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Arrival

Posted : 1 year, 1 month ago on 22 February 2017 09:03 (A review of Arrival)

Some of the best films in more typically obtuse and loud genres are the ones that strive for something a little bit deeper. Look no further than the recent spate of films like Interstellar or Gravity, messy or imperfect as they may be, that have been immensely satisfying and immersive as personal stories wrapped up in science-fiction dressing. Joining them, and my personal favorite of the three, is Arrival, a fantastic story about alien life interacting with humanity that really boils down to a mother retelling her life story to her dying daughter.

 

The film’s story expanse is global, but its soul and precision-like focus is on a deeply felt personal one. Amy Adams, one of our greatest working and most versatile actresses currently working, leads Arrival with an empathetic, confident performance that gives the film its grace and brains. She digs deep into Louise, a linguistics professor that gets called into service by the US government when 12 UFOs land on Earth. She’s not the first person brought in to try and establish communication, but she’s able to develop a strange symbiosis with them and eventually cracks their language’s complicated code.

 

Much of the success and lingering power of Arrival rests on Adams’ performance, particularly the numerous close-ups of her face. Director Denis Villeneuve diverts attention away from the CGI aliens, they look like gigantic cephalopods made of fine leather, and onto the more grounded, human work of his actress. The amount of trust he places in Adams’ prowess reminds me of the golden age film-makers who simply lit an actress of great power and let her rip. As the multiple timelines converge and shift around there is Adams’ face holding the center.

 

Even better is how the film places an equally strong emphasis less on reactionary politicking and explosions and far more on the power of science and building bridges between cultures. Much like Spotlight could make investigative journalism feel like high-tension superspy thrills, Arrival can transform linguistics into the heady stuff of action-film spectacle. Who knew trying to decipher strange inky circular blobs could be so enthralling?

 

If there’s any true negative to level against Arrival it’s a pervading sense that the film tends towards the antiseptic, even at points when the emotions are supposed to pull the rug out from under us. I find this forgivable, and even that it made a certain bit of logical sense once we figure out what these strange flash-forwards and diversions to an idyllic home life are in service towards. I’d happily sacrifice Meryl Streep’s record-breaking nomination or Emma Stone’s serviceable (and soon-to-be anointed) work in favor of nominating Amy Adams’ work here. I’d happily split up the tech categories in this film’s favor. I’d happily throw more love at Arrival then it’ll probably walk away with come Oscar night. I just really loved this film.



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Manchester by the Sea

Posted : 1 year, 1 month ago on 22 February 2017 05:55 (A review of Manchester by the Sea)

This is a weird one for me to talk about. Manchester by the Sea strikes all the right poses, hits all of the story beats, but there’s a strange sense of detachment. The characters are submerged by grief, and any development they exhibit is so minor as to wonder if the seeds have been harvested.

 

It’s not boring or tedious, and I don’t mind the quaintness of the film, but Manchester by the Sea kept me at a remove at all points. Maybe it’s that it takes a very long time to go nowhere in particular. Not paying off as the audience demands is fine and all, but we end with a few of these characters left in the same or highly similar positions that we found them in. And there’s a few too many situations where the symbolism is too neat and tidy, or the dialog is too poetic, and several scenes of Casey Affleck staring off into the middle distance in a bar before picking a fight.

 

The slowly thawing winter is a solid metaphor for grief and the ways we can deal with it in, say, a novel, but it’s harder to balance it out in a film. Especially one that insists on running for two-and-a-half hours, without enough story to really fill out that demanding running time. Manchester by the Sea is best when it zeroes in on mournful, hard moments of everyday life in the wake of tragedy. Think of an awkward reunion between Lucas Hedges’ Patrick and his alcoholic mother (Gretchen Mol), or the quietly devastating reunion between Affleck’s Lee and his ex-wife (Michelle Williams). These moments hammer home with emotional complexity and brutal truths delivered without a bit of sugar to make the bitter go down.

 

Much of the film rests on Affleck’s Lee becoming the guardian of Hedges’ Patrick after the death of Patrick’s father (Kyle Chandler), Lee’s brother. But Lee’s grief from an accident years earlier that caused him to flee Manchester-by-the-Sea, and dissolved his marriage, keeps him prison and incapable of taking care of anyone, even himself, or making deeper connections with anyone. Patrick, for his part, seems incapable of understanding just how much his life has changed, and will continue to do so. He’s a teen looking for guidance from a man with as much warmth and emotional availability as a glacier.

