Hidden Figures

Ted Melfi’s crowd-pleaser needs to do more to enact real change in race opportunity

It’s hard to be cynical about a movie as crowd pleasing as Ted Melfi’s “Hidden Figures.” This is an underserved story about the African American women who made a major, untold contribution to the space race, and it’s finding an audience.

But here’s the scene that threw me for a whirl: Katherine Johnson has earned a spot in the main room calculating rocket trajectory, but everyday she runs off to the bathroom back in the “colored” section of the NASA campus. “I have no idea where your bathroom is,” a preoccupied and disinterested secretary says to her with just a pinch of salt. Her boss, played by Kevin Costner, chews her out wondering where she disappears to each day. And in a moment of desperation, she pleads that she’s working extra tirelessly to do her job and overcome these absurd segregation barriers. After hearing that, Costner agrees. He takes a sledgehammer to the “coloreds only” bathroom sign and declares free bathrooms for all. Continue reading “Hidden Figures”

Man of Steel

“Man of Steel” neglects to provide Superman with personality or a sense of wonder in its depiction of doom and gloom CGI mayhem.

If Superman’s outfit were not originally a bright blue and red, in Zack Snyder’s world it would be gray. It would be dampened and washed of color along with the sky palace vistas on the planet Krypton, the vast Kansas prairies and even Amy Adams’s hair.

Red and blue do not represent the doom and gloom Snyder is trying to convey in “Man of Steel.” And although the “S” on Superman’s chest is actually a symbol for hope, “Man of Steel” is more content to bludgeon us with tragedy and CGI devastation to the point that it neglects a compelling origin story, a sense of wonder or even the idea of heroism.

Superman’s origin story is inherently richer and darker than that of say, Spiderman, and producer Christopher Nolan has imbued in it the same grim overtones that he did in his Batman trilogy. Rather than childhood bullying and crushes on redheads that live next door, Superman’s origin begins with the destruction of his home planet, the tearful abandonment from his parents as he is jettisoned to Earth and the military coup by General Zod (Michael Shannon) that leads to the death of his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe).

And yet after Krypton implodes in spectacular display and engulfs his mother in horrifically apocalyptic images, the movie does not dial back to a time when Clark Kent, now of Kansas, is at peace. Rather, Snyder’s idea of melodrama is cataclysm, with a pre-teen Clark being forced to rescue his classmates from drowning in a crashed bus, followed by a teenage Clark watching his father (Kevin Costner) die in a tornado and finally an adult Clark with a healthy beard (Henry Cavill) rescuing workers from an exploding oil tanker. Continue reading “Man of Steel”

Rapid Response: The Untouchables

When I first saw “The Untouchables,” I thought it was highly overrated for just being kind of lame and stupid. It seemed cheesy, and so it is. Brian De Palma is clearly making a modern day crime drama in the fashion of an Old Hollywood gangster movie. But now I think it’s overrated because it’s so plainly obvious that he’s doing that.

The problem with De Palma is that he’s a leech. He makes “homages” of classic American films, but he lacks his own personal style. His aesthetic is big and bold, but its without a defined pacing or tone. This is loosely true of “Scarface” too, a film that thrives based on its charismatic lead performance from Al Pacino, and one he also dedicates to Howard Hawks.

“The Untouchables” is the story of how Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his small team of vigilante cops took down the Chicago organized crime lord Al Capone (Robert De Niro). But rather than take a truly interesting approach to this historical story, De Palma concocts an intentionally adorable and token back story for our hero and a series of big budget action set pieces that are bloody, but look clearly shot on movie sets, have corny dialogue and gigantic musical swells in a score by Ennio Morricone designed to place the viewer back in 1930 when this movie is set and could’ve been made. Continue reading “Rapid Response: The Untouchables”

Rapid Response: Dances With Wolves

There was probably a period of time when I could’ve gotten away with not seeing “Dances With Wolves,” the 1990 Best Picture winner, for a little while longer, but the film has gained some attention of late with a Blu-Ray release, comparisons to “Avatar” and Kevin Costner having his first good role in years in “The Company Men.”

Even at three hours in length, the film absorbed me wholly and was quite simple to watch. Its plot is simple and not as poetic or profound as say, Terrence Malick’s Pocahontas story “The New World,” but it’s a gorgeous looking Western with a strong story telling presence. Any comparisons between this and “Avatar” are exaggerated, for while that film is very much a fish-out-of-water parable about Native Americans, the Iraq War and the environment (no intention of overselling James Cameron’s epic), “Dances With Wolves” is very much a story of identity and internal discovery. Continue reading “Rapid Response: Dances With Wolves”