Moonlight


Genre: Drama

Certification: 15

Length: 1hr 51mins

 We first meet ‘Little’ (Alex R. Hibbert), hiding from bullies in a derelict building. A chance meeting with the charismatic Juan (Mahershala Ali) and girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) opens Little’s eyes to a shiny world beyond his own in a shabby district in Miami. Juan and Teresa provide a modicum of stability for Little in his otherwise neglected life with mother Paula (Naomie Harris), but disappointment is just a heartbeat away and soon he is left with just one satisfactory relationship, with playmate Kevin (Jaden Piner). In his teens, Little becomes known by his real name, Chiron (Ashton Sanders), and remains close to Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) but childhood traumas become teen traumas and you wonder when fate will finally deal him a winning hand.

‘Moonlight’ is a collaboration between Tarrell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the play – ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ – on which it is based and Barry Jenkins, who jointly wrote the screenplay with McCraney as well as directing. The result is a powerful piece, with a poignancy that owes its existence to the credibility afforded by McCraney’s and Jenkins’ own childhood experiences, reflected in the movie. The film is split into three chapters of Chiron’s life and features three different actors playing him and also friend Kevin. Considering Jenkins ensured that Hibbert, Sanders and adult Chiron, known as ‘Black’ (Trevante Rhodes) did not meet until filming was complete, the continuity in characterisation is testament to Jenkins’ solid direction. Hibbert is an accepting Little and Piner plays the role of emotional lifeline in the shape of nine year old Kevin, sensitively. Sanders plays troubled teen Chiron with gravity, offset by Jerome’s cheeriness as teen Kevin. Rhodes’ measured mannerisms and perfect timing give Black a strength that makes you wonder if he is to be admired or feared and you concentrate all the more because of that; and also because the scriptwriters were economical with his lines. Andre Holland gives adult Kevin a gentle and giving personality who is happy with his lot. Ali and Monae are suitably saviour-like in their roles as Chiron’s role models, polarising Chiron’s mother, whose harrowing decline into crack addiction is admirably portrayed by Harris.

As is often the case with biographies, the plot lacks typical story structure. But the drama of Chiron’s life, coupled with a deliberate air of mystery ensures complete engagement throughout.

Visually, it is stunning. Cinematographer James Laxton worked hard to achieve Jenkins’ wishes regarding the depth of colour, given that he was working with an entirely black cast. And the close angle shots, giving away little information at times, along with some deliberately blurred shots, sharpen your senses and impart a surreal sense of realism. Using just a few pieces of covered music, composer Nicholas Britell is mostly responsible for the evocative mix of hip hop and classical music. The latter inspires a sense of pathos and also of acceptance on Chiron’s part; whilst the former lightens the mood and reflects the culture of the community.

Chiron’s first romantic encounter is a longed-for moment of real affection and is presented so perfectly on a moonlit beach. Highlighting some harsh realities of the world in which we live, ‘Moonlight’ offers redemption by playing out moments like these with such tangible tenderness, you cannot fail to be moved. This is not a movie to miss.

Reviewed by Lisa O’Connor on February 24th 2017 at Cineworld, Brighton.

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Dream

  

My earliest dream was to run a model shop. I used to spend my pocket money on rubber moulds and powdered Plaster of Paris and while away many a weekend making and painting a range of figures. It wasn’t an exciting dream – just an idle ponder on what life as a grown-up might have to offer. My imagined shop was a small, dark, old-fashioned affair, with the door at the side of the shop front, set at an angle from the pavement, with a step up to reach it. It was in an alleyway in a rather bohemian part of The Big Smoke and had a second-hand, antique feel to it. I was very young during this particular ponder – I was still in the ‘infants’ rather than the middle school of my primary education, so I was between the ages of 4 and 7. I have no idea from where the finer details of my shop arose! But the strangest part of my daydream is that I was a man. I didn’t wish to be a man; I just was, in this particular ponder. I watched Doctor Who from – well, I can’t remember the first time, so let’s say from birth – and my prophetic image of the future me was not unlike Jon Pertwee when he was the Doctor. I was tall and rather distinguished with a tail coat. I abandoned my hobby and subsequently my dream, when someone pointed out that I wasn’t really making the models, as I was using moulds and therefore there was little creativity involved. I did not cut myself any slack over this until years later, when helping ex-hubby paint his Warhammer 40,000 army and as the models are pre-cast, the premise is the same; yet it is indisputable that a well-painted army is the result of meticulous creativity. My next dream was to become a trapeze artist. I had never (and still have not) been within ten feet of a trapeze. My mother told me that I would have to join the circus and I said that every night at the end of my act, I would jump down onto the floor of the ring and do backflips all the way to the ringside, my final backflip being over the barrier and into a specially reserved seat, to join my family (who would come to watch me every night, of course). And then we would all go home and I would return the following morning to practise. I had no idea about the travelling nature of circuses, evidently. I told my sisters that I was going to build my own trapeze in the house on which to practise, by hanging a stick from the ceiling by 2 lengths of cotton.

“It will break,” Singing Sister pointed out.

“I can never break cotton,” I argued, feeling I had a watertight argument but slightly perturbed that she may be right.

In time, my career dreams became more traditional and after watching ‘Georgy Girl’ the thought of running my own nursery school became appealing.

My concerns about the future extended to the possibility of homelessness. I recall telling my mother that if I found myself in such a predicament, I would commit a small crime – enough to go to prison. But my mother knew me well (obviously) and when she told me that I would have to eat fried eggs for breakfast, I made a mental note not to become homeless and/or become a criminal.

Secondary school came and went and for the duration, I fancied medicine. But physics went from fairly logical to fairly bonkers overnight and chemistry introduced me to moles (the sort made of molecules, not fur) and so I abandoned the heady ambition of gaining qualifications in all three branches of science and therefore becoming a doctor. I had considered writing as a young child, but the compliments dried up on leaving primary school, so I figured that particular muse was not for me. I learnt the piano and seemed to pick it up quite easily, so developed a burning desire to become a piano teacher for a time … which never happened.

Like many people, I have memories of being bullied at school. The perpetrators were three brothers (not mine). Brother No 1 was two years older than me, Brother No 2 was a year older than me and Brother No 3, surprisingly, was a year younger than me. In fact, the whole scenario still surprises me. On reflection, it is safe to say that I was one of the quietest children in the whole school. And not only was I younger than two of the brothers, but coming from a family of petite people and being almost the youngest in the whole year with my end-of-August birthday, I was tiny in comparison with these hillbilly boys. It takes special kinds of bullishness and cowardice to bully someone so vulnerable, especially when the victim is outnumbered threefold. The only time a teacher got involved, was when I fought back one day and pulled the hair of one of them. One of their posse told a teacher, who came up behind me and pulled my long, blond ponytail so hard that I thought she might pull it off completely. Brother No 2 was the worst and I had this strange daydream that he would grow up to be my handsome prince, casting off his fairytale wickedness, realising that his true feelings were of deep love for me, his victim. That is the extent of my ‘getting married’ dream and I admit that it is an odd one. I did not like him any more than I liked his brothers and I marvel at this particular daydream; perhaps I longed for some kind of redemption on his part.

I never ran a model shop, but the idea of running a shop of sorts still appeals. A small cafe, maybe, but not yet. I never became a trapeze artist but I danced in shows right up until my mid-twenties, jazz and tap being my favourites. Alongside trapeze artistry, I also had a yearning to be a drum majorette as a young child and whereas this is another unfulfilled dream, I did have to be a pom-pom majorette for a show. So I wore the cute little white skirt with matching military-style white jacket, complete with band hat. I didn’t play a drum or twirl a baton but I had an incongruous amount of fun throwing those pom-poms! I ran a nursery school for the total of one year of my life and it wasn’t really like Georgy’s little drama concern in Georgy Girl. I’ve run countless drama concerns too – after-school, break-time, etc … and there are definite similarities with Georgy’s chaotic classes. I have remained with a home all my life and managed to avoid going to prison, so these are two dreams that have very much been fulfilled. I never had an overwhelming desire to be a teacher. I recall wanting to be like a trainee teacher who had a placement at my primary school once, but only because I liked her short, dark hair and her shoes, which were like adult versions of children’s Clarks school shoes.

By the time I needed to remove my head from the white fluff of childhood and seriously brood over a life plan, I wanted to be an actress. People told me I was good, but courses were not so readily available back then. So, being the pragmatic sort, I decided to become a teacher, with a view to pursuing the twinkly lights of stardom afterwards. It took four years to become a teacher, during which time I was driven to get to the top of my game in the world of amateur theatre. Opportunities that could have taken me from amateur to professional, presented themselves to me, like touring with a production company, playing Alice in Alice in Wonderland … but I was in the middle of my final teaching placement, so I told myself that I couldn’t waste four years of study and that another opportunity would come along. Next was an invite to play at the Edinburgh Festival … but I was newly-wed to a jealous husband and I foolishly succumbed to his insecurities and rejected the offer. Again, I told myself that there would be more opportunities … after all, these ones had found me rather than vice versa, so perhaps I would go looking for some opportunities when the time was right. But I didn’t and when the third (and final) opportunity came along – another invite to the Edinburgh Festival – and I sabotaged that one too, it was time to accept that maybe this was not my trajectory after all.

For years I wished that I’d taken that scary jump into the unknown and at least had a go. I don’t have any regrets now. I’ve played countless parts in countless plays. I’ve sung and danced in many a musical. I’ve compèred in The Dome and in The Brighton Centre. From childhood right into my 30s, the theatre was where I felt I belonged. Now, not so much. Now, the occasional Open Mic session in a pub with an acoustic guitar accompanying me whilst I sing, is the nearest I get to performing. I like the lack of commitment; the rehearsals tailor-made for me and whoever is accompanying me at the next Open Mic; not having to learn lines and the informal approach to performing in a pub as opposed to the formalities of performing in a theatre. And actually, in retrospect, I did become an actress. When I compèred big shows in the Centre and the Dome, I shared dressing rooms with the likes of Bonnie Langford and Lesley Joseph, whilst my male counterparts shared dressing rooms with the likes of Frankie Howerd and Patrick Moore (as some of you may know, he was a whizz on the xylophone/glockenspiel as well as on a telescope!) and once, I had this moment of clarity. Without wishing to deny these talented people credit, we offered much more of our performing selves to these shows. Rarely did we compères just compere; usually we swapped our fancy frocks/tuxedos at some point for some showbizzy cossie like top hat and tails to join in with a big ensemble number like ‘One’, whilst the ‘stars’ were probably packing their gear and heading out through the stage door. (Some of them stayed on for the after-show party – Sylvester McCoy was a bit of a party animal!) On reflection, how can I possibly think that my dream of smearing my face with greasepaint and donning a glittering array of costumes under the searing heat of stage lights is not fulfilled? The word ‘amateur’ is commonly used to describe someone who is still learning a discipline and therefore not particularly skilled. However, the provenance of the word lies in the Latin for love: ‘amor’. So an amateur is a person who indulges in a hobby out of love for said hobby, rather than for a tangible reward such as money. There is no suggestion that an amateur is less proficient than a professional and if you have ever had any involvement in amateur theatre, then your experiences will evidence this for sure. Perhaps our teasing nickname of ‘luvvy’ has more depth than previously thought!

As you, reader, will realise from reading this, I write. I’ve dipped in and out of writing throughout my life, but now it has become more serious. I have my day job of being an English teacher still, but for the last year, I have devoted more and more of my spare time to writing: this blog, film reviews, music reviews, short stories and the novel whose nickname has become Neverending Story. I shelved the dream of becoming a writer when I left primary school, as my secondary school teachers did not seem as enthralled by my literary offerings as my primary school teachers had been. A lecturer complimented me in my final year on my essay writing and suggested a career in journalism, but it was too little, too late. How different my life might have been, if I had listened to him. Again, I have no regrets; teaching is hugely fulfilling but I’m enjoying this current change in direction. I do not have a regular teaching job, for the first time in … a long time! But I do supply teaching, which is varied and (almost) pays the bills. With little marking or planning to do, I have more time to indulge in writing and attending gigs and current movies for reviewing purposes (and because I like doing those things anyway). So the writing dream has become a reality, even though it was a rainbow that was not currently on my list to chase. I feel more as if I took a wrong turning and there it was …

I did not marry the school bully. In fact, I had the misfortune to find myself the object of his affection at a party around a decade ago. I recognised him instantly, even though time and substance abuse had ravaged his outward appearance. He started to talk to me, in that manner that indicates rising levels of interest, much like a male rat in mating season. My fascination with his worn out face, with his self-belief in the face of adversity, with his smile – no, his leer – which was repulsively gleeful at the thought that I might be interested in him, with the length of time our eyes were locked in engagement (the longest ever – I never remember his eye catching mine during said bullying) and the strange sensation of finally gaining superiority over this repellant man whose playground bullying had turned into far more nefarious activities in adulthood, could have been mistaken for romantic interest.

“Can I have your number?” his voice broke the silence of the misinterpreted gaze.

For a moment I was devoid of speech and even thought. After years of planning what I would say, given the opportunity, all I could think of was:

“You bullied me at school.”

“He’s changed!” his friend (acquaintance? Do people capable of such terrible deeds have the capacity for friendship?) defended him.

“No, he hasn’t. I know he hasn’t,” I said to ‘friend’, “I know about him,” which I did.

“So you’re not giving me your number?” his resilience and lack of humility was startling.

“No,” I replied and left.

And that was – the unremarkable – it.

I don’t recall ever having a fairytale wedding dream and being rather lacking in self-confidence in my teen years, when it came to the opposite sex, I didn’t dare to daydream about a happily ever after with a soulmate. I pursued a hobby in the theatre which provided little scope for meeting soulmates, although coincidentally provided much scope for make-believe in meeting soulmates. However, I have succeeded in securing two failed marriages but as they are in fact failed, I think I can argue that neither provided me with a soulmate. The first did provide me with two awesome children though, so definitely no regrets there. With a capital ‘d’. Well, ‘D’, I guess. So ‘Definitely’.

Since the failure of the second one, I have mused over the topic of soulmates from time-to-time. My solitude was an alien feeling after he left and so after a respectable period of mourning (two months) I started dating. And then I wondered why I was dating. I was happy pursuing pastimes on my own and if I happened to meet someone then … great. If I didn’t … still great. I did meet someone and devoted half my blog to him, retrospectively, when it transpired that he was a complete bounder.

Then I met someone else.

Like I say, I never daydreamed about the ‘happily ever after’ but I have come to realise that this is not because I never wanted it. I did want it but I have never believed that it would happen. Someone told me once that when I am in a play, I am ‘in the zone’. This is true; maybe a part of me never fully grew up and that part of me still needs a bit of make-believe, which is why I have to do my best to be my character. Acting has given me several lifetimes of ‘happily ever after’ as well as several lifetimes of other character’s lives and emotions that my own life isn’t long enough to house. Reading and indulging in entertainment such as plays and movies are also capable of giving a person enough make-believe to compensate for any lack of happy endings in one’s own life.

And I lived happily ever after, forever and ever with the souliest mate imaginable. Well, I didn’t. But it turns out that I am a writer, so I can write my own happy ending.

I will keep you posted …

Split

Genre: Thriller

Certification: 15

Length: 1hr 57mins

Three pretty schoolgirls on the cusp of adulthood – Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) – are abducted. Imprisoned, they fear the worst, but occasional bafflement provides some light relief from their understandable hysteria, when their captor, Kevin (James McAvoy), cycles through different personalities during his visits to the girls. It quickly transpires that he is suffering from a mental illness (dissociative identity disorder) and we are privy to his regular therapy sessions, presenting himself to his therapist (Betty Buckley) also, as a range of differing personalities. As the plot deepens, so his story is revealed but unexpectedly, Casey’s story also.

I have no doubt that McAvoy relished in the opportunity to play multiple parts in one hit. However, to do this well, requires commitment, experience and expertise and could have easily remained an unfulfilled challenge. To successfully develop the character of a main protagonist, one usually has the luxury of sticking with one personality and the end result is a depth that is, one hopes, tangible to the audience. But to develop a character that has multiple personalities is a big ask. Director M. Night Shyamalan did not expect McAvoy to display all 24 of Kevin’s personalities, but he did require him to bring several of Kevin’s alter egos to our attention and he does so, admirably. Providing some comedy moments with Hedwig, a child; Patricia, an older lady and Barry, best described as your favourite gay hairdresser, ‘Split’ is almost a one-man show with McAvoy taking centre-stage.

