Friday, March 24, 2017

Trainspotter 2: Monday, March 20 2017

Apparently I missed a good film when I decided I really didn't want to see the first Trainspotting, directed by Danny Boyle, released in 1996. I knew more than enough of the underside of Scottish life to think I might find a movie depicting Scottish druggies anything but disturbing. Based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh, the screenplay by John Hodge won an Academy nomination. The film has been ranked 10th by the British Film Institute (BFI) in its list of 100 best British films of all time. The public voted it the best Scottish film of all time in 2004. My judgement seems to have been a little premature.

T2 Trainspotting is directed by Danny Boyle, brilliantly. John Hodge once again has written a fantastic screenplay. The acting is amazing. Ewen McGregor as Mark Renton, Ewen Bremmer as Daniel Murphy, Jonny Lee Miller as Simon Wilkiamson, and Robert Carlyle as Francis Begby, have each created unforgettable characters. For anyone who hadn't seen the previous Trainspotters, the flashbacks filled in what would have been vacant spots, and made sure no one in the audience would have felt left out. Better still if you had read the story of the first movie on Wikipedia, as I had in preparation. I had decided I didn't want to be left out this time.

My friends seem to be all of the same opinion about T2 Trainspotters. It's a memorable, well-made film, and probably one that one ought to see, even if only to be able to converse about it. It is not a pleasurable movie, about pleasant people, in a setting that makes the audience feel as if they have been on holiday to exotic, foreign lands. The wastelands of Edinburgh are off-putting.

As a Scot, I had the same feelings that I understand Indian people had about Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. I know that the underside of Scotland is not too pleasant, but fortunately it is not the largest part of Scotland, or of Scottish culture. I'm not too sure that I like it exposed so accurately. It left me feeling uncomfortable. I couldn't relate to the characters, nor did I appreciate their limited vocabulary that left them with the ubiquitous adjective, or expletive, which translates as sexual intercourse. It would appear that the Scottish education system, which used to be the best in the world, is no longer in that enviable position. Such a pity!

I hope audiences will take this as an anthropological study of a very small section of Scottish culture. On the other hand, there are areas of Glasgow, and Edinburgh, obviously, where a person wouldn't be wise to find themselves in after dark. There was a reason European military forces were happy to have Scottish mercenary soldiers. This film shows why the Romans built Hadrian's Wall to keep out those wild Scots. Not a pretty picture! And the last thing T2 Trainspotting could be called would be a "feel good" movie.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

American Pastoral: March 17 2017

One meaning of the word pastoral is "a work of literature portraying an idealized version of country life. In his Pulitzer prizewinning American Pastoral (1997), Philip Roth states that to him the secular American Thanksgiving is the American Pastoral. There is meant to be a moratorium on all grievances and resentments. Everyone is meant to be full of thanks for blessings received, and ought to be exuding good will towards everyone. This is the ideal: part of the ideology of the American Dream; of how the earliest Pilgrim Fathers shared their first Thanksgiving Dinner, in 1621, with the First Peoples, who had helped them settle at Plymouth. The last part of the book is a Thanksgiving Dinner, and tells of what is really happening in the mind of the chief character, The Swede.

In his book, Philip Roth is demonstrating that reality is something different from the meaning he gives to his title.  It is concerned with the grudges held by Swede's daughter, Merry, against him, and against her country. Brought up in a privileged family, she had become indoctrinated by the philosophy of Communism to see the world through the economic system of Socialism. Merry was against Capitalism, meaning private ownership of business, and the Vietnamese War being fought against the Communist North Vietnamese.

She hasn't bought into the American Dream, even although her family had been part of it. Her immigrant grandfather had founded a successful glove factory, and her father had inherited it. She didn't see her grandfather and father as the epitome of the American Dream, even although they had worked hard to establish the business which had provided jobs for many people and helped create the United States. She didn't agree with the idea that the government of the States had felt obligated to help the South Vietnamese when they asked for help against the Communist North Vietnamese who were invading their country.

She expressed her hatred for everything the Unites States stands for by bombing the local store, in the process killing a local man. By this act, she destroys her family and the pleasant life her grandfather and father had worked so hard to provide.

This book could be seen as a case study for so many families who find themselves in a similar position. One of their members hates them so much they would do them, and their country, harm. It is a universal question, and can be given so many different colorations.

The big question we are left with by American Pastoral is why? Can a young person be so indoctrinated by an ideology, either secular or religious, that they will be motivated to attack innocent people? We are left having to consider this question. A very uncomfortable subject, but a brilliant book, by a brilliant author.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Last Word: Monday, March 13 2017

The Last Word needed Shirley MacLaine, who plays the lead character Harriet Lauler, to give it some depth. Amanda Seyfried plays opposite MacLaine, as Anne, and gives a competent performance, as do all the others in the film.

Director Mark Pellington paced it too slow, although my friends didn't find it so. They felt the pace fitted in with the general atmosphere of the film. The music, by Nathan Matthew David, was not to my taste, but, no doubt, fitted the movie.

The storyline wasn't very original, but compared with so many of the films I've seen recently, wasn't too bad. It had the main characters both stuck in ruts in their lives. Harriet Lauler makes the first move to change, and comes into contact with Anne. They play off each other quite well, both growing in the process. In fact, Anne ends the film with a passionate speech about Harriet having taught her so much, and how she was going to change her life as a result. Very nice!

Thinking about the film a little further than I might have done if Shirley MacLaine hadn't been a producer and lead actor in the movie, it struck me that this was the last word from 82-year-old Shirley. She, as a representative of her generation, the Silent Generation (born before 1945), was giving a strong message to young women of the same generation as her co-star, Amanda Seyfried, the Millennials (1977-95).

The women of Shirley's generation had to fight for their position in the work world, and this may have made them abrasive, as it had Harriet. She was saying to Anne, don't take your life for granted, don't just drift through it. Set yourself goals, consider how to achieve them, and then go for it. Just do it, as Nike puts it! You have been given a good education; you can achieve what you want; appreciate this and put it to use to make a contribution to your world. Follow the example of the women before you who achieved so much. Don't disappoint them by not achieving more than they did. All good, motivational stuff, as is being taught by so many self-help gurus on the internet.

A sweet film. A pleasant way to pass a cold afternoon!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro: Monday, March 6 2017

I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary, narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, based on an unfinished book by James Baldwin. It takes us through the history of racism in the United States as the background to Baldwin's reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. It is not a pretty picture.

James Baldwin is seen by many as the clearest voice around the subject of Civil Rights in the States. He called himself a social commentator, not an activist, and his writings also dealt with the civil rights of homosexual men. He explored the psychological underpinnings around these issues.

Directed and written by Raoul Peck, this film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars this year. Peck was born in Haiti, but his parents fled the Duvalier dictatorship and lived in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the next 24 years. His father worked for the UN. Peck was educated in the United States, France, and Germany. He has won many awards with his films. This background gives him a broader, more objective viewpoint on the subject of race relations in the States. This is reflected in his film.

I Am Not Your Negro is an accurate, objective accounting of events around these civil rights leaders. It doesn't add any new material, but does bring to mind the social upheaval in the sixties which led to the passing of legislation aimed at ending segregation and discrimination against black Americans. Those protests forced the hand of President Lyndon B. Johnson and being the wonderful negotiator he was, he had passed through Congress the Civil Rights Bill of 1964.

I consider this film is a loving comment on the life and work of James Baldwin. He did not advocate violence, or non-violence. This quote from his work, illustrates his attitude.
If the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.
The Fire Next Time  (1963)
This seems to me a mature attitude about race relations, in fact about any problematic relationship. Rather than violence, or non-violence, simply hold up a mirror to the brothers and sisters, and show them themselves as they are. Let them see how ugly and hurtful their attitudes are, not only to the objects of the attitudes, but also to themselves. Hopefully, this will bring change. It really is the only thing that will do so. And that is what I Am Not Your Negro does. It shows how ugly and divisive is racism, sexism, and all the other isms. The United States of America was founded on the principles of the equality of each individual, followed by the right to life, liberty, and the freedom of the individual to pursue their own happiness without hurting others. This includes everyone of every race, sex, social class, religion, or any other difference. Until this is applied also to black people and they are treated as equals by all the other people in the States, the American Dream has not been, and cannot be, realized. Is it only a dream! Is there no hope!

What we also are left with after viewing the reality of race relations in the States, is the knowledge that hatred is ugly and hurts everyone. The hatred of some white people for black people, and the hatred of some black people for white people, does no one any good. This can be applied also to the many different groups in the States. The dream is that they all tolerate each other, and accept their differences. Religious freedom means that each Faith leaves the others to believe the framework that they choose to view the world. One group does not seek to impose its worldview on everyone else. The Truth is that no one has the absolute Truth. This applies to all ideologies, including political and secular ones.

Humans appear to have a built in system that favours others like themselves. The American Dream is that we all see ourselves as Americans, regardless of any differences. This should unite us. If we see life in any other way, are we really true Americans?

I Am Not Your Negro is a powerful, thought-provoking film. I hope those who see it allow it to make them think truthfully about their own attitudes towards others. If it does, the film will have achieved what James Baldwin and Raoul Peck hoped for.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

89th Oscars 2017: Sunday, February 26 2017

Charles West Film Group
After-Oscar Discussion
Monday, February 27 2017
1:30-3:30 pm
Party Room, Floor 31

We are grateful to Management
for very kindly giving us the use of the Party Room for our gathering.

We had such a lively discussion about the 2017 Oscars this afternoon.
Everyone was agreed that this Awards Ceremony is one of the best. The new producers, Michael de Luca and Jennifer Todd, have done a great job. The stage settings were beautiful. The opening with Justin Timberlake had everyone dancing, and set the atmosphere for a fun evening. Jimmy Kimmel was a fantastic host; relaxed yet kept things moving along. Even the dropping of candy from the sky and the trooping of unsuspecting tourists in one door and out another, across the front of the theatre, was part of the fun. The two tourists who were “married” by Denzel Washington will never forget that. Nor will those who shook hands with Meryl Streep and other stars ever forget their brief flash into the spotlight.

One or two of us would have given the Best Actor Award to Denzel Washington of Fences, rather than Casey Affleck of Manchester by the Sea. Emma Stone had no competition for the Best Actress Award.  Mahershala Ali of Moonlight deserved the Best Supporting Actor Award, and Viola David of Fences was a shoo-in for the Best Supporting Actress Award.

I would have given the Best Original Music Score to Mica Levi with Jackie, instead of Justin Hurwitz with La La Land. The haunting, emotional quality of Levi’s music does so much for the film. She is classically trained, and this is obvious in her music. She is also young, at 30 years old. Any film in future that she composes the score for, is a “must see”, or actually, a “must hear”, for me.

The fiasco around the Best Film Award was considered incredible. It was thought that Warren Beatty ought to have called for clarification when he saw that there was a problem with the card he had been given. He compounded the mistake by waving it at Faye Dunaway. She thought she was being asked to read out the winner, so read the name of the film on the card, La La Land. The huge contingent from La La Land trooped on to the stage. In the middle of the acceptance speeches in which everyone was thanking everyone from their parents for having given birth to them, to their spouses, children, dogs, and whichever avatar of their god they favoured, it became obvious there was a problem. Mr. Horowitz, a La La Land producer, acted quickly, and he announced that the Best Picture Award had been won by Moonlight. Everyone acted graciously. The La La Land people moved off stage, congratulating the Moonlight people as they came on stage.

My own reaction to Moonlight was that this is much more than just a film: it is a piece of Art of the highest quality. Barry Jenkins is a genius, in my opinion. He drew out the best from all his actors, and I found myself moved. This doesn’t happen too often for me. What I liked almost best of all is that he finished on a note of hope. The two childhood friends who had grown up through a difficult childhood, found each other, and came together at the end. After viewing the film, I knew that it might win the Oscar for Best Film, and it would do so on its own merits, not as any flourish to “diversity”.

What a great pity that the first time a black film director wins the Oscar with a beautiful, tender, Art piece about the growing up of a black boy, the pleasure is dissipated by such a fiasco.

The Red Carpet is such a large part of the Oscars, and didn’t disappoint. The gowns were all absolutely breathtaking, and the men’s suits were a striking foil. What a treat for the eyes!

Great discussion, and everyone enjoyed the delicious cookies Annette had made with her own fair hands, and shared with us. The wine brought by Maureen also helped add to the occasion.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Man Called Ove: Monday, February 20 2017

A Man Called Ove (2016) is a Swedish film, based on the book of the same name, written by Fredrik Backman (2012). The film was written and directed by Hannes Holm, and he does a good job. There is never a dull moment, and no chance of having a little sleep, or meditation, whilst watching it.

