Things I Saw in January

moonlight2-01. Nocturnal Animals (2016): One of my favorite movies of 2016 to be sure, “Nocturnal Animals”, is a great, darkly funny film from director Tom Ford who hasn’t directed a film since 2009s “A Single Man”. Ford has wonderful look to this film which goes back and forth between the real story of a profoundly sad, empty artist (Amy Adams) who receives a manuscript from her writer ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). The other story that unfolds is what Adams is reading in the manuscript which is a southern gothic tale of revenge from a man who wants justice to the men who raped and murdered his wife and daughter. The story acts as a parallel to Adams’ story in a way as it recounts her unhappiness. The film, for the most part is wildly entertaining and original which great performances from everyone, even though I would say Michael Shannon walks away with the film as Southern Marshall who goes beyond the law, it’s weirdly wonderful and one of my favorite performances of the year. 4 stars out of 4

2. Moonlight (2016): A quiet, and riveting film and one that feels purely cinematic. This one stayed with me for a very long time after, not knowing what I thought of it, but thinking back at it, I came to the conclusion that it is a great film, beautiful and poetic. It tells a somewhat simple story following a young black kid through three stages of his life, from boyhood to manhood. We see basically three separate vignettes as he matures and the incidents which make him into the man he is. This is a film of wonderful self discovery as it deals with identity, finding out the type of person you are, and the idea of being lost and disillusioned. Writer/director Barry Jenkins does a masterful job establishing small intimate scenes with a wonderful cinematic flare. The fact that this film is getting awards attention seems sort of unprecedented, not many films this year can touch the type of artistry on display here. Truly a film that deserves the attention it’s getting. 4 stars out of 4

3. The Trouble with Harry (1955): Alfred Hitchcock’s darkly comic tale involving a group of small town eccentrics and their connection with a dead body that keeps popping up isn’t what I would call one of the master’s most essential films. Still this is a fascinatingly weird film that had me chuckling more than once in its complete grim comedy. In a way it hearkens back to Hitchcock’s early british films that had that same dry wit to it. The film is wonderful to look at, and Edmund Gwenn is a standout as a local hunter, still this is all much ado about nothing. 2 and a half stars out of 4

A Monster Calls (2016): For me 2016 has been a great year in movies, but there have been a lot of overlooked gems mostly in the films for children department. Most children’s films this year have dealt with ideas of orphans and coping with loss most prominently in films like “Pete’s Dragon” and “Kubo and the Two Strings”. “A Monster Calls” falls under this same category and had me bawling uncontrollably in its last act. It deals with a lonely young boy whose mother is dying slowly as he watches her. Throughout the film, he is full of anger, sadness, and loneliness, pretty much everything you feel when you are forced to watch a loved one dying. One evening an old tree comes to life in the form of a monster he tells the boy three stories that all relate to what he’s going through in some way or another, and in the end the boy must tell his story. There is so much about “A Monster Calls” that words so well, I’m not sure why it was so overlooked. A children’s film like this which is also a fantasy showed up nowhere in regular theatres where I am and only showed up in cheap theatres, yet this is the type of children’s film that should be getting some traction. If you look at 2016 and notice all the great family films that were overlooked, it’s a real shame. “A Monster Calls” is for me one of the best movies of 2016 and if you get a chance to see it, go see it! 4 stars out of 4

Fences (2016): Another film I’m catching up with based on the broadway play by August Wilson which garnered Tony awards to its stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Washington directs this film and basically follows the play verbatim, so much so that the playwright receives soul screenwriting credit. This is a purely emotional story of Washington who plays a working man in his fifties, disappointed with the way his life turned out after losing out to a promising career in baseball. His actions end up having dire effects on the people around him, namely his sons, and his wife (Davis). The film remains dialogue heavy but it sings coming out of all the actors, this probably rivals “Malcolm X” as Washington’s best screen performance yet, and he directs the film beautifully as a play adaption, it doesn’t feel closed in like some play to screen films do, he uses wide shots effectively, so we can breathe in the world of the story. The acting never seems to be over the top or theatrical, but more nuanced than you would expect. I hope for all of the awards for Washington and Davis, a real achievement. 3.5 stars out of 4

Split (2017): The latest of M. Night Shyamalan is a nice twisted horror thriller, with a tour de force performance by James Mcavoy to boot. Mcavoy plays a man with split personalities who kidnaps three young teenage girls, but it’s slowly revealed that his motives behind the kidnapping may not be what we expect. This is a nice thriller with unexpected results and good performances. Shyamalan gets a lot of flack for his stories, but he shows that he is a very good director when he wants to be. The ending seemed a little far-fetched and silly in some cases, as Shyamalan grasps for a supernatural twist, but it’s eerie enough the keep your interest, all in all a wonderful genre film that is sure to delight fans. 3 stars out of 4

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