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Moonlight: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Moonlight (2016) movie poster Moonlight

Theatrical Release: October 21, 2016 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Barry Jenkins / Writers: Barry Jenkins (screenplay); Tarell Alvin McCraney (story)

Cast: Trevante Rhodes (Chiron/Black), André Holland (Kevin), Janelle Monáe (Teresa), Ashton Sanders (Teenage Chiron), Jharrel Jerome (Kevin - Age 16), Alex Hibbert (Chiron/Little), Jaden Piner (Kevin - Age 9), Naomie Harris (Paula), Mahershala Ali (Juan)

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Moonlight, the sophomore feature film of writer-director Barry Jenkins,
charts in three parts the journey from boy to man of an African-American in the southern United States.

We first meet Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert) as a quiet, frightened young Miami boy who takes shelter by breaking into an unoccupied room of an abandoned crack building. He is found by Juan (Mahershala Ali, magnetic in limited screentime), a drug dealer with some authority who brings the boy home to his girlfriend (Janelle Monáe) and feeds him, without getting hardly a word out of him. Eventually, Juan, who is reluctant to give out his own name, gets an address and returns the boy to his mother Paula (Naomie Harris), who is ungrateful and later we learn a client of Juan's, who has created a hellish home environment from which Chiron habitually escapes.

A magnetic and probably Oscar-bound Mahershala Ali steals scenes as Juan, a charismatic drug dealer who takes young Chiron (a.k.a. Little) under his wing.

Chiron (pronounced "Shy-ron"), whose juvenile nickname is Little, is bullied by his peers and from a young age exhibits some homosexual tendencies. Both those tendencies and the bullying intensify in high school, where Chiron (now Ashton Sanders) starts a friendship that might be more with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), a classmate who is sexually active with his girlfriend. Feelings for one another develop and confuse until a fight situation escalates and Chiron gets arrested.

The third and final stretch of the film seems Chiron grown up (now Trevante Rhodes). Going by the name "Black", Chiron has evolved into a street dealer much like his childhood surrogate father Juan. Rocking grilled teeth and a classic car, the adult Chiron visits his mother, who is still wrestling with substance addiction, and also reconnects with Kevin (André Holland), who is now a diner chef.

The teenaged Chiron (Ashton Sanders) escapes an unstable home by riding Miami's free transit system.

Moonlight is raw and original. Its narrow vision and frank depictions distinguish it from other films, which helped it win virtually unanimous favor from critics. I assumed that despite the inevitable acclaim it drew, Moonlight would be too small, intimate,
and different for Oscar consideration, outside of perhaps a secondary category, like Ali for Supporting Actor. I was wrong. Ali is indeed the frontrunner for that honor, but Moonlight has eight nominations going into Sunday's ceremony including Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay, the lattermost of which is its closest to a guaranteed victory based on precursor awards.

This is a confident film that establishes Jenkins and story writer Tarell Alvin McCraney (whose play was unproduced) as skilled, unconventional storytellers with unique rhythms and flair. From complete newcomers to seasoned actors you might recognize from supporting roles in blockbuster franchises, the cast of Moonlight is entirely on point. They sell the realism, giving it an indie credibility you'd never find in a major studio film that opens wide.

It's taken a while but all the buzz has helped Moonlight, an obviously difficult sell, prosper at the box office. To date, it has grossed $21.4 million, without ever cracking the weekend top 10, even when its theater count peaked at 1,104. While it's still pulling in more than half a million each weekend, the film hits Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday the 28th, two days after it will almost definitely become an Oscar winner.

Moonlight: Blu-ray + Digital HD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Extras Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.95 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Cinematography numbers among Moonlight's eight Academy Award nominations and you can see why from the striking 2.40:1 compositions that are well-presented on Blu-ray. Jenkins and his DP James Laxton use anamorphic lenses that make parts of the frame lack focus at times. The images are clean and detailed though, supplying the film's vision as intended. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio does a fine job of distributing both the distinctive original score and needle drops, while dialogue remains crisp and full-bodied throughout.

Screenwriter-director Barry Jenkins discusses "Moonlight" next to the film's creative poster art. Not the man behind the music you expect, Nicholas Britell discusses his Oscar-nominated score in "Poetry Through Collaboration."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extras begin with an audio commentary by director-screenwriter Barry Jenkins. He is as passionate and articulate as you expect him to be. He shares what aspects of the story are drawn from life,

touches upon technical aspects, and addresses the casting and music. He leaves few lulls in this lively and worthwhile discussion.

On the video side, we begin with "Ensemble of Emotion: Making Moonlight" (21:37), a making-of featurette that unfolds with thoughtful interview comments and film clips.

"Poetry Through Collaboration: The Music of Moonlight" (10:06) focuses on Nicholas Britell's Oscar-nominated orchestral score, with comments from the composer and the director.

Finally, "Cruel Beauty: Filming in Miami" (5:39) lives up to its title with a consideration of the film's setting and locations

The disc opens with trailers for 20th Century Women, Free Fire, American Honey, Swiss Army Man, and The Lobster. The same five are repeated from the disc's "Trailers" listing, but no trailers for Moonlight are included.

The menu plays clips from all three phases in space left open from an adaptation of the creative poster art.

A Digital HD insert joins the plain gray disc in the slipcovered eco-friendly keepcase.

At a Miami diner, a grown Chiron (a.k.a. Black) (Trevante Rhodes) reconnects with the only man who's touched him (André Holland) in the third and final act of "Moonlight."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

An artistic and authentic coming-of-age story told in three distinct acts, Moonlight compels with its study of multi-faceted characters unlike the ones whose stories are usually told on film. Lionsgate's Blu-ray treats this acclaim magnet to a fine feature presentation and a handful of substantial extras. In stores right after the Oscars, Moonlight is worth checking out regardless of how it performs there.

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Reviewed February 21, 2017.



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