Rolf Lassgard plays Ove, and grabs the attention of the audience from the first moment. He is a grumpy old man, but as his story unfolds, we come to understand the great sorrows in his life that are driving his behaviour. Typical of so many Scandinavian people, and I include Scottish people here, he is emotionally immature. He buys into the idea that to show emotions is a sign of weakness. He hasn't learned to express his feelings, so finds it hard to work through them. Rolf Lassgard plays the part to perfection. Filip Berg as the young Ove, and Ida Engvoll as Sonja, are well-cast.

Bahar Pars is Parvaneh, the wife of Patrick Lufsen, played by Tobias Almborg They are the younger couple who move in as Ove's neighbours. Parvaneh means Butterfly in Persian. Exotic, and from a much warmer emotional culture than that of Sweden, Parvaneh reaches out to Ove. She and her two daughters, help melt the hard shell surrounding Ove. He unfolds his story to the sympathetic Persian, and in so doing finds his loving heart. He becomes the family's adopted grandfather, and they give his life warm meaning. This could be seen as symbolic of the positive effect immigrants from a different culture can have on the host culture.

Nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category, A Man Called Ove is already doing better at the box office than any other foreign film, which would seem to indicate that people like it. The story is perfect from the point of view of telling a story that is one of the classics. It follows the formula of the protagonist being emotionally weakened by an event: we learn what the event was and can sympathize; a new person comes into the picture; and that new person unravels the emotional knots so that the protagonist can again move forward in life. The box office has spoken, and rewarded the makers of a film that makes us "feel good".

When films for the Oscars in the category of Best Picture are judged, they are all of high, professional standard in all the different aspects of their craft. For that Award, does content of the story come into the picture at all, I wonder. If it is Art that is the criterion, then Moonlight ought to win. If a realistic portrayal of a segment of real life, then Manchester by the Sea ought to win. If an insight into a piece of American culture is looked for, with a situation that is universal, then Fences ought to win. If a cynical piece, designed without feeling for music or dancing, purely for people looking for a light, fluffy film that makes them feel better than any of these aforementioned, then La La Land is it. If an uplifting story of people overcoming huge obstacles to achieve great things, and making us "feel good" in the process, is what is looked for, then Hidden Figures ought to be given the coveted Oscar.

It will be fascinating to learn which film the Academy has chosen to award the Oscar for Best Picture. And will A Man Called Ove win the Oscar for the Best Foreign Film?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Salesman: Monday, February 6 2017

The Salesman is written and directed by Persian filmmaker, Asghar Farhadi. He has already won many awards, and this film is no exception. It was nominated for a Golden Globe under the Best Foreign Film category. It is also nominated for an Oscar. The writing and direction are highly professional, and the film is gripping. The acting is fantastic, which makes the characters unforgettable. Everything about this film is of a high standard, which is always enjoyable in itself.

Also of great interest is the insight it gives the audience into life in Iran, and the psychology of people who live there. Farhadi has the reputation of creating films that examine the culture of his country, Iran, and its people, the Persians.

The contrast between how Iranians deal with rape, and how people in North America would react, is intense. In North America, the police consider rape a physical assault. The woman assaulted could call the police, who would be with her within a short time. She would be interviewed by a woman policewoman, who would probably take her to hospital to have a rape test done, as evidence of the physical assault. Ideally, she would be treated with sympathy and respect. In Iran, it is still considered a sexual act. In the film, no actual acknowledgement of what has happened is put forward, and the incident can hardly be discussed. The woman has been sexually violated; she is held suspect, and doesn't want to go to the police. She wants it forgotten as quickly as possible.

In the film, the rapist states that he was tempted, and expects everyone to understand that, even although he is an old, married man, he couldn't resist his strong, natural sexual drive. The victim forgives him, and even feels sorry for him in the end. I found that strange, until I realized that she, too, probably believes that she is irresistibly attractive sexually. She agrees that he wouldn't have been able to control his strong, sexual urges, when confronted by a beautiful, young, sexually-attractive woman like herself. Especially if she were naked, as she had been. This, she can forgive.

The husband feels his honour has been besmirched, and he feels obligated to do something about it. He is not forgiving. In the end, he can't quite bring himself to make the final cut, but he doesn't need to do so as circumstances does it for him. Does he, too, consider that the rapist could be understood? We see how this all impinges on the family of the transgressor: they are loyal to him, no matter what he is accused of doing. We see how vengeance has been taken without any need of the police.

In North America, if a woman were raped, one would expect, ideally, that the husband would be concerned about his wife. He would surely want to comfort her, and let her express her feelings by telling him all about it. He would call the police, even if his wife couldn't bring herself to do so. Like the police, he would consider that the assault is a physical one, and ought to be treated as such. In Iran, The Salesman shows that the reaction of the Persian couple would be very different. They wouldn't turn to each other for comfort, but, rather, would each suffer silently their own very different responses to the situation.

The Salesman made me think of how different are cultures. What if a North American man were transported to Iran and became part of the culture. How would he react then if his wife were raped? How important a part does cultural environment have on how people feel subconsciously, and think? Does this even affect their genes?

I didn't find the content of this film enjoyable, in the sense of "satisfying and leaving me with a good feeling". This was not the aim of the director anyway. It certainly was interesting as an anthropological and psychological study. I wonder if Iranians would find it satisfying? In their view, would justice be done, and be seen to be done? Probably.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Jackie: Monday, January 30 2017

Jackie (2016) is a film I didn't feel I wanted to see. I knew the story: and I am not an admirer of Jackie Kennedy; the Kennedy family; or Camelot. Nor did I really want to be reminded of a painful incident in American history. My friend, Lois, prevailed on me to see it, and I'm glad that she did.

The film focuses on the interview that Jacqueline Kennedy granted to Theodore H. White, of Life magazine. He met with her at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and this is where the film begins and ends. Billy Crudup plays White, absolutely brilliantly. He shows the right blend of obsequious attitude in his dealings with Jackie, and yet his strong, professional core keeps peeping through. This demonstrated the snobbish side of the First Lady, who was so aware of her station in life, and wanted others to be aware also. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance.

The point strongly made right at the beginning of the interview, and the film, is that the viewpoint that will be put forward is that of Jackie. This will be the story of the assassination of the American President, and the events following it, from the point of view of the First Lady. That is exactly what the film does. Correctly named Jackie, the movie shows her strong sense of drama and history. She wanted the point made that the myth she had created around the White House, of Camelot, has been destroyed by a bullet. John Kennedy was not only the President, he was also a family man, he was a husband and father, and she wanted it emphasised that this too had been destroyed.

