Friday, February 17, 2017

Favorite Scene Friday! Moonlight: Chiron's Revenge

More February, more Oscars appreciation! Jacob from Panned Review takes a look at a nominee for this year's Best Picture Oscar - Moonlight.

“I ain’t no boy,” Chiron says at the police station, as he ices his bruised face, which has just been smashed by Kevin, a guy whom Chiron thought was his closest friend. Chiron’s physical pain is nothing compared to the feeling of betrayal, and this is a particularly cruel treachery. But betrayal seems to be the only consistent factor in Chiron’s relationships. Chiron feels betrayed by his drug-addicted mother, by Juan, a kindly, gentle father figure who happens to be a drug dealer, and now by Kevin: they kissed on the beach once, and the kiss went further, a moment of intense passion, an unexpected urge between them, one bound to generate confused feelings, guilt, and shame, in a world that is militantly homophobic. Betrayal has tainted every relationship in Chiron’s life (with the exception of Teresa, Juan’s wife, played by the fabulous Janelle Monáe, whom readers may recognize as one of the three stars of Hidden Figures), rendering them as ineffectual as saltwater to a parched mouth.

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Moonlight was, for me, the most moving film I saw last year. Although I loved La La Land, which has become trendy to hate on, Moonlight deserves to win the Best Picture Oscar (I’m not sure it has a chance, especially against a popular favorite that’s an adorable, Hollywood-obsessed confection.) Where La La Land feels clever and charming and happily content with its own nostalgic view of a particularly sun-dappled world, Moonlight feels deeply urgent and lyrical and honest about a world where the sun doesn’t bring warmth so much as blood-boiling heat.

In its story of a young black boy becoming a man, Moonlight casts three different actors to play Chiron, in three different stages of his life: as a young boy, called “Little” (Alex Hibbert), as a teenager struggling to come to terms with his sexuality, the only time when he’s referred to by his given name (and played by Ashton Sanders), and as a grown man, now called “Black” (played by Trevante Rhodes). Somehow, these three actors have created a seamless vision of Chiron, guided by the knowing instincts of writer-director Barry Jenkins.

The scene I want to bring into focus involves Kevin’s betrayal of Chiron. It’s really the only scene in which Chiron acts out because of his anger. Being both black and gay is a particularly difficult battle to fight for Chiron, who’s already endured enough torment when a high school bully pits Kevin against him, urging Kevin to “knock his faggot-ass down.” These are boys playing at manhood, questioning their own vulnerabilities, their own insecurities, which they see as signs that they are not men. Insecurities like these must be purged, by violence. And so, out of fear and hatred of himself, Kevin strikes Chiron, in a modern-day Judas kiss.

Chiron’s anger wells up inside him. He’s used to keeping quiet, he’s learned the value of not stirring things up. But while keeping control of his anger worked for him as a child, it is no longer enough, or he is no longer able to control it. But it’s not Kevin who receives Chiron’s fury, but the instigating bully. Is Chiron sparing Kevin? Cutting him some slack? Or maybe, does Chiron realize that Kevin has in a sense already punished himself in the act of betrayal? Regardless, when Chiron returns to school, he coolly walks into a classroom and smashes a chair over the head of the boy that goaded Kevin into hitting him. In that moment, the consequences of attacking the unsuspecting punk matter little; the feeling of vindication acts like a mantra that cannot be ignored; there’s something intoxicating about this revenge, both for Chiron and the viewer.

Moonlight is an intoxicating film, after all. And this scene encapsulates the complexities at work here. Moonlight explores the world from a very particular angle, and in so doing, offers us something very true: We cannot expect to survive in our own heads forever. Sooner or later, we crave human connection. Chiron, having bottled up so much, walks around with very thick armor (as I’ve already mentioned, he has good reason to be so guarded). Yet the feelings and the thoughts and the workings of his mind are palpable, as powerful as thunderclouds. There’s a tempest inside him, but there is also tenderness and love and compassion, too.

Moonlight is a gracious movie, one that deeply feels for its protagonist without offering him up as some object of pity. Instead, the film offers Chiron a moment of grace: In the third act, when “Black” appears, just as quiet and guarded as ever, but now physically tougher, harder, more in control, Kevin re-enters his life; the bad blood between them has dissipated, and what’s left is a lingering memory of that night on the beach. Moonlight wonders what might have been, had Chiron’s life been less fraught with hopelessness; but it also finds hope anyway; it isn’t too late for him to carve out some kind of happiness, some kind of life for himself.

What's your favorite scene from Moonlight?

Who do you think will take home the Best Actor prize at this year's ceremony?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Peek Through the Hatch: Robert's Most Anticipated Films of 2017

We have left 2016 behind. 2016, a figurative dumpster fire, but almost as if it were some alternate reality where the Grand Canyon was turned into a giant landfill through some sort of federal legislation. That big of a dumpster fire. 2017 is upon us. Let us look ahead and dream. Like last year, superhero films have been excluded and I've only gone "in depth" on my Top 5. Without further ado, here are the 10 upcoming films I'm most looking forward to.

