Sunday, November 6, 2016

Moonlight (2016)

Directed and written by Barry Jenkins

Moonlight is a film that takes it's time to unfold.  It begins at a very slow pace, which I find refreshing, considering how frenetic the pace of most films are as of late. It's about the life of a young man trying to find himself. It's rich, and is a coming of age tale that has been a long time coming. 

The acting is excellent, and it's filmed beautifully. The composition of its score, beautifully put together by Nicholas Britell, provides an interesting juxtaposition, against its urban setting. 

The films three chapters, take its time to reveal the content, giving you insight into the main character, I use the term "character" loosely, as it's clearly autobiographical. It is a story told in three chapters, each one as important as the next. 

There be some spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk:

This is the story of Chiron aka "Little". A boy, growing up in Miami, in the era of the 80's drug war. He and his single mother are of meager means.  He is taunted by the other boys, not only for his size, but because he appears weaker to them. 

As we first meet Little, he is being chased by some other schoolboys, and he ends up taking refuge in an abandoned apartment. It is here where he meets one of the important men in his life.  Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, is a drug dealer, who immediately takes to watching over Chiron. As they get to know each other, much to the chagrin of his mother, he becomes the father figure that he's not had in his life. There's a very important scene with Chiron & Juan, where he shows him how to swim. The scene plays out as a baptismal of manhood, one which begins the first very important step in Chiron learning about what it means to be a man. 

During all this, we are also introduced to Teresa, expertly played by Janelle Monae.  Teresa is Juan's girlfriend, and is a strong beacon of light in those moments when Chiron's life is full of darkness. This is due to the fact that Chiron's mother, played on point by Naomie Harris, is a crack addict.  Juan and Teresa give him the safe space that he's so desperately needed. This safety though, hides a terrible secret, which leads back to his mother. 

All the while, Little is making his way through school.  It is here we meet Kevin, who has confidence, and believes in him. While the other boys pick on him, Kevin enjoys being in his company, and makes it easy for him to simply be a boy that's growing up. 

As Little grows, his mother's addiction grows worse.  He finds himself going to spend nights at Teresa's home. Juan has since passed away, but Little knows this is where he can find some solace. 

It's during this time that Kevin comes back into the picture.  He spends an evening with Little on the beach, where he has his first sexual experience with him.  This tender moment bonds these two people together. This moment of happiness it quickly reaches nightmare status, as the following day Kevin is prompted by the school bully, to knock down Chiron. A defining moment, that has long lasting after effects on the lives of all involved. 

As we reach the end of the film, Chiron is grown up, and dealing drugs near Atlanta. He has literally become Juan, the only father figure he's known.  At this point in the film, our main character is played by Trevante Rhodes. He goes by the name "Black". A nickname that Kevin gave him when they were younger. 

He returns home after he receives a call from Kevin, trying to make amends for what happened many years before.  This trip back also involves a trip to see his mother. Who's clearly been through a lot up to this point as well. 

The trip ends up being one of closure, and of Black beginning to find himself again. This is a film that stays in your mind long after leaving the theater.  Once digested, the film has even deeper meaning. About growing up while facing horrible odds, about finding oneself, and about what it means to grow up a Gay person of color, and the weight that it carries. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Boyhood is written and directed by Richard Linklater.  It stars Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater, and Ellar Coltrane as Mason. The film is a coming of age story, that takes us from when Mason is young boy, to a young man.

Few films can say they've achieved what is accomplished in this film. The fact that it was completed over a span of 12 years, is amazing onto itself.  It's best to walk into this work, with an open mind. As in life, sometimes it's exciting, and sometimes it's just day-to-day happenings.  There aren't any dramatic cues, to let you know that it's time to tear up, and get emotional.  Even when one thinks a tragedy might occur, it just moves on.  While I felt cheated at times, due to the lack of said tragedies, I realized, this film wasn't going for the conventional response from it's audience. Honestly, most films these days are the equivalent of Smell-o-vision. You are "told" when to experience reactions in a movie.  The music swells, and a Pavlovian response is supposed to follow.

The pacing of the film, takes some getting used to, but it's best to keep in mind that every scene, is a jump forward.  The cast, is believable, and definitely noteworthy.  I walked away loving Patricia Arquette after this film.  I've never been a big fan of her work, but she was absolutely brilliant as the family matriarch.  I think we all see a bit of our mother in her.  Ethan Hawke, well, he's Ethan Hawke.  He excels at making the audience love an imperfect character. I even grew to love Lorelei Linklater, who plays Mason's sister. As for Ellar Coltrane, well, I don't even think of what he is doing on screen, as acting.  He just simply is, and this journey, that he takes us on, makes us all grow up with him. Together they create this environment that feels like home.

My only big complaint about this film, is a scene towards the end, involving a waiter. That's the only time I felt it was trying to reach too far.  It felt like it had been shoehorned into the film, and was really unnecessary.

