Moonlight reviews

Uri
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Re: Moonlight reviews

Postby Uri » Sat Jan 07, 2017 7:07 pm

I saw Moonlight, and it’s a good film, very well executed and making an undeniable emotional impact on the viewer. Definitely one of the best of the year.

Alas – you know me, so there’s (well, not really a “but”, rather more of) an “and” coming. Right after seeing it, I had a notion that had Moonlight been “based on a true story”, we would have learnt at one point that the Kevin character was “actually” comprised of three different “real” people. A great deal of the emotional impact I was referring to originated from this unity of character, yet the essence of this unity is fundamentally artistic, even poetic, rather than realistic. And the same can be said about the outwardly openmindness of Juan (“you may be gay, but not a faggot” – really? In the ’80s???). Yet, it somehow works.

And it does because at its core, Moonlight is extremely old fashioned and romantic. If the Bronte sisters or Dickens were to write about a gay black protagonist of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21th – Moonlight is what they would come with. Chiron and Kevin are Heathcliff and Cathy or Pip and Estella, Mahershala Ali makes an unlikely yet effective Aunt Betsey Trotwood. Chiron is an archetype orphan who, just like a David Copperfield or an Oliver Twist, faces all kinds of trials in Life, including a hellish school, before making peace with his past and finding love in the Third Act.

The fact these classic themes and narrative patterns are immersed here in organically intuitive way rather than consciously intentional, showy one, is a major factor in the success of Moonlight – it works both as a contemporary, somewhat urgent (yet not really edgy or raw) look at a marginalized section of American society but simultaneously it offers a rather timeless and subtly familiar romanticism.

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Re: Moonlight reviews

Postby Sabin » Fri Dec 23, 2016 1:38 pm

MILD SPOILERS

A second viewing of Moonlight reveals a second act that serves less to tell a story and more to connect the other two. The second act largely works because like the rest of the film it's gorgeously directed, shot, edited, and score, but also because of Ashton Sanders' portrayal of a repressed adolescent as a larvae. For me, that was the tension from that portion of the film. It's an assortment of traumas: sexual awakening, continued abuse at home, betrayal, revenge, etc. The first act is a story we've seen before perfectly executed and movingly told, and the third act is a story we mostly haven't seen before that plays out intimately and unexpectedly. I'm sure it's possible to predict how it's going to end, but I was too engrossed to ponder. I think the reason why people are being moved to tears is the third act. It begins with Black (Trevante Rhodes, the film's MPV) reaching for his gun, establishing a world of street rules, and it builds to him finally admitting to Kevin (Andre Holland, co-winner for MVP) that he's the only man who's ever touched him, and the film sells the shit out of the strength it took for him to admit that.

Barry Jenkins is dealing with uncharted territory only in a superficial sense. There have been films about gay black men in the past. The reason why Moonlight is connecting is because he is poeticizing archetypes. Everyone is a stock character. But I do think he's found something beautiful here.
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Re: Moonlight reviews

Postby danfrank » Sat Dec 10, 2016 12:13 pm

I saw Moonlight several weeks ago, and it's really stuck with me. It's an incredibly poignant, beautiful film. Gay black men have been almost completely invisible in the history of film. That this film is so magnificently done almost makes up for that unfortunate oversight. I loved how this film played with the theme of hard and soft, e.g., Kevin telling Little that he can't afford to be soft, and later Kevin calling him out on his use of the hard "fronts" as incongruous with the sensitive (read soft) man that he sees underneath. It's a great metaphor for the intergenerational experiences of black men in our culture. The main character, referred to as "Black" in the final segment, repeats the same pattern as Juan from the first segment, Juan being another sensitive man cloaked in necessary hardness in order to survive. Moonliht is gorgeously filmed. The scene where Juan teaches Little to swim is visually and emotionally stunning, one of the most beautiful images I've seen on film in some time.

(Spoilers ahead). Tee wonders below why Moonlight brings some people to tears. For me, it's this: Throughout the entirety of the film, and throughout Chiron's life, his voice is suppressed. He is a boy/man of very few words not just because he's shy but because his life circumstances (black, poor, gay, unavailable mother) have left him without a voice. At the very end of the film, after the long seductive segment with Kevin, where each coyly tries to draw out the truth from each other ("Why did you call me?" and "why did you drive all the way down here?") Chiron at last has the courage to truly use his voice to express something he has denied for himself all these years and something he deeply needs. Cut to the two men in tender embrace, then cut to an image of that tender little boy, and I'm a complete puddle. This is a great film.

