Hidden Figures

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2016

Fox 2000 Pictures/Chernin Entertainment/TSG Entertainment/20th Century Fox

Directed by Theodore Melfi

Produced by Donna Gigliotto/Peter Chernin/Pharrell Williams/Jenno Topping/Theodore Melfi

Screenplay by Alison Schroeder/Theodore Melfi

Based on “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly

There are two stories of heroism running side-by-side in HIDDEN FIGURES. There’s the one we all know because it’s been so documented, told and re-told in so many ways (most memorably in 1983’s “The Right Stuff”) that it has become part of American legend. It’s the story of the 1960’s space race between America and Russia as NASA struggled to put a man in a spacecraft into orbit with the eventual goal of putting an American man on the moon before Russia.

Then there’s the other story that I myself had never heard of before in any way shape or form and I am just grateful that this story has at last been told. Because it’s just as much a heroic tale as that of those Project Mercury astronauts. In the 1960s, NASA did not as yet have electronic computers so they had to rely on women with extraordinary mathematical skills to calculate the data needed. These women were actually called “computers” and they were African-American.

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In 1962 the American space program is in trouble. Sputnik 1 has been successfully launched and is merrily orbiting the Earth. Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) is the director of the Space Task Group, the team primarily in charge of getting astronauts up into space. Hopefully without the rockets blowing up on the launch pad. Harrison is under a lot of pressure to get America into the space race in a big way and he needs someone who can do analytic geometry, do it quickly and do it right. The acting supervisor of the Colored Computers Group Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) says that there’s only one woman for the job; Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) who as a child was a mathematical prodigy, beginning college at the age of 15.

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Mathematical genius or not, Katherine is still a black woman in the Jim Crow South and as such is still looked at as being just that: a black woman. No more and no less. She can’t even drink coffee from the same pot as her co-workers and has to walk/run half a mile back to the building where she used to work to relieve herself as the building housing the Space Task group has no Colored restroom. Not to mention the harassment she has to deal with from her immediate supervisor Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) who gives her incomplete data, saying that she does not have the proper security clearances but yet he still expects her to make sense out of it and turn in accurate calculations.

Meanwhile, Dorothy engages in a battle of wills with her supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) who not only refuses to promote Dorothy but actively looks forward to the day when the technicians from IBM will finish installing an IBM 7090 that will replace Dorothy and her girls. But Dorothy has a trick up her sleeve: she’ll teach herself how to program the 7090. Their friend Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) who is working on the space capsule itself correctly identifies a flaw in the heat shield which impresses her boss, Dr. Zielinski (Oleg Krupa) to the point that he demands she go to school at night to get an engineering degree so that she’ll be fully qualified to work on the project. Problem is that engineering schools are segregated. But every problem has a solution and Mary’s is that she will go to court and petition for her right to go to school.

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The three stories of how these women work together and separately to accomplish their goals, achieve their dreams and oh, yes…help put American astronauts into space is an incredibly fascinating one told with an astounding amount of heart. And as much as I cannot stand anything having to do with math, if you had told me I’d be on the edge of my seat worrying about the fate of mathematicians I’d have thought you had lost your mind. But thanks to exceptionally strong acting and solid directing, HIDDEN FIGURES does turn out to be quite suspenseful at times, even though we all know that the space program was eventually a success. But this isn’t that kind of movie. It’s the revealing of a secret part of what up until now I had always thought was one of the most well documented periods of American history.

