Wednesday, February 15, 2017

HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) - Olivia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner

Director:     Theodore Melfi
Writers:       Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi
Actors:        Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner

This title is apt but somehow doesn’t suggest the history, the passion and the magnificent humanity of this movie.  It is a fine example of how we humans who exist in a duality view of black/white and bad/good are forced to face the mirror of ourselves and come to terms with the fact that “we all piss the same color.”

What makes this movie so engaging and satisfying is that it’s as much about the evolution of our souls as it is about the evolution of our space technology. 

The three African-American actresses who portray the three genius-level mathematicians during the early NASA days are magnificent and iconic in their roles.  We understand them, feel them and see them as the stellar human beings they are.  They each find a moment to glow in the spotlight which brings up that lump in my throat.

In my opinion, they all deserved “Best Actress” nominations, but, yes, if I had to choose, it would probably be Olivia Spencer.  In one scene, she has to reveal to us her self-righteous indignation, her staunch refusal to surrender to inevitability, her stubborn pride and passionate courage.  While Taraji Henson and Janelle Monae have similar scenes, the element Spencer chooses to overlay all that is heart-rending vulnerability and, for me, that wins the ticket.

Director Theodore Melfi hits all the right notes and elicits great work from all his crew and actors.  Kevin Costner does a fine job of being the team leader, led by his heart and not his mind.  He’s perfect in the role.  The script is excellent, telling us the story, point to point, in an efficient manner, without sacrificing heart and soul in the process.
GEN:  9;  JUST:  9;  HUVA:  10
TAGS:  Hidden Figures, space program, mathematicians, women, black, African-American, Taraji P. Henson, Olivia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder

Friday, February 3, 2017

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016) - Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler

Director:     Kenneth Lonergan
Writers:      Kenneth Lonergan
Actors:  Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler

From the first scene with Lee Chandler (portrayed by Casey Affleck), we sense something dark and repressed within Lee’s soul.  His eyes have no light, his voice is a dead monotone, and he moves with robotic energy.  We can’t see any light in him at all.

It’s not till midway in the movie we discover what has caused the near-death of his soul.  Yet, even as we understand why he lives in such pain and denial, we also want to shout at him to wake up.  He is physically alive.  Surely that’s worth fighting for?

Casey Affleck depicts this character beautifully.   This film is not a feel-good, happily-ever-after movie.  Rather, it’s a simple journey through a man’s psyche to understand why he can be so self-destructive.  It’s an honest exploration of the human condition.

Michelle Williams portrays his wife, Randi, who co-experiences the tragic events with her husband, but who deals with loss and pain in a more constructive way. Years after they have gone separate ways, there’s a powerful scene where Randi opens her heart to Lee and tries to repair the damage to their lives.  This scene is why she got the nomination for best supporting actress.

The death of Lee’s brother propels Lee into becoming his nephew’s guardian.  We sense that Lucas just might be the instrument of his Uncle Lee’s salvation.  Will his guardianship force Lee to escape his self-destructive mode?  At first we think Lucas is a sex-absorbed, unfeeling teenager.  In a heart-rending breakdown, he reveals to us that he has actually buried the pain of his father’s loss deep inside himself in much the same fashion his Uncle Lee denies pain.

Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan has united his two functions and created a film which addresses human frailties and strengths in a compassionate, loving way.  This is a powerful movie.

  SUMMARY:   GEN:  9; JUST: n/a;  HUVA: 10
TAGS:  Manchester, Massachusetts, Kenneth Lonergan, Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, fishing, Lucas Hedges

MOONLIGHT (2016) - Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes


Director:     Barry Jenkins
Writers:      Barry Jenkins
Actors:  Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Jharrel Jerome, Andre’ Holland

I love when a film’s director is also the writer.  There is such a consistency and heart to the end result.  The story line is simple and straightforward.  It’s about a boy’s journey from child to man.

Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his wife Theresa are a strong thread in the first two incarnations of Little/Chiron/Black.  We witness pre-teen Little struggle to deal in a home governed by the needs of a drug-addicted mother and no father.  Juan, who is no saint, nevertheless provides a paternal model for Little, and Theresa provides the unselfish, maternal love Little’s own mother can’t provide.  Mahershala Ali is notable in his role.  He has a strong, subtle presence, all emotions and thoughts shining with genuine truth from his eyes.

One childhood friend, Kevin, manages to break through teenage Chiron’s inherent distrust, but events force him to betray Chiron, and Chiron morphs into the adult Black, still a loner and still unable to trust others easily.

I was distracted by the fact that the three actors who portray the three ages of Little/Chiron/Black look nothing alike.  However, they each conveyed the loneliness, distrust and soul of the character successfully.  Kevin’s character transition from boy to man was more physically believable to me.

Writer/director Barry Jenkins elicits honest performances from all his actors.  The scenes when Black and Kevin unite are loaded with unspoken emotions and thoughts. Yearning for the trust and friendship they once shared, the air is thick with their mutual fear of being rejected.

Ultimately, despite the harsh realities our hero has been forced to endure, the film itself is never judgmental and always humane.   I would have to say it’s a tender movie, all about heart and soul.

SUMMARY:  GEN:  8; JUST:  n/a; HUVA:  10
TAGS:  Barry Jenkins, Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders