One of the things that I try to do every year is watch all or most of the Oscar nominated films for Best Picture. Moonlight was the film that actually won the coveted award...well at least once they recovered from their mistake of announcing La La Land. There was a lot of hype around this film due to the subject matter of the film; growing up as a black gay man in a subculture where that is highly looked down upon. The film was good, relatively well written and acted, but honestly I don't think it deserved the Oscar which I'm pretty sure it won for pure political reasons as opposed to mainly on merit alone. The film follows a young black man, Chiron, who struggles to survive in a world as a young black gay boy then as a man, and that's pretty much it. The film is divided into essentially three thirty-five minute vignettes starting with the main character as a boy, then a teenager and finally as an adult man. The three individuals who brought this character to life: Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes all did a fine job portraying this character and their performances were admirable. The character though was very dull and boring. Granted there was so much to explore and so much depth, but Chiron seemed to say very little throughout the entire film, and as soon as the character seemed to go somewhere the film would advance to the next chronological incarnation of the same character. It was this three part split which I believe sabotaged the film greatly; the majority of the film should have been spent when he was an adult finally coming to terms with his reality as opposed to suppressing it. His childhood friend, Kevin, whom he had a crush on was played by: Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and Andre Holland. A lot of potential in this character, but it was never really fleshed out well; quite disappointing. Naomie Harris played Chiron's junkie, abusive and neglectful mother; she did great, but her skills really weren't put to good use since her role was so small considering the impact such a character would have on a young boy and man (she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress). It was interesting watching her performance on screen as it reminded me of some of my previous clients' mothers. Mahershala Ali played Juan the drug dealer who was some sort of "father figure" for Chiron when he was a boy, and then he disappeared from the film without any explanation for his absence which was poor writing I thought. He won an Oscar for his supporting role, and it's probably because he had the best performance in the entire film even though it was small and very short. That was pretty much it, although Janelle Monae played Teresa, Juan's wife, who became a sort of surrogate mother for Chiron. She was a breath of fresh air for the film, but once again she vanished after the first two vignettes. That was essentially the entire cast, or rather what mattered the most in regards to the story.
So the film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won 3: Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. Barry Jenkins wrote and directed the film which was based off a story written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, and for the most part they both did a good job. I just believe that what really sunk this film for me was how it was divided up into three distinct timeline with distinct characters which made it seem like three separate short films rather than one singular film. It also wasn't long enough. The ending was anti-climactic and seemed to happen far too quickly. The music by Nicholas Britell was somehow nominated for an Academy Award, and I would have to assume it was for political reasons as that's the only reason I could rationalize how it was even nominated as the music itself was blah, although there was a point where I thought a good motif was coming and then it just sunk. The cinematography by James Laxton was perhaps the best technical element in the film; it just worked so well for the narrative, and visually was quite striking at times; it too was also nominated for an Academy Award. Somehow the film was nominated for the Best Editing Academy Award, but I think that is what weakened the film so once again it had to be for political reasons. Overall I was very disappointed with the film. It had such great potential, but it just came across as three short films put together rather than one seamless piece of exquisite cinema which was just in reach since it was such a compelling story. That goes to show that you can have an awesome story, great characters, good acting, but if it isn't put together well then all of those other factors don't matter. Of all the films to win Best Picture, it shouldn't have been Moonlight. It was good, but it wasn't great and only truly great films should win the most coveted prize for films on the entire planet. I hate ending on depressing notes, but I read in the Wall Street Journal the other day that the Syrian government is reportedly using a crematorium to cover up mass murders that it has been undertaking. Yet, it seems the U.S. Congress and large portion of the U.S. public is more concerned about chasing conspiracy theories and settling political scores than history repeating itself again. Holocaust Remembrance Day was about a month ago, and here we have another tyrannical regime committing genocide and trying to cover it up the same way the Nazis did, and yet no one seems to care. There is something terribly wrong with my country the United States of America, and the world, and I am concerned that as time continues to pass that this kind of behavior will only worsen. People need to step outside their own circumstances and really contemplate what is truly important in life, and what matters.
