Certain Women : A Film Review 

 

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Certain Women

Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Produced by Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani, Written by Kelly Reichardt. Based on Based on stories by Maile Meloy. Cast. Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, James Le Gros, Jared Harris, Lily Gladstone, René Auberjonois. Music by Jeff Grace. Cinematography, Christopher Blauvelt. Edited by Kelly Reichardt. Production companies. Film Science. Stage 6 Films. Filmed in And around Livingston Montana USA.  Cert. 12a. Duration 1hr 47mins.

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Orderly nature

Is this a portrait of women on frontiers of life?

We are invited into a slow moving trilogy of women’s stories loosely linked in the vast State of Montana.  Arrival by train either stopping or passing frames the small town together with the freeways and intersections this film borders on.  The narrative sets with the first of the stories introducing Lawyer, Laura Wells played by Laura Stern.  In an unbashful undecorated interior of a hotel or rental we meet her having a lunchtime diversion with Ryan (James Le Gros) before we roll onto her place of work in a town lawyers practice where a client without appointment tries to engage her on his apparently hopeless case.  A story of industrial injury is the wreck of this fifty something year olds life and stoically Laura engages as she has arranged for the annoying irrational but troubled Fuller (Jared Harris) a needed second opinion.  This sets them on an adventure of a dead end kind. The pace of daytime routine, timekeeping is a forerunner to the entirety of the films tableau.  Days are repetitive, boring mostly, stuck in seasonal weather, this time is late autumn going on into winter.  With the next two stories we are tested to enquire if their interlocking as they have tenuous connections.  The frailty is purposeful and as a thin metaphor for the crossing of paths.  Some secrets are held among the excursions of the town we intrude upon. Each story creates a passage of time in the short term and as future anticipated.  The sounds of the train, the cars, natures birds singing, animals in a paddock or stable genuinely create descriptive immersion to a pleasing unaffecting environment.  On one excursion typically random, Ramy Groovy Thunder, the endtitles reveal, is an Indian having taught the Shopping Mall White schoolboy Indians.  It serving as a reminder of farback life. The tow of the film takes us to many places and none confining except through the constructs consciously or unconsciously assembled by the characters we meet.

For anyone expecting action it basically happens when we finish one story and go onto the next.  The Maile Meloy short stories are melodies of brief interludes.  Vignettes of totally different scenarios.  As a stories collection they are known as Certain Women.

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Firstly

The start following Laura as she is alone and excercising her freedom as a free spirit led to Law presumably by its formula of right and wrong in conflict and requiring sorted out.   The extent of her stoic outlook is a famiar middle-aged acceptance of the worlds toil.  In helping fractures mend she is a realist and becomes at times contemplative though this interior life is not really examined or inviting enquiry.  This is a problem in creating divided, seemingly unconnected stories and it is not Women as say, a Robert Altman Short Cuts.  What this film succeeds in is creating a slightly meloncolic and sensitivity with an inquisitive narrative in which you are to form pictures of lives and emotions behind them without creating too many sub-plots.

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Secondly

Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams), wife to Ryan, who we has appeared briefly before.  Gina is walking a forest trail.  A motor track which has sunlight invading in spades of light.  She is kitted for running and stops to scuff her heels and sip a drink.  Her gaze is studious and she absorbs her surroundings slowly.  Everything is done slowly, almost, and she approaches a camp with a bedecked large tent from which a small family argument appears to be in progress.  Ryan and Gina have a teenage daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier), who while herself enjoying the outdoors has limited patience and it is stretched even further when a promise they made is broken.  They go to a elderly lonesome friend, Albert (Rene Auberjonois), who is prone to mishap and has large acreage of barren land between him and the freeway.  His house is a pitched roofed bungalow with what looks like replica wood shingle and it’s wide windows insulate him from the outside which he occasionally listens to.  His recollection of birds is intact.  He maintains a tidy homely house and a minor tendency to forget as he does when the subject of the stone is aired.  This is a relationship which Gina is careful to handle as she it appears in this scene to be the one who most needs the new house to be of her identity and not a joint one which Ryan is happy to go along with.  This presents questions on the extent of discord in realationships and how solid a construct they need.  The home Albert is happens to be a replacement home and as I hinted it is of a compromised modernity replicating what was.  The sandstone also represents a past era and it got knocked down because its use passed.  It was no more than a building blocking a view.

