REVIEW: Beasts of No Nation

23 10 2015

Beasts of No NationAlmost as if anticipating that the majority of people who saw his film would be through Netflix, Cary Joji Fukunaga opens “Beasts of No Nation” with a shot of some young African boys playing soccer literally through the outer shell of a television set.  The film was shot with the likely intention of a sizable theatrical release, so I made the decision to pay more than a monthly Netflix subscription fee to see it screened in this way.

As with the majority of critics who saw it projected (most at one of the three fall festivals at which it played in September 2015), I was wowed by the stunning visuals as well as the immersive aural experience.  I simply cannot imagine this work packing the same punch when the vast foliage of a jungle is reduced to mere pixels even with good bandwidth, nor do I think the layers of complex sound would even be discernible by fraying earbuds.  But, hey, tons more people could see it?!

Though as I sat there, particularly in the film’s more conventional third act, I wondered how many times I might have paused the movie or looked down at my cell phone if watching “Beasts of No Nation” at home. Fukunaga does not shy away from the horrors of civil war, including the separation of families, the slaughter of the innocent, and the conversion of young children into killing machines. He never goes overboard with gore or violence, yet the impact always gets felt like a dagger in the chest.

It takes a very particular mindset to watch this film, not to mention an iron will to stick through its unsparing depiction of atrocity. (Seriously, it’s enough to make anyone remotely squeamish run back to finish the first season of “Grace and Frankie.”) Fukunaga also does not provide much of a strong narrative arc to keep a light at the end of “Beasts of No Nation” faintly visible throughout. He offers little comfort to its viewers as they follow Abraham Atta’s young Agu in his reluctant transition from child to killer under the aegis of Idris Elba’s warlord known only as Commandant.

The film plays like reading Agu’s biography – albeit one told with a bit of a tacked-on inspirational bent – rather than watching a story about him. Yet even at this pace, Fukunaga still finds a great rhythm for his audience, jolting them out of complacency as soon as they settle into a lull. Who knows how well that tactic is employed, however, on viewers who make liberal use of their television remote.  B2halfstars





Random Factoid #567

27 05 2011

Back in Random Factoid #332, I wrote for the first time about using Netflix.  It’s funny to read in retrospect because over the last year, it has become such an integral part of my moviewatching habits.  Check this out:

“My dad recently got an iPad for his birthday, and he managed to get a free trial of Netflix through the iPad app.  He told me about the offer, so I started fidgeting around and discovered a whole heaping lot of movies available to stream straight to the iPad.  So I watched ‘Memento’ for the first time, and I loved it.  Not just the movie, but the fact that I was streaming it!

Then I started scrolling through the other movies available to stream – and it had me at ‘The Pianist.’  I haven’t had time to watch it, but I certainly hope the free trial doesn’t expire any time soon!  I’m dying to watch that and “Letters from Iwo Jima,” one of the two Best Picture nominees from the last decade I still haven’t seen.

And then, while still experimenting with the technology, I wound up ordering the discs of ‘Road to Perdition’ and ‘Hustle and Flow.’  Now, they are sitting on my desk.  What my dad wants to do with them is up to him – the trial expires in a few days.  Soon enough, they’ll start charging.”

Oh, the days when streaming was new and novel!  It’s still exciting now, and I still have over 60 movies on my queue – most of which I intend to watch … eventually.  Meanwhile, that other services Netflix offers, DVDs by mail … um, yeah.  I’ve used it some.

Ok, that’s a lie.  Today I finally made myself return “Traffic” and “Mulholland Dr.” because I didn’t have the motivation to watch them because they didn’t have to be returned to the library in 14 days or watched in the next 30 days on iTunes.  So guess how long those two movies sat on my desk in their crinkled paper sleeves?

Six months.  For a half a year, those two movies sat there unwatched.  So clearly, I should stop using the DVD by mail portion of the family’s Netflix subscription unless I really want to see what I’m getting.  We also made the decision to cut down on our monthly bill by moving from two to one DVDs out at a time.





Random Factoid #550

29 01 2011

I’m freakishly addicted to Netflix now thanks to their incredible selection of movies available through instant streaming.  Thanks to some very nice technology, I can watch them while I work out on a TV in front of my exercise machine.  Needless to say, their iPhone app has been a godsend.

And to think I was so against it this time last year…

Anyways, back at the beginning of this month, it was reported through many blogs (such as Cinematical) that Netflix was going to have a button added to new remote controls for Blu-Ray players and such.  All I have to say is BRING IT ON!!!  As much as a stake that Netflix has in the business, I don’t mind its ominpresence.

Economists, however, might have something to say about its monopolistic tendencies.  But that’s something for them to sort out.





