Kathryn Bigelow: Eclipsing the boys at their own game


Winner for Best Director and Best Pictur

Profile – Kathryn Bigelow: Eclipsing the boys at their own game

Pet projects: Why they go wrong


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Pet projects: Why they go wrong

Film Retrospective: Planet of the Apes (1968)


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Film Retrospective: Planet of the Apes (1968)

Interview with Two People Director Rob Livings


 

07-july-2017-two-people-interviewInterview with Two People Director Rob Livings

All Eyez on Me Review: False Note


Director: Benny Boom

Writers: Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez, Steven Bagatourian

Stars: Demetrius Shipp, Jr., Kat Graham, Lauren Cohan, Hill Harper

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Release date: June 15, 2017 

Distributor: Summit Entertainment 

Country: USA 

Running time: 140 minutes


2/5

Review: All Eyez on Me

 

Minority blues: Juan embodies Moonlight(2016)’s impact


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Every so often, a movie comes along that changes my perceptions of cinema and the world. These flicks let us see directly into the characters, their lives, what they like/dislike and how they act in or react to the events of the narrative. For their run-time, they deliver everything cinema should offer on a regular basis. Moonlight is one of those delights. Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished play, Moonlight proves every frame can be essential to the overall effect.

Sadly, Moonlight is the movie now synonymous with Academy Awards stuff-ups. This $1.5 million independent feature went up against a musical, docudramas and war epics during this year’s Oscars ceremony. The lead-up was spectacular, with the film gaining industry recognition for its depiction of the gay-black experience, life in lower-class America, and familial conflict. However, thanks to one Price-Waterhouse Coopers’ representative’s folly, this and La La Land are tied together eternally.

rs_1024x683-161212061514-1024.Moonlight-Mahershala-Ali-JR-121216This article is not saying La La Land is not important, exciting, interesting etc. Indeed, the movie is notable for being the exact opposite of moonlight. Its reach-for-the-stars vibe  balances out a melancholic ending with scintillating effect. Moonlight is nothing like this. From the opening sequences, this narrative smacks of realism and heartache. It’s in these opening moments where director Barry Jenkins places his feelings on his sleeve (for the audience to take in). If you’re squeamish, head out of the theatre and head straight towards the nearest blockbuster (you may feel safer there).

We meet drug dealer/kingpin Juan (Mahershala Ali) dealing drugs in Miami’s Liberty City. The opening shot is propulsive. Jenkins never talks down to anyone or simplifies anything for the audience. Juan’s body language and tone proves he rules the roost. The neighbourhood responds to Juan’s presence with glee (in the saddest way possible). Yes, he’s a drug dealer. Aware of his presence, the area loves him because of what he supplies. He is seen as the businessman, the top dog and enviable leading man type all rolled in one.

Is after this initial introduction, we feel his presence throughout the movie. Juan finds the protagonist of this story, Chiron “Little”, hiding from bullies in an abandoned block of flats/crackhouse. Juan first comes off as the hero, a strong man saving a young boy from bullies and the dangerous environment around them. Juan overcomes his stoicism to do what he knows is right. By the five to ten minute mark, one of Moonlight‘s supporting characters has shown a depth and range rarely seen in mainstream lead characters.

Juan wants, in this instance, to make a valuable first impression. He knows Chiron will run away or ignore him if the truth came out. These glimpses add to Jenkins’ and co. arresting vision. Even a sparsely utilised supporting character ties intricately into everything else. It is in this moment we meet his significant other, Teresa (Janelle Monae), before Chiron is taken back to his crack-addicted mother, Paula (Naomie Harris). To become a role model, or at the very least more likeable person, Juan sets Chiron up with a mini-family. The Juan, Teresa and Chiron embody the father-mother-and-child vision of American life. The characters hold onto their time together – envisioning shiny, new lives and aiming to overcome or even step away from their current status’.

ad_234908624-e1487004604539Throughout their time together, Jenkins develops a beaming, ultra-positive father-son dynamic between Juan and Chiron. Juan, despite his life choices (profession), seeks to keep Chiron from the ugly truth and divert him towards a better future. Juan helps Chiron with the ‘basics’ (learning to swim etc.) to increase his intelligence and abilities. Our father figure, thinking of his own regrets, contemplates his role in Chiron’s life. A wordless Chiron listens intently to Juan’s story. Juan recalls of an old lady talking to him, saying black boys turned blue while running around in the moonlight.