 

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Thirdly

Jamie (Lily Gladstone) is a ranch hand.  Working on her own she looks outside for experience of the town she is on the periphery of town.  With this she free bases an evening class for Teachers interested in School Law at which she becomes interested in the alternative life of woman called Beth (Kristen Stewart). After the class she introduces Beth to the local diner in a food refill before her 4 hour journey back home. Having struck up a friendship Beth provides a diversion from the ranch routine which fills the introvert Jamie with touching connection, (metaphor) to someone who perhaps has similar needs despite being occupied with life in a town.  The simple chosen life of Jamie is a deep contrast to any other characters in the film.  Hers is a solitary occupation where time is driven by the habits of animals.  Feeding them, turning them out, tending to their physical well being, sheltering them and exercising them if needed.  This is a directing calling to be at one with nature though these animals are captive almost dependants on her and create a nascent family.  Their is little in the way of return for her other than the fact they are not humans and don’t talk back or play with her emotions.  This though is a life of isolation which she sees the voids in and her gentle temperament – her back history as the others is unexplained – takes her not to bars or dances seeking a partner but what appears at first a community gathering but turns out to be a class.

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Of all the pictorial stories I liked this most knowing the satisfaction working with animals gives you and the latency of uncovered patterns of nature as seasons and habits rely on the earths cycle rather than a man made one.  Jamie’s quiet mostly manual work has an honesty also.  She is relied on by these animals to a degree and she brings them along as children.  Beautifully photographed and with repetitive acts we enter this soft routine world.  There is contrast from shots of a stable barn interior darkness with a horse entering through the light of the door and there is the unharnessed light of the outdoors filling the frame as the horses cross white snow covered paddocks fenced with metal grids and moving between the hay bales broken and scattered and the pack leader chases of his fellow horses with mild rebuke and gesture and they settle to feed.  Exterior and interior are so clearly marked here.  The stable barn is seen as a long corridor with tack hanging on pegs and sliding stable doors which are open closed as Jamie moves horses about to clean their stable.  The repetitive act of this housekeeping is watched from a distance at the end of barn exentuating the routine and emphasising the habitat.  The editing of this story is more expressive of the county of Montana than is otherwise seen.  While Gina is intent on making a homestead – her ideas are unclear for example as she is uncertain as to the use of the mountain sandstone she acquires – and putting down a marker is her aim mostly while her relationship and the fragility includes ambivalence towards a teenage daughter whose options and choices perhaps exceed hers.  Jamie is in need of contact and her behaviour while understood is odd and not able to fit the normal things expected in life which is oddly reassuring and plays out with a really affectionate scene where Beth gets to male a connection with the animals, a horse which she otherwise would not experience.

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Conclusion ####4

Kelly Reichardt’s film is a set of miniature dramas to savour.  Her script, control of framing and pacing, editing and work with a very effective and wise cast deliver a modern allegory representational of our control of our habitation and our proximity as always to the nature we move east, west, north and south through.  Only here are the NW, SSE movements as we track across other people’s lives with degrees of impact kept for later questioning, while the freeways, trains, mountain tracks, forests provide a view of wider world reminding us of its eternal presence.  In Prodigal Summer, a book set in a similar part of America, I’m currently reading, a sentence reads, Out of the light she could almost see the calm air beginning to gather itself for the afternoon, the oxygen burgeoning between the damp leaves.  The trees were the lungs of the mountain, – not her mountain, nobody’s damn mountain, this mountain belonged to the scarlet tankers, puffballs, luna moths, and coyotes.   Kelly Reichardt’s film is a figurative treatment of one subject – our living world – under the guise of another – our living with the world, with thecrelationships though nots as detailed and integral as the aforementioned novel nevertheless place contemporary life and the variety of choices, without even a birth death, marriage or priest, minister to be seen as a complex picture.  It is not a movie of assurance, but and assured depiction of perpetual motion along which lives move among each other and this being an adaption of short stories weave a wonderful rewarding insight to the human adaption in every era.  This is a very satisfying watch which contradicts its simple form by illuminating several angles in life’s tapestry against a familiar backdrop.  No large life shifting things are present.  No child in a hospital fighting for their life, no violent intrusion, no traffic or domestic accident or unnamed catastrophe.  It is an ensemble delicately woven and splendidly transformed from the page.  Very different from the usual cinematic experience which is a feat in itself.  If any feelings of incompleteness occur at the end it’s because life is.

 

John Graham

1 March 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast 3 March to 9 March 2017

Kelly Reichardt

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Here's an arrival this week - a colt foal by Kingston Hill mum not credited at Coolmore

Here’s an arrival this week – a colt foal by Kingston Hill mum not credited at Coolmore

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Fences : A Film Review

Fences


Directed by Denzel Washington, Produced by Todd Black, Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington, Screenplay by August Wilson, Based on Fences by August Wilson.  Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney. Music by Marcelo Zarvos. Cinematography Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Edited by Hughes Winborne. Production company Bron Creative, Macro Media, Scott Rudin Productions, Duration 139 minutes. (2hr 19mins.) Country:  United States. Language: English. Rating: 12a.

Play on Today
Venturing into film directing for the first time Denzel Washington has chosen a play to adapt for the screen.  Fences written by August Wilson is shaped as a family drama set in Pittsburgh in the age of the cities growth and expansion.  The couple at is heart are Rose played by Viola Davis giving an Oscar worthy performance as a middle aged woman married to Troy in his mid fifties played by Denzel Washington.  As the two leads they do not place any cultural struggled as the drama but the relationships they have with their close family.  In fact the only outsider is an old colleague of Troy whose acts as a folk for story telling in the backyard.   Discrimination does come into it as an aside but it avoids political messages.  Where can you go wrong with such a good cast?

Primarily it is about the contest of father and son in a rivalry born out of disappointment and poor choices.  It begins with a dialogue between Troy and Bono at work on hanging on dumpster and emptying very lightweight bins. Trash being small beer in those days apparently. They walk home and discuss the complaint Troy has made about not being allowed to become a dumpster driver.  The move is implied as being blocked because of his race.  They exchange sexist and workplace banter, using the n word (which is a 12a classification as it is outdated racist language) as braggadocios they act out the past  in a contrived male language bordering on sexist as well as racial offensive except they have the licence to use it as it solidifies their masculinity in their minds.  It crosses over in a reduced way when Troy talks to Rose with in their case impish comic marital prenuptial negotiations.  Rose is a homemaker totally at ease and comfortable with her home and the possibility of it improving bit by bit without holding big expectations.  Troy is on the other hand in dreamland where he is searching for something other than the inevitable route to the grave which gives the notional premise to the play.


Premise

Sam Cooke wrote Jesus be a fence round me.  He had no fear of death therefore but wished to be protected by the Lord Jesus.  The faith which Troy doesn’t have isolates him and makes him sole defender of his place.  Fences to him are to be constructed here on earth.  Platitudes, clichces are trotted out in the script as reflection and in the language are akin to Church preaching on sinning.  Troy has a gift for sinning.  Sinning against himself in his early life by not concentrating on his baseball skills but getting immersed in crime which put away any chance for sporting advance.  Instead he spent 15 years in jail and it is the period after this when he has brought up two sons with Viola, one who is a man on a mission to be a musician, Lyon played by the mature looking Russell Hornsby, whose attitude of creative and loose come what may approach to things contrasts with the fixed ideas of Troy whose own creativity was lost back in time.  There is an undercurrent of jealousy in this but never fully explored.  There is also a more directly presented parable of their younger son, the 14 year old athletic Cory played with immense sensitivity and strength by Johan Adepo, who is but a mirror of the past Troy has had.  Troys caring side is expressed through his disabled brother.  A war veteran whose cranial damage required a steel plate which contributes to his polarised, asbergers type state, Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), has just moved from the house to display, alongside Lyon’s moving out, a blunt display of his independence which further challenges Troy.  Troy manages to deal with these moves but cannot face the last one.  Two strikes is used often and I see these as the two strikes.  Troy in August Wilson’s mind avoids being menacing though scouts the boundaries the further discontent and disconnection with Gods purpose manifests.

  

Father Son.

Building fences is the clumsy metaphor of the play and how it is made drama.  With it originating as a stage play it is very compressed and reliant on the set pieces around the interior of the house, the living room of which reminds you of the cornflour blue of the film Moonlight which has the colour line through it.  The interior is bright and very well kept in shiny chromium sixties style with furniture on hire for 15 years still in use.  They have no TV and they have a refrigerator which is the first thing Troy reaches into for his Jackhammer Dry Gin when he returns from work while he discusses the dinner and local gossip with Rose and how she’s been making out during the day.  The home is a stable place for Cory, Rose and Troy and the job on the rota is building a fence to an empty rundown property next door.  In a back yard type place the raggety overgrown unkept disorder is in a way comforting ascorder means urbanity and the trees, bushes, vegtable garden and others variety of tending makes for a casual mix of what might be a plantation workers yard.  The order and disorder are an important methapor in Denzel Washington’s approach as are other touches.  Troy takes his sons gift and puts it below the work and studying mantra he believes would better equip Cory.  To Cory this runs against plans he has made as adjustments.  His job at a store is to be replaced by a scholarship to a school requiring his baseball skills above academic skills where at the same time he will be able to study outside of the baseball training and paling.  He also has organised work at the store on available weekends. He has Rose’s backing.  Troy on the other hand is fixed and this is regressive for everyone.  Moving on is not in Troys mindset.  He is so selfish and everything around him relates to his own battling with the devil.  He also has cause to be contrite in later events.  As I noted musician Lyon’s has escaped the grip of his father and chosen his own future. There is solidity reflecting this in the paying by Russell Hornsby.

