Moonlight (Full Review)

It’s always nice when a film explores seldom acknowledged and often completely untouched subject matters. The best films and the best actors aren’t afraid to enlighten. Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, is as unique a coming of age story that can be found in cinema. Exploring themes such as homophobia, bullying, and existentialism, it is undoubtedly a story that has power and value.

moonlight_2016_filmThe film tells the story of a boy, who becomes a teen, and then a man. The boy (Alex R. Hibbert) is a quiet child who is struggling with being bullied and whose mother (Naomie Harris) is a drug addict. He is eventually taken in by a caring drug dealer (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend (Janelle Monae) who become his mentors. By the time he becomes a teen (Ashton Sanders), his social issues have only compounded as he continues to battle with his sexuality and his relationship to his more popular best friend, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). By the time he has reconnected with Kevin as a man (Trevante Rhodes), he has become a drug dealer himself and is still attempting to come to terms with his own identity.

Every performance in Moonlight is transcendent. The three actors who portray  the lead character, Chiron, do so with poetic, yet gut wrenching depth that makes the character both endearing and heroic. Mahershala Ali brings soul and a calming, nuanced wisdom as Chiron’s young mentor, Juan. Naomi Harris is equally brilliant as Chiron’s emotionally abusive mother although the character does feel a bit like a drama film cliche.

But Moonlight is not without its flaws. As a narrative, it never quite flows. The film is constructed into segments centered on each stage in Chiron’s life, but in doing so, a lot gets left off the table in its overall presentation. The segment about his childhood feels like it ends too soon, while the climactic scenes about his adulthood feel like an overall footnote. As a result, sensational characters like Mahershala Ali’s Juan are underutilized and many experiences that could help shape the character once we’ve seen him mold into an adult are left to quick exposition or mere speculation.

The performances allow us to see where Chrion’s journey takes him, but because of the abrupt shifts in narrative, we never truly experience it. The exception is the middle segment which easily feels like a story which has a beginning middle and end, but the rest feels like a television season where we’re missing episodes. It doesn’t take much away from an overall splendid film with wonderful acting and beautiful cinematography, but it did leave me wanting just a little more from its compelling story.

FINAL GRADE: B

Moonlight (Full Review)

Split (Full Review)

No film director in history has ever put a scowl on my face quite like M. Night Shyamalan. He started off his career with such promise with films like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. But then, somewhere along the way, his signature plot twists got dumber and dumber (Signs, The Village, The Happening) and his narratives got more and more boring (Lady in the Water, After Earth). The less said about what he did to The Last Airbender, the better. But like a jump shooter who can’t seem to make an open shot, maybe Shyamalan just needs one to hit the mark and he’ll be back on the right track.

split_2017_filmHis newest attempt, Split, stars James McAvoy as Kevin, a man with multiple personality disorder who abducts a high school loner (Anya Taylor-Joy) and two naïve, but considerate popular girls (Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula). As one of his personalities attempts to reach out for help from his psychiatrist (Betty Buckley), Kevin’s more dominant personalities: a woman, a stoic pervert, and a 9-year old boy, hold the girls captive believing they will be a sacrifice for a fabled new superhuman persona known as ‘The Beast’.

The plot can get pretty out there at times, especially in the climax. But for most of the film things feel relatively grounded in reality. McAvoy’s performance, in particular, is sensational and his ability to encapsulate the different personalities is what makes this movie feel so effortlessly enthralling. Through the different characters within Kevin, McAvoy is able to invoke many emotions from humor, to endearment, to pure terror.

For one actor to manage this is truly impressive. In the final act, things delve into the more supernatural and overtly impossible which takes the film from a frightening thriller to a flat out slasher/monster film. But considering Shyamalan’s history of creating some overtly unexpected  and unwarranted plot twist simply for the sake of it, it is actually refreshing for him to keep things relatively straight forward.

There is a plot twist, however; one that will likely go over the head of many audience members. And although it has next to nothing to do with the film’s actual narrative, it is an undeniably unique element that could create a full on rebirth in Shyamalan’s career as an A-list filmmaker going forward. So, there you have it. No matter how many times you miss, making the next one hit its mark is all that really matters.

