Storytelling for cinema is a difficult art to master since there’s so much to look out for. The hook must be gripping, and the characters need to be compelling. Once you have those, you’d think the script is fine, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The journey, the proceedings must be worth the investment, and that’s when you take into account character arcs, relationships, themes, and how that story should be told. At the end of the day, the story matters most, which means that the audience must care. With his sophomoric feature Nocturnal Animals, writer-director Tom Ford – yes, the fashion designer – definitely proves himself to be a tremendous visual stylist, though he doesn’t quite breathe proper life into what is an interesting yet dispassionate story.
Cinema reflects its audience. If moviegoers crave – even demand – something, the movies themselves will fulfill that in some form or another. When it comes to Disney’s animated films, audiences appear to want fare that’s more complex and progressive while still being fun. The Disney Revival Era appears to be tailor-made for them, as its films focus on themes like depression (Big Hero 6), identity (Wreck-It Ralph), and discrimination (Zootopia) and also showcase diverse (The Princess and the Frog) and strong female characters (Frozen). This welcome trend continues with Moana, which admittedly doesn’t pave new ground in terms of storytelling, but its true strength comes from a lively pair of lead characters – particularly the titular Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), who will surely be a landmark Disney heroine in the ages to come.
A film like Manchester by the Sea goes to show that you don’t need a large canvas to paint a masterpiece. There’s no doubt that writer-director Kenneth Lonergan has assembled a gifted cast and crew, but what sets his third directorial feature apart is how he orchestrates all the pieces to make his story and vision a reality. And what a picture it is, stripping bare the depths of the human heart with honesty and patience.
It’s not a bad time to be a Harry Potter fan. Nine years have passed since J.K. Rowling’s fantasy novels came to an end, though it’d be five if you followed the film adaptations. Since then, fans have had to fulfill their Potter fix through Pottermore or the supplementary books and e-books. This no longer has to be the case, as 2016 has brought forth the eighth Potter story (albeit as a stage play) in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as well as a film adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first in a spin-off series written by Rowling herself. The latter certainly captures and espouses the Potter spirit, even though its story does stumble along.
With the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges last year and as the fight for the recognition of same-sex marriage continues, the story of Mildred and Richard Loving feels very relevant – especially how their experiences culminated in the 1967 Supreme Court ruling on Loving v. Virginia, which invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage. How timely, then, that their story has now been realized on the big screen by filmmaker Jeff Nichols. With the resulting film Loving, Nichols strips down this incredible journey to its basic human elements and focuses on the two people who started it all, thus honoring their humanity, legacy, and love.
With the exception of perhaps westerns, no other films are as maligned these days as those about the Iraq War. To explain the rather tepid reception that meets these pictures, some will point to the disillusionment that many Americans have toward the conflict. While there is legitimacy in that, I think it also has to do with the stories they tell. Case in point: almost every single one of them are about soldiers returning home, having trouble adjusting, and suffering from PTSD. Ang Lee’s latest film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, seems no different on its surface, which could be why the renown filmmaker chose to shoot the film in 3-D at 120 frames per second at 4K resolution – to enhance the characters’ emotional and harrowing experiences. Alas, this technique proves to be nothing more than an interesting experiment at best, and it doesn’t help that the story isn’t as engaging as it presents itself to be.
Say we made first contact with extraterrestrial life. How would we respond to them? How would we communicate if we chose to do that? What could we experience from communicating with them? The story of first contact is by no means a new one, but these days, it has become rather generic and stale when answering those very questions. Thank goodness, then, for Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, which not only provides thought-provoking answers to those questions, but has those answers unfold in such a compelling and meditative manner.
Say what you want about Mel Gibson, but he was born to make movies. Hollywood and the general public have treated the formerly well-regarded filmmaker and star as a pariah for over a decade, and while he has appeared in a handful of films recently, he has been absent from the director’s chair until now. With his previous projects, he tackled William Wallace, the Crucifixion, and the Mayans, demonstrating a desire to venture into waters that studios dare not tread as well as a keen sense of visual storytelling. His first film in 12 years takes him to the incredible true story of Desmond Doss, the only conscientious objector and combat medic who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II. While Gibson is no stranger to violence, he approaches it differently this time around, as instead of just reveling in it, he uses it to clearly reinforce Doss’ heroic pacifism. Hacksaw Ridge can be clumsy and heavy-handed, but Gibson’s appreciation for his subject comes through in a tremendous cinematic manner.
Eight years have passed since 2008’s Iron Man, and the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) has brought forth a whopping 14 films featuring God knows how many characters. That’s quite an achievement, but honestly, all this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. The MCU is called a universe for a reason, and anyone who grew up reading the comics knows that there’s a wealth of potential superheroes and supervillains to bring to the big screen. Will that lead to the long-foretold superhero movie fatigue? Perhaps, though it would be a certainty if all the films feel the same – a predicament Marvel Studios would like to avoid. As we enter a whole new world with Doctor Strange, the filmmakers make this journey as unique as possible without ever losing the MCU’s sense of fun, even though they can’t fully escape the pitfalls of telling a familiar story.
Every film is an expression or story meant to be shared. It is, after all, a product from a group of creators, whose education, philosophies, and values have shaped them over the course of their work and their lives, and those become a part of the film’s identity. A film is a reflection of human experiences, and it can take many forms, from the CG-heavy action flick and eye-opening documentary to the rapid-fire comedy and the sappy romance. Then there are films that transcend their forms, that still operate as escapes from reality yet reveal the humanity within. These are the films that make us forget we’re watching moving images and instead lead us to believe that we are hearing the very voices of the creators and witnessing human lives unfold. Such is Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, a gentle and soulful masterpiece that is as extraordinary as it is deeply and utterly human.