It is here Juan gives Chiron the ultimate, coming-of-age ultimatum – “At some point you’ve gotta decide for yourself what you want to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you”. Juan passes on whatever knowledge of the world he has onto Chiron. Although giving only slivers of information, Juan pushes Chiron to find a new path through the ghetto and adulthood. The mystical-magical-negro type – depicted in many films as providing younger, better looking white characters with inspiration – is now a lower-middle class man filled with regret and sadness on the inside, with only a tough exterior guarding people from knowing the truth.

Juan is the ultimate supporting character – on-screen for short periods and continually making an impact. His frustrations and weaknesses rise to the surface whenever Paula comes into the mix. In their first meeting, Juan explains Chiron’s disappearance overnight. Paula, seemingly threatened by Juan’s fatherly affection to Chiron, rejects Juan’s assistance. Overcompensating for Chiron’s lack of father figures, Paula acts with full-throttled anger. Instead of listening to or thanking Juan, she stares him down and snaps at him until he leaves. The lioness asserts her dominance, to Chiron’s detriment. Her dominance and choices make for an unsettling near future for Chiron.

“At some point you’ve gotta decide for yourself what you want to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you,” Juan (Mahershala Ali) – Moonlight, 2009.

Juan and Paula’s next encounter shows Ali and Harris to be two of Hollywood’s most esteemed character-actors. Juan confronts Paula after seeing her smoking crack with one of his regular customers. Channelling his deep-seeded fatherly love, Juan stands up for Chiron. His interrogation, in another film, could potentially change Paula’s point of view and make for change. More sugary fare might lead Paula down more redemptive path and, possibly, into Juan’s arms. Here, however, Paula once again establishes her raw, untethered emotion.

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She berates Juan for coming into their lives, convinced she is protecting her son’s best interests. Paula, thanks to her issues, is a threatening presence for everyone in her path. Paula shares her true feelings of Chiron, convinced his homosexuality has led to isolation from peer groups at school. She says Chiron, against the norm,is cast aside and punished by the majority. In such a tough area, his skin does not help him blend in. The bullies look beyond anything concerning race; seeing only an outsider and threat to their way of existence.

Juan is overwhelmed by Paula and her attitude to parenthood. He, after discovering Chiron’s mother’s lack of care or consideration, is convinced the truth may in fact scare the boy into going down the right path. Juan, Teresa and Chiron sit together at the table, aping the appearance of the family unit sharing quality time together. Juan attempts to understand Chiron’s plight, discussing Chiron’s sexual orientation as acceptable. Juan here represents the understanding, tolerant parent (like Teresa and less like Paula). Chiron, however, focuses only on Juan’s profession and way of life. Chiron, disappointed in Juan for selling drugs to Paula, leaves the home. The pair never interact again, with Juan hanging his head and crying in his last scene.

Ali and Jenkins deliver a powerful, subdued supporting character. Though starring in only the first third, Ali conveys an entire emotional and psychological arc with just a handful of expressions and scenes. Unlike many supporting actor/actress winners, Ali chooses subtle, quiet performance over loud, brash eccentricities. Instead of drawing eyes towards him, the actor allows us to soak up his role and the frame around him simultaneously.

Juan encapsulates the movie’s undying affection for Chiron. Ali and Jenkins subvert the stereotypical poor, negligent dad type. Whereas Chiron’s biological father appears to be long gone, Juan attempts to get closer. Realising he could be something greater, Juan sees an opportunity and tries to take it. He turns from drug dealer to father figure, with the audience sympathising and empathising with him throughout his and Chiron’s time together.

Belated sequels: Why they go wrong?