FINAL GRADE: B

MOORE REVIEWS Grading Scale:

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Probably better off waiting for Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

F = I wanted to walk out/Don’t waste time or money

 

 

Split (Full Review)

Live By Night (Full Review)

Once upon a time, (thanks to movies like Gigli) Ben Affleck’s name didn’t garner many positive vibes. Then, along came The Town and Argo and just like that, ole’ Ben’s reputation for quality movie making was back to Good Will Hunting status.  But reputations can only survive for so long before they have to be reinforced. And after the bad mojo created from Batman v Superman (most of it entirely not his fault), Mr. Affleck needed something to remind us that he is still one of the best filmmakers/actors.

live_by_night_filmLive By Night is the story of bootleggers in Florida during the time of American Prohibition. Affleck directs and stars as Joe Coughlin, the Boston born son of a Police chief (Brendan Gleeson) who is an outlaw by day. When his affair with an Irish mobster (Robert Glenister)’s girlfriend (Sienna Miller) lands him in hot water, Coughlin moves to Tampa, Florida with his partner (Chris Messina) to begin work bootlegging for the Italian mob. There, he meets his wife (Zoe Saldana), battles the Ku Klux Klan, and attempts to keep a Sheriff(Chris Cooper)’s preaching daughter (Elle Fanning) from ruining his organization’s plan to build the state’s first casino.

As you might be able to tell from the synopsis, the movie is filled with subplots. Clearly Affleck had ambition, but his film never seems to reach a consensus about what story it actually wants to tell or what point it wants to make. None of the subplots are uninteresting, but because things jump around so much and so often, it all feels like one big long mess that would’ve probably been better suited for an HBO mini-series.

Thankfully, the film isn’t a bore. The gangster action is exciting whenever it hits, but those moments don’t come as often as you think or want. In fact, for much of the movie, it feels more like a romance and a film about the political workings of bootlegging more than a gangster film. The lulls in action or intrigue are made less unfavorable by a few welcomed moments of wit, charm and humor from Affleck and a solid supporting cast. But at no point is any of it enough to fully justify the film’s poor pacing and sheer lack of focus.

FINAL GRADE: C, Redbox it

Live By Night (Full Review)

Hidden Figures (Full Review)

History lessons can often be a bore. That is, unless you’re being taught something generally interesting that has significance to your own life. As Americans, the 1960’s space race is something that is ingrained in our history. And thanks to the phenomenal research of author Margot Lee Shetterly, we now have a new wrinkle to a familiar story that should inspire us all.

the_official_poster_for_the_film_hidden_figures_2016Hidden Figures tells the real life story of three African American women who overcame racial prejudice to help pioneer the first American space mission. Taraji P. Henson portrays Katherine G. Johnson, a mathematical genius who works under Space Task Group Director, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), to plot the successful trajectory of the first American orbit around the Earth. Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughn, a NASA mathematician and natural born leader fighting for a much deserved promotion with her white supervisor (Kirsten Dunst). Lastly, Janelle Monae portrays Mary Jackson, a brilliant woman seeking to become NASA’s first African American female engineer.

The problem that plagues most biographical films is pacing. Even a phenomenal film like Selma had its occasional slow moments, but Hidden Figures manages to avoid these narrative lulls. The movie juggles its subplots beautifully, and smartly puts most of its focus on Katherine and her struggles to traverse a hostile environment along with her romance to a military colonel (Mahershala Ali).

The other women get their time to shine, but it is ultimately Katherine’s story that provides the most powerful moments. From an immensely powerful scene involving segregated bathrooms to all of the endearing dialogue shared between Henson and Costner, Katherine Johnson’s story becomes the epitome of the struggle between race relations as well as the ultimate theme of accomplishing goals through unification.

The film is filled with the uncomfortably unsubtle prejudices of our past, but by the end every heinous character has experienced growth. In the month when we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and just before Black History Month, a film that reminds us that we can only progress if we are unified against our worst natures is incredibly pertinent. Having a magnetic cast of actresses and actors capable of bringing charm and fervor to their roles is certainly a plus too.

FINAL GRADE: A, a must see

Hidden Figures (Full Review)

Assassin’s Creed (Full Review)

Once upon a time, Hollywood thought superhero movies would never be mainstream. Now, they’re some of the most profitable films in existence and Oscar winners are lining up to be in them. So maybe, just maybe, video game movies (a genre that’s always been relatively terrible) are finally ready to come along and be consistently entertaining.

assassins_creed_film_posterAssassin’s Creed is a popular video game about an ancient order of secret assassins who serve to fight against an elitist group known as the Templar. The film stars Michael Fassbender as Callum Lynch, descendant  of a 15th Century Spanish assassin who is apprehended  by the modern day Templar and their lead scientist, Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard). Sophia and her father (Jeremy Irons) hope to use a machine, known as the Animus, to tap into the memories of Callum and other assassin descendants (Michael K. Williams) in hopes of finding a legendary relic that can control the free will of mankind.

The plot to this film is all over the place and the more you think about it after it’s lengthy climax, the more holes you discover in the story (Like how is Callum a descendant when his Spanish counterpart is never established to have any offspring?). Fans of the game may care about the use of the Animus, but in this film it just feels like an unnecessary gimmick. And while the concept may work for a video game, here it just seems overly convoluted and hellishly distracting.

The film switches between the two time periods and when things are in the present day, nothing ever really occurs to make the audience care about the characters or their motives. As for the movie’s star studded cast, none of them seem capable of overcoming wooden dialogue to make their characters relatable or even likable. Thus, every second of the film spent in the modern day feels boring.

And it’s an absolute shame, because the parts of the film taking place during the Spanish Inquisition are fantastic. Whether it’s exhilarating action sequences or just captivating shot angles that take advantage of 3D technology, the parts of Assassin’s Creed that focus on ancient assassins is fun to watch. Even the relatively silent characters of this portion (Fassbender and Ariane Labed) are infinitely more interesting. If only they’d made that era the focus, we’d finally have a rare video game movie that isn’t forgettable.

FINAL GRADE: C-

 

Assassin’s Creed (Full Review)

Fences (Full Review)

Denzel Washington. There are very few people in existence who can give a monologue like him. But he might have met his match, at least for this film, in the form of fellow Oscar winning actress Viola Davis. Like Denzel, Viola can shine even in mediocre films. The two sensational performers join forces as Denzel steps behind the director’s chair to adapt August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play.

fences_filmFences stars Denzel as Troy, a 53 year old former Negro League baseball player struggling to make ends meet as a garbage man with his wife, Rose (Davis), in 1950’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Together, they navigate Troy’s struggles with his mentally handicapped brother (Mykelti Williamson) and his rocky relationship with their teenage, athlete son (Jovan Adepo) and Troy’s illegitimate, musician oldest son (Russell Hornsby). As an original play, the film is low on thrills, but heavy on drama and emotion. The movie itself feels very much like a play and with that comes the pros and cons of most stage play to movie adaptations. The movie is long and very slow, but dragging moments are lifted by the sheer power of the two leads.

To no surprise, Washington and Davis are both brilliant in their performances. Washington is both charismatic and emotionally jarring. His scenes with Jovan Adepo provide some of the best dialogue on film. But when the real drama sets in toward the end of the film, Viola Davis takes the lead as the most magnetic person on screen. Her portrayal is filled with the soulfully endearing passion that makes her the hero of the entire narrative.

If you go in knowing that the film will be methodical then the sluggish pacing won’t be nearly as off-putting. Filled with magnetic monologues from not just Davis and Washington, but every major player, Fences is a movingly poignant story of African American culture in the 1950’s that is beautiful to witness. And I can die happy knowing that two of the best in the business were able to bring it to life.

FINAL GRADE: A-

Fences (Full Review)

17 for 17 (My Most Anticipated Movies of 2017)

Have you ever seen that Facebook post with all of the movie posters for upcoming movies? Doesn’t it get you excited (even though most of them are photoshopped and a third of them haven’t even been written yet let alone started filming). Well with a new year upon us, it’s time to look forward to all of those big budget sequels and adaptations that will either be amazing, or big giant letdowns (*cough DC Extended Universe *cough*). Here are the 17 movies I’m most looking forward to in 2017.

