Moonlight. Barry Jenkins’ eagerly awaited follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2008 film Medicine For Melancholy – which has been a hit on the festival circuit – rolls out this weekend. The film, which is based on a story by acclaimed playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, tells the story of Chiron in three parts: As ‘Little’ (Alex Hibbert), a young boy growing up in a Miami housing project with his drug addicted mother (Naomie Harris), her dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae); as Chiron (Ashton Sanders), a teenager who endures vicious taunting and beatings regarding his sexuality while confronting his feelings for local lothario Kevin (Jharrel Jerome); and as ‘Black’ (Trevante Rhodes), an Atlanta-based drug dealer who returns to Miami to re-connect with Kevin (Andre Holland), whom he hasn’t seen in 10 years. Jenkins wisely uses the widescreen format to show the depth and scope of Miami but also to give the powerful emotional scope conveyed here that much more punch. The film avoids many of the cliches this kind of material tends to have wth each character having depth, complexities and nuance. The film’s overriding theme that the journey to finding oneself is often strange, painful, but ultimately rewarding is the stuff of ages. A very strong contender for the upcoming awards season. Moonlight opens nationwide this Friday. You can also go to www.moonlight-movie.comfor more information.
American Pastoral. Ewan McGregor makes his directorial debut in this big screen adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning Philip Roth novel. Set amidst the political turmoil of the late 1960s, McGregor stars as Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov, a former high school star athlete who is now a successful businessman. He seems to have the ideal life: He married former beauty queen Dawn (Jennifer Connolly) and has a daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning), whom he adores. That life comes to an abrupt halt when Merry, who has increasingly involved in the movement against America’s role in the Vietnam War, disappears after being accused of blowing up a post office. Swede sets out to find her with the hopes of reuniting his family, but his search forces him to finally deal with the chaos – politically and personally – that is surrounding him. Taking on any Roth novel is a tough task but McGregor, along with screenwriter John Romano managed it quite well, retaining much of the power and impact of the book. McGregor proves himself to be a great student of the the many outstanding directors he has worked with through the years, bringing out the best in the exceptional cast and making exceptional use of the scenery and of the troubled, fractured times that mirror a lot of what is happening today. A moving, intense and strong debut. American Pastoral opens in select theaters on Friday and nationwide on October 28th. You can also go to www.americanpastoralmovie.com for more information.
In A Valley Of Violence. The latest from writer-director-producer Ti West is a 21st Century spin on the spaghetti western. Ethan Hawke stars as Paul, a mysterious drifter who, with his dog Abbie, is headed towards Mexico for unspecified reasons. They stop in Denton, a once prosperous mining town – now called ‘a valley of violence’ – that is now run by a group of misfits, holdovers and village idiots. When Paul has a run in with Gilly (James Ransone), the deputy (and son) of Marshall Clyde Martin (John Travolta), it sets off a chain of events that threaten to lay waste to what’s left of the town. Hawke is in fine form as the drifter, echoing Clint Eastwood’s ‘Man With No Name’ character without falling victim to imitation or parody. Travolta has his meatiest role in ears as Marshall Martin, torn between his love of the law and his love for his son, while trying to hold together what’s left of an already decaying town. Ransone, best known for his roles in the HBO series The Wire and Generation Kill, is fantastic as Gilly, the son who is trying to make his own mark while as trying to please and live up to his father’s life as a lawman. Not that the film is an all-male affair: It’s the ladies of the film – Taissa Farminga as Mary-Anne and Karen Gillan as Ellen who provide the film’s voices of reason, who try to salvage what little humanity and dignity that’s left in the main characters. West also peppers the violence with some humor and biting commentary on class, and the price that was paid to establish what is now known as the United States. A strong contender for the sleeper film of the fall season. In A Valley Of Violence opens on Friday. You can also go to www.focusfeatures.comfor more information.
You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen. For his 14th studio album – his 3rd in 5 years – Leonard Cohen sounds like a man ready to make his final life journey and writing out his wake and his funeral. This album has all of the Cohen trademarks: Light guitars, piano, eased orchestrations, choir-like backing vocals coloring ruminations on love, death, loss and spirituality, but this time its done in hushed, almost whispered tones. It’s the sound of a man looking at the end and working out of the mysteries and complexities of those life experiences. It’s no secret that Cohen is battling health issues and songs such as ‘Traveling Light’ and the moving ‘Leaving The Table’ confronts mortality head on with grace, resolve and dignity. The album runs just over 35 minutes, but its one that you will find yourself constantly having on repeat. One of the year’s best. You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen will available on Friday through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers. You can also go to www.leonardcohen.com for more information.
Power To The People: The World Of The Black Panthers by Stephen Shames and Bobby Seale. In October 1966, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton formed The Black Panther Party For Self-Defense. Its rise and fall has been well documented in books and on film, but now Seale, along with BPP Photographer Stephen Shames have teamed up for this new book to coincide with the group’s 50th Anniversary. Shames opens up his vast archive to provide visual context to the words of Seale, and other key players within the party including Kathleen Cleaver, Elbert ‘Big Man’ Howard, Ericka Huggins, Emory Douglas, and William ‘Billy X’ Jennings. Serving as both a visual and oral history, Power To The People provides stirring new context into a political movement whose actions and influence are still being felt today. A vital read. Power To The People: The World Of The Black Panthers is available now through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all major book retailers.
New York City: PDN Photos Plus International Conference + Expo. North America’s largest photography and imaging show comes to New York’s Javits Center this weekend. There will be over 250 exhibitors showing off the latest and best gear; educational seminars, PhotoWalks and Master Classes, contests and awards presentations running throughout. Whether you are a seasoned professional, someone looking to break into the field or a fan, this is the place to be for any photog. The PDN Photos Plus International Conference + Expo will take place at the Javits Center through October 22nd. You can also go to www.photoplusexpo.com to tickets, full schedule and more info.
Los Angeles: Amy Schumer. Amy Schumer continues her streak of success with a stand up show at The Forum. This show should be a lot more powerful in the wake of the election season and her recent Florida performance, in which 200 people walked out after she made some not so flattering comments about Donald Trump and his supporters. Schumer never pulls punches on any topic, so expect anything and everything to be on the table. Amy Schumer will be at The Forum on Sunday. You can also go to www.amyschumer.com for tickets and more information.