MOONLIGHT is a coming of age story that follows Chiron during three stages of life as he learns who about himself while he struggles with sexual identity.During each stage, he is called by a different name, either Little, Chiron or Black. MOONLIGHT was written and directed by Barry Jenkins.It stars Mahershala Ali (HIDDEN FIGURES), Janelle Monae (HIDDEN FIGURES), Naomie Harris (SKYFALL), Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes. Brad Pitt produced.
This is a really beautiful movie that’s more quiet and methodical than anything else.Each scene feels unhurried, as though the audience is really experiencing a piece of life. By leaping ahead and showing Chiron over three different stages of life, there’s a strong sense that life goes on and we as an audience are only privy to certain parts of it.
While I was willing to accept the narrative gaps, at the same time I wanted more, particularly from Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Teresa (Janelle Monae). Chiron’s story and life were interesting, but so were they.
For more about MOONLIGHT, including how the color blue is used as a theme throughout, take a look below:
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Why I Signed onto an Amicus Brief Suing the President of the United States
Imagine what a movie showcasing an ordinary, lukewarm existence might look like. One without mobs or crooked cops and the only color in the characters’ lives is the blue on their collar. Worse still, life is totally ordinary and you live in Billings, Montana. Your great romantic tragedy is a Billings, Montana girlfriend calling it quits because you’re unsure about a Billings, Montana marriage. She’s pushing 250 lbs. You’re content selling Bose speakers in Billings, Montana to “Ja-neece, not Janice” and your physically and socially mangled father convinced you to drive 850 miles because of a promotional scam. Then you drive back to Billings, Montana.
But Nebraska is welcome proof that not every movie demands glorified escapism found in storied timepieces, fluorescent boxing rings and Ryan Gosling. Grounding films that don’t titillate our grandiose visions of a sexy, high-flying fantasy where we’re permanently 32 and going to dinner parties with 40 of our closest friends, or defending Father’s honor by slaying a Smaug with hellfire swords. What about the simple, the archaic, the white bread? What about the stripped down story of people being people? There is a home for the acoustic version, and as the great sushi maestro Jiro says, “There is purity in simplicity.”
Illuminating the subtle details of human framework is a tough skill to hone and a tougher one to sell. Even with his stellar resume, Alexander Payne had some trouble getting the measly $13 million to fund Nebraska, an unassuming movie with immense gratification. Pitching a screenplay about a washed-up alcoholic Korean War vet driving from Montana to Nebraska wouldn’t exactly scream goldmine, and adding his black and white plans for the film certainly didn’t help. But Payne had long wanted to make a black and white movie; in fact he says most of the movies he watches are in black and white. “Chroma” as he calls it, allowed Nebraska’s colors of human honesty to shine through without the distraction of a color scheme pulling from the more subtle senses. Employing non-actors as well as actors for added authenticity, they shot the route – from Billings to Lincoln – in less than six weeks.
Nebraska is a film that appreciates the subdued spots in life, the no-glitz all-salt moments. It’s a place in our hearts everyone knows, whether it’s visiting a great uncle with hearing problems and a 1960 RCA TV or remembering how your grammy pronounced “fooleeshness.” There are only more of those moments to come as the years go by, and a reminder to celebrate the tender silences of egg salad and Miracle Whip sandwiches is appreciated. Nebraska brings us home. It’s also relentlessly funny.
Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an 80-something malcontent with a passion for trucks, sauce and brevity, is hell-bent on getting to Lincoln, Nebraska to cash in a notice for a $1 million sweepstakes prize he received in the mail. “We are now authorized to pay one million dollars to Woodrow T. Grant, Billings, Montana,” he reads with stubborn pride to his youngest son David (Will Forte). He keeps the winning letter in his front shirt pocket at all times, bearing his dentures to anyone who tries talking him down from his pre-hatched million dollar throne. But his wife (June Squibb) and eldest son (Bob Odenkirk) aren’t interested in entertaining Woody’s naïve delusions (“They can’t print it if it isn’t true!”), so nourishing his father’s wide-eyed hopes of a new truck and new air compressor with cash to spare falls on David’s hesitant shoulders. An impromptu visit to Hawthorne along the way, his parents’ hometown, paves the way for father and son to reconnect … kind of.
A known Payne mantra is that 90 percent of directing is casting, and that percentage really held up its end of the deal. What Forte and Dern lack in on-screen chemistry is made up in the fluidity of and devotion to their performance. It’s not easy for actors to downplay their acting, but you won’t find grand demonstrations of dramatic emotions or outrageous situational gimmicks in Nebraska because they aren’t called for. We’re undersold, which is what closes the deal. Forte drops a couple gleefully sarcastic one-liners to curb tension, but for the most part MacGruber keeps the funny business to a minimum. The revered Stacy Keach as Woody’s boyhood frenemy doles out his usual powerhouse prominence, and Dern won the Best Actor award at Cannes for his role. Squibb as Woody’s harping wife Kate, the self-described “only sane one in this family,” delivers a hoot of a performance, combining endearment and raunch with minimal effort.
One scene, however, garnering a fair amount of attention has her visiting family headstones at a cemetery with Woody and David, gossiping about the late loved ones’ more regrettable qualities. All light and harmless until, while standing over the headstone of a man she claims (as she often does), wanted to get in her knickers, she pulls up her skirt and hollers about what might have been.
All right, I get it. How fun, how silly coming from a cute old woman. And had intuitive subtlety not reigned supreme in Nebraska, the gratuitousness of the scene might not have bothered me. But looking at that scene, then looking at the sensitive acting and directing footwork of David with his dad at the car lot, for example, I felt the chumminess didn’t quite belong. It’s morsels like the disarming “C’mon, have a beer with your old man. Be somebody!” and the damaged “I was there” after Woody is asked about a family loss that epitomize the integrity of Nebraska. It shows a trust in the audience that far too few movies do. The spectacularly candid scene in Hawthorne with the extended family men watching football, humming lazily about the ’79 Buick a brother used to own is another one of many that celebrates the honesty in mundanity.
“Those cars never stop running … what happened to it?”
“Yeah … They’ll do that.”
I’ll just say it, this is one of my favorite movies in a long time. There’s an almost therapeutic quality to it – watching the pair drive down long stretches of black and white road, not saying much; listening to gray-haired Hawthornians talk foot afflictions and court-ordered community service; reveling in Woody’s laughably indignant nature brought on by decades of drinking. (Fortunately he’s not drinking anymore, though. Beer ain’t drinkin’.)
Its patience is calming, and its heart is pure. Amid the Secret Ron Burgundy of Wall Street Hustle, don’t let this one get away.
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The problems with the problems with ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’
Describing exactly the way Blue is the Warmest Color affected me, as I’m sure it did millions of people, is a struggle, especially from a critical standpoint. It’s an intimate and subjective reflection of people, places and times, carrying the hours with tides of raw emotion rather than frequent chronological plot points. If even one event had been cut, watching it may have felt more like sitting in Emma’s art gallery for three hours than watching a media-frenzied NC-17 Palme d’Or winner.
But carry the tides it did. I felt like every emotion of sorrow, lust, fulfillment, peace or regret my gut is capable of holding was twisted into a ball that replaced both my heart and my stomach. There was something otherworldly yet entirely familiar about each interaction and each scene. Yet the beauty and mysticism woven through every sound and every image couldn’t be recognized anywhere in my life. What came was a heightened sensitivity to vital aspects, vital outlooks that help comprise my day-to-day world, my day-to-day truth. This is a movie, really, about the layered young soul of woman.
Blue starts off fairly recognizable: classroom cliques, high school lip, awkward courtship. A 15-year-old Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) appears to struggle with sexuality, but at first the struggle seems more with her sexuality and not her sexuality. Adèle as a primal, salacious animal, “voracious” as Emma calls her, is shown through close-ups of her very busy mouth, incessant tossing of her hair and an insatiable hunger for all things carb. Like all teens, she is influenced by her friends and frustrated when their biddings blow up in her face, but she also emits an essence of caged closeted existence. Perhaps also not uncommon for teens, but hers is especially palpable. When Emma (Léa Seydoux) first enters her consciousness via a chanced crossing in the street (that trailer-famous scene), the true intentions of the film begin to unfold. Emma’s handsome, confident glances captured me as quickly as they did Adèle. One hypnotic bar meeting and high school courtyard tussle later, we’re off to the races.
The movie is chiefly told through close-ups; oftentimes Exarchopoulos’ teeth take up half the screen. Impacts of the world at large or strategically placed foretelling props are of little to no concern, as the secular world existing outside Emma and Adèle's Love Temple is not important to director Abdellatif Kechiche’s objective. Mise en scene, schmise en scene – he let their intertwining fingers and legs, their bare eyelashes, a spaghetti slurp and a broken-hearted snot bubble tell the story.
With buzz aplenty, the spicy rumors surrounding this cumming-of-age tale weren’t hard to find hiding in plain sight. “XXXPLICIT GIRL-ON-GIRL SEXCAPADES” or something equally brazen swarm conversations about Blue is the Warmest Color, but fear not the banality of such misguided simplifications. Constructive feedback of this nature comes largely from those hiding in YouTube comment threads, many who haven’t even seen the movie.
Sparking the chatter specifically is the seven-minute sex scene, which features the stark naked leading ladies biting, slapping, howling and gyrating in on and around each other with lustful raw instinct. It’s quite a sight. Very gripping, very hot. Like, ” target=”_blank”>Huffington Post article from Nico Lang titled “A Lesbian Movie Without Lesbians: The Problem With Blue is the Warmest Color,” he operates under an incorrect assumption when he writes, “For a film so strongly about the way lesbians have sex, a movie produced only by straight people will have a harder time representing that.” The Problem With Nico was his failure to understand that the movie was in no way about the way lesbians have sex. It meant to portray the intimate stages of love and heartbreak from an astoundingly soft, beautiful, and complicated place that most stories of love and loss do not. It strums and holds a familiar melody of the precious nostalgia born from all our great losses, including and especially the most sacred parts of the loss. For Adèle, the life-changing sexual relationship she experienced with Emma is just one of those sacred parts.
Julie Maroh, author of the book which the film is based, expressed dissatisfaction on her blog about the absence of actual lesbians on set, an observation that many reviews have pointed out. She and several other critics, mostly female, lament the picturesque Seydoux and Exarchopoulos interpreting lesbian sex as so unrealistically beautiful. Amy Taubin, an editor for Film Comment magazine, said, “They are exquisitely lit actresses pretending to have sex. They are made to look ridiculously, flawlessly beautiful.” But another observation Maroh made in the same post recognizes Kechiche’s right to creative authority in telling the story that her book inspired. Of course Kechiche owes a great deal to Maroh, but it was never his intention to regurgitate the book on screen. To these criticisms, he said, “What I was trying to do…was to film what I found beautiful. So we shot them like paintings, like sculptures.”
As he should have. Blue is the Warmest Color meant to portray what centuries of artists have attempted: the multi-layered beautiful mystery of woman. What he and these marvelous actresses created is utterly magnificent, and those griping about Exarchopoulos’ perky rear end are doing themselves a tragic injustice by not appreciating the intimate artistry before them. Taubin’s opinion that “no one would be interested in this movie if you take the sex out” is not only short-sighted and offensive, it’s arguably misogynistic.
But, fear not the banality of such misguided simplifications.
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