17. GHOST IN THE SHELL (March 31st)

ghost_in_the_shell_2017_film

Based on a popular Japanese anime and manga, Ghost in the Shell will star Scarlett Johansson as an android police officer. The anime was gritty, dark and inspired by film noir. If the first trailer is any indication, this live action version will carry the same tone with awesome CGI to bring the futuristic world to life. Let’s just hope the story is captivating.

16. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (May 26th)

pirates_of_the_caribbean_dead_men_tell_no_tales

The last Pirates of the Caribbean felt like one of those old straight to VHS Disney sequels from the 90’s. But my hopes are high that they can get the series back on track. That’s mainly because this time around they’ll be getting the old band back together. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly are slated to appear alongside Johnny Depp for this newest adventure which will also feature Javier Bardem as a new villain.

15. BAYWATCH (May 26th)

34650a3e00000578-3599761-image-m-178_1463689704780

We all know of the show, even if you never actually watched anything past the opening credits. Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron will star in the lead roles to help bring to life this action comedy that is essentially a tongue and cheek spoof of the original TV series. Both actors have proven they can nail comedic roles, so I’m anticipating this being one of the few movies that will be as funny as its trailer.

14. KONG: SKULL ISLAND (March 10th)

kong_skull_island_sdcc16

For me, Peter King’s 2005 King Kong film fell flat. It had its moments, but it was way too long and had a ton of plot holes. This new Kong film is set to do away with the “giant monkey captures woman and fights planes atop a building” narrative to give us more of what we liked in the last film. Which is: monster on monster violence. Packed with an all-star cast that includes Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, and Tom Hiddleston, this movie has the potential to be a lot of fun.

13. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (July 7th)

spiderman_homecoming_logo

This movie may be a bit low on the list, as Spider-Man is one of the most popular superheroes. But the teenage webslinger has been done to death (This will make 6 movies in the last 15 years with 2 different reboots). Still, the Marvel Cinematic Universe rarely disappoints, and Tom Holland seemed perfect for the role in his cameo appearance in last summer’s Captain America: Civil War. So although I’m tired of Spider-Man movies, I can’t help but expect this one to be at least better than the last one.

12. BLADE RUNNER 2049 (October 6th)

blade_runner_2049_logo

The original Blade Runner was a film about futuristic police officers tracking down Replicants (human androids). Back in 1982 it revitalized the film noir genre. Now three and a half decades later, Harrison Ford is slated to return for a long awaited sequel. Ryan Gosling will play the lead as the new blade runner in a film that will hopefully impress even without original Director Ridley Scott.

11. KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (October 6th)

kingsman_the_golden_circle

Kingsman: The Secret Service was one of my favorite movies of 2015. It was suave, action packed, and didn’t take itself too seriously. Taron Egerton and Mark Strong return for this sequel that will add Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, and Julianne Moore. If it’s anything like the first film, it is sure to be another outrageously wild ride.

10. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (MAY 5th)

gotg_vol2_poster

The first film was a breakout hit and launched Chris Pratt’s career into super stardom. The follow up is sure to be a box office success. The star studded cast will reunite, with Kurt Russell joining on as Star Lord (Pratt)’s mysterious father while Baby Groot is sure to be a hit with wide audiences. I personally am most excited for the soundtrack.

9. VALERIAN and the CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (July 21st)

valerian_and_the_city_of_a_thousand_planets

This film is an adaptation of a science fiction graphic novel and is sure to bring all sorts of weird alien worlds and awesome special effects. The talented Dane DeHaan and the tolerable Cara Delevingne will play the lead roles as a pair of traveling space police. The film will be directed by Luc Besson who directed 2 films I love (Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element) and 2 films I didn’t (The Family, Lucy), so we’ll see which end of the spectrum this one falls under.

8. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (July 14th)

war_for_the_planet_of_the_apes_poster

The revitalized Planet of the Apes movies following Andy Serkis’ Caesar character have all been sensational so my expectations are high for part three. Woody Harrelson joins the cast as the villain which should make for some intense moments to go along with exciting ape on human action sequences.

