Movie Review: Moonlight (2016)


Title: Moonlight
Release Date: October 21, 2016
Director: Barry Jenkins
Production Company: A24 | Plan B Entertainment | Pastel Productions
Summary/Review:

Moonlight is a compelling drama about masculinity, the search for identity, and particularly homosexual identity focusing on a character named Chiron at three different periods in his life.  The movie begins with the withdrawn child Chiron (Alex Hibbert) running away from bullies in his working-class Miami neighborhood and hiding in a crackhouse.  He’s rescued by Juan (an amazing performance by Mahershala Ali), a middle-aged Cuban man who takes Chiron home to meet his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe, also awesome), when Chiron is too shy to speak about where he lives.

Juan and Chiron’s middle-class home becomes a stable place for Chiron to visit, and Juan becomes the supportive father figure he needs.  Chiron’s father is not in his life, and his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is emotionally distant, working long hours and suffering from addiction.  The crushing irony is that Juan’s comfortable life is due to the money he makes as a drug dealer, and Paula is one of his customers.

The second segment focuses on Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders) as a high school student.  He is still reserved and isolated, and Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), who we saw as a boy being friendly to Chiron, is now Chiron’s only real friend.  His mother’s addiction and hostile behavior have only grown worse.  Juan has died in the intervening years, but Chiron still visits Teresa. The main plot lines of this segment are Chiron attempting to avoid the school bully Terrel (Patrick Decile), and the romantic intimacy that grows.  Unfortunately, circumstances lead to brutally violent conflict and Chiron going to juvenile detention.

In the final segment, an adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) lives in Atlanta, and now deals drugs himself.  He receives a call from Kevin (André Holland) out of the blue, and it forces Chiron to reexamine suppressed memories and feelings. He visits Paula at a drug rehabilitation center and reconciles with her, then drives to Miami to visit the restaurant where Kevin works as a cook.  The final portion of this movie is an intense series of conversations between the two men that contain enough hesitation and buried emotions to put a Merchant Ivory film to shame. I joke, but it’s rare for a Hollywood film to give dialogue between two actors the space to breath, and Rhodes and Holland act the hell out of it.

This is an important movie, because honest depictions of homosexuality among Black and/or working class people are practically unheard of.  It’s also a delicate examination of masculinity and the paths it forces boys and men to follow that lead to harm and isolation.  It’s not the easiest movie to watch as there is suffering and violence that’s hard to look at straight on, but it does come to a hopeful conclusion.

Rating: ****1/2

Classic Movie Review: The General (1927)


Title: The General
Release Date: February 5, 1927
Director: Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton
Production Company: Buster Keaton Productions | Joseph M. Schenck Productions
Summary/Review:

I knew I’d need to watch a Buster Keaton film for my classic movie project, but was disappointed that his most famous work is not only a Civil War film, but one sympathetic to the Confederate cause.  So I watched this movie rooting against Keaton much of the time.

The movie was a big-budget spectacular for its era and stars Keaton as Johnnie Gray, a railroad engineer dedicated to maintaining the engine The General.  When the war begins, he attempts to enlist, but is denied because his skills with the trains are needed.  Nevertheless, his fiancée Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack) believes him to be a coward, and refuses to speak to him.

A year later, Union spies steal The General (with Annabelle Lee aboard the train) and head north from Georgia to Tennessee with a plan to destroy the rails, bridges, and telegraph wires behind them.  Johnnie pursues The General through various means, eventually working on his own as he leaves the Confederate soldiers behind. There are are a number of spectacular gags as Keaton walks along the train performing various stunts and fights with the spies.  Scenes from the next day show him returning with The General  and Annabelle Lee, leading another chase and culminating in a battle (which was the most expensive shot in film history to that point due to hundreds of extras and the collapse of a bridge with a train on it).

Despite my misgivings, I enjoyed this film and think the stunts and slapstick hold up well, even if the politics do not.

Rating: ***

Podcasts of (Two) Weeks Ending August 17


Sound Opinions :: Why the Ramones Matter

Breaking down the importance of New York’s great punk band.

Planet Money :: Deep Learning With Elephants

Studying elephants by recording the sounds they make and then the technology needed to break down all that data.

Sound Opinions :: The Legend of Robert Johnson

Separating the reality from the myth of the great Delta Blues guitarist. One thing that struck me is that Johnson was born after my grandparents, people I knew, making the Johnson shrouded in myth seem closer to me than I’d ever though before.

Decoder Ring :: Ice-Cream Truck

The history of ice-cream trucks in New York City, and more startling, the mob-like operation of different trucks and different companies staking out territory in the city.

Fresh Air :: Sister Helen Prejean

An interview that discusses the life of the great activist and spiritual leader.

Hit Parade :: The Bridge: Nostalgic for No. 1’s

I’ve long been a fan of Chris Molanphy’s analysis of record charts on Hit Parade and recently also began reading Tom Breihan’s column in Stereogum reviewing The Number Ones from 1958 to the present.  This show brings them together.

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances: