Movie of the Week: Inferno

This week seems like a reversal from my perspective. I just saw a beautiful and profound film last weekend, so why am I seeing a potential flop this weekend? I do not know but at least I’ll be seeing something and writing about something. To say that the Dan Brown film series has been underwhelming is a grand understatement but for the life of me I grab some fulfillment out of these movies. Now Professor Robert Langdon is drawn into a new historical scavenger hunt in the effort to thwart an extinction-level event that takes the term “hell on earth” to literal proportions. Inferno arrives in theaters this week.

What am I expecting to see?: Truth be told if Inferno is entertaining on some level I’ll be satisfied yet I don’t expect this to be great in any sense of the term. Tom Hanks is back as Professor Robert Langdon, hero symbologist aided by Felicity Jones, who has positioned herself to have a monster fall-winter in 2016 with Ron Howard back to direct. David Koepp has adapted Brown’s novel to the screen and Hanks and Jones will be supported by Ben Foster, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babette Knudsen, Ana Ularu among others. If Inferno can at least smolder rather than completely burn, that should be victory enough for this film.

Review: Moonlight

Usually, I give warning to my readers whenever there is a film of note that I am interested in seeing but if I want to write about a film that I had the opportunity to see for myself, I take the initiative and offer my thoughts.

For months now, I’ve heard many good things about a movie that has quietly garnered a lot of acclaim and attention, heralded as one of the year’s best and yesterday I managed to track this particular film down, attend a screening and see for myself what all the fuss is about. This film is simply titled Moonlight.

From writer/director Barry Jenkins is an adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney‘s introspective and deeply personal “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.” Moonlight is a three-part tale about a young man from Miami navigating his way through various aspects of his life.

Moonlight follows Chiron during the climatic moments of his childhood, adolescence and adulthood, constantly questioning his identity and his place in the world and chronicling his relationships with his crack-addict mother, his surrogate nuclear family with a drug-dealer named Juan and his girl Theresa, and his childhood friend Kevin, whose relationship would evolve to become something more.


Image by A24

From part i titled “Little” to part ii titled “Chiron” to part iii titled “Black,” Moonlight is equal parts, emotional, haunting, artistically nuanced, technically sophisticated and worth all of the acclaim it is receiving. I can definitely attest to the power of Moonlight because every frame gorgeously captures a gripping sense of ethos and emotional resonance.

What makes Moonlight special is that even though this film has a plethora of moments, those moments don’t exactly grab you in the way to truly excite you. Rather the moments of Moonlight, for example when young Chiron-Little as he prefers to be called- is sitting at Juan and Theresa’s dining room table after an episode with his mother the night before, and he’s asking questions like “what’s a faggot?”, that is one of many powerful moments of Moonlight but instead of jolting you, I found that this movie was more gentle and tender on its audience, at least for me. I was very drawn in and scintillated by the action but it was more soothing and caressing than what I was used to.

Barry Jenkins is at the helm of a project that will linger with audiences for a while. This is a powerful and honest story about self-discovery, identity and connection yet it is truly beautiful to behold. I felt that handling Chiron’s sexual identity was done with a great degree of taste and discretion, particularly in the scene where he and Kevin started out talking to each other on the beach, then they transitioned into kissing and then it became more physical yet vague, the audience knows that they were doing something but what is subject to interpretation; I felt that aspect of the film was handled very professionally and objectively and I credit Jenkins for utilizing such an approach.

Moonlight also features a truly well-rounded cast featuring the talents of Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae, Alex R. Hibbert, Jaden Piner, Ashton Sanders, Patrick Decile, Jharrel Jerome, Trevonte Rhodes, Andre Holland, Tanisha Cidel, Herveline Moncion; there is quality ensemble acting in this film.

Technically, Moonlight is as artistic as it gets and the quality of the artistic value is sublime!

First and foremost, this film has to feature the best cinematography and camerawork I’ve seen so far this year. James Laxton’s use of tracking shots and extreme close-ups are some of the best I’ve seen since Emmanuel Lubezki. Frame by frame, this movie is beautiful. Hypnotic, if you could take it one step further.

The editing courtesy Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders is first-class. I particularly enjoyed the sequence in the second act where Chiron exacts his revenge on resident bully, the camera follows him from behind from home, to the hallway of his school, to his classroom where he takes a chair and slams it onto Tarrel’s back; it felt seamless, it flowed smoothly and it was effective.