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Re: Moonlight reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Nov 03, 2016 4:33 pm

THERE WILL BE SPOILERS OF SORTS

I’ve held back a few days in expressing my view, to be sure I calibrate it correctly. My opinion is north of BJ’s, but I understand some of his misgivings. I think Moonlight is a delicately crafted film, and a highly praiseworthy one, but, for me, it falls short of the Astonishing Masterpiece reactions it’s getting in many circles.

Right from the opening moments, I felt secure I was in the hands of a confident director – the camera movements were telling the story in an innovative but precise way. But I also felt, from early on, that the story I was watching wasn’t particularly novel. Drug dealers in the projects is territory well-covered, and, as far as Chiron’s individual details… strip away the particular racial element (I realize that’s kind of a big ask), and the fact that the kid in fact turned out to be gay, you have a fairly typical sensitive/frail kid bullied by his nasty peers -- subject matter films have been dealing with since the dawn of the medium. The moment-to-moment working out of these situations is generally fresh – the dialogue is evocative of experienced life, individual moments (like Chiron’s “my mother does drugs”/”you deal drugs” realization) stand out, and the actors in general do an excellent job making the scenes work. But the events themselves, especially in the first but also much of the second act, were familiar enough that I had a nagging feeling the film was, narratively, falling short of my expectations, despite the quality on display (one exception: Chiron’s return to the classroom after his beating – a moment that caught me completely by surprise).

Like most, I found the third act the most successful/powerful, to a great degree because it was mining less familiar territory, but also because it made greater use of the elements I noted above as the film’s strengths: the small details of human interaction. The diner scene between Chiron (by then Black) and Kev is intimate and relaxed – it dares to stretch out each moment, catching every tiny nuance, but never feeling slowed down…it evokes a more or less perfect real-time feel. And it takes audience members to the place where they (whether it knew or not) all wanted it to go.

And yet…I have to agree with BJ here: when the abrupt fade-out came, I too had the reaction, Is that all it was about? When a movie gets quotes (from reputable critics) like “It’s what we go to movies for” and “You couldn’t ask for more from a film”, I’m expecting something with a bit more grandeur – something that takes me new and wondrous places. This, while a fine piece of work, feels quite a bit smaller than that.

And yet, part 2… in a think-back, the film yields quite a bit – enough to generate a term paper or two. One can see in retrospect how the story’s been carefully laid out: starting as a child’s view of a difficult/busted-up home life, but becoming in the end an unexpected love story – one that was actually quietly developing from the start, but only revealed in all its fullness when the climax was reached.

You also can’t help but be impressed by the way the film portrays the shaping of Chiron’s character. As a young boy, he’s in effect an orphan – fatherless certainly, with a mother notable for physical and (frequent) mental absence. Given his location/circumstance, his best choice of a surrogate parent is drug dealer Juan…who actually turns out to be in some ways good for him -- giving him a level of self-respect, and decent advice about being true to himself (this all somehow encapsulated in teaching him to swim: an athletic activity stereotypically decreed alien to African Americans). But, of course, he’s at the same time serving as an awful role model, actively taking his mother further away from him (by supplying her with crack), and he finally disappears from his life (whether by death or incarceration I never clearly got from the film, but either would be easily believable from the drug dealer’s life profile). Yet he leaves his imprint: In Act III, Chiron appears to have followed in his footsteps – this one-time little man carries a mean looking gun.

But Kev also does a great deal to shape his character. It’s clearly significant that the name Chiron’s chosen to go by in the final segment is the one Kev gave him at an earlier stage, but, Kev in fact appears to have defined him in more ways than that: leading him to his sexuality, of course, but also, for better or worse, urging him to toughen up. In the earliest section, he urges Little to fight back when attacked. This leads to disastrous consequences: first, when Kev himself begs Chiron to stop returning blows during the fight and he can’t make himself; then later, when his revenge on his nemesis starts him on his undeserved trip into the criminal justice system. I don’t think we’re ever meant to think of Chiron as a tough guy, just one dressed up as one (when he takes those gold tooth-caps off, it’s like shedding a rough skin, exposing the still vulnerable kid within). But it was Kev who set him on the road to adopting that exterior.

