AN EMPIRE OF WORDS


Leave a comment

Moonlight (2017)

For audiences to react with Moonlight in the way that they have is extraordinary. The film is fresh on everyone’s lips, especially after the seemingly controversial (hmm.) win over La La Land at the Academy Awards. But that is all washed away when you first encounter Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight because everything is just so genuine.

Moonlight is reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s 19-year film Boyhood thematically as we watch a young boy grow up before our very eyes, but this time three different actors take on the role of Chiron. They traverse through three different stages as Chiron grows up in the Liberty City projects of Miami, Florida.

A project such as this may cause hiccups for the characters in terms of narrative and arcs, but Jenkins displays a masterful touch when it comes to this as he directs every single member in the large ensemble piece with a direct precision that is enigmatic and visible on the screen. Across the board the performances are genuine and enchanting as Chiron is supported by jaw-dropping performances from Mahersala Ali, Jeanelle Monae and Naomie Harris.

moonlight-barry-jenkins-film-roundtable

Moonlight very heavily bares its beating heart to the audience through to use of Chiron and the three actors that portray him at different stages from the young Alex Hibbert being chased by bullies to the hard exterior of Travente Rhodes in the third act. But whilst Moonlight invests in this character, there is a certain cinematic quality to this film, something that is not often visible in films that focuses heavily on it’s characters.

The warmth that emanates from the screen in the swirling opening shot of Juan (Mahersala Ali) is magnificent, almost placing you in the projects of Liberty City with Juan. Jenkins does not have it stop there though, as you can almost feel the brief gust of wind that the teenage Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) talk about on the beach as the waves lap in the background.

This is all intertwined with a beautifully placed score, but also the apt popular culture songs relevant to that of the time period. And it works, especially as Chiron in the third act mimics Juan, with the flashy car and in terms of profession, even so far as to mimic the nickname that represents a colour.

But this sense of identity that Chiron is trying to find throughout the three acts is crucial to the story working as one becomes invested in the characters throughout their own parts of the story. The struggle that is visible on screen as he tries to find his own voice and identity whilst growing up in a difficult area. This is all whilst trying to maintain a relationshipwith his drug-addicted mother. (played to perfection by Naomie Harris)

There are areas in Moonlight where the story was heartwrenching, as Little (Young Chiron played by Alex Hibbert) asks about being a ‘faggot’ as he wrestles with this internal battle. But the scene is weighted perfectly as Juan shows a shame in his profession, but the justified voice of not letting anyone tell you who you are or can be. Juan’s presence is significant throughout the three acts of Chiron’s story and as I mentioned, he even goes as far as mimicking the only father figure he had. But aside from having pretty much everything on the nose, the heart-breaking story was not there, like many professed it had.

images

That would have to be my only grief with Moonlight, I feel as though there may have been too much hype going into the film, which majority of it was justified. Just not the heart-breaking element. Everything else was incredible, including the very personal touches that Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney worked into the story and the incredibly strong and versatile characters that are seen throughout Moonlight. And of course, the cinematic experience that Jenkins managed to shoot the film in was just beautiful, especially as we are experiencing a journey through this person’s life. Moonlight was an absolutely joy to watch, but my advice would be to stay away from the hype – if you can!


Leave a comment

Fight Cub (1999)

I imagine David Fincher’s 1999 adaptation ranks highly is everyone’s mind and at the moment of writing, Fight Club sits tenth on IMDb’s ‘Top 250’ films. Fight Club has that popular fandom, as majority of response’s about Fight Club is that you are not supposed to talk about Fight Club.

These are the first two rules of the popular underground club formed by Edward Norton’s insomniac narrator and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a soap salesman he meets during his many jet adventures. Norton narrates through his monotonous life, as he goes to support groups for ailments he doesn’t have, like testicular cancer or blood parasites to relieve his insomnia.

Fincher has an eye for the darker films, having directed Se7en before this and following up his 1999 cult classic with Panic Room and Zodiac. He manages to give the screen a darker, ominous presence as the use of shadows and night-time throughout this film really accentuate this effect.

As Norton’s narrator flies us through the support meetings and his sleepless nights, it’s worth noting this film is a slow burner to begin with. As soon as the Narrator meets Tyler Durden, as this point the film picks up it’s pace. In the opening twenty or so minutes, it was a quick run through the Narrators life and the support groups he attends, as soon as he meets Tyler, he returns home to find his Condo blown up.

