In Theaters Now

There are certain life events that are common to nearly all of us – challenge, love, frustration, joy, longing, birth, death and redemption, to name a few. Those shared experiences are things we can all relate to as well, regardless of our individual circumstances. Many of them are now brought to life in a new Oscar-nominated animated feature, “The Red Turtle” (“La tortue rouge”) (web sitetrailer).

This beautifully illustrated, lovingly produced film follows the exploits of an unnamed shipwrecked castaway who’s separated from his vessel during a violent ocean storm. When he washes ashore a desert island, he finds most everything he needs to survive, but he longs to return home, and so he begins constructing a bamboo raft to sail away. However, no sooner does he leave the island when the raft is destroyed by an unseen force from below, forcing him back ashore. This pattern repeats twice more, despite his efforts to reinforce the new rafts he builds. Only after his third attempt does he discover the source of the destruction, a giant red turtle.

With his hopes dashed, he returns to the island. But, before long, his life takes a curious turn when the turtle comes ashore. What follows is a whimsical, fable-like odyssey that shapes the castaway’s life for years to come. Through those experiences, he gets an opportunity to live out aspects of life that most of us go through, all the while witnessing the grand cycles of life that characterize the nature of existence and that continue on even after we’re gone.

When an unnamed shipwrecked castaway seeks to escape the desert island on which he’s marooned, he’s confronted by a giant red turtle, which repeatedly thwarts his efforts, as seen in the new, Oscar-nominated animated feature, “The Red Turtle” (“La tortue rouge”). Photo © 2016 by Studio Ghibli-Wild Bunch-Why Not Productions-Arte France Cinéma-CN4, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

To be sure, “The Red Turtle” is a charming, breath-taking meditation, though, admittedly, it’s probably not nearly as profound nor as revelatory as it likes to think it is. The emotive soundtrack, stunning imagery and effective use of virtually no dialogue are indeed mesmerizing, and the prevailing sentiment certainly has its heart in the right place. But, while watching this film, don’t expect the heavens to open and send forth long hidden, mystical wisdom; it’s not quite that deep. And, if you’re a parent, please leave the kids at home; this is animation, not a cartoon.

The cycle of life is a beautiful thing, and its depiction here lives up to it. May we all appreciate what it has to offer. 

And the Winners Are…

Who will win this year’s Oscars? There are some interesting races and a few potential locks, but one never knows what the Academy has in store. To find out my predictions in the top six categories, check out my blog on the subject by clicking here. And, for a wrap-up of my assessments, tune in for the Movies with Meaning segment on Frankiesense & More radio this Thursday, February 23 at 1 p.m. ET by clicking here.

FrankieSense & More Radio on The Good Radio Network

Thriving with Less

In an age of conspicuous compulsory consumerism, where seemingly all material needs can be met on a whim, it seems counterintuitive that so many of us would feel so unfulfilled. Ironically, the solution may rest with deliberately getting by with less, as filmmaker Matt D’Avella’s new documentary, “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things” (web site, trailer), so aptly illustrates.

Drawing upon the experiences of leaders in the minimalist movement, such as authors Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, and punctuated by the commentary of architects, sociologists, journalists and other professionals, the film shows how lifestyle changes involving living arrangements, purchasing habits, work routines and financial expectations can pay enormous benefits in such areas as personal well-being, physical health, fiscal resource management, environmental sustainability and social interaction. The experts offer specific, tangible suggestions in these areas, not vague, lofty platitudes that mean well but say little.

For those who feel hopeless, despondent or disempowered by their current materialistic circumstances, embracing this scaled-down way of life could be just the ticket, and this film offers a concise, insightful and informative introduction to it. “Minimalism,” available on DVD and video on demand, presents an excellent overview of a growing movement that could prove to be the salvation of our society, not to mention the planet itself. 

The Best of Movies with Meaning – “Moonlight”

Finding ourselves can be a difficult enough experience even under the best of circumstances. But, when the process is burdened by challenges and extenuating circumstances, it can become that much more daunting. So it is for a young man trying to discover who he is in the new, Oscar-nominated coming of age drama, “Moonlight” (web site, trailer), available in theaters and on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand.

The film tells the story of Chiron, a young African-American man growing up in Miami and Atlanta. In recounting his experience, the picture examines three phases of his life – his childhood, when he goes by the nickname Little (Alex Hibbert); his teen years, when he identifies with his given name (Ashton Sanders); and young adulthood, when he reluctantly refers to himself as Black (Trevante Rhodes), a nickname given him by a friend. The names are significant, partly because they serve as the titles of each segment but also because they aptly characterize who Chiron is in each phase of his life.

