Film Brief: Hidden Figures

hidden-figures-text-blockHidden Figures is quite formulaic, but nonetheless entertaining, and, as it depicts real lives and history, somewhat edifying.  My own experience causes me to question the accuracy of events within the NASA centers.  The math and operations often seemed more Hollywood than scientific.  A scant few viewers will notice this glitch.

To put it another way, the Rotten Tomatoes (yes, still useful) summary:

In heartwarming, crowd-pleasing fashion, Hidden Figures celebrates overlooked — and crucial — contributions from a pivotal moment in American history.

The timing on this movie is good too, given the politics of the clown administration.  7/10

Film Brief: Jackie

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I am hardly a Jackie Kennedy scholar, but there seemed something a bit odd in Natalie Portman’s performance, something where I wasn’t sure if it was dead-on or off in a bizarre direction — one of my initial thoughts was, of all people, Marilyn Monroe.  And there was a certain detachment.  However, a brief look at Mrs. Kennedy’s White House tour (highlighted in the film) makes me think Natalie Portman might well have nailed it.

Jackie raises the obvious comparison to Sofia Coppola’s much superior Marie Antoinette.  Tragedy, we know, is in the offing.  I was severely disappointed by Jackie, but I admit the film held me, and that goes a long way.  I kept waiting for the film to reveal itself, to show me a door I had not previously known.  By the end of the film, that door was yet to be found.  6/10

Comparison Notes (Recommended): Frost/Nixon

Film Brief: Hacksaw Ridge

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Hacksaw Ridge was directed by Mel Gibson, whose last two features were the remarkable milestones The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto.  By comparison, this latest work ten years later falls short.  It is overlong and a little sappy, but also does a decent job telling a compelling true WWII story with a bonus romantic set-up.  An extra serving of caveats to go with my marginal recommendation; 6/10hacksaw-ridge-text-block

Comparison Note: Saving Private Ryan

Film Brief: Embrace of the Serpent

I was reluctant to see Embrace of the Serpent because it didn’t make sense to me that a lush jungle setting would be depicted entirely in black & white.  But it turns out that’s not the problem — monochrome allows one to focus on the textures, and only adds to the film’s richness.  Too bad the story doesn’t.  For most of the film the plot is compelling, but, like so many movies, it doesn’t know how to close the deal.  5/10

Comparison Notes: Apocalypto, Dead Man, Apocalypse Now, The Emerald Forest, 2001, The Mission

Film Brief: The Big Short

The Big Short - poster

The Big Short follows three parties who fail to intersect while chasing the novel idea of shorting the housing market.  It’s good strong material muted, which is to say mishandled, by the maker of Anchorman, and you can see what I thought of the last Anchorman movie.  The director Adam McKay employed a trite ‘wink and a nod,’ talking into the camera shtick which didn’t do the film any favors, a further sign of the filmmaker’s lack of skill in weaving his yarn.

So The Big Short is borderline thumbs-down, but it projected a lively spirit, the performances were well crafted, and it wasn’t boring, so 6/10.

Comparison Notes: Recommended better options: Wall Street, American Psycho, Glengarry Glen Ross; Not Recommended: The Wolf of Wall Street

VOD Log: Frost/Nixon

Frost-Nixon poster med

Plastered on the front of the post-release poster:

Ron Howard’s Finest Film Yet.

Um, No.  Not even close.  Ron Howard has had a very mixed career with his projects, and Frost/Nixon falls somewhere in the middle.  Splash, Cocoon, and EDtv are all VASTLY superior.  So the critic in this case, AP’s Christy Lemire, adds to the list of reasons why I write a movie blog.

Not that Frost/Nixon is a bad movie.  It features a good and nuanced performance by Frank Langella as Nixon — I loved him in the excellent sci-fi/thriller The Box — though he doesn’t to me look much like the fallen president, or sound that close either.  Michael Sheen as David Frost also does well, if it was the intent to show Frost always a bit befuddled, in over his head; an absolute lightweight compared to Nixon.  He seemed familiar — and I found out why: besides having a generally familiar actorly countenance, he played Tony Blair in The Queen, a nice little movie which I saw way back 9 years ago in Portland.

Frost-Nixon - text blockThe supporting performances are good enough too, but I could not help but think there’s a tiny hollow core at the center of the movie — or put it another way, it lacks heart; it lacks conviction.  Additionally, the first third or so is a bit clumsy, and I was a tad bored throughout.  Frost/Nixon never breaks into a gallop, so there’s not as much to sink your teeth into as you’d like.

Perhaps that’s because the story at hand is a good one, but not a great one.  It reminded me of Citizenfour, the movie that is so highly overrated because critics conflated concept and intent with the actual story advanced on film.  The clumsiness and tiny hollow core also brought this year’s Love & Mercy to mind.

The central dynamic at play is that of out-witted David Frost attempting to bring down the mighty Nixon, and generally failing — that is, until (semi-SPOILER ALERT!) Nixon finally gets his comeuppance.  The problem is, Frost never emerges as a heavyweight who beats Nixon; rather, Nixon beats himself.  Mildly recommended, mainly for the portrait of Nixon.  6/10