Tag: La La Land

At the Movies: Hidden Figures

At the Movies: Hidden Figures

For me, the anomaly at this year’s Oscars was Hidden Figures, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterley: Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women who Helped to Win the Space Race. The film tells the true story of three African American women, Katherine G. Johnson, (Taraji P. Henson) Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) who played a vital role in NASA’s space launch in 1962.

The film’s title, ‘Hidden Figures’ refers to the ‘hidden’ algorithms that Katherine, uncovers, the fact that the women’s achievements were ‘hidden’ and the way in which NASA’s black women were physically ‘hidden’, sequestered in the segregated West Area Computers’ division of Langley Research Centre. But unfortunately, the movie has refused to live up to its title: it has unequivocally not ‘hidden’. It has been impossible to avoid…

And, to make matters worse, it has taken more in Box Office receipts than all of the Oscar Contenders (including La La Land!)

But I don’t want to be completely acrimonious about Hidden Figures because it isn’t all bad! It takes place in Virginia amidst the Jim Crow laws and it plays an important role in shining a light on these three women’s achievements, which might have otherwise gone un-noticed. It is also to the film’s credit that it features a leading trio of black women, aiding in the insurgency against last year’s #OscarsSoWhite campaign.

However, the film itself is anything but an insurgent: it is utterly predictable and riddled with clichés. It begins with an unimaginatively sepia toned flashback sequence in which Katherine’s parents are urged to accept her scholarship to a prestigious school that she would otherwise be unable to afford. This film sits firmly in the ‘inspirational-feel-good’ movie category, complete with a smattering of schmaltzy speeches. The film reaches a particularly low moment when Kevin Costner brandishes his ultimate one liner: ‘In NASA, everyone pees the same colour!’…

But even the cheesiest of speeches can be moving if they are well directed! (Because I’ve just realized that this must be one of the cheesiest speeches from my second favourite movie as a kid. And its fantastic.) But there was hardly anything cinematically interesting about Hidden Figures. And I found myself pretty bored in the cinema…

The film absolutely insists on hammering home its moral messages, resulting in moments that could have been poignant or enlightening, quickly becoming stale and predictable. Segregation rules dictate that Katherine must travel a mile each time she wants to use the bathroom because in her building, the toilets are for ‘whites only’. The first time we see the scene in which Katherine runs to the bathroom with all her papers, balancing precariously on her heels, we sympathize with her and the ridiculousness of the situation. However, after this moment was repeated again and again and again, accompanied each time by a cheery soundtrack (courtesy of Pharrell Williams) I found myself becoming increasingly exasperated with the unoriginality and repetitiveness of the movie rather than the ludicrousness of Katherine’s situation! And throughout the film, I felt as though the audience were completely patronized- every plot point, every moment of conflict or reconciliation was practically spelled out for us- there was no subtlety- it was as though the film makers had completely under-estimated the intelligence of their audience- which is quite insulting…

Hidden Figures Day 41

I also found the final dramatic dénouement totally devoid of tension despite the film -makers’ best efforts to make it exciting. And it actually started became quite a satisfying cinema activity to try and predict what was going to happen next in the film!

However, the thing I really disliked about Hidden Figures was that it seemed purely tokenistic. I felt that the film focused disproportionately on race and gender, which, for me, detracted from the women’s actual achievements: it was almost patronizing to view their contributions purely through this lens rather than to laud their accomplishments for NASA and the Space Race as commendable in and of themselves.

I recently saw the film Loving, which I felt dealt with racial discrimination and prejudice in more powerful manner. The film tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving who are banned from their home of Virginia because they are interracially married. Rather than placing race at the forefront of the story, the film focuses on their relationship. This gives the audience the opportunity to truly care about these two characters as a couple, rather than simply as victims of racial discrimination. For me, this made the discriminations all the more shocking as they were happening to a real couple that I felt I was getting to know.