The cast is top notch. Kevin Costner recognizes that he’s got a supporting role here and so stays in his place, only taking center stage in one or two pivotal scenes but then quietly stepping back to let the real stars of the movie continue to do their thing. A couple of people I know upon hearing that Taraji P. Henson was one of those stars said to me; “You mean Cookie from ‘Empire?’ Can she act?” Which told me that they didn’t know a thing about her because Taraji P. Henson demonstrated years ago that she can act very well indeed. My wife Patricia pointed out something to me that I didn’t notice but upon reflection of certain scenes I can see exactly what she’s talking about. When you see the movie (and you will see it) notice how skillfully Taraji uses her glasses as a prop to enhance, disguise, amplify and demonstrate her emotional moods. And we all know Octavia Spencer turns in Academy Award performances like she invented them so there’s no reason to even go there. But I will say look for one pivotal scene she’s in which I’m convinced is a homage to a very famous scene in “The Right Stuff.” And as in his TV sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” Jim Parsons plays a brilliant manchild who’s a dick. But this one is way meaner in spirit than Sheldon Cooper. It’s a nice change of pace for him. Kirsten Dunst really surprised me in this one and she makes a fine adversary for Octavia Spencer to spar with.

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But it’s Janelle Monae who walks off with the MVP title for this movie. She was clearly born to be an actress and she never steps one foot wrong the entire running time of the movie, easily holding her own with her far more experienced co-stars. She’s a joy to watch anytime she’s onscreen, the rapport between her, Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson genuine and uplifting. I don’t say this very often about a movie but I’m pleased and proud to be able to say this about HIDDEN FIGURES: everything you’ve heard about it is true and if you haven’t seen it yet, please do so at your earliest opportunity.

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Rated PG

127 Minutes

The Right Stuff

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1983

The Ladd Company/Warner Bros.

Directed by and Screenplay by Philip Kaufman

Produced by Irwin Winkler/Robert Chartoff\

Based on “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe

Music by Bill Conti

Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel

One of the reasons why THE RIGHT STUFF stands out in my memory is because I saw it during its original theatrical run in the theater. And when the end credits played, a good 75% of the sold out audience I saw it with gave it a standing ovation. And I was right with them. I’ve heard felgercarb from modern day “movie fans” who are so very worldly and sophisticated and think it’s oh so very silly to applaud a movie. What’s the point? they say. The filmmakers can’t hear your applause. But in the case of THE RIGHT STUFF that isn’t the point. That audience and I stood and applauded because we’d just seen a three-hour epic about heroism done with style, respect, humor and grandeur. And we had to show our appreciation for how the movie made us felt. And the bottom line is that it made us all feel damn good. Was a lot of the movie made up? Sure it was. THE RIGHT STUFF is a great example of that magnificent line from “The Legend of Liberty Valance”: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

I say that to let you know right up front that there’s a lot of legend in THE RIGHT STUFF. Yes, it’s based on historical events involving real people but the filmmakers didn’t let them get in the way of telling a good story. Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) didn’t fly the X-1 on a whim as the movie would lead you to to believe but damn if it doesn’t make for a great scene. Especially when he breaks a couple of ribs chasing his wife Glennis (Barbara Hershey) on horseback in the desert surrounding the future Edwards Air Force Base and falls off his horse and still gets in the X-1 the next day to break the sound barrier.

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And it’s fun to see the friendly rivalry between Yeager and Scott Crossfield as they break each others speed records repeatedly. This is while hungry young pilots such as Gordon “Gordo” Cooper (Dennis Quaid) Virgil “Gus” Grissom (Fred Ward) and Donald “Deke” Slayton (Scott Paulin) are pouring into the base, looking to make their mark and prove they have “The Right Stuff.” Okay, maybe some of this is made up but if you want the facts, go look them up for yourself. We got these things called libraries. You might have heard of them. Make use of them.

But exactly what IS “The Right Stuff”? nobody ever says. It’s one of those grand and glorious Man Things That Cannot Be Given A Name. Chuck Yeager doubtless has it. In fact, he may have it more than anybody else even though he is deemed not worthy to be invited to join the space program. In one of the movie’s best scenes Gus Grissom is being ridiculed by the media and fellow pilots for his insistence that the explosive bolts on the hatch of his capsule exploded on their own during splashdown. The common consensus is that he panicked. But Yeager comes to Grissom’s defense;” You think a monkey knows he’s sittin’ on top of a rocket that might explode? These astronaut boys they know that, see? Well, I’ll tell you something, it takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that’s on TV. Ol’ Gus, he did all right.” Now, maybe Chuck Yeager said that or maybe he didn’t. But it matters in the context of the movie and the story that the movie is telling and that’s enough.

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The bulk of the movie is taken up with the 1960s Space Race, accelerated by the Russians launching Sputnik in 1957. NASA is tasked with putting an American in space and that initiates a near hysterical search for astronauts. Ironically, pilots like Yeager are excluded because he doesn’t “fit the profile” but after extraordinary grueling physical and mental tests, The Mercury Seven astronauts are chosen; Cooper, Grissom and Slayton along with John Glenn (Ed Harris) Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn) Walter “Wally” Schirra (Lance Henriksen) and Charles Frank (Scott Carpenter). But even though they are trained to be pilots, the engineers of the project (and it’s very clear that the majority of these engineers used to work for the Third Reich in WWII) see them as nothing more than passengers. You add to this is extensive publicity machine surrounding these proceedings and you’ve a situation as ripe for comedy as it is for drama.

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And one of the thing that takes people by surprise about THE RIGHT STUFF when they see it for the first time is that is a very funny movie. In fact, at times, it almost plays like a comedy, especially where Dennis Quaid is concerned. Those of you who have seen the movie know what I mean. But just about everybody gets their chance to be funny, even when they’re not being funny. If you know what I mean. Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum get a lot of laughs out their bit as a pair of recruiters looking for candidates for the fledgling NASA program. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of the cast don’t get their funny moments as well.

This movie may have just have the greatest cast of talent on screen since “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” Here we go: Fred Ward. Dennis Quaid. Scott Glenn. Ed Harris. Sam Shepard. Lance Henriksen. Scott Paulin. Barbara Hershey. Veronica Cartwright. Harry Shearer. Jeff Goldblum. Pamela Reed. Charles Frank. Donald Moffat. Scott Wilson. Kathy Baker. Royal Dano. John P. Ryan. William Russ. John Dehner. And Chuck Yeager himself. He shows up as the bartender at Pancho’s, the joint where all the pilots hang out. It’s an utterly extraordinary cast and what’s even more extraordinary is that the script and the director gives them all a chance to shine without detracting from the overall story the movie is telling.

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And the musical score by Bill Conti is absolutely magnificent. It won the Academy Award that year for Best Original Score and rightfully so. A large part of the reason why THE RIGHT STUFF is still so highly regarded is because of that heroically soaring score. The special effects are also worthy of note because they’re practical effects, done with models. I don’t have anything against CGI and fully understand that a lot of my favorite movies of recent years couldn’t be done without them. But practical effects have a weight and realism that can’t be duplicated. When Chuck Yeager is in that X-1 and says that it’s still going up like a bat outta hell, we believe him.

Chances are that most of you reading this have already seen THE RIGHT STUFF and agree with me. But for those you who haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favor and check it out at your earliest opportunity. THE RIGHT STUFF is one of the finest American movies ever made, period. And it’s a whole lot of fun to watch as well. Enjoy.

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192 Minutes

Rated PG

 

 

 

 

 

 

The African Doctor

 

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2016

TFI Films Production/Mars Films

Directed by Julien Rambaldi

Produced by Pauline Duhault/Olivier Delbosc/Marc Meissonier

Screenplay by Julien Rambaldi/Kamini/Benoit Graffin

I think that it’s more than safe to say that 2016 has been one hell of a year. It’s a year that I have no doubt will go down in history. Most of you reading this will one day be in your anti-gravity rocking chair and via your holographic transmission module implant will tell your great-great grandchildren how you survived 2016.

It’s been a year of disappointments. Great disappointments. Even with movies. 2016 has been one of the most dismal and boring movie years that I can recall in recent memory. For every movie I saw in the theater I liked I saw two that bored me. This is worse than me hating it. See, even if I hate a movie it at least aroused and sparked some kind of emotion in me. I’d rather see a movie I hate than one that bores me because then I truly feel I’ve wasted my time. Because the movie made me feel nothing. And that to me is a sin.

Thank Crom for Netflix. Because most of the best movies I’ve seen and enjoyed in 2016 have been on Netflix. Some of you reading this I’ve spoken to privately via Skype and IM (you know who you are) and you’ve bellyached to me that there’s nothing to watch on Netflix. That it’s boring. And the only reason you have it is so that you can endlessly rewatch “Firefly” or “Breaking Bad.” If that’s the case, why not just go buy the complete series on DVD/Blu-Ray and save the bandwidth for those willing to take a chance on movies such as THE AFRICAN DOCTOR. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and that a movie with this much heart, warmth and charm isn’t more well known truly is criminal.

Seyolo Zantoko (Marc Zinga) is a Kinshasa native who studies medicine in 1975 France and gets his degree there. Although he is offered an extremely cushy job as personal physician to the president via his cousin, Seyolo fears that he will fall victim to the same political corruption that has infected most of the government. Seeking to secure a French education for his children, Seyolo accepts a position as physician to the rural provincial town of Marly-Gomont.  His son Kamini (Bayron Lebli) and his daughter Sivi (Medina Diarra) are somewhat skeptical about moving away from their friends and Sivi really doesn’t want to leave her soccer team. But Seyolo’s wife Anne (Aissa Maiga) is ecstatic about moving to France and Paris. You see, when Seyolo told her that they were moving to “a town north of Paris” all she heard was “Paris.”

At this point of this humble review, both husbands and wives reading this are nodding, I’m sure. We have all been there. Miscommunication is at the heart of both comedy and conflict in marriage and we see plenty of that as as the Zantoko family struggle to adapt to their new environment. None of the inhabitants of Marly-Gomont have ever seen an actual, real life, breathing black person and Seyolo is the only one in the family who has ever lived abroad. The Zantoko children are the only black kids in the school and are verbally abused by their classmates. Anne is shunned by the other wives and those in the village who are ill would rather make the trip to the other town over to be treated by the white doctor there.

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But Seyolo is determined to win the villagers of Marly-Gomont over and become a true member of the community. Seyolo’s change is so subtle in this movie it sneaks up on you and it’s a testament to the acting talent of Marc Zinga that when we realize the change, it’s just as much a surprise for us as it is for his family. Seyolo starts off as seeing his appointment to this hick town as simply a way for his children to get free quality education and for him to gain French citizenship. But he truly becomes caught up in the lives of the villagers and honestly has a desire to become their doctor and look after their health.

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Anne is a little harder to win over, though. Aissa Maiga walks away with the MVP trophy for this movie. First off, when you watch this movie I defy you to be able to look at anybody else except her when Aissa Maiga shares the screen with them. She is Stunning. There is simply no other way to describe it. It also helps that she is equally adept at drama as she is at comedy. She gets a lot of the laughs in this movie as well as a lot of the dramatic scenes and it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed watching an actress I was not familiar with on screen as much as I enjoyed watching her. She deserves to have a bigger career. She’s that good.

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And in fact, the depiction of a marriage between a black man and black woman is one of the best in a movie that I’ve seen in a while in a movie and it’s one of the reasons I highly recommend THE AFRICAN DOCTOR. Seyolo and Anne both want the best for their children and for each other. That’s the driving force they both can agree on. But how to get there…well, that’s another story. Seyolo and Anne both make mistakes and miscommunicate. But they have an underlying layer of friendship and respect that supports their love that is truly sweet to see in the quiet moments when they sit down and talk about the situation they’re in and how they’re going to resolve it.

But lest you think this movie is a downer…not so, my friends. THE AFRICAN DOCTOR is very much a comedy as well as a drama and when it’s funny, it pays off. You see, Seyolo and Anne’s families find out where Marley-Gomont is and decide to visit and…well…you can guess the rest. The scene where the Africans attend Christmas Mass and sing “Silent Night” African style is a showstopper in that it’s both totally hilarious (keep an eye on the organ player) and also spiritually uplifting. And the eventual resolution of the Zantokos staying in the village of Marley-Gomont hinging on a soccer game…well, if it doesn’t leave you with a smile on your face then I got nothing for you.

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In fact, the whole of THE AFRICAN DOCTOR is wonderful in that it’s a movie that can make you believe in the best of humanity. And I know a lot of you reading this review don’t believe in that (again, you know who you are) You like your entertainment to be dark, depressing and reinforcing your belief that the world is hateful, people are no good and all our political institutions are trying to kill us. There is no God and there is no way to get out of life except to die.

Take two viewings of THE AFRICAN DOCTOR and call me in the morning.

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96 Minutes

 

 

 

Queen of Katwe

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2016

Walt Disney Pictures/ESPN Films/Mirabai Films

Directed by Mira Nair

Produced by John Carls/Lydia Dean Pilcher

Screenplay by William Wheeler

Based on “The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster” by Tim Crothers

If you’ve been reading my reviews on a regular basis you’ll doubtless have noticed that there are words I use sparingly. That’s because I believe in the power of words and I believe that for them to have the proper impact and for people to sit up and pay attention to them, you have to use them when the situation calls for its use. To use words willy-nilly to describe everything robs them of their power. For instance, the birth of a baby is ‘amazing.’ A ham sandwich is not.

So when I use words like ‘superlative’ ‘uplifting’ and ‘inspirational’ to describe QUEEN OF KATWE you can be sure I don’t use those words lightly. Just go back and look at the reviews I’ve written for movies I’ve seen this year and see if you can find any of those words. I defy you. And that’s because no other movie I’ve seen this year deserves to be described as such. QUEEN OF KATWE is one of the best movies of the year and that people aren’t talking about it more utterly staggers me. Especially since people are screaming at the top of their lungs about the lack of diversity in movies. Here’s a movie with rich, vibrant characters in a setting we rarely see in movies depicted with such depth and detail with a story so improbable that it has to be true and the movie goes virtually unnoticed.

I have to admit I was somewhat confused upon seeing ESPN Films listed in the opening credits as one of the production companies but as the movie went on, I understand why they were involved. QUEEN OF KATWE is a sports story, one that we’ve all seen before. You’ve got your underdog who triumphs against all odds to become a champion. But it’s the protagonist, her environment and her sport of choice that makes this particular sports story unique.

10 year old Phiona Mutesi lives in the slum township of Katwe, outside of Kampala, Uganda. Her widowed mother Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) is struggling to ensure that her children do not fall victim to the street. She’s already lost her eldest daughter, Night (Taryn Kyaze) who has wearied of the unending drudgery of simply trying to make enough money to eat for one more day and taken up with a sleazy hustler with a flashy motorcycle. Phiona and her two brothers are all she has left and she means to see that they have a better life.

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That better life comes in a most unexpected fashion. Curious as to where her brother sneaks off to, she follows him to a youth ministry and meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) who coaches soccer and teaches chess. Phiona is intrigued and wants to learn how to play. Robert senses she’s got something special and he isn’t wrong. It turns out that while the rest of his students are truly remarkable, Phiona is quite simply magic. There’s no other way to put it. She can see moves so far in advance that Robert claims only chess masters with years of experience can do what she can do. Robert subsequently fast-talks Phiona and his other students into chess tournaments against students at fancy private schools. The privileged students who come from family with money and position look down their noses at the slum kids. Until the slum kids, led by Phiona’s devastating talent, beat the pants off of anybody fool enough to sit across a chess board from them.

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As Phiona’s reputation continues to grow she competes in more tournaments, even travelling to other countries. And as she is exposed to life outside of Katwe and sees how other people live, it creates yearnings and desires inside of her she never had to deal with before. Although Robert assures her that chess can be the bridge to a new life, Phiona doesn’t see how this can be and it’s going to take her own acceptance of her spiritual strength and awareness of the power of her intelligence in order for her to make changes in the life of her and her family.

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It’s been far too long since I’ve seen a movie driven so well by the characters and such rich characters they are. Usually I single out a movie’s MVP but I honestly can’t do it with this one. Lupita Nyong’o commands the screen every minute that she’s on it and her Harriet is a woman of intense, towering pride and protectiveness. She’s the type of mother that doesn’t say “I love you” to her children. She shows it by putting food in their stomach, clothes on their back and looking out for their safety. And you may say that’s harsh and cruel but Katwe is a harsh and cruel place for adults and children alike.

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But here’s one of the things I like most about QUEEN OF KATWE. Yes, Phiona and her family live in a slum of grim desperation and poverty but the movie neither beats us over the head with it nor sugarcoats the environment. As a result, Katwe and its people are almost like another character in the movie. It’s one of the most vibrant, lively settings I’ve seen in a movie recently and I wanted to know more about the people who live there, that’s how much this movie drew me in.

Madina Nalwanga is utterly charming as Phiona and she, along with the other young actors in the movie are a real treat to watch from start to finish. Keeps your eyes out for Ethan Nazario Lubega as Benjamin as he steals every scene he’s in. A lot of the humor in the movies comes from Benjamin who seems at times to have just a touch of excessive anxiety he has to deal with, poor little guy.

If this movie had been made back in the 1960s (I know it couldn’t have been but just bear with me while I make my point, okay?) Robert Katende would have been played by Sidney Poitier but since it was made today, we get the next best thing in David Oyelowo and believe me when I say that I don’t use the comparison lightly. Oyelowo plays Robert as a charming man of understated determination and total devotion to the kids he teaches. He has many obstacles to overcome to get Phiona and his kids to these tournaments and he does it with an honesty and grace that can’t help but win over everybody he talks to. Including Harriet who smells a scam somewhere in here and in a really touching scene, Robert has to win her over.

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So here’s your homework assignment for the weekend. Set aside time to go see QUEEN OF KATWE. Take the whole family. You might have a little trouble finding it (the theater Patricia and I saw it in only had ONE showing for the entire day.) But trust me, it’s worth it. QUEEN OF KATWE has outstanding performances and a story that we need now more than ever. We’re seeing examples of the worst of humanity fighting like rabid dogs for what they think is their right to lead this country and the people supporting them aren’t much better. So it’s easy to think that humanity is going to hell in a red-hot handbasket. QUEEN OF KATWE will remind you that the world is full of extraordinary people who are good and honest and give you hope that we’re all going to be just fine. I can’t recommend this movie enough.

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2hrs 4 minutes

PG

Deepwater Horizon

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2017

Participant Media/DiBonaventura Pictures/Summit Entertainment/Closest to the Hole Productions/Leverage Entertainment

Directed by Peter Berg

Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura/Mark Vahradian/Mark Wahlberg/Stephen Levinson/David Womark

Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan/Matthew Sand

Story by Matthew Sand

Based on “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours” by David Barstow/David Rohde/Stephanie Saul

If Irwin Allen had made DEEPWATER HORIZON he’d have given us an all-star cast made up up of up and coming young actors, a handful of faces familiar from TV and half a dozen Old Time movie stars who had been big back in the day and now were in the twilight of their careers. He’d have saddled them all with various eccentricities and personal problems that would have padded out the movie’s running time until we got to what we paid our money to see: the actual apocalyptic disaster. We would then have spent the rest of the movie trying to figure out who was going to live and who’s going to die.

What does all this have to do with my review? Not a blessed thing. It’s just that my attention wandered during the first hour or so of the movie and when it does while watching a movie my mind just goes off into wherever. Don’t get me wrong…it’s not that the movie was boring me. But we get a lot of technobabble in that first hour as the crew members of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig talk shop. The crew talks like people who know the subject they’re talking about intimately and so it’s almost like they have their own language. The movie doesn’t slow down to explain to us, the audience what they’re talking about so a lot of what they were discussing went over my head. But that gives the movie an almost documentary feel as it’s as if we’re eavesdropping on private conversations.

And I don’t mean to make light of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster which released millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and where eleven crewmen lost their lives. While drilling, pressure control systems failed, causing an uncontrollable blowout, releasing crude oil that in turned caused an explosion. The explosion was so fierce and so huge it was visible 40 miles away. The movie DEEPWATER HORIZON depicts the events leading up to and causing the explosion and the struggle of the rig’s crew to escape.

We see the disaster through the eyes of Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) who in one of the better scenes early on the movie gives BP executive Don Vidrine (John Malkovich) an impressive list of everything that’s wrong with the rig. Vidrine’s more concerned that they’re behind schedule and over budget. None of which matters to Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell) an Old School oil driller whose mantra is that “BP may own this rig but it belongs to me.” We get some family time with Mike and his wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter before he goes to work on that fateful day. And for all of you who constantly whine about spoilers are advised that 90% of the family time scenes we saw in the trailers are in the movie.

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The best part of the movie happens when things go to hell, the rig blows up and everybody is scrambling around trying to escape. On a purely technical level this movie is astonishing. I would hate to think that director Peter Berg (and where the hell is my sequel to “The Rundown,” dammit?) and his production crew went out and actually built an oil rig just to blow it up for a movie but damn if it doesn’t look like that’s exactly what the maniacs did. DEEPWATER HORIZON is one of those movies I look at and I’m honestly surprised that people weren’t actually killed during filming. There’s fire everywhere, mud spraying from every crack, seam and hole and if it isn’t mud it’s oil. And even the water doesn’t provide safety because it’s covered in flaming oil.

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But still, DEEPWATER HORIZON  is unengaging on the emotional level. I never once forgot I was looking at a movie and found myself admiring it more for the CGI special effects and the stunt work than the performances. This brings me back to Irwin Allen. Hokey as it may have been to assign each character in his disaster movies with an eccentricity or personal problem, it was a form of shorthand to get us to know and sympathize with the characters. There’s only three of them we really get to know here in DEEPWATER HORIZON as the rest of the characters are actually pretty thin and after the explosion, they’re covered in oil and mud and we can’t tell them apart anyway. So when they die the emotional impact is blunted because we’re not sure who it was that just died.

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Kurt Russell walks away with the acting honors in this one as damn well he should because Kurt Russell walks away with the acting honors in any movie he’s in. That’s The Law. Mark Wahlberg and Kate Hudson are likeable enough but they’re not trying very hard to stretch their acting talents here. John Malkovich has been playing sarcastic villains for so long he should have the trademark on it (unless Jeremy Irons has beaten him to it)

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So should you see DEEPWATER HORIZON? It’s a completely undemanding movie that’s perfectly acceptable as a time waster if you find find yourself with a couple of hours to kill. It’s not a bad movie at all. Just one that you don’t have to rush out and see. Go see it for the mind blowing spectacle of the special effects as they’re best appreciated on the big screen. They’re the real stars of this movie.

107 Minutes

PG-13

 

De-Lovely

2004

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Produced and Directed by Irwin Winkler

Written by Jay Cocks

DE-LOVELY is a good example of the way musicals are made nowadays.  Audiences have to have a ‘reason’ for why the people in the movie suddenly break out in song and dance.  I myself have spoken with many people who hate musicals because as they put it: “Why are the people singing?  Where’s the music coming from?”  Well, where does the music come from in a comedy or an action movie?  It’s not real, people.  None of it.  It’s the movies.  Musicals is a genre where you take it on faith that they’re set in an alternate universe where people express their feelings by singing and dancing to music that comes out of thin air. Jeezly. Pay your money and check your sense of reality at the door.

In DE-LOVELY, the conceit is that a man named Gabe (Jonathan Pryce) who may be a guardian angel is taking the old, crippled Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) on a trip back through his life before he dies.  Naturally, Cole’s life is shown to him and us as a stage musical.  Gabe occasionally goes up on stage to give direction to the various characters in Cole’s life, including his wife Linda (Ashley Judd)

The story here in DE-LOVELY is quite simple.  The movie mainly concerns itself with Cole Porter’s amazing music and his complicated relationship with Linda.  Cole Porter is bi-sexual.  Linda had an abusive first marriage that left her uninterested in sex.  She’s content to be the wife of the world famous songwriter and composer.  And it doesn’t hurt Cole’s career that she’s wealthy and socially connected.  As well as willing to ignore Cole’s relationships with other men and women.

The movie depicts the emotional love between him and Linda as real and genuine but physical love between them isn’t all that important.  They sleep in separate bedrooms, only occasionally coming together such as when Cole gets a sudden urge to be a father.  Linda seems to be satisfied with being Cole’s muse and helping direct his career.  It’s Linda who persuades Irving Berlin to come to Venice to offer Cole a job.  The Porters then move to New York where Cole Porter’s Broadway shows are huge smash hits.  It’s Linda who talks Cole into moving to Hollywood where he goes to work for MGM and Louis B. Mayer (Peter Polycarpou) But the move to Hollywood backfires on Linda when Cole gets pulled deeper into the gay subculture and they end up being blackmailed.

DE-LOVELY quickly settles into a routine:  there’s a musical number.  Then we get a scene where Cole and Linda discuss his affairs with women.  Then we get another musical number.  Then we get another scene where Cole and Linda discuss his affairs with men.  And then we get a musical number.  Then we get another…oh, never mind.  I think you get the point by now.

If there’s any reason for you to see the movie it has to be the musical numbers.  Cole Porter wrote some of the greatest songs ever.  “Anything Goes” is one my Ten All Time Favorite Songs and the gimmick in this movie that many contemporary artists appear in the movie in some really terrific numbers singing his songs.  Robbie Williams tears up “It’s De-Lovely” which is sung at the wedding of Cole and Linda.  Elvis Costello performs “Let’s Misbehave” and I really loved the hell out of Alanis Morrisette’s version of “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love”

“Torchwood” fans will get a real charge out of John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness) singing “Night And Day” and while I appreciated Caroline O’Conner’s version of “Anything Goes” where she appears to be channeling Ethel Merman it doesn’t match up to the lavish Kate Capshaw version in “Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom”  There’s also Sheryl Crow doing a really magical version of “Begin The Beguine”, Vivian Green tearing the raw emotion out of “Love For Sale” and many other wonderful performers including Natalie Cole.

I’ve never been impressed with Ashley Judd as an actress.  Remember back in the 90’s when she was doing suspense thrillers and it seemed like she was remaking the same movie every year?  But here she’s not bad.  She’s a contemporary actresses who looks like she could have been a 30’s/40’s actress and she wear the clothes of the period well.  She inhabits the world of the 30’s/40’s as though born to it.  It’s not an Academy Award performance at all but it is an interesting one.  She goes through some remarkable character development during the film and I appreciated what she was doing while she was doing it.

Kevin Kline is…well, he’s Kevin Kline.  The guy looks like he was born in a tuxedo and I’m convinced he had to have lived a previous life in the 1930’s.  He just looks so comfortable and classy inhabiting that world.  It’s an effortless performance that brought a smile to my face.  But Kevin Kline has that effect on me.  He’s just such a good actor I’d watch him in anything.  I’ve seen him in better movies than this but it’s hard for me to say anything bad about an actor who obviously has so much fun doing what he’s good at.  His huge “Be A Clown” number is in the best tradition of classic movie musical numbers.  And what is really interesting is this:  Even though he’s an excellent singer, Mr. Kline deliberately does not sing as well as he normally does since the real Cole Porter wasn’t that good of a singer.

So should you see DE-LOVELY?  It’s not a movie I say you absolutely have to see.  But it’s very interesting in that it’s less of an examination of the life of Cole Porter and more the story of a woman married to a man who prefers anonymous sex with strangers than with her.   But if you’re a fan of Kevin Kline or Cole Porter music it’s most definitely worth a viewing.  And as a further temptation there are those really great musical numbers.  It’s an okay movie if you’re in the mood for a musical.  Enjoy.

PG-13

123 Minutes