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Recent Movies: Being 17; The Beatles: Eight Days a Week; Moonlight

December 18, 2016

Recent Movies

Being 17

In a small town in the mountainous Pyrenees region of France, two teenage boys in the same grade have an intense dislike for each other: Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) who lives in a pleasant house in town and whose family is well-off; and Tomas (Corentin Fila) who is bi-racial and adopted by a farm family whose home is a long distance from town. Lurking beneath the mutual contempt is a sexual tension.

The beautiful location enhances the charm and depth of this moving film. In addition to the story of the two boys, there are subplots in each of their families that add greatly to the story overall. While the story of the boys’ conflict seems to linger too long, the movie can be credited for being unpredictable and full of surprises.

The characterization of Tomas is particularly rich and filled with contradictions. In one moment, it is easy to despise him for his bullying ways; in the next moment, it is easy to pity him for his difficult daily life and the uncertainty due to a change that is about to happen in his family. Though not explicitly explored, he also has the difficulty of seeming to be the only non-white person in the small town.

The actors are both great in their roles as is Sabine Kiberlain who plays Damien’s mother and is also a doctor. She’s very nurturing in both roles and is also quite touching as someone in a crisis in the movie’s second half.

By the film’s end, one has compassion for all of its characters.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *


The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years

The Fab Four are the subject of this documentary beginning from the days of phenomenal superstardom during their concerts from 1963-1966.

The storyline of this film (directed by Ron Howard) is great entertainment not only as a story of fame and its joys and pitfalls but also as a great trip down memory lane for this beloved group of artists.

The pitfalls are few – at least as exposed here. Firstly, these superstars were relatively unscathed compared to rock artists of lesser fame. The film is a good chronology up to the mid-1960s but then it jumps to 1969. It does not delve into the years after 1966. Yes, the title tells us this is just the touring years but the viewer is still left hungering for more story up to and including the eventual breakup – a hunger that is not satisfied.

But the footage and interviews do provide wonderful nostalgia for that wonderful decade that was made so great partly (some might say mainly) because of The Beatles. Such moments include the super-high in the beginning, the shift to less enthusiasm due to exhaustion from touring, dealing with a planned segregated concert in Jacksonville, controversy from John Lennon’s comment on the group being more popular than Jesus, the magnificent music, and the presence of young men who were mature way beyond their years. A bonus is the unintended laughter caused by some 60s fashion (cat-eye glasses) and the screaming fits of young hysterical female fans. The latter had me howling out loud.

RATING: * * *


Moonlight

In three stages of life – youth, adolescence, and young adulthood – the life story of Chiron is told. Chiron is an African-American who grows up in a poor, black community in Miami and later moves to Atlanta. His early life is plagued by bullies and a difficult home life as his single mother is very troubled. During these bad times, he is consoled by surrogate parents that he visits occasionally and his friend Kevin with whom he shares a sexual attraction in the teen years.

The scenes of bullying are so accurate that they are sometimes difficult to endure. They include the “blame the victim” mindset that too often accompanies bullying. Luckily, there is relief in lighter scenes such as when Chiron visits his surrogate parents where a bond is clearly growing.

[SPOILER ALERT BEGINS]:

There is a brilliant scene at the end when the adult versions of Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) and Kevin (André Holland) are reunited. The mutual sexual tension between the actors under Jenkins’ guided hand create a very unique scenario leaving the viewer on edge, wondering what will happen next. Will they actually connect? (It’s also fascinating how they resemble the pair in “Brokeback Mountain” where one partner is more outgoing while the other is more reserved and afraid due to his difficult past. The same match also occurred in “Being 17” reviewed above.)

This perfect scene is unfortunately cut too short. If it had continued at the same pace and the viewer saw the men connect, I would have given this film as high a rating as most others are giving it. It’s hard to guess why Jenkins (also the film’s writer based on a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney) made this choice. It may be the general sexist attitude among filmmakers regarding love scenes between same-sex couples. When such scenes are between two women, their naked bodies are seen flailing across the screen for several minutes but this is rarely, if ever, the case when the bond is between two men. To use the clichéd excuse of “leaving the rest to the viewer’s imagination” is a cowardly cop-out. Another reason an extended love scene would have worked: the love would have helped balance the many hardships exposed in the beginning. This criticism is not so much against “Moonlight” but against the film industry in general. In fairness, “Moonlight” is more courageous than most films.

[END OF SPOILER]

There is much else to praise in “Moonlight”. In addition to the great performances by Rhodes and Holland (who also create great chemistry together), there are also praiseworthy performances by Naomie Harris as Chiron’s mother (her final scene is a standout) and Mahareshala Ali as Chiron’s surrogate father in the film’s beginning. Credit must also be given to the young actors who played the younger versions of both Chiron (Alex Hibbert and Ashton Sanders) and Kevin (Jaden Piner and Jharrel Jerome). Much discussion has occurred lately regarding the under-utilization of the very talented pool of black actors. When movies like this one use such talent so generously, all moviegoers benefit.

RATING: * * *


Upcoming movie reviews:  The Eagle Huntress, Elle, Queen of Katwe, Sully, Things to Come, Loving, Manchester by the Sea, Jackie, Lion, Cameraperson, Neruda

 

 

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