7. THOR: RAGNAROK (November 3rd)

thor-_ragnarok_logo

Sure, the Thor movies might be the weakest tandem in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but this one looks to be awesome. Oscar winning actress Cate Blanchett will be playing the villain and the movie is also set to feature Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk in a major role. They’re also taking the focus away from Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings and keeping the film out in space where Creed’s Tessa Thompson will be playing a warrior female lead.

6. JOHN WICK 2 (February 10th)

john_wick_chapter_two

If you haven’t seen the first John Wick, then you ma’am or sir are missing out. John Wick was a stylistically unique, bad ass action flick that felt like something straight out of a graphic novel. All of the cast (that survived the first film) are back and Laurence Fishburne and Common join the cast as fellow assassins. After watching the first trailer, this movie is sure to be another action packed thriller.

5. LOGAN (March 3rd)

logan_2017_poster

The X-Men movies are great (most of them at least), and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is even greater. He is set to sport the claws one last time in this loose adaptation of the Old Man Logan graphic novel. From the looks of the awesome trailer, this film has the potential to be a masterpiece. It will also be the first non-Deadpool X-Men film to be rated ‘R’ so there will be nothing stopping the Wolverine from getting as gruesome as we all want him to be.

4. JUSTICE LEAGUE (November 17th)

e4987751f9b900b2988cefcc196417bd6fab8468

Yes, the DC Extended Universe hasn’t lived up to the hype just yet. And yes, Zack Snyder is once again bringing his overindulgent style of filmmaking back. But c’mon this is the Justice League. The original mashup of elite superheroes. It’ll unite Gal Gadot’s scene stealing Wonder Woman and Ben Affleck’s bulky, bad ass Batman with the first cinematic appearance of the Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman. Henry Cavill’s Superman will also be resurrected, so even if the movie flops  plot wise, it’ll at least be fun to watch for the action sequences and visuals. Plus the early footage looks like the tone will be much lighter than the overly depressing Batman v Superman.

3. WONDER WOMAN (June 2nd)

wonder_woman_2017_film

Speaking of the DCEU and the scene stealing Wonder Woman, this film will finally bring the iconic female hero to the forefront. Patty Jenkins is on tap to direct and the film will be keeping the character to her Amazonian roots while teaming her with Chris Pine. There’s never been a good female led superhero movie (thanks to Catwoman and Elektra), but the early trailers have been impressive so my hopes are high that this film will finally give the DC movies a film worth being proud of.

2. POWER RANGERS (March 24th)

power_rangers_2017_reveal

Newsflash, I loved the original Power Rangers show. I even made a post about my expectations for the movie. Sure the original show was cheesy, but the concept was every kid’s dream. This reboot will reimagine the original heroes with a young cast of newcomers. And while many have panned the new designs for the film, I am thoroughly intrigued by what I’ve seen. If the movie can keep the core elements that made the original series a hit while also scaling back the cheesiness and making things feel more believable, than this movie could be a fun, nostalgic setup to a brand new film saga.

  1. STAR WARS: EPISODE 8 (December 15th)

index

I don’t care if The Force Awakens rehashed too many things from the original Star Wars film, the new characters were all great and the cinematography was even greater. They’re all set to return, and with so many questions unanswered by the last film and the folks at Lucasfilm keeping things tight lipped, this movie is already loaded with intrigue even before a trailer drops. The rehashed death star has been destroyed and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) will be returning to the fold, so there are a ton of directions that these new exciting characters could go in. Plus, this will be our last time to see the late, great Carrie Fisher on the big screen.

So there’s my list. Where’s Fate of the Furious you may ask? Well… I basically despise those movies, so there’s that. And as much as we all want to see Bad Boys 3, it isn’t slated until 2018. Hopefully all of these movies live up to the hype (of course they won’t).

HONORABLE MENTION:

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (MAR 17th): I loved the original, but this one is basically going to be the exact same movie.

 DESPICABLE ME 3 (JUNE 30th): The first 2 were good, but Minions was awful.

 THE MUMMY (June 9th): Tom Cruise > Brendan Frasier

 TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT (June 23rd): The trailers always look great. But I’ve lost faith in these movies.

17 for 17 (My Most Anticipated Movies of 2017)