The titling of the sections is very evocative of the stages of Chiron’s (or anyone’s) life: “Little” deals with the time of life when you’re so small and defenseless, others can define you. “Chiron”, his birth name, makes for a neutral title: you’re big/strong enough to start to define yourself, but not so fully developed that you aren’t subject to peer pressure. And finally, “Black”: you’re old enough, past caring what others demand of you: you’re what you’ve chosen to be. I thought the film’s visuals/editing also played into this life-progression. The early sections are all jangly and frenetic – like events are coming at Chiron too fast for him to deal with; the lighting also feels all glare-y/in your face. The final section, by contrast, has a cool to it: the colors seem richer, the tone is soft, and the pacing relaxed. It’s as if it’s telling you, these guys can work this out, now that they’re away from all those pressures that come with childhood and adolescence; distractions are gone, and they’re free to calmly, quietly decide what works for them. Which could serve as a definition of adulthood.

What I’m saying with all this is, I have definite appreciation for Moonlight as the work of an artist, one who’s crafted his film to provide great texture. But I still have the nagging sense the film’s content is a bit flimsy to support the extravagant praise it’s receiving (though no doubt it stands out from most anything else I’ve seen this year). And one more thing: I’d never denigrate anyone for an emotional reaction to a film – I’ve teared up at things it would embarrass me to admit – but I, like BJ, felt not the slightest impulse to shed tears at any point in this film. I’m honestly curious about what moments brought that reaction on for others.

As for the actors: Harris has the clear advantage just in getting to play her character over the entire course of the film, but she’s very strong, especially in that last scene, when she’s finally sort of ready to be a mom now that it’s too late to do much good. I guess I can see the BJ/okri contention that the men could be grouped under ensemble, since, as much as you may like one, you don’t want to slight another (like Andre Holland, who’s wonderful in that last sequence). But I think Ali is pretty terrific: absolutely commanding for the half hour or so he’s on the screen, and well worthy of a supporting nomination.

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Re: Moonlight reviews

Postby Sabin » Sat Oct 22, 2016 1:39 pm

The Original BJ wrote
As I said, I'm totally prepared for others to like this way more than I did -- Okri has already expressed great enthusiasm for the movie here -- and it's by all means a film I would encourage people to see, if only because it's so rare to get major films about characters in this demographic profile, and that absolutely deserves saluting. If I'd seen it at a festival knowing nothing about it, my reaction would probably be more along the lines of finding it a touching human drama. But I went in thinking I'd see one of the greatest movies of the year, and for me, this was just too minor a story overall to merit that kind of attention.

Yeah, see, I came out thinking it was one of the greatest movies of the year.

The most effective knock on Moonlight is what you touched on, that the story is told through broad familiar strokes. Maybe it's the representation, maybe it's the seamless transfer of personality between these three incredible actors, or that Barry Jenkins finds ways to imply essential context with a gesture or a shot, making it a larger story told on a micro-scale. The moment that sticks out for me is right before the third chapter (iii. black) where he reaches for a gun. I was grabbed by this movie pretty consistently. That said, I'm a sucker for the rhythms of Wong Kar-wai and Terrence Malick and I like this film more than anything they've done in years.

I think this is going to go over pretty well with Academy voters, likely for the reasons why BJ doesn't like it.

(NOTE: we have a disagreement! I think the fact that Chiron is docile will help the film around Oscar season. I don't pretend to understand why Carol didn't land a Best Picture nomination in a field of eight. Maybe it was because it was LGBT. Or maybe the viewers weren't grabbed by the love story. After all, Carol is a movie about two women realizing themselves through their relationship together. Moonlight is about one man's journey towards accepting who he is and I think that's a throughline that might land a little better. Especially in what is starting to feel like a legendarily sparse year.)
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Re: Moonlight reviews

Postby Okri » Sat Oct 22, 2016 1:30 pm

Yeah, this one has stuck with me. I'll be sad, but unsurprised, by the reads that present this film solely as a reaction to #OscarSoWhite (paging Armond White, paging Armond White), as if the act of celebrating diverse storytelling is somehow worthy of derision.