When the Johnson administration tried to persuade her to change out of her blood-stained clothes, she refused. She insisted on being at the swearing in of the new President Johnson, and then accompanying the body of Kennedy back to Washington. She was at the forefront of the funeral, along with her children. Who can ever forget John Kennedy Junior, almost three years old, saluting his father's coffin? Jackie claimed her rightful place as First Lady, and widow of President John F. Kennedy, at the side of the slain President. John Kennedy was laid to rest by his widow, with dignity and drama. The play was over, and finished on a strong, high note. The assassin and his bullets were totally eclipsed. The woman who had been seen as a bit of a lightweight, a fashion plate, had proven herself to be much more than that. It was demonstrated clearly who had set the tone of the White House and created the mythology around the Presidency.

Jackie was directed by Pablo Larrain, and written by Noah Opperheim. Larrain is a Chilean, and this probably helped him create an objective film. It is a factual stating of the events around the assassination of President Kennedy, even if completely from the point of view of the First Lady. We do have enough of an inkling into the exasperation of the Johnson entourage at Jackie's behaviour, to glimpse their point of view. There is also a slight hint at how the Kennedy family must have felt at being kept so totally out of the picture. It is clear that Jackie was in charge of the picture being painted of the events, and that she was determined that Camelot would come to an end in a fitting manner. This film makes that clear. Brilliant!

Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy is well-cast. She portrays Jackie as the strong, determined woman she really was, behind the surface veneer of fashion queen. That facade that was presented so effectively to the public, was part of Jackie's understanding of drama. Image and branding are so important when creating a mythology. If the First Lady had a softer side, and perhaps a sense of humour, that was kept under strict control. The part she was playing was always to the fore. Portman did an amazing job of presenting us with the woman Jacqueline Kennedy wanted us to see. Peter Sargaard was believable as Robert F. Kennedy, and John Hurt, playing his last part before his death, was interesting as Father Richard McSorley, the Roman Catholic priest who ministered to Jackie.

A competent film; made by professionals; my friends enjoyed it. I can't say I enjoyed it, per se, but I did find it interesting and am glad I saw it.

Friday, January 27, 2017

20th Century Women: Monday, January 23 2017

20th Century Women, is written and directed by Mike Mills. It's semi-autobiographical, set in the 1970s, and based on his own experiences growing up with a Mom, and her sisters. He intended it as a salute to his mother, I believe.

Based in California, and at a time when thinking was changing around so many viewpoints, a film about 20th century women sounds an interesting concept. It might have been, if the subject had been dealt with by someone other than Mills. Dorothea, played by Annette Bening, is a bit scattered, Abby, played by Greta Gerwig, is a bit strange, and Julie, played by Elle Fanning, is another free spirit, driven by her surging hormones. I found I couldn't relate to any of them. They all seemed so shallow, self-centred, and lacking in any self-direction. Drifting through life, they really were totally uninteresting as people. Jamie, Dorothea's son played by Lucas Jade Zumann, appeared to me a not-too-swift loser who didn't know where he was going in life, and didn't know enough about anything to even care. I, certainly, was left not caring either. The acting was reasonably good, but the characters didn't resonate with me. I like people who are going somewhere in their lives. The conversations around the dinner table might have been shocking in the 1970s; in the present day they are boring, and even a little distasteful. There are some things best not brought to mind while eating, including bodily functions like contraception.

The direction didn't resonate either. The film moved so slowly, I had great difficulty in keeping my eyes open. One of our party, in fact, had a lovely sleep through it all. He definitely won't be recommending this film to his friends.

Santa Barbara, where the film was made, is reputed to be a lovely place. What a pity we didn't see any of it to enjoy its beauty. The movie could have been made in a studio, with one long-distance shot over what we presume to be Santa Barbara.

A light piece of fluff, it might be a way to pass a rainy afternoon, if you have nothing better to do.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Harold Rosnick: Monday, January 23 2017

Bridge was cancelled this week as it would have been too sad to play after learning the news that Harold was no longer with us. As Maureen said, she would have been in tears, and she would not have been alone.

Harold will be missed by our Bridge Group. At first, he was our token man, but very shortly became our Slam King. His delightful, gentle personality quickly made him the recipient of our female affection. Fortunately, Loretta is not a jealous person. Also, she knew that after 64 years of happy married life, Harold wasn’t going anywhere!

He rarely missed a Bridge meeting, and if he did, we missed him. Once, he had to attend a wedding. Loretta made us laugh by telling us he had suggested she ask the bride to change the date as it conflicted with our Bridge.

Harold’s gentleness covered a strength and maturity. He was a true North American in that he lived life his way, but always with consideration for others. He was deeply loved by his family and friends: we like to count ourselves as his friends.

Dancing Images - Harold Rosnick 2000
North York - Baycrest Hospital - 3560 Bathurst Street
He had a distinguished career, being prominent in the Art world. He created many lovely pieces of sculpture, and taught at OCAD. This fascinating piece is called Dancing Images. The mirrors move in the wind, and the reflected images constantly change. What a lovely comment to have made on life!

Lovely man! We are all so privileged to have known him and enjoyed his company. As we play Bridge, we will hear him exhorting us on to "think Slams!"

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Hidden Figures: Monday, January 16 2017

At last, a film I love! I was just on the point of considering giving up going to the movies, when along comes Hidden Figures.

This film is based on the non-fiction book of the same name, by Margot Lee Shetterly. It tells the story of three American women who were involved in the Space Race, and whose mathematical calculations helped put the first men on the moon.

Directed by Theodore Melfi, the pace throughout is perfect. No problem for me in staying awake. The screenplay, written by Melfi and Allison Shroeder, hits all the correct notes, at all the correct times. The cinematography, by Australian Mandy Walker, is excellent, and helps make the film such a delight to watch. The acting was a pleasure. Each of the three actresses is so full of character, they are women I felt I would have loved if I had known them in person.

Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Goble Johnson, the mathematician who calculated the equations needed to have John Glen orbit the earth. Taraji is one of my most favourite actors, and not only because she was born on September 11, also my daughter's birthday. I particularly enjoyed her role as Detective Jocelyn Carter in the TV series, Person of Interest, for which she won an NAACP Image Award. I felt bereaved when she was killed off in the series. She plays Katherine Goble Johnson in Hidden Figures to perfection. Her interaction with Kevin Costner as Al Harrison, the director of the Space Task Group, is a delight to watch. In 2016, the Langley Research Center was renamed the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility.

Octavia Spenser is another of my favourite actors. You may remember her as Minny Jackson in The Help, and may have seen her in other roles, including as Constance Grady in Ugly Betty. As Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures, she completely won my empathy, never mind sympathy. I was delighted for her when finally she was made Supervisor of the Programming Department.

Janelle Monae plays Mary Jackson, an engineer. This was my first exposure to Monae, and I hope it will be the first of many. She began her career as a songwriter and singer, and she certainly has rhythm. I enjoyed her performance as Mary Jackson, and could believe that she had enough drive and courage to become NASA's first black female engineer. Here is star quality. She ought to go far in the entertainment world.

This is my kind of movie. The main characters were three women to whom I could relate: strong, dynamic personalities, who knew what they wanted, and went out and achieved their goals. These are my kind of women. No one could stop them, as they pushed through barriers, and leapt over any hurdles that blocked their way. At a time when it was almost impossible for any women to obtain a professional education, they just did it. I admire them greatly for that.

I also admire the three women actors who took these parts. They, too, have surmounted many barriers to achieve success in their careers. I feel great pleasure as a woman, in observing their success, and cheering them on. As I watched this movie, I found myself relating to all six women as women. They are role models for other strong women. Just do it, and do it your way! I would give an Oscar to each of these actresses, simply because I so enjoyed their performances. The Oscars, in my opinion, ought to go to all the other disciplines involved in making this Hidden Figures. I LOVED this film! It left me feeling inspired, and with a good feeling about human beings. Is there any better reason for giving Awards!

I would recommend this film to everyone, and anyone. It's the stuff of which all the old mythologies were made. Hero figures, overcoming obstacles to achieve impossible dreams: highly inspirational and motivational. Athena protecting ancient Greek Athens, by war if necessary; Bastet fighting alongside the ancient Egyptian god, Ra, to overcome the dark forces of night to bring back the bright light of day; Minerva, Roman goddess of war, making Rome great, and also goddess of wisdom and magic. No sitting back here, with a hand out, waiting for others to do it for them. No weak characters, shirking responsibility; no bullying of those around them, making life miserable for other people involved with them; no gratuitous violence or sex simply for effect. Just vision, courage, and the drive to make things happen. Fantastic!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Sympathizer: Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer, is the debut novel by Vietnamese American Professor Viet Thanh Nguyen. Born in Vietnam in 1971, he was taken by his family to the United States in 1975, when they fled Vietman at the end of the Vietnam/American War (1955-1975) with the fall of Saigon. He is presently an associate professor of English and of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of California.

In 2016, the book won a long list of prizes, as follows:
Pulitzer; Dayton Literary Peace Prize; Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction; Edgar Award for Best First Novel; Center for Fiction First Novel Prize; Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature; Finalist, PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

The Sympathizer is the Captain. That is the only name we are given for him. He is writing his confession in prison in Vietnam, during the reeducation process he is undergoing on his return from the States. As we read his document, we can see that he is not a true Communist. He tells his interrogator that he is a follower of the North Vietnam Communist Leader, Ho Chi Minh, and has read The Little Red Book, by Mao. He has read The Communist Manifesto, and even read Das Kapital by Karl Marx. In spite of all this education in the ideology and mythology of Communism and Socialism, he is not writing his acknowledgement of crime in the correct language. He is trying to justify his actions and state that he has been loyal as a spy for the Vietnamese Communists, living with the Americans. In the end, he realises that he has been suspect all along, as he is not a brain-washed ideologist. He mentions in his confession that he became a sympathizer with the Communists as he liked the talk of freedom, equality, and brotherhood. To the fanatic, ideologically-correct Communist, this is not enough.

He is a South Vietnamese, and is not talking the correct language of a true North Vietnamese Communist. No Marxist talk of the oppression by the Capitalists of the people, or the Colonial French of the Vietnamese people. No admitting his crime of leaving Vietnam with the Americans when Saigon fell in 1975. No admitting his crime of being contaminated by his contact with Americans.

"What is more important than independence and freedom?", asks the Commissar. "Nothing!" is the answer the Captain gives, laughing hysterically. He has seen the light, and the revelation The Commissar no longer believes in the ideology either, and the Captain never really has. The Commissar is left in Communist Vietnam, faceless and wanting to die. In the end, the Captain is forced to flee Vietnam with the other Boat People in 1978. But he still believes, with many others, in independence and freedom, and he ends by declaring, "We will live!" He is now an American.

Viet Thanh Nguyen
To bring The Sympathizer into the present day, it demonstrates that war creates refugees, who are not always welcomed by neighbouring countries. The States took 823,000 refugees, who had escaped from Vietnam; Britain accepted 19,000; France accepted 96,000; Australia and Canada accepted 137,000 each.

If the South Vietnamese people had been left to their Northern Vietnamese Communist brothers, would this perhaps have been better than foreign intervention? Were the Americans wrong in trying to contain Communism by choosing to help the government of South Vietnam? Should they have left the North Vietnamese to take over the South? Do refugees ever assimilate? Does that even matter, as long as they obey the laws of their new country? Do they bring new ideas and stimulation to their new home? Do their children assimilate and contribute to their country? Our author has!

Another subject raised is the question of how much ideologies shape societies, and people. The Captain points out that revolutionaries never rest as they are always concerned with building their Utopia, and creating it to include the whole world. Their leaders are the scholars of a society: the agitators; academics; and the media. There are many Utopias: political; religious; and social. The Sympathizer demonstrates how an ideology can tear a country apart, and destroy a people, when one group is determined to impose its worldview on everyone else. This is the great challenge facing western civilization, and the world, today. Can ideologists be persuaded to follow the moderate, pragmatic, middle road in the affairs of the world? Will the blinkered followers of each ideology always go to war with each other in an effort to impose their worldview on everyone else? Will there ever be peace on earth?

The symbology is interesting. The rape of the Veitnam woman soldier by Veitnamese males. She could be seen as representating her country. The Commisar, who is faceless when the Captain meets him again during the reeducation process.

