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Hidden Figures (2016) was co-written and directed by Theodore Melfi.
It's a drama, based on real people and real events. The time is 1961,
at the height of the Cold War. The U.S. and Russia are competing in
almost every way, including the race against each other for priority in
NASA was headquartered at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia. Even though this was federal property, discrimination against Blacks was routine. As I watched the film, I thought about the levels of discrimination that we see. Of course, there's always the threat of physical violence. (We get a short glimpse of police violence against Blacks in the movie.) Hampton, Virginia, was, indeed, the site of physical violence against Blacks in the 1960's. (In fact, it still is.)
However, there were other levels of discrimination. Some were petty, but still humiliating, such as making a Black woman use a "Colored" coffee pot. Others were far more severe-- keeping Blacks from being promoted to positions of authority within NASA. Some were even worse--telling a Black woman that she could only apply for engineering school if she took some pre-engineering courses at a nearby school. The only problem was that the school was still Whites only.
Three highly talented Black women set out to overcome the discrimination and provide NASA with mathematical help that the organization desperately needs. These women--all of whom did, indeed, work for NASA--were Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. (Portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe.) Henson, Spencer, and Monáe are fine actors, and they do well as individuals, and as a group. The plot of the movie revolves around their attempts to get treated fairly at their work site.
Kevin Costner does a good-enough job as Al Harrison, the NASA Director. Kirsten Dunst does an excellent job as Vivian Mitchell, who is in middle management. She's officious, uncaring, and very White. When the women complain to her, she just gives them a false smile and says, "Well, that's NASA." She doesn't make the rules, but she doesn't try to change them either.
People have called Hidden Figures a "feel-good movie," which in some respects it is. On the other hand, who can feel good about the racism in our society, then and now?
This is an important movie, but not because it makes you feel good. I think the message is that some highly talented people can break through prejudice and prove just how good they are at what they do. That opens the way for other highly talented--and less talented--people to follow them.
We saw this film on the large screen, but it will work well on DVD. It's a worthwhile movie and definitely worth seeing.
The Chadian film Daratt was shown in the U.S. with the title Dry Season
(2006). It was written and directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun.
This powerful movie begins with what clearly is a bitter blow for people who have suffered during Chad's long civil war. All war criminals are amnestied. There is no justice for people who have suffered horribly.
The young protagonist, Atim (Ali Barkai) is given a pistol, and is told by his grandfather that now revenge is up to him. He must find and kill the man who killed Atim's father. Atim travels to the capital, N'Djamena. He finds the killer, Nassara (Youssouf Djaoro) and actually begins to work for him as a baker.
Atim has ample opportunity to kill Nassara. However, just as Hamlet hesitates, Atim hesitates. Nassara has reformed. He begins each day by giving bread to poor children. He has married a beautiful young wife, who is pregnant. (The wife, Aicha, is portrayed by Aziza Hisseine.) Naturally, Atim falls in love with her. Atim hesitates, and we all wait to see what will happen next.
As I wrote in my review of another film from Chad, Abouna, "This movie is worth seeing on its own merits. That fact that it's from Chad makes it even more important to view it. If I counted correctly, less than a dozen films have been made in Chad. The superb Dryden Theatre at The George Eastman Museum in Rochester is showing five of these movies as part of a Haroun retrospective. My compliments to the Dryden for giving us the opportunity to see these films on the large screen.
Some of Haroun's films are available for the small screen, but some are not. Also, even with the resources of the Eastman Museum, a print of "Bye Bye Africa" couldn't be located. (If you know someone who has a print of that movie, please notify the Dryden Theatre.)"
Daratt is a very powerful film, and I highly recommend it. It's unlikely that you'll be able to view it on the large screen, but it's available on DVD. Find it and see it.
Abouna (2002) was shown in the U.S. with the title "Our Father (2002)."
It was written and directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, who is from Chad.
Abouna is, in a way, a quest movie. Two young boys awake to find their father missing. They set out to find him, and the plot unfolds from there. The film has true drama. It's very moving, but also informative. (How many of us know anything about Chadian society, culture, music, etc.?)
The film stars Ahidjo Mahamat Moussa as the older brother, Tahir, and Hamza Moctar Aguid as Amine, the younger brother. Zara Haroun plays their mother. (Is she married to director Haroun, or is she related to him?) Mounira Khalil plays "The Mute Girl," as listed in the credits. (I would prefer "The Nameless Girl who is deaf and mute.")
This movie is worth seeing on its own merits. That fact that it's from Chad makes it even more important to view it. If I counted correctly, less than a dozen films have been made in Chad. The superb Dryden Theatre at The Eastman Museum in Rochester is showing five of these movies as part of a Haroun retrospective. My compliments to the Dryden for giving us the opportunity to see these movies on the large screen.
Some of Haroun's films are available for the small screen, but some are not. Even with the resources of the Eastman Museum, a print of "Bye Bye Africa" couldn't be located. (If you know someone who has a print of that movie, please notify the Dryden Theatre.)
This is a strong and important movie. If you can find it, and watch it, you'll almost certainly enjoy it.
The film Paterson (2016) was written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. It
stars Adam Driver as Paterson, who happens to live in Paterson, New
Jersey. Paterson is a bus driver, who has a pretty mundane life. He
gets up each workday morning, says goodbye to his wife, eats a bowl of
Cheerios, walks to the bus garage, greets the dispatcher, and begins to
drive the bus on his route. Bus 23 passes through downtown, which looks
no better or worse than the downtown of any medium-size Rustbelt city.
Paterson can overhear conversations, which are sometimes interesting, sometimes not, but are never violent or threatening. There are no explosions, no violence, and no hostility on the bus. Stereotypically, a guy who drives a bus in Paterson, New Jersey should be a pretty ordinary guy.
That stereotype would be wrong in Paterson's case, because he's a brilliant poet. He writes the poetry in his head when he's driving, and then writes it into a notebook when he's not working. The poetry was written by Ron Padgett, who is clearly a great poet. (I'm going to buy one of his books.)
The second matter that keeps Paterson from being an ordinary guy is his wife, Laura. She's portrayed by Golshifteh Farahani. Laura is a unusual woman. She doesn't work outside the home, although she makes cupcakes to sell at the farmer's marker. She mostly works inside the home--covering every inch of the house with black and white decorations. (Even the cupcakes all have black and white frosting.)
Laura loves Paterson, and, in her quirky way, she's endearing. The problem is that Golshifteh Farahani is impossibly beautiful. It's hard to believe that she's staying home and baking cupcakes in Paterson, New Jersey when she could be a model in New York City. I wish Jarmusch had picked an actor who could realistically be Paterson's wife. The question is, would he and we think her charming if she weren't so beautiful?
This is a truly excellent movie. We saw it at the wonderful Little Theatre in Rochester, New York, but it will work almost as well on the small screen. Don't miss it!
The French film L'avenir was shown in the U.S. with the title Things to
Come (2016). It was written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve.
The movie stars Isabelle Huppert as Nathalie Chazeaux, a gifted philosophy professor and textbook author. She has an happy life, with a loving husband and two loving children. She has a burden as well--her mother suffers from dementia, and will soon have to be placed in a nursing home. In a matter of days, things start to turn sour for Nathalie, and that's where the plot begins.
The plot takes Nathalie from her beautiful home in Paris, to a vacation home in Brittany, to a rural farming commune. Each of these locations is beautifully photographed. Because of the wonderful scenery, the movie will work better on a large screen. (We saw it at the excellent Little Theatre in Rochester, NY.) Still, it's such a superb film, that if you can't see it in a theater, see it on the small screen.
All the supporting actors do a good job, and each is believable. However, all of them could be interchanged with other actors who have same level of ability. No one could replace Huppert. She is so talented, intelligent, attractive, and graceful that she was made to play this role. Without her, the movie might not work. With her, it's masterful. This film is too good to miss!
P.S. The only other actor to match Huppert's level of talent and grace is Pandora, the cat. Pandora is old, and she has been pampered, but when she needs to catch a mouse, she catches a mouse.
Mansfield Park (1999) was written and directed by Patricia Rozema. It's
based on Jane Austen's novel. Frances O'Connor stars as Fanny Price,
the protagonist of the novel. Pride and Prejudice and Sense and
Sensibility are considered Jane Austen's two best works. Mansfield Park
is down a rung on the ladder along with Persuasion and Emma. However,
Jane Austen may well be the world's greatest English-language novelist,
so even her less dazzling novels are read, and re-read, to this day.
The film version rises and falls on the character of Fanny Price, the poor relation who is sent to rich relatives who live at Mansfield Park. The plot revolves around Fanny, and Frances O'Connor brings her alive. (At age 32, O'Connor was chronologically too old for the part, but she has a very vital, youthful quality, and she looks perfect in the role.) Not only does O'Connor do great work, but the supporting cast is excellent, and the production values are high.
However, a controversy arises because director Rozema has chosen to subtly shift the characters and the sense of the novel to add incidents from Austen's own life, and to include a moral discussion about slavery. (The slave trade in England was outlawed in 1808, but slavery itself was not outlawed until 1833.)
As cited in Wikipedia, "The result is a film that retains the core character evolution and series of events of Jane Austen's novel, but in other ways, some critics claim, stresses its themes and ideas differently. The plot changes the moral message of Austen's novel, and makes the story a critique of slavery rather than a conservative critique of the "modern." In the novel Fanny's passivity and moral stance are seen as virtues but these aspects of her character are missing from the film." I refer you to the complete article in Wikipedia, but this paragraph is the core of it.
The question for me becomes, "Can scriptwriter Rozema improve on Jane Austen? Should director Rozema allow her to do this?" That's not an easy question, and I don't have an easy answer.
This film was made for the large screen. We saw it on the small screen, and it worked pretty well. Whether it is or isn't what Jane Austen had in mine, it's a very good movie, and worth seeking out.
"Pride and Prejudice" (1995) is a BBC TV mini-series directed by Simon
Pride and Prejudice is probably Jane Austen's most popular novel, and it comes to life in this film. (If you haven't read the novel, I would try to find a synopsis. The plot is complicated. Characters appear and you're not always certain where they fit in, or to whom they are related.)
Jennifer Ehle portrays Elizabeth Bennet, the second of the five Bennet sisters, and the one with the most intelligence and the best grasp on reality. Susannah Harker plays Jane Bennet, also intelligent, but more gentle and loving than her younger sister. There are three other sisters, but only one of them figures prominently in the plot. Alison Steadman portrays Mrs Bennet, who is extremely foolish, but, in truth, is sometimes right.
Important male characters are Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Bennet, who has not an ounce of romance in him, but respects his two older daughters.
The male characters include Colin Firth as the brooding, fabulously wealth Mr. Darcy. Crispin Bonham-Carter portrays Mr. Bingley, also rich, but under Darcy's spell. Adrian Lukis is Mr. Wickham, who is able to charm everyone, until they know him better. David Bamber is the insufferable Mr. Collins.
No one can deny the greatness of Jane Austen's book, and I think it will be considered a masterpiece as long as people read English novels. For IMDb, we reviewers have to review the film version of the novel. How well did the director and the actors reflect Austen's written word?
I think that this version is a wonderful interpretation of the novel. The plot revolves around Elizabeth, and I think Ehle's portrayal is masterful. In the novel, she is considered attractive, but not conspicuously beautiful. (Jane is considered the great beauty.)
What makes Ehle's acting wonderful is the expression in her eyes, and her beautiful smile. That smile tells us of her character. It's not a full cheerful smile--it's the smile of a woman who knows what is happening to her, and around her, and smiles in understanding.
Colin Firth is an excellent actor. Maybe he broods a little too much, but who can say whether Jane Austen had that much brooding in her mind when she wrote her novel. One of our friends told us that the moment when Firth emerges from swimming in the lake, with his elegant white shirt clinging to his body, represents one of the great iconic moments of BBC television. I can accept that.
We saw the film on the small screen. It was made for television, so clearly it should--and does--work well. However, if it's ever shown in a theater, I'd go to see it on the large screen. That's because the BBC production values are so high that the colors and scenery of the countryside would be shown to better advantage on a large screen.
This 1995 P&P is a longer and better version of the 1980 version that I've also reviewed. However, the earlier version also has a great many good points. My suggestion--see them both.
The French movie "Comment j'ai tué mon pèrr (2001)" was shown in the
U.S. with the title, "How I Killed My Father", but is also known as "My
Father and I." The film was co-written and directed by Anne Fontaine.
The movie stars Charles Berling, who portrays Jean-Luc, a successful gerontologist. (Successful in financial terms. He runs a boutique medical clinic for older people who can afford his fees, and who wish to retain their youthfulness.) He is very wealthy.
Jean-Luc has it all--a beautiful wife (Natacha Régnier), a beautiful mistress (Amira Casar), and the time and money to utilize the services of a prostitute when he chooses. He's not completely happy, because it's hard to juggle his time at the clinic and in all those bedrooms. Still, he's contented and satisfied in his own cold, aloof, way.
The plot begins with the arrival of his father, Maurice, played by the brilliant French actor Michel Bouquet. Maurice is also a physician. He has spent many years in Africa, which sounds noble. However, he simply walked out on his family when Jean- Luc and his brother were young. We gather from context that, even before he left, he didn't spend much time with his family. Maurice apparently did well enough in Africa until the government changed, when he was briefly imprisoned and then expelled from the country. Now he is in Versailles, observing and waiting.
Although there are many sub-plots, they all revolve around Jean-Luc. As the movie progresses, you begin to see that he's not only cold and aloof, but also manipulative and selfish. Maurice is no saint, but he's a better person than his son.
This isn't a film that you must find and see, but it definitely has some strengths, especially the acting by Berling and Bouquet. We saw it on an old VHS tape, and it worked well on the small screen.
The Space Between (2010/I) was written and directed by Travis Fine.
It stars Melissa Leo as Montine, an unhappy, worn-out flight attendant who, on 9/11, suddenly has responsibility for a ten-year-old Muslim boy. His name is Omar, and he's portrayed very well by Anthony Keyvan.
The movie is a road movie because it unfolds as Montine and Omar struggle to get back to NYC at a time when all air travel is grounded. They thrust and parry, but a definite fondness grows between them.
Melissa Leo is a brilliant actor, who later won an Oscar. Keyvan is also very, very good in his role. Special mention goes to AnnaSophia Robb, who portrays Montine's niece. She should have won an Oscar for best portrayal of a troubled, angry, depressed teenager.
We saw the film on a small screen, and it worked well. This isn't a brilliant, must-see film, but it establishes the fact that people of different cultures can overcome these cultural differences. They can learn to understand and trust each other, if given the opportunity. That's a very important message for our time.
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) was directed by John Sturges. Sturges
specialized in Westerns, especially Grade B Westerns, set in the Old
West. This film--set in 1945--was Sturges' foray into the New West, but
it didn't really work out that way.
In this movie, Sturges simply transfers the action 70 years ahead, but the plot is the same. First of all, Black Rock is portrayed as a city to which progress has never come. So, the telephones don't work, and the characters must rely on the telegraph station. They ride cars instead of horses, but that's about it in terms of technological advances.
Also, Sturges uses a classic Western theme--the protagonist just returned from war. (For example, John Wayne just home from the Civil War in "The Searchers.") The protagonist, John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) is just back from WW II.
What's different--and excellent--about this movie is that Spencer Tracy was a superb actor, and Sturges gives him plenty of screen time to show us his talents. Another interesting highlight is that Macreedy is missing his left arm. That's a part for a great actor. In fact, someone has written that the missing arm was what made the character interesting enough for Spencer Tracy to agree to portray him.
All the rest of the supporting cast is pretty standard Western movie talent--Robert Ryan, Walter Brennan, Lee Marvin, and Ernest Borgnine. They all portray bad guys and not-so-bad guys. The only woman in the film is played by Anne Francis. She was a pretty talented actor, but she doesn't belong in this movie. It's obvious that director Sturges thought he needed at least one woman in the film, and he picked Francis. We are to understand that she is Robert Ryan's girlfriend. So, the girlfriend of a bad guy has to be either a bad woman or terribly naive. Francis' role was so feeble that I couldn't tell which she was supposed to be.
We saw this film at Rochester's wonderful Dryden Theatre, as part of an Ernest Borgnine retrospective. It will work well on the small screen, because Black Rock is a set, not a real city, and the mountain scenery looks painted.
If you want to see a pretty good Western, with a truly great star, this is the film for you. It begins one day with the streamlined passenger train coming into Black Rock, and it ends the next day with the streamlined passenger train leaving Black Rock . The shots of the train are fabulous.
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