REVIEW: Moonlight

13 02 2017

“Who is you, Chiron?” Characters pose this question – or, perhaps, exhortation – to the protagonist of “Moonlight” as he ages. It’s not exactly so much an inquiry in search of answer as it is an expression of confusion at the bundle of contradictions and inconsistencies before them.

Writer/director Barry Jenkins makes these divisions of the self apparent by showing Chiron at three unique stages of his development, portrayed by a different actor at each phase. All bear a different name as well. Alex Hibbert’s Little is the youngest, a boy who makes his earliest attempts to make sense of his emotions and environment in drug-riddled Miami. Ashton Sanders’ Chiron navigates the tricky straits of adolescence as a sensitive, withdrawn teenager with no real recourse or comfort. Trevante Rhodes’ Black swaggers about with the toughness of a man, but that confidence wilts away when standing in front of key figures from his past.

These are three personas, but how does one reconcile them into one consistent identity? Chiron’s crack-addicted mother, Naomie Harris’ Paula, certainly can’t. The closest thing he has to a friend, Kevin, only manages the occasional peep beyond the posturing and performance. And given the way that Jenkins structures the film, we as the audience are not meant to click these into place like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Making sense of a person is not this easy. There are gaps we cannot fill, thoughts we cannot know.

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REVIEW: Our Kind of Traitor

27 06 2016

Pop culture seems to be reaching a point of saturation with espionage tales, no doubt due in large part to Daniel Craig making James Bond cool again and Tom Cruise finding some new life in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise. It has also led to a revival of appreciation for British spy novelist John le Carré, whose career began in the Cold War and has stretched into the post-9/11 world.

Our Kind of Traitor,” the latest adaptation of the author’s work, comes at the tail end of a big spate from le Carré. 2011 brought the feature-length version of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy;” 2014 saw the release of “A Most Wanted Man;” earlier in 2016, his novel “The Night Manager” got the prestige mini-series treatment. Given what else has recently been dredged from his oeuvre, it’s hard not to see this new film as second-shelf le Carré.

For a writer whose strength lies in the grounded nature of his stories, the turn of events in “Our Kind of Traitor” is remarkably improbable. Large, bizarre narrative leaps work fine in a larger-than-life series like James Bond. This level of suspension of disbelief and stretches of plausibility feel odd and out of place in this realistic world.

The film’s protagonist, Ewan McGregor’s Perry Makepeace, just happens to be in the wrong place at the right time when he meets Stellan Skarsgard’s Dima, a Russian money launderer looking to go straight, in Marrakesh. Dima wants to get out of the criminal underworld and takes a gamble on the first Englishman he can find. And of course, the dominos just so happen to fall in a way that involves MI6 and produces a number of intriguing plot points. Susanna White’s film is an intelligence movie with fairly little intelligent craftsmanship, neither reflecting on the state of modern back-room diplomacy nor providing a particularly fun cinematic outing. C+2stars





REVIEW: Spectre

15 11 2015

Sam Mendes made a great Bond film with writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade in “Skyfall” because they embraced a tricky opposition between the past and the future.  Could the unabashedly old-fashioned spy James Bond survive in a more gritty, grey world without sacrificing his core identity? They found that the answer was yes by striking a balance between these two forces vying for the soul of 007.

The band gets back together for “Spectre” (plus an additional writer in Jez Butterworth, architect of many a frustrating script in the past two years) and finds themselves preoccupied by the same kind of debate. This time, instead of the fear of age leading to obsolescence, the anxiety stems from post-Snowden malaise.

When a government has the ability to do its dirty work with drones and collect information on all its citizens through their devices, who needs human intelligence likes James Bond? This question is being seriously debated outside the world of the movie, and kudos to “Spectre” for not ignoring the elephant in the room. But the way Mendes and the writers choose to resolve the tension feels rather disappointing.

They use this threat as an excuse to retreat to some of the most outdated aspects of the character. Womanizing abounds as Bond pity romances a grieving widow to extract a key plot point. And Bond’s reward for neutralizing a key opponent? The “Bond girl,” Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, immediately feels the need to let him take her to bed. Simply put, there is a way to let James Bond be the ultimate man that does not require denying women agency. “Spectre” does not care to find that way as “Casino Royale” did, justifying lazy misogyny because of a rather facile challenge to Bond’s relevancy.

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