Movie Review: Hidden Figures (2016)

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Plot: The story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program.

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Focusing on the trio of female scientists Katherine Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson at Nasa in the sixties, Hidden Figures plays a vital role in educating the world about the stories of the repressed who rose to great heights while fighting unimaginable odds. The three ladies each had incredible aptitude for their work. Katherine Jackson was so accurate in her calculations her work was better than a computer. Dorothy Vaughan taught herself a computer language when computers were a foreign and scary concept. She became the first black female supervisor at Nasa. Mary Jackson fought for her right to become an engineer, and was the first black mathematician and engineer in the NACA, which would become NASA in 1958.

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Actresses Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe shine in their roles, and their fast talking, quick thinking, superbly dressed and outrageously talented selves kept me glued to the screen for the duration of the film. It is impossible to decide who gave the best performance. Octavia Spencer is one of my favorite actresses in Hollywood and seeing her as a determined genius of a woman is already a reflection of herself, it is just the career that differs in her portrayal of Dorothy Vaughan. Janelle Monáe gave me endless happiness with her attitude and her resilience to get what she wanted. Taraji P Henson delivers a demure and dedicated performance as Katherine Jackson, a woman so excellent in her profession she was more accurate than the computers so painstakingly installed by NASA. Katherine had to face inconceivable barriers in her job – not only was she black, she was a woman as well when those two categories were still fighting for rights back in the sixties. She faces uphill battles – the sexism and racism of her colleagues, finding a bathroom – this battle of hers had me the most outraged as it is an inhumanity I have never even been able to comprehend. She does this with grace and poise and so rarely loses her shit I marked her as a saint.

Kirsten Dunst is the white supervisor to Spencer’s Dorothy. Her racism isn’t deliberate or particularly spiteful;but it is so ingrained and habitual that it somehow offends more than the blatant racism Katherine faces. There is some saving for Dunst’s character, and I particularly appreciated the scene where she addresses Dorothy as “Mrs. Vaughan” – a courtesy that was long overdue.

Strong male performances by Kevin Costner as the gruff and motivated Al Harrison – a man portrayed as open eyed and realizing that science and math doesn’t have a skin color. Jim Parsons takes on the role of the close minded bigot Paul Stafford, although I got the impression that the character had bigger problems with Katherine’s gender and the fact that she was a better mathematician than he than her skin color, but even despite that Stafford was a mean and rude man who needed a kick under the ass. Mahershala Ali plays Katherine’s love interest and eventual husband Jim Johnson – he’s so charming and dignified I nearly fainted. Aldis Hidge (Levi Jackson) is a contrast to the calm Jim emits – his anger is raw and justified against the government who denies him and his family the rights so easily afforded to white people. Glen Powell as John Glenn was so incredibly charming and beautiful, and I rooted for him immediately when he chose to greet everyone at NASA, not only the white people.

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Hidden Figures is well written, warmhearted and satisfactory conclusive. Each woman gets what she needs – a promotion, extra education or the incredible right to work as part of the team who would put a man on the Moon. It might be a bit blasé in some parts – Kevin Costner hitting down the signs on the bathrooms and declaring that everyone can urinate where they want was slightly overdramatic, but the sentiment was good.

Another part of the film that I liked was the orbiting into space – it felt real somehow, the hard work, frustration and endless dedication of NASA to get men into space. It is so impressive when you think about that they didn’t have the knowledge NASA now has, they’d never done it before. They were working without computers and relied on human accuracy to attempt something that hadn’t been done before. It is impressive and inspiring.

Hidden Figures filled me with awe, respect and also a great deal of shame. I’ve never had to work as hard as these characters to be accepted in to society, I’ve never had to run to another bathroom because of my skin color, I’ve never been denied tertiary education or a promotion because of a thing I can’t do a thing to change. Systematic oppression is a real thing and I’ve often thought about it lately – society has come a long way in making sure everybody has rights, but are we still subconsciously treating people different when they don’t look exactly as we do? It’s something to consistently address until the last dregs of oppression dies away.

Hidden Figures was not only about skin color, it was about female empowerment, the power of education, the perseverance of the human spirit and about how giving up should never be an option. Excellent performances make this film an entertaining and wonderful watch, and if you haven’t done so yet, I would strongly suggest you rectify that matter.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Movie Review: The Girl on the Train (2016)

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Plot: A divorcee becomes entangled in a missing persons investigation that promises to send shock waves throughout her life.

Based on the popular debut novel by Paula Hawkins, we meet Rachel (Emily Blunt), our really annoying protagonist. She’s a spiraling alcoholic, and her days are spent obsessively observing a couple on her way to work. She sees a 3D version of someone’s Facebook profile – just the pretty things. They seem perfect, and Rachel dreams about how happy and content they must be. When Rachel sees Megan (Hayley Bennett) in the arms of another man on the balcony, Rachel cannot comprehend why she’d do such a thing. Megan and Scott (Luke Evans) seem so perfectly happy. When Megan disappears, Rachel knows she saw something on the night’s disappearance. But she’s plagued by what she saw and how she’s implicated in Megan – who shares a striking resemblance to Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife – disappearance.

Meanwhile Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) is happily married to Tom (Justin Theroux), Rachel’s ex-husband. The only blight on their happy existence is the continuous stalking by Rachel. I mean how dare she be mad and unstable after her husband cheated on her and is now married to fellow-cheatee?

Flashbacks to Megan’s life and her therapy sessions with Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) show a deeply disturbed woman dealing with some intense demons. She’s also not the lily white person Rachel dreamed about. The question remains what happened to Megan – did she make a run from her reputably abusive husband, or was she killed?

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I enjoy a good murder mystery. The Girl on The Train theoretically into that category. Is it good? The Girl on the Train is steeped in melodrama and the excellent performances by Emily Blunt and the rest of the cast help, but unfortunately this doesn’t completely save the film. I enjoyed all three main female leads.  Megan (Hayley Bennett) is the most risqué of the characters. Hayley Bennett did a great job in making an unlikeable character likeable, but more background would have been great for more sympathy. On a quick glance Anna is just a trophy wife. However, as the film continues more of Anna shows and her character become more complex, and soon she’s right there on the suspect list. The interactions the female characters have with each other is great – full of underlying tensions and suggestions.

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I enjoyed Luke Evans. It is so good to see him in things; I think he’s a great actor. There is an air of mystery around Scott – is he an emotionally manipulative person as it becomes suggested or is he simply another pawn in Megan’s life? I also really liked Edgar Ramirez, and his character is one of the only ones I had empathy with. It is the first time I’ve seen Justin Theroux in something, and to be perfectly honest I wasn’t all that impressed.

It is hard to sympathize with Rachel. She’s an alcoholic who is obsessive and out of control, and her obsession with her ex-husband and his new wife is borderline psychotic. Emily Blunt is fantastic as always – she has a knack for making you like these out of control characters. Sadly her great performance isn’t enough to stir sympathy up for Rachel. In the last dying moments of the film, which becomes increasingly dramatic, I did feel sorry for Rachel. If you’ve seen it you know what went down, but for those who haven’t yet I won’t give away the big dramatic twist. It was intense, and I was semi-impressed as I only guessed half of it right.

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I’m torn if I want to read the book – there is obviously more layers to the story than the movie could portray. There is an interesting underlining topic of how crazy maternal instincts can cause women to become – I find that really fascinating – and another whole unexplored section of marital dramas between couples. However, the book drove bestie crazy, and I’ve heard that the first person dialogue is enough to want you to make Rachel even more.

Have you seen/read The Girl on the Train? Let me know your thoughts on it!

Rating: 6/10

Movie Review: The Finest Hours (2016)

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Plot: The Coast Guard makes a daring rescue attempt off the coast of Cape Cod after a pair of oil tankers are destroyed during a blizzard in 1952

On the 18th of February 1952, Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernard “Bernie” Webber, Andrew Fitzgerald, Ervin Maske, and Richard P. Livesey saved the lives of 32 men that were stranded on the SS Pendleton. They raced against unimaginable odds and time to reach the broken ship, and their heroics to this day stands as the greatest rescue in the US Coast Guard history.

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It’s an inspirational story that is bound to get your heart pumping and leave you in awe of the four men that set out on a tiny boat in a big storm to save the lives of desperately endangered men. But Disney got their hands on it, and a Disney film will never produce the horror and adrenaline that event surely had. It was a watered down, poorly directed film that made an actor like Casey Affleck look awkward and misplaced and uncomfortable as hell. I’ve seen him now in a few things, so that might just be his personality.

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Finest Hours contains a staggering number of cheesy phrases. There were constant yelling of things like “hold on boys” and “if I can do it so can you” and “we can do this” and “great job”. It was awkward, I felt awkward and the entire thing can be summed up in that one word – AWKWARD.

The beautiful Chris Pine continues to be everywhere. His beautiful mug is showing up in a lot of places these days, and you won’t hear me complaining. I just saw Wonder Woman, which places him pretty high on my list of Chrises (that list must happen), so this was obviously never going to end up as my favorite role of his. He’s not bad, however, and he is very convincing as Bernie Webber. Shy and sweet and loyal to his work, Bernie has some baggage. Pine does everything he can to make you like Webber. When Webber meets Miriam Pentinen (Holliday Grainger), their relationship is as sweet and stereotypical of the 1950’s as you can think it to be. Miriam chooses Bernie despite her fear of water – as she says “how do you know what lies underneath?” quite often. I share this sentiment with her, which is why I’d never date a coastguard. I can’t understand why she would choose that either. But anyway.

The disbelief in this film is too much for the real life events to seem authentic. It is poorly scripted and most of the time I really didn’t know what was going on. Miriam only seemed selfish and unsupportive of her fiancé, and that irritated me quite a bit. The cheesiness of the lines is bad enough that I’m sure the actors had a difficult time saying it out loud and not visibly cringing.

Sadly, The Finest Hours is not as fine as the title might suggest. Cheesy, silly and at places downright unbelievable, Disney did not do a good job honoring Bernie Webber.

Rating: 5/10

Movie Review: Sully (2016)

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Plot:The story of Chesley Sullenberger, an American pilot who became a hero after landing his damaged plane on the Hudson River in order to save the flight’s passengers and crew.

Situations where airplanes malfunction rarely have a happy ending. It’s either disappearances or crashes and morbidity is synonymous with these events. So when Captain Chelsea “Sully” Sullenberger sent out a mayday signal on the 15th of January 2009 after birds took out both of the engines on the Airbus 320 on Flight 1549 which Captain Sullenberger was the pilot of, no one believed it possible that Sullenberger could put down the plane on the Hudson River successfully. In doing so, he saved the lives of his 154 co-passengers. The successful landing was a combined result of a lifetime of experience and a man that not only excelled at his job but was born to do it. I followed this story obsessively when it came out, and recently checked again the technical difficulty this landing required. I love stories about human courage and defeating unimaginable odds (who doesn’t?), and the event kept me glued to the screen for weeks.

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That said, I’ve burned my fingers the last few months with real life events turned into movie adaptions. It’s a seemingly difficult task for directors to tell these stories accurately and keep the inspirational levels as well as the truth intact. However, with Sully, director Clint Eastwood made a film that wasn’t only true and inspirational, it is Oscar worthy.

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Tom Hanks plays veteran pilot Chelsey Sullenberger. He does so by portraying a pilot who had the correct level of confidence in his abilities, which he combined with good sense and humility. Hanks shows you all the sides – the PTSD, the stress he and his family is shouldering, the fatigue and overpowering sense of media frenzy. Aaron Eckhart is the lighter of heart Co-pilot Jeff Skiles. His importance to the success of the landing is paramount, as he did not, as I would have, started yelling “what the fuck” at the top of his lungs.

The passengers get their moments too – a woman with her elderly mother, a mother with her infant daughter, business men and women, a father and his sons rushing to make the gates for the flight – real people with real lives all just planning a quick trip. It adds a human element, and the chanting of the passengers as they braced for landing is heartbreaking to listen to.

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I was engrossed by Sully. It is chilling and inspiring and I will definitely watch it again. Eastwood and Hanks are a power combination that should be explored further. If you need to feel inspired, watch this. It is a story about thinking on your feet, being insanely courageous and calm, and using the experience life has given you to fulfill your life’s work.

Have you seen Sully? What did you think?

Rating: 8/10

Movie Review: Bad Moms (2016)

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Plot: When three overworked and under-appreciated moms are pushed beyond their limits, they ditch their conventional responsibilities for a jolt of long overdue freedom, fun, and comedic self-indulgence.

I really expected to be either wildly irritated or exasperated by Bad Moms. I wasn’t – It was actually a surprisingly fun film and catered exactly for its target audience. Mila Kunis plays Amy, an overworked mother of two young children. If you can believe she’s supposed to be washed out, well, you can believe anything. She’s still crazy gorgeous despite her wearing adult clothes all the time. Her husband is her third child – a boy-man who does nothing to help her with raising children and is eventually caught in an online cheating scandal. This understandably leads Amy to lose her shit. She drops pretending to be the perfect mother that actually cares about the strict rules Gwendolyn, who is the perfect president of the Parents association, sets. Gwendolyn subsequently loses her patience and war erupts in the pretty suburban life of these women. Amy decides to run for president at school and she teams up with Kathryn Hahn’s Carla, and Kristen Bell’s Kiki, and eventually ends up winning (if you don’t expect this you are a dumb-dumb) and shows the mothers their children are supposed to be kids and be fun and have a good time.

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I didn’t expect this amount of heart in this silly little film. There is warmth and humor and some prodding reminders that children are supposed to be young and play outside, not to be rushed from exams to sports to cultural activities. Hahn has some funny moments, though she really is typecast at the moment. It is always good seeing Kristen Bell in anything – she’s so adorably weird and this film doesn’t try to change that – Kiki is weird as hell.

I can’t really comment on more in this film – it is just a for fun film, there is a pretty hot guy, some pretty hot moms and just a film to relax with. This really isn’t for all you I-only-watch-serious-movies people, so if you don’t want a silly comedy, just don’t watch it J

Rating: 6/10

Movie Review: Jackie (2016)

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Plot: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.

Focusing on the aftermath of one of the most defining moments in American history, Jackie, as I’m sure you know by now, focuses on what Jacqueline Kennedy had to face following her husband’s assassination. It is expertly and cautiously approached. There are careful hints at the infidelity of JKF, though accusations are never outright thrown. The focus is on Jackie, and the horror she experienced witnessing a bullet travel through her husband’s skull while she was right next to him. It is shown that even while their marriage probably had a few cracks, she was as drawn to the man as the rest of the world and certainly depended on him. The film is shot in an eery way, making her fragile state of mind a visible shot.

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Natalie Portman shows her impressive acting abilities to the fullest of their extent. Jackie is vulnerable yet in control, she’s learnt to master her emotions in the public eye. Her outbursts are private and only with close confidantes. Her beautiful friendship with Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) is shown and how Nancy was one of the few people Jackie Kennedy could trust and rely on. There is also a really close bond with Robert F. Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), who is forced to take control of the situation while grieving his brother.

Yet for all the excellence in directing and acting I had no lasting emotional attachment to the film. It did make me think of more than the assassinated president – it is impossible not to sympathize with Jacqueline Kennedy’s plight. The horror she had to go through – the immediate and the prolonged effects of being ripped from your life. Sudden death will always be a complete shock to the system, and facing the grief for a lost one on such a public stage is beyond our “normal” people’s comprehension. It is difficult to remain interested in a film where the main event has already passed. The assassination is briefly shown on screen but the aftermath is the sole focus. It is admirable, it is excellently portrayed, but it is never thrilling and there is no climax. I was impressed, but not moved. It is worth a watch if only for Portman’s admirable portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy, but personally I won’t be rushing to get another view in of this film.