 

Lee and Patrick do have several scenes of comedy to alleviate some of the encroaching despair. Most of it just involves them screaming “fuck you” at each other in harsh New Englander tones, but it’s often a nice change of pace. I see why both of them (and Williams) were nominated this year, and, frankly, they deserve it. Hell, if all three of the players manage to sneak out wins they will be richly deserved. Affleck, Hedges, and Williams create fully realized people that are deeply damaged and trying to do their best to keep their heads above water. Manchester by the Sea finds them drowning more often than not, but the film reminds us that healing is not always a zero-sum game.



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The Lobster

Posted : 1 year, 2 months ago on 17 February 2017 05:37 (A review of The Lobster)

Don’t take this as a sign that I disliked The Lobster, but what the fuck was this movie?

 

Not only is there a ludicrous high concept, but the entire thing is a sick joke about the societal pressures of coupling up and romantic entanglements. The whole thing alternates between deadpan, blacker-than-midnight humor and an uncomfortably twisted sense of danger. I’m not sure if the entire thing works, or if it eventually collapses under the strain of its own artistic reach, but The Lobster had me enraptured with its strangeness and perversity for the entire duration.

 

The Lobster’s wild concept comes roaring out the gate as a woman angrily shoots a goat, who I guess was an ex or something at one point? Anyway, we then meet David (Colin Farrell) as he checks into a hotel, where he will be turned into an animal after 45 days if he doesn’t’ make a love connection. The Lobster gets its title from David’s choice of what animal he would like to become, and I hesitate to reveal more of the plot. It’s original and wild, and trying to summarize it won’t make it any clearer or less hallucinatory.

 

In-between the oddities and stiff acting choices, The Lobster is something of a forbidden love story when it’s all said and done. David eventually meets an unnamed woman (Rachel Weisz), this unnamed woman is also the narrator of the piece. We overhear her thoughts as she writes in her diary, and one presumes that these two will eventually have a happy ending given some of the language used and the open-ended shot of the film. Maybe I’m just a bit of a romantic at heart, once you get past the layers and layers of snark and defensive humor.

 

At times The Lobster can feel like it is eating its own tail, repeatedly. As the story delves into its own hermetically sealed strangeness, so does the film becomes something a closed eco-system. It won’t engender widespread audience participation and sympathy, and The Lobster will prove divisive, but there’s just something provocative and wild about it that I enjoyed.



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Loving

Posted : 1 year, 2 months ago on 17 February 2017 04:30 (A review of Loving)

Sure, there are moments in Loving where the prestige format threatens to put the more quiet, lo-fi charms in a strangle hold, but they’re easily forgiven. Loving keeps everything at a simmer, preferring to place the focus on these two very private people instead of the cultural pyrotechnics going off all around them. It’s a wonderful little movie about love trumping hate.

 

Telling the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving and their Supreme Court case which struck down all anti-miscegenation laws, Loving does fold too easily into a three act structure at times. There’s the opening section in Virginia where they are arrested in the middle of the night for cohabitation, a forced 25 year banishment where the relocate to Washington, D.C., and, of course, their eventual return to Virginia with three young children to contest the courts unjust and deeply racist rulings on their marriage. You already know the outcomes of each of these story beats, and there’s an occasionally overly glossy image that undercuts the dignities and strengths of the film.

 

Yet these moments are easily ignored, forgiven, or skipped over when Loving is taken as a whole. The two lead performances radiate with deeply excavated humanity and nobility as they go about the day-to-day business of living, marriage, and raising kids. Or the ways that Loving finds humanity in its mundane interactions between these two people. Here are two people who are deeply committed to each other, and slightly nervous about the amount of attention and scrutiny that they are getting by daring to love one another, and go to increasingly higher courts with their lawsuit.

 

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are positively exquisite here. Edgerton brings a lot of depth and nervous energy to Richard. This is a man of few words who expresses his fidelity and love for his family through his actions not his words, and desperately wants to protect them from the outside world. Negga has the more talkative of the pair, but not by much. She brings a huge amount of resilience to the part, and Negga makes Mildred positively blossom as the story progresses. In a more just cinematic world Edgerton would be joining Negga as an Oscar nominee, but he got edged out by the flashier Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic and Ryan Gosling being carried in on La La Land’s giant wave.

 

Loving is an ever-timely story told well, with strong performances and a pleasingly subtle aura. I don’t need the flashy bells and whistles, and I frankly don’t miss them in the typical prestige picture. I love how quiet this film is, but its quietness is also probably the thing that knocked it out of most major Oscar categories. Maybe one day they’ll learn that quietness is a virtue and we can stop rewarding the more manipulative melodramas. There’s honesty and truth in Loving, and it’s one of the finest films of 2016.



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Lion

Posted : 1 year, 2 months ago on 13 February 2017 05:13 (A review of Lion)

With the exception of the ending, by which time the film has earned it and we demand the catharsis, Lion keeps it sentimentality and emotions at a low simmer. It’s a bit refreshing for a film that finds itself as a power player in the Oscar race. I doubt Lion will win much, but it’s quietness, it’s emotionally naked and honest performances are most welcome breathers between the louder entries in this year’s race.

 

At its best moments, Lion is a film about a man trapped between two worlds, lost between his past and present, and uncomfortable with looking too far into his future. The story is undeniably moving and uplifting in its truth, but something funny happens between the two halves that make up its structure. The first moves along at a breezy, consistently engaging clip, then the second slogs down, takes too long to get where it’s going, but there’s still plenty to enjoy along the way.

 

The first half is a better movie, with a wonderfully plucky performance from Sunny Pawar as young Saroo, as it places us squarely in the eyes of this child. We experience his fears, marvel at his pluck and ingenuity, and rejoice in the brief moments of kindness and connection he encounters with strangers. A moment where he catches Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother crying touched me very deeply for the delicate way he wipes away her tears. I just wish that Lion had kept up this pace and emotional investment during the second half.

 

The second half’s problem isn’t in the continued performance of Kidman, who is absolutely stunning in her muted role here, especially in a scene where she tells Saroo why she chose to adopt him and want he’s meant to her life. Hell, Kidman’s delivery of a message of support and hope for her adopted son’s choice to travel back to India to find his birth mother is an emotional knockout of what maternal love and devotion looks like.

 

Nor is the problem in Dev Patel’s textured, soulful performance as the adult Saroo. Patel’s work here is nuanced and completely absorbing, even when the film is operating at the emotional and visual equivalent of the color beige. His large eyes are deeply expressive, and his haunted look as repressed memories come flooding back is an astounding bit of minute acting for the screen. He carries the next hour entirely on his slender shoulders with grace and ease, even as Lion quickly loses momentum and sputters towards its rousing finish.

 

For a film that roared out of the gate (sorry!), Lion quickly yawns as it goes more formulaic and guarded. The tension of the first hour evaporates like steam, and it takes us nearly 50 minutes to get from Australia back to India for Saroo’s reunion with his birth mother. Lion is frustrating in how imperfect it is, but it is also a deeply felt and pleasing film. Give me ten more films like this before I have to suffer through another Hacksaw Ridge.



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Captain Fantastic

Posted : 1 year, 2 months ago on 13 February 2017 01:48 (A review of Captain Fantastic)

If I had to summarize my reaction to Captain Fantastic in one word, it would be ugh.

 

Here is a film that wants to be both an examination of a deeply involved father, some kind of satire about going off the grid, an emotional family drama, and just an all-around uncomfortable mixture of quirk and emotional honesty. There’s a few things I liked about Captain Fantastic, but not enough of them to recommend it.

 

It seems like every year another one of these quirk-fest family dramedies makes its way into the Oscar race, but this has to be the nadir of that recent trend. At least it only made it into the Best Actor race for Viggo Mortensen’s wonderfully complex and quiet work. I’m not sure how I feel about this being his second nomination in favor of better work in films like A History of Violence or A Dangerous Method, but here we are in the wild world of Oscar politicking.

 

The main problem with Captain Fantastic is that it sets up its basic premise, then proceeds to do nothing major with it. Why exactly did he and his wife decide to leave it all behind and go live off of the land? What’s the endgame for this family? Did they not think about how important learning to adept, move in, and work within the larger society is a necessary survival skill to have? Was this family just going to eventually inbreed and turn into the long-distant cousins of Deliverance? Well, don’t expect anything resembling coherent interaction with the plot to be found. But there’s a scene where the characters all burn the corpse of their mother on the beach while turning “Sweet Child O’ Mine” into a twee campfire sing-along, so there’s that going for it, I guess?

