CERTAIN WOMEN

“…this is unashamedly thoughtful, contemplative cinema done well…”

Wayward Wolf Film Review.

As un-rushed and devoid of intensity as the cold and wind-swept location in which it’s set, Kelly Reichardt’s tale of small town life and aspirations, from the perspective of four women, is a slow-paced affair to put it mildly.

In a rather bleak, wintry Wyoming setting, three vaguely intersecting small town stories are explored in Certain Women, each examining the lives of independent women, empowered to search for and achieve their life goals, yet each experiencing variable levels of frustration in attempting to do so, be that on a personal or professional level.

Laura (Laura Dern) is a lawyer, attempting (in the nicest possible way), to shake off a client who stubbornly refuses to accept that he no longer has a legal leg to stand on in his long drawn-out attempts to claim sufficient compensation for a work-related injury. Whilst seemingly harmless enough, he will prove to be sufficiently perturbed to try just about anything in order to gain ‘justice.’

Gina (Michelle Williams) on the other hand is, together with husband Ryan (James LeGros), embarking upon a project to build ‘their’ dream home in a pretty, secluded country setting. Gina appears to be the one leading the way with this project, determining both the look and authenticity of the prospective build. Ryan is noticeably taking a back seat in this project. There appears to be no love lost between the couple. Whilst it’s hard to fathom exactly what it is that Gina wants, it seems as though Ryan would just like her to lighten up a little. Certainly if there ever was any, genuine affection has long since lost its way in their relationship.

The third story is of a stable hand (portrayed sweetly by Lily Gladstone), going through the predictable daily motions of her work. She is somewhat isolated, working outdoors away from most of humanity, with just the horses and an enthusiastically scampering pet dog for company. Perhaps out of desperation she enrols in an evening class (workplace law or something of that nature), in a nearby town. She has no interest in the subject matter, and the tutor of this class – a trainee lawyer by the name of Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart) – has very little interest in, or knowledge of the subject matter either, teaching the course largely off-the-cuff and under duress, quietly peeved at her employer for putting her through the excessively long commute that’s involved in getting there and back each week.

Over the passing weeks, our rancher grows increasingly fond of this rather indifferent educator, whose once weekly appearance pretty much forms the highlight of her ‘stable’ existence (pun intended). But there’s a certain inevitability about her ultimately unrequited affection in this instance.

Much in the same way that the 2016 film, Paterson, achieved its impact through only very slight variations in what were essentially highly repetitive, relatively inconsequential daily routines and occurrences, Certain Women follows along similar lines. Whilst it is effectively a piece devoid of any true resolution, it nonetheless paints a thought-provoking portrait of mutually shared frustrations.

The film’s rather uninviting wintry backdrop possess a raw and remote beauty and somehow perfectly encapsulates the sort of struggle and disenchantment displayed by each of the film’s key protagonists, all of whom portray their parts with subtle expertise. All things considered, it’s probably as close to a perfectly cast film as you could possibly hope for within such settings.

Certain Women slowly probes under the skin of each of its leads to reveal four empowered ladies, yet each of them, to varying degrees, seem to lack the courage of their own convictions; unable, when it really counts, to seize the bull by the horns and get what it is that they truly want; seemingly lacking a little self-belief, remaining somewhat reliant upon others for support and the legitimisation of their intentions.

It won’t appeal to all and I’d hazard a guess that Certain Women will in fact alienate a fair few. It’s admittedly slow, in no hurry to get to the punchline. In fact, there really isn’t one. But this is unashamedly thoughtful, contemplative cinema done well, and all the more power to it.

 

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LIFE

“…Life is perhaps something of a homage to some of the truly great futuristic films of yesteryear.”

Wayward Wolf Film Review.

Watching this science-fiction horror got me thinking of the irony that amidst the infinite vastness of outer space, the actual ‘stage’ upon which the vast majority of apparently ‘realistic’ science fiction films are played out, is somewhat claustrophobically small and rather limited; a case in point being Daniel Espinosa’s, Life.

In order that the crew of an exploratory space mission might not suffocate to death, the action must either be contained within the sanctuary and metaphorical ‘four walls’ of their relatively minuscule space station, or should they venture out of these confines into outer space, they must again be contained, this time within life-preserving space suits, anchored firmly to the space station.

Containment is indeed the name of the game and thus the ability for Directors to demonstrate true originality considering the self-imposed man-made limitations of the known science-fiction world, can quite often be severely hampered. This results in scenarios and backdrops becoming all too frequently a little overly-familiar and maybe even reassuring to our eyes, no matter how many supposedly differing tales of missions blasting-off into the great unknown we are subjected to.

On the one hand, Life is a film that most definitely suffers an originality bypass, more than most, its subject matter revolving around content that’s quite clearly been begged, borrowed and stolen from any number of prior science fiction sources.

But on the other hand, it’s equally possible to accept the point of view that Life is perhaps something of a homage to some of the truly great futuristic films of yesteryear.

Alien, Aliens, The Thing, Gravity, Interstellar, they’re all, without question, key influences here in the Director’s thinking.

But is this necessarily a bad thing?

These films were all lauded for their particular plus points, be that the more gritty, industrial and organic feel – the actual rattling nuts and bolts of space travel – that was conjured up in Interstellar, the stunning cinematography and awe-inspiring heart and soul of Gravity, the use of visual tracking technology to create absolutely white-knuckle-esque suspense, in Aliens, or the sheer fear factor brought about through a combination of the unknown and ultimately the horror of knowing, in both Alien and The Thing.

To name but a few. The list could very easily go on.

In the case of Life, each of these elements are employed strategically and expertly – it has to be said – creating a thoroughly convincing yet very straight forward tale of the inevitable perils of poking about too much in space.

The crew of an international space station are part of a mission to intercept some sort of probe that has been collecting ‘samples’ from the surface of Mars. The crew are to then analyse these for any potential signs of life.

Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), is the scientist in charge of analysing and nurturing the single-celled life form that they successfully unearth from Mars’ dust samples.

Its rapid growth and unconventional, unpredictable demeanour soon becomes not only the subject of much fascination, but also of considerable concern for the crew. They are mindful that as ground-breaking as their discovery undoubtedly is, there are bucket loads of unknowns attached to this particular venture, and the mutually agreed upon, over-riding protocol is that no matter how unique and precious this organism’s growth and development may be, if things get out of hand, it cannot be allowed to affect life on planet earth.

Needless to say, when playing with fire, people get burnt. And so it proves to be.

So long as you can sufficiently disassociate this film from all of its more obvious influences and treat it as the nail-bitingly tense thriller that it certainly is, Life will, without question, be a most enjoyable 100 minutes of your time.

The cast is excellent and the characterisation, I am pleased to announce, is surprisingly downplayed when compared with the more exaggerated characterisation of some of the film’s science fiction forerunnersFrom the brash swagger of Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), the sultry authority of team leader, Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), to the quietly spoken David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) – whose influence on matters steadily grows as the team’s collective crisis deepens and they flap about with increasing desperation in their attempts to bring a halt to the inextirpable extraterrestrial’s progress.

As for ‘Calvin’ the alien being; he / she / it is deceivingly angelic in appearance. A sort of translucent orchid-like jellyfish creature. Convincing both as some sort of mythical spiritual being and as the relentless predator that it turns out to be.

Perhaps not so convincing however is Jon Ekstrand’s full and rather overblown soundtrack which is effective only sporadically, yet over-bearing and seemingly omni-present. The film at times struggles to breathe under the sheer weight of this excessive sonic onslaught.

Nonetheless, this is but a minor gripe, and is insufficient to detract from the positive impression and sentiment that the film successfully conveys, overall.

Thoroughly engaging to the point where I failed to second guess a fairly predictable yet highly effective twist near the film’s conclusion, Life is a delectable piece of fantasy that tips – in the most brazen of fashion – the visor of its space suit’s helmet in the general direction of the very best of classic cinematic science fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FAI BEI SOGNI (SWEET DREAMS)

“…frequent interjections of black and white footage…in the same manner that was employed in cult 90’s TV sitcom, Dream On…”

Wayward Wolf Film Review.

 

Il Postino, Cinema Paradiso, La Vita è Bella, La Grande Bellezza – Italian cinema is littered with gems such as these. Sentimental, often bordering on the saccharine, but forever compelling, emotionally-charged and beautifully realised films, one and all.

Sweet Dreams is a film whose component parts would appear to place it, at least content and intentions-wise, into the same sort of bracket. The bar is raised so high however that it is therefore perhaps unfair to compare the merits (or perhaps lack of), of Sweet Dreams with the aforementioned films. Try as it might, Marco Bellocchio’s tale of a man’s attempts in adulthood, to come to terms with the traumatic loss of his mother, during childhood, falls some way short of such revered company.

As a young boy, Massimo is firmly attached to his mothers’ apron strings, hanging on to her every word and action. His father, on the other hand, seems a far more peripheral figure in this life.

Little does the young boy realise though, that his mother, (played by Barbara Ronchi), is just as dependant upon her young son, as he is on her. Young Massimo provides her with the perfect distraction from the pain and complications of a hitherto unexplained illness or condition that she struggles with.

It is a condition that ultimately gets the better of her and she takes her own life. The morbid details of her suicide are never revealed to Massimo, and the now motherless child will grow up made to believe that it was in fact her weak heart that gave way; something that never quite sits right with the inquisitive youngster. With his mother now gone, and with a hired nanny and distant father figure barely a substitute, Massimo vows to confide all of his future fears, thoughts and feelings exclusively in a cult television character, Belfagor – a sort of soul-selling exercise; that is, until many years later, a compassionate Doctor, Elisa (Bérénice Bejo) enters the, by now renowned successful journalist’s life, and helps him to confront the trauma of his past.

There are frequent interjections of black and white footage of Massimo’s trusted Televisual confidant – much in the same manner that was employed in cult 90’s TV sitcom, Dream On – which is a nice, if unoriginal touch, and there are strong performances from all, including Guido Caprino as Massimo’s rather stern, emotionally unavailable father. But whether it’s the intentionally withdrawn, rather mono-syllabic performance of the film’s soul-searching lead (Valerio Mastandrea), whose life has become typically cyclic, time and again tripped up by his own unaddressed inadequacies, or a narrative that seems strangely incomplete, Sweet Dreams just doesn’t seem to hold together convincingly enough as a whole. It feels like an oddly disjointed film. Whilst we are reminded frequently of the traumatic events of Massimo’s past, there seems to be something of a chasm between that and the professional existence of his forty-something year old present. Bérénice Bejo’s role as the emotional conduit through which he can finally make the necessary connections and come to terms with the unresolved quandaries of his childhood, comes across, frustratingly, as somewhat undeveloped, which is by no means a slant on Bejo, herself.

It’s a nice story and not without its positives, and I’m assured that Massimo Gramellini’s book of the same name – upon which the film is based – is a most thought-provoking, acutely observational work, but there’s just something of a nagging sense that its film equivalent is sadly more than a tad undercooked.

THE LOST CITY OF Z

“A very British approach you might say, in keeping with the film’s historical time period and setting…”

Wayward Wolf Film Review.

 

Any thoughts that we may have stumbled upon a particularly extravagant episode of BBC’s Springwatch are quickly vanquished when our Chris Packham-alike hero gallops purposefully on horseback into the edge of a woodland and blasts a majestic stag through the heart – dead.

An admittedly unlikley scenario given Packham’s status as a naturalist and all-round friend of the feral and the furry. The visual similarity is uncanny though – or is it just me?

Back in movie land, James Gray’s sweeping biopic – based upon the story of intrepid explorer, Colonel Percival Fawcett (a most rewarding performance from Charlie Hunnam) – focuses on one man’s almost blinkered determination to become a highly decorated and revered member of the British military. Whilst he has always carried his role out with great distinction, Fawcett’s professional placements to date, time and again, have failed to place him in any actual combat scenarios, much to his chargrin.

This trend seems set to continue when he is asked to head up a largely topographical map-making mission into the largely unchartered, rubber-rich jungles of South America. At first reluctant, the assurance that medals and great honour will be bestowed upon him is more than enough to pique the Colonel’s interest and it’s not long therefore before he and his expedition party are aboard a raft, swatting mosquitos, as they float down an Amazonian tributary.

The Lost City of Z is a terrific yarn. Encompassing a time immediately before, during and after the Great War, it is a story of one man’s intrepid exploration into the unknown that fast became an all-consuming, life-long obsession to unearth a lost city, culture and treasures that he becomes convinced is all buried deep within the Amazon jungle.

It is, however, a film that is equally concerned with laying bare the at times glaring differences between the male and female psyche, particularly appreciable at a time in history in which gender roles were far more disparate and rigidly defined.

Fawcett’s wife, Nina (an impressive turn from Sienna Miller), is his rock of dependability, very literally left carrying the baby in her husband’s unavoidably extended absences from the family home. Her hugely tested patience and understanding is not always mirrored by that of their children who are not so willing to accept growing up, effectively fatherless.

This leads to great tensions within the family unit, but it can never be reason enough to restrain our plucky pioneer from his raison d’être.

The Lost City of Z is a very well-realised film. A very balanced piece that has every opportunity to do so, yet resists the temptation to be overly gratuitous, sentimental or euphoric. A very British approach you might say, in keeping with the film’s historical time period and setting. As with all successfully intriguing adventures, it carries its audience along on an engaging journey of discovery which is as much about what is allowed to occur in our own imaginations as it is about what ultimately plays out on the big screen.

Every bit an old-fashioned, ‘boys’ own adventure,’ it exposes the prehistoric stance adopted by the colonial-ruling classes – those that would refer to any peoples or tribes that it fails or refuses to understand as savages, and whose primary course of action is to shoot first and ask questions later. That or enslavement. It’s a mindset that Fawcett appears to have been eager to distance himself from. A man that chooses not to conquer, but instead to learn about that which he doesn’t know or understand, despite the occasional spray of arrows that may rain down upon him and his men – just one of a whole multitude of adverse scenarios that will test Fawcett and those courageous enough to travel with him.

James Gray’s sympathetic writing and expert handling, together with beautiful cinematography (filmed in Columbia by all accounts), and first class performances across the board, has created a highly enjoyable, multi-layered adventure tale of some weight and note, doing justice in the process to the memory of one of Britain’s foremost explorers and cartographers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KONG – SKULL ISLAND

“John C. Reilly… Half Biggles, half Monty Python’s guardian of the juniper berry bushes…”

Wayward Wolf Film Review.

 

What exactly are the key components of a big money-making, blockbuster film?

Stick to a well-worn, tried and tested formula? Tick. Make it larger than life with every emphasis on special effects over a cleverly-crafted narrative? Tick. Explosions, explosions, and shed-loads of them?! Tick. The list goes on and it reads like an accountant’s check-list – to borrow a Mark Kermode-ism, if I may.

Talking of big money blockbusters… Pounding his barrel chest in the furriest of fury, everyone’s favourite, easily-irked ape returns to the big screen once again, administering a plethora of simian beat-downs to those unfortunate or unwise enough to incur his wrath.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts has hold of the directorial reins for this latest slice of over-sized monkey mayhem, positioning Kong as the king of all he surveys on some hugely hazardous undiscovered island tucked away in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the southern hemisphere.

To all intents and purposes, Kong: Skull Island is ludicrous from start to finish, yet admittedly great fun for those that have no problem depositing their grey matter at the door, in advance.

Political agendas, lesser-known conspiracy theories, and very obvious Hollywood licence have all been taken and fused together with the same sort of care and attention that one might expect from the YTS kid on day one, creating a mad mish-mash identity crisis of a film which struggles to come across as anything like a coherent whole.

No matter, if it’s hugely impressive special effects that you crave, together with explosions, monster fights and a fair share of giant entities that will make your skin crawl, you’ve come to the right place.

Set in the immediate post-Vietnam war era, scientists Bill Randa (John Goodman), and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), have for many years been labelled ‘whack-jobs’ for their obdurate stance pertaining to an insistence that there are as yet undiscovered giant beings walking this earth, on as yet unchartered lands. Somehow the pair manage to convince the powers that be to provide them with a post-communist-bashing military chaperone for their investigative party, to aid them in their attempts to justify their apparently outlandish claims.

Team assembled and prepped to go, they set off on the craziest of kamikaze escapades. But regardless of the scale of the danger that’s set to confront Randa and Brooks’ expedition, as ever, it is man who will prove to be his own worst enemy.

This is no Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park or Apocalypse Now, though it clearly draws a hint of inspiration from each. What it is however, is a fun romp that positively hurls everything into the mixer, absolutely insists that we suspend our disbelief for a couple of hours, and hopes above all hope that some of this fairly poorly thought out carnage actually sticks – which in fairness, it does… to an extent.

Whether he’s swatting helicopters from the sky or wrestling the lizard creatures that inhabit the dark recesses of hollow, inner earth – there’s that conspiracy theory – Kong, the last of his line, is a totally preposterous yet impressively realised creature here, inexplicably roaming and policing the rugged terrain of his ancestral kingdom.

Samuel L. Jackson is well cast as the career military man only too glad to accept Randa’s assignment, kicking his heels as he is, now that the Vietnam war is over. John Goodman as ever gets a bit part role which only succeeds in underselling his considerable acting ability. Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston are both decent enough as the fresh-faced war photographer / journalist and expedition leader, respectively. And then there’s John C.Reilly’s vaguely amusing character, Hank Marlow. Half Biggles, half Monty Python’s guardian of the juniper berry bushes, he’s been stranded on Skull Island since World War II, and let’s face it, he’s had enough.

It’s all cobbled-together, disjointed nonsense, but strangely likeable nonsense nonetheless, and if like me you’re bullheaded enough to see those closing credits out to the bitter end, there’s an inevitable little extra ‘something’ ham-fistedly bolted on, which, like the rest of the film, will be of no surprise whatsoever.

Franchise-worthy? Tick.

Hmm.

THE FOUNDER

“I have no interest in crass commercialisation, it’s just not McDonald’s…”

Wayward Wolf Film Review.

 

“I have no interest in crass commercialisation, it’s just not McDonald’s…”

Yes, you may well need to blink and re-read that.

A quote from joint founder member, Dick McDonald, who, together with his brother, Mac, formulated a revolutionary way to prepare what we now refer to as ‘fast food’.

Their finely-tuned, almost choreographed approach to the preparation and service of good quality hamburgers, french fries and milkshakes was to ultimately become the benchmark for all fast food preparation from that moment forward.

What most people don’t realise about the McDonald brothers is that they were absolute sticklers for standards taking great pride in preserving the high quality of their product, content with the knowledge that the customer was indeed always king. This had resulted therefore in a general reluctance to franchise out their hugely successful concept owing to justifiable concerns that to maintain such high standards in locations outside of their immediate control, would be problematic.

But with a proven formula and a highly profitable business on the go, they were understandably struggling to keep up with demand.

Little did they realise then that an order placed for a significant number of ‘revolutionary’ milkshake mixers – designed to greatly reduce preparation time by making multiple shakes, simultaneously – would prove to be both the making and breaking of them.

Not only then does a significant amount of time-saving machinery come winging its way into the McDonald brothers’ lives, but with it, comes Ray Croc.

Croc, a journeyman career food and restaurant sales rep with big dollar signs in his eyes, is immediately enchanted by the MacDonald brothers’ enterprise and no matter the level of slightly apprehensive indifference that they show towards his initial advances, he is not a man that will be easily dissuaded.

Ray Croc is determined to have himself a slice of this sleeping potential giant of a success story and immediately proposes massive expansion plans to the brothers by means of franchising the concept nationwide across America.

Persuasive to the end, Croc finally wins the trust of the McDonald brothers and a three-way contract based upon strict adherence to procedures and stringent quality controls is drawn up.

With the brothers’ concept and Croc’s drive and market savvy, what could go wrong?

The world of super-successful business is a murky, cut-throat affair at the best of times, and the strained relationship that ensues between the trio was in many ways inevitable. Dick and Mack’s morally sound approach, content to remain local in order to preserve the standards that they aspire to, was always going to prove ultimately unworkable in the face of Croc’s far more ruthless business-growth ideology.

Ray Croc is a man who’s managed to make a living through hard graft and innumerable knock backs along the way. When the opportunity of a life time finally materialises, and with a big point to prove to both himself and those that have doubted him, this fifty-something dispirited travelling sales veteran, whose wife has almost forgotten what he looks like, was never going to turn his back on the chance to make it big.

