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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Moonlight

"Doctor Strange" and Brad Pitt's "Allied" are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Best Picture Oscar winner “Moonlight” plays like an amalgamation between a student film and a polished, professional movie. In other words, the themes, characters, and story are all that of a bold, daring, fresh mind who seeks to create art to challenge and inspire. This is coupled with the cinematography, screenplay, acting, and directing of a mainstream big budget picture. The result is one of the best movies of 2016.

The story is focused on a young, black, impoverished, gay male named Chiron living in Miami. I know—groan—they checked everything off on the Progressive Stack list except female and handicapped. But bear with “Moonlight.” The movie’s genius is in its total lack of preachiness regarding any type of identity politics. It tells a story of a person—first and foremost—who happens to have all of those characteristics. Once the traits on the character are established, the movie does not dwell on them at all. The only trait that really pops up throughout the story is that of Chiron being gay, and it is handled in a way that is organic to the story.



Chiron’s story is told in three parts in “Moonlight.” We see him when he is age nine, age 16, and around age 26. The role is played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, respectively, at each age. The main theme in each is Chiron’s sexual development, his relationship with his junkie mother (Naomie Harris), and his friendship with a young man his age named Kevin (played at the aforementioned ages by Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and a standout supporting performance by André Holland).

Writer-director Barry Jenkins (working from a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, with whom he shared the Adapted Screenplay Oscar) shines as a guiding force behind the camera in “Moonlight.” It takes a director with extremely clear vision and immense control to pull off the consistency of character we see throughout each part, while at the same time creating character arcs that propel the story forward and show growth in not just the physical, but also the mental and emotional sense. This makes “Moonlight” a marvel of creative accomplishment that must not be underestimated.


The characters and dialogue in “Moonlight” are written with an authenticity that rings true. And I’m not just talking about the way the N-word is dropped left and right. I’m also referring to the little ways of speaking that are generally not heard, and play as spot on to the things these characters would say. The colloquialisms like, “You feel me?” and “Who is you?” that make up the language of the world these people inhabit helps to draw you into their existence, and keep you there, in their reality.

Speaking of reality, I love the style of this movie. It doesn’t feel staged, but rather free flowing and natural. It’s like the director is chasing the story, rather than simply filming it. There is a cinema verite quality to the camera work that is captivating, mostly through the use of hand held camera. There is a fantastic long take that opens the movie, featuring a character named Juan (Supporting Actor Oscar winner Mahershala Ali). Using fluid camera motions that encircle the actors, the scene brings us into this Miami neighborhood as well as the goings on within it, and brilliantly sets the stage for where we are and what is to come.

While writer-director Jenkins is no amateur (a quick look on imdb.com shows he has short movie credits going back to 2003), this is his first feature length film. As it turns out, he was the perfect choice to take this story and craft a beautiful, compelling movie out of it. “Moonlight” is his big, bold, wonderful, awe-inspiring entry into the world of feature length movie making, and I can’t praise him enough for a job so very, very well done. Buy it on Amazon: Moonlight [Blu-ray].

Also New This Week

Doctor Strange

Marvel Studios keeps churning out the origin stories with “Doctor Strange,” the newest entry into the MCU. Nothing about the story breaks the mold: Brilliant surgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets in a terrible car wreck that ruins his hands. He seeks healing from all corners of the Earth and eventually finds his way to Nepal. There, under the tutelage of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), he joins her and fellow follower Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in their battle against evil sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).

The movie would be a relatively cut and dry been there/done that comic book actioner if it wasn’t for two things: the mystical aspects of the story and the special effects. While fantastical elements have been explored in Marvel movies before, such as “Thor,” none has given such an in depth look at the ancient mystical arts like we see in “Doctor Strange.” Couple that with the fact that the movie is vividly imaginative and has some of the best visual effects put on screen in the past year, and it is certainly worthwhile to Buy it on Amazon: Moonlight [Blu-ray]Doctor Strange [Blu-ray].