 

The other major problem with Captain Fantastic is that it introduces the concept of these kids being forced back into modern society and civilization, and how ill equipped they are to deal with it. The kids rage against their dad and his questionable choices, understandably from my vantage point, but then they turn around and exhibit undying loyalty to him. This film wants to both ways, and doesn’t want either of them at the same time. But hey, Viggo Mortensen goes full-frontal for no reason, and his performance is layered, complex, and better than this shallow, overly long movie deserves. Has broad cartoonish whimsy ever felt so oppressive?



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Nocturnal Animals

Posted : 1 year, 2 months ago on 13 February 2017 01:48 (A review of Nocturnal Animals)

Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man, was an emotionally engrossing story told with visual flourish and a series of strong, effecting performances. Something similar could be said about his follow-up, Nocturnal Animals. While his debut was a beautiful film, this one is aesthetically beautiful while surrounding a pulpy, trashy narrative. Your mileage for vary for the grotesquery and emotional evisceration on display, but I think of this as a minor trashterpiece. Maybe even a major one if I revisit in a few years.

 

There’s a few timelines going on here, two happening in reality, and the third a meta-narrative of one character’s book-within-the-film. There’s the present time, where Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is trapped in a crumbling marriage (to Armie Hammer), and deeply unsatisfied with her career and life in general. Then there are the flashbacks to Susan’s former relationship and eventual divorce from an idealist writer (Jake Gyllenhaal). Finally, there’s the novel that Gyllenhaal has written and sent to Adams. This last thread is the ugliest one, but also the most crucial to tying all of the disparate threads together.

 

His novel, from where the film derives its title, is part revenge screed against Susan for cheating on him, the divorce, and a cathartic expulsion of his emotional uncertainty and anger in the wake of those events. There’s no forgiveness to be found here, but there’s plenty of bloodletting, violence, and trauma. Susan’s eventual realization of which man truly loved her and the visceral slap in the face she receives leave the audience with no true feeling of closure. There’s just injured pride and more emotional violence committed against these characters. Of course, Susan’s choice of surface luxury in lieu of emotional substance and stability is a tragedy of her own making.

 

As Susan continues reading the proof of the novel, we see the real-life inspirations for the exaggerated tragedies and blood-soaked masculine revenge games. These links are frequently clumsy as a passive-aggressive fight between lovers can lead to an assault. Or a moment where he discovers her cheating with her future husband transforms into the mutual deaths of two characters. Tom Ford’s directorial gusto is noble for the devotion he brings towards marrying melodrama and pulp together, and his eye cannot be faulted. He’s still learning the ropes as a director, but only two films in as disparate and wild as these two and I think it’s safe to say that I’m a fan and look forward to his next project.

 

And if Ford can keep attracting talent as high as these two films, then his future projects should really be an immediate ping on your radar. Not only do we get Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal (in a double-role of sorts), Armie Hammer, but Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough (so good as an artificial member of the artistic glitterati), Jena Malone, Michael Sheen, and Isla Fisher show up for small roles. But there’s two performances that really standout here. Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a mangy, flea-bitten redneck who terrorizes the characters within the novel’s structure, and Michael Shannon as the Texas lawman who chases after him. Shannon, one of great cinematic eccentrics, gives enough manic, wild performance that’s as engrossing as it is individualistic. Look at the uber-macho way he deals with a coughing fit and his revelation of a cancer diagnosis. No wonder Shannon walked off with this film’s lone Oscar nomination.

 

There’s a lot going on in Nocturnal Animals, perhaps too much, but goddamn if I wasn’t totally sold on this weird-fest. Between the immaculate images, the gloriously oddball performances, the trifecta of timelines vying for attention, it all adds up to something singular and unique. Even when it falters (is some of this supposed be as broadly comic as it plays?), Nocturnal Animals is still a fascinating experience.