The music of Nicholas Brittel brought a sense of gravitas and elegance to Moonlight that only enhanced its spellbinding nature. I also felt that Hannah Beachler’s production design and the art direction by Mabel Barba, the costume design of Caroline Eselin, Regina McLarney’s set decoration, were all aces.

Could you call Moonlight the next Boyhood? Perhaps because it does wreak of strong familiarity to Richard Linklater’s masterwork but I like to think Moonlight is a prestige picture of its own right. I went into Moonlight ready for one of the elite films of 2016 and I was not disappointed.

Trailer Talk! New looks at Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Logan

In the span of 48 hours Marvel Studios has dropped two official trailers for two of their highly anticipated films of 2017. Both films are interpretations of the theme “different world” in my esteemed opinion. One film highlights the implementation of different worlds and the other showcases a different world compared to what has come before. Star-Lord, Gamorra, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, Baby Groot with the aid of former foes Yondu and Nebula take the next step in their endeavor to defend the galaxy from unprecedented intergalactic threats. Marvel’s band of intergalactic outlaws return in the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Arriving in theaters on May 5, 2017, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Elizabeth Debicki, Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone and the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper. Thank you James Gunn.

An era is coming to an end. 15 years for Hugh Jackman, centuries for his most renowned character and from the looks of this first trailer, the twilight of mutant-kind. Wolverine is bearing witness to the twilight of mutants roaming the earth and the healing factor that is his mutation is diminishing. With the years catching up to him, and one last mission to protect a young girl from a anti-mutant genocidal maniac from a man named Pierce, Logan and Professor X must make one last stand for their species. This is the first look at Logan.

Directed by James Mangold and written for the screen by James David Kelly and Michael Green, Logan will be the final time Hugh Jackman will don the adamantium claws in a feature film. Logan also stars Boyd Holbrook, Doris Morgado, Stephen Merchant, Eriq La Salle, Sienna Novikov, Richard E. Grant and Patrick Stewart, in his final turn as Professor X. Logan slashes into theaters on March 3, 2017.

Review: The Girl on the Train

I enjoy a good train ride as much as anyone. Riding the rails, watching the world go by for an hour, perhaps more, taking in the comfort and the sights as much as you can until you reach your intended destination, it’s soothing. The Girl on the Train, adapted from Paula Hawkins’ acclaimed bestseller, is anything but soothing.


Image by Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment and DreamWorks SKG

The film follows three very troubled women. The first is Rachel, played by Emily Blunt, who spends her days spiraling deeper and deeper into a depressed and drunken stupor, reeling from the agony of her heartbreaking divorce from her ex-husband Tom, who is now married to the second pivotal lady of the plot Anna, who was at one time Tom’s mistress and now mother to his child but Anna cannot take care of the child alone, that’s why she has Megan, the third pivotal woman of the film, as a nanny.

On one Friday, Rachel sees Megan in the arms of a man who is not her husband and that evening, she confronts Megan in a drunken stupor and then, she blacks out. When she comes to, she awakens covered in blood, memory gone, Megan’s missing, the police are circling like vultures and she unwittingly throws herself in the case, trying to help Megan’s husband Scott, find her but only causes more trouble as time passes and Megan’s body is discovered.

Throughout this film, these characters are so tragically depressing and their baggage is so burdensome on audiences, it is difficult to find any shred of sympathy for any of them. The Girl on the Train will do its utmost to attract a crowd who happened to be fans of Hawkins’ novel, fans of suspense-mystery thrillers, and/or fans of Gone Girl, but alas, The Girl on the Train is a morbidly depressing tale about morbidly depressing human beings.

I’ve liked two of Tate Taylor’s previous films, The Help and Get on Up, but this was so far out of his wheelhouse, I couldn’t connect with this movie to find anything worth enjoying about it and I found the whole picture drudgingly unbearable because these women characters are just so difficult to sympathize with, especially once the connection between them is revealed through Tom and I was left asking why they would allow themselves to be bent and manipulated by such a small and insignificant man like this?

Even though I didn’t particularly resonate with any of these characters, I can say that I liked some of the performances. Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett were the standouts, from what I can recall and the supporting performances of Allison Janney, Luke Evans, Rebecca Ferguson, Edgar Ramirez, Laura Prepon and Justin Theroux were alright, to put it mildly.

Erin Cressida Wilson’s screenplay? It’s difficult to evaluate it because I didn’t read the novel but I can say that while the story is aching and jarring, it failed to leave any type of impression on me. The plot for The Girl on the Train, pales in comparison to the shock and awe of a thriller such as Gone Girl although I could definitely feel that it wanted to strike the same chords as that of a Hitchcockian work.

In fact there were times in the movie, I found myself asking “why?” Like when Anna found Meg’s cell-phone in a drawer, where Tom keeps anything electrical or computer-based and she goes outside and after a few minutes, she throws it in the marshes behind her house; why would you do something that stupid?

I could say that this movie could be a means to reference many of Hitchcock’s most iconic tropes, like the use of voyeurism where Rachel is peering into the windows and houses of the neighborhood she used to live in and imagining what their lives are like, ala Rear Window, the train as an instrument of no escape or claustrophobia, from North by Northwest, Megan having such influence over practically all of the characters though she is absent/dead throughout the picture, like Rebecca, Tom being a duplicitous, murderous fiend, like Norman Bates was in Psycho.

The cinematography of Charlotte Bruus Christensen aimed to be a striking experience but the effects rendered everything visual to be rather dull, the editing of Andrew Buckland and Michael McCusker didn’t help matters either, Danny Elfman’s score went in one ear and out the other, Kevin Thompson’s production design, Deborah Jensen’s art direction, Susan Bode-Tyson’s costumes, everything technical about this movie left no impression upon me at all.

Going in, maybe in the back of my mind I wanted this to be the next Gone Girl, even though I knew that would be practically impossible but I didn’t expect The Girl on the Train to be so boring an ordinary train ride would be more exciting than that. Oh well.

Review: The Birth of a Nation

There are two films titled The Birth of a Nation. The first film dates back to the pioneer days of cinema, where D.W. Griffith’s rendition followed the relationship of two families and their involvement in the Civil War. The second is where this review will focus on and while the setting is approximately the same, it’s a different tale to behold.

This new version of The Birth of a Nation is directed by, written by and starring Nate Parker. Parker has elected to bring the story of Nat Turner to the big screen; the same Nat Turner who led an uprising of slave against their masters in Virginia in 1831. The uprising led to disaster for 100s of slaves throughout the country and Turner was ultimately and graphically executed for his insurrection. If any of that sounds familiar, it’s because in history/social studies class you probably covered the subject of Nat Turner in some detail.


Image by Fox Searchlight

Parker’s film doesn’t entirely focus of Turner’s rebellion though. It follows the events in Turner’s life that led to the rebellion, from childhood where he was believed, or if you choose to believe prophesized, to become a leader and prophet in his own right, where he began instruction to become literate through Bible study courtesy of Elizabeth Turner, to his adult life where he was a preacher, traveling around throughout the Southampton County preaching to slaves on other plantations while witnessing the atrocities done to his people and his family, particularly his wife Cherry Ann, who was bludgeoned and possibly gang raped by white men.

In witness the horrors done to his people in his waking state, to the dreams/visions he had in his sleep and relying on his instructions in the scripture, Turner marshals up a small army of the oppressed and those in bondage to rise up and march “onto Jerusalem” where they could arm themselves beyond knives, axes and hammers yet Turner’s vision ended in failure and resulted in the deaths of Turner’s small band at the hands of the Virginia militia, widespread deaths for many slaves and freed people of color and Turner’s swift execution.

I’ve been tracking this movie for some time and from what I initially saw at the time, I believed this movie to be the next 12 Years a Slave. Then came the highly controversial news of an “exciting” poster and the resurfacing of Parker’s prior rape trial, which caused me to temper my expectations for this movie but when I finally saw it for myself, I was regrettably underwhelmed by the finished product that is The Birth of a Nation.

Perhaps it was because the film left questions unanswered, perhaps it was the controversy surrounding it and Nate Parker, perhaps it was because it tried to conform into something completely unauthentic but I believe The Birth of a Nation’s greatest sin was it was trying too damn hard and in doing so, it felt a little over the top.


By gdcgraphics, via Wikimedia Commons

Nate Parker’s enthusiasm and ambition is definitely hard to miss however, I felt it difficult to decipher what Parker’s motives behind this picture truly were. Did he want to give justice to Nat Turner in the way 12 Years a Slave gave justice to Solomon Northrup? Did he want to use this film as an instrument to condemn the actions of white society on modern day African-Americans and the travesties that befall them? Did he want to incite or excite audiences with the rhetoric that people of color can fight against oppression? This movie’s purpose was too vague for my liking or maybe it’s purpose flew over my head and I simply couldn’t catch it.

Also, there are moments where it plays itself as “too Hollywood” and that hinders whatever technical and artistic craftsmanship The Birth of a Nation has going for it. For instance, during the third act of the film, during Turner’s hanging, the camera zooms in on Parker’s face, his eyes to be exact, and there was sweeping music playing as he was seeing an angel coming to welcome him into the next life. This sequence was one of many that just unnecessarily dragged on with no sense of purpose, making him look practically Christ-like and I felt that was DOA.

Granted there are also moments where The Birth of a Nation hits powerful high notes like when Turner arrives on a plantation to see a young white girl playing with a slave girl and she is leading the slave with a noose around her neck while they are skipping along. That is a powerful moment and yet it’s wasted in the shuffle of such haphazard blunders.

Parker was the only vintage standout of this film. He was solid portraying this role but in terms of the writing, direction and overall execution, The Birth of a Nation falls into the category of pretender rather than contender since it wants to be something that it is not.

The cast including Arnie Hammer, Jackie Earle Haley, Penelope Ann Miller, Colman Domingo, Mark Boone Junior, Aja Naomi King, Dwight Henry, Esther Scott, Aunjanue Ellis and Gabrielle Union, find some sort of comfort in their roles but fail to take the focus off Parker’s performance which essentially drives the film forward.

Elliot Davis’ cinematography is hit-and-miss, Stephen Rosenblum’s editing however compensates for Davis’ on-then-off visionary prowess, Henry Jackman’s score fits the tone of the film yet it’s incorporated in a manner that is overdone, Geoffrey Kirkland’s production design and Francine Jamison-Tanchuck’s costumes were fitting; The Birth of a Nation is an example of a focused but heavy plot smothering a technically mishandled production.

I suppose the best way to describe Nate Parker’s telling of the Nat Turner rebellion that calls itself The Birth of a Nation can be summed up in one word: underwhelming.

Movies of the Week: The Birth of a Nation and The Girl on the Train

This weekend will be a tad hectic for me, but I will assuredly do my utmost to see two features that I’ve had my eye on for sometime. This weekend, the opportunity for me to see a film with serious clout as a potential Oscars contender in The Birth of a Nation. Written, starring and directed by Nate Parker, who is currently weathering a storm of controversy, The Birth of a Nation is set in the antebellum South, and follows a literate enslaved preacher named Nat Turner who after witnessing atrocities and violence against his people, marshals a revolt that will make its mark on the history of this country.

What am I expecting to see from The Birth of a Nation?: When word caught my ears about this film and after watching the trailers, a feeling was evoked within me that reminded me of a previous Oscar winning Best Picture years ago and thus, this became one of my most anticipated films of the year. Granted, I am aware of the controversy surrounding Nate Parker, but I am invested in this film for this film and I pray that this is the film that distinguish itself as one of the year’s best. I look forward to a film with a solid acting ensemble including Arnie Hammer, Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, Mark Boone Junior, Dwight Henry and Aunjanue Ellis. I want The Birth of a Nation to live up the high expectations I have set for it.

I found out recently that Emily Blunt has a thing for starring in thrillers and I can believe that. Last year she starred in one of the best thrillers films of the 2015 and The Girl on the Train yields a eerily familiar vibe to one of the best films of 2014. Blunt stars as a divorcee who saw something she shouldn’t have seen and spirals into a scenario where she is unraveling at the seams because she has seen something she shouldn’t have seen. Paula Hawkins’ highly acclaimed novel is adapted to the screen by Erin Cressida Wilson and is directed by Tate Taylor.

What am I expecting to see from The Girl on the Train?: Maybe I am setting myself up for failure because I expect this to be the next Gone Girl but I cannot deny that the tone and the plot of both films feels vaguely familiar and perhaps that is why I’m drawn to this film. I’ve liked Tate Taylor’s movies and Blunt is quite the accomplished actress, so I feel confident that I may enjoy this movie. I hope Wilson’s screenplay can accurately capture the tension and striking power of Hawkins’ novel and I hope that the supporting cast of Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Rebecca Ferguson, Laura Prepon, Luke Evans, Allison Janney and Lisa Kudrow can elevate Blunt’s performance and the suspense appeal of the feature. The Girl on the Train can have impactf if the execution is done proper.

