Double Feature: Moonlight (2016) & Hidden Figures (2016)

Welcome to the first Double Feature of 2019! We’re starting off with a strong pair of Oscar-nominated/winning films that I caught up with over the holidays. I went into both of these films with only a general knowledge of what it was about. Most of the time, I don’t stay too current with Oscar movies and are in no big rush to catch up with them because I’m not a huge fan of watching dramas however, a little spoiler, no regrets on watching either of these.

Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight

Director (and screenplay): Barry Jenkins

Cast: Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris, Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, Andre Holland,

A chronicle of the childhood, adolescence and burgeoning adulthood of a young, African-American, gay man growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. – IMDB

In some ways, Moonlight reminds me of Boyhood except it takes an African-American boy’s life in chapters, taking a snapshot parts of his life from when his young childhood when people called him Little and finding refuge in a man’s care who accepts him and takes him under his wing to face the cruel reality out there. The second part takes us into his teenage years as Chiron as he grows to embrace his sexual orientation. It highlights his friendship with his childhood friend Kevin who has always been there even from the first part who never questioned all the bullying towards him. The third part fast forwards to Chiron, now an adult who others called Black and has followed the footsteps of his mentor.

Choosing to look at the snapshots of his man’s life from boyhood to adulthood is a very nice way to execute this film. In fact, its part of why this film shines. , there are always factors that give the story a thread to tie it all together from the start to the finish. It also lies heavily on its cast who does a fantastic job. Mahershala Ali may have had a small role but his role’s influence plays a big part. At the same time, Janelle Monae is also spectacular as well. I’d go to the say that the supporting roles here are as powerful if not more powerful than its main lead. All this really dials down to the fact that the script itself has created some compelling characters that feel incredibly genuine.

Hidden Figures (2016)

hidden Figures

Director (and screenplay): Theodore Melfi

Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Glen Powell

The story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program. – IMDB

Hidden Figures is one of those films that I finished up the film and was so pleasantly surprised because of not only its content aka the story its telling but also due to its well-rounded messages and tone which is serious but managed to also give it a fair bit of lighthearted humor to round it out. It gives a lot of credit to its incredible cast. The main reason being its three leading ladies whom I liked a lot to begin with: Taraji P. Henson (can’t remember if its from Hustle & Flow, The Good Doctor or Date Night); Octavia Spencer (from The Help) and Janelle Monae (from Moonlight). They do such a great job especially when looking at their dynamic together in some scenes where they carry the film and highlight the inequality in the workplace and the inconveniences. Of course, the film is also full of other memorable roles whether its Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons including Kirsten Dunst as well.

Its been honestly years since I’ve been incredibly impressed by an Oscar-nominated film. Its a shame that it didn’t win anything. It isn’t a surprise of course because Oscar has a specific type of films that always wins. Hidden Figures feels too light-hearted and fun albeit having its drama. Regardless of Oscars or not, Hidden Figures is a fantastic film lead by three spectacular female actresses, a poignant supporting cast and managing to find a great balance between a lighthearted tone despite its serious historical drama.

This wraps up this double feature of Moonlight and Hidden Figures!
Have you seen these two films?

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Double Feature: Star Trek: Beyond (2016) & Baby Driver (2017)

double feature

We are nearing the end of the year which means I’m going to try to get a lot of these backlogged movies reviewed. While I did write a review over on Weibo for Baby Driver already, I haven’t done one here and I’m not going to lie that Star Trek Beyond was a few months ago so its starting to get a little blurry.

Star Trek: Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond

Director: Justin Lin

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Joe Taslim

The crew of the USS Enterprise explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a new ruthless enemy, who puts them, and everything the Federation stands for, to the test. –IMDB

After the last Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness (review), I had my reservations about this one. For one, the first and the second had this conflict in tone and humor. There was this narrative that worked but the villains felt underused or not quite as effective. Thinking back now, it felt like a fairly unsatisfying and forgettable movie experience save for some of the returning cast who had roles which were quite fun to watch. Star Trek Beyond however takes a different approach. It may have to do with the fact that Simon Pegg doesn’t only appear in the film but also does the writing for this one. It also helps that Justin Lin, a director that I like a lot in the Fast and Furious franchise takes the helms of this sequel. A lot of the factors makes this one such a fun and entertaining movie experience that reminds me a lot of the fun I had in the first Star Trek film.

Star Trek Beyond resumes the familiar roles. Its a good thing because for those who have been following the franchise, its a nice little team that we know the personality of. There is this well-oiled machine dynamic despite the issues they encounter. Everyone delivers it very well. I completely had forgotten that John Cho was in this as well especially since I had just seen him in Searching (when I saw this movie in August or something..Searching review here). Then of course, we have Anton Yelchin that is still such a huge loss in my heart because he is so incredibly talented. However, I think what deserves a mention here are the new additions. The first is the girl on the planet they land on called Jayla, played by Sofia Boutella who has such a fantastic character design appearance wise and her weapons and Sofia Boutella does a great job. On top of that, mostly unrecognizable except for his voice is Idris Elba who plays the villain, Krall. He still feels a little underused but the presence is very much there.

Baby Driver (2017)

baby driver

Director (and writer): Edgar Wright

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Lily James, Eiza Gonzalez, Kevin Spacey

After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail. – IMDB

Every once in a while we get a new gimmick and it works for some and doesn’t work for others. Baby Driver utilizes the constant soundtrack in Baby’s life to  work around it. It starts off fairly fun and charming, if a little odd especially when he turns on the wipers for no reason but to match the lyrics or sounds or something. There is a charm to it all. However, Baby Driver reminds us how sometimes soundtracks are used sparingly for a reason because it accentuates a scenes. As clever as the idea itself and how the execution works in some parts, it doesn’t translate to everything. There is no doubt that the soundtrack is really good, except I would have liked to not be overloaded with music so much.

Baby Driver

As charmed as I was with the use of music and soundtracks and how that was executed well enough, the story here is fairly basic. Its actually not even very fleshed out for any of the characters. Its almost like the gimmick is the reason for the whole thing. The action sequences are done pretty good though and the bombastic characters played by Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez and Jamie Foxx all are quite memorable. When things get dicey though, the characters are really just shells and the story is pretty much on rails following everything as expected and predicted.

Is it as awesome as it seems to be for a lot of people? For myself, I don’t really think its that well-rounded. There are aspects that stand out and as much as I like the music and cars and this one delivers two things I love, it somehow outlived its hype. Its not a bad idea and its a fun little experience but somehow it just lost its charm in the second half.

Double Feature: Call Me By Your Name (2017) & Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Call this a 2017 double feature and a drama as well. Two movies that got a lot of recognition and praise at the beginning of this year so its surely two well-matched double feature.

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Call Me By Your Name

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel

In 1980s Italy, a romance blossoms between a seventeen year-old student and the older man hired as his father’s research assistant. – IMDB

I’ve only ever seen one other movie from Luca Guadagnino earlier this year, A Bigger Splash. I’m going to be honest that this director has a very similar way of approaching stories or maybe its the stories that he chooses and the setting that distinguish it apart because while watching Call Me By Your Name, while the story itself is very different, there is this same feeling that I got as I was watching A Bigger Splash and that was before I realized that these two films were directed by the same person. I can’t say that the story itself is particularly unexpected but what works even better is that the story is made really great because of its cast who delivers some fantastic performances.

What this movie does a great job at doing besides yet again giving us a beautiful Italian setting and the love of filming in waterholes or pools or something or another like this (like in A Bigger Splash), is how Armie Hammer’s Oliver and Timothée Chalamet’s Elio deliver a powerful story about first love. One of the most powerful points here though is that it breaks barriers of how romance no matter what gender is still the same. Its as valid and the same for everyone. Oliver and Elio’s first love might be something they try to hide around the people around them which leads Elio to find also a romantic feeling with Marzia (Esther Garrel) and there he finds something different as well. There is a feeling of exploration and getting in touch with their feelings while also having that uncertainty and vulnerability of not being sure how much to show. There is a lot of depth to this story. It kind of is one of those stories that creeps up on us with every scene that in the end when we get the final moments between Elio and his father who has this incredibly touching speech and that final ending conversation with Elio and Oliver, it just tugs on all kinds of heartstrings.

Its been a while since I’ve seen Call Me By Your Name and yet, there is something so beautiful and so raw about how this whole story is set up and told from the details of the setting to the interactions that make this journey, especially for Elio’s first love that makes it so powerful. So many scenes resound in my mind and the story seems to just linger on.

On that note, I’m not exactly sure I’m into watching a sequel or even where this story can go, especially since that seems to be in the works but we will see, I guess.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

three billboards outside ebbing missouri

Director (and writer): Martin McDonagh

Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges

A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit. – IMDB

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film that I liked a lot. There is a nice mix between drama and dark comedy. Plus, the film is packed with fantastic performances. Between Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand, these three deliver on their characters. The story itself is pretty dark and in some ways, the drama behind it is actually quite heartbreaking to watch in the sense of how the case was treated and the pain of a mother trying to force some justice and action in a desperate way. Call it her way to find closure.

