Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Trevante Rhodes

Burning Sands (2017)

Join a frat, they said. A fun time, they said.

Zurich (Trevor Jackson) is just getting his college career at Frederick Douglas University going when he decides to join up at the most coveted and prestigious black frat there is in the country, Lambda Lambda Pi. And for one whole week, which everyone calls “Hell Week”, Zurich and countless other pledges will all have to endure absolute, undeniable hell, like say, beatings, eating dog food, sleep deprivation, shaving their heads, not being seen on campus, not having sex – all just so that they can be apart of this brotherhood one day and achieve the same dreams that countless generations of their families have done, or have wanted to do, before them. But Zurich doesn’t quite know if this is what he wants; he has a legacy to behold, of course, but he’s also more interested in certain things, like girls, like poetry, and most of all, his health, which seems to be slowly deteriorating ever since receiving some fatal blows to his ribs some weeks ago. But hey, it’s all worth it, right?

“If you do this, maybe you’ll be in an Oscar-winning movie.”

One of the main things said about Burning Sands is how it is, essentially, the black-answer to last year’s Goat, another movie focusing on the hazing, the pledging, and all of the violence that can ensue before joining up with a fraternity. And while to some degree you can see a lot of the comparisons, for the most part, they do seem to be focusing on the object of hazing and the realities as fraternities a tad bit differently – Goat focused more on the psychological and mental anguish and torture such hazing can have a person’s mind, whereas Burning Sands seems to explore the deeper, more passionate connections held between some of these people, during this one specific amount of time.

Does that mean to say that one movie is more on the side of frats, than the other? Honestly, I’m not quite sure; it seems like Burning Sands seems to know and understand that frats can be a meaningful aspect to college life, because they’re fun and they hold some meaning to a lot of those people within them, but possibly, what it takes to become a part of said frat, isn’t always as lovely. In a way, Burning Sands is condemning the people that commit these heinous, almost inhumane acts of senseless, nonsensical violence, but also never quite comes to an understanding of why it’s happening in the first place. There has to be more people to blame here than just the kids themselves, right? Can’t some of the blame also go to the faculty, the staff, and the general atmosphere on college campuses that fraternities are there to help guide young men into being smart, respectful, and common citizens in society, when in reality, they may make someone very far from that?

Always have a mother-figure.

Either way, it’s an interesting question, one that neither Goat, nor Burning Sands seem all that interested to answer.

For Burning Sands, though, it’s really all about what these pledges go through and why most of them, as confident as they may be, really don’t have what it takes. Director Gerard McMurray seems to get the dark and creepy aura of masculinity during a lot of these moments, almost to the point of where some of it borderlines on the verge of being gay; there’s much hugging, loving, holding, and touching of these strong, muscular, and sometimes, half-naked men, that you’ll begin to wonder when the panties are going to drop. It’s an interesting take on the material that seems to go beyond a lot of the other conventional stuff like, say, how shocking it is that these kids are getting beat up and held against their will to do stuff.

In fact, the biggest problem with Burning Sands is that a lot of it does feel like a “been there, done that”, even without Goat in the discussion. See, while that movie focused on the depravity and sheer ugliness of frats, it also approached it all from a different angle – in a way, it was much more detached and sinister, making it way more disturbing and downright creepy. Here, McMurray seems to tackle this hazing with much more direction, but also sort of taking us out of the whole issue, too. It’s almost as if the hazing just happens, we don’t feel anything about it, but somehow, some way, we’re supposed to. In that sense, yeah, it just doesn’t quite work, whereas a movie like Goat, as chilling as it could sometimes get, still resonated.

At the same time, though, the movie’s are still different and as such, should be approached differently, too.

It’s just that in this case, Burning Sands has some issues to wade through. It’s most interesting aspect is that it focuses on Zurich, played very well by Trevor Jackson as someone who, despite the obvious, doesn’t totally seem to want to be in a frat. He’s much more concerned with having sex and trying to pass, just like any other college kid and it’s a nice twist on the whole frat movie subgenre, in which we get a kid who’s only trying to be apart of it, not just to be cool, or hip, or have a bunch of friends, but because he’s basically told to join one, by his friends and peers.

Like I said before, who’s to blame here, folks?

Consensus: As dark as it can sometimes get, what’s holding Burning Sands back from being a far more effective take on underground hazing, is that it never quite becomes more than it should have been.

6 / 10

See? It’s a brotherhood!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Rotten Tomatoes

Advertisements

Moonlight (2016)

Dancing in the…

Growing up on the hard, sometimes unforgiving streets of Miami, Chiron has had to deal with a lot. He’s constantly heckled for being gay, even if, as a young kid, he doesn’t even know what gay means, or if he even is it. That’s why a local drug-dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) makes it his duty to take care of him and be something of a surrogate father to him. Chiron doesn’t know what to think of this guy, nor does he really know what a daddy is; his mother (Naomie Harris), is currently trying her best to raise Chiron, but her drug-habit is so persistent and reckless, that even Juan, the one who is selling the drugs to her, has something to say. Fast forward to Chiron being in high school and, well, not much has changed for him. He’s still getting picked on, he’s still finding himself on the bad end of brawls, and most of all, he still doesn’t know how to talk to people. The only person that he does have some sort of a connection with is Kevin, a kid who may be in the same boat as Chiron, but doesn’t quite know it yet. Then, fast forward many years later and all of a sudden, Chiron is out of Miami, making money as a drug-dealer, and yes, jacked as hell. But how did he get there? And better yet, what’s next to come?

