Posts Tagged ‘Corey Michael Smith’

The Butterflies of Savannah

May December

Director: Todd Haynes

Cast: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton, Corey Michael Smith, Andrea Frankle, Gabriel Chung, Elizabeth Yu, D. W. Moffett, Kelvin Han Yee

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Scandal in all its intimacy is what binds a community together in auteur director Todd Haynes fabulous new film May December starring Oscar winners Natalie Portman (Black Swan) and Julianne Moore (Still Alice).

Far From Heaven and Carol director Todd Haynes makes cinema an art form in this stylized and lush melodrama about a Southern tabloid queen Gracie, wonderfully played by Julianne Moore, who becomes the subject matter for a TV film after the sexually adventurous actress Elizabeth comes to interview Gracie and her complicated history.

In a syrupy and toxic screenplay by Samy Burch, which would make Tennessee Williams proud and Truman Capote salivate at the salacious details, May December is gorgeously set in Savannah, Georgia in 2015, twenty years after a tawdry scandal erupted when Gracie a 35 year old married woman slept with and got herself pregnant by a 13 year old boy and then went onto marry him when he was of age. Gracie and Joe’s scandalous affair started in the back store room of a rundown pet shop in a strip mall in Savannah and after a bout in prison for sleeping with a minor, Gracie and Joe now twenty years on are welcoming their children back home to Savannah for graduation.

The handsome, strong and silent Joe is beautifully played by Charles Melton who definitely deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as Melton perfectly encapsulates the psychological state of a man child, a man at 36, but inside still a child, bewildered and confused that he fathered children while he was still a teenage and to a woman almost three times his age.

Joe acts more like a big brother to his three children than a father, while Julianne Moore’s Gracie acts as the scheming and manipulative mother figure micromanaging not only her  young husband but also the wreckage of her past life, as she expertly manoeuvres herself around the penetrating gaze of the ambitious but provocative Elizabeth, a star turn by Natalie Portman who has the acting ability to portray psychologically complex characters as she did in her Oscar winning performance in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.

Todd Haynes relishes having two powerful female stars as the two opposing main characters, sniping at each with a bitchy relish as they mockingly try to remain friends while both planning ways of exacting revenge on one another. Portman and Moore are superb in this dynamic, eating up men in their way and manipulating both their circumstances to their own maximum and sometimes lustful benefit, like the captivating monarch butterflies that are released into the humid Savannah air.  

Corey Michael Smith (Carol) is electrifying in a few brief scenes as Gracie’s damaged oldest son from her first marriage Georgie who uses the power dynamic between his mother as the subject and Elizabeth as her observer to best serve his own creepy agenda.

Bizarre and strangely uncomfortable, Todd Haynes creates a garish melodrama on contemporary sexual power dynamics in this fascinating film May December whose title in American English is a term which refers to a much older person taking a much younger lover, as tawdry and exhilarating as that can be.

May December is a provocative film, sexy in a slightly off kilter sort of way and gets a film rating of 8 out of 10. Not every viewer will enjoy this film, but those that do will appreciate its compelling originality and its deliberate sneer at the conventional expectations of socially acceptable sexual interactions.

To the Moon and Back

First Man

Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Ciaran Hinds, Kyle Chandler, Patrick Fugit, Christopher Abbott, Olivia Hamilton, Pablo Schreiber, Shea Whigham, Lukas Haas, Corey Michael Smith

Thanks to a preview screening organized by United International Pictures at Suncoast Cinecentre, Durban, I was fortunate enough to see director Damien Chazelle’s highly anticipated Neil Armstrong biopic First Man starring an excellent Ryan Gosling and Golden Globe winner Claire Foy as his wife Janet Armstrong.

First Man was based on an intelligently written screenplay by Josh Singer based upon the James R. Hansen book First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong.

In the space race between America and the Soviets in the 1960’s, there was a desperate bid to successfully land a man on the moon, a pledge that iconic President John F. Kennedy made to the American public which in turn put pressure on NASA to not only train astronauts but successfully prepare them physically, psychologically and emotionally for a lunar trip.

What the Oscar winning director of La La Land Damien Chazelle does so beautifully is contrast the massive effort and technical implications of sending men to the moon with a complex family drama about Neil and Janet Armstrong as they desperate recover from the death of their young daughter Karen from a Brain Tumour.

Not only does this tragedy pull on the fabric of their marriage, but its Neil Armstrong’s absolute determination that he is going to be the first man on the moon and be the best astronaut America has ever seen. Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling (La La Land, Half Nelson) gives a nuanced performance as Neil Armstrong, a father continually haunted by the death of his young daughter while the moon taunts him every evening, as if to say when are you actually coming to visit me?

Janet Armstrong superbly played by Claire Foy who deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance grows increasingly frantic at the prospect that while she has to be a mother to two young boys, there is a real danger that her husband might not return from a dangerous mission to the moon because of the infinite dangers involved.

In contrast to the familial tension at home, the actual attempts to get to the moon are impressively captured onscreen with mesmerizing sound effects suitably accompanied by an incredible musical score by Oscar winner Justin Hurwitz (La La Land) which truly makes First Man a remarkable and utterly impressionable film – This is truly great cinema held together by cerebral images and perfect on point portrayals of Neil and Janet Armstrong by  Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, who both brilliantly hold the film together emotionally and psychologically.

Audiences should watch out for a superb cameo by Corey Stoll as the outspoken Buzz Aldrin who feels nothing about remarking about an astronaut’s failure at his own funeral or how he was not a good pilot.

First Man is a complex, intelligently directed portrayals of one of the defining moments of the 20th century – Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the Moon and the build up which preceded this significant event.

Highly recommended viewing, First Man receives a film rating of 9.5 out of 10 and is truly a cinematic achievement that will take audiences literally to the moon and back. Utterly superb.



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