Kevin Bacon, Mark Wahlberg and John Goodman in Patriots Day
Photo Credit: Karen Ballard, AP
Patriots Day is a powerful reminder of this country at its best.
As I left for the Patriots Day screening, my husband asked me to remind him what I was seeing. After I told him, he replied, “Seems like it’s too soon for that.” Other friends had made similar comments—either about the timing of the film, or whether it was right to make a movie about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing at all. I walked into the theater unsure of whether I wanted to see the tragedy unfold once again. This wasn’t going to be like Sully, where there was a happy ending for everyone. I lived in Boston for two years, and while I wasn’t there for that marathon, once you’ve called a city home—or if it’s always been your home—local tragedies obviously hit harder. I also remembered how one of the bombing victims was a child, which made me especially nauseous. I had read several articles, even recently, about survivors who had lost their limbs. But to be honest, I had forgotten much of the rest of the story, even though—like the rest of the United States—I had been glued to my screen during the four-day hunt for the bombers.
The memories started flowing back as director Peter Berg introduced his main character, Sergeant Saunders (Mark Wahlberg, representing a composite of several real policemen), a hotheaded officer who’s recovering from a knee injury and griping about being stationed at the race’s finish line. In the hours leading up to the marathon, we see what several other people are doing in addition to Saunders. Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons), police sergeant of nearby Watertown, picks up a muffin for his wife. (Anyone from Boston knows there had to be a Dunkin’ Donuts shout-out in this movie, and there it was). A young couple exchanges work stories from the day before. A teenager from China who’s at school in Boston video chats with his parents and flirts with a restaurant worker. A young MIT campus patrol officer scores a concert date with a student. A family leaves home with their toddler to go cheer on the runners. And brothers Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) watch TV, play with Tamerlan’s infant daughter … and then begin to pack up homemade bombs to transport in backpacks to the city. The older Tamerlan is clearly a psychopath. Dzhokhar comes off like a shallow, bratty follower. Both actors had tall orders to fill in representing these evil terrorists, and their performances are as commendable as they are chilling.
Barry Jenkins read Tarell Alvin McCraney’s piece, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” and adapted that into the screenplay of “Moonlight.”
Raw Emotion Strikes a Chord with Universal Themes
Superficially, one might sum up Moonlight by declaring that it presents three chapters of a gay black Miami man’s life. However, the film delves much deeper than that. It’s about growing up in poverty, the struggles of being raised by a crack-addict single mother, the exposures to racism, the need for love, and finally overcoming the complications of having a different sexual orientation than the majority of your peers. Yes, Moonlight is all of this and more. I must admit that it took my undivided attention along with a second viewing to truly internalize all of its beautiful qualities. I adore this film.
The screenplay is written by Barry Jenkins – who also directs – and is based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney. It’s always ambitious in a film to cross over into different time spans; here we see Chiron, the main character, as a child, teen, and adult.
SANTA MONICA, CA – DECEMBER 11: (L-R) Actors Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders, Alex R. Hibbert, Janelle Monae and Naomie Harris, winners of Best Acting Ensemble for ‘Moonlight’, pose in the press room during The 22nd Annual Critics’ Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on December 11, 2016 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Part 1 is named “Little” and introduces us to Chiron (Alex Hibbert) as a shy, small-for-his-age, loner elementary school child along with crack dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monae), with whom he finds solace. His mother, Paula (an almost unrecognizable Naomie Harris, known as Moneypenny from the recent Bond films) is usually drugged up and shows little love or affection towards Chiron.
Barry Jenkins and Alex R. Hibbert attend The 22nd Annual Critics’ Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on December 11, 2016 in Santa Monica, California.
In structure along with tone, Moonlight has an indie feel as we follow Chiron by use of a hand-held camera through his daily life. Thankfully, he has adult friends who take him under their wings and try to help him. In the best scene in the film, he’s taught to swim by Juan, seen here as a metaphor for a cleansing and/or baptism. It is a beautiful cinematographically filmed sequence; you may even experience goose bumps. This simple skill of learning to swim becomes the unique bond that holds both man and child together, with cementing each other’s trust at its core.