The Sympathizer is already being seen as a classic. It is an honest book, showing both sides of what happened in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, which the Vietnamese call the American War. Thought-provoking, it raises so many questions: about war, and refugees; the destruction of a country, and it's rebuilding; the ideologies of Utopians, and the pragmatism of ordinary people. I stand in awe of this work of art, and of the author. This is a fantastic book!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

La La Land: Monday, January 9 2017

La La Land is written and directed by Damien Chazelle. In high school, he wanted to be a drummer, but he says himself he "knew instinctively he never had the talent to be a great musician". He went back to filmmaking, his first love, studying the subject at Harvard University, graduating in 2007. He is now 32 years old, and already has had a distinguished career. His film, Whiplash, won many accolades, and Chazelle has established himself as a leading member of the filmmaking community. La La Land is being hailed by many critics as a wonderful product of his fantastic genius.

After all the positive critique, I was looking forward to being amused, entertained, and uplifted by this musical comedy. Instead I was, primarily, bored: I would have walked out in the middle of the production but for my friends who wanted to see it to the end. I suffered through the rest of the film. As a singer myself, I was insulted that anyone would think I might enjoy hearing Emma Stone try to sing. I also used to play the piano, and wasn't too impressed by the ability of Ryan Gosling to play that instrument. Apparently he had learned to play especially for this production. It might have been better if he had mimed the performance of a pianist who could actually play reasonably well.

I totally didn't relate to the two main characters. The couple meet on a motorway traffic jam, during which the drivers get out of their cars to do acrobatics to pass the time. When the cars begin to move, the leading lady is distracted and not fast enough in getting going. The leading man draws out from immediately behind her, and then passes slowly enough to "give her the bird". She does the same back to him, I think. This established in my mind that Mia Dolan, played by Emma Stone, is not too swift, and Sebastian Wilder, played by Ryan Gosling, is an immature, rude person. Their actions from then on reinforced this initial impression.

All the singing was bad, the dancing uninspired, the music a cacophony of sound, the acting stilted and unrealistic, and the story line unbelievable. The cinematography has left me with the impression that life in Los Angeles is largely carried out in the dark. Altogether, I definitely did not like this film. I was pleased to find at least one honest review, that echoes my remarks. Chazelle wants to be a filmmaker. If I were he, I would be consulting my inner self to confirm that I really should pursue that line of work.

La La Land won Golden Globes, in the category Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. It had very little competition. My choice would have been to give this award to Florence Foster Jenkins. At least that film made me laugh.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Fences: Monday, December 26 2016

Fences is based on a play of the same name (1983) by August Wilson, which won a Pulitzer Prize and an Emmy Award. Wilson wrote the screenplay before he died in 2005. Set in Pittsburgh, it explores the experience of Black people in the United States. The film feels like a stage play, and the drama lies in the characters of the people.

Denzel Washington directs the film, and also stars as Troy Maxson. The direction is tight, and kept my attention riveted throughout. No problem in trying to stay awake because of boredom. The performance as Troy Maxson by Washington is masterly, and shows off his abilities in a way some of his other roles haven't. Viola Davis plays Troy's wife, Rose Maxson. All I can say is, she is incredible, and I was totally impressed by her. No question that this is Oscars material. I also was moved by Jovan Adepo as Cory Maxson, Troy's youngest son.

Fences is a story told by a Black man about the lives of Black people. It is authentic and the acting is so superb it feels like real life. Troy and Rose, and all the others in the film, will remain with me. If this film wins the Oscar as Best Picture, it will be because it is worth it. It certainly won't be because it is a concession to the pressures of tokenism.

The additional appeal of this film for me is that the story is universal. It unfolds before us; a handsome, charismatic man, with a charming personality, whom we want to like, and the effect he has on his family. A charmer outside his family, he is a domineering bully inside it. Rose loves him, but is also afraid of him. She has stuck to him throughout their marriage, and in a dynamic speech, reminds him of this, and that she has given up her own life for him. This is the feminists' nightmare; it applies to all such relationships, no matter what colour the skin. Rose has no economic power as she is dependent on Troy for money. She is also following an external code of behaviour, rather than what she really needs or even wants. She moved me greatly as she voiced the situation that so many women are trapped within.

Fences is a fantastic film, but not happy or uplifting. It's almost too true to life, and is a tragedy. Troy, who has so much going for him in his good looks and charming personality, good job, loving wife and son, is his own worst enemy, as are tragic heroes. And as all tragic heroes, he is beyond redemption. He is totally not self- aware, so can't change. As do all narcissists, he has a destructive effect on the people around him. He has so much, and could have been so happy, but instead, he is constantly carping on about how life is treating him so unfairly. We really want to be on his side, but his behaviour and attitudes prevent that.

I am a great fan of Denzel Washington, and although I admire and appreciate his performance in this role, I was so disappointed to end up not liking his character. In real life, there is no excuse for anyone being totally egocentric. I could find no excuse for Troy's behaviour in this film.

It would appear that all the old guidelines around making entertainment are being overthrown. Is it enough that the story line is real life, and not dramatic, per se? Is it enough that the acting is so fantastic that the character is realistic, but just a very ordinary person? Why were the guidelines developed if this is true? Isn't it because this is not true, that writers have analysed what makes an entertaining story, and followed the results of research?

This film is worth seeing because technically it is so good, and the performances are a delight, but don't expect, or hope, to be uplifted. This is not a "feel-good" movie, and left me with a feeling of despair at the psychologically immature condition of so many of the human race of all skin colours.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Allied: Monday, December 19 2016

Allied, directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Steven Knight, pretty accurately recreates the atmosphere of the Second World War into which the story is set. It's dark and bleak, as the world seemed during that time.

The film stars Brad Pit as Max Vatan, and Marion Cotillard as Marianne Beausejour. I'm not a member of the Brad Pit fan club, and this performance didn't cause me to rush to join. Botox really does make it difficult to show emotion, as was demonstrated by Brad Pit in this part. Perhaps it was meant that he play the character with so little warmth. It left me not even particularly liking Vatan. Marion Cotillard is a French actress, and has won many awards. She is very beautiful, happily married, and expecting her second child. She has issued a denial that she was having an affair with Pit during Allied. As Pit's co-star, she plays her part well, but with little passion. Both she and Pit seemed to be simply going through the motions. They left me cold.

The film seemed hackneyed, even boring, and a disappointment. It has so many talented people involved in its production, surely it ought to have been better than it is.

Lion: Monday, December 12 2016

Lion is an Australian-American-British drama, based on the non-fiction book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose. The story line is simple. An Australian couple, who have decided they don't want to add any biological children of their own to the world, adopt two young boys from India. One of the boys, Saroo, suddenly, at age 25, decides to find his biological mother, using Google maps. He had become lost as a five-year-old, and now wants to go home.

