Review: Hidden Figures

I have been so slack with seeing movies this summer. So many things that I wanted to see were gone from the cinema before I got a chance to see them, though I wanted to see Jackie and it didn’t even play near me. But last night I got to see Hidden Figures. I went with Jennifer and Mum, to watch a film about women for International Women’s Day. 🙂

Basically, the film is based (extremely loosely) on a true story and details three genius women working at NASA in the early days, with the Civil Rights Movement and anti-Russian space race paranoia as a backdrop. They come up against endless barriers and obstacles because of their sex and colour, but all three prevailed and went on to become celebrated pioneers and heroes in their field. They are Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson).

The script was not great. The dialogue was often clichéd, or just failed to hit the right notes at what could have been really meaningful moments. There was one moment early in the film where they give a visualization of Katherine’s mathematical prowess, as she sees the geometric tiles from a mosaic rise off the surface. But after that, apart from a lot of impressive chalkboard equations, it didn’t really touch again in any creative way on how uniquely gifted her mind was. Some of the music was great – I loved the era-appropriate songs and the gospel-tinged score, but I felt like the modern music that was inserted here and there was a bit jarring and took away from the period setting – whenever it happened, suddenly it felt a lot more like modern day actresses playing with costumes rather than a true account of a time and place.

Now, the performances. Let me start with the positives! Octavia Spencer was amazing, as she always is. There is a scene where she personally delivers her work to Kirsten Dunst’s character’s office, only to be stared at with disdain by all the white female staff and treated like a delivery girl. With just her amazingly expressive face, she conveyed so much about the frustration, disappointment, indignity and injustice of the situation, while maintaining a professional facade. It was an amazing moment later in the film when those same women who looked down on her are shepherded into the new computer department that she manages, to be taught by her – I was just about bursting with pride and happiness for her at this part.

In the opening scene, I got bad vibes from Janelle Monáe. I only know her as a musician, so I wasn’t expecting much, and honestly just expected her to be playing herself. But she got better and better as the movie went on. She was playful and feisty, and aside from her performance, she rocked all the vintage styled clothes. I loved how spirited she was and how she wouldn’t take no for an answer – gumption is the word I’m looking for. I’d love to see her in more movies in the future.

Now the bad part. I could not warm to Taraji P. Henson, at all. The biggest reason sounds ridiculous, but it’s totally legitimate – her eyebrows did not move, not even once. They are utterly frozen, inches above her eyes, in this weirdly angular Joan Crawford approximation. It was so distracting, but apart from that, it took so much emotion away from her face during what should have been crucial moments. Actresses of the world – please do not get Botox. Your face is your craft – please show us how angry or sad or calm or happy you are, don’t just tell us with a frozen face. The other part that got on my nerves about her performance was how she changed her voice and her whole demeanour whenever her boyfriend-then-husband was around. It was literally this sugary, simpering, dumb, baby porno voice. It just didn’t gel at all with the fact that she was meant to be such a genius as well as an incredibly strong woman.

She kind of wrecked the movie for me. I could intellectually relate to the horrible discrimination that she faced and feel bad about it, but I couldn’t empathize with her as much as the other two characters because she just didn’t seem to inhabit her character and feel their emotions like Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe did. There have been studies that show that Botox reduces the ability of users to empathize with others, and maybe an additional part of that is that people are less likely to empathize with them.

The movie was pretty standard in being a feel-good, inspirational type story, even if it’s claim to be ‘a true story’ was tenuous at best… which is sad, because the real life stories of these three women are insanely interesting, but they just don’t come together as such a conveniently neat narrative as this film required. A lot of the racial and gender issues that the characters faced could have been ripped from today’s headlines in America, which was a powerful comment on how there has been progress, but there is still a hell of a fight ahead for everybody. Parts of the movie were great, but other parts of it were just a bit ham-fisted and under developed. Octavia Spencer deserved every bit of her Oscar nomination, but I am puzzled about why this was up for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay – it was good but not great, and certainly not amazing.

The Theory of Everything

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Last week, we went to the movies on a school night, on a whim. Best part of not having kids is that we can just drop everything and decide at 8:00pm that we fancy catching a 9:30pm session! We do this quite a bit actually. Anyway, we saw The Theory of Everything. I really enjoyed it. It didn’t try too hard to be a tear-jerker or inspiration porn (check out Stella Young’s TED talk if you haven’t heard of this term), nor was it one-dimensional saccharine fluff. It worked hard to convey the complexities of marriage, disability, and independence/dependence. The film did not delve too deeply into the academic side of things, which is to be expected of something adapted from a biography written by Stephen Hawking’s ex-wife, instead of by him. And although it was sad to see somebody having their youth and vitality waste away until they could barely move, the film ultimately focused more on the fact that despite his illness, he has still managed to live an extraordinary life. In fact, Stephen Hawking himself mentioned in an interview that he was very lucky that he was working in a field where having motor neuron disease was not such a great impediment.

The biggest revelation of the night was Eddie Redmayne’s performance. Before seeing the film, Nathan was dead certain that Michael Keaton should have won the Oscar for his performance in Birdman. But having seen The Theory of Everything now, we both agreed that it was a masterful performance. It was a bit confronting for me, as my grandfather died of motor neuron disease, but it was somehow more startling to see it unfolding for someone so young. Aside from the way he inhabited his character, his physicality was amazing – when he was dragging himself up and down stairs in the early stages of his decline, you truly believed that it was taking every ounce of energy that he had.

However, the highlight of the night came from a woman who was seated a couple of rows behind me in the cinema. During a scene where Stephen Hawking’s belongings were being packed into a box, the woman gasped and loudly exclaimed, “Oh no! He didn’t die, did he?”

movie review – gone girl

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Last night, I went to a preview for Gone Girl with some friends and family. I went in with no expectations – I hadn’t read the book or any reviews, all I had to go on was a trailer. From that, I assumed it would be something along the lines of What Lies Beneath, but it ended up more like Arlington Road. The premise is simple: Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, whose wife Amy goes missing, he becomes a suspect in her disappearance and is subject to ‘trial by media’. What happens after that is absolutely thrilling.

Normally with movies, I can see which direction it is heading in. It’s a bad habit, but I will often blurt things out like “I bet he’s going to have an affair with the friend and then she gets pregnant and then the neighbour will find out and kill the friend” (hypothetical – not what happens in Gone Girl, FYI) – then Nathan googles it, and often I’m right. But I couldn’t figure this movie out, at any step along the way. I suppose it didn’t help that the first half the movie was told from two completely unreliable points of view, but I could never pick what was going to happen next. The psychology of Nick and Amy’s marriage was really deeply layered and interesting to watch. Some of the sex scenes were a bit hot though – I was sitting next to Mum and it was hilarious watching her squirm in her seat and quietly mutter things like “oh for god’s sake!” when it all got a bit explicit.

One of the best things about the movie is that I’m still hashing out the details in my head, trying to figure out whether there are any holes, or what certain things actually mean. I still haven’t wrapped my mind around the ending, not completely. I also ordered the book as soon as I got home, so if that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is. Another great aspect of the movie was the fact that I have the biggest girl crush of all time on Rosamund Pike. She is seriously just the most beautiful woman in the world, and her skin and eyebrows are perfection (also, watch her in Pride and Prejudice and tell me that she is not the personification of all that is lovely and sweet in the world). However, she is magnetic for entirely different reasons in Gone Girl.

I’m only now realizing how hard it is to write a review without spoiling the whole thing. This isn’t really a compelling review at all, but all I can say without giving the game away, is that you should go see it – it’s really, really good!