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TV/Film Review

'Raw' Is Worth Losing Your Appetite

TV/Film ReviewPatricia TancrediComment

Warning: this film is not for the faint of heart. Raw has garnered attention from rumors of audience members fainting and puking during screenings, and while I found myself gagging during some of the most graphic scenes, Raw is much more than blood and gore. It doesn’t rely on carnage for shock value, but instead tells an important story in the process. The 33-year-old French native, Julia Ducournau, steps into the feature film world with this sensational horror film that disturbingly represents a girl’s transition into adulthood.

Justine, a shy and naïve girl played by Garance Marillier, arrives at veterinary school plagued with self-doubt and anxieties. She falsely assumes that her older sister Alexia, played by Ella Rumpf, will help her stay off the upperclassmen’s radar and avoid humiliation, but that hope is quickly destroyed when Alexia forces her to eat a rabbit’s kidney as part of a hazing ritual. While her body first rejects it by breaking out in hives, a need for meat possesses her. Little by little her cravings for animal meat turn into cravings for human flesh, and few things stop her from going into a full feeding frenzy.

There are clear parallels between Justine’s emerging cannibalism and her sexual exploration. At the start of the film Justine is a virgin who is overwhelmed by the debauchery of her first college party, and by the end of the film she scans the party perched up on a countertop, legs spread in search of her next prey. The veterinary students pack into these parties in a way that resembles a slaughterhouse, which is how Justine views them. Her sexual desire, her need for human flesh, and alcohol intertwine for some disastrous consequences.

Her sexual awakening and her evolution from vegetarianism to cannibalism come with a rise in self-confidence and self-awareness without regard for social norms or consequences. The first half of the movie she comes off shy, soft spoken, and doing everything possible to avoid humiliation with little success. At one point she is forced to wear an adult diaper over her jeans for looking at an upperclassman. Later she becomes aware that other people find her attractive and the power she can harness from that. She even seduces herself by dancing in front of a mirror while getting ready for a party. However, she is never truly free from the judgment of other people and the fear of humiliation she carries with her is only ever gone when she is entranced by human flesh. Once she’s done feeding, Justine typically feels guilty mainly because she worries what others would think, but that remorse is never enough to make her stop.

Ducournau and cinematographer Ruben Impens shoot this in a way that allows viewers to sympathize with Justine. She may be doing things that most people would find vile and immoral, but we see her fear, her anxiety, her evolution, and her growth. However, viewers are never truly at ease watching “Raw.” The score sends unnerving chills up and down your spine if the scenes drenched in blood and guts weren’t enough to make you want to hurl. There seems to always be a low hum of buzzing or alarms to make the hairs on your arms stand up.

Raw portrays womanhood in a gruesome way, much like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Neon Demon, but with a much stronger focus and effect. Refn’s film feels pretty superficial in comparison, relying heavily on visuals to mask the many plot holes and unnecessary length. In contrast, everything in Ducournau’s film feels purposeful from the more artistic, dreamlike sequences to the balance between wide shots and close ups. Raw is not an easy watch, but the well-balanced, well-paced horror film leaves you satisfied.

'John Wick: Chapter Two' is Undiluted Action Insanity

TV/Film ReviewEthan WilliamsComment

John Wick: Chapter Two wastes absolutely none of your time in establishing what it wants to be from the very opening frames. On the side of a building, a reel of Buster Keaton plays (a nod to the original stuntman himself) just before a sleek motorcycle comes tearing through, followed by  a black muscle car in hot pursuit. To say things escalate from there puts it lightly, but needless to say there’s about 20 totaled cars and even more bodies piled up before this sequence comes to a conclusion.

The original John Wick was a slow-burn cult classic about a hitman brought out of retirement by the premature assassination of his beloved puppy, a violent romp that found its true audience through the Internet, word of mouth and video on demand. Audiences fell in love with seeing noted Matrix star Keanu Reeves back at his ass-kicking best to take on a gritty revenge tale that knew not to take everything so seriously and to simply focus on making some ludicrously fun action scenes.

And much like the first, Chapter Two prefers the all-killer, no-filler approach to action filmmaking. Director Chad Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad know exactly how to slim down an action movie to the bare essentials, always opting for a more simple approach in telling a story, whittling it down to something that’s still coherent and interesting, but without overloading the screenplay with anything that doesn’t put the action scenes front and center.

Where the original John Wick explored a simple premise with expert precision and a tongue-in-cheek approach to its own inherent silliness, the second chapter opts for something much bigger and badder, but still somehow never sacrificing the commitment to wildly entertain you or bog the story down with unnecessary fluff. Yes, John Wick is brought out of retirement for revenge once more, but this time Wick has to trot the globe facing off against a diverse set of foes, everyone from a sumo wrestler to the rapper Common.

