforce his will and makes sure his family obeys. My grandfather was like this. Many men who lived through World War II became these types of fathers. Though, times have changed. Men and fathers are now more open about their emotions and open to changing their roles as the patriarchs of families. Whether this is a good or bad thing is unclear, but I think it’d be healthy for people to remember the type of family that once was. I know it made me more thankful for my parents.

The only thing keeping this movie from achieving a perfect 5 out of 5 movie score is that it was quite long and during the beginning I got bored. It lacked conflict and while it was necessary for achieving backstory and setting the mood. I believe Washington could have executed this more succinctly. Otherwise, it’s a tough but finely acted and directed story.

Target Audience: older crowds (21+) and serious movie and drama buffs.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham