Tuesday, January 17, 2017

HIDDEN FIGURES



A PALATABLE THEME

Film Review by Fiore 


Originally, I was going to skip HIDDEN FIGURES.  In these final days of the Obama Regime, we have been inundated with racially charged films.  LOVING, MOONLIGHT, LION, and 13th to name a few; and charging back to SELMA, the films dealing with race during the past eight years have all fit the same template; whites are evil, blacks are good.  That’s not the way it is, or was.  It was culture.  It was society.  That culture has changed drastically from over a half century ago.  It only suffered a setback during the past eight years, when, due primarily to stupidity and a pre-established agenda,  the Regime managed to destroy decades of racial equality with the most blatant form of racism exhibited by an American leader in my lifetime. 

After all these films, drumming the same primal beat, I was quite skeptical of viewing another.  It was similar to the Holocaust films.  There are always Holocaust movies released during awards season, and they, too, follow a template.  But many of the films are not well made, and receive accolades simply due to the subject matter from the progressive liberal Hollywood press.  This is the case as our first black president exists office; a plethora of racial themed films all trumpeting the same mantra.

And then, something interesting occurred.  HIDDEN FIGURES dominated the box office for two straight weeks.  That is a feat none of the others could boast.  So, with notebook in hand, I sat and watched HIDDEN FIGURES and came to understand why it could do what all the other could not.  It is a well-made, entertaining movie.

HIDDEN FIGURES is scripted, filmed and edited in a fashion Hollywood, and American audiences love; a celebration of the underdog.  Like Sly Stallone’s original ROCKY, the film’s central figures are real and empathetic.  You find yourself rooting for them, even though there is not a scheduled 15 round bout.

HIDDEN FIGURES is based on the lives of three black women who had a powerful impact on NASA and the space program.  For younger readers, NASA used to be about space exploration: to boldly go where no man has gone before.  That is until Obama changed its mission to concentrate on global warming, which he saw, and continues to see, as the greatest threat to mankind.

It’s the early 1960’s, and America is in a very tight race with Russia to explore space.  To this point, Russia is winning.  Their Sputnik program is embarrassing the U.S. and its collective scientific minds.

Working in NASA are three fresh minds, with enough savvy to make Dr. Sheldon Cooper look silly.  In fact, one of them does just that.  Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson each hold keys to beating the Russians in the space war.  There is one problem; they are black.  In 1960 Virginia, segregation is king.  HIDDEN FIGURES tells the story of how these three women battled their stigma and the existing culture to help America catch, and then surpass, the Russian space program.

Johnson is played by Tafaji Henson.  She is best known for her work in the TV series EMPIRE, and she recently performed in the finale of LIP SYNC BATTLE against her co-star, Terence Howard.  Vaughan is played by Octavia Spencer and Jackson by Janelle Monae.  All three actresses work well off each other presenting a cinematic tour deforce, despite Monae’s rebellious rendition. 

Bolstering the cast is Kevin Costner as Al Harrison, the man who realizes Johnson’s work and comes to understand the pivotal role she will play.  His concern is the program, and not the social mores of the day.  Her nemesis is Paul Stafford, played by Jim Parsons, who has a very big problem with a woman, let alone a black woman, showing him up in the lab.  Rounding out the cast are Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali and Glen Powell as John Glenn.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.   THE GOOD NIGHT KISS
2.   THE PICNIC SET UP
3.   THE BLACKBOARD

Cinematographer Mandy Walker utilizes photographic ploys to punctuate the profound cultural differences of the time. In the beginning of the movie, he shoots the black women “below their eyeline, so they would be looking up at these men all the time.  But, as the story develops, we shifted so that the eyeline becomes more similar between the women and men.  Even though the difference is quite subtle, I think it sort of works emotionally.  Sometimes you need people to feel something, rather than just see it.”  (taken from Where to Watch, Jan. issue) Augmenting the film’s look is Walker’s decision to shoot on 35mm film, rather than digital.

HIDDEN FIGURES is directed and scripted by Theodore Melfi.  He is best known for directing and producing commercials, most of which are rather provocative.  HIDDEN FIGURES is his best work to date.  His previous movie was ST. VINCENT, with Bill Murray, which was a waste of time and talent. 

If all race themed films were assembled as well as HIDDEN FIGURES, the story telling would not become like the proverbial hammer beating the dead horse.  If you are a progressive liberal, filled unnecessarily with white guilt, then you will probably see all the race themed films currently available.  If you’re normal, see HIDDEN FIGURES.  It is without question, the best of the lot, and quite entertaining.



THE GRADE FOR HIDDEN FIGURES = B

Saturday, January 14, 2017

LIVE BY NIGHT



GANGSTERS DONE RIGHT

Film Review by Fiore 


Like Westerns, gangster movies hold a revered spot in Hollywood.  From the Golden Era of Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and George Raft, through Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Ray Liotta and Robert DeNiro, organized crime captures audiences with style and brutality.  Ben Affleck’s name can now be added to that list, as he directs, stars and pens one of the better gangster films in quite some time, LIVE BY NIGHT.

LIVE BY NIGHT takes place in Boston, and as such is a sister to the mob glory days of Al Capone and the Chicago syndicate.  It’s the roaring ‘20’s, and Prohibition is the law of the land, spawning a complex network of bootleggers.  This is a time in the Northeast, before the Italians ruled the crime world, and battles are raging between various ethnic groups for control of the lucrative booze and prostitution businesses.

In Boston, the Irish are at odds with the Italians for the bootlegging empire.  Albert White, played by Robert Glenister heads the Irish mob, while Maso Pescatore, played by Remo Girone, is his Italian counterpart.  Caught in the middle of the two warring gangster bosses is Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck).  Joe is a returning war hero, who wants nothing to do with either gang, but rather opts to work small jobs on his own with no allegiance to any mob.  He does this at the chagrin of his father, played by Brendan Gleeson, who is Deputy Police Superintendent.

Joe is forced to deal with both crime lords, when he falls for White’s girlfriend, Emma, played by Sienna Miller.  Like the Man with No Name in Clint Eastwood’s A FIST FULL OF DOLLARS, Joe pits the mob bosses against one another, constantly attempting to retain his independence.  The cat and mouse game augments when Joe goes to Florida to expand the bootlegging empire.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      THE LANCASTER BANK JOB
2.      THE DISCUSSION WITH LORETTA AT THE BREAKFAST TABLE
3.      THE TUNNEL ASSAULT

Ben Affleck is currently a tour de force in Tinseltown.  He is flexing more celluloid muscle than any of his contemporaries.  It would be wise not to bet against him.  Leo DiCaprio didn’t.  He produced LIVE BY NIGHT and stands to gain by riding the crest of Affleck’s current wave.  Wearing more than one hat for a production is daunting; Affleck does three in LIVE BY NIGHT, and does each with aplomb.

LIVE BY NIGHT is probably the best ensemble cast film since SUICIDE SQUAD.  Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning, Anthony Michael Hall, Zoe Saldana, Girone, and Glenister all waltz through the film in various lengths, performing their characters admirably. 

Robert Richardson utilizes a combination of autumn colors and filters, even for scenes in Tampa, to give the film a period mien.  His shots are compelling; even simple sequences like the motor boat ride on the inlets are notable.   Couple the visuals with a captivating score by Harry Gregson-Williams (hyphenated, but still a dreaded three name soul), and LIVE BY NIGHT makes for a complete movie package.  

Gangster movies are near and dear to my heart, as their themes constitute much of my youth.  Many of the more recent flicks are very disappointing.  With LIVE BY NIGHT. Affleck has returned royal status to the genre.  This is one you don’t want to miss.  I enjoyed it, and I think you will, too.





THE GRADE FOR LIVE BY NIGHT = A

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

LOVING



WRONG MESSAGES, EDITING HURT FILM

Film Review by Fiore 


“There’s a danger when you taste brown sugar.  Louie fell in love overnight.” – the stories.

Director Jeff Nichols helms and pens an interesting tale of Richard and Mildred Loving, a married couple who filed lawsuits until the Supreme Court shot down laws banning interracial marriages.  While much of the film is dramatized for the sake of pacing and continuity, several unintentional (at least I hope they were) messages seep through the story, sabotaging the civil rights message.

The film opens with Richard and Mildred sitting on the front porch, while Mildred announces she is pregnant.  The rest of the film depicts their fight to stay together at a time when the culture did not permit interracial marriages.  This concept died in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  In fact, it reversed; people, especially young women, were encouraged to date and marry men of other races by the social engineers who sought an America with so many blended races, not one would be dominant. 
 
It was an interesting construct, until the mores of the black culture left many women as single mothers, which forced many government programs for these individuals to survival and made the woman’s re-entry to her own race for dating nearly impossible.  After the rubber band effect ended, we achieved a society where interracial marriages were not disparaged, nor reveled.  They were just marriages.  This was until the past eight years of the Obama Regime when the cultural lines between the races were torn and separated by one of the most racist leaders this country has ever seen.  This whole social merry-go-round actually began with the Lovings.

Richard is played by Joel Edgerton.  I thought he should have won the Best Actor Award for his portrayal in BLACK MASS some years ago.  He continually improves on his screen performances and is becoming as adept at acting as his brother Nash is at SFX.  This performance, however, is not as strong.  He plays Richard, along with the solid help of the make-up department, almost as a country boy Forrest Gump.  There is a difference between a man of few words and one who is ready to go full retard.  Edgerton often blurs the line.  The script implies, in more than one scene, Richard’s judgement is not going to shift him from the short bus to the regular bus.  This is one of the unintended messages; that only a boy light in the head, would consider marrying a girl from another race. 

Ruth Negga plays Mildred Jeter, who becomes Mildred Loving after an ill-advised trip to Washington D.C, to marry.  She plays Mildred as a simple, country girl, willing to let life lead her by the decisions made by her man.  Try selling that theme to today’s Disney-bred females.  She is not the take charge woman lead, controlling and enabling situations.  Rather, her only major decision in the film is to write a letter, done on a whim, to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, asking for assistance in returning to her home in Virginia.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      THE BEDROOM RAID


Nichols’ script becomes suspect when it takes an exceptionally long time for the local authorities to react to the marriage.  The script also alludes to the strong possibility that someone from the black community turned the couple in to the law, thereby suggesting the racial prejudice was also present among those persecuted.  Probably another unintended message.

From the moment Mildred writes to Kennedy, the film takes on a Hollywood mien.  Everything falls into place when two lawyers come to the aide of the Lovings.  In what has to be the film’s biggest faux pas, LOVING depicts both as Jewish attorneys more concerned with taking a case to the Supreme Court for their own personal gain and recognition, than the cause to help people.  The scripting augments stereotypes already prevalent at the time about Kennedy and Jewish lawyers.  If Nichols intended these messages, then he has far more hutzpah than his peers and colleagues.

LOVING is too long.  This seems to be a common comment in my reviews, but nonetheless is a critique that rings true.  After the letter to Kennedy, the movie moves at a break-neck pace, subtracting from all the gravitas built to that point.  Julie Monroe cuts the film like a sophomore college student writing a term paper; she starts great, but when she realizes she has more material than she needs for the paper’s length limit, she tries to jam everything in at the end.

Conversely, Chad Keith is in top form recreating the look of the 1960’s; even though one scene has a disc brake symbol on a car, you’d only find it if you were looking for it.  Cinematographer Adam Stone uses a lens fogging technique to help capture the period.  Everything in the 1960’s was a little foggy, anyway.

LOVING had potential as a dramatized slice of history.  The editing and the unintended messages hurt the film’s impact.  As such, LOVING is worth a view, but not worth the price of a theatre ticket.




THE GRADE FOR LOVING = D.