Beasts Of No Nation

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

As much as I’d like to give this film a perfect score, I just don’t feel that I can. And that drives me crazy. I mean, on the surface, this film has everything I’m looking for–an engaging narrative, realistic characters, stellar performances, gorgeous cinematography and a beautiful color scheme. Not only that, it stars an entirely non-White cast, and was written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, a fellow Asian American filmmaker and NYU Tisch alumni. Everything I need is present in Beasts Of No Nation, so why aren’t I crazy about it?

Well, one reason could be the pacing. See, for those of you who don’t know, this movie I’m writing about, Beasts Of No Nation, tells the story of Agu, a young boy in an unnamed West African nation going through a Civil War, who, after his family is killed, becomes a child soldier. In this respect, it is not unlike the Oscar-nominated Political THriller, Blood Diamond. But, whereas Blood Diamond  was primarily an action film, and therefore had quick pacing and high octane thrills, this movie takes its time, and in some places, lingers on scenes and images that aren’t entirely necessary. There are several, rather long, shots of characters playing soccer, playing tag, going to Church, sitting and dancing, and even of completely random things, like bugs on branches, and dripping faucets. I understand the necessity of building up atmosphere and ambiance, but come on! Move the plot forward! Have stuff happen! Blood Diamond has a running time of over 2 and a half hours, a good 10 minutes more than this movie, and yet, it doesn’t feel nearly as long as this. And you want to know why? Because stuff actually happens there! There aren’t any extraneous scenes of people riding in cars or watching the rain fall. Every cut and image in that film is necessary! I never realized how important pacing really was to the success of a picture until I saw Beasts Of No Nation.

Another possible reason why I’m not as crazy about this film as I probably should be is the ambiguity. What I mean by that is, we’re never told what country this is supposed to be, why the war is happening, or even what the moral center of the film is. Now, on some level, I can understand why Fukunaga probably did this. He probably wanted to tell a universal human story with a universal human center, and that doesn’t necessarily require specific details, like a national identity, or a historical backdrop. But, at the same time, if we’re not given a specific conflict or country to latch on to, we’re not left with any real reason to care. I mean, even in completely fictional movies about war, like Star Wars and Lord Of The Rings, we’re told where we are, what the conflict is, and who the different sides are. We’re given context. We’re given something to grab on to. We don’t have that here. We don’t know what place this is. We don’t know who the good guys and the bad guys are. All we know is that there’s a kid, some bad things happen to him, he becomes a soldier, and he kills lots of people. What’s the purpose of that? To tell us that war is bad? Uh, I hate to break it to you Cary, but I think everyone in the world already knows that. At least Blood Diamond wanted to educate us about a specific issue–the illegal diamond trade–and give us an insight into the specific problems faced by a specific country–Sierra Leone. The lack of specificity in Beasts Of No Nation was likely done to make the film’s story and themes more universal, but, in the end, only managed to alienate the audience from what was happening, and unintentionally contribute to the homogenization of African cultures in the Western mind.

But, with all that said, I did still enjoy this movie, and have decided to give it a 7 out of 10. Yeah, it drags in some places. Yeah, it’s ambiguity can be a bit off-putting. But, overall, I do still think Beasts Of No Nation is a strong piece of filmmaking that should be watched and admired. If you’re a fan of Mr Fukunaga’s work–True Detective, Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre–or are simply looking to watch a well-shot, well-acted movie, give this film a look. It’s streaming on Netflix right now, and playing in some theaters.

Advertisements

Freeheld

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

This isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t a good one either. It’s trying to be progressive–to tell a touching, and socially relevant story–but it ultimately comes off as generic, and even somewhat banal.

For those of you who are wondering what the hell I’m talking about, I just sat down and watched an early screening of Freeheld, a new drama film starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page. The movie, which comes out in theaters tomorrow, is based on the true story of Laurel Hester, a Lesbian Police Officer from New Jersey, who, when she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, was unable to transfer her pension benefits to her partner, Stacie. The film chronicles her friends and loved ones attempts to overdue the court’s ruling, and get Stacie her pension.

Now, I’ll be honest, when I heard this film’s premise, I was hopeful. I love “call to social action” films, like Blood Diamond, Philadelphia, and Dallas Buyers Club. I thought that, maybe, this movie would be another worthy addition to the list of socially conscious motion pictures that have come out in the last 30 years. Unfortunately, when I actually sat down and watched it, I was treated to a fairly generic “fight the power” drama, with no real tension, and nothing particularly new in the way of storytelling. Every cliched character you’d expect to see in a movie about gay rights–the butch lesbian, the flamboyantly gay man, the homophobe who grows a heart and does the right thing–is present here. No one’s really given any backstory, and some of the performances are a bit cartoonish. On top of that, this whole movie feels like White Guilt Oscar Bait. You all know what I’m talking about–movies that are hoping to get critical acclaim by talking about something important, like racism, sexism, homophobia, or historical tragedies. It’s practically a joke among actors that, if you want to win an Oscar these days, you’ve got to either pretend to be gay, pretend to be dying, or pretend to be disabled. Well, this film is about homophobia, and its star, Julianne Moore, is both pretending to die, AND pretending to be gay. At this point, the filmmakers are practically giving their acceptance speeches.

Now, to be fair, I know that the directors and the actors intentions here were good, but, honestly, the whole thing just feels exploitative. I’m a disabled person, and I don’t like it when I see non-disabled actors–like Eddie Redmayne in Theory Of Everything, Al Pacino in Scent Of A Woman, and Cliff Robertson in Charly–using our conditions as easy springboards to critical success. Similarly, I don’t like it when I see heterosexual actors giving flamboyantly over-the-top portrayals of gay people, like Steve Carrell does here, just to win awards.

So, to sum it all up, Freeheld is a well-intentioned movie that doesn’t bring anything new to the “fight the power,” social activism genre of filmmaking, and ultimately suffers because of that. It’s a 6 out of 10. Don’t go see it if you’ve already watched films like Philadelphia or Dallas Buyers Club.