 

Setting

Being a play without the range of a Macbeth or Three Sisters this somewhat restricts staging as so many scenes are in the same set, the backyard or kitchen, living room.  For it to work takes a very clearly crafted order and this film moves from having at times flowing interludes to the jumping around framed set shots pictorially pretty but basically daylight lit nice couplets and monologues.  Thankfully in an important scene involving Viola which will be recognised as a career performance is filmed as a static framed head shot mostly which is right on the emotional visceral painful thrust of the narrative.  Rose brings a major problem of heart over head and examines Troy’s framework in unusual confrontation showing how deep her previous compliant self has gone along.  It shows up how much Troy himself has not addressed his past or confronted his demons.  In another scene a technique which I ‘dissed’ as a poor choice at the beginning of Moonlight, is here used to carry the flow and externalises briefly the carry of the narrative.  It is when a revolt shot is used and each face is ful of expression as they speak and the rotation carries the dialogue effortlessly.  If only the rest of the film had been laid out in a pattern and not patchwork of cinematic choices.  It has the feel of a play too much of the time and even theatre screenings of plays, National Theatre Live for one, have a form and fixed style and structure which does not flit about.  The style is rich on occasions and when time has passed – to the final act presaged by a snowfall – the formula is unbroken and fixed as before.  Some wisecracking critics often come out with directional reposts described as ‘well directed’ an underpinning of a film ‘not being well directed’ as if drawing attention to the cinematic values present at times – I think it’s important to say we’re a breakdown occurs and where a flow and assured passage carries is achieved or an outcome.  It is part of the viewing experience as is sitting in a theatre would be watching Denzel and Viola on stage would be totally different to this film.  Maybe it is Washington’s choice to cool down, to remove the menace and ramp up the garrulous aspects as his own persona is able to carry it more convincingly.  In a review a scene is described thus – “… of claustrophobia … there’s clear evidence that careful thought has been put into the quiet visual architecture of this film; …  example,  where Bono warns Troy of impending ruination, places the actors in the bottom right of the frame (a scene which does not occur in the play and is basically a wise move in choosing a spot to film/replicate impending trouble visually) while rubble and an empty field symbolically take up most of the screen. I disagree on the basis the film has few moments such as this. When they do as I previously noted, they only serve to disrupt a flow so important and not replicating a stage plays approach. They have not choreographed it for screen and several shots are staple stage replicates.  The atmosphere is achieved with the back yard being reminiscent of the rural they would prefer to bring up children in.

  

Film Futures

America is lost in its Entertainment mould with the decades of Crime thrillers, Space age, Sci-Fi, War heroics, Pratfall College, Financial swindle, Corporate greed, Sexual shenanigans, and many more genre flowing towards the expectations of an  unsatiated Public whose expectations follow the hype and out of the mainstream ,assively omportant groundbreaking movies emerge despite the – and this critique is broad given it’s within a review – vast production and sometimes failing box office hit and miss targeting of audiences.  Manhattan, Apocalypse Now, Goodfellas, The God Father and many others of equal stature are not the norm.   They follow incredible journeys in cinema, On the Waterfront, In the Heat of the Night, the influence of Foreign Cinema, in creating a landscape where present day filmmakers struggle to be seen.  The films, especially in ethic rooted film is fresh and full on in examining issues and positions.  Society is reflected.  Also Fences is; and this is no slight on a Denzel Washington, there is a pecking order in the screening and output.  Denzel Washington’s profile is such that this film gets more traction than it might otherwise have had.  It is a very good debut and fairly safe and challenging as Troy’s character is not one you would immediately empathise with.  It opens up performances though which are from the first division.  Viola Davis and Jovian Adepo spectacularly inhabit their parts.  The screenplay for this 29 year old play was penned by the late August Wilson himself.  He carries through on Troy Maxson’s dance with the devil over a fence he is slow in building and likely to be caught out.  The baseball similes or straight references even, take to the park throughout.