Rules Don’t Apply

Warren Beatty takes on one of the more enigmatic figures of the twentieth century, Howard Hughes, serving as co-screenwriter (with Bo Goldman), director, and star (as Hughes) in “Rules Don’t Apply.” The movie is told from the point of view of Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), a driver for Hughes, but Hughes is unmistakably the driving force behind the events in the movie.

Hughes is seen not as some kooky recluse, but rather as a man of high intelligence and an ahead of his time innovator who had multiple talents and interests. He is also a bit of an obsessive compulsive, prone to repeating himself several times over and most famously, avoiding people whenever possible. Watching Hughes’ behavior, we quickly get the impression that drivers like Frank and his older counterpart, Levar Mathis (Matthew Broderick), tolerate Hughes because he is wealthy and famous, and presumably, because he pays well. This is also the only reason that young starlet Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) sits around all day for weeks just waiting for a screen test.

“Rules Don’t Apply” is an entertaining, engaging tale with a very strange man at its core. It is at times funny and at times dramatic, but never gets so bogged down in sappy romance angles or the tragedy of mental illness that it becomes depressing or a chore to watch. It’s a breezy tale that shows that while money can certainly get you a lot, it can’t buy everything. Rent it.

Allied

If ever a movie needed a rewrite, it’s “Allied.” This movie could have and should have been so much better. Instead, we get a middling suspense story starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, and directed by Robert Zemeckis. I’m sure it was intended as Oscar bait. At that it failed, and with good reason—it’s a suspense movie without any suspense.

Zemeckis knows his way around creating tension and suspense, so the fault is not his—he did what he could with the material. I put the lack of tension on screenwriter Steven Knight, who seemed to have the buds of good ideas but never explored them thoroughly enough to let them grow into anything. The movie does have some twists here and there, but they aren’t particularly interesting, and I was hoping the movie would go in a much bigger, better direction than it did. Pitt and Cotillard are great in their roles, and the sets and costumes are well done for the period, so it’s not a total loss. Plus the idea behind the movie—is she or isn’t she a spy?—is a solid premise as well. It’s just too bad that the story based off of that idea is so painfully mediocre. Stream it.

Shut In

My thoughts on “Shut In” are the opposite to those of “Allied,” at least as far as behind the camera is concerned. Naomi Watts is great in her role as Mary Portman, a child psychiatrist who has to care for a teenage son (Charlie Heaton) who was critically injured in a car accident that left him unable to speak or function on his own.
This time, the script by screenwriter Christina Hodson is pretty good. Portman is already a shut in since she doesn’t like to leave her son alone and she can’t take him out too often. The drama rises when a young deaf boy who is a patient of Portman’s, played by Jacob Tremblay, goes missing during a brutal blizzard. The tension is ratcheted up with an amazing reveal that could have been something great if it wasn’t for the ham-fisted direction of Farren Blackburn.

Blackburn’s biggest mis-step is taking a well-written suspense tale and trying to turn it into a horror movie. That maybe could have worked if he tried to turn it into a good horror movie. He didn’t. He turned it into yet another jump scare and fake out ridden schlock fest that has become so tiresome and cliché that I don’t even jump anymore and the fake outs just tick me off. The writer can possibly be blamed for some of the fake outs, but I contend that it was Hodson’s intention to show Portman’s psychological fragility and potential unraveling—not to have it cheapened by gotcha and fool you moments. “Shut In” should have been a psychological thriller. As is, it’s more like a cliché, half-hearted remake of the “The Shining,” especially during the last third of the movie. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Officer Downe,” about an immortal police officer who resurrects time and again to fight crime; “The Student Body,” documentary movie about the controversy surrounding forced BMI tests in schools and the uproar that letters home to the parents of high BMI children caused; “Contract to Kill,” generic Steven Seagal actioner in which he plays one of his generic characters in a movie with a generic title; “All We Had,” Katie Holmes directs and stars in this drama about a mother and daughter on the run from an abusive man; and “Slaughterhouse,” not particularly good slasher flick from 1987 that is really just noteworthy for having an overweight killer (Joe Barton) who literally grunts and snorts like a pig.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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