I think that Hidden Figures could have been a better film if it had had focused more on its heroines’ passions and ambitions. Perhaps if I understood why they were so excited about solving this particular problem, I might have cared more about them as individuals.

based-on-the

Despite all my complaints about the film, it does attempt to inspire its audience, which has to be lauded. It tells us that we have the ability to take control of our own lives and don’t have to be dictated to by norms or conventions. Each of the women are able to assert control the moment they decide to be proactive. As soon as Katherine explains how far she has to walk to use the coloured bathrooms, her boss abolishes the segregation rules. When Mary takes her plea to pursue an engineering degree to court, she is successful. And Dorothy, upon seeing the threat of automation on her job from IBM 7090, decides to re-skill (quite timely) and is consequently promoted. I suppose I quite liked Hidden Figures’ melioristic message-that the world definitely can be made better by human action..!

And finally, when the question, ‘Could Hidden Figures encourage more black women to pursue a career in science?’ was posed to a group of black female A-level students, medics and PhD science graduates, responses included, ‘These ladies were unheard of and they are inspirational role models to us. They are glamorous and pretty but they feature in a film because of their intelligence … They make science exciting, a cool thing to do.’ And so, I’ll admit that although I found the film dull, predictable, patronising uninspiring and quite annoying, clearly, not every one did. And perhaps some things are more important than whether or not I enjoyed my 2 hours at The Ritzy last week…

at-the-cinema

At The Movies: On the Oscars (Part 1)

At The Movies: On the Oscars (Part 1)

The Oscars are fast approaching, presenting us with a fantastic excuse to spend all our time (and money!) at the cinema to try to catch the industry’s latest showcase of premium movies. It’s also a great time to reflect on our own favourite films from the year.

oscar-nom

Highlights from 2016’s Oscars included Spotlight winning for best picture, Mad Max taking home 6 Oscar wins and Leonardo Dicaprio winning an Oscar for his performance in The Revenant. I was thrilled about Leo; albeit his performances in…well practically all of his other films were probably more Oscar worthy, I was glad to see him finally get the recognition from The Academy that he so clearly deserved! I remain undecided on Spotlight, although I felt it was a worthy and important story, I didn’t glean much more from the movie than I did from reading the original investigatory articles.

The controversy surrounding last year’s Oscars was #OscarsSoWhite, which pointed to the severe lack of diversity in the nominations whose key omissions included historical drama Selma and Idris Elba for his fantastic performance in Beasts of No Nation.

Idris Elba voiced his concerns at a speech he gave in Parliament in which he discussed the importance of diversity in film.

But this year, much has been done this to try to tackle the diversity deficiencies: The Academy made a pledge to diversify its own members and says that it hopes to double its women and people of colour by 2020- last year, the average Academy member was a 63-year-old white man…

The move to diversify has been somewhat successful. This year, 3 out of the 9 films up for Best Feature feature predominantly black casts (Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight). In the acting categories there are 7 nominees from ethnic minority backgrounds. And 13th, the controversial documentary about the unjust nature of the US justice system towards black Americans is up for Best Documentary.

I wouldn’t want to take the myopic view that this year’s nominations are a result of last year’s controversies, suffice to say it makes sense that these films are slightly more representative of their audiences…!

Best Picture

The nominations are:

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

Fences

La La Land (probable winner & my joint choice)

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

My Additions

Nocturnal Animals (my joint choice)

Jackie

I’m pretty sure La La Land will win. Its been nominated for 14 Oscars in total, a feat only achieved twice before by Titanic and All About Eve, both of which won Best Picture. Also, the award for Best Picture has almost exclusively gone to a film also nominated for Best Director, which means we can probably rule out Lion, Fences, Hell or High Water and Hidden Figures.

I’d love for La La Land to win: It unashamedly plays homage to its predecessors without cynicism. The music, acting, cinematography and direction perfectly culminate to produce a contemporary musical masterpiece.

The obvious omission is Tom Ford’s hauntingly beautiful Nocturnal Animals. Tom Ford’s direction is exquisitely detailed and perfectly complimented by Abel Korzeniowski’s Herman esque-score. The framing device connects the stories, themes and characters seamlessly, and the performances by Amy Adams, Jake Gylennhall and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are all Oscar-worthy. I was absolutely captivated throughout: for me, this film is flawless.