With nowhere to turn and no one to turn to, he takes a chance on calling Tyler Durden and asks for a place to stay. From here, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton form a rather strange relationship on screen as the two are seemingly polar opposites. Especially as the Narrator has a white collar job for a major car company working out whether to recall the cars or not, whereas Durden is a night worker with a string of different jobs, including a waiter.

fight_club_0799

One of the biggest selling points about Chuck Palahniuk’s book is the twist towards the end of the film, but the way in which David Fincher plays this out is excellent. Especially after the first watch, the following watches you become entranced in just how clever Fincher was in the build up to the twist.

This is in part thanks to the acting of Norton and Pitt as the duo, but also Helen Bonham Carter’s Marla becoming entwined in their relationship. Throughout the 130+ minute runtime, the film does divulge itself in it’s violence as we see Tyler beaten to a pulp as well as the Narrator beating Angel Face (Jared Leto) to a pulp, for no apparent reason.

Fincher mixed this in with Durden’s view on the world, that being very, very against anything mildly corporate. Brad Pitt plays Durden with excellence, really flowing with the carefree attitude that surrounds Durden. Norton does back Pitt up with his uptight white collar worker.

fight_club_0476

David Fincher washes Fight Club in a sickly green tint which really relays the darker undertone that flows throughout the film, as the Narrator and Durden stories become entwined. The story takes a change of pace as Durden runs free with franchising Fight Club, whilst the Narrator struggles to keep up with Durden and his extravagant plans.

Fight Club is a definitely an exciting ride of a film. David Fincher manages to expertly play it out with Pitt and Norton lifting the story off the screen. Fincher washing the film in a sickly and darker undertone really worked for this adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s original book.

The use of violence throughout and the anti-corporate message seems to be placed at perfect intervals throughout Fight Club and doesn’t seem to ramming this message down your throat. My only gripe with Fight Club is the opening 20 or so minutes are properly slow burning. Once the Fight Club takes off, the film picks up it’s pace, but that opening is tough to swallow. That being said, the method is which Fincher delivers the plot twist is brilliant and subsequent viewings reveal the masterful touch on this story and it’s revealing of the plot. After recently re-watching Fight Club it’s clear to see why it ranks highly on peoples list and sits tenth on the IMDb top 250 list.


1 Comment

Midnight Special (2016)

Midnight Special was one of my highly anticipated films of last year, but unfortunately did not manage to get to see it in the cinema, but eventually it made an appearance on a streaming site that I was able to access. Jeff Nichols’ fourth feature length film looked to be quite the science fiction thriller piece, so I was excited to finally watch it.

Majority of the promotional footage and trailers featured the image of a young boy that seemed to radiate a blinding blue light from his eyes. In Midnight Special, our first meeting with the young boy, he is wearing goggles and noise-cancelling ear mitts whilst reading a comic book. During this introduction with Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), we see Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton watching the news, regarding the kidnapping of Alton and the case being placed on amber alert.

midnight_special_wb_1-0-0

Already Nichols has managed to tell the opening segments to the story with enough vigour to grip me, but also with the help of an intense car journey down the back lanes of the southern states of North America. Without relaying too much information, the film quickly changes the pace with an FBI-raid on a ranch, which houses a cult.

What becomes clear is that Roy Tomlin, (Michael Shannon) the man responsible for the kidnapping of Alton, is actually the boy’s father. But also that Alton has a special ability to intercept secret encoded satellite messages. This obviously is quite the concern for the FBI and the American government, so they want Alton located, as much as the cult to bring him back ‘home’.

Jeff Nichols’ manages to keep up the fast pace as Roy and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) continually avoid the police, but also the cult members that were sent by cult to find Alton. But the trouble is during this rip-roaring pace; the question remains as to why this is all happening?

umdswoo6sz97ijelinzr

What begins as a rip roaring pace and filling the opening segment with mysterious characters, Midnight Special begins to lack in a strong storyline as it enters the latter half of the film. In instances, a strong storyline is sometimes superseded by the strong characters and with a strong cast containing Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver, one would suspect Midnight Special is one of those instances.

It isn’t.

