White Girl (2016)

Impression: I can see why this movie was controversial: there are a lot of drugs, and there is a lot of very explicit sex, and the movie is unapologetic about both. But it’s not frivolous. There is a statement being made. Leah is young and somewhat naive and curious, and willing to try anything and she unwittingly gets herself involved in the criminal underworld whose rules she does not understand. The movie is not glorifying any of this, but is very brutally realistic about the kind of consequences her actions can have (and do in this movie) for someone like her and the very different consequences that apply to others. She feels completely free to do whatever she wants, take the kind of drugs she wants, have sex with whoever she wants. And it’s not that there are no personal consequences for her complete sense of freedom, there are, and they are brutal.  But as the last scene illustrates, she can just continue with the life she had planned. The consequences for Blue, her Puerto Rican drug-dealing boyfriend, are different, and arguably more final. The movie is filmed with a lot of very tight close-ups, and you get to know Leah’s face in such intimate detail, that it’s almost uncomfortable. It was very well acted, and I was surprised that the actor who played Blue had never acted before.  Chris Noth was amazing as the sleazy lawyer.  I loved the use of very bright sunshine and slightly overexposed film that accentuated the happy moments, and the kind of blissful ignorance of any consequences which Leah feels.  And the way those end abruptly when reality catches up with her a number of times throughout the film. Beyond the shock value and the controversy, I think this is actually a very well made and thought provoking film.

Facts: A young college student in New York during her summer break gets into drugs and sex. Lots of it.

Trainspotting (1996)

Impression:  I was 19 when I first saw this movie and loved it. I recently saw it at almost 40, with a teenager, wondering if it will stand the test of time. I am pleased to report it has aged well. Heroin chic never goes out of style, I guess. The fashion is not all that different, and the themes are universal, the aimlessness of early adulthood, the ups and downs of friendships, the selfishness, the humor.  Kelly MacDonald gives one of her best performances as Diane: witty, beautiful, feminist to her teenage core. The style of the movie, which at the time was somewhat of a novelty, still seems modern. The magic realism, explained away by drug use and hallucinations, still dreams up some of the most memorable scenes put on film: never been able to erase the scene of Renton diving into “The Worst Toilet in Scotland” or the baby crawling on the ceiling. The mid 90’s were an important time for independent film and unfortunately this film often gets lost in the shuffle. I hope the currently shooting sequel helps it get restored to it’s rightful place in cinema history.
Facts:  A group of friends and heroin addicts wasting time and desperately seeking the next hit in 1990’s Edinburgh.

Moonlight (2016)

Impression: It’s not just the story which is heartbreaking and poignant and timely.  The director is a true cinema geek, every little detail from the music to the amount of sweat on actors’ faces has been carefully thought out.  He said his favorite director is Claire Denis, and it shows. This film is a film buff’s dream come true (the cinematography, the music, the acting, the casting, everything). It’s as close to a perfect film as I’ve seen, and as close to a European film I’ve seen from an American filmmaker.
Facts: A coming of age story centers on Chrion, a quiet, poor, black kid growing up in a tough neighborhood in Miami, and follows him through to adulthood in a sequence of heartbreaking vignettes.
Extra: I saw this film at the Toronto International Film Festival. I started crying about 1/2 way into the movie and kept at it until after the Q&A ended. The audience stood up and clapped and kept clapping until Barry Jenkins asked them to stop. He took a bunch of questions, all of which he answered with a lot of depth and thought. Finally, a man raised his hand for the last question. Before he answered, Barry Jenkins said “Is that Jonathan Demme?” It was! He said “You, know if you didn’t tell us to stop clapping, we’d still be clapping.”