Hidden Figures (2016)

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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%

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

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“Masterfully told and beautifully acted” Empire ★★★★★

“A minor key masterpiece” The Guardian ★★★★★

The stricken, painful, heart-wrenching transgression of life is the current of Kenneth Lonergan’s newest addition, Manchester by the Sea. A glimpse of life in the real world, of unfathomable heartache, of lessons unlearned. The film already hailed by many as a masterpiece, Manchester by the Sea combines Arthur Miller and Woody Allen to express a superb abundance of beauty in turmoil.

The remarkable Casey Affleck is Lee Chandler, a lonely Boston janitor who carries copious poisonous rage towards the world and himself. The death of his beloved older brother Joe, who resonates only in generous reminiscence, saddles Lee with the sole guardianship of his only son Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges. Anger pulses through Lee’s ingenious face and remarkably indignant smile. What unfolds before Lee is an offer of poignant redemption by the parenthood and friendship of one incredibly unstable child. Yet the film doesn’t work out as simply as that.

Manchester by the Sea is deep, thoughtful and intrusive – a story about the complexity of forgiveness and compassion within the struggle of relieving pain. It is a story of parenting, but of the biological and completely improvised kind. On the surface this appears as a duller twist on the tedious childish-adult-forced-to-grow-up formula, by throwing heartache, loneliness and one orphan minor into the mix. But Lonergan is too indulged in his sensational actors, his undivided audience and perhaps reality itself to showcase any irrationality or formulae. But with the dry comedy pace and uncomfortable aesthetic of the film, there remains nothing but reality itself. This film is simply remarkable.

I can’t beat this, I’m so sorry.”

From start to finish, Manchester by the Sea is powerful and thought-provoking. Rarely do films showcase the harsh reality of those who live with pain and loss, stricken by the fate of one horrible mistake. A story driven by characters whom the actors embodied with precision and with excellence, Manchester by the Sea is an outstanding addition to the Best Picture nominees this year.

★★★★★

Imdb – 8.1/10 Rotten Tomatoes – 96%

Jackie (2016)

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The assassination of John F. Kennedy, a moment that shook America and the rest of the world, but a moment that destroyed the first lady. This is a portrait of Jackie Kennedy, a beautiful illustration of a stunned, stricken existence enveloped in a mesmerising tragedy. Jackie portrays a stunning moment by moment story of the aftermath of horror, amplified by lonely silence, long corridors, conspiratorial whispers, haunting close ups and memories of a once happy life.

Pablo Larrain takes one piece of slimmer of history to create art on screen – the before, during and after of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, but most sensationally through the eyes of his beloved wife Jackie. Painted on a canvas of Mica Levi’s mesmerising orchestral score, the haunting strings weave seamless sadness and horror into a heartbreaking performance from Natalie Portman. On the screen explodes a fierce and powerful woman, who unlike many others, must stay composed in the waking hours of her husband’s death. A moving psychological portrait of Jackie, who fearlessly attempts to maintain her husband’s legacy and his fabricated world of Camelot.

Natalie Portman’s performance is careful and intelligent, and thick with anxiety hidden under layers of poise and grace. The Monroe breathiness of her voice and the heartbreaking dialogue of her painted lips exposes the precise and unfathomable truth behind Jackie’s moments in hell, torn between living and dying in the aftermath of her heartbreak.

“There comes a time in man’s search for meaning when he realises that there are no answers. And when you come to the horrible and unavoidable realization, you accept it or you kill yourself. Or you simply stop searching.”

Natalie Portman almost effortlessly carries Jackie, in an intimate and personal piece that should be considered more as a portrait than as a film. With her recent nomination for Best Actress in the Academy Awards, it is no wonder Portman was the first choice for taking on a role so demanding and so intimately powerful – I doubt anyone could bring so much life to Jacqueline Kennedy. Pablo Larrain’s most daring and most profound piece, a historical monument to the life of a woman who’s actions will echo in history’s books.

I will march with Jack, alone if necessary.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 7.1/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 89%

Fences (2016)

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Director and front man of Fences, Denzel Washington, brings the passion product of the year to life with high distinction and incomprehensible emotion. Awarded for four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress, Fences delivers a powerful, fervent and beautiful story on the backdrop sunlight, shadows and incredible performances.

An adaptation of August Wilson’s award winning stage play Fences, first performed in 1983, the film brings the daunting performances that haunted the stage to life. Troy Maxon is a middle-aged African-American man working as a garbage collector in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, whose vanished glory as a failed Baseball star gave him nothing more than a “pot to piss in, or a window to throw it off.” Perhaps Maxon’s cynical mood is the cause of his big appetite for booze, his loud humour, his wounded moods and his jolted pelvis, but the suppressed nature of the film is the contrast with his wife Rose, played by Viola Davis. What unfolds is one house struck with guilt and shame painted with spectacular attempts to mend an invisible fence of hopelessness and fear.

Fences is dense with such intelligence and compassion that you will struggle to tear your eyes from the screen. Although in single moments the air is thick with stage presence, the breathtakingly vibrant monologues and poetic stagecraft breath rare vulnerability of the characters to life. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are phenomenally well paired as husband and wife, drawing rich emotion from what feels like the depth of their souls.The camera captures each of these moments perfectly, always with the characters listening just as intently as we are. The character dynamics are simply unlike anything I’ve seen in cinema before.

“Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”

Fences is fierce and powerful, and outstanding in the caliber of Best Picture nominees. There is a rich pleasure in watching phenomenal actors tackle issues of poverty, racism and death in a way that hits home with everyone in the audience. Fences is just as heartbreaking as it is beautiful, resonating in the hearts of all of us in one way or another.

★★★★★

Imdb – 7.5/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 94%

Moonlight (2016)

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Moonlight features a black man’s face as its landscape, divided into three slivers of different shades – from turquoise to amethyst to black. Little do you know, the face is cleverly depicting the faces of one man from boy to teen to man. Intricately and intensely, this becomes the very arc of Moonlight, the moving art of identity, family and masculinity.

The little boy we first encounter is known as Little, whom Alex Hibbert heartbreakingly composes with a depth of loneliness and fear that will bring tears to your eyes. Bullied by school kids, chased into hiding and neglected by his troubled mother, Little stumbles upon Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, who takes him in to safety with him and his girlfiend. What follows is the journey of one boy into adolescence and then manhood, battered by fears of belonging, fears of living and ultimately fears of his creeping identity.

These three age structures first composed by Tarell Alvin McCraney, inspired rising director Barry Jenkins, of Dear White People, to create an intricate masterpiece of an almost Black Lives Matter context, illustrating abuse and torment on a backdrop of poor black communities, drugs and violence. But in spite of the harsh complexities of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins finds a tenderness and compassion that could take your breath away. The search for manhood has never been so thoughtful or moving. But of course, Nicholas Britell’s score transports the visual beauty of Moonlight into more than just a story, but a dreamlike sphere, where single moments are filled with power, melancholia, liberation and pre-eminence. Illustrated with superb intensity, each moment is powerful in itself.

I wasn’t never worth anything. Never did anything I actually wanted to do, all I could do was what other folks thought I should do. I wasn’t never myself.”

The diversity of Moonlight’s visual poetry has a gentle ability to transport viewers into a hidden world with honesty and tenacity. Barry Jenkins has delivered a powerful film.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 8.2/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%

Live by Night (2016)

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Ben Affleck has proven time and time again that he is an outstanding director, fuelled by an entirely impressive expertise of filmmaking from his very first Gone, Baby Gone to his more recent and highly successful Argo. But with the release of Live By Night this weekend, Affleck turns a corner with his very own adapted screenplay from Dennis Lehane’s amiable gangster novel sensation.

Ben Affleck, as lead Joe Coughlin, returns disenfranchised from World War I, haunted by the arbitrary violence and barbarism that painted his life. Filled with refractory hatred towards those in power, Coughlin becomes an outlaw on the streets of Boston, living by night in search of the next bank to rob or gamble to gain in the era of Prohibition and underground distilleries, speakeasies and gangsters. It’s not long before Coughlin is drawn into the gang war of Irish Albert White and Italian Maso Pescatore, and not much longer again before Joe ends up in their employ, working in Florida to raise Prohibition, build casinos and gain revenge.

As with all other prominent films that Affleck has directed, he passes the juiciest roles to his outstanding co-stars, with Sienna Miller as the knockout mistress of Irish mob boss Robert Glenister and Zoe Saldana as the Cuban love interest on the Florida bootlegging operation. Here is where you might get confused, because you can also throw in Chris Cooper as the God-fearing local sheriff, Elle Fanning as the good girl turned prostitute, Matthew Maher as the leader of the KKK and another handful of religious conversion and zealotry to boot. It makes more sense when you watch it yourself, from start to finish. But as a lead himself, Affleck maintains his square-jawed Batman, an observer in his own life rather than a participator, a concept built into the fabric of Lehane’s novel.

What you put into the world will always come back for you.” Simply put, this quote perfectly sums up my take on Live by Night, as more than just merely a gangster movie, but as a whole take on human life and the value of luck and fate for those who take it.

Live by Night is a beautiful film of exceptional cinematography and outstanding filmmaking, and Affleck really shines as a director of brilliant actors and vying action. Affleck knows too well how to create a haunting gangster noir worth getting lost in.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 6.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 32%

The 89th Academy Awards 2017: The Full List of Nominees

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The moment we’ve all been waiting for …

Best Picture
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hidden Figures
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Best Cinematography
Arrival
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

Best Actor
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Denzel Washington – Fences

Best Actress
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Nega – Loving
Emma Stone – La La Land
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomi Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Best Director
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chaazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Best Documentary
Fire at Sea
I am not Your Negro
Life, Animated
OJ: Made in America
13th

Best Documentary Short
4.1 Miles
Extremis
Joe’s Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

Best Foreign Language Film
Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
The Salesman
Tanna
Toni Erdmann

Best Costume Design
Allied
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

Best Score
Jackie
La La Land
Moonlight
Lion
Passengers

Best Song
Audition – La La Land
Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls
City of Stars – La La Land
How Far I’ll Go – Moana
The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story

Best Sound Editing
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

Best Sound Mixing
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours

Best Production Design
Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Ceasar!
La La Land
Passengers

Best Original Screenplay
Hell Or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

Best Adapted Screenplay
Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Lion
Moonlight

Best Animated Feature
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

Best Animated Short
Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Pearl
Piper

Best Live-Action Short
Ennemis Interieurs
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
Sing
Timecode

Best Film Editing
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moonlight

Best Visual Effects
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Make Up and Hairstyling
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

La La Land tops the race with 14 nominations in the Academy Awards this year, and after the controversial #OscarsSoWhite last year the increased diversity striking a chord. Bring it on Jimmy Kimmel!