Random Factoid #492

2 12 2010

“I really wish I was awesome” is a pretty lame excuse for a factoid, yet it’s a good reason to show you some really good stuff I’ve been finding online recently.  (I used the same excuse 100 days ago in Random Factoid #392.)  But nonetheless, it’s entertaining, and I’m in a particularly large time crunch at the moment.

Courtesy of /Film: “Many people sincerely hate the new layout for the Internet Movie Database. We understand. It certainly takes some getting used to. One perfect addition, however, is on their page for ‘This is Spinal Tap. Referencing the famous quote from the film, the possible rating doesn’t only go up to 10 like every other film. It goes to 11. Which is one louder. Very cool stuff, IMDb.”

Courtesy of Cinematical: “Call it ‘Your Cheatin’ Queue.’ The disgruntled boyfriend posted a screen shot from his girlfriend’s Netflix account with the caption “My girlfriend cheated on me, so I rated movies in her netflix account until I reached the desired result.” As a result, Netflix now tells this woman that they think she’ll love watching ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ ‘Unfaithful,’ ‘Indecent Proposal,’ ‘Whore’ and ‘Slutty Summer.'”

So there you have it, two totally different uses of the internet for awesomeness: one for good, one for morally shaky revenge.  So while I think I’m creative typing with a purpose over my keyboard blogging, there are people making things go to 11 and give a cheating girlfriend what she deserves with the same tools.  Sometimes the Internet can make us feel so small and so big at the same time.





Random Factoid #476

16 11 2010

Well, there goes Redbox as being a great deal for consumers.

Studios have been running one step behind in terms of catching up with consumer’s taste in moviewatching.  By the time they get there to jack up the prices, the boat has sailed away to the next big thing.  Looks like Redbox is just another has-been now.

According to Company Town, Fox will begin charging a premium on DVD releases through Redbox beginning with the release of “Knight & Day” in December (darn you, Tom Cruise).  This is supposedly the alternative to delaying their release by 4 weeks, the past strategy to maximize profits on DVD sales.

Here’s my theory on what will happen: people might not notice at first, since it’s just a few movies.  Then, every studio will start doing it for their new movies, and people will turn away.  Eventually, they will charge a premium on every movie with an actor you’ve heard of, leaving the $1 rentals for cheap knock-offs alone.  Some will argue that iTunes has remained successful in spite of their price increase, but let me remind you that Apple has a virtual monopoly over the e-music industry.  There are alternatives to Redbox.

The big question is: what will rise in the post-Redbox era?  Will this just ensure Netflix’s continued success?





Random Factoid #465

5 11 2010

“We don’t have an obligation to give consumers what they want when they want it.”

That’s a real quote from a studio executive, and if this profit-hungry motivation doesn’t have you up in flames, I don’t know what will.

I understand that the movie industry is losing money across the board (so much for the cries of recession-proof, eh?), but taking advantage of your consumers is NOT the way to make up the deficit.  According to /Film, this is the state of the industry:

“Despite a few prominent successes at the box office this year, the industry is in a state of financial turmoil, with DVD sales cratering, Blu-Ray sales not compensating, and the rise of rental companies like Netflix and Redbox, offering consumers a way to see a movie for cheap.”

I think Netflix and Redbox are great (I have become avid users of both this year), and with the latter announcing plans to go digital, the future is not in discs anymore.  It’s on the Internet.

Universal, Fox, and Warner Bros. have all been skeptics of the new frontier, waiting four weeks to release their movies digitally out of fear that it will affect DVD sales.  They are only about to get worse, according to /Film.  A Warner Bros. executive said, “To be honest, I think [the window] a little short today versus what we probably need … that will get revisited as those deals expire.”  And to make matters worse, they plan on limiting the movies released to Netflix instant streaming, which is quickly becoming their most used feature.

I buy few DVDs anymore, and thanks to iTunes and Netflix offering HD rentals and streaming, I don’t feel the need to buy a Blu-Ray player.  We are entering the digital age of movies, and it’s time that the studios embrace it.  I have embraced it, so should they.  There will always be a place for these discs, although first it will be in the dust and soon after in a museum next to the VHS tapes and LaserDiscs.

(For all those desiring a more business-savvy approach to this topic, check out the great piece that The Los Angeles Times ran a few weeks ago.)





Random Factoid #332

25 06 2010

I kinda sorta caved into Netflix.  Only kinda.  Back in Random Factoid #260, I said that I hadn’t used Netflix because I don’t have any sort of consistency in my moviewatching rhythm.