This film has earned every bit of the praise it's received, and I truly hope it's not forgotten, come awards season.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Let me begin by saying that I love the X-men.  I've been reading this book since about '83.  I'm very open to different interpretations of what is considered Mutant Gospel, by way of the comic books, but while there are some amazing elements to the films, they always fall a bit short.  Although, I absolutely loved First Class. That remains the best film, followed by X-2.

Days of Future past has always been gold, as far as fans go.  It's an amazing story, Created during the Claremont era, that brought more weight to an already loved comic book title.

Needless to say, I was beyond excited to see it made into a movie. There are some fantastic elements in this film, but it just doesn't have good flow.  I never felt invested in the characters, and nor did I feel there was anything at stake..

Although, the, one scene, with Quicksilver at the Pentagon, pretty much stole the movie.

I feel as if I've forgotten the animosity that is thrown at Mutants.  I wish there would have been an overview of it again.  A little more of that fear of the unknown, over the years, that led to this point.  Even if it was just in the credits, via news clippings, tv footage.  

It all left me a bit numb.  I had the same reaction to Captain America 2, and Godzilla.  Which are great flicks, but in the end, forgettable, and certainly not classic.  I realize my opinion, is not the popular one, but I'm just not buying what's being sold in a good chunk of the films as of late. 

I don't blame the actors here, but the weak script.  It definitely needed to have more weight.

Stay for the end credits scene, it will blow your mind.

I give this film: 3 out 5 pitchforks. 

Sunday, November 30, 2008


"You gotta give 'em hope". These are words from Harvey Milk's famous Hope Speech given at the 1978 Gay Freedom Day gathering in San Francisco. These words inspired those in attendance that day, and has continued to inspire many to this day. Milk, directed by Gus Van Sant, is the story of the first openly gay politician to be elected to public office.

The movie begins with Milk, played beautifully by Sean Penn, recording onto a cassette tape, and pretty much predicting his impending demise. We follow him from his 40th birthday in New York, where he meets Scott Smith, played by James Franco, who eventually moves with him to the Castro District in San Francisco. Milk opens up a Camera Shop below his apartment, much to the dismay of his fellow business owners. (See the thing is, it's almost amazing to think that the Castro District had a problem with it's gay denizens at one point. It's a complete 180 of what is reality now).

We follow Milk, and his extended family as it grows. Along the way we meet Cleve Jones, Danny Nicolletta, Dick Pabich, Jack Lira, and Anne Kronenberg. These are people who were around to see all this history come about, and who went on to do their own important things in life as well. Harvey Milk is not perfect by any means, and nor does this movie show him to be otherwise. His faults are shown, and this is showcased in his drive for politics, and the effect it has on his personal relationships. Not to mention that he is never shown to be a legendary figure. He's a man, who had an idea of what his rights as an American citizen should be and we get a glimpse of how he helped his community get closer to that idea.

Milk tries and tries again to get into the position of Supervisor of District 5, and at first fails miserably. It's only with the help of Anne Kronenberg that he finally gets the votes he needed and gets into City Hall. Once in office, Milk meets Dan White. Who is played by Josh Brolin in yet another amazing role he's put out this year. He and White are polar opposites, who begin to show their differences from the get go. The thing about White is that his whole life is built on a house of cards that is ready to collapse at any moment. All it takes is one flick of the finger and the whole thing comes tumbling down. This if course happens, leading to his horrendous actions that shock a city that was already reeling from the events of Jonestown weeks before.

The acting is right on the money from the supporting cast. Franco, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, and Allison Pill all turn in star performances. They all make up this wonderful quilt of a movie that makes it special. Gus Van Sant delivers what is easily his most accessible film. He's encapsulated the 70's in San Francisco, and with the help of his screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, delivers a movie that has a strong message about civil rights, and how easily they can be taken away when left in the hands of others who fear or don't understand you. My only problems with this movie lie with Diego Luna's performance, that just comes off as annoying, and with a part at the end that was better left unseen that comes at a pivotal moment.

There is a line in this movie that keeps resonating in my head. When dealt with the possibility of a crushing defeat in the fight for his civil rights, he says "If this thing passes, fight the hell back!"

I give this movie 4.5 out of 5 pitchforks.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)


I'm still on the fence about this one. I didn't think it was awful, but it wasn't that great either. Its hard not to compare this to The Exorcist. Which is a tough act to follow. After all these years and many viewings that movie still gives me the heebie jeebies. It's portrayal of the struggle between good and evil is what made that movie so powerful. That balance comes across beautifully. This is what is sorely lacking in "Emily Rose". It's uneven, and the argument is almost to the favor of the medical aspect of what Emily’s ailment might have been. There was no strong defense, which, if that’s how it was in reality, well, we can see where the problems during the trial arose.