No-one, not even he, could surely have envisaged just how big that would be, and the kinds of underhand low-ball tactics that he’d end up employing through clouded, corrupted judgement, in order to realise his dreams; very much at the expense of others.

Director John Lee Hancock’s The Founder is wonderfully entertaining, beautifully-paced  and in spite of the aggravating nature of the growing mischievousness of the film’s lead, Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Croc is absolutely superb, developing the character from his inspiring, motivational inception into the down-right conniving, hard-nosed crook that he became.

Nick Offerman is excellent as the sceptical, judicious, Dick McDonald, whereas John Carroll Lynch is great in his portrayal of Dick’s warm-hearted, but slightly gullible brother.

Last but not least, Laura Dern is splendid as Croc’s long-suffering wife, Ethel. She tries hard to present a stoic front in response to her rather lonely predicament, but her impuissant efforts are insufficient to truly bring about any sort of meaningful change in her married life; forever a slave to her husband’s rather selfish tunnel-visioned career motives.

No matter your thoughts on the ‘evil’ McDonald’s empire – and let’s not isolate them as sole protagonists in the ‘questionable ethics of fast-food corporations’ department… Hello Burger King, KFC et al – The Founder is great entertainment, and an eminently watchable, high-tempo piece of cinema that you’d be McMad to miss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

JACKIE: “…the perfect vehicle through which to extol the virtues of the excellent Natalie Portman.”

Pablo Larraín’s Jackie is a curious affair. It’s hard to know exactly how to categorise it. Whilst feeling like something of a niche piece, it’s been very ably assembled on what is clearly a considerable budget.

What is clear, however, is that it is very much the perfect vehicle through which to extol the virtues of the excellent Natalie Portman. Jackie places under the microscope one Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a woman who awoke one morning America’s first lady, but ended the day a grieving widow, owing to the sudden and savage assassination of her husband. Almost overnight her star would wane, and Jackie Kennedy would be rather unceremoniously shunted aside, fast becoming yesterday’s news, yet ironically her name remains to this day synonymous with one of the most infamous events of modern times.

Of course, to suggest that Jackie Kennedy could ever have become yesterday’s news in light of her worldly profile and the sheer magnitude of the shattering and controversial events of November the 22nd, 1963, is merely to exaggerate a point.

Still, the suddenness of the upheaval brought about in her life was genuinely alarming.

These life-changing, unsettling events become the subject of an interview that she reluctantly and guardedly gives a few weeks after the event, having now moved out of the White House and into a more remote, low-key (relatively speaking) dwelling.

The discourse that follows very much shapes the narrative of Larrain’s film, blending tales from The White House and her role in John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s presidency, with tales from her more immediate past in which she busily oversaw her husband’s memorial and funeral arrangements, whilst simultaneously sustaining her family’s day-to-day needs.

It must have been a demanding time, although admittedly one that it is rather difficult to fully empathise with given Jackie’s somewhat atypical removed status from general society.

Portman’s portrayal of the rather elegant and demure former first lady is a precision piece of character acting, with seemingly just as much dedication given to accurately capturing the woman’s every last subtle idiosyncrasy as there is to depicting her struggle under exceptional circumstances.

And it makes for a fascinating spectacle; especially – I should imagine – for those that may harbour a particular infatuation with the people and events of that particular microcosm of time.

Mrs Kennedy is portrayed as an extremely dignified, yet fairly contrary figure, exhibiting a need to sustain some level of control at all times, which would of course have been more than understandable given her circumstances. Such a stance makes for a compellingly attritional interview. An understated performance of great presence from Billy Crudup – playing as he does a master of his journalistic trade, gently and respectfully probing for the pertinent answers – serves as the perfect foil for Jackie’s cagey, and at times almost riddlesome line in answering.