I found both Hidden Figures and Lion utterly bland in their portrayal of exciting real life stories. However, Jackie took a more innovative approach in its depiction of the events following the assassination of JFK, playing with chronology, offering a memorable soundtrack and facilitating the phenomenal performance from Natalie Portman. So, if the former two are in the category for best film, I don’t see why Jackie shouldn’t also be.

Best Director

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

La La Land(probable winner & my choice)

My Additions

Nocturnal Animals

I think Damien Chazelle should win for La La Land and I think he will. For me, Damien Chazelle is one of the most exciting directors to emerge in the last few years. La La Land is, tonally, a complete departure from his visceral masterpiece, Whiplash, but both films offer utter escapism.

Although Kenneth Longeran’s Manchester by The Sea is extremely intelligently directed, capturing the nuances and comedic moments within the tragedy,  I think it is his script that is really worthy of praise.

Barry Jenkins also deserves some recognition for his direction of Moonlight; I liked the imagery eg. use of mirrors and water tropes (identity, re-birth /baptism) although…as I’m writing this, I realise they seem a little cliché…It was, however, undoubtedly beautiful throughout.

It’s insane that Tom Ford wasn’t nominated for Nocturnal Animals- everything in this film is visually perfect and intricately designed- he uses style to create substance.

nocturnal-animals

 

Friday Feeling Playlist: Inspired by La La Land

friday-feeling

Friday is here. The weekend is achingly close. But we all need something to power through: that’s where the Friday Feeling Playlist comes in.

The biggest entertainment story around this week was La La Land’s dominance in the Oscar nominations. I had the pleasure of seeing the film at the London Film Festival; like many others, I was absolutely blown away.

So as a tribute the film’s success today we’re digging into the musicals archive; I’ve dug up an upbeat playlist of fourteen classics to get you through the rest of the day. Get your headphones in and let your foot tap away.

At The Movies: La La Land

At The Movies: La La Land

I appreciate that not everyone has to be be this obsessed with La La Land:

lalaland

But I’ve been struggling with some of the accusations made against this masterpiece: ‘it lacks plot!’ ‘Ryan and Emma can’t even dance- or sing!’, ‘its totally overrated!” and, worst of all, ‘it was okay’….

Although I understand that these (first 3) do contain elements of truth, for me, they are irrelevant.

As is inevitably the case with films which receive masses of hype, La La Land has also been hit by a flurry of backlash from those whose high expectations cannot possibly be met. And so I think that one of the reasons I love this movie so much is because I went into my screening without any pre-conceptions.

I was lucky enough to attend a screening of La La Land a few months ago, back when there were no reviews, and only one rather short enigmatic teaser to go by…

So it was with a jolt that I was launched into this exuberant musical reverie. As you probably know by now, the film opens with queues of frustrated passengers caught up on the LA highway. Chattering LA-ers, the beeping of car horns and the cacophony of sounds coming from car radios give us the impression that this truly is a city bustling with music. Director Chazelle takes inspiration from his own favourites, “…like in Mean Streets or Taxi Driver or Rear Window you’re hearing Italian opera coming from one apartment window and Frankie Vali from another and jazz from another. But this is Los Angeles. The cacophony of sounds is coming out of cars. And I loved the idea of presenting the soundscape of the city that way”. Fed up of waiting in line, one by one the drivers exit their vehicles and in a spectacular explosion of colour and sound, jump on top of their cars, proving that a bit of madness is key.

la-la-land2

Interestingly, the very first edit of the film opened with an overture of credits before the camera swooped down to reveal Mia and Sebastian’s meet cute in their cars. But I think that by announcing the film by way of this spectacular 6 minute (made-to-look-like-a) vast singe shot, Chazelle assures us that this will be an explosive love letter to LA, on music and ambition.

I left the cinema feeling euphoric, unsure of whether to cry, run around, or just immediately book a flight to LA and try to live out the movie in real life!

