FILM

Tricia Youlden

Moonlight
★★★★★ M

Moonlight was adapted by writer-director Barry Jenkins from the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Full of action and relatively sparse in expository dialogue, Moonlight depicts the plight of disadvantaged African-American and Hispanic youth growing up in Liberty Square, an impoverished housing project in North Miami.

Although they did not know one another as boys, both McCraney and Jenkins grew up there and had similar experiences, which made the central character of the film, Chiron, a blend of their younger selves.

When we first meet Chiron (Alex Hibbert plays him as a boy), he is the target of the school bullies. Even with the protection of local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his partner Teresa (Janelle Monae), Chiron remains painfully introverted and fearful.

Ironically, although he becomes a surrogate father to her son, it is Juan who is dealing the crack that is destroying Chiron’s mother, Paula (Naomie Harris) and rendering Chiron’s life unbearable.

School is an ongoing nightmare despite his friendship with Kevin (played by Jaden Piner, then Jharrel Jerome). By their teenage years the bullying has taken on a sadistic, homophobic dimension. Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders) finally cracks and retaliates.

In the final chapter of the story, we meet the men that these boys have become, both because of and in spite of their tough youth.

The power of the film is in its simple truthfulness. No scene feels contrived. The power of the writing and the performances lies in its understated, realistic depiction of life in Liberty Square. Moonlight tells it how it was.

Having garnered a swag of awards, Moonlight is a must-see.

Manchester By The Sea
★★★★★ MA

Casey Affleck (right) as Lee Chandler and and Ben O'Brien as Young Patrick in Manchester By The Sea

The pre-titles scene introduces us to brothers Joe and Lee Chandler (Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck) and Joe’s young son, Patrick (Ben O’Brien). They are out on Joe’s fishing trawler, the Claudia Marie, off the coast of Manchester, Massachusetts.

Years pass. Lee is now living alone in Boston, working as a janitor. Gone is the jauntiness of his younger self. He is withdrawn but his underlying turmoil is obvious.

A phone call summons him back to Manchester; Joe is dying. As Lee drives there from Boston, and during the subsequent days, people and places trigger a series of memories. In these snippets of his former life, we meet Joe’s alcoholic ex-wife Elise (Gretchen Mol), 16-year-old Patrick (Lucas Hedges) and Randi (Michelle Williams), Lee’s ex-wife and mother of their three children. Gradually, the tragic events that led to Lee’s self-imposed exile are revealed.

Lee is shocked to learn that Joe has appointed him as Patrick’s legal guardian. It seems that from beyond the grave Joe is looking after the people he loved most. By having to accept responsibility for his nephew, Lee must finally deal with the past no matter how confronting this might be, especially for himself and Randi. At times their shared heartbreak is almost overwhelming to watch.

Although writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s film resonates throughout with powerful emotions, the mood is leavened by the humour inherent in simply being human. Once he has accepted the role of Patrick’s guardian, Lee begins to set guidelines for Patrick, who quickly realises that his uncle is not a pushover.

While Lonergan, Affleck and Williams have received Academy Award nominations, Jody Lee Lipes’ cinematography, Jennifer Lame’s editing, Ruth De Jong’s design and Lesley Barber’s music are also noteworthy.

Fences
★★★ M

It is difficult to translate a play to film and Fences is no exception. August Wilson is both the playwright and screenwriter while director Denzel Washington also stars as patriarch Troy Maxson. Both appear to have been reluctant to edit the meandering monologues.

Having left home at 14, Troy works as a council garbage collector. Married to Rose (Viola Davis), he has two sons, Lyons (Russell Hornsby) and Cory (Jovan Adepo), to whom he appears incapable of showing affection. Troy’s brother Gabe (Mykelti Williamson) has brain damage after being injured in World War II. Although Gabe’s compensation payout has paid for the family home, he no longer lives there.

Dour Troy is an unremittingly hard man: the final “act”, however, intimates that the birth of his daughter Raynell (Saniyya Sidney) might have finally softened him. While Washington and Davis certainly deserve their Academy nominations for performance, Fences looks and feels much more like a stage play than a film.

Toni Erdman
★★★★M

Deservedly nominated for Best Foreign Film in the 2017 Academy Awards, Toni Erdmann depicts the lengths to which Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) will go in order to reconnect with his workaholic daughter, Ines (Sandra Huller).

She is a management consultant, currently in Bucharest pursuing the contract to downsize the workforce of a German oil company. When her father turns up unannounced he perceives that Ines’ ruthless ambition is turning her into a controlling bully.

Wearing a preposterous disguise (vaguely reminiscent of Sir Les Patterson), he proceeds to haunt his daughter, posing as “Toni Erdmann, life coach”.

Not only is Conradi an inveterate practical joker, he has a social conscience unlike Ines, who seems able to discount the impact of her proposal upon the ordinary Romanian people. Conradi hopes to not only re-engage with his daughter but to restore her moral perspective. This is no easy task.

What’s in the genes will out, however, and Ines’ innate appreciation of the absurd eventually re-emerges. In Toni Erdmann, writer-director Maren Ade deftly tempers strong social comment with comedy ranging from outright slapstick to subtle satire. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Patriots Day
★★★ M

This impeccably-made film is essentially a recreation of the horrific events of April 15, 2013, when brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev detonated home-made bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring 264.Particularly fascinating is seeing how the federal, state and local law enforcement agencies worked together to find the perpetrators before they could detonate more bombs. Lines of demarcation are drawn only to be expediently crossed; crucial details such as the various agencies’ different radio frequencies are overlooked.

Footage of the real events and interviews with various survivors gives Patriots Day a quasi-documentary feel, yet the momentum of the investigation imbues the film with the pace of an action thriller.

There are many poignant moments, none more so than a lone policeman’s vigil by the body of eight-year-old victim, Martin William Richard. Footage of then-President Obama speaking at a memorial service encapsulates the man’s humanity and eloquence. (Sigh!)

Because the majority of people directly and indirectly involved in the incident are still very much alive, director Peter Berg and his team collaborated intensively with these people to re-tell their story as authentically as possible.

Although many of the lead actors are stars (Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon and J.K. Simmons) their resemblance to the individuals whom they represent appears to have been a crucial consideration in the casting of this major production. Despite a dollop of patriotic rhetoric and stirring music in the latter scenes the film does endeavour to demonstrate empathy for victims of terrorist attacks around the world.

The Edge of Seventeen
★★★★ M

Little Nadine (Lina Renna) has no friends and is targeted by bullies in class. Understandably, she does not like school — until one day pretty little Krista (Ava Grace Cooper) appears like an angel in an oversize cardigan and befriends her.

The friendship sustains Nadine and Krista (later played by Hailee Steinfeld and Haley Lu Richardson respectively) throughout childhood and into adolescence.

Nadine has an older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), who is clever, handsome and popular. In a classic case of sibling rivalry Nadine blames Darian for her feelings of inadequacy. Their frazzled mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), relies upon their large, genial father, Tom (Eric Keenleyside), to keep the peace. Unfortunately, this allows him little time to look after himself.

Unfazed by Nadine’s casual observation that he is lazy, her laidback history teacher, Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson), is the person she appoints as her mentor, a role he assumes with bemused tolerance.

Nadine must learn that the universe does not revolve around her. A particular revelation is that boys have feelings too! Apart from Darian, other boys in Nadine’s life are her classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto) and Nick (Alexander Calvert), both of whom are disconcerted by the confusing messages that she sends.

The Edge of Seventeen is writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s first feature film. It has already been nominated for a swag of awards in the United States, several of which it has won. A particularly significant nomination is that for Outstanding Achievement in Casting, by the Casting Society of America.

The sheer credibility of the characters combined with a screenplay that subtly addresses a myriad relevant issues, makes this film eminently accessible for teenagers and adults alike.

Sneak peek at an Aboriginal journey into the past

Although the Australian documentary The Panther Within does not have a cinema release as yet, you can see it on NITV Channel 34 on Wednesday March 15 at 8pm.

The producers say: “Filmmaker Edoardo Crismani and his mother, Barbara, embark on a search to unravel the mystery surrounding her father, Joe Murray, an Indigenous boxing champion who danced and sang vaudeville and married a blue-eyed blonde white woman in 1930s Australia. Together, mother and son journey across the land, from Adelaide to Mildura, Melbourne and Ballarat.

"They trawl through libraries and meet researchers, historians and Aboriginal elders to delve into the hidden heritage of the man known as The Black Panther and try to piece his story together.”

Inspirational.

Tricia Youlden teaches drama at Willoughby Girls High School