Movie Review: Fences

It simply does not get any better than this movie. Not with the writing and originally this was a play written by August Wilson, not with the stark, depressing and heartbreaking story and not with the acting, which is simply the best I have ever seen. One unique dimension with this movie is the fact that the two stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis performed the play Fences on Broadway so they have an insight and memorization of the complex dialogue to a degree that is far greater than within any normal film ever produced. You have the impression that both of these great actors actually became the people they were playing on screen as their familiarity with the characters is so profound.

Even with the trailers for this movie, it seems everybody already knows that both Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will win academy awards for their performances. The only question is, the Academy might make Viola Davis a supporting actress nominee, even though her time on screen mandates the best Actress nomination. The reason for this will probably be because of Jessica Chastain in Miss Sloane, which is also reviewed within this blog, who also gave a great performance in her role. There is a scene in this movie where a bombshell event is revealed and Viola’s acting in this one scene could arguably be the best ever performed in any movie. Denzel Washington also directed this masterpiece film and he will also get the best director nomination and the movie will be nominated for best picture. Given the amazing quality of this production, Fences just might win every major award this year, this movie is just that good.

The story of Fences is about the 1950’s in Pittsburgh and a black family in that era where Troy, played by Denzel Washington could have been a great baseball player but he is black and he was born at the wrong time to ever get into professional sports as a black man. He also came from a bad childhood and had to leave home at 14, then spent some time in prison and now, rather than being happy rich and famous as a major league baseball player, he is living in a ramshackle house and is a garbage man living paycheck to paycheck barely surviving. This story is not only a story about a poor black family in the 1950’s, it is about way too many millions of people, who are miserable and suffering because of circumstances, bad luck, being poor, being born into the wrong family or born at the wrong time, like so many young people in their 20’s today. Real life is a five day week grind and if your miserable 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, that is a big part of your existence and your misery way too often is impossible to forget, even for a short period of time. Monday is always right around the corner.

For Troy, his memories of his greatness as a baseball player exist even in how he talks to his wife, his 2 sons and his best friend. Everything is about being “in the batter’s box”, getting the “full count” and one, two or three strikes. How many great athletes just never get their chance at being who they desperately want to be for reasons that very often are just out of their control, or just out of their reach. Life is horribly unfair to way too many people and this movie shows this harsh reality better than any film I have ever seen.

If you’re miserable in your job or even being tortured by some sick moron who you work with day after day, very often you will bring all this pent up anger and misery home, and take it out on your own family. This is the case with Troy’s younger son Cory, played extremely well by Jovan Adepo. The other issue here is that Troy is jealous of his son’s youth and much brighter future including a possible football scholarship, but Troy goes out of his way to sabotage that, even refusing to sign a form to allow Cory to talk to a college recruiter. The arguments and fights between Troy and Cory are some of the most emotional and best acted in this movie and on two occasions Cory says what we are all thinking. Troy does not want his own son to ever do better than he did and especially not in sports. This is the opposite of what a parent is supposed to want for his children, but not in the case where so much anger and bitterness over so many years in Troy’s unhappy life exists. As far as Troy sees life, “If I am miserable then everybody in my family is going to be miserable too”. I know this aspect of this story first hand in my own childhood with my own father.

Another aspect of this story is Troy’s brother Gabriel, played by Mykelti Williamson who is brain damaged due to a war injury. He has the mind of a child and is frequently causing Troy problems with having to bail him out after being arrested for vagrancy and disturbing the peace. Troy was only able to buy his house only because of 3000 dollars given by the government for Gabriel’s brain injury.

After all is said and done about the movie Fences, it is impossible for me to ever give a higher recommendation than I now give this film. It is the best acting I have ever seen, and the most real life story I have ever seen on screen and in my opinion by far the best movie this year. Fences represents the entire reason why we go to the movies. To realize that we are not alone and other people have gone through the same things we have gone through in our own lives.

Movie Review: La La Land

I have always been a person who has never liked musicals and for mainstream movies, musicals are very rare. The new movie La La Land has just the right percentage of singing and dancing that for even a person who hates musicals, it never seems overdone. As a matter of fact, this entire movie was produced very well and had one of the best and most intelligent endings I have ever seen in any film I have ever seen. The brilliant ending showed an alternate world which was a message that whatever your dreams are, can you really have it all? The message of the ending was, sometimes if you want what you dream of, you have to give up something else.

The IMDB opinion score for La La Land is one of the highest ever posted, right now an 8.9 and I can see why this movie has been so popular. One reason is that it’s very unusual, unlike anything that has been done before. Yes, this movie is a musical but it the majority of the film is non-musical and the story behind it was very compelling and interesting. This movie is certainly about a love story, but mostly this film is about taking huge risk with your entire life in the hopes of making it in show business, either as a musician, played by Ryan Gossling or an actress played by Emma Stone.

One problem with show business and the very few that make it in any way and the fewer who make it big is that the payoff when you do make it is so completely out of proportion with any other profession in the United States or the world. Show business pays actors and singers far more than makes any sense and because of this and the way their lives seem to some poor kid in Nebraska, far too many young people move to California in the hopes of following their dreams of stardom. Someday there will be a 60 minutes-like documentary where the stark statistics that represent the reality and more importantly, the odds of making it in Hollywood or even as a musician will be produced. The odds are probably close to putting money on one number and winning 3 times in a row in Roulette. Given those long odds, does it even make sense to put all your money on one number and perhaps ruin your whole life on one hail mary pass? How many young people who move to California or New York even have a backup plan? These long odds are well demonstrated in this movie, with Emma Stone living in a bad apartment with 3 other roommates and Gossling living in another bad apartment and getting fired from his night job at a seedy bar where he plays the piano. The horrible Los Angeles traffic is also shown in this movie especially at the beginning along with Stone’s many auditions where she is ignored and rudely treated by the casting directors and at one point she almost gives up on her dreams entirely.

One can only imagine the nightmare of sitting in your broken down car on a hot day in traffic, traveling to another audition that you know you have no chance of getting and then working in your low paying bad job in a coffee shop. How many years and now many rejections can any person take at any age, when you’re faced with a daily existence like this?. What is the age where you finally realize that this dream is just not going to happen for you and you finally just give up? For every Emma Stone or Ryan Gossling or even Mark Wahlberg how many equally or even more deserving and talented people, just never get their lucky break? It is great to pursue your dreams but ultimately, is it worth the risk of wrecking your entire life and retirement to realize a goal that is so hard to reach? Do the very lucky few who do make it even realize how lucky they are? How many do make it, at least for a time but then are never able to reach those heights ever again or worse, never save enough money when their one chance in a lifetime comes through? These are all the questions I asked myself when I saw this movie. The ending of La La Land does have a nice Hollywood type of ending, but with a very intelligent twist on the happy endings we are all used to seeing in movies. I thought that this new twist with the happy ending was very well done as was the acting of Gossling, Stone and even the singer John Legend.

At first, I was reluctant to see this movie because it was a musical, but at the end, I was convinced that this was a very good movie that will be nominated for best picture this year and it does get my strong recommendation.