What I like the most about this film is how it is executed. The pacing and the way it is put together works really well. While Woody Harrelson’s character is incredibly dynamic to watch and one that has quite the impactful character where Frances McDormand’s character is more of the dramatic and gritty character, the character that stood out the most to me was Sam Rockwell’s character which had the most layers and growth in this whole story. The heart of the movie lies in these performances and the characters from its many different prejudices towards race, career and other elements. Its these prejudices that create these unnecessary aggression and what causes a lot of these situations that happen. There is a lot to talk about in this film and a lot of depth to the story and its characters which makes it so awesome and one I highly recommend.

Overall, two films that I enjoyed a lot!
Somehow its two that I think the experience of watching it overpowers anything I can say about it.

Halloween 2018: TV Binge: The Haunting of Hill House (Season 1, 2018)

We are back with the horror marathon continuation. Some of you know that I am a huge Mike Flanagan fan. I think that he has a lot of skills as a director and delivers some great atmospheric horror. When I saw that The Haunting of Hill House is created by Mike Flanagan, it went to the top of the pile right away. And here we are…

The Haunting of Hill House (Season 1, 2018)

the haunting of hill house

Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Michael Huisman, Elizabeth Reaser, Kate Siegel, Carla Gugino, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Henry Thomas, Victoria Pedretti

Flashing between past and present, a fractured family confronts haunting memories of their old home and the terrifying events that drove them from it. – IMDB

The Haunting of Hill House is adapted from a book which I haven’t read before so no comparison from me on how closely or loosely adapted it is. However, as many great reviews as there are out there, there were some pacing issues here. Some scenes were drawn out but I won’t get into which to keep this spoiler free. If you disagree, you can send me an email and I will tell you which and you can tell me why I am wrong. One of my biggest comments about almost all Netflix series is pacing, it always has his first half slow development and halfway point has this turning climactic point that changes the game then the second half of the series is mindblowingly awesome. Same applies here. Pacing doesn’t equate execution completely because in terms of creepy and atmosphere, this one delivers them in great beautiful haunting degrees and while there are some jump scares, they have this lingering effect. I say this because I had one scene that startled me and I had a delay in reaction from screaming really loud because I was terrified.

the haunting of hill house

As much as I think the pacing for the first half doesn’t match the second half, I can’t exactly dismiss it either because it gave us a one on one time with each of the Crain kids and their views on Hill House but more importantly, their personality and relationship with each other. It told us a story from each of their lives and we can see the impact that their childhood at Hill House had on them as we alternated masterfully between the flashbacks to the present. Its this part that subconsciously gives the connection to the characters. Of course, some of the stories are stronger than the other ones but thinking back, it fits together with the end game. Talking about character, Hill House is a character by itself. The layout and the decor to its past and its previous inhabitants. There is a lot of mystery behind it.

the haunting of hill house

As much as I felt that I am not as excited about The Haunting of Hill House as everyone else seems to be, Mike Flanagan does deliver on the atmosphere and giving legit jumpscares that were effective and fitting. This series is in its details. The ghosts are probably more than you can see unless you observe really carefully. However, the feeling that something is lurking or something doesn’t feel right or how the ghosts appear are all done really well.

Festival du Nouveau Cinema Wrap-up: Triple Feature

I don’t usually do double features for any movies that I see at Festivals, let alone triple features, however after having a hard time really fleshing out my thoughts and the festival already behind us almost 2 weeks, I decided that these three films that I saw at Festival du Nouveau Cinema actually is a great fit together as it looks at teens and friendships and coming of age in one way or another. All of them have a snippet of the lives of these characters in all three stories.

Sticks and Stones (2018)

Brakland Sticks and Stones

Director: Martin Skovbjerg

Cast: Jonas Bjerril, Vilmer Trier Brogger, Natalia Reyes, Patricia Schumann, Emma Sehested Hoeg, Benjamin Kitter, Laufey Eliasdottir

Simon arrives in Vesterby from Copenhagen. He is an outsider in a brand new place and alone until he meets Bjarke – Vesterby’s alpha male and heir to the local speaker factory. The two start challenging each other in intimate and transgressive actions as they forge a friendship. But when embezzlement forces Vesterby’s speaker factory to close, the town is bereaved of its livelihood, and Bjarke’s family is blamed. The anger thrust upon him by the locals triggers the beast in Bjarke, and Simon is faced with either having to turn away or save his friend from self-destruction. – IMDB

Its hard to put into words why I felt that Sticks and Stones is a really great film. In fact, I had such a blast being captivated by this friendship that started quite abruptly through being paired up for a project. Comparing everyday lives of grown-ups and the people around them to apes. At the same time, boys will be boys and these two definitely had their share of shenanigans as they go from a creative angle to going overboard in their video project. At the same time, reflecting possibly their feelings and contained emotions in their personal life. The two characters draw a parallel to what is going on in their lives and explains why their friendship works but it also highlights the differences in some friends cross our lives for a moment but can’t stay because of whatever reason and in this case, its a toxicity. Everyone sees it but themselves and you choose to put them behind or wait for them to constantly hurt you. Everyone has gone through friends like this, and its probably because of that, it resounds to me.