The criminal underworld hinted at in the first John Wick now becomes the ever-expanding playground full of hitmen and assassins for Wick to face off against, a frankly ridiculous secret society with its own set of rules and codes, giving chapter two an added dose of the fantastical. This is the kind of society where homeless people are hitmen in disguise, two men can try to murder each other in a knife fight on a train without a sign of police, ten henchmen can get their brains blown out on a dancefloor while barely anyone bats an eye… but don’t be fooled, John Wick knows and loves its own inherent silliness and it only invites you to do the same.

But it’s truly difficult not to be won over by the art on display here in John Wick. Much like how one would go see a circus to watch a talented trapeze artist, John Wick is perfectly crafted to showcase the talent of its cast, and especially its star. The John Wick films prefers to shoot close-combat action like a Gene Kelly musical, full of intricate fights choreographed as dances, something best captured in long takes rather than the quick edits we’ve come to expect from so many of Wick’s contemporaries. Reeves executes his brutal ballets with a craftsman’s precision, eliminating rooms of bad guys in beautiful locales, leaving a canvas of blood splatters and a litter of broken arms in his wake.

To go into great detail about John Wick 2’s outrageous setpieces would be to deprive you of some of experiencing their sheer bravado and lunacy, but needless to say it matches the high octane standards set by its predecessor and dare I say exceeds them. There’s hardly any moment of John Wick: Chapter Two that isn’t a delirious amount of fun and it’s better than anything that we really deserved out of a second installment of this franchise. And judging by the packed theater I left this weekend, I think we can all look forward to how another installment could continue to blow our collective mind.

'Silence' Is an Emotional Journey From Unyielding Devotion to Despairing Doubts

TV/Film ReviewPatricia TancrediComment

Martin Scorsese's latest film, “Silence,” a long, torturous, and melodramatic portrayal of a man’s spiritual journey, is finally getting an expanded release tomorrow after nearly 25 years in the making. The long-awaited passion project follows two Jesuit priests on their journey to locate their missing teacher, Padre Ferreira, who is rumored to have denounced his Christian faith for the “savage” Japanese Buddhism. Based on the 1966 historical novel “Silence” by Shūsaku Endō, Scorsese and past collaborator Jay Cocks adapt this renowned work for the screen starring Andrew Garfield as Padre Rodrigues, Adam Driver as Padre Garupe, and Liam Neeson as Padre Ferreira.

“Silence” opens with serene, misty visuals of Japanese nature followed by striking shots of dozens of Jesuit priests having boiling water slowly drizzled torturously over their naked bodies in an effort to have them apostatize. During this the last letter Ferreira sent to Portugal is read aloud to his former students Rodrigues and Garupe who commit to searching for their beloved mentor to prove that he has not betrayed their God. As the pair set through Japan, hidden and protected by Japanese villagers who are terrorized by the Japanese inquisitor for their Christian practices, their devotion is tested and they are pushed to extremes, tortured emotionally, physically, mentally, and most of all, spiritually.

As you listen to Rodrigues’s inner monologue, the audience is put in the unique position of feeling and experiencing his pain while simultaneously being limited to observing the action. Just as he cannot help the Japanese villagers without denouncing his God, the viewers also cannot do anything but watch in torment. Rodrigues’ journey from unconditional love for his God to the agonizing loneliness and betrayal he feels from both God and his own Judas, Kichijiro. Rodrigues’s torture becomes the viewer’s torture, and as he is asked what Jesus would do and if God would forgive him for denouncing him, the audience is asked “what would you do?”

This film, appropriately titled, is chilling with its absence of sound. From beginning to end we hear only the ambient noise of nature occasionally mixed in with the sound of burning flesh, sizzling water, and the cries and screams of the tortured. This is intentional, and its silence combined with its length creates an arduous and brutal experience. In one of his lowest moments, Rodrigues prays out to God, “The weight of your silence is terrible,” a line so heavy your heart sinks into your chest and so perfectly captures the essence of the film.

Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, who is no rookie when it comes to shooting political and religious themed films (Frida, Comandante, Persona Non Grata), creates shots resembling the emotional and dynamic paintings of the Baroque Era. Famous for its religious themes and its depictions of Catholic saints and martyrs, Prieto turns scenes of torture and suffering into dramatic, powerful, and poignant visuals resembling the paintings of Caravaggio and Bernini. The shots of the three Japanese peasants crucified in the ocean as the rising tides pelted them into unconsciousness or families bound by straw and set aflame for practicing Catholicism are as serene as they are agonizing and unbearable. The use of the earth and its elements as means of torture is a reminder of the power of nature and how God’s creations can be used by humans against one another.  

