Thursday, December 22, 2016
Rapid Reviews: Hidden Figures and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The last few years have brought an endless supply of Civil Rights and Civil War era films, making it more and more difficult for writers and directors to keep their subject matter fresh with each subsequent release. St. Vincent helmer, Theodore Melfi, faces this exact quandary with his 2016 late-year effort, Hidden Figures. Thankfully, this remarkable true story incorporates the unique backdrop of science and mathematics to provide the necessary originality needed to stand out amongst a crowded field of similarly-themed stories.
It's the early 1960s and the United States are in a fragile race to space against Soviet Russia. And after falling behind, the folks at NASA are forced to double-down on their efforts to get astronaut John Glenn into space and orbiting our planet. Yet, as racial tensions divide our nation, a trio of hardworking and sophisticated African American women (Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae) lead a united charge to help ensure that the United States defeats Russia on this scientific front.
Admittedly, Hidden Figures comes with a wide range of ups and downs. Throughout the duration of the film its Civil Rights subplot is addressed via an all too familiar approach. Absolutely no new light is shed on this unfortunate historical truth. Instead, Melfi and co-writer Allison Schroeder deliver stereotypical examples of racial injustices that tip-toe the line of embellishment considering how difficult it becomes to spot a sympathetic Caucasian within the structure of the film. However, this minor blemish falls by the way-side as the film's unbelievable real-life story begins to magnify. While the gluttony of math and science dispersed throughout its more than two-hour running time is likely to draw a yawning response from some audiences, I found it to be a refreshing and genuine examination of the common adult world where problem-solving has become a lost art. And through this eye-opening approach, Melfi and Schroeder manage to pen a strong collection of characters that are captured wonderfully by the film's three leading women. The entire trio deliver strong performances, but Janelle Monae happens to shine just a tad-bit brighter than co-stars Octavia Spencer (who will most likely earn an Oscar Nomination for the role) and Taraji Henson. Praises are also in order for Kevin Costner, who delivers his finest turn in years. Hidden Figures comes with many lulls and a few obvious flaws, yet the film centers around a soaring true story that deserves to be told and the entire cast and crew do a fine job of telling it.
Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4
We're only a week into its release and Gareth Edwards' Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, is already climbing the box office ranks. The film has already topped $350 million globally and its still going strong. However, a larger question still looms. Is Rogue One a worthy entry into the Star Wars universe? Because, like it or not, Disney is opening the flood gates and, much like Marvel's massive expansion, everything we have known and loved about Star Wars is destined to get a drastic make-over.
Set just prior to the opening of George Lucas' 1977 pioneering effort, Episode IV - A New Hope, we're introduced to Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) and his family who are hiding in a remote location. But as members of the Imperial forces bear down on their dwelling, Galen instructs his daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), to disappear into a hidden compartment deep in the caves. Galen is taken by the Empire and forced to construct the Death Star, while years later his daughter Jyn works in tandem with the Rebel Alliance to steal the plans to the planet-destroying weapon.
Rogue One opens in an unflattering fashion, relying on lazy dream and flashback sequences to inadequately enhance character development and stir emotions. Soon after, the film introduces its second main character, Rebel fighter Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who continues to underwhelm thanks in part to more writing deficiencies and a middling performance. Throughout its first and second acts Rogue One continues to introduce a multitude of new characters that never earn their stripes, but ultimately command your feelings during the film's final showdown. I was all but tuned out going into Rogue One's third act, and then the film suddenly goes into "hyperspace". This small side-story in the grand Star Wars saga delivers a phenomenal knockout punch as its eerily reminiscent overlap with A New Hope takes shape. It's a rewarding conclusion that leaves a sweet memory as its brilliant score launches into the final credits. Although, I must admit that there many shortcomings evident all throughout the film. Enough for me to question Disney's clear intention of watering down this iconic film franchise.
Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4