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Conclusion ###3

I really enjoyed the introduction to the work of August Wilson and the stage plays set 29 years before in Pittsburgh must accumulate a large library of varied purposeful interpretation of the ethnic conditions playing out in a big city along similar lines to Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams or as a contrasting backdrop to the more explicit approaches to political hatred and manipulation in Orson Welles Mancunian Candidate. The demons are still around and while this film brings to new audiences including the Cory age, very well conceived drama depicting the important things in life.  The family and direction of travel for equality and a sense of a creator whose work is us.  Where is the life manual except in our genes and these now are being conquered daily as coping mechanisms for ill health and the mind is yet capable of controlling itself without derangement and falsehoods or projections which are baseless and void of fact.  The magic of plays is lost and the era is well documented by now so the primary focus of the father son relationship must be disposed to inform our enquiry.  This it does in part by the confrontational aspects which are repeated in various guises until the more informative exacting deep delving dialogue gives you in very rewarding viewing central reasoning and what the message concerns.  It is certainly an approachable watch and opens alternative viewpoints America and the rest of the world would do well to examine. The central themes may even be Aristolian or Homeric with male, female needs apart. Unresolved masculinity.   The blue don’t strike out.  They consider,  needs and wants and dreams as the film suggests at one point.  You would think music would be an important part but it is kept for Rose’s church going and A song passed down through Troy.  It makes for a well counterpoint to Gabes bashed trumpet and the ‘motif’ of collected and disused brass instruments unplayed, neglected and unloved.  There is a lot of love in this film and the hardship is in the entrapment. The poet said “Good fences make good neighbours” my current read, Prodigal Summer, reminds me and adds from Miss Rawley, “Oh, people just adore fences, but Nature doesn’t give a hoot.” Strange expression that as if suggesting without a hoot comes Road kill?

John Graham

22 February 2017

Belfast

On general release and a 12a rating.  2hr 19mins.

Moonlight : A Film Review


Moonlight      Oscar time and the winner is!     This time they eventually got it right.

Director. Barry Jenkins. Cast. Alex Hibbert as Little; Ashton Sanders as Chiron; Trevante Rhodes as Black; Mahershala Ali as Juan; Janelle Monáe as Teresa; Naomie Harris as Paula; André Holland as Kevin; Jharrel Jerome as 16-year-old Kevin; Jaden Piner as 9-year-old Kevin.


Story in 3 parts

Barry Jenkins has taken a history of a boy to man and set it in three chapters.  There is a different name given to the same person taking the journey.  From Little to Chiron to Black we do find out what becomes of him in these chapters as these are the phases in life which mould and control the advance of the boy.  He is so small all call him Little in the beginning.  His choices are few.  His drug addict mother is a loose cannon and he is a wild child who makes his own way to find food and survive on Miami’s streets.  Liberty Square and Liberty City project were key.

 “It was the first time someone had come to their community and wanted to represent it onscreen, and since Barry Jenkins had grown up in that area, there was this sense of pride and this desire to support him. You felt this love from the community that I’ve never felt in any other location, anywhere in the world, and it was so strange that it happened in a place where people were expecting the complete opposite.”  Local reaction.  Police escorts filming were also needed.

It is another film without the father figure to lead the boy through the wilderness.  He is of the type of child whose wits need to be sharp and he is streetwise switched on kid.  The survivors instinct remains as a child and it builds barriers other circumstances more civilised will have an immunity to.


A substitute or replacement father figure is presented in the form of a low life dealer Juan aka Blue.  Chiron also is given an alternative mother in the form of Juan’s girlfriend, Teresa.  She provides a place of refugee when home is off limits.  There is an identikit friend, Kevin, who acts as a foil to the apparent destitution Chiron finds himself in, as a kind of compass point.  In dealing with all around him he becomes aware of his sense of self and sexuality and masculinity in particular.  Kevin the friend is the daytime school crutch and compass. Life becomes a shade perplexing when his mother enters his alternative world also due to her addiction. If you want to see this as a love story then it would serve that purpose well as a means to carry it through to the end.  It clearly has a central focus of love.  Absent or emerging.  All those experiences of the exhilaration, hurt and beauty of loves roll call are heartfelt and dealt with, with precision and clarity, for an boy caught in a mess not of his making.  The pleasure, if you can call it that, is the directors ability to draw us into the imperfections and choices made.  Gracefully tenderly and astutely levity of kind deeds and sometimes redemptive acts occur.


