REVIEW: “HIDDEN FIGURES” (2016) 20th Century Fox

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Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), are more intelligent as children than most. But sadly, they have the wrong skin color for America of the 1960s, so educational opportunities aren’t as readily available to them as to most. And luckily for all of us, they don’t let it stop them.

“HIDDEN FIGURES” – written & directed by Theodore Melfi, is based on the true events of these three women’s accomplishments of beating the odds in a time when those odds were almost insurmountable. Although all three are working at NASA, they are widely under-ultilized, stuck in a mundane employee-temp circle with other African-American women. It is only when the ‘space-race’ heats up and NASA is concerned with the fact that Russia might beat us to manned space travel that they even get considered and their abilities are brought to light. But it is still a long journey to get from the temp pool to the point of where now-famed astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) had her double-check the numbers against a ‘new’ computer machine before his now-legendary orbit around the earth.
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The film does do well in summarizing the story and making the period of the early 60’s space-race look exciting. Melfi succeeds in revealing the perspective of the people who made it possible for a human being to be brought into an orbit were chiefly physicists and, above all, mathematicians. Making it truly special is the fact that three of these essential figures were not only women, but African-American women. In a time where different races were still strictly separated in everything from the bathrooms, to yes, even the coffee pot and how they had to fight not only to assert themselves into the circles of white, male-dominated NASA, but also with the colour of their skin.
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In addition, we have a decent supporting cast with Kirsten Dunst as Vivian Mitchell, head of the white secretarial pool and chief scientist, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), who while blind to all the bias at first, gradually begins to notice Johnson’s intelligence and how she is being treated by her white, male co-workers and steps up to the plate. Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Olek Krupa just to name a few, are great additions to the supporting cast.
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Performances are all above par here and not being Costner’s biggest fan, he comes off very well here in one of what is surely one of his more likeable performances. Hands down winner for me though is Octavia Spencer, who not only steals the show, along with hopefully not only a nomination, but a win from this performance.

Finally, do I think some liberties might have been taken here with the story-line or some of the characters, most likely, and it’s in these spots that the film lags, but it is also very simple to just look up history and see this is accurate in the frame of what these women did at/for NASA and what they went on to do in leading the way for so many to follow is even more impressive.

HIDDEN FIGURES is emotionally stirring cinema and should leave a lasting impression on viewers.

Grade: B
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Media Review Screening: Monday, November 21, 2016 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
In Limited Release: Sunday, December 25, 2016
NATIONWIDE RELEASE: Friday, January 6, 2017

REVIEW: “NOCTURNAL ANIMALS” (2016) Post: Q & A ~ Tom Ford

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If you’re looking for a sequel of sorts to  A SINGLE MAN, it won’t be found anywhere in “NOCTURNAL ANIMALS”. Tom Ford’s take on this tale of redemption, revenge, love and cruelty, terrified me at times, but in all the right ways.
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NOCTURNAL AMINALS is a dark, yet stylish thriller directed by a man who knows a thing or two about style – having previously worked as creative director for both Gucci and YSL and now of course, his own design firm, Tom Ford. So to say his delving into film could have been less than stellar or have gone in all the wrong directions, wouldn’t be absurd. He could have gone style over substance, thankfully, here we get both and Ford’s perfectionism makes this one of the most powerful films I’ve seen all year.

This is really a story within a story with the perspective coming from Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), an art gallery owner who spends most of her life at home alone, with her often out-of-town husband Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer), pursuing his ‘business’. Randomly, (so we think) Susan gets a manuscript for a novel written by her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom she hasn’t heard from in over 15 years and as curiosity gets the best of her, she starts reading it. Almost immediately she finds herself completely absorbed with the story, so much so, we see it as she herself ‘see’s’ it to have happened. As she continues to read, she has flashbacks to how her own relationship & marriage with Edward broke down as well as perceived thoughts that the way she is ‘seeing’ this violent thriller could maybe some type of veiled threat against her from Edward. nocturnal-animals-3

Edward’s novel provides the film with its dark soul, the story of Tony Hastings (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) & daughter India (Elle Bamber), who run into trouble when traveling through some back country Texas roads late at night, you know the type they make movies about how not to ever drive down. It’s pretty heavy stuff to watch it all, and I couldn’t help but clench the seat while watching it all unfold, but it all plays out as essential in making this such powerful watch.
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The rest of the cast features the always scene-stealing, can-we-just-give-him-an-Oscar-already Michael Shannon, as Bobby Andes, a career best performance from Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is truly vile, creepy and just plain terrifying as the Ray Marcus, and Laura Linney’s appearance as Susan’s mother, Anne Sutton, who even in the short space of time we see her, makes an impact.