Review: Queen of Katwe

The story of Phiona Mutesi is a tale of ambition, triumph, strength and overcoming adversity. Director Mira Nair and screenwriter William Wheeler saw fit to adapt the highly acclaimed article and book written by Tim Crothers to share with the world, which needs a little inspiration at the moment.


Image by Disney

Phiona’s story spans several years, starting from when she and her brothers and sister were selling corn on the streets of Katwe to help her mother Nakku Harriet stay in their small run-down apartment. The inciting incident of the picture is when she follows her brother Brian to a chess club and meets Robert Katende, a man who sets up the pieces to change her life forever.

As Phiona’s knack for the game of chess grows, a hidden talent emerges. Over time Robert sees in her the makings of a genuine prodigy for the game, perhaps even a grandmaster and Phiona believes that chess can be the means to attain something greater than what her family has ever known, but she wrestles with insecurities as every stage of the game gets bigger and she is reminded that she is only a small piece from a small town.

Queen of Katwe is genuinely inspiring film that I encourage audiences to see. It’s a classic story about an underdog from a small town that can make a big impact, it’s a story about family, a story about sacrifice; it tugs at you a bit with the overarching message but there are many technical and physical traits of the film worthy of admiration.

I’d like to start off by saying that the acting of Queen of Katwe is rock solid. The three leading performers, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o and newcomer Madina Nalwanga, are all razor sharp with their performances.


Image by Disney

Watching Oyelowo perform, I could definitely tell that he was in his element as this presence for motivation and ambition, and his performance as Robert Katende is equal parts funny, staunch and authentic as this youth chess coach who wants to provide for his family. I believe his high moment was the scene were Roberts young chess team, The Pioneers, were about to walk out of their first chess tournament against educated schoolchildren and they felt intimidated by the setting, their opponents and Robert perked them up about a story about a hungry dog being bested by a cat that was running for its life and told them the Pioneers are running/fighting for their lives. That was a great moment for Oyelowo.

Lupita Nyong’o is genuine star and her performance as the proud mother Harriet is practically effortless. I believe single parents, particularly single mothers, out there providing for their children in these difficult times will see her character as a source of inspiration and she once again delivers an amazing acting performance. Though she doesn’t get enough screen time as Nalwanga or Oyelowo, she certainly makes her presence felt; after her family was kicked out of their apartment because her son Brian was in an accident and had to go to the hospital, she sets up a makeshift home on the streets and runs into her estranged daughter Night, who gives Phiona money since Harriet is too proud to take it, but Harriet accepts when Phiona coaxes her into accepting; I thought that was a profound moment of strength demonstrated by Nyong’o’s nuanced performance.


Image by Disney

Madina Nalwanga’s debut was a success. Her portrayal as “Queen Phiona” is empathetic, encouraging and she delivered a lot of promise in her performance of a very strong and courageous young woman. I think Nalwanga’s strongest moments were when Phiona was playing chess in her first tournaments, particularly against the boy who was practically looking down at her because of where she came from but in the end, she got the last laugh.

I liked all of the actors in this film; Martin Kabanza, Taryn Kyaze, Ronald Ssemaganda, Nikita Waligwa, Ivan Jacobo, Nicolas Levesque, Ethan Nazario Lubega, Esther Tebandeke, everyone was certainly a unique change of pace.

Wheeler’s screenplay certainly had its moments but I believe its greatest credit was doing justice by Phiona and her family. What I took away from this film’s story is the message that probably spurred Phiona onto her path to becoming a champion: the small one can become the big one.

Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography was rather playful but straightforward, Barry Alexander Brown’s editing was on point throughout, Stephanie Carroll’s production design wreaked of authenticity, I can’t say much about Alex Heffes’ score but I will say that the technical elements of Queen of Katwe were rather impressive.

Mira Nair did a fine job at making this film as poignant, piercing and meticulous as possible. This film had high moments, moments where it felt as though it was lagging and dragging but I will remember Queen of Katwe because all of the pieces and players on the board came together in a winning formation.