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'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. 

'The Martian': NASA’s Kickstarter Trailer

TV/Film ReviewDanny BittmanComment

When you watch movies like Apollo 13, Lincoln, Argo, or any other movie based on a real event, you always end up thinking, “It’s pretty amazing that this actually happened.” Stories carry a grander emotional weight when you become aware that they’re a part of your own history. But as I watched Ridley Scott’s, The Martian -- a movie about a stranded astronaut who attempts to survive on Mars -- I had to repeatedly remind myself that this story is fictitious.

Thanks to the source novel by Andy Weir, the attention to accurate problem solving alone will have you feeling like you could survive on a foreign planet. But on a emotional level, Ridley Scott’s ensemble directing makes this story not just about isolation, but really a collective of humans working together to achieve impossible tasks. It’s a clear and bright vision of what our space program can become, provided that we continue to fund it. A depressing thought when you consider that we’ve only sent robots to the red planet.

While I enjoyed the emotional pacing of the piece, I thought the filmmakers could have done more with the Martian planet itself. Mars is a place that used to be flooded with water, and might have even harbored organic life. But now it’s clutching to the last of its atmosphere, as if someone left it behind like the stranded astronaut, Mark Watney (Matt Damon). The mix of practical and special effects to simulate Mars makes you feel as if you are there, but the editing during the scenic shots is too quick. The audience isn’t allowed enough time to let their eyes wander in a shot.

The story jumps through Sols (a day on Mars) fairly quickly too, so the pressure of Watney’s time in isolation is minimized. I think by extending these scenic shots, the audience would have more time to stare off into the Martian horizon and think about the planet, exactly as Watney does every Sol to plan his survival. Overall the editing was well executed, it’s just at certain points the planet feels more like a prop than an actual location where Watney is stuck.

I’ve seen this type of rushed editing a lot in recent sci-fi flicks, most popularly in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Every time they show a shot of Saturn, or any kind of space scenic, they cut to something else. It makes me long for the editing style in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the opening shots in The Coen Brother’s No Country For Old Men. I understand the need to keep the runtime low, but adding two minutes of Mars scenic shots would have done the trick. There actually could be an interesting way to link virtual reality (VR) headsets, and movies here. Imagine that every time the movie stops to show you a scenic shot of Mars, you could wander the planet in VR, as if you’re Mark Watney, and this is your free time to explore.

For a survival story that manages to stay light-hearted, Watney's ultimate fate is never made too obvious, which makes the movie extremely enjoyable to watch. The experience is similar to watching Apollo 13 as a kid before any one told you about the outcome of the mission. So go see it, or instead donate your $14 to NASA so you can see Mars with your own eyes in this lifetime. Either way, this movie will inspire you to become a fan of supporting the U.S. space program. #NASAKickstarter

'You’re The Worst' S02E02 “Crevasses”

TV/Film ReviewHenry SmithComment

You’re The Worst continues to follow the fallout from the awesome season finale, and we see the first set of consequences from “Fists and Feet and Stuff” in “Crevasses”. Gretchen’s upset that Jimmy doesn’t seem to want to make room for her in their place together, making her live “in the crevasses”, which is where episode two gets its name. They take a trip to the mall, where Gretchen has multiple breakdowns buying basic stuff for her place after it emerges she has the inventory of a 19 year-old university student, culminating in a tirade that starts off as a rant against the patriarchy and the perils of visible panty lines, and ends with the phrase, “I’m an irresponsible monster who burned down her apartment with a vibrator”. 

Jimmy appears to take a backseat in this episode (and in the one after this) but what we’re seeing here is Jimmy and Gretchen in their natural habitats, and a little bit of an insight into why these two are truly considered the “worst”. In episode three, “Born Dead”, Gretchen holds a party to reconnect with her old friends, while Jimmy is forced to hang out with Vernon after an Instagram mishap. Vernon actually gives us our episode’s title, explaining the futility of human life without connection by explaining his still-birth. It’s a harrowing tale, but only the second-most harrowing one of the episode, as Paul describes the death of his friend’s wife in stuttering, visceral (though completely, sadistically hilarious) detail.

He’s explaining it to Edgar, who in these last two episodes has made good on his pursuit of Lindsay. “Crevasses” involves him accompanying Lindsay to a bar, and acting as her wingman as she looks to get back on the saddle after Paul’s departure in episode one. Luckily, he runs into a gay fellow, who seemingly sets him on the right path, by setting him up with the bartender. It works for about half a day, before Lindsay pulls him back in by having him take pictures of her. Racy pictures, with an uncomfortable amount of barbecue sauce in uncomfortable places. 