Just as these images draw inspiration from Baroque art, Garfield and Driver’s frail figures and angular features parallel the paintings of the Byzantine era. The preparation for the role was so intense that Driver dropped 51 pounds to achieve this Byzantine look. Throughout the film, Garfield as Padre Rodrigues begins resembling the image of “White Jesus” common in western religious art so much that he even imagines his reflection transforming into that of Jesus himself. This is a perfect example of his character’s arrogance and belief that his religion is the one and only truth.

As a film that does not pass the Bechdel test, casts three white English speaking actors to play Portuguese missionaries, and centers around the physical and spiritual invasion of a foreign country told from the point of view of the Jesuit priest trying to impose his truth on vulnerable peasants, Silence does teeter on the fence of the “white savior” trope. Normally the inconsistency of the Portuguese accents would be off-putting, but the film’s focus still explores the imposing of Western beliefs and traditions on a country that already has its own deeply rooted culture in an outstanding way, resulting in a dark and torturous film that should not be missed.

'La La Land' is a Fleetingly Charming But Painfully Dull Ode to Old Hollywood

TV/Film ReviewEthan WilliamsComment

From the incredibly showy opener and opening titles that boldly declare "SHOT IN CINEMASCOPE," it’s almost immediately clear that something feels just slightly off in Damian Chazelle’s sophomore follow-up to the angst-ridden Whiplash. These commuters in downtown L.A. jumping on their parked cars certainly act like they’re in a classic Hollywood musical and the camera certainly follow them as if they’re in one, and yet this number does nothing to charm or entice you into feeling the waves of nostalgia it’s meant to evoke.

This forgettable tune is followed by another, this time sung by star Emma Stone and her girlish cohorts all bathed in technicolor light and garbed in flashy colors meant to evoke memories of superior films such as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg or An American in Paris but again failing to spark any sort of charm or delight those films are renowned for. Chazelle keeps the camera rolling and spinning to wow the film geeks, but it ultimately feels so performative in a way that’s aping classics rather than evoking them.

And yet by some small miracle, the film begins to click when jazz pianist Sebastian (played by ultra-charmer Ryan Gosling) begins his half of the tale. A scene where Gosliing’s free-jazz roots and sensibilities clash with his employer’s (played by Whiplash villain J.K. Simmons) desire to keep it simple, stupid is one of the movie’s rare moments of real charm and musical fun.

Subsequently when Gosling and Stone meet at an '80s themed party a few scenes later, it feels as if the two stars’ potent chemistry and charm is going to be enough to carry La La Land through the bland songwriting and uninvolving story. Their tap-dance routine against a scenic Hollywood skyline is probably the closest the film can get to actually nearing the grace of a Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire film’s essence.

But this grace quickly becomes short-lived as it becomes imminently clear that the stars’ chemistry simply can’t prop up this two hour-plus exercise in nostalgia-baiting. The romance blossoms pretty quickly, so instead of a familiar boy meets girl tale, the story starts to revolve around two people so hopelessly annoying in their desire to perform their art like in the “good ol' days” that you begin to beg for these characters to break up simply so the film might actually become about something interesting again.

Sebastian’s desire to build a jazz club with real integrity, which initially felt like an innocent jab at how self-serious jazz purists can be, is actually in fact treated as the ultimate stake for this character’s arc. When Sebastian decides to get an actual steady-paying job any musician would kill for, the film treats this as a tacky betrayal of his “pure” art form and inexplicably wants to punish Gosling’s character for daring to step outside his freeform-jazz sensibilities. (And on that note, are we seriously supposed to hate John Legend’s music in this film? He’s meant to be the tacky antithesis to pure jazz but they actually give his band some of the more enjoyable music here.)

Ultimately every bit of aesthetic La La Land appropriates from infinitely superior and more sincere films simply serves as glorified window-dressing to a boring, cold and ultimately joyless reworking of Hollywood tropes without any kind of story to hang them upon. It practically begs the viewer to take it so seriously that it becomes near laughable “Look at these posters from old movies! The long takes! Hey remember CINEMASCOPE?! They shot Rebel Without a Cause in CinemaScope and we even have that in our movie! *wink wink* Are you not entertained??” the movie practically screams at you. The musical setpieces are neither frequent enough nor impressive enough to justify such a bloated runtime and despite its glorious ending and one (count it: ONE) impressive song, this facade is ultimately about as sturdy as a Hollywood backlot: push on it a bit and it topples spectacularly.

I won’t be surprised at all to see La La Land taking its victory lap around awards shows this season, because there’s nothing Hollywood loves more in an awards darling than a bout of self-congratulatory backpatting about its own legacy (see: The Artist), but you can certainly expect it to be forgotten about this time next year.

Exciting 'Rogue One' Admirably Bridges Gaps, Fills Plot Holes in Star Wars Universe

TV/Film ReviewWeston PaganoComment

[This review contains spoilers. But, come on, we all know how this one ends anyway.]

You have to admire Star Wars for making an entire film just to fill in a plot hole from 40 years ago.

Why would they make the Death Star with such a obvious and silly weakness? It’s a question Star Wars fanatics whispered (and Star Wars detractors shouted) for years, and now we finally have an answer. Built around the Death Star’s origin and the endeavor of revealing and understanding it, Gareth Edwards (Godzilla)’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story predominately follows the quest to steal and transmit home the battle station’s plans and the surprisingly nuanced dynamics behind them. Without giving too much away, in doing so it includes what might be one of the light side / dark side transitions with the most humanizing depth in the entire series.

Whereas last year’s Episode VII: The Force Awakens at times watched like a tired reboot of Death Star III, Rogue One manages to combine the inherent nostalgia and predetermination of a prequel into something almost paradoxically fresher. You know the conclusion from the start, but the thrill of figuring it out along the way feels new enough to make you forget, and it’s justified by being a clarifying look into the past, not a repetition of the future. The ease with which longtime fans will be able to use Rogue One to introduce younger fans to the original trilogy is also a romantic touch as well, as the films connect nearly seamlessly, and, despite there being not one lightsaber on lightsaber battle in the full 133 minute runtime, and despite stealing a glorified flash drive being a far less explosive end goal than destroying the Death Star, Rogue One undoubtedly does enough to bring in new fans while satiating the old. After all, desperately attempting to connect to a network with which to transfer files is an amusingly 21st century problem for “a long time ago…” 

When discussing the cast it’s important to first note that while Rebel Alliance leader Mon Mothma famously claimed, “Many Bothans died to bring us this information,” when discussing the Empire’s plans for a super weapon in the original trilogy, contrary to popular confusion this actually took place in Return of the Jedi regarding Death Star II, and is not in reference to the trials and tribulations depicted in Rogue One. Therefore, while there is perhaps a disappointingly light representation of non-human characters, the lack of furry spies capable of invisibility that has been bemoaned by classic fans is not actually all that contradictory to whats canon. (New directors and writers have the right to stamp a healthy originality on the project, but come on, it wouldn’t have hurt to throw a few Bothans in there.) These, these are the “rebel spies” mentioned way back in the very first crawl in ’77.

But how do you create character development in a story in which, from the beginning, it’s pretty clear none of the characters will survive due to none of them appearing in any of the four chronologically subsequent movies? Well, in some cases you don’t. Much of the diverse cast, including the blind martial arts master type Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), the deadly warrior Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), the Imperial pilot defector Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), and the sardonic reprogrammed Imperial droid companion K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), are explored or grow very little if at all through dialogue often unremarkable beyond quips, and some (Îmwe and Malbus) die in predictably overdone action movie fight scenes that cheapen their existence even more than their underdeveloped beginnings.

That being said, it’s easy to imagine the film dragging had much more detail been added to people who, ultimately, leave the stage as quickly - and, in the big picture, somewhat insignificantly - as they come. The Force sensitivity of Îmwe, for example, can read as both an intriguing inclusion in a Jedi-purged world that showcases the countless disparate incarnations of The Force beyond its popular lightsaber-wielding polarization, or as a lukewarm substitution for the only film in the entire series that lacks a single Jedi presence and only barely shows any of the Sith at all either. Main protagonist Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), however, does well in following up The Force Awakens’ introduction of strong female leads to the Star Wars universe while rebel assassin Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) offers a strong foil without succumbing to any romantic predictabilities.

Many of the film’s biggest flaws tie into the aforementioned action movie trope traps, but the majority were previously present through the Star Wars universe and are being faithfully continued here. For example, AT-ATs are still entirely inefficient, uselessly lumbering objects that cannot justify their production with a couple cannons on the head of an unnecessarily large elephant body, especially considering they struggle to hit even fleeing soldiers running in a straight line below them. (Also, if X-Wing fighters can destroy them so easily, where were they during the battles on Hoth? But I digress.)

On the flip-side, Rogue One also surprises with one of the most clever tactical moves ever shows in a Star Wars battle, with the Rebels using a ship as a tugboat to push a disabled Star Destroyer into another and, finally, into the shield generating station. Similarly, the detailed destructions of the Death Star’s first targets, merely whole cities on Jedha and Scarif, hit harder than the quick death scene of the entire planet of Alderaan in some ways, much like an intimately visualized paper cut might create a more visceral sensation of pain than a basic gunshot shown on a wide angle. Still, with most deaths coming from blaster fire or only alluded to, there is very little actual pain shown at the scarring levels of writhing under Force lightning or lightsaber lacerations, making the claims of Rogue One being the least child-friendly episode largely unfounded when if anything the opposite seems more true.

Fan service is present in the brief but notable glimpses of C-3PO and R2-D2 (rest in peace, Kenny Baker) and in trivial bits such as with the blue milk first seen on Tatooine and (a deep cut) the reappearance of Ponda Baba and Colonel Evazan, whom extra-dedicated viewers may remember as the bullies who harassed Luke in the Mos Eisley Cantina much like their passing altercation after coincidentally bumping into Jyn and Cassian on Jedha seven movies later. Most impactful (though setting a controversial precedent), however, is the CGI-assisted representations of past faces not as easily replicated; a young-again Princess Leia’s closing words and Grand Moff Tarkin’s (also rest in peace Peter Cushing) several reappearances were crucial to the storyline and benefitted greatly from the unavoidable awkwardness that comes from a different actor taking one out of the magical world created by cinema.

The modern ability to render gorgeous scenes from Scarif’s lush landscape all the way up to the impressive shield setup and space battle above it makes Rogue One a film you can't tear your eyes away from, yet the subtle reminiscence of Edwards pushing extras to grow out their mustaches and sideburns in the ‘70s style of the OT gives the flashy exterior an admirable authenticity. One area in which the film inexplicably misses an easy crowd pleaser? No opening text scrolling through space.

In an age beset by international terrorism and unrest in the Middle East, the depiction of Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker)’s splinter rebel faction veers so close to ISIS or Al Qaeda that it becomes impossible to ignore. The desert setting, guerrilla tactics, Islamic-style attire, and “militant,” “extremist,” and “insurgent” labels forge an undeniable connection, further deviating from a good versus evil simplicity while fueling the devil’s advocate thinkpieces about the Rebel Alliance and the Jedi who fight with them being anti-hero religious extremists within a terrorist organization. With this Rogue One does well to make an otherwise opaque conflict increasingly complex, interesting to dissect, and in some ways, realistically relevant.

Furthermore, the revelation that the Death Star’s planet killing strength is derived from Kyber crystals, the same source used in lightsabers and adorned on Jyn’s necklace, is a powerful poignancy that subtly sums up the duality of the force. That which creates light also fuels darkness and can be exploited by both simultaneously - just like The Force as a whole and, as discovered later on, specifically the Death Star’s plans themselves.

In many ways, being an anthology film unbound by linear trajectories into the unknown or being tasked as the first reboot of familiar characters gave script writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy a benefit The Force Awakens didn’t have. That being said, The Force Awakens also has the benefit of the doubt in needing to be judged as a part of the trilogy it has begun, whereas Rogue One was limited to completing its cast’s brief, and comparatively shallower character arcs in just over two hours. Ultimately, Jyn and Cassian will never reach the canonical importance or popular staying power as Daisy Ridley’s Rey or John Boyega’s Finn, but their role in the Star Wars universe may well have proven more important. In any case, Rogue One couldn’t rely on the crutch of uncertainty - it needed an ending. What we get is overall a satisfactory one, not least when considering it begins the most beloved movie trilogy of all time.

'Arrival' is a Conceptually Ambitious and Technically Sound Sci-Fi Story

TV/Film ReviewLuigi MorenoComment

Early film festival screenings of Arrival generated a lot of positive buzz for director Denis Villeneuve’s latest picture in the months leading up to its release, making it one of the more highly anticipated movies of the year. This, of course, led to some pretty sizable expectations; Plenty of people will go into this movie expecting something great and, for the most part, they will not be disappointed.

The central conflict of the movie is fairly straightforward; When twelve gargantuan alien spaceships land throughout the globe, several teams of experts are gathered to make contact with the beings inside of them. Arrival mostly focuses on the American team, led by linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). These twelve teams must work together to find a way to communicate with the aliens and find out the reason behind their presence on Earth.

Amy Adams delivers one of the best performances of her career as Louise, and that's saying something. She’s the emotional center of the film, and she carries this weight in a very understated fashion. Everything that the viewers experience is seen from Louise’s point of view, and a lesser actress could have been too over the top to be believable as this character. In a movie that almost entirely hinges on the viewer relating to the Louise’s mental goings-on, that would’ve been catastrophic. The supporting cast is adequate, lacking any other real standouts, but also comfortably without any unbelievable performances that would take one out of the story.

Arrival also deserves a good amount of praise for its technical aspects. The directing literally places the viewer inside the head of Louise, and this is complimented by some truly incredible cinematography resulting in visuals that tell the story as much as the script does. The shots in which we see Louise enter both the military lab and the spaceship for the first time show how anxious and overwhelmed she is during those scenes being a standout example.

The production design also deserves to be lauded, with the incredible design of the aliens, their spaceships, and their language never feeling campy. Much like the directing and cinematography, these elements all help tell a story through the visuals only; This is a movie that one could watch on mute and still enjoy. Watching it without sound, though, would deprive viewers of experiencing the score and sound design, both of which are top notch as well. On a technical level, Arrival passes with flying colors.