“Moonlight” film still. Photo Credit: Plan B
Zoe Saldana and Ben Affleck in Live by Night
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Ben Affleck’s really weird gangster film is a dud.
“What. Is. Happening?!?”
While watching Live by Night, I turned to the person next to me and asked this question several times. She was equally perplexed. It’s not that the film is hard to follow, it’s just that writer-director-star Ben Affleck took the “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to telling the two-hour-plus story of fictional mobster Joe Coughlin, and it didn’t work. Which is quite a monumental failure considering the cast includes Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning and Brendan Gleeson, among other top-notch talent; the screenplay was based on an award-winning novel by bestselling author Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island, Mystic River); and the action spans several tumultuous years in U.S. history.
When we first meet WWI vet Coughlin (Affleck) in Prohibition-era Boston, he’s a not a full-blown gangster just yet, but he is the mastermind behind several high-profile robberies and has fallen for an Irish mob boss’s girlfriend, Emma (Sienna Miller). The two lovebirds decide to escape Boston so that they can be together. However, at the end of one of many unmemorable shoot-‘em-up sequences, it appears that Emma didn’t make it. So Coughlin heads south to Florida with a new plan that involves building an empire that will eventually help him to take down the mobster he blames for Emma’s death.
Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe and Kevin Costner star in “Hidden Figures.” Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.
Appropriately Titled Feel-Good Feature
In the early 1960s, the Space Race intensified between the U.S. and Russia. Russians were ahead as they had already launched the first man into space. Knowing that the whole world was watching, the U.S. refused to be outdone by Russia and eventually managed the unthinkable when they landed the moon.
Although we’re familiar with the famous astronauts in this era – Buzz Aldrin, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong – there were hundreds of overlooked men and women tirelessly working behind the scenes at NASA to launch these brave astronauts into space and bring them back safely. Within the ranks of NASA were a number of African-American women. These women are at the heart of the untold story, Hidden Figures.
This crowd pleasing drama focuses on three African-American women who work for NASA at Langley Research Center in the early 60s. These women face cringe worthy discrimination and unfair work conditions, but end up providing indispensable contributions to the space program. Read more…
Natalie Portman stars in “Jackie.” Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight.
Portman Brings Jackie to Life
The Kennedy family was nicknamed “America’s First Family” and there has been no shortage of interest in them over the years. America’s obsession with the Kennedy’s has inspired countless books, movies and TV specials depicting the family’s triumphs, tragedies, and scandals, but few have solely focused on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis or as most refer to her, “Jackie O.” One of the most beloved first ladies was often overshadowed by her husband and his brothers, however, in the new drama, Jackie, the famous first lady takes center stage, and we see the rise and tragic ending of the Kennedy White House through her eyes and words.
The primary setting of the film takes place just over a week after the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy (‘JFK’). While still mourning the loss of her husband, Jackie (Natalie Portman, Jane Got a Gun, 2016) surprisingly requested to do an interview with Theodore ‘Ted’ White (Billy Crudup, Spotlight, 2015), a reporter from Life magazine at the Kennedy’s compound in Hyannis Port, MA. Through the narrative framework of Ted and Jackie’s Q&A, the audience is taken back to her time at the White House through extended flashbacks as Jackie discusses her fondest memories. Director Pablo Larrain truly brings this tragic, intriguing and long overdue perspective to life with Portman at the forefront.
