Year: 2017

‘Fences’ wrestles with the limits of personal barriers

‘Fences’ wrestles with the limits of personal barriers

“Fences” (2016). Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney. Director: Denzel Washington. Screenplay: August Wilson. Play: August Wilson, Fences. Web site. Trailer. The parameters of our existence define the reality we experience. But who or what defines those parameters? Discovering the answer to that question has been a source of debate for eons, but, when we take a really close look at it, we find that the responsibility rests squarely in our own hands, an idea thoughtfully explored in the engaging new stage-to-screen adaptation of playwright August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work, “Fences.” Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a walking contradiction. As someone with a somewhat checkered past, including a stint in prison, he’s spent much time and effort since his release trying to get things straight in his life. Having missed his shot at becoming a standout baseball player (partly due to his jail time cutting into what would have been a promising career), he has since worked hard to make something of himself. He now holds a regular job as a trash collector for the City of Pittsburgh, and he’s determined to move up to the position of driver, a ...
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The Best – and Worst – of 2016

The Best – and Worst – of 2016

2016 was a strange year for films. What began with a generally lackluster start (especially in its largely disappointing summer season) somehow regrouped as the year progressed, finishing off the year with a flurry of fine offerings, both at film festivals and in general release. While some highly touted awards season pictures, such as “Manchester by the Sea” and “La La Land,” have proven to be vastly overrated, many others have been incredibly moving and thought-provoking. So, with that said, here are the best and worst of 2016 in my view. Included herein are my top 10 and bottom 10 feature films from last year. In separate lists, I’ve included my top 5 documentaries of 2016, as well as my top 5 lead and supporting actor and actress performances, with a few honorable mentions thrown in for good measure. The Top 10 “Moonlight”: A powerful, sensitive look at the “conflicted” views of the gay lifestyle within the African-American community, as told through the coming of age story of a young man in Miami. The picture’s phenomenal ensemble cast (featuring many first-time performers), incisive writing and creative camera work make a potent, impactful combination that breathes life into a well-told, deftly ...
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‘Neruda’ salutes the liberation of the artist within

‘Neruda’ salutes the liberation of the artist within

“Neruda” (2016). Cast: Gael García Bernal, Luis Gnecco, Alfredo Castro, Pablo Derqui, Mercedes Morán, Emilio Gutiérrez Caba, Diego Muñoz, Michael Silva. Director: Pablo Larraín. Screenplay: Guillermo Calderón. Web site. Trailer. In many respects, every act of creation – no matter how great or small – could be considered an artistic undertaking. And, given that those creations ultimately originate from us, one could also say that we’re each artists in our own respect, even if we don’t always regard ourselves as such. But what does it take to successfully evoke the artist within each of us? That’s what the unusual new Chilean biopic “Neruda” seeks to address. In post-World War II Chile, poet and politician Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, better known by the pen name Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco), was the country’s preeminent Communist. As a member of the Chilean Senate, he represented a party that had steadily grown in popularity, especially among laborers, given the prevailing disparate social and economic conditions of the Latin American nation. Neruda’s inspiring poetry did much to fan the flames of the Communist movement, too, earning him a huge following at home and worldwide. High-profile supporters like painter Pablo Picasso (Emilio Gutiérrez Caba) spoke ...
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What Is It with 'La La Land'?

What Is It with ‘La La Land’?

Seven Golden Globe Awards. Eight Critics Choice Awards (and another four nominations). Two Screen Actors Guild Award nominations. Eleven BAFTA Award nominations. The National Board of Review’s 2016 Top 10 List. And, almost assuredly, a basket of Oscar nominations yet to come. Such is the legacy so far for the immensely popular musical, “La La Land.” It seems like everyone is raving about this current offering, which has already made back its estimated $30 million budget and is likely to rake in more box office revenues with its ever-growing list of accolades. The picture has also made it onto virtually every best films list for movie critic societies across the country and around the globe. Everybody loves it. So what am I missing? In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll freely admit that I’m not much of a fan of movie musicals. As I wrote in the introductions to my two books, Get the Picture?! and Consciously Created Cinema, I find most musicals rather silly, many of them making me wish I’d been born heterosexual. To be sure, there are a few exceptions to this rule, such as “Cabaret” (1972) and “Les Misérables” (2012), but they’re in rather lonely company ...
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‘Hidden Figures’ revels in reaching for the stars

‘Hidden Figures’ revels in reaching for the stars

“Hidden Figures” (2016). Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glenn Powell, Olek Krupa, Ken Strunk, Kurt Krause, Donna Biscoe, Corey Parker. Director: Theodore Melfi. Screenplay: Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi. Book: Margot Lee Shatterly, Hidden Figures. Web site. Trailer. Reaching for the stars, both literally and figuratively, is quite a lofty goal. It’s especially ennobling for those who seem to have the deck stacked against them but whose ambitions are so fervent that they refuse to be denied the pursuit of their goals. Such are the aspirations of a trio of enlightened and irrepressible dreamers seeking to achieve greatness for themselves and a cause near and dear to them in the inspiring new biopic, “Hidden Figures.” As the space race began heating up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the American effort needed the best and the brightest minds it could find to keep pace with an aggressive Soviet program that chalked up a string of impressive accomplishments. NASA recruited anyone who possessed the talents required to fulfill its needs, including those who were otherwise marginalized by mainstream society, such as women and minorities. That attitude afforded ...
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