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Zootopia

Posted : 1 year, 2 months ago on 6 February 2017 09:57 (A review of Zootopia)

Disney makes a buddy-cop mystery movie that’s actually an allegory for racism and prejudice. This is not immediately evident from the opening scenes, which introduce us to Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin, adorably plucky) and her dream of becoming the first bunny on the Zootopia police force. You couldn’t be faulted for thinking that this was going to be another dip into the following your dreams/you can be anything you set your mind on balm that Disney pumps into us all. Then it suddenly shifts within the first twenty minutes into a clear story saying what we needed loudly proclaimed in 2016: that xenophobia and prejudices are harmful and must be combatted for the betterment of our society.

 

Zootopia is richest when cracking jokes and making complex issues digestible for the kiddies in its target audience, even if it occasionally does play against its own better judgement. There’s a few instances of the film making unintentional cases for stereotypes being stereotypes for reasons, and the entirety of Zootopia is broken apart into various environs. That’s right, even in this post-predator/prey binary society the types of animals don’t completely interact together with these separate communities. This last fact isn’t commented upon as such, and it does feel like a failing of the film to entirely engage with it.

 

But Zootopia is strong enough in several other areas to overcome these problems, mainly in the rapid-fire jokes and leading characters. Judy Hopps is a refreshing continuation of Disney’s recent penchant for crafting female heroines that want anything but a prince and a happily ever after. Hopps puts her entire focus into being a cop, being a damn good one too, serving her city, doing what’s right, and trying to overcome her own prejudices. That she’s partnered with a sly fox (Jason Bateman, snark personified) is a smart move, and their chemistry as characters creates numerous moments of great friction-heavy friendship. Eventually they’re revealed as kindred spirits, but they took different paths to the obstacles and traumas of their childhoods.

 

Don’t think that this is a heavily sermonizing film though, it’s refreshingly crisp and hilarious. A personal favorite humorous side character is Tommy Chong’s nudist Yax, there’s a great payoff as to why a sloth is nicknamed Flash, and an opening verbal gag about learning to settle and be complacent as the reason for happiness. Zootopia is also just gorgeous to take in, with visual gags and great details packed into every frame. Disney’s resurgence is most deeply felt in films like this, Wreck-It Ralph, The Emperor’s New Groove, and Lilo & Stitch. Zootopia comfortably sits alongside those films as a very bright spot in the studio’s recent output.



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Hacksaw Ridge

Posted : 1 year, 2 months ago on 4 February 2017 11:38 (A review of Hacksaw Ridge)

Desmond Doss’ story is unique, and deserves to be told for the bravery and emotional commitment to his deeply held beliefs. However, Mel Gibson, an actor/director who practically licks his lips and pleasures himself to mosaics of carnage, is not the right voice to bring that material to life. Hacksaw Ridge is a mess, a film that all but pins a permanent halo around Andrew Garfield’s adorable face while gleefully taking pleasure in its scenes of violence. Call it pious gore porn for the fundamentalist Christian set.

 

The same brigade of Academy voters who ushered in large nomination scores for American Sniper and Bridge of Spies, both sleepy, tedious films that conservative dad and/or uncle types love, dropped six nominations into this film’s lap. I get the sound awards, maybe even the editing, but this is one of the best-directed movies of the year? This is one of the best pictures of 2016?

 

I can’t entirely begrudge Andrew Garfield’s nomination since he has to make this thing work, and he tries his best. He never condescends to the character; in fact, he invests Doss with a sense of religious purpose and truth. Garfield’s innately sweet face brings sincerity to any character that he plays, but it feels awkward that this would be his career-first nomination. He was so tremendous in The Social Network, wonderfully doomed in Red Riding: 1974, part of a terrific trio of delicate performances in Never Let Me Go, and won a BAFTA for Boy A. It was just a matter of time before AMPAS finally bestowed him with a nomination, but it is a shame that it took him talking like Huckleberry Hound in a disingenuous piece of gore porn to finally get one.

 

The film’s failure to engage with the material in any meaningful way is present from the earliest scenes, in this case flashbacks to the abusive childhood Doss endured. These scarring childhood episodes are presented in all the creamy tones of a Norman Rockwell painting. We don’t see Doss question or engage with his father’s drunken antics, his mother’s ridiculous piety, and his family’s religious zealotry in any thoughtful way. There’s no depth, just a vague sense of our hero as a Messiah-in-training.

 

Then the film switches to the titular location, and out comes Gibson’s lascivious treatment of violence. Here’s a film extolling the virtues of a conscientious objector while furiously masturbating to images of soldiers having their brains shot out, getting blown up, set aflame. The bloodlust is strong, strong enough to make me recoil in deep discomfort as it parallels these images with Doss in Christ-like imagery and baptismal symbolism.

 

I wonder if another director would have questioned whether or not Doss’ deep religious beliefs and patriotism are compatible, and how they are instead of just paying lip service to all of it. Even worse is just how terrible some of the dialog is. It dumps its themes and ideas in all caps letters, practically bolded above the heads of the characters. At least cinematography of Simon Duggan keeps unfurling a series of beautiful images to distract you from the stupidity of what’s falling out of the characters mouths. There’s a better movie to be made out of the parts of Hacksaw Ridge, but Gibson isn’t the director to bring it to the screen. The darker and more interesting questions and implications seem out of his reach, and this leaves it slightly inept. It’s more interesting to talk about Doss and his true story then it is to talk about the film made out of his life.



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Hidden Figures

Posted : 1 year, 2 months ago on 1 February 2017 04:20 (A review of Hidden Figures)

Are we slowly seeing the burgeoning of a new sub-genre? Something along the lines of “science is fucking awesome,” with recent entries being The Martian and Arrival. But there’s also something of a corrective action at play throughout Hidden Figures as it celebrates things that have been systematically oppressed – women and minorities most obviously.

 

While Hidden Figures is a solidly made feel good experience, there is a certain sheen of falseness that pervades all of these types of films. The micro-aggressions and casual racism and misogyny these women face make them heroic in my mind for not going insane in the face of it, but the film demands a heroic white male savior to clear the way for progress. Kevin Costner’s gruff boss destroying the labelled bathrooms is engineered to make the audience cheer (which it did during the screening I watched while I rolled my eyes), and it feels like a false note in a film that has so much good will and positivity radiating from it.

 

At least Hidden Figures doesn’t break its white characters into noble types and cartoon racist like The Help, instead allowing for several of them to casually demonstrate bias behind the justification of “that’s just how things are.” This feels far more realistic, and it is these moments that make better impressions throughout, especially for the subtle shifts in characters that appear throughout. Like Octavia Spencer confronting Kirsten Dunst in a bathroom that eventually leads to Dunst having Spencer promoted to supervisor of the IBM computing machine.

 

Even better is the casualness of the obstacles they must overcome to simply do their jobs. The casualness of the sexism, white men in suits get the higher paying jobs built on the backs of the calculations of the women, and the women never get the credit. You root for them to succeed, to slowly dismantle the system, to get the credit for their hard won battles and incredibly valuable contributions. Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) is the underpaid de facto supervisor of the Colored Computers, and she makes herself invaluable (along with her girls) by learning how to program and run the IBM machine. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) sues to attend an all-white engineering program so that she can become NASA’s first black female engineer. While a bulk of the film focuses in on Katharine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), a mathematical genius who fights for her place in the effort to launch John Glenn into space.

 

The consistent obstructionism is a solid source of dramatic tension, and Hidden Figures is a tonic that we need right now. Not only does it make the argument for progressive ideals like equality and how we’re stronger together, but it places the crux of its arguments on quips like “the numbers don’t lie.” We need this film to remind us when American values are at their greatest, and hopefully some good will come of this film in an influx of young black girls going into STEM education. My day job is at an aerospace engineering and earth science research center tied to a university, and the field desperately needs more diversity. A film like Hidden Figures shows young girls that yes, it is possible, and I dream that its lasting legacy will be a noticeable uptick down the line.

 

Hidden Figures strongest asset comes in the form of its impeccable ensemble players. I mean no disrespect to Octavia Spencer’s second Oscar nomination for her work here, but why is she the lone player singled out? It feels a bit like favoritism to a former winner over other worthy players that deserved equal consideration. Janelle Monae is equally strong (maybe even stronger), and this may be Henson’s best screen work to date. Dunst, Jim Parsons, Glen Powell, and Kevin Costner are all reliably solid. Mahershala Ali, having a banner year, is slightly underserved here, but he’s so good that I would watch him do just about anything. They make the material soar high even when its writing dips into predictability or pat morality.

 

Even if I don’t think it’s a perfect movie, I can’t begrudge it any of its nominations. It’s too important, and lesser films have been nominated for more or won. I just hope that the box office dominance and high praise for this film provide something of a siren call for more diverse films. Now, if we could only do something about the white savior trope. 



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