Visually and stylistically, Jackie is at once impressively grandiose, whilst simultaneously achingly cool in that thick-rimmed spectacled, designer Danish, mid-nineteenth Century manner. Successfully blending archive historical footage with actual cast members, whilst electing to shoot the piece in a format that’s suitably sympathetic with the times in which it is set, gives Jackie a certain authenticity, and the whole thing hangs together beautifully through Mica Levi’s remarkable score. Punctuated and stately in a late Baroque / early Classical sense, yet oddly contemporary through its use of chromaticism, and some surprising glissando, almost portamento scoring techniques, it lends the piece an elegantly ceremonial yet eerie quality.

Jackie is not a film that will necessarily set the pulses racing, and certainly don’t be expecting this to be some kind of latter-day whodunnit. I also wouldn’t imagine that it will be a film to garner a huge amount of interest outside of its core niche target audience. But given that that particular niche just so happens to be a fairly sizeable one, Pablo Larraín’s decision to create a biopic concerning the plight of such an iconic figure of twentieth century America, ultimately can’t fail to be justified.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MOONLIGHT:”…a smouldering, brooding character study into which much can and should be read.”

Barring dodgy back-handers or any sort of political manoeuvring, Oscar-winning films tend to need to have something truly exceptional about them in order to carry away the biggest? cinematic prize of them all.

Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight definitely has something about it, but whether it’s a sufficient something for it to be lauded as the finest film of this latest Oscar year is another thing altogether. I suspect this may well be a bone of contention for some.

A coming-of-age story, Moonlight traces the formative years of Chiron – also known as Little and Black – (Ashton Sanders, and latterly, Trevante Rhodes), a young African-American kid from Miami who, as if growing up is not hard enough, must do so with an increasing self-awareness that he is gay. Such a scenario would be less of a burden to him were he being brought up within some kind of supportive family structure, but with no father on the scene, and an unpredictable, unstable drug addict for a mother, Chiron’s passage from childhood into adulthood is turbulent to say the least.

An outsider, looking in on others’ apparently happier lives, Chiron longs to be accepted and struggles to fit in; very much the omega male of the pack.

Even when he does find people that may offer him the apparent security and stability that he craves, more often than not, such friendships and acquaintances are tainted, with considerable strings attached. The paternal concern of surrogate fatherly figure of sorts, Juan (the excellent Mahershala Ali) – who, along with his partner Teresea (Janelle Monáe), offer the young Chiron respite and sanctuary from a turbulent home life, only for Juan later to be disgraced, revealed as Chiron’s mother’s drug dealer – being a particular case in point.

Chiron has grown up to be a boy of few words. Reluctant to voice an opinion. Maybe having been discouraged by those that really should know better? Or perhaps unconvinced that he even has a voice within an ever confusing world? Yet it’s obvious that behind his wall of silence there is a boy that’s desperate to break free and find his place in the world.

Bullied and ostracised from his peer group, Chiron’s life is an unhappy one, but a brief glimpse of happiness and inspiration is to be found through a chance encounter and dalliance one evening on an empty beach. Here, in a moment of sexual awakening, class mate Kevin (Jharrel Jerome, and latterly a scene-stealing performance from André Holland), finally enables Chiron to embrace the boy that he really is, and needs to be – even if for just the most fleeting of moments.

Whole new horizons of hope briefly heave into view, under the moonlight, but for a working class African-American kid from a background where vulnerability and sensitivity will always be usurped by machismo, being true to oneself seems a rather unattainable dream. There seems a depressingly pre-determined life pathway along which Chiron must tread, something that only he can change.

There’s an omnipresent sense of melancholia and unfulfilment that pervades most of Moonlight’s  characters, in one way or another. Whatever dreams or ideals each of them may have clutched to at some point in their lives, seem largely to have been abandoned; swept away by the harsh realities of life.

With understated yet powerful performances right across the board, and with substantial space and time afforded each character to breathe and slowly develop, Moonlight is every bit a smouldering, brooding character study, into which much can and should be read. A mood piece exposing the inconsistencies and fragility of its characters, laying bare our fear to embrace change or to be in some way different, and above all, demonstrating the protective barriers that we can’t help but erect in our attempts to shield ourselves from life’s hardships and complexity.

Whilst there have arguably been superior films this Oscar year just past, Moonlight resonates on a deep and true level, and is undoubtedly a fine piece. Both soulful and thought-provoking, I suspect it will continue to reveal and reward us the more it is re-visited.