Hidden Figures (2016)

hf-gallery-02-gallery-image

The remarkable untold story of three African-American women who engineered America’s triumph in the space race, and ultimately women’s rights. Crashing through the $100 million barrier at the Box Office on opening weekend, and earning itself a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards, Hidden Figures has gained wonderful momentum worldwide. The world was captivated by the Friendship 7 mission, the first US attempt to match the Russians, and in the heat of the space race Glenn became a national hero. But behind the scenes the immense contribution was much less known.

Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, has an impeccable eye for solving incomprehensible equations, evident from her first scholarship – in which she surpasses her classmates (and teacher) by lightyears. Many years later, working alongside Mary Jackson, Janelle Monae, and Dorothy Vaughn, Octavia Spencer, in the segregated West Computing Group for NASA, Katherine becomes a human computer calculating advanced math for the space program. But despite the intensity and significance of their work, the women are relegated to separate bathrooms, lunch rooms and work facilities. After being bumped up to NASA’s Headquarters to check space-flight calculation trajectories, what unfolds for Katherine is a battle against white supremacy for recognition, respect and fundamental equality.

Octavia Spencer, who received an Oscar nomination Best Supporting Actress, plants her feet into a stubborn, assuring and mesmerising role as computation expert. The contrast between Spencer and her white supervisor, Kirsten Dunst, promotes the invaluable truth of the Civil Rights Movement – the oblivious racism, embedded into the unconsciousness of simple Americans. Yet here, Hidden Figures takes one enormous aspect of history and displays it beautifully, never once stopping to shove it into your face. Janelle Monae does an incredible job in driving the simplicity of emotion, conveying the underdog protagonist who is met with challenges but wins them over trope. But Hidden Figures manages to apply this formula spectacularly to tell an inspiring story. And of course, the phenomenal Taraji Henson shines among her tea-fed white male colleagues – drawing out the beautiful message of the film to inspire and encourage the world.

Every time we get a chance to get ahead they move the finish line, every time.

The wonderful women who carry Hidden Figures, display brilliance and authenticity to the very moment the credits roll down the screen. After walking out of the bustling (and in my case packed) movie theatre, your mind will soak in inspiration, fulfilment and encouragement remembering the film as being entirely wonderful. Let this film remind you that despite any hurdles, we can still cross the finish line. Breath-taking stories don’t stay hidden for long. This heart-winning film is one that cannot be missed.

★★★★★

Imdb – 7.9/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 92%

A United Kingdom (2016)

a-united-kingdom-xlarge_transrwyeuu_h0zbkyvljoo6zlpphkrvugymkltqq96r_vp8

The captivating true-life romance that drew an English office clerk and the future King of Botswana into a future of rippling prosperity and incredible global influence. In a world of common interracial relationships, British filmmaker Amma Asante illustrates the remarkable history of two individuals who forged a difficult path to acceptance, love and unshaken equality for all.

A United Kingdom evolves from the very moment a simple insurance clerk, played by Rosamund Pike, and a nice African chap, David Oyelowo (who also happens to be the heir of the throne to Bechuanaland) meet at a London Missionary Society Dance. Following a secret year-long courtship, the couple marry in 1948, triggering an immediate and highly severe diplomatic fallout between Bechuanaland, London and South Africa. What unfolds is a long and treacherous battle for equality, for peace and for justice in a place where white women are buffeted and prodded.

One day things have to change and it has to start somewhere.

The film’s appeal undoubtedly lies in watching Ruth and Seretse together, while every force around them conspires to tear them apart. Pike and Oyelowo’s chemistry is truly sincere, elegant and awe-inspiring, remaining composed and full of strength in pressure that would destroy anything but wholehearted love and commitment. Oyelowo also brings to his role a stillness and poise reflective of Martin Luther King, in which his reticence and influence blossoms. This deep romance and commitment, painted on a backdrop of horror and destruction, draws out the very best in humanity’s ability to conquer all.

I think that A United Kingdom’s greatest strength in fact lies in its ability to showcase that love can conquer all, even in times of incredible heartache. Without the persistence to create change in a seemingly imperfect world, nothing worthwhile would ever come about.

I want to make pieces of entertainment and art that mean something,” director Amma Asante recently told the BBC, “I want to make movies that leave some kind of mark on you.” But A United Kingdom does more than just simply leave a mark, with its nicely paced and intelligent depiction of a story almost too good to be true. A chapter of heartstring jerking history that deserves a close reading.

★★★★★

Imdb – 6.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 89%

Spotlight (2015)

spotlight

I haven’t posted in yonks, so what better way to come back than with my favourite flick of last year and the much beloved Academy Award Best Picture Winner, Spotlight. As controversial as the Catholic Church paedophilia phenomenon may be, I’m sure we can all agree regardless of our personal stance that this film is just … brilliant. But you need to step outside of your happy bubble to embrace the harsh reality happening just outside your doorstep.

Actor-turned-filmmaker Tom McCarthy has always been a low-key defender of the outsider. His early films marked him out as a craftsman of mature and thoughtful dramas, so when this phenomenon took over the media world, McCarthy was at the very least inspired. Alongside co-writer Josh Singer, Spotlight’s needle-sharp screenplay embraces the mugginess of moral compromise over the cases of paedophilia in the Catholic Church. They illustrate the true story of how the Boston Globe, under its first Jewish editor Marty Baron, took on the entrenched abusive institutions of the church in a city where Catholicism is a way of life, and police and priests are thick as thieves.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

Spotlight shifts the focus away from the church to examine how an entire community can become complicit in an unspoken crime. The journalism thriller draws excitement from joining disparate dots throughout the film, eventually taking shape to form the bigger picture. With its convincingly mundane scenes of journalists bashing phones and trawling through dusty records, McCarthy buries discernible visual styles and cinematography behind the pressing issue of script and story. Perhaps the filmmakers felt that their subject was in fact too important to be aesthetically pleasing. Instead, we’re faced with gut-wrenching stories of victim of abuse head on, and even in one case a complacent paedophile priest. You’ve been warned: this film is hard to swallow.

After his striking role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu’s Birdman at the last Academy Awards only last year, Michael Keaton returns once more as Walter “Robby” Robinson. He does far quieter work here than in Birdman, taking on the role of Spotlight stalwart, shaken by the extent of the paedophilia scandal. Rachel McAdams, as Sacha Pfeiffer, takes on the role of a compelling reporter who regularly attends mass with grandma, but soon rapidly begins to lose residual connection with the church as the hidden truths unfold. Pfeiffer presents us with beautiful cinematic moments that balance the distant crisis of faith with the real and present courage of conviction. And last but not least Mark Ruffalo, as Mike Renzendes. The strength of his performance is carried by his passion and long-suppressed outbursts of emotion. He gives a brilliantly calibrated physical portrayal of a born investigator.

We see the personal transformation of all of principle members of Spotlight when the truth begins to unfold. But you seriously can’t listen to traumatic abuse stories and not feel impacted. The psychological impact of their traumatic experiences are rarely explored in mainstream cinema – which is what draws me to the film even more.

I’ve come to realise that Spotlight’s greatest strength is in the way it defies being chopped into components. To its core this is an ensemble film with characters harmonising like ingredients in a satisfying meal. We’re presented with the horrible specificity of victim stories and the subsequent negligence of the community. There is really no tidy moral to take away from this film, and that is the enthralling power of this masterpiece. A story like Spotlight shouldn’t end in comfort. Instead, it leaves your skin prickling – both at the despicable business of secret-keeping and the courage and resourcefulness that rivetingly overturns it. On some dark and unspoken level, no one ever wants to know.

Would I recommend this film? Absolutely. This is my 5/5 and my 10/10.

★★★★★