Filmic sense of place

There is a claustrophobia about the ‘hood’ the techniclour neighbourhood which if it were not for the separateness,  the sense of entrapment, the shut off segregation by class context, its so discordantiy uplifting.  It is a failure of integration and also generated by the mood music of America – the sure and undealt endemic racism –  which has credal, national boundaries.  Into the first frames we see the neighbourhood and relaxed men talking on the street, and Juan played superbly by Mahershala Ali crosses the street to meet a pair talking and they then imply upfront talk about the deal on drugs going array.  Juan settles things and shows his dominance an function as the top man on this neighbourhood.  He identifies with the role with a tall cool gait.  The cinematographer, director annoyingly follow and old circular walk around of these three before moving on down the street where a parked car and its occupants have drawn his attention.  This start is easy but limiting.  It presents no contrast or order or place.  Fortunately that is a minor blip on starting a story which involves Chiron and his mother – the Oscar nominated Naomie Harris.  Her living conditions are less well kept and are a backstreet compound of chalets in blocks and most with boarded, or grilled up windows.  The transition central to the story as coming of age is for some plain others get the subtlety of brotherhood and Little looking up to Kevin who is ‘gifted’ in pleasure potency.  Little borders on loving Kevin and they share a blunt and Chiron gets to know a bit more of how he works.  Seldom clear it shows the muddle he is in. The lack of sexual insight and experience continues and the only therapy is his imposed identity persona as a crutch which ends up in the third act well expanded. Barry Jenkins makes the point not to be clear to an audience and leave them thinking despite the numerous comments that it is a gay based movie.  That’s not what he intends it or wants it to be.  More evidently it is a mixture of social and human frailties and strengths in circumstances which they are trapped by.


Performances

For Chiron there are 3 actors each giving a very connecting depiction of their adopted character.  The innocence and uncomfortable, questioning, uncertain and with a ready smart intellect clearly challenged Alex Hibbert as Little is first to capture your interest and enquiry.  His co actors in principally, Mahershala Ali as Juan; Janelle Monáe as Teresa; Naomie Harris as Paula; all give him latitude.  As they react and relate they summon belief in these people and the grim unequal situation they are in.  It is pure unpoliticised but a sense of real America without the dragging in of hot notes of comparison.  It is all done through the characters themselves gathering in the audiences belief in them.  There is a humanity and faith underlying but again no Chaplain or holy moment to underpin an anxiety or piece of hateful racism.  All is done on its own terms.  The central ‘Chiron’ has another age of reason to play with, Ashton Sanders as Chiron does it again with his portray of the sexual emergence of the self put to the test and masculinity including bullying from a constant Terrel school classmate excentuate the hurt and confusion while Juan rfeatures less here but he and Teresa provide more help as things get worse.  


Barry Jenkins in interview points out – : I think in the story, one of the strongest moments is when Juan unpacks the word [faggot]. I think for a kid to see that scene whether they identify as LGBTQ or not is important. There’s this great quote about the film that says, “Juan unpacks the word but he doesn’t unpack Little with it.” I think that distinction is very important. I think because of the journey this character goes on in the film; you watch, and you see how this guy gets further away from who he is. I think when you see the power we have to affect people for ill; I would hope that kids would humanize and identify with that character.

In a further element on period which is 1987 in feel he returns to his own upbringing  No work. [to the Liberty Project buildings] I don’t like to talk about time stamps; 1987 or 1989 or things like that. But that place feels to me, largely the same as it did when I grew up. It’s part of the permanence of whatever is the spiritual and cultural gumbo that’s in the air. To be honest, when I read the script that’s what it was. I thought, “This feels like my childhood, but it also feels like now.” It felt like a very contemporary story or how stories are rooted in our past. So we didn’t have to do a lot to augment Liberty City to make it feel like the place where we grew up. It literally is the place where we grew up, and it hasn’t changed a ton. People who have watched the film talk about the imagery, but I didn’t do much. The walls are painted that color, and they have been since I was a kid.  From http://www.chocolategirlinthecity.com/      An interesting blog for a great variety of reasons.


Colour

Finally the significance of colour.  In the original play which itself has provided audiences more insight its title says it all – In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Tarell Alvin McCraney: It’s difficult to narrow down why I wrote it in a way that feels generous to the process of it. It was really self-serving. There was no real representation of myself to see, and to purge ideas on and to look at for models of. I was trying to figure out my manhood, my childhood, and my personhood. I was the son of a crack-addict who had just died from AIDS-related complications, but at the same time, I was on the precipice of a life-changing moment.   The writers view.