Richardson and Sula portray two teenage schoolgirls as you would expect. With typically perfect make-up, hair and clothes, they do a good job of conveying childlike innocence whilst seeming as helpless as baby rabbits in the headlights of an oncoming car. Casey emerges as the atypical teenage girl, with her own backstory to rival Kevin’s and Taylor-Joy brings intelligent reflection to her character, which moves cleverly from the background, as the quiet girl, to the foreground, as the one you secretly wager might just make it out alive. The implication that both Casey and Kevin have been on both sides of a ‘hunt’ is reflected in the current situation, where she and her friends are clearly victims of a hunt.

The abduction/imprisonment premise has been a popular one in recent years, so the success of such a story is dependent upon a twist; a difference; a crazy subplot. Shyamalan brings these secret ingredients to his tale of horror and the result is a movie that pushes you to the last inch of your seat. Graphic detail, though inhumanly horrific, is sparse but the continued threat of possible outcomes makes for a tense two hours.

Mental health experts may disapprove of the portrayal of this condition which is understandable; but one could argue that Kevin is a criminal who happens to have a disorder (or vice versa) and just as some people with no mental health issues are criminals, surely some people with mental health issues are criminals?

Reviewed by Lisa O’Connor, January 2017 at Cineworld, Brighton.

A Monster Calls

Genre: Fantasy

Certification: 12A

Length: 1hr 48mins

Twelve year old Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is having a pretty rough time. Family is one very poorly mum (Felicity Jones), an absent dad (Toby Kebbell) and a highly-strung grandma (Sigourney Weaver). Throw in a few school bullies and life becomes decidedly bleak. Then, one night, a monster (Liam Neeson) calls … with his gigantic form of intertwined twigs and fearsome eyes that flash with angry flames, he presents as another problem – albeit a rather spectacular one – to add to the list of little Conor’s woes. But Conor secretly anticipates the monster’s visits with suppressed eagerness, so is he as monstrous as first impressions suggest?

MacDougall gives a highly emotive performance, mature beyond his years. Conor is a quiet, reflective child, visibly worn down by the burden of a terminally ill mother, whose gift of the only fulfilling relationship Conor has, is made bittersweet by her illness. MacDougall manifests Conor’s anger, optimism and sheer distress flawlessly and succeeds in allowing differing emotions to spill into each other.

Jones is sweet and natural as Lizzie, Conor’s mum and imparts a pathos without being over-sentimental. The two actors work well together, displaying the close and easy relationship that is surely intended. Having warmed to Conor, it is inevitable that one will not warm to his spiky grandma, so frostily played by Weaver, but with a foreshadowing hint of warmth. Kebbell pops up as ‘Dad’ and does a good job of the loveable but unreliable parent.

But imagination is at the heart of this movie and it turns out that it is full of life, passion and creativity. The monster is lifted directly from Patrick Ness’s award-winning book of the same name, courtesy of talented artist Jim Kay and director J.A. Bayona presents him magnificently, even taking care with the sounds of his dry twigs that comprise his body. Pitched somewhere between Treebeard from Lord of the Rings and Pan from Pan’s Labyrinth, Neeson is scary yet comforting; grumpy yet caring; confusing yet knowing. With themes of loneliness and parallels between the real world and the fantasy world, the comparison with Pan’s Labyrinth does not end there, but find out for yourself.

Lastly, special mention must go to the animation department. The telling of tales is magically presented with delicate, flowing animation. This is the trump card of ‘A Monster Calls’ and where the movie excels. Pastel shades and simple outlines give the animated characters a unique beauty and the continuity between scenes within tales is the work of quirkily creative minds.

A gentle fantasy tale, ‘A Monster Calls’ throws into doubt the conventions of that well-known and beloved genre of fairy-tales, yet clearly takes its inspiration from there. And the monster throws everything into doubt for Conor, including reality, as he deals with the latter’s suspicions:

“What is a dream, Conor O’Malley? Who is to say that it is not everything else that is the dream?”

Reviewed by Lisa O’Connor, January 2017 at Cineworld, Brighton.