Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.
"Hacksaw Ridge" — 2.5 stars
The extraordinary new film "Moonlight" exerts a tidal pull on your heartstrings, but honestly: It's better than that. The reason it's distinctive has less to do with raw emotion, or a relentless assault on your tear ducts, and more to do with the film medium's secret weapons: restraint, quiet honesty, fluid imagery and an observant, uncompromised way of imagining one outsider's world so that it becomes our own.
Since its festival premieres in Telluride and Toronto, "Moonlight" has been contending with well-meaning, largely misleading labels of "gay coming-of-age film," or "gay black coming-of-age film." True, yes: The writer-director Barry Jenkins, whose previous feature was "Medicine for Melancholy," has adapted an unproduced, semi-autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney titled "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue." The boy in question, played on screen by three actors at different phases of one young, searching lifetime, copes with being bullied for his apparent homosexuality, which he keeps locked away from nearly everyone, including himself.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.
"Moonlight" — 4 stars
I did not see The Passion of the Christ and I will more than likely not see Hacksaw Ridge. Blood fests do very little for me. Call me old fashioned*, but I believe that horror is best served off screen. The rules work very well, especially in great theatre, or film.
Catharis, or the purging of our inner demons via the suffering of another is the most powerful element in the very human and community building activity that is drama. Catharis works best without Spectacle - special effects, gore, or pornography.
From the time of Greek tragedy on, up to the 1960's, dramaturgy kept the violence off-screen. This not some puritanical dictum imposed by people of faith in Zeus, Aphrodite, Pan and Dionysius; it was because the human mind and soul reacts and engages theatrically, when Medea serves up her sons to her fury as a woman in civilization's prototypal feminist role.
Oedipus carves out his own eyes - off-stage and off-screen. Iphigenia leads the Chorus to the sacrificial altar of Aulis, where good old Dad will put the knife to her as an offering to the Olympians, so the Greeks can slaughter Troy, leaving Mom to plot the subsequent blood-shedding to come.
Ask any movie go-er about what was more terrifying, the Linda Blair pea souping of the Exorcist, or this
However, we are told constantly that we are evolved. We are treated to every spectacle imaginable or Marvel comic possible. Hetero/Homo sodomy the Norme d'amour, and heads must always explode.
Then we wring hands about people acting out.
Pornography has vanished with Satan**.
Frankly, it is dull.
Critics like Michael Phillips disagree, They are social engineers using film to change hearts and minds. Michael Phillips and Hollywood detest Mel Gibson, but I do not believe that Mr. Gibson loses any sleep over that fact. I find him to be one the naturally great actors and a fine comic as well.
I saw Braveheart - meh. Too much shouting and gore.
Michael Phillips does not like Gibson's underlying beliefs.
For all sorts of emotional and psychological reasons I'm trying to figure out as a critic and, relatedly, as a human, audiences tend to remember and even admire what traumatizes them in the name of entertainment. But even a film determined to show us the grisliest horrors of war must traumatize and — more palatably — excite in roughly equal measure, in order to make a lot of money.
I think director Mel Gibson's "Hacksaw Ridge" is going to make a lot of money.
Its old-fashioned storytelling collides with new-level gore, gory enough to make "Saving Private Ryan" look like "The Big Broadcast of 1938." The film knows exactly what it's doing, regarding faith-based audiences and war movie buffs.
Evangelical Christians, Devout Jews and Catholics, as well as arm-chair generals will love this movie.
Phillips can not for the very critically human life of him understand why audiences admire what traumatizes them in the name of entertainment.
Why only last week, Mr. Phillips wrote this:
His mother (Naomie Harris, riveting as a loving, hostile paradox of a wreck) has fallen into crack cocaine and a wobbly, sometime relationship with her son, known as "Little."Her disarmingly sweet-natured drug dealer (Mahershala Ali, stunningly good) presents Little with his first serious moral dilemma: Can I trust this man, he wonders, who has become the key role model in the fatherless boy's life? Along with the dealer's live-in girlfriend (Janelle Monae), he offers the boy some solace, a hot meal and, in a key early scene, a trip to the beach that stays with Little long afterward.
Little becomes Chiron in segment two, played by the superb young actor Ashton Sanders, and his mother is now pretty far gone. School has become hellish, and in one especially grueling sequence, Chiron's one steady childhood friend, Kevin, reluctantly joins a group of abusive bullies in a terrible beating. This comes not long after Chiron and Kevin share a clandestine sexual encounter at the beach one night.Gosh, no trauma there. The theme is gay sexual-wakening and Chiron is not moving to Gresham, Englewood, or Beverly. The movie seems to be a 'sensitivity recruiting poster' for the African American male. This will go over like a showing of Birth of a Nation at Louis Farrakhan's restaurant Salaam on 79th Street.
Micahel Phillips also gave the Obama Love Story, South Side With You, Three Stars and said, " 'South side with You' is best taken as a reminder of the value of the slow relational build, of taking your time and actually talking, and actually listening, with someone new. Even if there's not a staggering political future in your shared future."
Moonlight is another such feel good film, because it flows to the socio-politico values of Hollywood and the elites.
Mel Gibson is playing only to The Deplorables
People who honor valor, selflessness, determination and self-reliance. Can't have that.
The man at the heart of the story does not need this sort of grandiosity. It "works," but it's shameless. And the way Gibson has staged the roughest of the Okinawa footage in the second half of "Hacksaw Ridge," weirdly little of it is from Doss' perspective. Gibson may be intellectually compelled by this pacifist in the midst of hell on Earth, but dramatically he's only nominally interested in how it informed every aspect of his life. In any event, Gibson may not be the director to explore the moral horrors of any war, any conflict. He's too interested in physical punishment to make room for much else, though the recurring images of Japanese (symbols of evil, not men) and American soldiers on fire are thematically linked to the all-consuming fire imagery ingrained in the Seventh-day Adventist beliefs."My values are under attack," every day on the pages of the Chicago Tribune. And yet, they wonder, 'How Trump?'
"My values are under attack," says Garfield at one point, in a line, surely, that holds personal meaning to Gibson. The director's off-screen trials, alcohol-related run-ins with the law and ragey, anti-Semitic and misogynist comments put him in Hollywood's doghouse for years. But as quickly as they piled on, Gibson's onetime attackers may well pile right back off again. If "Hacksaw Ridge" is a success, Gibson's redemption seems assured. I respectfully, conscientiously object to the way Desmond Doss has been simplified and sanctified in the movie. But Gibson has talent to go with his demons, and someday he may realize it in full.
*Five Rules of Dramaturgy
- Hamartia - an error in judgment
- Hubris - arrogance, excessive, self-pride and self-confidence
- Anagnorisis - moment of discovery; epiphany
- Peripeteia - change of fortune for the hero contrary to audience's expectations
- Catharsis - purifying or figurative cleansing of the emotions, PITY AND FEAR (audience)
** Q-How much of a gateway to Satan has been opened by the wide availability of pornography on the Internet?
A- Porn is a click away. I think it has incredible power of being an addictive activity. I think it’s nothing but objectifying one or both sexes. Sometimes there’s an incredible amount of violence that is attached to it. Depending on the frequency, I do think people’s minds after a while become amalgamated into a life of darkness. And when people are involved in this—it’s usually very hidden, much like Satan, who is hidden—I think it can open doorways to the demonic.