The plaudits of acting would rest on Jaeden Lieberher’s shoulders, as Alton seemingly becomes weaker and the film bores into it’s second hour, and Lieberher’s performance is convincing amongst the others, well, less than convincing performances.

For me, Kirsten Dunst’s maternal character was pretty much pointless in the story and did not add any width to the story. She didn’t have the intrigue that Roy and Lucas did during their introduction, but even their mysteriousness eventually slipped away. Adam Driver’s NSA analyst was an excellent inclusion as he accepts the mystery that is Alton, but Jeff Nichols’ did not manage to effectively incorporate this into the story enough, he focused on the mad chase that surrounded Alton and the mysterious coordinates that Sevier (Driver) works out.

As I previously mentioned, Nichols created what was seemingly a science-fiction thriller and there were certain aspects within the film that was enjoyable, including the pace to the opening of the film, and some wonderful shots of the sun setting and rising. Unfortunately for me, the enjoyable sections of Midnight Special were too few and far between when the film lost its way with the story, but also the less-than-convincing cast performances.

midnight-special-test-xlarge

Midnight Special could have become a cult classic, but the story seems to have taken a cop-out route and it just doesn’t seem to make much sense, for me anyway. The cast had me filled with promise, considering the ability of them but again, I felt let down by Shannon & co aside from Leiberher’s performance. Alas, the opening hour was good and thrilling, culminating in a meteor shower that looked majestic, but from there the film slowly begins to drop off and seemingly loses itself in free fall. As much as I enjoyed the opening hour, I could not shake the closing hour practically ruining the film for me. Unfortunately Midnight Special was a bit of dud.


Leave a comment

Life, Animated (2016)

People of my generation have generally grown up watching Disney’s animated features unfold on screen as one of their first experiences of films and the cinema. There was something about Disney films that just connected with our youths as we grew up around them.

The animated features were also a big part of Owen Suskind’s life and his growth into a young adult, but in a very different way. Owen was diagnosed with autism at the very young age of three, which is told in a way that juxtaposes the confident and intelligent young adult that was first shown on the screen.

life-animated-sundance-2016

As the film was a documentary, it was always going to have that battle in regards to what direction to take. Do they take the route of discussing autism and it’s effects, or do they take the route of showing the quite remarkable story of Owen Suskind and his development.

Over the course of about 90 minutes, Roger Ross Williams opted for the latter of the options and showed the story of Owen Suskind and his ability to communicate with others through the medium of Disney. Owen’s father Ron starts to talk to him through a puppet of Iago, and this scene is beautifully animated which exemplifies Owen’s newfound ability. Amazingly Owen begins to talk back to Iago, which acts as a huge breakthrough for Owen and the Suskind family.

lifeanimated

In the opening segments, we see Owen as a confident and high functioning young adult as he nears his graduation, which also means he will be moving out to live by himself soon. Ron and Cornelia Suskind kindly invite us into their cherished memories of Owen, as we see him playing with his brother and father quite gleefully. Then immediately, this happiness is shunted out by the juxtaposing image of Owen exhibiting autistic traits, a far cry from the joyful young boy we saw seconds earlier.

What made Life, Animated an experience in film was not the story, but how they accompanied that story with beautifully crafted animation and with a soft use of soundtrack to really underline the story. As I mentioned, this story could have gone one of two ways, but with the route they have taken, it became joyous to watch.

In between the exquisite animation and comforting soundtrack, Ron Suskind fills us in what was so remarkable about Owen’s childhood and what made him blossom into the confident young adult he is today and that was down to Disney.

With the help of Ron, Cornelia and Walter Suskind, Roger Ross Williams kindly retells the difficulties and joys of growing up with Owen. It’s an intriguing look into how autism can affect individuals in a family, but also for future especially as Walter comes to terms with him being Owen’s only support going into the future.

01life-master768

Life, Animated as I said was a really interesting watch as I was unaware that autistic people had that ability to recognise with the world through the medium of Disney, but also through a look at Owen’s life it relayed some interesting information regarding autism and it’s affect on children and to some extent, families too.