Moonlight interview with Trevante Rhodes & Andre Holland
It's had to believe that 3 years ago the first Guardians of the Galaxy film was released, and here we are already on the second film of that series with a third and fourth most likely coming (because Hollywood has no creative original storytelling bone left in its body). So this film had a rather lame story and plot, and yes I am using "lame" in a technical sense; it's the best word to describe the story and plot....or rather lack of a good one. This film is about the characters is ensconces and only that....well perhaps the music as well as it seemed to serve as an existential character throughout the film. Basically, Quill finds his father who happens to be a sort of celestial god/planet that can do powerful stuff and everything seems to be going tritely wonderful.....until the proverbial ball drops and his father turns out to be rather less than honorable. If this plot sounds familiar that's because it is, I just can't recall at the moment what other film it was in. Anyways. Chris Pratt as Peter Quill was perfection; who else can play an obnoxious, arrogant, immature frat boy character with such stupendous humor and be very believable while doing it. Zoe Saldana as Gamora was fine. Either it's her performance that is boring and flat, or her character is just that way. Dave Bautista as Drax definitely improved in this film with depth of character and he was the one character that made me perhaps laugh the most. His second act was definitely good and an improvement. I don't have a clue what Vin Diesel did as Baby Groot voice wise or motion capture wise, but Baby Groot was at times a hoot, and sometime a little too much. Bradley Cooper as Rocket just goes to show that I really do not care for the majority of the films or roles that man takes in his career, and the sarcastic, irritating and vacillating raccoon character falls right into that. Needless to say I do not like that character whatsoever; in my opinion there is nothing endearing about him as a character, simply all negatives. Michael Rooker as the blue dude that can control the arrow thing with his mind, Yondu, was less obnoxious in this film but still there was something about his character I just didn't care for, especially the whole "adopted father" theme the writers were going for. Karen Gillan as Nebula was a great character and I loved how they gave her such incredible depth in this film.....and yet they did barely anything with it. Very disappointing. Kurt Russell of course as "Ego" the planet/celestial god/Quill's father was perfect. He was funny and had this callous/superior way of thinking and justifying the ideas of his character which added a good deal to the excellent performance. The rest of the cast was good, but nothing that really stood out....except for a brief appearance by Howard the Duck. I think I might have been the only person in the theater laughing when he appeared on-screen. Oh and of course the Stan Lee cameo was awesome as usual!
James Gunn (what a great first name by the way) directed and wrote the film, and while he crafted his vision of the characters and story perfectly, it basically wasn't my cup of tea just like the first one (although I think this one might be slightly more tolerable than the first) and I can't fault him for that simply because I don't really like it. Once again the special effects and the expanse of the universe was great and well done even it was on a slightly smaller scale this time around. Tyler Bate's musical score played second fiddle to the soundtrack of vintage rock music from the 80's or whenever (that genre of music I have to say is beyond my knowledge, or really taste), so it wasn't anything really to comment about. The action was mind numbing. It was designed to overwhelm the senses with sheer mass rather than awe with design and calculating the path of the action. Honestly, I didn't care for the film, but I didn't hate it and it wasn't dreadful; it was entertaining and it successfully distracted me for a couple of from life and I have to admit that I laughed a good bit. I believe millions of people will love this film and think it's amazing, and if you enjoy juvenile humor befitting of a kid in Jr. High with lots of action (I noted that this film seemed incredibly violent, and it was done in a way that made it appear comical; that disturbed me a little) then this film is for you. It would definitely be a great date night film regardless of which way you swing or what age you are. And once again I wonder when the 'Golden Age of Comic Book Films' will end?
Now for something with a little more weight. I just (literally) finished reading the biography on the 11th President of the United States of America James Knox Polk (and yes his family was related to Protestant Reformer John Knox). He was president from 1845-1849 and was proceeded by John Tyler and succeeded by Zachary Taylor. He was a member of the Democratic party (which was very different then from what is now considered the Democratic party) and he died a couple months after he left office around the age of 53. He was the successor of Andrew Jackson's legacy as appointed by the former President who did what he could to put Polk into office. Polk fought the war with Mexico over Texas, and added Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon. Washington, and California to the United States. He worked hard every single day of his presidency rarely taking a vacation all four years of his term and also rarely left the White House. Interestingly enough, his secretary of state was James Buchanan who would go on to be president just as the US civil war broke out (Buchanan is considered one of if not the worst US president ever; I guess former secretaries of state do not make very good presidents as John Quincy Adams was also in that same boat). Aside from the great name this former president has, Polk to me was quite admirable and happens to be considered by historians to be one of the top US presidents of all time. Unfortunately the author of the biography I read, Walter R. Borneman, did a lousy job so I don't think I quite captured as great of a picture of the man as I could have. What I admired most about him was his incredible work ethic, sense of duty to the American people, and more importantly his sense of duty to the idea of the American union; that as Americans we are all in this great democratic experiment together and thus it should forever remain. One of the last bills he signed into office created the Department of the Interior, which he had grave doubts about...."he feared its consolidating tendency, and thought that it would centralize power over public lands in the federal government to the detriment of states, where he thought the power belonged." He changed the geography of the United States almost more so than any single US president, and he I believe is the only president that vowed to serve only one term right at the outset of his presidency. He was a great president, an admirable man that spent close to 30 years in public service in the U.S. House of Representatives, Tennessee Governor, and other state politics. Good politicians like him are truly missed and lamented in this day and age.