In the end, Sticks and Stones was able to channel some very intense feelings in whichever endeavors they were portraying. There is a lot of thought in using their documentary style filming for class and meshing it with the traditional filming as we watched the film unfold. There’s a lot of youth experiences and emotions especially with teens that go through sudden loss and other hard times. The acting is raw and it has to go to these young main actors, Jonas Bjerril and Vilmer Trier Brogger. There are situations of being a newcomer, being an alpha male, young love, family issues and so many conflicting issues that take these two for such a ride and in the end, one of  them needs to make a decision. Let me tell you, this film was a subtle hit for me. I didn’t really think I connected with these two so much as some of the things were over the top but in the final scenes, there was so much there that did hit me really hard emotionally.

Tourism (2018)

tourism

Director (and writer): Daisuke Miyazaki

Cast: Nina Endo, Sumire

Fun fact is that after I saw this movie, I have talked and tried to summarize this film to at least two other people and it turns out sounding so basic that it doesn’t quite seem to work as a movie.

During the opening message to the audience, Daisuke Miyazaki hoped that his film will make the viewers want to go on a trip or an adventure (I can’t remember the exact word). Tourism falls into this fun like day adventure. Just like how we see Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is very fun to watch, Tourism sees Nina, one of the girls on this trip to Singapore who loses her friend and her cellphone and ends up wandering around the city and meeting interesting characters but also being immersed in the culture and everyday lives. The way Miyazaki brings to life the characters is to take some time in the beginning to highlight these roommates and how the trip came out.

tourism

One of the best moments which hooked me in completely was how they chose their destination. There’s a joy in travelling with a companion (that you get along with) and seeing the landmarks but also another one when you wander the city alone and see the beauty and detail of the culture. That is the power of travelling and the adventure of communicating and meeting new people and learning more about the world around us. Sure, the story doesn’t sound like its anything intriguing but sometimes with all the technology and everything available at our fingertips, we forget the rush of beauty of the simple things in life. The hours Nina spends searching to get back to her friend or the hotel is not only a message about our reliance on technology but also the most entertaining parts of the film.

The premise might be simple but sometimes its in the simple joys that do pack in a lot of genuine feelings. This one is a pleasant surprise.

Firecrackers (2018)

firecrackers

Director (and writer): Jasmin Mozaffari

Cast: Michaela Kurimsky, Karena Evans, Callum Thompson, David Kingston, Tamara Leclaire, Scott Cleland, Dylan Mask

Lou and her best friend Chantal plan to get out of their isolated, run-down town and move to a city far, far away. When Chantal’s unstable and possessive ex violates her during a night of partying, the girls decide to exact their revenge on him through a night of vandalism and debauchery. The consequences of their actions are devastating, threatening the girls’ chances of ever leaving. The more Lou fights tooth-and-nail to save her friendship and hold onto her dreams, the more she spins out of control as she begins to realize that freedom will come at a high cost. – IMDB

I still remember the reason why I added this movie into my viewings despite its late hour and knowing that I had to run home in a hurry to catch the last bus home as it was compared to Fish Tank which is one of the movies that I like a lot. To be honest, there are some parallels to the film but in some ways, this one is a different movie. In fact, if you took something like Sticks and Stones and used it in a friendship between girls, you might arrive at this one. However, this one is about two best friends who want to leave behind their messed up lives in this small town. What turns out to be a perfect plan ends up having these bad turn of events. Lou is the main character here and we follow a lot of her character development with each road block that occurs and we see this coming of age development as she sees clearer the consequences of what she is leaving behind as well as the tough decisions between her friendship and also the teen angst as well as the sudden aggression or lack of thought in her actions.

Firecrackers takes on this snippet of Lou and Chantal’s life and their friendship in a genuine and raw way. It never feels over dramatic and honestly, makes us truly feel for these two girls on screen. It can remind us of the hurdles of growing up and wanting more and fighting for everything you can to make things better. There are bad decisions and bad life choices but its all part of growing up and these girls have it particularly hard but at least, they have their friendship.

This wraps up this triple feature and the Festival du Nouveau Cinema’s last three films I saw.
In some ways, this was the best way to talk about them as there isn’t much to say but rather its a movie experience.
There’s a lot to love about these films for both their similarities and their differences as it embraces this true and genuine snippet in each of these stories. 

Festival du Nouveau Cinema: Socrates (2018)

Socrates (2018)

socrates

Director (and co-writer): Alex Moratto

Cast: Christian Malheiros, Tales Ordakji, Caio Martinez Pacheco, Rosane Paulo, Jayme Rodrigues

After his mother’s sudden death, Socrates, a 15-year-old living on the margins of São Paulo’s coast, must survive on his own while coming to terms with his grief. – IMDB

During the Q&A session afterwards, director Alex Moratto talked about this movie as being a movie personal to him in memory of his mother. At the same time, he also talked about the partnership with Unicef Brazil to get this project to represent the youths in the Sao Paulo and surrounding areas while also having the camerawork and cast done through 16 to 20 year olds in the community in their program. Both are honorable reasons for this project to come to life. As with many of these types of passion projects, there is always an uncertainty to how they deliver. Socrates delivers really well.

Its hard to pinpoint how it delivers well because it feels like an journey for the main character Socrates as he embraces the different sides of him and his life as he deals with his grief for the loss of his mother which is literally the first scene of the film. Talk about casting a gloomy cloud over the audience. To be honest, as poignant as each of the unfortunate events that Socrates goes through they never quite feel like it pieces together in the plot of coming to terms with his grief at times. Everyone has a different journey in how they deal with grief however, Socrates definitely does take us for a ride through his troubles and everything that seems to go wrong all at the time especially the amplified feeling after his tragic loss.

A lot of the credit here goes to the actors here especially Christian Malheiros who delivers an outstanding role as Socrates. There is a quiet yet raw feeling to his performance that truly helps in here. The second aspect very awesome are how the camera moves and how it focuses as well as choosing when to blur and focus the scenes as well as capturing the location of where this is set. There is such a beautiful attention to how each shot accentuates each moment but how it is approached.

Overall, Socrates is a poignant journey which has its main theme somewhat get lost in the events that happens. However, its filming style and the raw performance by young actor Christian Malheiros definitely makes this one well worth a watch.

Festival du Nouveau Cinema: La Version Nouvelle (World Premiere 2018)

La Version Nouvelle (2018)

la version nouvelle

Director (and writer): Michael Yaroshevsky

Cast: Sophie Desmarais

A woman spends her days editing the film of an absent lover. – IMDB

Festival du Nouveau Cinema described this one as experimental and that is definitely the word that I would describe it as. The movie is obscure but there are bits that somewhat abstractly make sense. The story focuses around a girl played by our sole actress Sophie Desmarais as she edits a montage with things that her past or absent lover has left behind. Why is this person missing? No idea. Maybe its for travelling because of where the images come from. But its not important because the movie revolves around an undefined abstract Russian word and I suppose how her current state in life reflects it: solitude, loneliness, thought provoking.

la version nouvelle

La Version Nouvelle is extremely slow paced and voiced with interview montages and our actress only has voice over images and videos from travelogues. Cryptic and well meant to be deep and thought provoking. I saw this in a respectful way. I was confused on what it was trying to achieve but after a few days of reflecting and considering what the Q&A session from the director, I feel like a somewhat knoe what it was meant to do. The issue here is its abstract nature and its pacing and nothing really feels like it happens as we observe this girl.

While the story and the message could be executed better, there are qualities here. Maybe not enough yo redeem it as a whole but the framing of each shot is incredible with its depth as we watch this girl move around the house. Sometimes its at a distance and others she is off frame doing something else and oddly it works well. The travelogue images and snippets are also really beautifully done. While most of the time, I failed to have the depth that the girl feels towards it, they were visually stunning. At the same time, there was a lot of thought and detail in the sound design on the scenes and behind the snippets and images that elevated the scenes from the montage.

La Version Nouvelle

La Version Nouvelle is a hard one to talk about. On a technical level, its filmed really nicely but the movie is paced so slow and so abstract that it feels like everything is lost and might need to be paired with an ending Q&A to make sense of it all. Even then, my takeaway is the ambitious desire for the director to interpret a Russian word with such a uncertain definition is what makes it even harder to understand. If it means something different for everyone, the audience will be left feeling the same way and hence, I can only call this experimental. I am not at the level of deep thinking like the director so I don’t want to say its a bad film because its done well but there was a lack of enjoyment in its pacing and disjointed and emptiness for myself.