You mentioned, BJ, that since you started writing more that you’ve grown impatient with films that are thinner on narrative. That intrigues me, because I’ve grown somewhat more tolerant of films of that ilk – the plotless-float – if the overall gestalt works. Yeah, I’ll raise my hand to being one of those that was in tears by the end. That final act, in particular, is a beauty (and perhaps the only time the even hints at its stage origins). The conversation itself hit so many high points, Andre Holland’s relaxes sensuality, Rhodes’ overtly masculine grace. But I think the first two acts also function as really intriguing takes on black masculinity in general.

Some might call it a film of negative virtues. It’s a play adaptation that isn’t stagebound at all (the cinematography in particular is just gorgeous). It talks about lower-class black experience without fetishizing it or suggesting that that’s all there is. It’s surprisingly non-judgemental about its characters. It actually blows apart my own perception about some of the performers – Naomi Harris and Janelle Moane in particular. I’ll echo BJ, that it’s more an ensemble film than anything else and I think the things you disliked about it (it’s relatively minor key) means that it’ll likely fall out of this Oscar race. But it’ll be one of the films I think back to from this year, which is turning out to be rather great, despite the awful beginning.

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Re: Moonlight reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Mon Oct 17, 2016 6:55 pm

It's pretty rare that a movie so rapturously well-reviewed leaves me mostly underwhelmed, but I must report my disappointment that I wasn't all that wild about Moonlight. This is not to suggest the movie doesn't have its merits -- it certainly does, especially in the areas of performance and directorial sensitivity -- and it's not something I ever actively disliked. But I think the level of acclaim bestowed upon it really over-inflates the limitations of the piece, even though I'm fully prepared to be the outlier on this one.

My biggest issue with the film is that I didn't think the three-part structure leant itself to telling story in anything other than broad strokes, and as a result, I thought the movie was pretty thin on content. Part of this stems from the characterization of the protagonist, who at least in the first two segments, is the kind of taciturn, withdrawn character which often frustrates me when placed at the center of a movie -- for much of the film, I had no idea what Chiron thought about anything that was happening to him, and this inability to get inside his head made me feel like I just didn't know much about him, beyond the the most superficial aspects of his identity. Because of this, I felt many elements of the story came off as trope-ish -- the abusive addict mom, the drug pusher who takes the young kid under his wing, the initial romantic/sexual encounter, and (in the movie's weakest and most cliched scene) the moment when our hero gets violently gay bashed by his own lover.

I thought the third segment was by far the most compelling section of the movie, for numerous reasons. First, the transformation of Chiron from a gangly, awkward kid and then teenager to an athletic, charismatic, ex-convict provided the protagonist with a pretty interesting journey, some of it made explicit, much of left as subtext to be mined by Trevante Rhodes, the actor playing him in this chunk. And second, even more significantly, this section contains the single best scene in the movie, the extended diner conversation between Chiron and his former lover, full of graceful moments in dialogue, as well as meaningful beats where we can pretty clearly infer the unspoken words between them. I think Barry Jenkins handles this portion beautifully, both as writer and as filmmaker, and I was eager to see where the story went from here.

But then, there was more disappointment for me at the film's conclusion. Given the accounts of audience members weeping during the film, I was prepared for the movie to reach some kind of emotional zenith, or at the very least climax in some kind of major dramatic incident. And yet, when the screen went to black, my thought was -- that's all this story amounted to? For a film that had covered such a wide timespan in its characters' lives, it sure felt to me like it should have ended with more than just a whimper.

Naomie Harris is the clear acting MVP in my book -- her part isn't huge, but she appears in all three segments, and gets emotional scenes in every one. I think all the men are good (with Ali, Rhodes, and Holland the most notable presences), though I admire their work more as an ensemble than for any one performance.

As I said, I'm totally prepared for others to like this way more than I did -- Okri has already expressed great enthusiasm for the movie here -- and it's by all means a film I would encourage people to see, if only because it's so rare to get major films about characters in this demographic profile, and that absolutely deserves saluting. If I'd seen it at a festival knowing nothing about it, my reaction would probably be more along the lines of finding it a touching human drama. But I went in thinking I'd see one of the greatest movies of the year, and for me, this was just too minor a story overall to merit that kind of attention.

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Moonlight reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Sep 03, 2016 5:27 pm

I had no access to my computer for a few days, and I see no one took up the slack in posting reviews from Venice/Telluride.

The buzz about this film was apparently completely legit, at least on the critics' front.

http://variety.com/2016/film/reviews/mo ... 201850255/

http://www.screendaily.com/reviews/moon ... tentID=592

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review ... iew-923754


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