My dad recently got an iPad for his birthday, and he managed to get a free trial of Netflix through the iPad app.  He told me about the offer, so I started fidgeting around and discovered a whole heaping lot of movies available to stream straight to the iPad.  So I watched “Memento” for the first time, and I loved it.  Not just the movie, but the fact that I was streaming it!

Then I started scrolling through the other movies available to stream – and it had me at “The Pianist.”  I haven’t had time to watch it, but I certainly hope the free trial doesn’t expire any time soon!  I’m dying to watch that and “Letters from Iwo Jima,” one of the two Best Picture nominees from the last decade I still haven’t seen.

And then, while still experimenting with the technology, I wound up ordering the discs of “Road to Perdition” and “Hustle and Flow.”  Now, they are sitting on my desk.  What my dad wants to do with them is up to him – the trial expires in a few days.  Soon enough, they’ll start charging.





Random Factoid #260

14 04 2010

So many friends and fellow bloggers always talk about Netflix.  “I’ll add this to my Netflix queue,” someone will say.  “Forget theaters, I’m waiting for it to come out on Netflix,” others have said.

For some, Netflix has become synonymous with home video and renting.

I don’t have Netflix, and I really don’t know why.  I get e-mails all the time offering me free monthly subscriptions, but I have only taken one of them.  I didn’t end up using it during the free month.  I’m usually just so sporadic with renting movies that Netflix doesn’t provide wiggle-room for my spontaneity.





F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 21, 2009)

21 08 2009

The new feature that I hyped up (OK, I briefly mentioned in a post that no one read) is here!  The F.I.L.M. of the week will be unveiled every Friday; F.I.L.M. is an acronym for “First-Class Independent, Little-Known Movie.”  But the movies will not be limited to independent films, although I would like to highlight them.  The word just works better in forming a strategic acronym.

The whole point of this weekly feature is to suggest a movie that you might not have seen, considered, or even heard about (barring you are a major film buff like myself).  So if you are browsing Netflix or walking around Blockbuster, rather than picking up “17 Again” or, God forbid, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” you will be armed with the knowledge of at least one movie that is a safe bet for excellent entertainment.

It is my distinct pleasure to award the distinction of the first “F.I.L.M. of the Week” to the exquisite “Little Children.”  The movie is just on the outside of my top 10, although given more viewings, it just might move into the elite ranks.   It is one of very few movies that I can say are practically flawless.  Every performance is great.  Every character is well-developed.  Every minute of it is absolutely spellbinding. Unfortunately, audiences didn’t pick up on its brilliance; it grossed about $5 million at the box office, most of which was from Oscar season. The movie was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress (Kate Winslet), Best Supporting Actor (Jackie Earle Haley), and Best Adapted Screenplay. The Golden Globes nominated it for Best Picture.

The movie is based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, but he decided to take the movie in a distinctly different direction than the book rather than just make a carbon copy.  The screenplay is about as good as it gets.  It complexly weaves together the tales of Sarah (Kate Winslet), the resistant mother stuck among droves of Stepford wives, Brad (Patrick Wilson), the stay-at-home-dad emasculated by his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and her success, Larry (Noah Emmerich), a disgraced police officer out for vengeance, and Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley), a pedophile who moves in with his loving mother.  They all impact each other in ways they cannot even fathom, and the film’s overlying messages become clear through their encounters.

Everyone is magnificent in the movie, but I do have to single out a few names.  Director Todd Field gives the film narrative poise unlike any movie of the decade, and his presence and guiding hand is clearly felt throughout the movie.  He skillfully handles the very tough material that the movie tackles, treating it with the respect and dignity that they deserve.  Despite its heavy themes, Field also allows it to function as a very dark comedy as well.  This should have been Kate Winslet’s Oscar-winning performance.  It is nuanced, emotional, and absolutely gripping.  She immediately draws you in and never lets go.  Jackie Earle Haley does the unthinkable by turning a feared sexual predator into someone we can ultimately feel compassion for and empathize.  He moves you almost to the verge of tears, especially in scenes with his gentle and loving mother (Phyllis Sommerville).  Here, we see him as emotionally raw and not a pedophile, but as an insecure human being just like the rest of us.

But it’s time for me to stop writing and let the movie speak for itself.  I will say that the movie might be disturbing for some easily squeamish, mainly because of its brutally honest and often graphic portrayal of things that exist in our society.  Nevertheless, for a movie that will keep you thinking for days, drop everything and watch “Little Children.”  If you do see it, write your thoughts in a comment, or if you have seen it, still express yourself in a comment.

Until the next reel,
Marshall

P.S. – Watch the trailer.  It’s one of the rare ones that doesn’t give away anything about the plot. And it also sets you up for the ride that “Little Children” offers.