The film, however, is not without flaws. There is a storytelling device (the explanation of which would spoil crucial plot points) that the movie goes to way too often, resulting in a slow pace at time and choppy storytelling at others. Even though that device conceptually fit the film and sets up the big reveal in the climax, the execution of it was a bit shoddy, hurting the overall flow of the film. Pacing is the movie’s biggest issue, with certain parts of the second act and the resolution of the movie unfolding too slowly.

There are also some issues with characterization, as Jeremy Renner, whose Marvel Cinematic Universe character Hawkeye is often mocked for being there without any real purpose, gets the same treatment in this movie. His character is underdeveloped and is almost extraneous to the plot except for the one moment when he figures something out on his own. Renner does a solid job with the hand he’s dealt, but the script does not really give him much to do.

Still, Arrival is overall an extremely original, conceptually ambitious film that is definitely worth seeing. There will be some bumps, but this superbly crafted sci-fi drama is ultimately a technical masterpiece with a world-class performance at its heart.

'Moonlight' is a Tender and Crushing Film About the Unseen American

TV/Film ReviewPatricia TancrediComment

After an eight-year hiatus from directing feature films, Barry Jenkins returns with his sophomore release, a beautifully executed tale of an unseen American. Moonlight shares the life of a poor, black, gay man, a member of intersecting minority groups often pushed aside and labeled outcasts of society. Jenkins takes a character that feels that he could disappear without a trace and expertly shares his struggle.

Adapted from Tarrel Alvin McCarne’s play In the Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Barry Jenkins breaks down the evolution of a man’s life into three parts. The film follows Chiron, a black man growing up in a poor community in Miami, as he comes to terms with his sexuality. Divided into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, we catch glimpses of pivotal moments in Chiron’s life. In childhood, we get our first look at the bullying Chiron experiences and the unstable home life that shapes his future relationships. In adolescence, we see the progression of that bullying and his first and only experimentation with intimacy. In adulthood, we grasp the long term effects of the mistreatment Chiron endured throughout his childhood and teenage years.

The atypical structure of the film hints at its stage influence, but nothing about the film channels over the top theatrics too often found in film adaptions of plays. It is subtle and patient in its delivery creating constant tension throughout. The transitions between the three sections are seamless, and create a true evolution of character. Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, and Alex Hibbert give jaw dropping performances as adult, teenage, and child Chiron, respectively. Hibbert’s portrayal of six-year-old Chiron has the same depth and pain as Sanders’ and Rhodes’. The consistency in emotion and sensibility is chilling, unnerving, and crucial in understanding Chiron’s lifelong internal torment. The lack of dialogue and human interaction emphasize Chiron’s loneliness and alienation while the dizzying sensations, captured by cinematographer James Laxton, during the rare instances Chiron finds himself surrounded by groups of people highlight his inability to fit into the societal expectations of black men.

Jenkins does an impeccable job of aligning the audience with Chiron. The shots linger on his face capturing every emotional shift in nonverbal communication, all the sounds are subjective and emphasized according to how he perceives them, and the color blue saturates the screen acting as psychological insight into his constant introspective behavior. And while Jenkins touches on universal themes such as solitude and identity that help garner empathy toward Chiron, his story and position in life is unique, a reality unknown to most people.

The criticism of toxic masculinity and the way race, class, and sexuality influence the opportunities presented to men are placed front and center, but their delivery never feels overwhelming or forceful. Jenkins’ film is restrained and silent yet powerful filled with both tender and crushing moments, resulting in a triumphant and masterful stride towards diversifying the storylines we see in media. 

Ron Howard's 'Eight Days a Week' Is a Sweet, Slightly Empty Treat for Beatles Fans

TV/Film ReviewEthan WilliamsComment

How do you even begin to break down the immense mythology of a group widely considered to be the greatest of all time into something digestible and accessible but also still reverent? The eight years of musical, visual, historical, economical, political and social impact The Beatles left behind looms like a giant block of marble that should only intimidate any author or documentarian foolish enough to try and mold it into a singular experience that does the group justice.

And yet in truth, it’s insanely difficult to craft a bad movie around the story of the Fab Four. For all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the band’s legacy, any filmmaker who deigns to cover the band’s story essentially has the perfect subjects: four of the most affable, down-to-earth, creative and interesting people who ever walked the Earth. The filmmakers have a smorgasbord of every kind of song imaginable at their disposal to set a mood or tone, a majority of which are already in pop music’s pantheon of greatest ever. So really you’ve only got yourself to blame if you can make a bad film with all of that at your disposal.