So I think that to point to the ‘lack of plot’ would be to miss the crux of the film. As my friend (Mark) pointed out yesterday, there is no way that, after watching the opening car sequence, you would expect to find a thriller filled with twists and turns. Clearly, La La Land tells a pretty simple ‘boy meets girl’ story, but tells it with overwhelmingly breath-taking panache.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone do not dance to perfection, but the camera does; it swoops around them, capturing a sense of movement and excitement that may not have been possible had we been solely focused on the finesse of their movement. And where their dancing lacks, their performances more than make up for- Emma Stone is captivating throughout. Each minute facial expression reveals what she is thinking at every second. What more could the casting directors in her audition scene possibly have wanted from her?

Throughout the film, we can see clear parallels between La La Land’s Mia and Sebastian and Whiplash’s Andrew (Milles Teller). A clear theme is emerging in Chazelle’s work: clearly, he lauds tenacity and determination.

**Spoiler!!**

For me, the ending wasn’t unsatisfactory because the film wasn’t primarily about Mia and Sebastian’s relationship with each other; it was about the way it fostered their ambitions. So I don’t think it was necessary for them to stay together for their relationship to be perfect. It was perfect.

At the Movies: Manchester by the Sea

At the Movies: Manchester by the Sea

I totally accept that going to see a film in January that wasn’t La La Land was slightly insane…but I feel that after having seen it twice already, and knowing the soundtrack back to front (Ryan Gosling’s suit is wool- obviously) it was probably time to move on, and venture on to one of the (probable) ‘serious’ Oscar contenders….

Manchester by the Sea is writer/director Kenneth Lonergan‘s third film and stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. The trailer promises us a bleak tale filled with woe and hope in which a man, upon learning of his brother’s death, must return to his hometown, (Manchester by the Sea) to look after his brother’s teenage son, and in doing so, ‘find himself’…probably not Just Another Day of Sun…

But the sincerity of the trailer doesn’t do this film justice…

Affleck plays Lee, an irascible, monosyllabic janitor who has absolutely no interest in forming any sort of relationship- with anyone. He regularly insults his customers and picks fights with random men in grotty bars. He is clearly disillusioned with life and appears intent on paying penance for his mysterious past. His return to Manchester by the Sea is met with whispers and shock: he is not just Lee Chandler but the Lee Chandler. Whatever he has done, or whatever has happened to him is apparently too horrific for discussion and we are left totally in the dark. Throughout the course of the film we learn about his past, his relationship with his wife (Michelle Williams) and his children. But nothing prepares us for the shocking revelation ¾ through the film where, suddenly, we understand.

But the film is so much more than a mere vehicle for this denouement. Many of the scenes appears as vignettes- totally compelling and complete in and of themselves. Odd moments of humour are played against maelstroms of tragedy (eg. Joe Chandler’s hospital diagnosis). And so, despite the plot not being the most original, the film feels completely fresh. In complete contrast to Clint Eastwood’s  Sully (the most recent film I’ve hated) Lonergan doesn’t simply pay lip service to his characters, he genuinely captures their nuances and eccentricities. And the dissonance of Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler from an extraverted family man in the flashbacks to total gnomic loner left me with a sense of intrigue…

But the thing that jarred with me was the music, which felt somewhat incongruous. And although it worked at the start of the film and hinted to the fact that perhaps, all was not well, and there was something yet to be discovered, in some of the more overtly emotional moments, it felt a little overblown (notably in the funeral scene and in the final scene). But perhaps it was to the film’s credit that, bar a few moments, it didn’t try to force an emotional repose from its audience.

There’s a scene in a police station towards the end of the film in which Lee struggles with the idea that no one is to blame for the tragedy. And I think that moment was very revealing. Things are left unresolved and relationships cannot be salvaged. But the film offers no solution, nor any real redemption. No one is really to blame. And this makes it all the more devastating.

Honestly, the most sensible thing to do after coming out of a screening of Manchester by the Sea, is to walk straight into a screening of La La Land.