Lion is directed by Garth David, and this is his feature debut. It shows: the direction could have been tightened up considerably. The two-hours long film seemed very slow, and I had a problem staying awake. It was interesting to see India, although the parts we visited were colourful, if not too inspiring. There were also some views of Tasmania, which was interesting. We know the ending, of course, but much more tension could have been injected into script. I found the conclusion melodramatic, and it made me feel uncomfortable. It all seemed so stale, and contrived. It might have been better as a thriller, rather than a conscious tear-jerker. I was bored a lot of the time, which is why I fell asleep. Not too good a beginning for Garth David, in my opinion. He might be better to stick to his commercials.

Sunny Pawar played the young Saroo, and was delightful in his part. Dev Patel played 25-year-old Saroo Brierley, and is so good-looking he is great eye candy. He did act well too. Everyone else in the film acted appropriately. I'm not a fan of Nicole Kidman. She has never been very expressive, and botox doesn't lend itself to facial expressions. The Australian couple left me cold. I couldn't relate to them.

Apparently, audiences are liking Lion. For younger people who haven't been exposed to too much, it probably is enjoyable. If you want to have your emotions played on, this is your film.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Manchester by the Sea: Monday, November 28 2016

Manchester by the Sea, directed and written by Kenneth Lonergan, is an American drama (2016). It has received high praise from the critics, and is, indeed, a beautifully crafted film. It will be surprising if it doesn't feature prominently in the Oscars.

Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, plays the part perfectly. Lonergan brings out the best in each of the actors, and the film seems like a piece out of real life. Michelle Williams, as Randi, Lee's ex-wife, is amazing. She and Affleck play off each other in what must be one of the most moving scenes in any film. Randi is telling Lee that she has forgiven him, and needs his forgiveness for what she now sees as dreadful things she once said to him. She is incredible, and brings many people in the audience to tears. Randi has matured, and moved on with her life. This so contrasts with Lee, who can't forgive her because he can't forgive himself, it is pathetic, in the full sense of that word.

The problem for an audience of laypeople, who only want to be entertained, is that Manchester by the Sea is often boring, as my friend, Maureen commented. Real life isn't really too interesting as entertainment, and in this case, the story of a loser, a wastrel who can't accept responsibility, isn't really too much fun. In fact, I found that the emotions aroused in me were not the ones that the director had hoped I would feel. Lee Chandler had certainly not been brought up to come to terms with the past and forgive it, and get on with life. Instead, he is wallowing in it. Tragic figures, I've come to realise, evoke impatience in me, and a feeling of wanting to shake some sense into them. Everyone has bad experiences in life. We all have to mature, and learn how to close the door with acceptance. We learn how to move on and get on with life. My friend, Loretta, found this film the most depressing she has ever seen. I gathered from her that she wasn't entertained either.

As my friend, Brian, said, when story-telling is taught, the hero is meant to grow, evolve, and learn something from any traumatic experience. This brings a sense of satisfaction for the audience. In the case of Lee Chandler, he seemed to be incapable of changing. He is a dark, brooding, pitiful figure, slinking off into the dark night of an unfulfilled, dreary, unchanging, alcohol-filled life. No suggestion that Lee Chandler might recognize he is mentally ill, and ought to be consulting a psychologist or psychiatrist to help him regain a proper balance in his outlook on life.  No wonder Loretta was so saddened. There is no hope.

This raised more questions in my mind. What is entertainment? Is it's purpose to show off the abilities of the director, cast, and other experts who are involved in the creation? Is it wise to introduce the average layperson to a new concept of the leading person in a story? Is real life so fascinating that it is pleasing to have it played out in front of us? Is an immature person, crippled by his life experiences, a happy choice as hero?

I guess the box office will make the final judgement. Neither I, nor any of my friends, would advise anyone to see Manchester by the Sea. Not, that is, unless they want to be bored or depressed. Word of mouth advertising won't be working positively in this case.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Nocturnal Animals: Monday, November 21 2016

Nocturnal Animals is based on the novel, Tony and Susan (1993), by Austin Wright. The film is described as a neo-noir, psychological thriller. Neo-noir is the modern version of film noir, with many elements in common. The hero is often trapped in a desperate situation, and the dark lighting and unusual camera angles in the film reflect his despair. The story can use flashbacks, and usually involves crime and human emotions such as jealousy or greed. There is often an amoral policeman or detective involved in the action. The whole atmosphere is hopeless, and unrelieved black.

Produced and directed by Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals includes these elements. Revenge is the human emotion prominent in the film. The story revolves around a book being read by Susan Morrow, played by Amy Adams. The author is her first husband, Hutton Morrow played by Jake Gyllenhaal, whom she has divorced, telling him his writing was of a poor standard. He has sent her a first copy of his successful book, which is to be published shortly. Susan is impressed, and when they set up a dinner date, Hutton Morrow gets his revenge on his ex-wife, by standing her up. The film ends with her sitting waiting, and waiting. We know he won't come, as, eventually, does she.

The book is played out before our eyes, as Susan reads it. It is definitely in the neo-noir genre. Desperate situation, dark and violent, it reminded me of Hamlet as all the main characters end up dead. Justice is done, and seen to be done, which I always like, but in this case with so much violence it leaves a sour feeling behind. As does Hamlet. I guess some people nowadays no more need a happy ending than did some of the audiences of Shakespeare's time. Perhaps it is a movie that would appeal to males rather than females.

This is a powerful film, made by consummate professionals, and will probably be in the Oscars. The acting is fantastic, as is the direction, and every facet of the cinematic arts. Jake Gyllenhaal is memorable as Tony Hastings, the chief character in the book. He will probably receive an Oscar nomination as Best Actor. Michael Shannon as Bobby Andes, the amoral policeman, is also difficult to forget.

Did I enjoy Nocturnal Animals? I admired the professional skills of everyone involved in its creation. Would I recommend it to others? It you have a strong stomach for violence, and don't miss a happy ending, this might be the film for you. I would say it has come out of the darker side of the male mind, and perhaps it takes a similar mind set to enjoy. Definitely not my mind set.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Dr. Strange: Monday, November 14 2016

Dr. Strange (2016), with Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange, is an American superhero film, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. Directed and written by Scott Derrickson, Dr. Strange is a fun movie. Fantasy, from the world of comics; it is entertaining.

Dr. Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon, learns the mystic arts from the Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton, and uses them to save the world from Evil. That simple outline is enlarged by great story line detail, fantastic special effects, magic arts, a great musical score, and incredible acting. The film is everything one would expect from Marvel Studios. Benedict Cumberbatch brings echoes of his Sherlock Holmes character to this part. He really is such a great actor, and such a joy to watch. 

Chiwetel Ejiofor is perfect as Karl Mordo. He is another great actor who is a delight to observe in action. The character, Baron Karl Mordo, has been changed, and for the better. There is a depth to him, and a complexity to his character, that is a great improvement. Instead of being an enemy to Dr. Strange, he has become an ally. Although these are comic characters, therefore we don't expect much character development, room has now been left for the relationship between Dr. Strange and Karl Mordo to grow. As the film ends, we see Dr. Strange talking with Thor and his brother Loki. The stage is being set for a sequel, and it would appear it will involve Thor and Loki searching to find Odin, their father. Dr. Strange will be helping in the search, and it will be disappointing if Mordo isn't part of the team.

I loved Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, a Celtic mystic who is also steeped in the mysticism of Asia. She is a chameleon as an actress. Each part she plays is such a totally different creation. I'm a fan! This character, too, has been changed, and improved in the process. It has broadened the world of Dr. Strange, and brought it more into the modern world. 

 All the other actors were well-cast and fitted smoothly into the film. A highly professional production in all the areas of the cinematic arts, the film has been highly acclaimed, and earned a large, well-deserved, box office reward.

Even although I, and my friends, are not the target audience, we enjoyed the film. This is the ideal movie for anyone wanting fantasy, magic, and the modern version of a slightly old-fashioned story.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

TSO: Thursday, November 3 2016

Roy Thomson Hall with CN Tower 
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra shared another lovely afternoon with me and John. What an interesting concert!

Conductor James Gaffigan is considered by many to be the most outstanding young American composer working today. Having heard him conduct these fascinating pieces from the 1920s, it was obvious why.

The first piece, La creation du monde, Op. 81, was composed by Darius Milhaud in 1923 for the Swedish Ballet. It has as its theme, African myths around the creation of life. Milhaud adopted the same orchestra as used in Harlem by jazz musicians: seventeen solo instruments. In the music, there is the feel of jazz, but in a classical setting. This gives the piece a modern sound, and must have been appropriate for the ballet.

The second piece, Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op 26, by Sergei Prokofiev, was composed in 1921. This is an intricate work, highly complex, modern in idiom, but acceptable to the layperson's ear. It is the most popular of Prokofiev's concertos. Canadian pianist, Jon Kimura Parker, was the soloist. He is an accomplished performer, and did not disappoint. What a musical treat it was, to hear him play this concerto! He was given a much-deserved standing ovation.

The third work was by Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op 10. Composed in 1924-25, it begins in a light mood, but the last two movements are much darker. This darkness is softened by expressive solos from different instruments. Apparently Shostakovich was in a depressed state of mind when he wrote the final two movements. The final effect was to achieve a balance between all four movements. This piece, too, received a standing ovation.

The concert program was deliberately chosen from music composed in the 1920s. At that time, this music was considered outrageous, and avant garde. Now, almost one hundred years later, it sounds wonderfully modern and fascinating. The audience was privileged to hear this music played by an orchestra of the international standard of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and led by a conductor who encouraged it to play its best. The conductor is vital to a good performance by any orchestra, even one of the high standard of the TSO. The musicians of the orchestra must have enjoyed playing as much as the audience enjoyed listening to them.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Moonlight: Monday, November 7 2015

Moonlight is the second film directed by Barry Jenkins. The first, Medicine for Melancholy, was set in California, where Jenkins lives. Moonlight is set mainly in Miami, where Jenkins grew up. Jenkins also wrote the screenplay. The film is based on the play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. The critics have been unanimous in their praise for this film. It has already won many awards and is being suggested for the Oscars.

There is so much to say about this film. It's a love story about two homosexual men: it begins when they are boys; it continues as they grow into teenagers; it ends as they come together as grown men. But it is so much more than that. It is a look into the lives of two young Black men; from their difficult childhoods, through their troubled teens, and finally, their early manhood. The deceptively simple story is told objectively, but with such sensitivity it is deeply moving. This is a story told by Black men about Black men. It has an authenticity about it that comes from having a true understanding of the subject from the inside; not from the outside looking into what is someone else's environment. This is not a slick, polished film that is purely entertainment. This is a work of art. It made me think of Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay, by F.H. Varley of the Canadian Group of Seven. A single tree, blown by the strong wind, with Georgian Bay behind it. Such a common subject: who but a true artist would be able to create such a beautiful piece of art from it. Moonlight is just such a beautiful piece, from an artist who is finding his voice. This film is in a class of its own. If it wins the Oscars, it will be on its own merits.

Director Barry Jenkins
The performance by each actor is so true, it seems as if we are watching real people. I particularly liked Mahershala Ali as Juan, Trevante Rhodes as Chiron / Black, and Andre Holland as adult Kevin. Having said that, all the cast were equally good in their parts. I felt I was watching real life, and could feel for the characters. This is rare in my experience.

The flow from child, to teenager, to adult, using three actors for Chiron and Kevin, was seamless. The cinematography is interesting. The use of the hand-held camera by James Laxton, the cinematographer, at the beginning of the film sets the atmosphere as unsophisticated. The musical score lends itself to the film. The direction is by the hand of a coming master. Barry Jenkins has a mature understanding, and sympathy for, human nature that is rare in one so young. He was born in 1979, in Liberty City, Miami, and had what could only be called an unprivileged upbringing. This he has used to create a masterpiece. One criticism I would make is that perhaps there ought to have been sub-titles. The dialogue was almost too authentic: it became unintelligible at times. I found that caused me to miss some of the nuances of the story. I caught up by reading the synopsis in Wikipedia, but feel I need to see the film again to catch the pieces I missed. A second viewing would allow me to appreciate the film more.

I look forward to seeing the future work of Barry Jenkins. I understand he is already involved in a series based on The Underground Railway (2016), a book by Colson Whitehead, and a screenplay based on the life of Claressa Shields, the first American boxer to win two Olympic golds in a row, in 2012 and again in 2016. I hope he is also going to be directing as well as writing. I've become a fan, and will definitely be following his career. Here is a great Black voice, beginning to create Black cinema as an art form, standing uniquely alone and based on authenticity.

A film worth seeing for so many reasons!