The first flashback captures Jackie’s famous TV special, in which she gave millions of American viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the White House and discussed her plans to renovate yet maintain its abundant history. While still in her early 30’s and seemingly nervous to be on camera, it’s clear that Jackie was keenly aware of the influential role she could play in defining her husband’s legacy in the White House. Jackie brings up happy memories of raising their young family at the White House and the social events as head of state, including an in-person concert of Camelot. Tragically, these idyllic memories are shattered by the events in Dallas just a few days prior. Read more…
Sarah Knight Adamson, Critics Choice Awards, Santa Monica, CA. Dec. 11, 2016
Top 20 (Award-Worthy) Films of 2016 Listed in order of favorites starting with #1
*Please note that I have not screened Martin Scoreses’s Silence this list may change.
1. Arrival—Science Fiction, based on the 1998 short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. Directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer. Amy Adams stars as a linguist who helps the U.S. government communicate with aliens who appear in Montana and 11 others sites around the world. Jeremy Renner stars as a scientist who gathers data concerning the aliens.
*Amy Adams’s strong performance is the best of her career; the sharp script is layered with surprise twists that examine deeper philosophical themes such as, the meaning of human existence, life choices, grief, courage, trust, and the possibility of knowing the future. Arrival is an intelligent film that provokes questions and insightful conversations.
2. Hacksaw Ridge— A true historical WW II story based on the life of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) a pacifist combat medic who was a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian and who also refused to carry a firearm. He was the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force. Mel Gibson directed, the screenplay was written by Andrew Knight, and Robert Schenkkan.
* The main issue here in a historical genre is the recreation of Doss’s life and the believability factor. Both were carried out to perfection. By far the most realistic depiction of a war battle fought by U.S. troops. With war realism, comes gore and violence; this is not for the squeamish. The editing is a clear stand-out as is the attention to set details. The acting is top-notch. During the credits, you’ll meet the real Desmond Doss as well as some of the men he saved while risking his life.
3. Lion— a drama based on the true story of a five-year-old boy (Saroo Brierley) who becomes separated from his older brother and unknowingly boards a train that travels 1, 100 miles away from his home. He has no choice other than to try and survive on the streets of Calcutta. He’s picked up by the local government which places him in an orphanage. Very quickly an Australian couple adopts him. Miraculously he is reunited with his family at the age of 26. The director and writer are Garth Davis. It’s based on the book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley. The film stars Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara.
* You can’t help but be moved by this incredible journey that places the human spirit at its core. Your heart goes out to five-year-old Saroo when he realizes he’s lost and no one will help him. The fear, panic and shear desperation are heartbreaking. The prize is near the end of the film when both mother and child are reunited. Sunny Pawar will steal your heart as Saroo, while Dev Patel gives a standout performance portraying him as an adult.
4. Jackie— Is the biographical story of Jacqueline Kennedy who was married to U. S. President John Kennedy at the time of his assassination in 1963. The script is based partly on Theodore H. White’s ‘Life’ magazine article in which Jacqueline Kennedy summoned White to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port to salvage her husband’s legacy. She asked White to write an article that draws a parallel between her husband and his administration to King Arthur and the mythical Camelot. Stars Nathalie Portman as Jackie, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, and Billy Crudup.
*Natalie Portman is transformed into Jackie Kennedy in this film. Her speech, mannerism, and her iconic persona are flawless, an Oscar worthy performance. The film portrays how one keeps a handle on grace during tragedy as well as how persons wish to be remembered in history. Good, solid film that deals with a small but important time frame in U.S. history.
5. La La Land— A romantic musical based on an original script by Damien Chazelle. The film also moonlights as a tribute to jazz, centering on the greats of the past. Stars Emma Stone as an aspiring actress and Ryan Gosling as a frustrated Jazz musician. Both shine in their roles that showcase their talents of singing and dancing. It’s a toe-taping, feel-good romp in LA (‘hence the reference to LA LA ‘) with the central theme of pursuing your dreams.
* Damien Chazelle’s script, musical score and stars are the reason to fall in love with this film. It’s an ambitious project that’s both creative while beautiful. It’s also somewhat of a box office risk given the current CGI action-based film craze at the moment, however, the superior quality of the film speaks for itself as well as the box office. Read more…