Have you seen it? What did you think?

Rating: 7/10

Movie Review: Underwold Bloodwars (2016)

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Plot:Vampire death dealer, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) fights to end the eternal war between the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction that betrayed her.

Although my fondness for the franchise has not dimmed in the least, the last two Underworld films have been really bad compared to the previous three. It feels like they story has veered far off from what the original was about. Bloodwars does not mention what happened in Awakening. Apparently the human race conveniently forgot that vampires and lycans exist and just happily ceased the war that they subsequently raged on them. Seline’s daughter was spirited away by executive producers for no other reason. There are some strange new vampires that have been to the other side. Seline soon joins them and gains delightful highlights. It seems like the writers are desperately trying to replace Scott Speedman with Theo James. I’ve said it in my review of Awakening too, so please note that Theo James, for all his deliciousness, isn’t the character we want to end up with Seline. There is no one for her but Michael, and whatever issues the directors have with Scott Speedman better be resolved before the next film because no one believes the easy copout they sicced on us. I enjoy his inclusion as David, but really, give me my Michael back. Tobias Menzies as Marcus was okay. He provided the necessary antagonist, but was he really convincing? The character isn’t developed or explored. He has a terrible backstory, similar to Michael and Lucian, but he isn’t properly introduced and felt like an empty antagonist by the end of it.

Underworld Bloodwars is the sloppiest of the franchise, with bad writing and heartless performances. It certainly isn’t my favorite of the bunch, and I do hope that when the sixth film gets the light they will have a story to tell again.

Rating: 5.5/10

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Favorite Movie Quote: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

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I recently had the pleasure of watching Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for the third (?) time. It is such a fun adaption of the original work. I really do hope to get to the PPZ book soon as I am currently finishing up the original Pride and Prejudice.

As for today’s quote: The famed letter that Mr. Darcy writes to Elizabeth were he explains himself is beautiful across all the adaptions.The entirety of this letter is explanatory and heart breaking, but I am particularly fond of this paragraph:

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Of all weapons in the world, I now know love to be the most dangerous. For I have suffered a mortal wound. When did I fall so deeply under your spell, Miss Bennet? I cannot fix the hour or the spot or the look or the words which lay the foundation. I was in the middle before I knew I began. But a proud fool I was. I have faced the harsh truth: that I can never hope to win your love in this life. – Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Here’s my review if you haven’t seen it yet!

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Movie Review: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

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Plot: A wealthy art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a symbolic revenge tale.

Nocturnal Animals is self-indulgent, narcissistic bullshit. It is also incredibly dull. I’m surprised it got such a good feedback – I watched it specifically because of said good feedback. Instead I watched some weird shit for two hours without a proper ending. For a film written and directed by a fashion designer the main character spent the majority of the film with lipstick that didn’t suit her features. It is a small thing, but it made me hate this film even more.

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The acting is the best part of Nocturnal Animals but it isn’t enough to save the film. Jake Gyllenhaal is persistent in his mission for me to like him, and so far he is winning. I’ve inexplicably never liked him much. Maybe because until recently I only saw him in Donny Darko, which is the strangest film I’ve ever watched and that is saying something. Southpaw impressed me despite such deliberate emotional punches, and I’ve since been getting more exposure to this man. I liked him here too – he had a character that underwent great development and he handled the phasing well.

The story makes a valiant attempt at being mysterious and fails admirably. It tries to be artistic and visually stimulating. Its opening sequence is a desperate visualization of the attempts to make this film more than it is – a self-indulgent expedition of Tom Ford. Ford can be glad his fashion designs aren’t this desperate to be liked or he’d have failed as a designer a long time ago.

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Nocturnal Animals has a litany of celebrities taking part and they have no idea what to do about it. Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Jake Gyllenhaal and Aaron Taylor-Johnson have the most screen time, and they do their best to make their characters work. Taylor-Johnson proves that he is more than just a pretty face. He’s a creepy mcCreeps in here, and I was so freaked out by his strange and awful character and felt dirty every time he was on screen. Amy Adams had the hardest work set out for her – to make the selfish Susan worthy of our empathy. It is hard to sympathize with a woman whose unhappiness stems from every decision she ever made. She had a good, kind man who she left because he wasn’t successful. She’s led a life she swore she wouldn’t, choosing a rich man who sleeps around over a poor man who loved her. Her treasonous acts reach unparalleled heights for which we judge her harshly (well, I did anyway), so sympathizing with her was really hard.

Michael Shannon is such a serious looking bloke, and thus all these serious bloke roles suit him well. He’s this strange cop in the story, with his own little built in mission, and I enjoyed him immensely.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I marginally liked the story more when I realized what was going on. I’ll say this – it is stories within a story. The within story was better than the actual story. It was a meaty revenge piece. It disappointed, but it remained better than the obvious story. I’ll stop using the word “story” now, because it is starting to irritate me.

The cast that gets a few seconds on screen – Isla Fisher, Michael Sheen, Pam from True Blood, Jenna Malone – so much to work with and yet so little attention paid to them. I love Michael Sheen now, my Underworld exposure made me team-Sheen, and I was happy to see him only to be disappointed a few scenes later.

Nocturnal Animals is way too long. I just wanted to get to the end, and then the end sucked so much I felt even more aggressive. It’s an open ending, and we all know how I much love that. Sure, I’ll think a bit about what I watched but dammit, give me a proper ending or watch me rage.

I consider this movie a terrible waste of time and am still upset that I will never get these hours back. The only good thing I got from this was writing this review, it was my catharsis to this terrible piece of shit.

Rating: 4.5/10

Movie Review: Arrival (2016)

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Plot: When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.

Since I haven’t read one bad review about Arrival and about ten million people asked me whether I’d seen it, I was really rather excited to get to this. I also loved Sicario, which at that stage had been my exposure to director Dennis Villeneuve’s work.

Arrival is one of the most unique and well thought out films I’ve watch in ages. It is some of the best work I’ve seen from 2016, and would certainly have altered my Top Ten list of 2016. Villeneuve has a talent to direct the dark and dreary. His signature style is tense and the subsequent underlying tension makes him a formidable force to watch in the future. He knows how to get the most intense emotions from his films’ stars, most evident in the way Amy Adams, Jermey Renner and Forrest Whitaker portray their part of Arrival.

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I guess I see now why people were so riled up when Amy Adams was not nominated for best actress. She was fantastic as Louise, a linguist who is tasked to extraterrestrial beings when they mysteriously appear in random locations across the globe. The lingual exploration was fascinating, which explored the dissection of communication and language. It made me realize that we take language for granted and how it forms and changes us. Talking is so natural, we rarely pause to consider how remarkable it is that we are talking.

I am also appreciative that Villeneuve once again provided a film with such a strong female lead. He obviously has an appreciation for strong female characters – can we have more of him please?!

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I always feel like a complete noob when talking about CGI. Visual design is one of the areas where I truly have no experience in (or a desire to get experience in). My adventures into more serious films have shown me however how much tone and proper CGI can affect a film. Arrival has incredible CGI. The Aliens are formed in a way that is slightly revolting and highly fascinating, light years away from our perception of beady eyed human forms. There is a particular scene with Adams that was mesmerizing – I get goosebumps just thinking about it. The directing also is sad and heavy and dark, and impresses the sadness which Adams’ character carries with her.

The eventual conclusion to this two hour masterpiece will stay with you – I am still wondering about the implications of it all. The focus, despite the entire plot, is not truly on the Aliens. It is more about how would we even talk to Aliens should they arrive on the planet.

Rating: A well-deserved 9/10