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Reviews

Movie reviews: Guardians 2 is frothy fun, Oscar winner Moonlight shows director's love of Wong Kar Wai

Coming-of-age story Moonlight explores the difficulties a male faces with his sexuality and identity

The only question that comes to mind after the frothy fun of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (PG13, 136 minutes, opens tomorrow, 4/5 stars) is this: Why wasn't this the first movie?

The obvious answer is, of course, money - why have one origin story when you can have two? We are used to franchise finales split into parts A and B. It makes sense that comic book movies do the same to the launch episode, since their format precludes closing chapters.

Volume 1 of the movie (2014) saw the half-human, half-alien Quill (Chris Pratt) stumble into the company of scum from across the galaxy, including warrior Gamora (Zoe Saldana), hulking convict Drax (Dave Bautista), sentient plant Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and raccoon-like Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper). It was a loose series of adventures lightly held together by sight gags and sitcom interactions among the mouthy Quill, uptight Gamora, blunt Drax and volatile Rocket.

The ensemble comedy formula holds true for the sequel, but this time, returning writer-director James Gunn - perhaps because he has less to prove - hits the jokes with a lighter touch and makes sure to integrate the humour with the action.

The opening sequence, a 10-minute battle between the team and a beast two-storeys tall, is a tour de force of visual cinema, set to Electric Light Orchestra's Mr Blue Sky. It is only one of the film's several exhilarating fights driven by just-obscure-enough 1970s rock.

The set-up this time is about the slobs (our gang) versus the snobs, a gold-skinned race of gene- engineered perfect beings led by High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki).

This is intertwined with Quill meeting Ego (Kurt Russell, in fine form), a space deity who claims to be his biological father and the one responsible for kidnapping him from Earth when he was a boy.

It's a bit cheeky of Gunn and the studio to take two movies to finish one story, but with a pay-off this enjoyable, forgiveness is easy.

Jharrel Jerome (above left) and Ashton Sanders star in Moonlight, while Scoot McNairy plays an air traffic controller under investigation for a collision in Aftermath.
Jharrel Jerome (above left) and Ashton Sanders star in Moonlight, while Scoot McNairy plays an air traffic controller under investigation for a collision in Aftermath. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Moonlight (M18, 111 minutes, opens tomorrow, 4/5 stars) will be remembered for two things: It is the movie that won the Best Picture Oscar this year - after an embarrassing on-stage slip-up that saw the award momentarily go to La La Land - and also the film that social media assumed the authorities here would deem Too Gay For Singapore.

Apparently not, and in keeping with the trend here in the last decade, it has been rated M18, not R21, and passed uncut to boot.

This is a coming-of-age story told in three acts, with actors of different ages (Alex R. Hibbert as the boy, Ashton Sanders as the teen and Trevante Rhodes as the adult). They all play Chiron, a boy growing up in Miami under the care of struggling single mother Paula (Naomie Harris).

Chiron's life is one of pretence: Pretending to be attracted to girls and to sports, all the while suppressing any tenderness inside him so as to act like a "real man".

He is at war with himself until just before the final credits.

Writer-director Barry Jenkins puts the audience inside Chiron's almost constant state of discomfort through the use of silence and close-ups.

There are fleeting moments of peace, such as when he is in the company of father figure Juan (Mahershala Ali, giving an Oscar-winning performance as a drug dealer with a soft spot for Chiron). That is when Jenkins shows his love for the sultry visual style of Hong Kong film-maker Wong Kar Wai, making Miami look like Wan Chai on a steamy summer night.

Jharrel Jerome and Ashton Sanders star in Moonlight, while Scoot McNairy (above) plays an air traffic controller under investigation for a collision in Aftermath.
Jharrel Jerome and Ashton Sanders star in Moonlight, while Scoot McNairy (above) plays an air traffic controller under investigation for a collision in Aftermath. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Aftermath (NC16, 94 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2/5 stars) is based on the true story of a mid-air collision between two jets, with a focus on the events that follow.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is Roman, an immigrant from Eastern Europe who loses his wife and daughter in the crash. Through him, director Elliott Lester explores the emotional terrain of grief.

The story pays attention to how airlines traumatise the families of victims through callous corporate behaviour. Scoot McNairy is the jittery, horror-stricken Jake, the air traffic controller under investigation for the collision, and he is the best part of the movie. Like Roman, he is put through the wringer by lawyers out to protect the airline's financial interests.

After an effective first act, everything falls apart - there is neither urgency nor any narrative direction to Roman's behaviour, one that would justify the actions in the finale.

The only thing this film achieves is to make one dislike flying and airlines even more - a feat after the United Airlines incident of extreme passenger removal that one thought was impossible.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2017, with the headline 'Struggling over a life of pretence'. Print Edition | Subscribe