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Posts Tagged ‘Naomie Harris’

20s

Trevante Rhodes as the twenty something Chiron

“MOONLIGHT” My rating: B+ 

110 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Think of  Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” as an African-American variation on Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.” It is an epic chronicle of childhood giving way to adolescence, and adolescence becoming a lonely adulthood.

The difference is that “Boyhood” was pretty much straightforward storytelling, while “Moonlight” is pure poetry. It is, in short, a genuine black art film, filled with beauty and horror, small comforts and big challenges.

Through the character of Chiron, a young Floridian played by three actors of different ages, writer/director Bennett gives us a deeply personal story which, without belaboring the point, can stand for the experiences of hundreds of thousands of young black men.

It’s not about drugs or poverty or gang life per se, and there’s no obviously political agenda (in fact white people are almost never seen), but “Moonlight” cannot help folding those socially relevant topics into its narrative.

At the same time the movie is less about facts (it’s filled with unanswered questions) than about feelings. It’s about a few seconds of blessed respite during a suffocatingly tense day, about water and sand and tropical heat, about activity fearfully captured out of the corner of one’s eye.

In one sense it’s practically documentary without the usual big dramatic speeches (the film’s protagonist is incapable of verbal grandstanding), but captured in a swirling riot of camera movement, color and conflicting sounds.

When we first meet Chiron (Alex Hibbert), or Little as he’s called by just about everyone, he’s hiding in an abandoned apartment building, having been pursued by schoolyard bullies. As his name suggests, Little is small. Also shy, withdrawn, mistrustful and uncommunicative.

He’s rescued by Juan (Mahershala Ali), the neighborhood drug lord, who provides safe escort and takes the boy to his apartment and his nurturing girlfriend Teresa (KCK native Janelle Monae, making a seemingly effortless transition from pop stardom to film acting).

Over the course of weeks and months the cocaine slinger and his woman will become Little’s surrogate parents, providing food, shelter and — as weird as it may sound — examples of more-or-less responsible adulthood…something painfully lacking in Little’s relationship with his  increasingly drug dependent mother (Naomie Harris).

Ali (sure to be honored as a supporting actor Oscar nominee) makes of Juan a deeply complex figure. He’s a criminal, but his relationship with Little is one of selfless nurturing.  Countless films have prepared us for Ali to use the kid as part of his drug business, but that never happens.

Instead he takes the boy to the beach and gently coaxes him into learning to float on the rocking waves. When Little asks, “Am I a faggot?” Juan answers with profound sincerity that Little may be gay, but he’s no faggot.

Other life lessons follow.  “No place in this world ain’t got black people,” Juan declares.  “We were the first people here.”

And especially:  “At some point you gotta decide for yoursdrelf who you gonna be.” (more…)

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Idris Elba as the imprisoned Nelson Mandela

Idris Elba as the imprisoned Nelson Mandela

“MANDELLA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM”  My rating: B- (Opens wide Dec. 25)

139 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is an honorable stab at a screen biography of a much-revered individual. On one level it’s inspiring, sure…how could a movie about the late Nelson Mandela not be inspiring?

But it’s also pedestrian…not in terms of production value but in its low-keyed sensibilities. Director Justin Chadwick, a veteran of British television with only two other features to his credit (“The Other Boleyn Girl,” “The First Grader”), is aiming for an intimate epic but comes up short. As a huge admirer of Mandela, I wanted to be deeply moved by this film. I wasn’t.

For starters, there’s the casting of Idris Elba in the title role. I know, I know…Elba is a terrific actor and extraordinarily studly, which is part of the problem. Look at the brooding look he gives in the poster for the movie…it’s more “The Wire” than peace, love and brotherhood.

(more…)

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“THE FIRST GRADER”  My rating: C 

103 minutes | PG-13

“The First Grader” is well-meaning, sincere and a bit dull.

Too bad. It had the makings of a real emotional powerhouse, but somehow all the juice in this fact-based tale dried up on the way to the screen

Oliver Litono as "The First Grader'

Ann Peacock’s screenplay is based on events in the life of Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge, a Kenyan who at the age of 84 decided he wanted to learn to read and write.

His efforts to get an education set off a firestorm of controversy, (more…)

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