The belated sequel is, for all intents and purposes, a sign that Hollywood is close to running out of ideas. The plan is simple: take a famous property, convince everyone it needs to come back, deliver a final product and pray that old and new viewers show up. The basic elements of this system are designed to prey on an audience’s basis desires. The studios, obviously, think audiences and average moviegoers will devour anything with recognisable packaging wrapped around it.

anchorman2The marketing departments rule the roost here. The studios, like with every other movie, TV show etc., tell their marketing departments to coerce audiences to attend. From the get-go, these departments have advantages at their disposal. Due to immense coverage/ speculation/rumours by fans and the media, studios, producers, actors, directors etc. are seemingly coerced into dusting off old projects.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – out in 2013, nine years after the 2004 cult-hit original – was sold on getting the band back together. Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd had moved on to leading man roles and engaging movies after the original’s underwhelming release. Their career trajectories, along with Anchorman‘s slowly growing fandom, drew interest for the long-awaited follow-up. These three leading men were hounded for years over the movie’s delayed development.

The industry’s reliance on brand recognition over star power slowly diminished Anchorman 2’s chances of critical and commercial successes. The sequel was released to mixed reviews from audiences and critics. Its cast’s energy was seemingly nowhere near enough to save the finished product. Fortunately, the three have gone on to Marvel Movies, Oscar-calibre material and truckloads of paycheques. Despite their talents and charm, Ferrell and co’s movies have made smaller profits and diminishing returns compared to earlier efforts. Ferrell, in particular, has gone from bad to worse of late. Get Hard and Daddy’s Home swung for the fences and missed spectacularly.

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Many belated sequels were not worth the wait. Dumb and Dumber To was the result of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels being hounded for the better part of 20 years (and we all know how that turned out). Super-flop Zoolander 2 stuck too close to the original, but left the comedy (and actors’ dignity) behind. The stinker was sorely missing the original’s slew of memorable lines and fun performances from once-fresh-faced comedians Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.

The past two years have seen numerous belated sequels including My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, Bad Santa 2, Finding Dory, Alice Through the Looking Glass and Inferno. A large number of these suffered due to pure laziness. They coast on the originals’ success and didn’t come close to creating something worthwhile. The rare recent exception is Danny Boyle’s T2: Trainspotting. The follow-up to the 1996 cult classic sees its characters come home to roost and accept who they are with entertaining results.

o1XC96sFsE-5Q2Fpp4HQ6g___tmp_11_715_The audience sees the cast (Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller etc.) and filmmaker return to this beloved property. The original was an out-there crime-thriller against the establishment, the ever-expanding United Kingdom and popular culture. Since its release, McGregor and co. have starred in some of Hollywood’s biggest movies and TV shows. Meanwhile, Boyle has picked up a Best Director Oscar and made a slew of hits. They have since become The Man.

T2: Trainspotting pokes fun at everything from new-age drug culture to social media without being overbearing. In this character-based drama, our leads are older, tireder, full of regret and ready to take their anger out on one another. Unpredictably, Renton (McGregor) is far from the fulfilled, reformed man we first think he is. The movie’s big revelation – Renton admitting to his failures, lack of worldly experience etc. – turns him into the loveable loser he was back in the day.

The sequel comments on its own belatedness, with every character questioning themselves and the world around them throughout. Whereas most belated sequels rehash character arcs, story beats and jokes, T2: Trainspotting reflects on the length of time between drinks. The movie is informed by, but not entirely reliant on, our general knowledge of the significant social, political and cultural changes between the mid-1990s and today.

ID4RHEADER-1The majority of belated sequels – comedies especially – rely almost 100% on a copy-and-paste formula for a quick fix. In fact, many feel like little more than hubris and laziness blended together. However, the better examples are aware of their own peculiar existence, commenting on the movie’s world and the real world without nudging us too violently. It is not so much who is involved and what they are doing, by why we should be watching that matters most. With numerous belated sequels scheduled (Wedding Crashers 2), this trend is not slowing down. I wonder which movies out today will get follow-ups 20 years from now. An Emma Stone/Ryan Gosling re-team for La La Land 2: Still Tapping maybe?

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