November 11, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali
Directed by: Barry Jenkins (“Medicine for Melancholy”)
Written by: Barry Jenkins (“Medicine for Melancholy”)

Hollywood is only less than a year removed from the industry’s controversial #OscarsSoWhite debate. Now that we’re actually in Oscar season again, it’ll be interesting to see if this year’s buzz-worthy bait will include anything that could constitute a “black film” and how those projects will go over with audiences and critics alike.

The race to the top starts with “Moonlight” (“The Birth of a Nation” was a pretender), a beautifully-made drama that spans the life of one character from childhood to adulthood in a moving and heartbreaking way.

Following the life Chiron (played by three different actors in three chapters: Alex Hibbert as a kid, Ashton Sanders as a teenager and Trevante Rhodes as an adult), a gay African American, the film’s main messages of sexual identity, self-discovery and loneliness start strong and never let up as we watch the character battle himself and others over who he is and what he wants to make of his life.

The film starts with Chiron, nicknamed “Little,” as a quiet kid getting picked on by other boys in his neighborhood because of his small stature and pure nature. Little’s drug-addicted mother Paula (a wonderful Naomie Harris), is an emotional wreck and irresponsible for her child. When good-hearted local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his wife Teresa (Janelle Monáe) step in to play parental roles in Little’s life, the boy find some stability although not much.

As we watch Little grow into a teenager and face more harsh treatment from his mother and peers, his strength begins to show when he realizes he is attracted to one of his male friends at school. The recognition during these scenes in the film are genuine, which makes them all the more damaging when Chiron’s becomes devastated by an incident that puts him on a path he never thought he would take.

Adapted from Tarell McCraney’s play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” the direction and script of “Moonlight” by Barry Jenkins (“Medicine for Melancholy”) is an illuminating way to tell a story. Like 2014’s “Boyhood,” “Moonlight” gives audiences an opportunity to see this drama unfold on a broad scope and become invested in the main character and the issues he is experiencing. In “Moonlight,” however, the stake are at another level, which builds tension throughout the film in some surreal ways.

All three actors who portray Chiron bring a unique innocence to the character that is palpable. With Jenkins leading them all through this lyrical narrative, and some incredible cinematography by James Laxton (“Camp X-Ray”), “Moonlight” breaks away from most coming-of-age molds and makes itself distinctly compassionate and boundless—just like Chiron.

Ninja Assassin

November 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Rain, Naomie Harris, Ben Miles
Directed by: James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”)
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski (“Changeling”) and Matthew Sand (debut)

Previews for the action movie “Ninja Assassin” could have easily been shown during the middle of the night when the only things on TV are infomercials for kitchen utensils like the Slap Chop or Veg-o-Matic. They all slice and dice, but don’t do much else of anything.

In “Ninja Assassin,” Korean pop artist Rain plays Raizo, a rogue ninja who makes it his mission to bring down his former clan as they dart through Europe on a murderous rampage. He teams up with Mika (Naomie Harris), a Europol forensic researcher (because we all need one of those on our side), who has always known there was a secret society of ninjas running amok and assassinating political leaders.

Driven by his blood vendetta, Raizo wants his former master Ozunu (Sho Kosugi) to feel the same pain he experienced while under his training at the ninja academy. Through awkward and confusing flashbacks, we watch Ozunu mold his army of youngsters to be fearless killers. “Pain breeds weakness,” he tells his students, all of whom are orphans he’s handpicked for his own selfish reasons. There’s also a standard love story between a young Raizo (Joon Lee) and Kiriko (Anna Sawai), a female ninja-in-training who is less tolerant of the ninja way.

Besides the uninteresting background story and the superfluous one featuring Mika and her Europol partner Maslow (Ben Miles) who follow the trail of ninja body parts and miraculously dodge every throwing star hurled in their direction, “Ninja Assassin” is a CGI-heavy bloodbath that wears out its welcome after a while.

The action takes over in the opening scene as we watch Raizo hack off limbs and cut bodies in two from various angles. Sure, a typical decapitation with a sword is always good for a thrill-seeking audience, but what about a chain with a crescent blade at the end of it slicing a human from shoulder to hip? Still, the special effects become all too comical after enough chucks of flesh hit the ground.

Unlike something as stylistic and uproarious as the massively-cast action sequences with the Crazy 88’s of “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” or those of Bruce Lee’s many contributions to the martial arts genre, “Ninja Assassin” is a cliché-ridden throwback that lacks a cohesive story and always bends toward predictability.

It’s surprising that director James McTeigue, who did quite well behind the camera on “V for Vendetta,” played this one as routinely as he did. Didn’t he know that once you’ve seen one master-versus-student final battle in a burning dojo, you’ve seen them all? With “Ninja Assassin,” a shadowy warrior might be the reason the body count is so high, but it is McTeigue and his screenwriters that have slaughtered everything else that makes these types of movie so fun to watch.