With that said, at this point in history it is much easier to make a boring film about The Beatles. After so many books and documentaries covering every inch and aspect of The Beatles’ career, at some point a hardcore fan can only get so much out of a “new” interpretation a storyteller tries to craft out of that eight year marble block without some hint of what’s already come before.

And Ron Howard’s latest documentary begins dangerously on that cusp of blandness, threatening to turn into just a shiny new coat of paint on the same storyline even the most casual of Beatles fan is conscious of. The montage of those rough n’ tumble nights in Hamburg coupled with their subsequent haircuts/suits that led to Please Please Me’s chart-topping overnight success... it threatens on yada-yada-yada territory before the real fun actually begins.

Where Eight Days a Week begins to differentiate itself is in making you feel the absolute and all-consuming chaos of an event that was The Beatles’ touring years. A treasure trove of great concert material has been carefully remastered and restored for this documentary (a perfect justification for the film’s existence if you really needed one) and the footage of swaths of young people screaming their heads off, rushing stages, and evading police makes you feel just how singular an experience the Beatles were in history. Nothing had ever happened like this before and nothing would ever again.

The baby boomer generation was desperate for a way to express themselves, and these unassuming, charming lads with similar haircuts and incredible songwriting and vocal abilities came along and changed everything,These four young men were at the center of the world’s biggest cultural maelstrom and somehow trying to maintain their own sanity. The film runs you through the elation of Ed Sullivan and Shea Stadium all the way through to the bitter end at the KKK rallies in Memphis and the miserable Candlestick park final gig.

Their cheery and cheeky demeanor on that electric first tour of America heartbreakingly contrasted with the weariness of the magnifying glass is the film’s biggest success. It makes the mere existence of any Beatles music that followed the madness of their touring years seem like a God-given miracle.

The film wisely chooses to focus on the band’s overwhelming unity during these progressively trying times and puts a sunny disposition on the group’s overall dynamic. It’s nice to have a Beatles documentary that pits The Beatles against the world when so many others like to focus on their internal battles that came later. Those touring years, as Ringo mentions in the film, were when The Beatles had to look out for each other first and foremost. So while it may feel dishonest to exclude the turmoil of their later studio work, it’s impossible to deny the bond the Fab Four shared with one another.

There’s a few glaring omissions in terms of Beatles lore, in particular manager Brian Epstein is paid an abysmal amount of lip service considering how especially important he was to the success of this period of the Beatles career and in terms of interviewees, there’s hardly much on offer that hasn’t been stated better elsewhere (for instance the only real archival interview footage with George comes from the superior if exhaustive Beatles Anthology), and a few subjects may leave you scratching your head about their inclusion but overall it’s good fun and good-natured even if it doesn’t forge a brand new vision of history.

While hardcore fans familiar with most of these intimate details may not find anything revelatory here, it’s worth the price of admission for the glut of restored and remastered footage of some classic Beatles concerts and if you’re able to see it in theaters, the entire Shea Stadium concert plays following the movie, fully restored in 4K with remastered sound. It goes down like a smooth, soothing ale for those of us already under the Fab Four’s spell, while still providing those looking for an accessible entry point to the Beatles’ early career with a satisfying result.

Donald Glover’s 'Atlanta' Gets It Just Right

TV/Film ReviewPatricia TancrediComment

In the age of Hollywood whitewashing and an all-too-often general failure to represent minorities realistically in film and television, Donald Glover’s Atlanta is a breath of fresh air. Glover combines his experiences growing up in Stone Mountain, Georgia with his skills as a writer, actor, and rapper to showrun the new FX series that is entirely worth the hype.

Atlanta centers around Earn (Donald Glover), a young man taking time off of college for unexplained reasons. He’s broke, working a job he hates, and living with his ex-girlfriend Van (Zazie Beets) with whom he has a daughter. In an attempt to get his life back together he reaches out to his cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), a local rapper known as Paper Boi, and asks to manage him. Alfred is always accompanied by his right hand man Darius (Keith Stanfield) whose perpetually high persona helps him craft stellar one liners. Throughout the rest of the episode, we witness the dynamics of Earn’s relationships with his parents, old friends, and coworkers as well as a look into his day-to-day life setting up a solid foundation for the upcoming episodes.

Equipped with a group of talented black writers, the authenticity of the characters and their stories shines through right off the bat. Glover strives to make the audience feel the experiences of African Americans rather than explicitly state it through exhaustive dialogue, and he does so with a seamless balance of drama and comedy perfectly paced within a twenty-five-minute episode.  The comedic moments never leave you laughing out loud, but are instead subtly inserted with flawless timing - you can’t help but let a chuckle escape you. Also, the lack of exposition during dramatic moments is crucial in making a point when the episode addresses serious issues such as gun violence and unstable family life. The series opener never felt preachy or melodramatic, just simply a slice of life. These more serious moments didn’t need to be tragic and heartbreaking to still leave an impact. It shows maturity in its writing, something often lacking in pilot episodes.

