Moonlight – A Review

Image result for moonlightBarry Jenkins directs Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, and Naomi Harris in Moonlight, an autobiographical story based on a short play by Tarell Alvin McCarney. Moonlight has been garnering impressive Oscar buzz with a golden globes win already for Mahershala Ali as best supporting actor.

 

The story is told in three parts, based on the different stages in the life of Chiron, a young black boy growing up in the crime ridden neighbourhood of Miami. The juxtaposing of the hyper-masculine black subculture with that of a fatherless young boy coming to grips with his own sexuality offers a fertile ground for compelling story telling. This coming of age story certainly has a lot going for it, an absentee father, a drug-addict mother, a kind drug dealer, a physically weak youngster, school bullies. But the same tropes that would have made for an engaging narrative are used in the most clichéd of ways rendering the end result absolutely boring.

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The first chapter titled Little focuses on the little boy Chiron as he escapes his tormentors into an abandoned house and locks himself him, only to then be discovered by Juan played by Mahershala Ali. Ali is a phenomenal actor capable of conveying a lot without too many lines as evidenced in House of Cards. Here too he certainly has a presence but the child actor playing ‘Little’ Chiron is so awkward an underprepared that it becomes nearly impossible to take this movie seriously. There is one scene of particular note when Little asks Juan and Teresa played by the lovely Janelle Monáe “what does a F**got mean” the response by Juan and the tenderness with which the entire scene is crafted is perhaps the films finest moment. We are also introduced to Little’s best friend Kevin who is kind and caring with him.

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Chapter 2 is titled Chiron as the little boy becomes a teenager and begins being sexually awakened. Whether it is in class where he is unable to focus or it is in his sleep. We also see his relationship with his mother deteriorate as she falls deeper and deeper into her addiction. Juan is gone and Chiron only has Teresa to rush to when things get a little too desperate at home. We see Chiron and Kevin’s relationship evolve, this aspect is deftly handled without overt assertions but then again the scenes cut quickly and too abruptly for them to make any lasting impact.

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Chiron is all grown up and comfortable with his sexuality in the third chapter Black. He is physically imposing – no longer the lanky teenager, he has left his poverty ridden days behind. He gets a call out of nowhere from his childhood friend Kevin and it stirs uncomfortable memories of his childhood in him. This perhaps is the most annoying part of the movie for me. It seems to be trying too hard to establish a sexual tension between Kevin and Black where honestly none exists.

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Contrived neon-lit scenes, the overdone operatic music and a complete lack of empathy-inducing screenplay makes this almost unwatchable for me. Of the actors, Janelle Monáe is effective in the little time she spends on screen. Naomi Harris is a revelation as the drug addled mother. Mahershala Ali in my opinion does not deserve the supporting acting nomination not only because of the length of time he spends on screen but also because how ineffective that time spent is. Alex Hibbert as Little is under-prepared and unimpressive.

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I really wanted to be blown away by Moonlight, especially after reading the effusive reviews almost everywhere – but sadly I was bored stiff. Moonlight falls in the category of overrated Oscar baits for me.

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The Big Short – A Review

Adam McKay directs Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and a whole host of talent in the 2008 sub-prime crisis based The Big Short based on Michael Lewis’ book.  It is taking every ounce of strength in my body to not type the entire review in ALL CAPS.  Because honestly that is the reaction I had to this movie

Sure we all know the talking points of the 2008 sub-prime crisis and there have been a few very good documentaries made on the subject as well – take the Inside Job for instance. Brilliant, factual and effective. But pass the story through the evil comedic genius mind of Adam McKay and you get that Saturday Night Live flavor to The Inside Job. So you have Margot Robbie in bath-tub sipping champagne explaining what is sub-prime, Anthony Bordain explaining CDO by means of using the bad fish in a fish stew, and Selena Gomez playing blackjack explain what a Synthetic CDO is.  It might sound patronizing but it is not. It is the opposite – it is to counter balance just how stupid the whole system is by easily breaking it down to layman terms.

The whole story starts from the point of view of Dr. Michael Burry played by Christian Bale. Burry is a glass-eyed socially awkward genius fund manager who spots a pattern in the way the mortgages are being sold and uses his fund’s 1.3 billion dollars to bet against the Housing Markets. Jared Vennett a sleazy Wall Street stereotype played by Ryan Gosling who tries to go against the grain and pitches these non—existent instruments to potential fund managers.  Step in angry at the world Steve Carell who runs a fund under Morgan Stanley. Also while Vennett is trying to sell his Swaps and meeting potential funds, one in particular turns him away from lobby where he leaves his promotional material behind which fall into the hands of garage-band fund managers Charlie and Jamie who consult with ex-Wall-Streeter Ben Rickert who is so disillusioned with the whole system that he has taken to growing his own fruits and vegetables using his piss as the fertilizer.  So you see what a crazy story McKay has woven? And know what’s crazier? Most of it is true (well except the part about Charlie and Jamie just finding a discarded promotion brochure).  Acting wise Carell and Bale are exceptional, Bale makes you uncomfortable to look at him and Carell is not the funny man he is known to be in Apatow movies. But it is easy to like them and to see how brilliant their performances are. But Ryan Gosling is perfection. His Jared Vennett is so sleazy, so wall-streety so perfectly greedy that at one point as he caresses his 47 million dollar bonus cheque he says into the camera “I never said I was the good guy”. The story could not have a better narrator than him.

The movie is interspersed with music you wouldn’t associate with what has turned out to be a serious Oscar contender. It has Gnarles Barkley’s Crazy, Kelis’ Milkshake, Metallica’s Master of Puppet, and Guns N Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine amongst many other iconic tracks. They are woven so seamlessly into the narrative that it all just works.

There are so many high points in this movie but the final one which comes when Steve Carell’s Mark Baum goes BOOM while debating Bruce Miller and the auditorium just evacuates as the figurative bomb drops on the Bear Stearns stock prices that Miller is recommending to buy. It feels cathartic.

 

This is an absurdist comedy, a dark twisted take on what was arguably one of biggest events in financial history, possibly comparable to the great depression of the 1920s but what is even more absurd is that after the great depression America went back to the basics. It didn’t cut government spending, got reforms in place and focused on job creation and built the infrastructure that lifted them out of the great depression. But here after the 2008 no arrests were made, no regulations and instead government handed over billions more of tax payers’ money to “ailing banks and institutions” which had basically self-inflicted these wounds upon themselves and didn’t even use the bailout for the intended purposes but instead gave their Managers a Golden Parachute in which to jump of a burning building while there are still countless’ other trapped inside. The movie ends on an ominous note of how in 2015 banks have started reissuing “Bespoke Tranche Opportunity” which as Baum put it sounds a lot like Dog Shit dressed as Cat Shit.

EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU KNOW EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT THE FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 2008 AND THE ENSUING AFTERMATH, EVEN IF YOU THINK ALL THESE MOVIES ARE DOOMSDAY PROPHECIES THAT NEVER EVER COME TRUE AND ARE BASICALLY BUZZKILLS YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE FOR IT IS A BRILLIANT PIECE OF CINEMA.

Now that I have gotten that out of my system, see this movie because Christian Bale is Brilliant.  He can do no wrong. He is one of the finest actors we have today. Steve Carell makes his transition from funny man to a serious actor with this movie; a move I was hoping would be achieved by the underwhelming Foxcatcher of last year.  Ryan Gosling as Oily and slimy as he appears to be he is a force of nature here.  Michael Lewis no holds barred book, Charles Randolph’s explosive screenplay and Adam McKay’s brilliant direction give the amazing actors a fertile ground to riff off of one another in what would be akin to a modern day Glengarry Glen Ross. BOOM!