'You’re The Worst' S02E01 – "Sweater People": Jimmy and Gretchen Haven’t Quite Settled Down In Season Opener, But That Doesn’t Stop It Being Hilarious

TV/Film ReviewHenry SmithComment

After plenty of laughs, losses and pre-written heckles, FXX comedy You’re The Worst made a triumphant return to television in this week’s season opener, "Sweater People."

To recap, last season’s finale "Fists and Feet and Stuff" brought on all kinds of change for our protagonists (heroes may be a bit of a stretch); Lindsay (Kether Donohue) continued her downward spiral as long-suffering husband Paul (Allan McLeod) demanded a divorce, Edgar (Desmin Borges) moved back in with Jimmy (Chris Geere) after a brief and ultimately doomed attempt to show that he’d moved on (lovingly consummated by brutal sleeper hold), and an intense finale ended with Gretchen’s (Aya Cash) apartment burning down thanks to a rogue vibrator. Jimmy and Gretchen took this as the universe’s cue to move in together, and although neither will admit it, the final shot of the two with boxes in their hands and fading smiles on their faces show us that there was a fair bit of trepidation in their decision, and that not all things are going to be rosy for our toxic romantic couple. Also, Becca (Janet Varney) and Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson) are having a baby, and though those two really are the worst, it’s going to be interesting to see how their pregnancy plays out among the group (in particular with Lindsay) over the following season.

For now, though, it’s episode one, and it’s time to see how Jimmy and Gretchen are doing as a couple living together. You’re The Worst is at its most effective when we see Jimmy and Gretchen subvert romantic convention, whether that’s by bringing Chinese food and beer to a romantic movie date or by banging strangers in an attempt to one-up one another. It’s in full force here, as our two lovebirds try desperately to avoid relationship ennui by partying non-stop, escalating from drinking to cocaine to a “new synthetic thing - Belgian” that ends up with them stealing a Google Street View car and driving it into the woods.

You get the feeling that it’s due to fear more than immaturity (though they look almost identical in the right circumstances), and this is backed up by the fact that neither party are having a particularly good time. Jimmy is literally “pissing blood,” and Gretchen’s falling asleep at her job, and “sleepy bitches lose their right to use normal people phones,” according to Sam, who gives her a burner phone for her narcolepsy and swiftly slides hers into the garbage. Not that Gretchen would have minded much; ever since she moved to Jimmy’s she’s had awful reception, but a trip to the electronics store brings up suggestions of sharing a Family Plan with. A sentimental (if not slightly creepy) monologue by the sales person gives us an insight into the collective minds of Jimmy and Gretchen, as they high-tail it before the guy’s even turned around.

For whatever reason – Jimmy’s still smarting from his dalliance with Becca and Gretchen’s parents hint at deep insecurities within Cash’s character – the couple can’t bring themselves to be comfortable enough to actually be fully into this relationship, and though they don’t confront it fully, there’s a moment of understanding at the end, whether they share a goodnight kiss and settle into bed. Almost. They resort to only drinking clear liquor to chase away their nine hours of beauty sleep, but for these two, that’s a romantic gesture on par with the end of The Notebook. Despite moving in together, this relationship is going to need a lot more fleshing out, and the sight of Chris Geere’s Jimmy subtly placing a coaster underneath Gretchen’s mug indicates there’s a lot more conflict in the works as they both really get to know one another.

This episode gets its title from Lindsay, who’s doing okay after her divorce from Paul, living alone and… whatever “assing everything” means. She makes Gretchen vow to never become part of a boring couple as she allowed herself and Paul to become, making clear her dislike of “sweater people”. A visit from Paul, however, shows that the independent single girl was just a façade, as within two minutes of showing up at her house to deliver some subscription termination papers, the couple are upstairs in Lindsay’s bedroom, doing the business. Although she’s in her underwear, we see Lindsay slip on her sweater as she urged Gretchen not to, but Paul’s having none of it; he’s clearly moved on from Lindsay, who does not take this well. Another interesting loose thread from the end of season one was the potential feelings Edgar has for Lindsay, and he drops by with breakfast lasagna to find her in her garage, drinking apple cider in her wedding dress. So much for “assing everything”. An Edgar-Lindsay coupling would scream of “Pairing the Spares”, but Desmin Borges and Kether Donohue have enough on-screen chemistry that this wouldn’t be completely cringeworthy. A nice moment wherein Edgar helps Lindsay to pack away the rest of Paul’s stuff in an effort to move on is tainted slightly by the discovery and freezing of a used condom, but we’ll see what will be made of this sticky situation (pun intended). 

All in all, it’s nice to see the vision Stephen Falk has for You’re The Worst. The show has lost none of this caustic charm, while sowing seeds for greater story developments that I can’t wait to see.