I wanted this movie to be a bit more frightening and more involving where the characters were concerned. The acting is decent, although it tends to fall towards overacting at some points. Laura Linney, believable as a lawyer, takes us through the motions, trying to comprehend what really happened during the exorcism. Tom Wilkinson, who plays the priest, is great, but I did not really understand where he got his strength from, other than his faith of course, but it wasn't brought across strongly enough. The girl that plays Emily, Jennifer Carpenter, shows promise, with her role.

To its defense, I can understand where the director,Scott Derricks, and the writer, Paul Harris Boardman, were trying to go with the movie. They had a great premise for a story, some very good actors, and well, the interest in Exorcisms going for them. I just don’t think it was thought out thoroughly before they decided to go forward with this film.

Originally published in the San Jose Mercury News, September 2005:

Friday, September 12, 2008



1982 's Poltergeist is a spine-tingling film directed by Tobe Hooper, and was written for the screen by none other than Steven Spielberg. This slice of Americana has some iconic moments, and images, that still strike a chord to this day.

The story starts off harmless enough. The Star Spangled Banner playing as the local t.v. station ends it transmission for the night, while the Freelings, rest comfortably in their suburban bubble. Cuesta Verde is the place they call home, a suburban haven nestled neatly above what used to be an old cemetary that has since been relocated. The family is led by the Steve and Diane Freeling, played to perfection by Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams. They have three children, Carol Anne, Robbie, and Dana. It is Carol Anne that begins to notice that all is not well in their normal existence.

Carol Anne, played by Heather O'Rourke, begins to talk to the "t.v. people", in the middle of the night, and it is here that we realize that something otherworldly has begun to communicate with her. Shortly after that incident, more and more supernatural happenings begin to occur.

This movie succeeds in that it starts you off in a safe place, somewhere to call home, and then quickly pulls the rug right out from under you. It's a ghost story that almost anyone can relate to. The cast works well together, and it's their reactions that really get you involved in this movie. The fantastic acting brings up the level of believability, and of course, this makes the audience begin to care for this family in peril.

Tobe Hooper may have been credited as the director, but, you can definitely feel the heavy influence of Spielberg in the movie. The way the 80's are encapsulated, the pace, the shots, and the use of special effects. Also, there is the soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith. It adds the air of mystery needed, and tends to make the more chilling scenes in the movie that much more terrifying. This movie is a neatly packaged thrill ride that is definitely one of the better produced movies of the 80's and definitely belongs on any movie lovers shelf. It ranks right up there with the best in the horror genre, although some people might think it's a bit candy coated.

There were two sequels that followed this movie, but, they were not on par with the magic this movie wielded. It's definitely a horror classic, and one that still holds up to the test of time, depsite the fact that some of the special effects are outdated.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

After the Wedding(Efter brylluppet)


After the Wedding is a 2006 Denmark film by Susan Bier. It tells the story of Jacob Pederson, a a teacher, and manager of an orphanage in India. He is sent news of possible funding and leaves to Copenhagen, Denmark. What he doesn't know, is that an appointment with fate, waits for him there.

In Denmark we meet Jorgen Lennart Hannson, a very successful business man, who seems to have it all. A beautiful wife, thriving company, fantastic home, and family. His eldest daughter, Anna, is to be married soon. These two worlds meet in Jorgen's office. It is here that Jacob has arrived to show his presentation to attempt to acquire the aforementioned funds. Jorgen, who seems uninterested in the details, begins to befriend Jacob, and invites him to his daughter's wedding. It is at this wedding that the story begins to unfold, and the drama begins. To go any further into details would be spoiling the story, as a great many things start to reveal itself, and it has long lasting effects on all involved.

The acting in this movie is top notch. Take for the instance the portrayal of Jorgen, played by Rolf Lassgard. He comes across as an obnoxious lout, who's money and power have seemed to taken his view of reality away. He gets what he wants, and anybody that stands in his way will get eaten up, but, beneath that big exterior lies a man that has so much more going on internally that can at first be imagined. His solution to the problems he has may seem unorthodox, but, his heart is in the right place. It's as if he sees the different elements, in his life, from a business person's perspective. Move one thing out, and replace that with something equally, or even more capable of running the company. Also of note are the performances by Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Jacob. It's interesting that you see his character as a caring person, who is putting the needs of his orphanage first. It's only when he reaches Denmark that you realize, he has a checkered past, and there's reason why he is more about helping others now, as opposed to when he was younger.

This movie definitely has a style all its own. There are close ups that are so beautifully shot and those shots only help to add intimacy, or awkwardness to a scene. The use of the "jump cut" is prevalent in this movie as well. Those cuts add to the moments where the technique is used. Susan Bier does a fantastic job with her camera work. It goes hand in hand with the editing techniques used. Also, the story by Bier and the writing by Anders Thomas Jennsen are noteworthy. There is almost a soap opera feel to the story. This isn't a put down by any means. It's just that when you get to the meat of the story, you get a reveal coming from the left and the right, and it leaves you a bit shocked, which soap operas are infamous for. Great drama, and a great movie.