Visually, the show doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary or groundbreaking. There are no crazy special effects, unnecessary camera movements, or anything jarring and distracting. Instead, the moody tones (shout out to the colorist), the simple yet powerful cinematography, and the clean editing allow for full focus on the characters and the story. Everything from the drone shots of Atlanta to the wardrobe of each individual character creates an incredible sense of setting adding to the show’s genuineness.

Glover and his writers create a realistic portrayal of what its like to be black in America in a way in which, if written by anything less, would leave these characters, their conversations, and their experiences culminating in a show inauthentic and loaded with empty stereotypes. In a time where Atlanta is increasingly hitting a cultural stride, Atlanta gets its representation just right.

“Captain Fantastic” is a Moving Story About the World’s Not So Greatest Dad

TV/Film ReviewPatricia TancrediComment

As Matt Ross’s touching sophomore film “Captain Fantastic” makes its rounds through the festival circuit it continues to garner more and more positive buzz. And “Captain Fantastic” lives up to its name as Ross tells the story of a family living to the beat of their own drum and drags you across each end of the spectrum of human emotion with a dramatized and idealistic portrayal of what it means to be a good parent.

In the opening scene, Bodevan (George MacKay), the eldest son of the six children of the Cash family, slays a deer and then takes a bite of its heart as part of a coming-of-age ritual that sets the engaging pace for the film. This world set deep in the forest of the Pacific Northwest feels so separate from the world we know, we instantly believe living in the wilderness is the only way to live. The Cashs' daily rituals include hunting, martial arts, and knife training all necessary for surviving in the isolated land. Their self-sustaining lifestyle is mixed with bits of singing and dancing around fires and homeschooling with topics including Marxist theory and critically analyzing Lolita.

Their life is turned upside down with the news of the suicide of the matriarch, Leslie Cash (Trin Miller), who had been hospitalized by her parents to treat her bipolar disorder. It is not until Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen), the patriarch of the family, visits the local town and receives the news on his outdated cell phone that we see how removed his family is from civilization. Ben returns to his yurt-like home and shares the news with his kids with a frankness and maturity usually reserved for adults.

The death of Leslie and her upcoming funeral act as forced motivations for Ben to expose his kids from what he has protected them their entire life. The disconnect in socialization, however, is apparent through the kids’ interactions with strangers, and it is especially noticeable any time that Bodevan interacts with the opposite sex. On their road trip to New Mexico for Leslie Cash’s funeral, Ben’s parenting strategies and lifestyle are questioned as the kids attempt to reintegrate into society. Throughout the film the characters, and the audience, struggle to understand and accept different parenting styles and question what it means to be a family.

Ross’s background in acting shows in his directorial style as he is able to elicit captivating performances from even his youngest cast. Charlie Shotwell and Shree Crooks, Nai and Zaja respectively, steal the show as the littlest of the Cash clan. Their characters, wise beyond their years while maintaining their youthful curiosity, add a much needed balance to Ben’s often arrogant and controlling persona. Frankly, each actor shines in their roles gaining extreme levels of empathy from the audience. Nicholas Hamilton’s performance as the middle child Rellian provokes audible sneers and tears as he rejects his father’s lifestyle in favor of his conservative grandfather Jack’s (Frank Langella), and Mortesen’s counter as Ben, the charismatic and caring yet pushy and impatient father, creates an equally heartbreaking and heartwarming dynamic. Also, George MacKay does an incredible job revealing Bodevan’s internal struggle between his devotion for his father and his desire to attend university and assimilate with his peers.

Hidden underneath the main theme of the film, Ross subtly inserts commentary on different social, economic, and political issues including economic inequality, obesity, religion, and the American education system. All mentions of these issues feel organic and add depth and insight into the characters, their actions, and their dialogue. Each situation is carefully chosen and each conversation is profoundly significant allowing the characters and the scenes to develop naturally.

The ethereal score feels as if it were taken directly from the Jonsí discography. The transcendental quality of the music matches perfectly with the aesthetics of a film filled with rays of soft sunlight, striking shots of nature, and hippie décor. Each frame on the road feels postcard worthy and leaves you ready for adventure. With production design capturing the same adventurous spirit of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, the highly romanticized outdoor experiences strongly parallel the idealistic counter-culture lifestyle the Cash’s live.

During its premier in Cannes’s Un Certain Regard category, two hours of smiling, sniffling, and laughing were followed by a well deserved, boisterous standing ovation that lasted through the credits. Ross somehow succeeds in creating a feel good family drama that avoids standard road trip clichés and leaves you with a feeling of elation.