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Rob Carraher

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Rob Carraher

Julia Docournau’s feature debut “Raw” has been the subject of film festival controversy despite being received as highly regarded cinema. The horror genre is known for making those with the strongest of stomachs a bit squeamish, but Docournau’s “Raw” takes the gore to a surprisingly new level.

It’s not that such gore hasn’t graced theaters before, but the way that Docournau presents it, allowing for eyes to feast on all its cannibalistic glory. But what separates “Raw” from past cannibal flicks is its desire to place storytelling at the forefront rather than relying simply on shocking images but nothing of substance.

“Raw” opens by introducing Justine (Garance Marillier), a vegetarian teen entering her first year of veterinarian school. The college lifestyle is a dramatic change for Justine as she becomes the target of “rookie” hazing. Her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), gladly takes part in breaking Justine into her new environment.

When Alexia pressures Justine into eating a rabbit liver as part of the hazing festivities, Justine’s life begins to change. The taste of liver awakens an overbearing satiation to consume even more meat–including human flesh. Justine juggles the responsibilities of being a college student, or lack thereof, with her new-found cravings.

Docournau not only directed but also wrote “Raw.” Her twist on the classic coming of age story and cannibal story creates a familiar yet original approach to the horror genre. Her craft is seasoned to the point where it seems almost impossible to believe this is her first feature film. Very few directors manage to capture the terror of the genre and still land on their feet by the film’s end. Docournau does just that. This is a sign of an aware filmmaker.

One of the high points of “Raw” is the way it handles the theme of lust. In a handful of scenes, Marillier brilliantly personifies lustful emotion. In the context of the film, lustful incorporates more than just sexual desire. In that sense, these scenes become ever more uncomfortable and awkward for viewers, but there is an allure that more than imprisons the mind.

The juxtaposition of this woman-coming out of her shell on a college campus and the engrossing, unexplainable realization of being a cannibal is a work of genius, and a creative way to deliver this sort of content. Neither situation could be very comfortable for the individu-al experiencing such extreme life changes, but once again Marillier brings her very best to the role. Rumpf’s more relaxed portrayal as Alexia helps to contrast the two sisters, and drives the urgency for Justine to understand her new life.

There is certainly an undercurrent being displayed about feminism in Docournau’s construction of “Raw.” As the film comes to a close, it becomes very apparent of such message. It’s not a “in your face” sort of message, and that is what makes it all the more effective. Docournau’s characters are female and strong, and they aren’t trying to be something they are not. It is very difficult to walk away and not be enamored with Justine and Alexia as rich characters in a thrilling tale, much to the credit of Docournau’s writing melding perfectly with Marillier and Rumpf’s performances.

As excellent as the storytelling and performances are in “Raw,” it would be a mistake to not talk about the gore. There are some simply stunning exhibits of the gnarly, bloody aftermath of cannibalized events. If an appetite was present prior to the film, it certainly goes missing before exiting the theater. Few films go as far as “Raw” does, and the design element is extraordinary. It makes one wonder if these visuals could possibly be fake, they look so real. Mix this with an intense and haunting soundtrack, and Docournau has constructed the complexities of the cannibal-horror genre that are often missing from many other films.

The gore may bring audiences to the theater, but Docournau’s craft will leave them witnesses of something special. “Raw” will likely finish as the year’s best horror film, and deservedly so. For a bunch of unknowns to come onto the cinema scene with such strong first effort is quite rare. Whether a fan of horror films, foreign films, or films with exquisite sense of construction and delivery, “Raw” will surely please.

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Photo Courtesy of variety.com

Rob Carraher

The controversy surrounding Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman” lead to him not coming to the United States to accept his Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The tension between the United States and Iran led to what became a political statement during the award’s show. And maybe that played into its eventual victory, but removing all the controversy, “The Salesman” is an excellent example of auteurism.

Ironically, the film has little to no political themes and could easily be plugged into the culture of any other country and be just as captivating. In fact, the use of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” throughout the film acts as a marriage of sorts between cultures and proof of worlds that aren’t so far apart.

As “The Salesman” opens, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) Etesami are forced to leave their apartment as it is deemed unsafe. Just as their participation as actors in a rendition of “Death of a Salesman” begins, they must find a new home to live in. A fellow actor, Babak (Babak Karimi) finds them a new place, which has been recently vacated by its previous resident.

One evening, Rana is home organizing and cleaning the new apartment when she is attacked by a perpetrator. Emad sets out to find the individual who attacked his wife as he seeks justice.

Farhadi is no stranger to writing award winning screenplays as his film, “A Separation” also took home the prize for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars in 2012. In “The Salesman,” he has constructed story, but an enthralling one that keeps its audience constantly wondering what is coming next. It is apparent that Farhadi set out to create a film that has universal appeal and with a thoughtful lesson to hold viewers’ minds hostage for the days following the initial viewing.

The acting ensemble led by Hosseini and Alidoosti is exceptional. Never once are these characters confused for performers trying to be bigger than their roles. It is easy for one to relate to these characters’ situation from the very stand-point of the human desire to protect loved ones. It is a shame that Alidoosti’s performance wasn’t recognized by the Academy. Her ability to capture the life changing events of being attacked and having to deal with the emotional aftermath is perfection. Hosseini certainly holds his own as the stoic character in need of keeping his cool.

The film doesn’t try to impress audiences with over the top cine-matography or gimmicky special effects. Fahadi lets the film speak for itself. The characters tell their story, and at times it seems like it’s not going anywhere, but the intrigue is always there.

“The Salesman” isn’t going to leave its audiences in awe, but it refuses to let go well after its viewing. Much of that is its ability to latch onto the humanist aspects of its delivery. Its lack of a groundbreaking cinema experience forces viewers to focus on its purpose, and that is where it thrives.

Farhadi does well to capture the minds of his audience. It doesn’t matter whether they are from Iran or the United States or anywhere between. Every person who experiences “The Salesman” has an opportunity to connect with its universal message. Patience is necessary as it slowly burns toward a climax, but it is well worth the experience. And in a tense political climate, the world could use a film that represents foreign cultures as they are, more similar than different for other cultures around the world.

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Photo Courtesy wired.com

Rob Carraher

The superhero genre from a realism approach isn’t a new technique, but because of content, it is often hard to capture. Christopher Nolan changed the game with his rendition of Batman, but no other director has been able to hit that chord quite right since then.

James Mangold’s latest outing, “Logan,” realizes the humanity aspect of the character Wolverine in a way that maybe even Nolan was unable to do with Batman. This dark take on the X-Men mainstay uses an excellent script and vision by Mangold, coupled with a seasoned cast of veterans to truly bring these characters to life in one of the most engaging superhero tales every made.

“Logan” takes place in the near future where mutants are dangerously close to becoming extinct. James “Logan” Howlett (Hugh Jackman) is quickly deteriorating in health as a result of adamantium poisoning. While battling substance abuse, Logan is now spending his time as a hired driver and taking care of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in an abandoned Mexican smelting plant just across the border. He is approached by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), who is on a search for a girl by the name of Laura (Dafne Keen).

Logan is soon tasked with protecting the girl as he and Xavier find themselves being pursued by Pierce. It becomes apparent that Laura is Logan’s daughter and as they search for safety, a bond among Logan, Laura and Xavier is created.

“Logan” thrives on simplicity. It doesn’t try to build an elaborate plot, only to be riddled with holes by the time its crescendo is reached. Though there are some questions left to be answered, Mangold has constructed a tight-knit script with thoughtful purpose and an original twist on the superhero genre.

The audience understands where “Logan” is going, but remains engaged for the entirety of its 2 hour journey. Even more impressive is Mangold’s ability to incorporate relevant current issues without it becoming overly political. This makes Jackman’s Logan that much more stoically heroic.

Dare it be said that Jackman pulls off an award-winning performance in “Logan.” It is not likely that he will acknowledged come the end of the year, but if nothing else, he should be in the conversation. His portrayal of an embattled man, weary from many years of mutant power bearing, is subtlety extraordinary. Some of that is attributed to superb writing, but Jackman nails it.

The same can be said of Stewart’s Xavier. If it is true that these two actors have played these roles for the final time, they certainly put everything they had into these performances. Their on-screen chemistry is on point, and worthy of the emotional tribulations delivered to viewers.It would be a shame to not mention Keen’s performance as Laura. Few children can throw punches with the big boys and be nearly as effective. Keen does just that. It wouldn’t be surprising to see her land more big time roles as a result of her work here.

Though the film’s sound effects and soundtrack are above average at best, the limited use of visual effects displayed are top notch. The film prides itself on not over using green screens as many of its franchise predecessors have done. Never once, does it feel like what is being seen on screen was created in a visual laboratory. That is a refreshing experience in an era where everything is over-hyped with the latest CGI technology.

The film is extraordinarily violent, and the special effects to exhibit said violence is hauntingly real. Because it isn’t as amped up as many of the other action films that will come out this year, it won’t be recognized for its precise work. But it should be.

What honestly sets “Logan” apart from many of the other genre films is that it truly cares about how it looks. The color matches the tone of the film, which is somewhat drained of life. Mangold had a dark vision for the film, and though much of “Logan” takes place during the daytime, his camera still creates an aura of direness. It would be easy to compare Mangold’s directorial work here to that of Nolan’s in his Dark Knight trilogy. Though such a comparison isn’t completely off base, it does a disservice to the originality of Mangold’s work. Just as Jackman should be considered for awards at the end of the year, it wouldn’t be farfetched to put Mangold in the same conversation.

Although dark, and at times hard to handle emotionally, “Logan” is the perfect example of how to capitalize on a realistic approach to the superhero genre. Films like “Logan” have been presented in many ways, but never quite the way Mangold does here.

Through his simple, but effective plot, Mangold brings this drab tale of wolverine to life with the likes of Jackman and Stewart. His vision is one that will likely be mimicked by filmmakers for years to come, but “Logan” will be very hard to top.

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Photo Courtesy of latimes.com

Rob Carraher

Jordan Peele has made a name for himself doing sketch comedy. It was only recently he starred in his first feature film as a lead character in Keanu, which Peele wrote. When it was announced he would be making his directorial debut, one would have assumed that it was likely to be similar to his previous work. But Peele decided to do something entirely different by making a horror film.

“Get Out” is that film, and though technically a horror flick, it taps into other genres as well (including comedy). But what makes “Get Out” stand out as a first film for Peele is its well-crafted handiwork, an excellently constructed cast and a controversial message on race. It is these characteristics that make Peele an interesting director to keep an eye on for years to come.

Rose (Allison Williams) has planned a trip home to introduce Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) to her parents. Chris fears they won’t accept him because he is her first black boyfriend. Upon arrival, it is apparent that Rose’s parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) are okay with Chris, but other aspects of their family home seem a bit off, including the family groundskeeper and maid. The longer Chris spends with Rose’s family, the stranger things become as he attempts to figure out what is going on.

The cast of “Get Out” is comprised of seasoned but relatively unknown actors. That is not to say that audiences wouldn’t recognize them because they likely will, but they aren’t your typical household names. The film’s main actors are very believable in their roles. Although Kaluuya is good as Chris, it’s Williams that makes a star turn in “Get Out.” Her layered portrayal as Rose is nuanced and intense all in the same. It would be a shame if the world didn’t get to see more of her in a starring role. The other character that is particularly interesting is Chris’ friend Rod, and that is much to the perfect delivery by Lil Rel Howery. His involvement is one of the more entertaining contributions to the film.

Craft can be a blurry line when it comes to film. It seems easy for filmmakers to choose big budget concessions over art-house risks. Peele shows his patience as a first-time filmmaker in the way his film is constructed. Almost every decision appears to have motive, many of which don’t connect until the narrative is complete. His exquisite attention to detail is apparent from the opening sequence to the final moments. Certainly his work from the director’s chair on “Get Out” should garner anticipation for future projects. If craft remains a priority, Peele should be in for a long, comfortable career.

What is truly remarkable about “Get Out” is its ability to effectively work in multiple genres. Its Twilight Zone-like tone incorporates the bizarre attributes of science fiction, while capitalizing on classic horror movie tactics to send viewers jumping in their seats. But never is it lost on either Peele or audience members that at its core, “Get Out” is a satire. Immediately the film should draw positive comparisons to a trio collaborations between Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost known as the Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End).“Get Out” digs a little deeper, emulating the genres it is honoring more than simply spoofing them.

Some are arguing that “Get Out” is an anti-white movie. Where-as that statement is a bit over the top, it opens up a conversation about the use of race in the film. Is there a purpose for the film’s framing of the “black vs. white” dialog? That is a bit unclear. There doesn’t seem to be a clear motive for making the premise based on race, except to make a statement. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but from a narrative standpoint, it doesn’t serve as integral of a purpose. Regardless, it shouldn’t be seen as offensive. If anything, viewing the film with the race angle should make the audience rightfully uncomfortable. There is too much history to ignore the conversation no matter how it is presented.

Aside from the controversial angle on race that seems to be hogging headlines, Peele has crafted a film worthy of being appreciated by film lovers of all backgrounds. His ability to dip his toes into several different genres is quite impressive as it never feels overcrowded or overwhelming. He rides his cast to a well-executed final product. And without much doubt, his first directorial project was a huge success. The question is whether what was a surprise this time around can be translated into a streak of successes with his next project. It certainly will be worth keeping an eye on.

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Photo Courtesy of gizmodo.com.au

Rob Carraher

The career of M. Night Shyamalan started with so much promise. “The Sixth Sense” redefined what audiences expected for thrillers. “Unbreakable” and “Signs” managed to keep the hype for Shyamalan’s work high. But then it started avalanching from there. What seemed like a career destined for greatness was disappearing little by little. What appeared to be a long career, filled with blockbuster hit after blockbuster hit, turned into one ridiculed on the basis of one box office bomb after another. That never stopped him from continuing to put out films. “Split” is his latest attempt to regain some of what made him a relevant director/writer. It can certainly be argued he has found his groove once again.

“Split” follows the life of Kevin Wendall Crumb (James McAvoy), a man with dissociative identity disorder. Crumb captures three teens: Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula). In interactions with Crumb, the three girls begin to realize there is something particularly strange about him as various personalities begin emerging. Between his visits with the captured girls, Crumb visits his psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley). It emerges that Crumb has a total of 23 separate personalities, some of which are more prominent and dominant than others. In a race against time, the girls plot an escape in hopes of avoiding a run-in with Crumb’s newest rumored personality, “The Beast.”

If for no other reason than to see McAvoy’s stellar performance, “Split” is well worth viewing. Not many actors are given the opportunity to play eight different roles within the same film, but McAvoy does so with ease. He is especially on point when he is portraying the personas of Barry and Hedwig. McAvoy’s face enamors as he captures many of the personas in his expressions. The way he postures himself allows the audience to buy into the differences displayed on screen. If “Split” were a slightly more respected film, there are no doubts that McAvoy would be in the conversation for an Academy Award.

Taylor-Joy holds her own opposite McAvoy. Adding to a growing resume, which includes the main role in last year’s critically acclaimed indie horror film, “The Witch.” Her nuanced mix of sadness and confidence keeps viewers asking questions throughout. In a couple scenes where she is left alone with McAvoy’s numerous characters, she is believable as a young woman desperately negotiating her way out of the nightmare she is living. Not to the same extent as McAvoy, but Taylor-Joy provides an impressive performance that should coax people into seeking out future work.

Most not to his credit. Shyamalan is known to unleash some rather bizarre characters and experiences upon his audiences. In “Split,” it almost works to perfection, but lands just a little bit short. The climax of the film brings out one of those bizarre experiences. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why it doesn’t quite work, but it’s somewhere between not preparing the audience for what transpires and just being a little too over the top. Because of the film’s PG-13 rating in place of an R rating, these moments come across as being anti-climactic. Shyamalan had a chance to really etch his film into viewers’ minds, but may have let it drift away for some.

Not well advertised, “Split” has a connection to one of Shyamalan’s previous works, and it makes a difference. What seems to be a forgettable ending brought much greater appreciation in the context of its relation to the other film. It certainly sets the stage for an opportunity to thoroughly connect the two plots with another film. The intrigue of what might come next makes this experience well worth it. The twists of Shyamalan’s early work made him a house hold name in the early 2000s. He has since lost that credibility. His precise conclusion here not only connects “Split” to that time when things were good for him, but shows that magic isn’t completely gone.

Although not his best work, Shyamalan has seemingly found a little bit of what captured audiences almost two decades ago. “Split” is worth seeing to witness premier performances from its leading actors and regain faith in Shyamalan as an innovative filmmaker. It is rare to find an entertaining film worth seeing during the lull before the big stuff starts emerging in the spring. January and February typically are reserved for those films that didn’t quite cut it, but are being released to make some money back. “Split” shouldn’t fall into that category. Whether it is seen in the theater or at home, “Split” is a worthy watch for movie-goers of all kinds.

Photo Courtesy of variety.com
Photo Courtesy of variety.com

Rob Carraher

Traditional musical is a rare find among theaters filled with big-budget action and superhero flicks. Audiences have likely forgotten, or even are unfamiliar with the musical genre. So when it is announced that a high profile rendition of the traditional musical fare is to hit to the silver screen, it makes waves. Damien Chazelle, director of critically acclaimed “Whiplash,” took his shot at an ode to the musicals of old, such as “Singin’ in the Rain” and “An American in Paris.” The result was “La La Land,” a risk-taking attempt at just that, an ode. Although Chazelle’s vision is full of creativity and at times precise craft, it gives viewers a greater appreciation for those musicals it wishes to emulate. And that is not a compliment.

“La La Land” is the story of a struggling actress, Mia (Emma Stone), and her quest to chase her dream of making it in Hollywood. In between auditions, she works to make ends meet as a barista at a studio lot coffee shop. Her path crosses with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a Jazz musician with a dream to open his own club someday. After a tumultuous beginning to their blossoming relationship, they become each other’s motivation to reach their individual dreams. In the process, they invest in the lives of each other and the enriching aspects of companionship.

As “La La Land” opens on a Los Angeles freeway, audiences are greeted with a cinema experience unlike almost anything else they have seen over the course of the last year. The imagination exhibited is unrivaled, and a tone for what is to come is immediately set. It‘s easy to appreciate what Chazelle is trying to accomplish with this film, but it is met with a slew of problems. The opening musical number in this scene is okay, but forgettable. Coupling that with poor mixing of vocals with backing music, it was difficult to decipher what was being sung by the actors. Not exactly a warm reception for mass audiences not well-acquainted with the genre.

Over the first 30 minutes of the film, “La La Land” chases the goal of being a musical created for the big screen. Somewhere along the way, it forgets what it set out to do. It would have worked as a traditional musical, and it would have worked as a film simply about music, but it couldn’t figure out its identity somewhere between. There were times where it edged on brilliance, and there were times where it took major risks, and just didn’t quite connect.

Stone and Gosling were both excellent in their acting performances. The pleasure of watching their romantic chemistry unfold is awesome in itself. A couple of scenes let them show off why they are considered to be two of the best in the business. In isolation, these scenes would appear to represent a film worthy of best picture conversation. However as part of a musical, both actors are serviceable singers, but leave much to be desired. There is too much emphasis on selling a film on big names, and sacrificing singing ability as a result. The same thing was present in “Les Miserables,” “Mama Mia” and “Sweeney Todd.”

Additionally, the dancing choreography is simple. It’s not bad, but musicals are a platform to show off big time choreography numbers, and there are few to none found in “La La Land.” This could be due to the actors’ ability, but it is likely more to do with the inept skills of Mandy Moore, the film’s choreographer. There was zero creativity involved in the design of dance numbers with the exception of the opening scene. This was a rather disappointing reveal given the nature of the film.

In general, the film’s design was well-crafted. Chazelle has a very visual mind and captures astounding imagery of the Los Angeles and Hollywood landscape with popping colors and the blurring line of reality and imaginary. The final sequence of “La La Land” is extraordinary. It saves the film from going completely over the edge, and makes the theater-going experience well worth it. Chazelle uses not only his strengths, but the strengths of his lead actors to flirt with the audiences emotions and leaves them absolutely awestruck as the credits roll.

Despite a valiant effort, Chazelle fails to capture the essence of a musical. The original score should be applauded, but the songs themselves are only just okay. After the first few songs, which are all unmemorable, “La La Land” uses the riff driven hooks of two songs as a crutch to drive the film home. The effort disappears, and the audience is left listening to those two songs over and over again, until they lose the rest of the magic that makes them slightly above average in composition. The quality of the film’s music is easily the most disappointing aspect of Chazelle’s attempt to bring the traditional musical back to the big screen.

If audiences are looking to be swept back to the nostalgic musicals of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, they will likely be stood up by “La La Land.” Its effort appears to fall just short of the musical cinema greats. In fact “La La Land” isn’t even the best musical of the year. That award goes to “Sing Street,” which doesn’t lack a true identity. “La La Land” would have been better served as simply a film about music in Hollywood and Los Angeles. It would have found its identity, and likely would have created one of the more stunning cinema experiences in 2016.

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Rob Carraher

In dramatic film, the human element is what draws the viewer in and makes the experience relatable. If the audience can feel for the film’s characters, the chance of an effective movie going experience increases significantly. In Director Barry Jenkins’ breakthrough hit, “Moonlight,” the human element is captured with luminescence.

The characters are near photographic, as are the growing pains they encounter as lessons unfold. “Moonlight” is a film that does a lot well, while borrowing from successful filmmaking conventions. As a technically sound film, the human experience is what really sells its final product.

“Moonlight” is broken into three segments chronicling a handful of memories from Chiron’s life in the Florida region. In the first third of the film, Chiron, nicknamed “Little” (Alex Hibbert), finds refuge with Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monae), from a life of being bullied and problems at home.

In the second segment, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is juggling the anxieties of being a teen, understanding himself and his mother’s (Naomie Harris) bout with drugs. The final portion of the film portrays Chiron, now referred to as “Black” (Trevante Rhodes), as an individual influenced heavily by the consequences of his earlier life. He is reunited with his childhood friend, Kevin (played respectively by Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and Andre Holland).

Jenkins, who also wrote the adapted screenplay, has a vision to tell of the story of a young black man growing up in Miami, while alternating between typical life problems, and a handful of not so typical problems. He does this with an expertise envied by many filmmakers. It is hard to argue with Jenkins’ auteur brilliance. But the question must be asked; why this story must be told? The purpose isn’t abundantly clear, and this is the biggest issue with the film. With that said, it is incredibly difficult to knock the prowess of what is being displayed by Jenkins.

Jenkins has assembled a cast worthy of much praise. There is not a single performance in the film that could be deemed as weak. The tragedy lies in that audiences aren’t treated to more from these skilled actors. Ali and Monae are specifically great in their control of scenes. As the film comes to a close, it is disappointing these two actors didn’t have more of physical presence throughout the film. Harris is also fantastic in her performance of drug induced insanity. The film could be more centrally situated around her, and it would have been just as compelling if not more so.

All three of the actors who portray Chiron hit a subtle tone that leaves their work somewhat understated. This is especially true when comparing them to the charismatic character traits exhibited by the actors portraying Kevin. It should be noted many of these performances can be attributed to successfully written characters by Jenkins.

Where performances failed was less to do with the actor and more to do with the brevity of their screen time. Because the film is segmented in the way it is, character development isn’t great. Character purpose isn’t always clear, and it makes understanding the film difficult at times. The segments are a bit disruptive in the flow of the film. Just as things begin moving forward, they are cut short by a shift in the story. In the end, the impact is a little less because of the fluidity interruptions.

At the cost of sounding like the film isn’t good, which it is, it is imperative to make general comparisons to other films. In its narrative style, the film bears similarities to “Boyhood” (2014). Nothing has ever done exactly what “Boyhood” did with how it changed film-making, so “Moonlight” falls just short on this angle. The film also resembles what “The Place Beyond the Pines” did with segmented story telling. The difference is that a clear plot was present with that film, and not so much in “Moonlight.”

Staying within the same calendar year, “Moonlight” exhibits a sort of rawness that doesn’t always execute, and it does here, but “American Honey” (2016) with the same sort of feel does it slightly better. In an industry that strives on doing things uniquely well, “Moonlight” does things well, but the unique aspect isn’t present.

As unfair as it is, “Moonlight” falls just short of the expectations created by critics and award season buzz. It’s hard to figure out exactly why it doesn’t quite connect, but the narrative and unoriginal concept might be part of the issue.

However, if acting prowess, and ability to capture real life translated into grade-A cinema, this would make the grade. It is certainly worth the movie-going experience to marvel in the performances. Even if it isn’t the most original, “Moonlight” does a lot right, and should be applauded for its achievements.

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Rob Carraher

As the election season comes to a close, it would seem to be a perfect time to delve into the vault of political movies. A particular film still has some relevance today. In a political climate heavily damaged by the tabloid-esque coverage of politics by the mainstream media, reviewing a film that takes on the subject of spinning news and the influence the media plays in the election cycle would seem appropriate. “Wag the Dog” (1997) fits that description.

In the days leading up to the election, the sitting president, up for reelection, finds himself in the midst of a sex scandal. One of the president’s close advisors, Winifred Ames (Anne Heche) hires Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), a professional spin doctor, to help ensure the president wins reelection. They decide to fabricate a war with Albania, and Brean recruits Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to bring things to life. As things progress, the team of spinsters are forced to continue building onto their story and the lies they have perpetuated.

The screenplay, written by Hilary Henkin, is particularly interesting. Although some of the content is quite farfetched, the dialogue is witty and on point in its satire. It isn’t the easiest task to take something often serious such as politics and be able to create humor without making it entirely a farce. But that is exactly what Henkin does with “Wag the Dog.” At times the subject matter is quite dark, but that becomes the genius of the screenplay. It is still very much a comedy.

The introduction of Motss is one of the more memorable scenes in the film, and much of that is credited to the work of Henkin. However, Hoffman’s portrayal is quite well done in this scene as well. Several special performances are noticeable throughout the entirety of this film, but Hoffman’s stands above them all. Dialogue aside, Hoffman’s ability to ride the line between genius and crazy makes the character interesting. It is never certain what he is going to suggest next, and when he does suggest something, it leaves the audience wondering if it could possibly work. Only Hoffman could bring that magic to the role.

Another noteworthy aspect of the film is the music. Much of it is part of the storyline. Music artist, Johnny Dean (Willie Nelson), is drafted to write songs to be used as a means of support for the president. Nelson, a known political activist, seems in his element here, as he performs Americana style political tunes. “Good Old Shoe” sticks out as one of the more prominent songs in the film, as it plays a critical role in furthering the plot.

What makes “Wag the Dog” worth watching is its social commentary. In 2016, the media plays such a large role in the way citizens digest information. Whether for better or worse, many of the decisions voters make is based upon what they see on their television. In “Wag the Dog,” which was released during a time when the internet was just gaining steam, a comment is made on how easy it is to change the dialogue via mass media. That was almost 20 years ago, it is anyone’s guess how much more intense that influence might be today.

The film asks a question of whether the media is damaging to United States’ elections. And the film answers that question when Brean asks Ames, “What did television ever do to you?” She responds, “It destroys the electoral process.”

Even for a film full of laughs, there is a sense of sadness as the credits roll. Viewers are forced to ask whether voters are just pawns in a much larger game, or if there is a sense of whether the truth will ever be delivered. In the end, “Wag the Dog” successfully provokes while still not taking itself too seriously.

Even long after viewing the film, viewers are left contemplating the film’s humorous, but perplexing opening thought: “Why does the dog wag its tail? Because a dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog.” The question remains, which wags which?