Arrival, Moonlight, The Edge Of Seventeen: Three Movies Face The Jury

Film commentary used to be a big part of the publication that you presently are gazing upon. Which is why I’m on my bended knees right now, begging the movie goddesses and gods to forgive me for not seriously evaluating any cinematic creations in oh so long a time. A quick look tells me that it has been three months since I last delved deeply into any. Three months? Man, hundreds of movies have been released in that time. And I’ve taken in a fair number of them, 20 or so. It’s not that I didn’t want to spin a review or two or three. I did. But, being a dumb f**k who seems to be getting dumber by the day, I couldn’t figure out anything meaty or nifty to say about most of the fare. Or figure out their plots half the time either, to be embarrassingly honest. Hey, not all of us are destined to inherit the mantles of Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert.

So far today, though, my dimness factor has not been deplorable. I therefore have decided to share some thoughts and observations about three movies that my wife Sandy and I caught on big screens recently: Arrival, Moonlight, and The Edge Of Seventeen. Here we go.

Two of these three films, Moonlight and The Edge Of Seventeen, are lovingly-crafted and expertly-scripted examinations of the human condition. (Arrival is a different animal altogether, one to which lovingly-crafted possibly applies, but expertly-scripted doesn’t). They are coming of age stories that couldn’t be more different in their feels and approaches. The former, an engrossing downer that places a magnifying glass over the marginalized side of American society, is relentlessly gritty and roiling. The latter, on the other hand, is buoyant and breezy. It’s full of yuks and carries a smart, sarcastic swagger, yet is kept real by swift undercurrents of unease. Each in its own way rocks.

moonlight_2016_filmMoonlight, which unfolds in three separate segments, follows Chiron, a neglected and insufficiently loved gay black male, from his preteen years through his mid 20s. Life never is easy or a comforting experience for Chiron (played expertly, in chronological order, by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes), who is raised in poverty by a cocaine-addicted mother who loves her son but maybe loves her drugs as much or more. Compared to Chiron, pretty much any of us who thinks he/she has problems should think again. Just the basics, such as finding food and shelter, are frequent challenges for Chiron, whose less-than-wordy personality is a result of the many stones that life tosses at him. Never has he been bolstered by more than a couple of willing and able supporters. And, on top of all of that, his homosexuality confuses and frightens him. He’s uncomfortable in his own skin.

img_1266The environment presented in The Edge Of Seventeen is a far more materially comfortable one than that displayed in Moonlight, but that doesn’t mean that life is splendidly manageable for the film’s protagonist, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld). It isn’t, not by a long shot, though Nadine’s woes, compared to Chiron’s, look like nothing more than toe bruises. Nadine, a high school junior who has struggled all her days to locate self-confidence and to forge friendships, is a funny wise-cracker. She also spends a lot of time being sad, letting the slings and arrows get to her. She’s on the verge of what? Not quite despair, but something close to that. Most fortuitously for Nadine, familial and social support systems, and opportunities, are at hand, as might be expected for a middle-class white girl living in a well-stocked house with a mother and brother of good quality, and attending a good school. It’s a question of how, or if, she’ll take advantage of what’s around her.

img_1265Do Moonlight and The Edge Of Seventeen, as different as they are, have anything in common? I think so. A two-pronged theme that runs through both is human connections, and the lack thereof. Chiron and Nadine do not find it easy to locate the pathways that might bond them with others. They are hungry to connect, but their internal mechanisms (not to overlook outside forces, especially in Chiron’s case) get in the way. But they try. And they become better at the game as time goes on.

I’ll say little more about these two films, as I’m usually reluctant to provide data in quantities that might spoil another’s movie-going experiences. What I will mention is that the acting in both is excellent all around. Besides the leads in each movie, a tip of the hat to Mahershala Ali, whose portrayal of a very decent-hearted drug dealer who partially rescues Chiron from a totally disastrous existence, is heartbreakingly fine. Likewise to Woody Harrelson. He shines as a teacher who feels, really feels, in a most understatedly wry yet wise way for Nadine and her plight.

Connections, to my mind, is also a formidable motif running through Arrival. I’m not fully confident saying this, though, because what in the world Arrival actually is all about is significantly beyond me. And, I might add, beyond four or five other reviewers whose analyses I’ve looked at. Nevertheless, a few of those reviewers pretty much swooned over Arrival. How do you swoon over something that leaves you puzzled? Beats me. I guess that the movie’s atmospherics and high aims were enough to please them.

img_1298Anyway, Arrival is a sci-fier that definitely wants you to put on your thinking cap. Good luck with that, as I just mentioned. It is a present day aliens-visit-Earth affair. The aliens land simultaneously at 12 locations around the globe in sleek vehicles, two creatures per craft. (Spoiler alert, of sorts. I’m about to spill more beans than I did with Moonlight and The Edge Of Seventeen). They don’t speak any human languages, not unexpectedly, though it sure would have been keen if they did. But they do grunt and bellow in their own tongue. Unfortunately, what those noises mean no human ever figures out. But all is not lost, as they also have a written language, one composed of ink-blotty symbols. And — eureka! — eventually a couple of real smart humans decipher it, taking alien–human connections to a better level.

The visitors, super-giant octapi types that never leave their space ships, in my opinion don’t explain all too well (after the point in which their ink blots become understood) why they landed on our orb in the first place. That’s a big gripe that I have with the movie. Explain to whom, you ask? Why, to Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguistics expert and one of the aforementioned real smart humans. Upon the aliens’ arrival, Louise had been hauled out to meet and greet two of the huge beings, at their States-side landing site, by a befuddled and nervous U.S. military. Somehow, if I’m not mistaken (and I could be), the aliens knew in advance that they would hook up with Louise, clairvoyantly understanding that Louise is just what the world needs to help reduce high-running tensions among nations. To bring the world closer together, in other words. She’s a connector, see? Yup, the long-limbed animals are promoters and harbingers of peace, and real heroes, in my iffy interpretation of things.

There’s an unusual misty and mystical charm to Arrival that you won’t encounter every day. That’s a good thing. And a reason to check it out. There also are too many scenes loaded with clichéd actions and reactions, and dialog that frequently clunks heavily. If your movie-going time is limited, my suggestion is to put Arrival on the back burner. It’s a different story for Moonlight and The Edge Of Seventeen, though. Those you won’t want to miss. They are primo.


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26 thoughts on “Arrival, Moonlight, The Edge Of Seventeen: Three Movies Face The Jury

  1. Joyce December 21, 2016 / 8:41 am

    Thanks for doing movie reviews again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger December 21, 2016 / 9:21 am

      If you haven’t seen The Edge Of Seventeen yet, I’m pretty sure that you’ll like it a lot.


  2. greenpete58 December 21, 2016 / 9:21 am

    Great reviews as always, Neil. Sci-Fi’s not my bag, so I’ll skip “Arrival,” but the other two sound good, especially “Moonlight.” Your observation “his homosexuality confuses and frightens him” leads me to think this movie might have some real honesty rather than a series of clichés. I’ll check it out. We just saw an excellent documentary from 2015: “Steve McQueen: The Man and LeMans.” All sorts of intrigue and drama behind the making of that film (if you’re a McQueen fan, that helps, too!).

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger December 21, 2016 / 10:27 am

      Hi Pete. You’ll like Moonlight. It’s stark and realistic.
      I haven’t heard of the doc you mention. I’ll look for it. Thanks.


  3. andrewcferguson December 21, 2016 / 3:48 pm

    Great stuff Neil. I don’t get along to a lot of movies, for reasons I can’t explain, because I really enjoy the cinema-going experience (most of the time, at least). If you like these ones, that’s a pretty damn fine recommendation for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. cincinnatibabyhead December 21, 2016 / 4:07 pm

    More of these takes would be cool. ‘Moonlight’ will be on CB’s to watch list based on your lead and the trailer I watched. “Stark and realistic’ are attention grabbers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger December 21, 2016 / 4:34 pm

      Hi CB. Moonlight is a real winner. Some people might find it too grim, but I know you can handle it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • cincinnatibabyhead December 21, 2016 / 6:57 pm

        I like grim, I like realistic, I like non mainstream, I like actors I’m not familiar with and I like good. ‘Moonlight’ looks and sounds like it is all those. I’m counting on you Neil.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Still the Lucky Few December 22, 2016 / 10:53 am

    Interesting that you tied the themes of Moonlight and Edge of Seventeen as a search for human connection, given that we are preparing to celebrate Christmas currently, during which the unhappiest humans are those with no human connections! Lots of lonely and unhappy people around, who are disappointed by Christmas. I know I’m off topic ; just thinking about that issue this time of year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger December 22, 2016 / 1:39 pm

      Hi. What you say is sad but true. Without strong emotional connections with others, it’s hard for most people to have happiness.


