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Moonlight (2016)

Lionsgate
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/28/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/14/2017

Brooklyn, The Revenant, Birdman, Her, American Hustle, Black Swan, Inception, Avatar, District 9 -- What do all of these movies have in common? They were all Oscar nominees for Best Picture. (And some of them actually won.) What other trait do they share? None of these movies deserved to be best film of the year, as they most likely weren't the best film released the day that they came out. Yes, every year mediocre-at-best movies somehow received Academy Award nods, tricking thousands of people into going to them...and then demanding their money back. Well, prepare yourself to add another movie to that list, one which was not only nominated for Best Picture, but also won (in a truly unusual manner) -- Moonlight.

Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, who grows up in the urban ghetto of Miami. We first meet him when he's a neglected child (played by Alex Hibbert), as his mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), is more interested in crack than child-rearing. A sympathetic drug-dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) takes Chiron under his wing and attempts to be a positive influence on the boy. We next see Chiron (played by Ashton Sanders) when he is a teenager. Still dealing with his mother, he is a shy and confused boy. Unsure of who he is in the world and bullied at school, Chiron begins to feel the pressure building inside of him. The final act of the film shows Chiron (played by Trevante Rhodes) in his mid-20s. He is now living in Atlanta, and he's certainly not a law-abiding citizen. But, an impromptu trip back to Miami will remind Chiron of who he once wanted to be.

Again, I'm not a fan of any of the movies listed above, but if you were to ask me what others saw in them to justify a Best Picture nomination, I could most likely list some things like creative stories or artistic style (but, clearly not enough of these things to make them good movies). But, Moonlight is a different creature all together, for the only thing that I can see going for it is that the story feels important...and that's a very intangible thing. The other aspects of Moonlight, the things on which we judge movies, don't work very well. The pacing is incredibly sluggish. I can't believe that this movie also won Best Adapted Screenplay, as there's only about 20 minutes worth of story in this nearly 2-hour film. There are a lot of scenes of Chiron walking or staring off into space. As stated, there's not much story here, and very little character development beyond the obvious. This movie is being praised for its depth and emotion, but all of the characters here are stereotypes and we are forced to project personalities onto them, as the movie doesn't provide any for us. Again, Chiron is a shy, quiet, and confused young man, which makes him a terrible central character. As for the acting, it's fine, but I'm not sure that Ali deserved the Oscar -- he's certainly personifies Supporting Actor, as he's only in the first act. The movie certainly didn't deserve any casting awards (and didn't win any as far as I know), as the older Chiron looks nothing like the actors who played his younger selves.

So why was the movie given Hollywood's highest honor? My only guess is the subject matter, as Moonlight deals with a poor African-American boy who struggles with finding his own identity. These ideals are great, but the movie does a lousy job of delivering them to the audience. If I were to describe the movie in detail to you, you assume that it's an emotional movie, and may even say, "That sounds sad." But, the movie is incredibly cold and the lack of any true character development keeps the viewer at arm's length. What is Chiron really thinking? Who knows? Of the three chapters, the second is the most satisfying, as we see Chiron actually do something, but even this moment is tainted with a lack of true detail.

Moonlight benefits from the fact that the Oscars have completely turned their backs on wanting to celebrate the actual best movies of the year and solely want to focus on movies which are seen as important. Whether it be a biopic or a movie with a hot-button issue, you can rest assured that most modern-day Best Picture nominees aren't actually entertaining movies. I knew very little about Moonlight going in and I walked away knowing even less. Boring, vacant, and unoriginal, Moonlight may be a winner today, but no one will be talking about it in a few years.

Moonlight could have used some tissues on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no distracting grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look realistic and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture delivers a nice amount of detail and the depth is adequate. The transfer helps to make the most of the film's low budget. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.9 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects, despite that low bitrate. The beach scene provides some nice surround and stereo effects, as do the scenes in the school hallways. Otherwise, Moonlight is a fairly quiet movie and we don't get many dynamics audio effects.

The Moonlight Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Barry Jenkins. "Ensemble of Emotion: Making Moonlight" (22 minutes) is a nicely detailed featurette which provides interviews with the filmmakers and cast. The piece begins by examining how the story made the journey from the page to the screen. The casting and the production are explored. Interestingly, there are some on-set stills here, but no behind-the-scenes footage. "Poetry Through Collaboration: The Music of Moonlight" (10 minutes) offers an interview with Composer Nicholas Britell who describes how he wanted to make the music work with the film. "Cruel Beauty: Filming in Miami" (6 minutes) has Jenkins and Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney talking about shooting the movie in their hometown.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long