Gyllenhaal is good here doing dual roles though playing Hastings is seemingly the much harder performance, I just feel like he’s trying these same type of thriller roles out one after another to see which one hits hardest. Amy Adams is quite brilliant and it’s this role that should garner her another Oscar nomination at the least. It seems some don’t like Aaron Taylor Johnson’s performance, probably because if anyone knows how to bring the ‘pretty’ to a film, it’s Tom Ford and Johnson along with Hammer and a few others are the ‘pretty’ to be sure. But he also knows how to bring a performance, and for me, I like it when I get surprised by one and Johnson’s did that for me.

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This is one damned good film and I’m thinking it’s going to garner itself a few award nominations.

Grade: A
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Screening courtesy of Hammer Museum ~ The Contender Series
NOW SCREENING NATIONWIDE

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Post Q & A with Tom Ford
First off, I can’t say enough on how congenial this man is. He has been quite brilliant as not only a designer, but so far, as a filmmaker also, and yet is more than pleased to answer any and all questions posed and makes you feel as though your friends after only a few minutes conversation.

Mr. Ford acknowledged the fact that he’s been so very lucky in being able to make his films his way so far. After being in the same industry for so long (30 yrs. in design) he says it’s been nothing but a blast for him to be able to do this and he loves it for being so different.
He also notes it’s been great getting the cast he wanted as he really had to find two people who could span a 20 year time frame, and in doing so, both look it and be able to act it out. He felt Amy Adams just resonates so much expression on screen with just looks as she doesn’t speak as she reads the novel, but expresses it.
He noted that while they took some liberties with the film over the actual novel by Austin Wright, it would have been almost impossible to have filmed it exactly as written so deep a story it is. My favourite statement of his was that he wants you to remember this film..not just one day after you see..not just a few weeks later..but still be thinking about a year later and remember how it made you think and feel.
I think he will get his wish on that one. 🙂

REVIEW: “OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY” (2016) Paramount

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“OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY” delivers exactly what we all need right now.. some much needed laughs. With 2016 so far being the probably one of the worst years in the history of well..ever..this film is just what the ‘Office’ ordered.
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This over-the-top fun ensemble comedy about what happens when a company holiday party goes way, way, way out of control and things start flying out of windows and reindeers are drinking from toilets.

Basic storyline: uptight sister/CEO Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston) threatens to shut down the Chicago office of father’s company, Zenotek, mostly because of the antics of her hard partying brother, Clay Vanstone (T. J. Miller) and cancel the office Christmas party. Branch manager Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) plans an epic bash against her wishes to win over a big client Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) to prevent the axe from falling on all the employees. OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY
But of course, the party quickly gets way out of hand, leaving the office in mess of chaos and destruction. Oddly enough, there is a relatable plot in this movie also, and a somewhat decent one at that. Yes, Bateman is Batemen and Anniston is Anniston, but truly, we aren’t looking for Oscar’s here – we are looking for a laugh and we do find those. With the top-notch supporting cast which includes Kate McKinnon as the hysterical HR manager Mary, Olivia Munn as tech/coding expert Tracey Hughes, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Fortune Feimster and so many more. It’s truly a full ensemble comedy in the truest sense of the word.
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It leaves out the super crass and vulgar, which is nice, though it does have a few ‘huh’ scenes, it definitely doesn’t go down the worst of roads in that extreme. Teens will likely want to see this movie and I recommend it as a PG-13. It also has a momentary sweet homage to Prince and David Bowie that gets a round of cheers from me and most of the screening I was in.

Can you disect this movie piece by piece and find all it’s flaws..sure you can..but why? Just go have fun with it and laugh at the ever-devolving scenario of a party gone nuts.

Grade: C+
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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, December 6, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Nationwide Release: Friday, December 9, 2016

REVIEW: “JACKIE” (2016) Fox Searchlight

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Jacqueline Bouvier. Jackie Kennedy. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie O. Jackie. There are many ways to refer to this iconic woman – and many ways to remember her. That breathy voice. That educated and sophisticated demeanor. Her sense of style… including that pink suit stained with the blood of her husband. Holding her own as she watched the Vice President Lyndon B. Johnon (John Carroll Lynch) be sworn in merely hours after the President’s assasination.

“JACKIE” is about all of this. Though the film fills the span of only short perod in time – the day of and the few days following then President John F. Kennedy’s (Caspar Phillipson) assasination in Dallas, TX on November 22, 1963. The story is told in the narrative of Jacqueline Kennedy herself (Natalie Portman) to “Life” Magazine writer Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup), who arrives at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts to interview her just one week after the assassination. Mrs. Kennedy is concerned that her husband may be forgotten – or misunderstood by history. White is deferential, firm but professional. He finds a woman who is clearly still grieving her horrible loss, but who is also very much in control of herself – and very much in control of what she wants regarding her husband’s legacy – even to the point of making sure she edits White’s notes during the interview.
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While returning periodically to the scenes of the interview, most of Jackie’s story is told in flashback scenes of her as First Lady – especially on that fateful day in November of 1963 – and the four days that followed. With a lot of the story being told in this fashion, the film is trying to paint us a picture of who Jackie really was while First Lady. We get the famous televised tour of the White House that she did, the first ever of it’s kind. And while some parts of this come off as sometimes portraying her as a caricature at times, it’s also giving us a glimpse into something never seen before by the American public at the time.
We get insight into her strengths and weakness in the days following. How she interacts and stands up for what she wants for the funeral to Special Assistant Jack Valenti (Max Casella) but yet, sleeping pills, chain smoking and alcohol are also playing a big role in her coping mechanisms.
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“Jackie” is fascinating and compelling. The script and direction shed a lot of light on what happened (and might have happened) during the private moments of this very public national nightmare, while painting a very personal portrait of Jackie Kennedy. At times the editing and the chronology of events, while not very difficult to follow, simply jump around too much. Portman is really good here and it was great to see Crudup back in a strong supporting, even if he looks completely different and Greta Gerwig as Jackie’s long time assistant, Nancy Tuckerman and Peter Sarsgaard does well as Robert Kennedy even though he looks really nothing like the real RFK, which also was quite noticable with other actors also.
The films score also ‘scored’ with me as it seemly was a life of Camelot to all of those looking in from the outside.

All in all, this film moved me. I rarely get emotional or cry during a film, yet the tragedy of it all got to me more than once. This film might have it’s misses, but all in all, it’s very special and should be seen.

Grade: B+
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Media Review Screening: Friday, November 18, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
NOW PLAYING IN THEATRES NATIONWIDE

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot,
For one brief, shining moment
That was known as Camelot.

REVIEW: “ALLIED” (2016) Paramount Pictures

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With Brad Pitt’s big return to the screen since his personal life news overtook his career for a bit there, we have him here in “ALLIED” as Max Vatan, a 1940’s wartime intelligence office who finds himself in a predicament with his fellow French Resistance (or is she?) spy and soon-to-be wife, Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard). A predicament I might add that can be figured out in the first 15 minutes of the film as Marianne makes a quote that let’s you know really where the film will end up going if you’re paying attention. And it’s exactly where it goes.

With uneven pacing and script, the film benefits from beautiful cinematography. The weakness in the lack of ability to successfully leave a lasting emotional impact on the audience, is in the writing and executive producership of it all. As we see Max and Marianne do a 30-sec assasination-shoot em’ up scene reminiscent of ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’, and they fall in ‘love’ in about half that time, makes it all a bit unbelievable and undercuts the storyline.
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For films that are not as much about the spectacle as they are the drama between characters and the challenge faced therein, it is important for personal/interpersonal relationships go beyond the screen to directly impact the audience. All the makings were here for a deeply moving cinematic story, but it just doesn’t quite make that transition from the mostly superficial and distant. The ending, which tried to be sentimental is done completely in an overly-compensated, dramatic fashion that comes off very falsly.

Supporting work comes via Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan, August Diehl, Marion Bailey, Simon McBurney, and Matthew Goode. With no stand-out performances, and my screening being on a 50/50 basis of who liked it and who didn’t, I think it will do a couple of good weeks and the box office, but the competition along with a slate of excellent films coming out, might drag this one down after that.

Grade: C-
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Media Review Screening: Thursday, November 17, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
NOW PLAYING IN THEATRES NATIONWIDE