  6. lifecoast December 22, 2016 / 12:13 pm

    I enjoyed Edge of Seventeen but think it was marketed incorrectly. It wasn’t a laugh-fest, but it was still a great flick.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger December 22, 2016 / 1:37 pm

      Hi. Thanks for visiting.
      I hope that Edge has found, or will find, its audience.


  7. Christy B December 22, 2016 / 3:00 pm

    Great to hear that Arrival delivers well in its scifi aspirations as it’s a movie I’ve been wanting to see. So.. I WILL have to see it 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger December 22, 2016 / 4:40 pm

      Hi Christy. It’s probably better to see it on the big screen rather than at home. Those huge aliens will have a lot more presence that way.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. K E Garland December 24, 2016 / 3:39 pm

    Great reviews! I’d forgotten all about Moonlight, so your review has reminded me to watch it. Also, have you seen Collateral Beauty? I’m interested in your review of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger December 24, 2016 / 5:24 pm

      Hi Kathy. Haven’t seen Collateral Beauty yet. One that I did see is Manchester By The Sea. It’s really good, a sad and powerful story.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Aunt Beulah December 27, 2016 / 4:22 pm

    I read this post just in time, Neil. My husband and I are about to embark on a two-week road trip that will take us to three cities where we plan to soak up some current movies, rather than waiting for them to be released on Netflix. I’ll add Moonlight and the Edge of Seventeen to our list of possibilities. Have you had a chance to see either Manchester by the Sea or A Man Called Ove? If so, I’d be interested in your opinion of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger December 27, 2016 / 5:23 pm

      Hi. I’ve seen both. Manchester is an excellent movie. Ove isn’t on that level, but it’s very enjoyable.

      Have a real good trip!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. CineMuseFilms January 13, 2017 / 11:10 pm

    I enjoyed your post Neil. Arrival for me was a disappointment, and The Edge of Seventeen was a delight. Am reviewing the others shortly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger January 14, 2017 / 7:48 am

      Hi. I’m really glad I went to see The Edge Of Seventeen. One of my cousins recommended it to me and my wife. I doubt if we’d have taken it in without his suggestion.

      Liked by 1 person

      • CineMuseFilms January 14, 2017 / 2:27 pm

        Its a tough genre to do well and this one is refreshingly different for a cliche movie.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Gilly January 19, 2017 / 12:47 am

    These films have yet to figure on my radar – I haven’t heard of any of them but that isn’t surprising since I don’t read newspapers or magazines and I only watch certain TV shows that are pre-recorded.

    Not keen on sci-fi but the other two sound like movies of our time. We have people in this world with the talent and insight to delve deeply into the psychology of emotional suffering and come up with stunning films that get right to the damaged heart of life and yet no one can heal that heart. So sad.

    A film came out in the U.K. in recent times called ‘I Daniel Blake’ – I haven’t seen it yet but have been told it is a very gritty portrait of how life is for people on social welfare. It has stunned a lot of people and stirred up consciences and emotions. But will it actually CHANGE anything? I doubt it.

    I am guessing that the people who can afford to take a trip out to the cinema with friends and have pre-film drinks in a trendy bar followed by a nice meal in a warm restaurant after the film will discuss it at length over dinner and then go back to their warm beds and forget it. Cynical? Yes I am – but until we start to act on the emotions that these films disturb, what is their point?

    Maybe we all feel helpless – I certainly do. At the very least, I hope these social commentary films leave us pondering what we an do as a society to stop producing so many people who are unable to connect with others and be comfortable with life.

    Phew! That’s a bit heavy for 5.45am! Couldn’t sleep. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger January 19, 2017 / 8:02 am

      Gilly, I really appreciate your thoughts. I don’t know if socially-conscious movies ever help to change things for the better. Possibly they do, at least once in a while. But they keep us on our toes, in any case.

      Liked by 1 person

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