A young Chiron (a.k.a., Little) (Alex Hibbert, right) makes an unlikely friend in Juan (Mahershala Ali, left), a Cuban immigrant drug dealer, while growing up in a tough Miami neighborhood in “Moonlight.” Photo by David Bornfriend, courtesy of A24.

In many respects, Chiron has a number of strikes against him from the very beginning. As the son of a drug-addicted mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), and an absent father, the shy, small-framed boy is the frequent target of bullies, who pick on him for his size and reserved demeanor. He’s frequently withdrawn, rarely speaking and often unresponsive when asked questions.

However, Little’s not without people in his corner, such as Juan (Mahershala Ali), a Cuban immigrant drug dealer, and Teresa (Janelle Monáe), his kindhearted girlfriend. These unlikely caretakers befriend the young man and attend to his needs, particularly when they witness Paula blatantly shirking her responsibilities to satisfy her drug habit. Little also receives encouragement from his childhood friend, Kevin (Jaden Piner), who tries to bolster his buddy’s self-esteem and teach him how to defend himself. Little needs all the support he can get, too, not just because of his circumstances, but also because of qualities he begins to sense about himself – most notably the fact that he might be gay, a trait often looked upon in the African-American community with feelings that are, at best, conflicted and, at worst, unabashedly close-minded.

As Chiron enters his teen years, his awareness of his emerging sexuality grows. But, with no readily available role models to draw upon and with homophobic bullies, such as his loud-mouthed classmate Terrel (Patrick Decile), taunting him at seemingly every turn, Chiron becomes an easy target for abuse. Thankfully, a now-teenage Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) is still in Chiron’s life; he tries to stand by his friend but is eventually confronted with his own challenges that make this difficult.

A teenage Chiron (Ashton Sanders) struggles with his emerging identity in the dramatic new coming of age saga, “Moonlight.” Photo by David Bornfriend, courtesy of A24.

Upon entering young adulthood, Black takes drastic measures to take control of his life. Having relocated to Atlanta, he charts a different course from who he had been becoming in Miami. But, in many ways, his “new” life is also a throwback to his upbringing. What’s more, despite appearances of being in charge, he’s also decidedly unsure about who he has become. Is he really the person he wants to be? That’s the question he must ask himself, one that he gets a chance to answer when he receives an unexpected late night phone call from Kevin (André Holland), who he lost contact with after leaving Miami. Will Little/Chiron/Black finally learn who he really is?

“Moonlight” provides a thought-provoking look at what it means to become who we’re destined to be. In only his second feature-length film, writer-director Barry Jenkins has produced a masterful picture, one that nails its material in virtually every regard from start to finish. Its powerful and sensitive treatment of a touchy subject is handled skillfully, maximizing its impact through incisive writing, creative camera work and top-notch editing. But, above all, the film’s phenomenal ensemble cast (featuring many first-time performers) delivers superb portrayals across the board, particularly in its seamless depictions of Chiron and Kevin over time. In short, this is an important film, one well deserving of all the accolades it has received – and of the awards it’s worthy of winning.

As a young adult, Chiron (a.k.a., Black) (Trevante Rhodes, right) seeks to find himself at last with the assistance of his lifelong friend, Kevin (André Holland, left), in writer-director Barry Jenkins’s impressive new offering, “Moonlight.” Photo by David Bornfriend, courtesy of A24.

And speaking of awards, “Moonlight” has done remarkably well this awards season. In addition to eight Oscar nominations, including nods for best picture, director, adapted screenplay, and supporting actor and actress, the film has already earned considerable recognition. The picture took top honors as best dramatic film at the Golden Globe Awards, along with five other nominations; best supporting actor honors (Ali) in the Screen Actors Guild Award competition, along with two other nominations; best supporting actor and best ensemble cast honors in the Critics Choice Award competition, along with eight additional nominations; and four BAFTA Award nominations. In the upcoming Independent Spirit Award competition, the film has already earned the Robert Altman Award for best cast and casting, along with five additional nominations, including best feature, director and screenplay.

These honors are a fitting tribute to this shoestring budget indie, which has gone from relative obscurity to one of the most decorated pictures of the year. By all means, see it.

For a complete review, click here.

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.