Roger Ross Williams managed to fill the 92-minute film with warmth through the Suskind’s care and cherishment of Owen as he enters a new chapter in his life. Through the investment in Owen’s story, the time does melt away as there is a certain joy and happiness throughout Life, Animated and it’s unsurprising that is has been nominated for an Oscar in it’s respective category. Life, Animated is a real triumph and joyous film, but I suspect Life, Animated was a bid to raise awareness for autism more than anything, whilst telling the heart-warming story of Owen.


Leave a comment

School of Rock (2003)

If you know me on a personal level, you’ll understand just how much I enjoy School of Rock. It’s one of my personal favourites and I could watch it for a very long time, without getting bored.

Jack Black seems to be a marmite character and very divisive even before he appears on screen. I know this from personal experience and the mention of Jack Black instantly switching people off. If anything School of Rock emphasises what people don’t like about Jack Black, and that is hyperactive screen presence.

In the opening scene, we see Jack Black as Dewey Finn playing on stage with his band No Vacancy, before he abruptly stops the performance with an audacious stage dive after ‘shredding’ on guitar. Its clear Jack Black was given some creative space throughout this film as he can indulge his musical side and engage with his hyperactivity.

school-of-rock_668_330_80_int_s_c1

Mike White wrote School of Rock a year after Orange County, which also had Jack Black starring in, but in a much smaller role. White wrote School of Rock wanting a lead role for Jack Black and it seems as White actively chose to engage Jack Black’s musical side as Dewey Finn’s backstory is that he is down-on-his-luck intent on hitting the big time, with his music.

Dewey goes as far as to state that No Vacancy will become “an footnote on his epic ass”, clearly showing his intentions to become a self proclaimed rockstar. Under Richard Linklater’s direction, Jack Black brings the story of Dewey Finn to life, whilst excellently selling that his is struggling as he sleeps on the floor of his friends apartment.

The only questionable side of School of Rock is the story of how Dewey Finn easily becomes a substitute teacher at Horace Green Prep. His flatmate Ned Schneebly (Mike White – yes, the same one that wrote the film) and Patty (Sarah Silverman) demand his share of the rent, otherwise they’ll kick him out. The resentment between Dewey and Patty immediately lifts off the screen, as Ned slowly cowers away from the verbal battle that ensues in front of him. Because of his allegiance to Ned, he promises that he will make rent.

school-of-rock-2003-movie-free-download-720p-bluray-3

Whilst trying to sell a guitar, he receives a call from Horace Green Prep looking for Ned Schneebly to substitute at the school. (Wait, here comes the questionable part to the story) Dewey has a great idea and decides to impersonate Ned so he can make rent. This is pretty much the set-up for School of Rock and that happens within the first half hour.

What White and Linklater managed to do was make Dewey genuinely seem at rock bottom, which is also helped by Jack Black. Within that first half hour, Black uses his comedic whit to begin verbal jousts with everyone that disagrees with him and this continues as he begins to ‘teach’ at Horace Green. (When I say teach, I mean lean back on his chair and sleeps, whilst the class has recess)

Linklater cleverly glosses over the act of Dewey becoming the teacher, as he leaves a few questions about how easily he can do it and quickly rolls into the music that becomes infectious throughout School of Rock. Dewey overhears his class take a music class, and decides to enter the Battle of the Bands with the band to try and hit the big time.

School of Rock does stand at a perfect length of just a touch over an hour and a half, but it could easily be longer and not have any enjoyment levels altered with such a change. What the latter hour is filled with is Dewey teaching the children the origins of Rock and fine-tuning their band, before the big show. Although there is questionable glossed over part of the story, the film becomes rather sweet as the children find a way to start expressing themselves with the help of Mr S. (As Dewey seemingly can’t spell Schneebly, the children call him Mr. S)

13046_13_screenshot

If anything School of Rock becomes insanely quotable amongst the likes of Anchorman, Airplane! and Zoolander. For me, Jack Black is insanely energetic throughout the film and it works every step of the way, from his verbal jousts with people, to inspiring the children to express themselves such as Freddy (Kevin Clark), Zach (Joey Gaydos) and to some extent Summer. (Miranda Cosgrove)

Everything about School of Rock clicks for me. The characters are inventive and work, the comedic elements of Jack Black and his verbal jousts continue to provide laughs. And as I mentioned, I don’t think I can tire of this film just yet, especially as it remains immensely quotable and laugh inducing tied together with it’s fantastic use of the soundtrack.