10. Dunkirk (July 21)

'Nuff said: Christopher Nolan's first feature-length film since 2014's Interstellar.

9. War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14)

'Nuff said: Ape shenanigans are always great.

8. The Masterpiece (?)

'Nuff said: Adaptation of "The Disaster Artist", which is a behind the scenes look at The Room.

7. The Girl with All the Gifts (?)

'Nuff said: Fresh zombie flick.

6. Kong: Skull Island (March 10)

'Nuff said: Ape shenanigans are always great.

5. Alien: Covenant (May 19)

Let me get this out of the way: Prometheus sucked. Here's my review. Covenant could be the proper Alien prequel we've been wanting. Plus, while Prometheus did fall short of expectations, it at least left off on an interesting note, and I'm wondering what's become of David the android (Michael Fassbender) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace). Oh, and I recently completed the video game Alien: Isolation, and it's seriously renewed my interest in the Alien mythos and franchise.

4. Ghost in the Shell (March 31)

I haven't seen the original but I'm hoping to fix that. Despite the uproar surrounding ScarJo's casting (and that whole weird digital yellow face controversy) I'm definitely excited for this. It looks amazing.

3. Blade Runner 2049 (October 6)

I'm a huge fan of the original Blade Runner. Here's hoping they can recapture that film's look and tone. Harrison Ford's last two revival projects were a miss (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and a hit (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) respectively, so it'll be in interesting to see what this turns out to be.

2. Baby Driver (August 11)

Edgar Wright is one of my favorite directors. It's always hard waiting for one of his projects, and we've been waiting oh so long after he pulled out of Marvel's Ant-Man. But we don't have to wait much longer for Baby Driver, which will be more of a thriller compared to his other films, from what I've heard. Sounds like the trailer and the movie are gonna be awesome.

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (December 15)

I'm surprised this is my #1 but there ya go. The Star Wars renaissance has been going great and I'm not immune to its spell. That said, The Force Awakens was basically a remake of A New Hope, so I'm hoping this is a truly original film with some unexpected surprises.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Favorite Scene Friday! Up: Taking Off

All this month we'll be looking at the last decade of films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. However it's also February, which is the month of Valentine's Day, so I'm picking a film that was nominated for Best Picture, but also means a great deal to my relationship, as it was the first film I saw with my fiancée, and remains one of our favourites to this day, Pixar's Up.
Artwork by Posterinspired, available on Etsy
The most discussed - and most romantic - scene from Up is easily the opening montage, depicting the life-long relationship between Carl and Ellie, from mis-matched children through their wedding, failed attempts to have children, plans to seek adventures elsewhere and eventually Ellie's heartbreaking demise, but that's not my favourite part. It's not the scene where they meet Dug (although the lovable talking dog is easily one of my top Pixar characters, probably in the top 10), nor is it anything to do with the film's villain, Charles Muntz, or occasionally annoying sidekick Russell. No, the greatest scene in Up lasts just 6 seconds, and is when Carl's newly-flying house passes by the window of a little girl, casting her room in a kaleidoscopic disco of colours and shapes.

The moment is a classic Pixar notion, a creative extrapolation of how their main plot could tangentially - and beautifully - impact the most minor of characters around them. In this instance it's how Carl's house being carried away by hundreds of helium-filled balloons would look to the people nearby. Onlookers understandably stare in disbelief, mouths agape. A window cleaner on a skyscraper gives a confused wave. And a little girl delights in her room being temporarily decorated like a giant bag of Skittles. It warms my heart every time I watch it.

Granted that snippet is part of a bigger whole, so let's also take a quick glance at the rest of the scene. I really like the two orderlies who come to collect Carl to take him to the nursing home. I don't know why I love that one of them has the label sticking out of this shirt, but I do. And the other one, George, is voiced by Donald Fullilove, who also played Mayor Goldie Wilson in Back To The Future. I enjoy the storytelling of the scene. Beforehand we don't know what Carl's plan is, we just know he's due to be shipped off to the retirement home after attacking a construction worker for accidentally damaging his sentimentally invaluable mailbox, but clues are given immediately as the nurses walk away from his front door, remarking on the poor upkeep of the yard which was formerly pristine, but is now littered with empty gas canisters from all the balloons.

OK so some scene elements are a little far fetched - just where did Carl get that impossibly large bag holding the balloons from, and where exactly were they before he unleashed them, and what were they tied to, and how the heck does the tiny little weather vane act as a rudder for something literally the size of a house - but frankly who cares? Just forget all that rubbish and listen to Michael Giacchino's fabulous score and bask in the glorious visuals.

What's your favorite moment from Pixar?