Baptize me in Miami beaches.

Baptize me in Miami beaches.

It’s actually kind of weird to talk about Moonlight, but trying hard not to say too much about it. For one, it’s not necessarily a movie built on the element of its surprises, or its twists, or its turns that the plot takes, as much as it’s just about the story evolving into something that we don’t expect from the first scene. In it, we see a typical coming-of-ager where a young little tyke named Chiron, or as he likes to be named, “Little” (played by Alex Hibbert), all of a sudden is being raised and brought-up by a local drug-dealer.

If this was its own little movie, it would probably get a 10 out of 10 from me. It’s sweet, heartfelt, honest, and perfectly acted by Mahershala Ali who, just saying, deserves something of an Oscar nomination (alongside Shia LaBeouf, but of course, neither of which will actually happen) for his work here, showing that the age old cliche of a drug-dealer with a heart of gold, really can be spun and seem fresh. But somehow, writer/director Barry Jenkins switches things up unexpectedly; the screen sudden fades to black and fast-forwards to a story that’s still about Chiron, but now, he’s older, in high school (played by Ashton Sanders), and somehow, it seems like a smart transition. For a director behind the camera and pen for a second time, it’s actually surprising how many risks and gambits Jenkins tries and yet, still somehow pulls it all off.

It makes me wonder why his directorial debut, Medicine for Melancholy was so, meh.

But that’s neither here, nor there.

Anyway, what Jenkins works with best here in Moonlight is that he tells us an honest, raw, gritty and sometimes beautiful tale of love, finding one’s self, and becoming who you are, through certain periods of your life, but it’s neither sappy, nor sentimental. In a way, it’s a whole lot like Boyhood – not just in terms of its narrative – but in terms of how it depicts real, everyday things that people go through when they grow up, but never sensationalizing them; for someone like Chiron and all of us, they’re just things that happen and help make us who we are. Jenkins is a smart director, as well as a writer, in that every single scene, literally, every frame, there’s not just a certain feeling of inherent beauty lying from within, but we also feel that this is one singular story, and not just our own that we can relate to.

And while, yeah, it’s great if you can relate to a movie, it’s not always a necessity and it’s why a movie like Moonlight, as much as it wants to be a typical coming-of-ager, is still uniquely original in its own kind of gritty way. Jenkins allows us to feel something for this protagonist, through all of the thick and thin, never judging him for who he is, what he does, what he becomes, and surely what he represents, but mostly just gives us a story of one person growing up, in Miami and encountering all sorts of painful hardships that gets so highlighted in so many movies, yet, so rarely feels as fresh and as organic as it does here.

Stay there, kid. It's not even worth it.

Stay there, kid. It’s not even worth it.

That Jenkins doesn’t tell us exactly how old Chiron is through all of the stages of his life, or where certain characters are at when they’re not seen on-screen, doesn’t matter; the movie’s not about the plot intricacies and structure, it’s about its raw, painful emotions that, after awhile, are hard to resist. The movie doesn’t ask for you to cry, nor even shed a tear, but it’s hard not to. Its story is so simple and so easy-to-follow, that it’s almost criminal.

How can so many movies with the same structure and same messages still get everything so wrong?

Regardless, Moonlight may also be one of the rare movies in which its lead character is played to perfection by all of its different players. As a pre-teen, Alex Hibbert gets down perfectly the sheer innocence and sweetness that so many kids are born with and can’t ever shake off, regardless of how awful their surroundings get; as a teenager, Ashton Sanders is also quite great, showing a great deal of intensity and emotion, even without uttering a single word half of the time; and as a grown man who would literally have King Kong turning back for his island, Trevante Rhodes, an actual athlete who competed in the Olympics, is absolutely brilliant, not just displaying the same sense of raw intensity and emotion without saying anything like Sanders did, but going even further and showing us that there’s a small, vulnerable child still somehow trapped in there. It doesn’t get any better than these three and honestly, it makes me wonder where their careers are going to go next, what with all of the lovely attention this has been getting.

But of course, there’s others in the cast and they’re all quite good, too. Janelle Monae shows up as Juan’s girlfriend/possible wife and fits perfectly into this movie’s world; Jharrel Jerome plays Kevin as a teen and does a great job showing a certain personality in a story that can get as bleak as Moonlight‘s; Andre Holland plays an older-version of Kevin and is quite perfect, showing a great deal of the same personality, but with an even better chemistry with Rhodes; and, well, unfortunately, Naomie Harris plays the drug-addicted mother of Chiron’s and she’s just not good. It’s a shame, too, because in all honesty, Harris is good in mostly everything else I see her in, but here, she was just so over-the-top and crazy, that she literally felt one crack-pipe away from Rosario Dawson’s similar character in Gimme Shelter. The movie tries to make her more than just the typical, cliche druggie-mommy, but in all honesty, she’s even worse as she really does carry the movie down with her.

Hence why a 9 and not a 10. Sorry, fellas.

Consensus: Even with a plot as simple as this, Moonlight is still painstakingly raw and emotional, that it reaches for the sky, hits it, and then some, echoing in a new, exciting voice with Barry Jenkins.

9 / 10

Silent, but definitely deadly.

Silent, but definitely deadly.

Photos Courtesy of: