Monday, January 23, 2017

3 more 'flicks'…Jackie, Lion, Moonlight.

The year has begun with some 'flicks' of a wonderfully high order.


JACKIE is Directed by Pablo Larrain (NERUDA), Written by Noah Oppenheim. It focuses on the 4 days after the assassination of President John Kennedy and the public ceremony that commemorated his funeral. The framework of the story we are told is centred around the famous interview between LIFE Magazine journalist, Theodore H White and Jackie Kennedy. This gives room for the film to roam, selectively, back and forth over the life of Jackie with Kennedy, with an especially interesting re-creation of the black and white White House Tour that Jackie made for television.

The film is an intense plunge into the shock and grief of the woman and of all those around her, they being, not least, the Nation. The film is not a sentimental or unbalanced burden of sadness but rather an intense portrait of a woman with many faces of survival: the projected affected innocence of the White House's First Lady, the besotted lover of her husband, the shocked and depressed partner, the careful mother with her children, the wily wielder of power as a 'politician' who determines to create a proper complexity of appreciation for her husband's legacy in his short Presidency - to create a mythical Camelot out of the events - and the bewildered shaken practiser of a Faith in God trying to make sense of what has happened to her and her young family. Her vulnerability and her steeliness. Her seriousness and her dry and incisive humour.

Natalie Portman gives a wondrous performance. It is interesting to refer to the video of Jackie Kennedy that one can find on You Tube and watch the meticulous construction of observation that Ms Portman has made, and to admire the subtle adjustments she makes to convince us that we are watching the real person. The Settings and Costume seem to be ruthless in their capture of the period of the sixties, which are not always attractive or enhancing according to the zeitgeist of present style and standard to persuade an easy identification for us with the personas and world of the story - the hair styles and the habit of smoking, for instance, create a disquieting truth of immediacy while watching - ugly, shocking, a little alienating but ringing of truth! All the supporting performances are seamless in their commitment to convincing us. Peter Sarsgaard, as Robert F. Kennedy; Billy Crudup as journalist, Theodore H. White. John Hurt. Richard E. Grant. They are all definitely supporting roles for the focus of Mr Larrain's film is determinedly fixed on Jackie and, hence, Ms Portman, front and centre on screen with demanding, steadfastly long close-ups and full body takes.

The film brings one to a silent stilling observational stance in its watching. It is like watching it from a distancing documentary coolness that builds unconsciously a cumulatively profound depth of grief that produces an admiration of the dignity of this human being in her darkest moments, and one is surprised at what has occurred to one - a deeply subjective identification with this figure from our social history in a major turning point in our cultural development. One can't help but wonder at the film's stealthy persuasion. This is an example of the power of cinema as a storytelling medium. Amazing.

It is a peculiar film to watch, in this day and age when one remembers where the dignity of office of the President of the United States has travelled to with the latest inauguration. But then, one further reflects on the truism of the benefits of dying young, since by doing so it can leave room for a constructive fantasy, where a longer life span, a history, can sometimes, in its reality, besmirch, ground our appreciation. Whatever one knows of Kennedy and his failings, that have been revealed over the last fifty odd years, the Kennedy presidency  is, for us romantics, still an example of a time of a CAMELOT and its failed possibilities. This film shows us Jackie's victory of her vision and determination to manipulate history. For, what she steered for history's sake for John and her time in office, endures. This film is gorgeous propaganda to have us to further believe it.

A rewarding 'flick'.


LION is a mostly Australian production and is based on a memoir by Saroo Brierly, A LONG WAY HOME, and concerns Saroo Brierly who was adopted as a very young child from an Indian orphanage by an Australian/Tasmanian couple and his search for his 'real' family 25 years later. It was a film that I was suspicious of seeing, fearing the possibility of an over manipulative sentimentality. However, I was seduced by this film quickly.

The first 'act' is set in Kolkatta and has the feel of a Dickensian social nightmare, filmed with little dialogue, trusting the audience to read the visual clues selected by Cinemaphotographer, Greg Fraser with Editor, Alexandre de Franceshi, under the debut Direction of Garth Davis. The artistic communication where the image is more engaging than the verbal - demonstrating, perhaps, how the unconsciousness's true medium is not verbal but imagistic. It is quiet a gripping mode for holding and sustaining our attention.

The second 'act' deals with the a close-up of a more personal 'universe' of the grown Saroo struggling with a need for his Indian identity, the depression and gradual obsessive torturous desire beautifully played by Dev Patel. This performance is an extremely impressive one for the layers of cinematic acting that he projects to capture us to experience his 'grief' and 'desire' for his closure. The screenplay by Luke Davies (CANDY) has a sophisticated insight into the desperation and depression of an individual's need to discover his true self.

The third 'act' moves into Saroo's literal journey back to India and to a more regular story telling mode and here is most possibly nearest the sentimentality trap one feared. But the editing intertwining the past with the present keeps the familiar, expected moments from becoming too an emotional indulgence, and the music score by Dustin O'Halloran and Volker Bertleman works well in pushing the atmosphere forward without too much dwelling in the obvious.

The performances of a very large supporting company of actors are also outstanding, with Nicole Kidman, as the adoptive mother Sue Brierly, giving some extraordinarily persuasive moments. Rooney Mara is modest in her screen time and is admirable for that. The Indian company is just as convincing, with Sunny Pawar, as the young Saroo, particularly winning.

I was moved enormously by the story and was very impressed with the elements and fine judgement of all the details taken to deliver it. I felt excited and exhilarated at the end of the film and have recommended it to friends without hesitation.

A terrific surprise.


Oh, wow! This is great film.

MOONLIGHT is a great film. Not least because of its contemporary political importance that underlines the American movement BLACK LIVES MATTER that has risen in the past year in the United States (and is as pertinent to our own country and our Aboriginal community), for it deals openly and honestly with parts of that community of disadvantage, disability and discrimination with powerful insight and cinematic beauty. The film's  great surprise is that it demonstrates that ALL, I mean, ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Based on a play by American writer, Tarell Alvin McCraney, IN MOONLIGHT BLACK BOYS LOOK BLUE, Barry Jenkins has Adapted and Directed this story of the coming-of-age of a black american boy-to-man living in Liberty City (what looks like a 'project' community) in the city of Miami. The story in the film is divided into three sections covering three episodes in the life of our hero, as child: Little (Alex HIbbert), as a teenager, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and young adult, Black (Trevante Rhodes). What is special about this film is that there is not a single white character of any importance as it looks with a startling compassion at the journey of a young disadvantaged black man unsure of his sexuality and struggling to survive in the hostility of his world, finding solace and guidance from the most unexpected people.

Mr Jenkins takes us into an underworld that has often been used for sensational crime stories that instead, here, elects to show us raw humanity caught in behaviours that they do not necessarily have control of. Our knowledge of this world is turned upside-down and the compassionate revelation is artfully managed with all the elements of the cinematic craft brilliantly collaborated. James Laxton's cinematography is astonishing in its choices, combined with the startling editing techniques engaged to deliver the material by Joi McMillion and Nat Sanders. The Musical score from Nicholas Britell immerses us in the situations of the story sensually, using a range of choices from hip hop through to classical orchestral affects.

The pain of the experience of Little-Chiron-Black is visceral and creates an empathetic anxiety in us the audience with mesmerising power. I felt that I had held my breath with ache for a 'happy' resolution for the length of the experience. The three actors (above) playing the one role are heartbreakingly brilliant. Too, Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome and Andre Holland playing 'Kevin' in the three episodes; Naomie Harris as Paula: Mahershala Ali, as Juan and Patrick Decite, as Terrel, are significant in their contribution.

The mode of contemporary film acting, which we can see in the work of Director's like Steve McQueen (TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE), Nuri Bilge Ceylan (ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA) and almost everything from Terrence Malick (THE TREE OF LIFE), is employed here by Mr Jenkins in the demanding long takes, (also used by Pablo Larrain in JACKIE) usually in close-up of the actors, where the 'inner life' of the character is 'interrogated' by the camera for our reading and endowing, without dialogue, to allow us to 'tell' (work out) what is happening - a 'trick' to have the audience to have to actively participate in the invention of the story, the narrative of the character's emotional conflicts and resolutions. The audience is actively engaged to imaginatively 'act' out what is happening with the actor and his character's narrative. Some call it "Slow Cinema". I call it "Participatory Cinema". It is exhausting but invigorating to have to engage at such an active level. We don't sit back to be shown all, we are invited to sit forward and create with the actors and collaborators. It is thrilling in a very quiet and sophisticated way.

Considering the film's content and point of view, that MOONLIGHT has been made at all is a demonstration that there is still some contemporary American cinema that is not all about the Hollywood 'numbers' expectations. It still can find a way to be able to tell stories of transcendent hope and to find beauty in the most despondent of circumstances. Standing beside the 'numbers' formula of a film like PASSENGERS, or ROGUE ONE, MOONLIGHT is a miracle of dedication and human responsibility to all in our society.

RUN, don't Walk and see MOOLIGHT.

P.S. The author of the play may be familiar to some of this audience as Imara Savage introduced us to his 'genius' with a production of one of his plays THE BROTHERS SIZE, a few years ago.

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