I was struck by the visul imprint based solely on the title.  From the appearance of the Cornflour Blue of Juan’s Buick to rooms, to looking down on chairs outside, the colour turns up with frequently as a subtle glow of the saturated good life taunts the screen characters.  The saturation on Niaomi Harris in her home is significant and redolent of type.  As for Oscar worth it’s not up there for her in my view despite her throwing herself into the acting and working with a ‘type’ scripted in her part lamely.  She took a bit of persuasion as she did not want to play a crack addicted woman and it shows the script let her own also.  The rest get a better deal.  So if inference and facial angst is enough for an Oscar it wouldn’t be the first time.  Talking of which this has coming of age similarities to Boyhood.  Equally enriched and out of type, mainly.


Conclusion ####4

Being on the surface a coming of age film it differentiates itself by putting up the conditions and everyday mostly drug dominated complexities of restricted life.  The restricted containment and lack of connective integration seen in New York and very large conurbations, where the sheer scale allows for little else other than integration of a more natural kind, is expressed here because perhaps paradoxically the people have the space.  America is so huge the enclaves happen as a easy out.  Not many look at it this way but Planning, Counties, States have grown up and been shaped this way over years perhaps excentuated by the 50’s Political driven life.  This film has broken through the barriers and provides an astute though at times trope laden story which crosses boundaries in inhabiting the characters space and giving huge performances.  It has certain limitations but it is undoubtedly a very unique and great film for these times and predicates more and carefully created work ahead. There is also a very good musical score and sound tapestry. Very mature and spot on.

John Graham

18 February 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from 17 February to 02 March 2017.

Prevenge : A Film Review


Prevenge A Searingly Tragicomedy Slasher film set in London with a .vengeful Alice Lowe as Ruth in a prenatal state of fantasy.

Director. Alice Lowe. Screenplay by Alice Lowe. Cast.  Alice Lowe, Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie, Jo Hartley. Music by Toydrum, (Pablo Clements and James Griffith), Cinematography Ryan Eddleston, Edited by Matteo Bini. Alice Lowe as Ruth, Jo Hartley as the Midwife,Gemma Whelan as Len, Kate Dickie as Ella, Kayvan Novak as Tom, Tom Davis as DJ Dan, Dan Skinner as Mr Zabek, Mike Wozniak as Josh, Tom Meeten as Zac.  Duration 1hr 27mins.  Cert. 15!  Others call it an 18!


Pre-Emptive Strike. (The Baby’s)

Alice Lowe writes, stars in, directs her first film in a genre which is fantasy comedic drama.  It is a twist of threads unraveling in her pre-birthing state.  In her womb is a child who has began life with a set of instructions from within.  A fierce moving story, set in built up London, of the advanced maternity state is advanced with a role play of murderous apparent revenge.  Playing Ruth whose partner has met his death in strange circumstances which are revealed incrementally.  The actual circumstances of how Ruth picks out her victims is slow to emerge, at least for me, it took a while to click with me.  Alice Lowe follows her work with Ben Wheatley in Sightseer’s a similar if slightly more tasteful black comedy set in the Lake District doing tourism no favours, alongside Steve Oram.  Having made this film in an incredible shooting over 11 days and with a script it took 2 days to write it is a remarkably fluent film.  The everyday language is heard giving it added authenticity even if it is a bit laden thick on the dark side humour wise. All baby manuals and prenatal, antenatal parenting and calming influences are set aside.  Oddly Ruth is holed up in a hotel and is routinely outdoors in pursuit of answers of some sort while she deals with the stress of losing her partner.  A birth is something which comes at a very bad time and she is catapulted into a bizarre bout of acting on hallucinatory presented thoughts of her yet to be born child.  The yet to be born girl is slightly robotic in speaking to her, we hear her voice and loud instructions, reprimands two a penny, with adult inflections mixed into her high pitched emotionally totemic voice.  Ruth is receptive and is in fact complicit in thinking all out there is not as intended and revenge is necessary for her peace.


Body talk

In the story she has a guide who is a Nurse, Jo Hartley as the Midwife, with her own bamboozingly off track advice.  Bodies and parts of them feature in scenes of unflinching acts of violence.  Ruth’s weapon of choice is a ten inch kitchen knife which she carries in her handbag. Ambidextrous she flits from having it in her left hand (for self preservation I was on the lookout for tell-tale signs – there are none!) to slitting throats with her right – not a spoiler as this is a slasher movie of gruesome ironic pulsating visceral brutality.  Alice Lowe is emotionally capable of appearing as all things and in only one aside – where a massive slasher movie trope is enacted in homage to the death living thing, make up is needed.  Her expressions manipulate with cruel ease.  ‘Acting’ is also deployed in Ruth’s skill set as one vengeful attack – partially – loosely based on baby’s dislike of free and selfish men which are identied in Ruth as users. The actual motive takes time to complete the circle for me at least. Ruth acts very smooth as a possible employee in a Pet Shop, where we start basically – even before the intro titles – as we visit the wildlife – caged – is that a possible motive? – with up close shots of lizards, and exotica for which the minutiae of living is also enrolled to kill (no pun intended) any a serial killer might induce.  While we move between the Nurse come Midwife who’s slightly suspecting of the difficulty Ruth may have dealing with things she only barely senses, Ruth is involved in this Police free slasher quest and pops up for her medical visits which she lays flat is poked and prodded, told about choices she has to make and stresses out when Social Workers are mentioned setting off alarm bells of adoption.  Unnamed ‘Midwife’ in our eyes should fear for her life.  The city is viewed sun shining out the hospital clinic window and untamed Ruth goes onto the next victim.


Symbolism

For a film to work for me it needs a component of symbolism meaning it is made with some kind of message or idea.  Inherent in this film is motherhood and giving life.  It commands a space where the maternal body is focussed on the life inside.  Into the equation comes a trauma and one actually involving a partner who is part of the child.  Transference of trauma and tragic outlook come in the shape of the unborn.  Hallucinations happen even outside chilbirth and obedience is as strong as is the fear of not taking control.  Ruth signals all the outward symbols of control but is deranged.  A fantasy has taken over.  In terms of exposing the trials of paternity and the variety of circumstances some of which deny the child life through abortion are held.  The only person who is able to control what is now part of her body is the woman and host to the life yet to reach the separation of life as a solitary being.  Into a set of circumstances a child requires love, nourishment, support and growth determined from its external cradle.  In even sense the film takes us on a course we’re the appropriate things happen in a caring society.  Withdrawl of parenthood in recognition of an incapability to raise a child in the way it deserves and warrants is seen as destructive in normal society. It is a course of least acceptance yet all kinds of situations present in the everyday to formulate and evaluate ways of bringing up orphaned, institutionalised children which are very specific and strange.  Unquestionably they are life altering for the child at the heart.  Ruth is shedding her identity by behaving as a victim casting of responsibility and is not her real self.  The extent to which she is displaced is treated here in a comedic vein.  By writing this while undergoing pregnancy herself any topics are thrown out there for us to swallow.  The strength of Alice Lowe is fixed into the story and it how it deflects from her own experience is unknown but is never far from development and it would be good to know how much she was informed about parenthood during the making of the film and any untangibles or brutal realities presented.


Performances

The casting of the film is immaculate and after a few out of focus moments, shaky handcam early doors, is very polished and with some of the mpre graphic scenes the work is in your face as slasher movies tend to be.  After the first (1 down) I looked about in shock and seeking similar reactions and they varied from open jaw to laughter to nonchalance. In the first instance the creepiness of No. 1 is ratcheted up with innuendo and you don’t quite see where it’s going.  The delivery in close confined spaces is edited extemelly well and balanced with the facial speech led story and we ponder the wildlife along with it.  We see the Scots actress Kate Dickie at one stage.  In Tom Geens Couple in a Hole she was unnervingly rich in character and bleakness and here she is playing the Boardroom executive with a cut throat (pun intended) intractable corporate kitten loving business head.  It goes on the block metaphorically speaking in a brilliantly acted and light touch subtlety acting thoroughly gripping and tense conveying a great piece of action.  There are other artful enriched performances and it is a film which is not slow and no hanging about while it progresses and materially gets worse as it is intensely an unstoppable mission.


Conclusion.  ###3

Tread careful you innocent viewers as this is packaged as being a brilliant debut, and it is, from an actress Alice Lowe, whose versatility is on show. I can’t see the bump as a very good prosthetic – can you – did she have a baby?  We deserve to know.  So I’ll tell you she was in her third trimester, it’s a new born.  It is insightful in lots of ways and has sufficient story morality – thin but present – dispatched to have us put rationality in its cross hairs and ask could something like this happen?  Obliquely the characters have lots of positives and negatives.  Some have said Ruth is a character you have no sympathy for.  I neither sympathised nor harangued her in terms of morality as it is no more than a very advanced form of horror come slasher film and pretentious are slight if at all present.  I derived a little from it but it was in terms of directorial excellence – at times – fidgety and broken – its over the top script – the performance of some who didn’t deserve their come up pence and the unparalleled lack of pursuit for the attacker.  No sirens only the lead.  It concludes as a well rounded story with a finalality bordering on normal but it is lacking in truth.

John Graham

8 February 2016

Belfast
On at QFT Queens Film Theatre from 10 February 2017 until 16 February 2017