Review of reviews: Film
Directed by Barry Jenkins (R)
A poor boy from Miami grows to be a man.
The revitalizing effect of watching a film like Moonlight is, “without a doubt, the reason we go to the movies,” said Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. An “exquisite” coming-ofage drama about a son of Miami who, when we meet him, is a poor, black 10-year-old just discovering he’s gay, it tells a story we rarely if ever have seen on screen and does so in miracle scene after miracle scene. Three separate but “all remarkable” actors play the movie’s protagonist, Chiron, in three different passages of his life, said Brian Tallerico in RogerEbert.com. Sad-eyed Alex Hibbert is chased by neighborhood bullies in the opening scene, finding refuge with a drug dealer (Mahershala Ali). Chiron’s crack-addicted mother is out of the picture by the time teenager Ashton Sanders assumes the lead role, and Trevante Rhodes takes over just as seamlessly: Every performance, and every shot choice, proves Moonlight “one of those rare movies that just doesn’t take a wrong step.” The final scene, which reunites a hardened adult Chiron with his first love, “leaves you feeling both stripped bare and restored,” said Stephanie Zacharek in Time.com. “What happens between the two men is so subtle and marvelous to watch that you feel drawn into an invisible but intense embrace.”
Directed by Keith Maitland (Not rated)
A re-enactment of the first mass school shooting
No other movie currently in theaters “gets at the heart of fear better than Tower,” said Elizabeth Kiefer in Refinery29.com. Fifty years after an engineering student at the University of Texas climbed a 28-story clock tower and started firing a rifle at pedestrians below, this documentary makes the resulting 96 minutes of panic and horror palpable as it blends contemporary interviews with innovative animation: The actions of the people on the ground—victims, survivors, heroes— were re-enacted by actors to produce footage that was then rotoscoped. Tower, in other words, “isn’t about the shooter.” It’s instead about the terrified, which might make it more valuable, said Mike D’Angelo in AVClub.com. The Texas Tower incident was America’s first mass shooting reported widely, and Keith Maitland’s brilliant treatment presents it as a slowmotion nightmare that is also a tribute to those who put aside fear to aid strangers and stop the killing. Forty-nine innocent people were shot that day, 14 fatally, and Tower explicitly links the tragedy to similar recent incidents in a totally unnecessary epilogue, said Bilge Ebiri in The Village Voice. That’s “a minor quibble,” though. “You may not see a more emotionally shattering film this year.”
Kevin Hart: What Now?
Directed by Leslie Small and Tim Story
The comedian delights a sold-out stadium crowd.
“Nobody works harder at getting a laugh than Kevin Hart,” said Peter Keough in The Boston Globe. The diminutive comedian is “exhausting to watch” in his latest concert film, “racing, lurching, dancing across the stage” as he spins his yarns faster and faster—all in a mostly successful effort to please a Philadelphia stadium full of 53,000 fans. Though the filmmaking is clumsy and Hart’s comic sensibility “middling,” he’ll squeeze some laughs out of any moviegoer, and you’ll “leave in a better mood than when you came in.” Personally, “I thought about two-thirds was prettyto -very funny, and one-third meh,” said Glenn Kenny in The New York Times. Hart’s highenergy humor works best when he’s poking fun, Bob Hope–like, at his own vulnerabilities—such as his irrational fear of a raccoon that stalks his house. So how did Hart draw that record crowd for a stand-up show? said Rafer Guzmán in Newsday. He’s not a social critic, and he prefers conjuring imaginary scenarios—like battling an orangutan—to holding up a mirror to his audience. His delivery is top-notch, but beyond that, the current king of crowd-pleasing stand-up is simply “a guy who says nutty stuff.”
New on DVD and Blu-ray
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Criterion, $40)
This “scalpel-precise” 1970 satire of Valley of the Dolls is “an uproarious gas,” said Flavorwire.com. Lampooning a soapy camp classic about three drug-addled movie starlets, director Russ Meyer and screenwriter Roger Ebert pulled off “one of the great acts of Hollywood subversion.”
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Sony, $20)
A wannabe teen gangster is taken in by a New Zealand survivalist in Taika Waititi’s latest comedy. When the kid flees into the bush, a daring rescue attempt ensues. Yet somehow, said The Village Voice, the result is “one of the most sincere and funny portraits of family life to come along in a while.”
Swiss Army Man (A24, $20)
This indie oddity plays like “an existential fart joke,” said The Philadelphia Inquirer. Paul Dano is a castaway who makes friends with a corpse. Think “Samuel Beckett by way of Monty Python,” in a story “at once rooted in the fixations of adolescence and in the loftier firmaments of the mind.”