Hidden Figures (Film Review) – Inspirational and Timely

Hidden Figures is a biographical drama directed by Theodore Melfi and stars Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Glen Powell, Mahershala Ali, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe. The story is based on the non-fiction book of the same name about African-American female mathematicians who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The film focuses on Katherine Johnson (Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Monáe) who worked at NASA at a time of segregation, racism and the Civil Rights Movement.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures was the last of the Oscar nominated films that I had yet to see and I was looking forward to seeing it. A lot of that was down to the cast involved. Certainly, Octavia Spencer has remained fresh in mind ever since I saw The Help, which is a phenomenal film. Moreover, Kevin Costner is always a solid actor to have in any film and to see Mahershala Ali after his win at the Oscars intrigued me. The story itself is also really interesting and I love to learn about events and stories I never knew about before.

Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe in Hidden Figures

My Thoughts on Hidden Figures

I found Hidden Figures to be a very good film that is inspirational and very timely. The story is told with a lot of respect and is incredibly relevant to what is going on in the world today. A big reason why I liked the film was the performances of the Henson, Spencer and Monáe. They had really good chemistry when they were on screen together and their individual arcs in Hidden Figures were also very engaging and, at times, very moving.

The supporting cast also gave strong performances. Mahershala Ali played his role well even though it probably wasn’t as layered as his performance in Moonlight. Kevin Costner fitted perfectly into Hidden Figures. His look and demeanour just oozes 1960s United States. Indeed, he has experience of that with past roles in films set in the same time period such as JFK and Thirteen Days.

Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Figures

Another element of Hidden Figures that I really liked was the score which was composed by Hans Zimmer. It really complemented the tone of the film and it is completely deserving of the Golden Globe nomination it received for Best Original Score. Additionally, the Oscar nominations this film received in categories such as Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer were deserved too.

There is a lot to like about Hidden Figures and I think it is necessary viewing. The issues and themes within this inspirational story need to be experienced by a wider audience. Thankfully, the fact that certain charities, institutions, individuals and independent businesses have screened this film for free means that more people will experience Hidden Figures and understand its importance.

Fences (Film Review) – A Triumph in Acting

Fences is a drama directed by Denzel Washington and stars Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney, Viola Davis and Denzel Washington. The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name which was written by August Wilson.

The story focuses on Troy (Denzel Washington), a 53-year-old man providing for his family by working as a waste collector while struggling with his failure in the past to make it as a professional baseball player. Troy believes that this was down to the colour of his skin rather than his age.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Fences

This is a film that was nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. In the midst of the other films that got nominated for that award, it went under the radar in terms of how people viewed its chances to win. Obviously, Best Picture went to Moonlight but Fences was never seriously talked about as having a realistic chance to win.

This surprised me, especially when you consider that Fences has an award-winning play and great actors at its foundation. Certainly, Denzel Washington is one of my all-time favourite actors and Viola Davis is cementing her legacy as being one of the all-time best actresses. Hence, I was fascinated to see these two giants in acting give it their all.

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences

My Thoughts on Fences

Fences floored me. This is a stunningly great film which at, its core, has superb performances and a gripping, heavy story. Truly, Fences has a very intimate feel due to the fact that the majority of the film takes place in one location (Troy’s house). While some have criticised this element of Fences, I loved it as it helps us form a deep connection to the characters in this film who themselves are brought to life through brilliant performances from the cast.

As we know, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis were both Oscar nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress respectively. They also played the same characters in the first Broadway revival of Fences. Evidently, they know how to play these characters and, in Fences, they provide the gravitas needed to make this film as powerful as it is. The acting by Washington and Davis is some of the best they have ever given. At times, it is hard to watch as the levels that they went to in this film heavily impact you.

Denzel Washington in Fences

The script in this film is also phenomenal. The dialogue feels real, the story feels real and Fences deals with some profound themes such as poverty, regret, race and also mental illness when the film focuses on Gabriel, Troy’s brother. There are a lot of great elements within Fences and the overall film is fantastic. It is definitely one of my favourites from the nine Oscar nominees for Best Picture. If you are a film lover and appreciate brilliant acting, then see Fences as soon as you can.

Moonlight (Film Review) – A Subtle, Slow-Burn That Pays Off

Moonlight is a drama directed by Barry Jenkins and stars Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Naomie Harris, and Mahershala Ali. The story of the film focuses on the life of an African-American boy called Chiron. The three acts of the film lead us to follow him through three different stages of his life; as a child, a teenager and an adult.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Moonlight

This film has received a lot of critical acclaim since it premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September 2016. As a result, Moonlight has been on my radar for a while, especially as the story and how people marvelled at the way it was told made me really excited for what was said to be a very unique film. Moreover, praise towards the performances of Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris bolstered my anticipation for this film even more.

Mahershala Ali in Moonlight

My Thoughts on Moonlight

In the end, I liked Moonlight and there are a lot of things to admire about it. For one, Mahershala Ali is great in his supporting role and he single-handedly carried the first act (i. Little). In fact, I would argue that the film gets progressively better with each act. This is because the second act (ii. Chiron) builds upon what was set up in the first act and develops Chiron as a character while the third act (iii. Black) gives us the pay-off.

It is simple yet effective story-telling which itself was very minimalist and personal. At times, I felt like I was intruding on private conversations and throughout Moonlight, we gain insight into lives and experiences which have not received widespread attention before this time. For that, I give Moonlight a lot of credit for breaking new ground.

Andre Holland in Moonlight

I also appreciated the deep themes that were interwoven into the story such as sexuality, drug abuse and poverty which give Moonlight the depth it needs to succeed on the level that it does. The performances by the cast deserve praise too. As I previously said, Mahershala Ali was great and Naomie Harris was also very good. When you consider that Harris filmed her scenes in just three days, it makes it all the more remarkable that she gave such a haunting performance.

As you can see, Moonlight deserves the praise it has received and, after its achievement of winning Best Picture at the Oscars in the most dramatic fashion in Oscar history, I hope more people will watch it. Yet, I do feel that the slow pacing of the film, which does limit its rewatchability, will mean that not everyone will appreciate Moonlight for what it is. When you scratch the surface, you will find Moonlight to be a very deep film that is necessary viewing.

20th Century Women (Film Review) – A Cool Film

20th Century Women is a drama directed and written by Mike Mills and stars Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann, Billy Crudup and Annette Bening. The film, which is partly based on Mills’ childhood, is set in Santa Barbara, California in 1979 and the story centres on Dorothea (Annette Bening) who enlists the help of Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning) to raise her son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann).

My Knowledge and Expectation of 20th Century Women

My interest in 20th Century Women was sparked by a trailer I saw at my local cinema about a month ago and, at first glance, it seemed very unique and interesting. Additionally, this film has been given a lot of praise by critics, especially when it comes to Annette Bening’s performance.

Annette Bening and Lucas Jade Zumann in 20th Century Women

Indeed, some argue that she should have been nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars. Despite this perceived snub, 20th Century Women has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay at this year’s Oscars. This made me even more curious about how this film would impact me.

My Thoughts on 20th Century Women

In the end, I found 20th Century Women to be a film that is very relaxing and that relaxation I felt was solely down to the pacing. Certainly, the effect that the film had on me was quite soothing thanks to the pacing which, to be honest, I did not expect going into it. Some may call 20th Century Women slow but once I became accustomed to the pacing, the film really shone for what it was which is a very good coming-of-age story.

Elle Fanning in 20th Century Women

For me, the characters were the best part of the film. They were genuinely likeable and felt like real people with depth. A lot of credit should go to director Mike Mills in the way he drew inspiration from his upbringing to create great characters for his film and the cast deserve praise for bringing them to life. Truly, Annette Bening is brilliant as the lead in 20th Century Women but the supporting cast around her are also fantastic and they gave the film a lot of heart.

There is also a good blend of comedy and drama in 20th Century Women. Certain lines of dialogue and moments in the film are absolutely hilarious but the film also deals with serious issues and themes which you would expect such as parenthood, growing old, love and the struggles of adolescence. The blend of genres combine to make 20th Century Women a film that is worth your time if you let it wash over you and want a relaxing but deep, poignant experience.

Hacksaw Ridge (Film Review) – A Brutal Depiction of War

Hacksaw Ridge is a biographical war drama directed by Mel Gibson and stars Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving and Vince Vaughn in supporting roles and Andrew Garfield in the lead role. The story of this film is set during World War II (WW2) and focuses on Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), an American combat medic who refused to carry or use a firearm or weapons of any kind. He eventually become the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Hacksaw Ridge

I have been looking forward to Hacksaw Ridge for a while due to the fact that it has received a lot of buzz since it was released in the United States last November. Additionally, the cast is extremely talented and the film has garnered a few Oscar nominations including Best Actor for Andrew Garfield, Best Picture and Best Director for Mel Gibson which itself was controversial. Certainly, Mel Gibson has a very chequered past and the criticism he received for his past actions was deserved.

Nevertheless, despite what you may think of Mel Gibson as a person, you cannot deny that he is an extremely talented director and actor. Indeed, he was the man responsible for creating my favourite film of all time; Braveheart. My love for that film meant that Hacksaw Ridge immediately became one of my most anticipated films during this awards season. If Gibson recaptured any of the magic of Braveheart, then I was in store for a great film.

Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn on the set of Hacksaw Ridge

My Thoughts on Hacksaw Ridge

To my delight, Hacksaw Ridge met my expectations. Truly, the actions scenes in Hacksaw Ridge depict conflict during WW2 in such a raw and savage way that it evoked my experience of watching Saving Private Ryan for the first time. In fact, I would argue that this is the best war film made since Saving Private Ryan.

A big reason why this is the case is down to the way in which Gibson structured this film. The film can be split into two parts. The first half of Hacksaw Ridge is essentially set-up for Doss’ actions in the Battle of Okinawa in the second half of the film. This structure allows us to get emotionally attached to the characters and understand why Garfield’s character has the philosophy that he has. As a result, we have a lot of pay-off in the action-packed second half of the film which is tense, uncompromising and emotional.

Indeed, the man sitting next to my right was having a visceral reaction to what was happening on the screen in the second half of the film. This is a credit to Mel Gibson who did a fantastic job in directing Hacksaw Ridge and also bringing out great performances from the cast. Certainly, Andrew Garfield is fantastic in the lead role and the supporting cast also elevated the quality of the film.

Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge

The Score in Hacksaw Ridge

Another aspect of Hacksaw Ridge which I thought was really good but is seemingly underrated is the score, orchestrated by Rupert Gregson-Williams. For me, the score/soundtrack is one of the most important elements of a film. When the music in a film is good, it vastly improves its quality and makes it more memorable. The score in Hacksaw Ridge, which echoes the music in films such as Kingdom of Heaven and The Last Samurai, achieves this feat. In fact, I listened to the score immediately after I saw Hacksaw Ridge and it cemented my belief that this score is being overlooked as being one of the strongest aspects of the film.

In fact, Hacksaw Ridge has a lot of strong aspects which, when combined, make this a film which is worthy of the awards and nominations it has received. Fantastic directing by Mel Gibson, great acting by the cast, a memorable score along with the best depiction of war since Saving Private Ryan make Hacksaw Ridge the most well-done war film since Saving Private Ryan and something you must see as soon as possible.

Jackie (Film Review) – An Overbearing Snoozefest

Jackie is a biographical drama directed by Pablo Larrain and stars Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup, John Hurt and Natalie Portman who herself plays Jackie Kennedy, the wife of President John F. Kennedy (JFK). The story of the film focuses on Jackie Kennedy’s life in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of her husband in 1963.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Jackie

Natalie Portman’s performance as Jackie Kennedy has received a lot of praise from critics and she is even nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars. This was a reason why I wanted to see Jackie in addition to my interest in the assassination of JFK. But, admittedly, I heard a lot of mixed opinions about the film which tempered my expectations about how good the film would be. Usually, when I go into a film with low or balanced expectations, I come out of the film pleasantly surprised and liking it much more than I thought I would.

Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy

My Thoughts on Jackie

This was not the case with Jackie. While I do like parts of this film, I found this film to be boring and really overbearing, particularly with the score which I thought was awful. Truly, the bombastic nature of the music in Jackie was completely wrong and clashed with the sombre tone of the film.

I also thought that Peter Sarsgaard was completely miscast as Bobby Kennedy. I did not buy him as JFK’s brother at all and that was a real shame because, apart from Sarsgaard, I thought the acting in this film was good. Certainly, Portman, while a bit over-the-top at times, was good in the iconic role of Jackie Kennedy. I thought the scenes between her and John Hurt were the most interesting scenes of the film.

Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in Jackie

However, I feel that a big part of why I liked the scenes with John Hurt above all the rest was down to the fact that I saw Jackie a day or so after he tragically passed away and it was really nice to see him in this film. Still, why I concede that I may be biased towards these scenes because of my sad feelings towards the death of John Hurt, they did give Jackie Kennedy depth as a character in this film.

Nevertheless, this does not compensate for the major problems I have with Jackie in terms of its awful score which clashes with the tone of the film. It just added to an overbearing film with a poor casting choice for Bobby Kennedy and an occasional over-the-top but nevertheless good performance by Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy. While I enjoyed some scenes, Jackie was a bit of a slog to get through. It is not something I shall revisit.

Lion (Film Review) – Slow, Sad But Good

Lion is a drama directed by Garth Davis and stars Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman. The film is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley who was separated from his family in India at five-years-old and adopted by an Australian couple. In the first half of the film, Saroo is a young boy played by Sunny Pawar while Dev Patel plays Saroo in the second half as a young man who seeks to find his way back home to his family nearly half a decade after his disappearance.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Lion

This film got a limited release late last year and was widely praised. Indeed, the acclaim that Lion received has led to it recently gaining some Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor and Actress for Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman respectively. I had not heard much about this film prior to its Oscar nominations and the awards recognition it has received meant that my expectations going into Lion were high.

Sunny Pawar in Lion

My Thoughts on Lion

Similar to La La Land, while my expectations for Lion were not fully met, I found it to be a good film. At its core, Lion has a pretty incredible and emotional story, great cinematography and good performances from the cast. Certainly, Patel gave his best performance since Slumdog Millionaire but I thought that Sunny Pawar was absolutely brilliant in the film. He was so sweet and likeable and for a boy of his age to carry half of the film is a massive achievement.

Still, this brings me onto one of the problems I had with Lion in the fact that, for me, the first half of this film was much stronger than the second. It had more focus and was better paced. Indeed, the whole film is a bit of a slow burner which does limit its re-watchability along with the fact that this is not exactly a happy film. Indeed, even the end of the film where Saroo finally reunites with his family is bittersweet but it is nonetheless very emotional.

Nicole Kidman in Lion

Yet, for a directorial debut, Garth Davis did a good job with Lion, especially as the film is beautifully shot and we do connect to Saroo. But, I do feel that in terms of storytelling, he missed a trick by not focusing enough on the dynamic of Saroo’s adoptive family. It is touched upon at times but it is brushed over time and time again and I feel we would have gained a much deeper connection than we already had with the characters in Lion.

This is especially true with Nicole Kidman who I feel was underutilised which is a shame because she was really good, with one scene with Patel towards the end being a highlight of what, on the whole, is a good film despite the issues I had with some elements of it. There is enough emotional weight within the story, good performances and stunning cinematography to make Lion a film I would recommend you seeing even though you may not feel like you want to watch it again afterwards.

La La Land (Film Review) – Bittersweet But Good

La La Land is a musical directed by Damien Chazelle and stars Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and John Legend. The plot of the film centres on Mia, an inspiring actress played by Emma Stone, and Seb, a struggling jazz musician played by Ryan Gosling. They meet and fall in love in Los Angeles and try to find the balance of maintaining their relationship and achieving their dreams and ambitions.

My Knowledge and Expectation of La La Land

This has been one of the most critically acclaimed films to have come out in recent memory. Truly, the critics/film pundits who I trust have all praised La La Land with aspects of the film such as the cinematography and the performances of Stone and Gosling in particular being heavily lauded.

As a result, this is a film which has been championed as potential sweeping all the awards at the Oscars this year. Musicals are a genre of film I am not well versed in. So, the main reason why I was interested in seeing La La Land, apart from the great reviews, was because of Damien Chazelle.

Damien Chazelle is a relatively new director within the film industry. He made his breakthrough in 2014 with his second directorial effort in Whiplash, a film that I think is absolutely brilliant. Because of this, I was excited to see what he could accomplish with La La Land.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land

Additionally, the fact that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were the leads in this film is never a bad thing to have as they are both extremely talented and have proved that they have great chemistry as we witnessed in Crazy Stupid Love. Consequently, I went into La La Land with high expectations.

My Thoughts on La La Land

While I would say that these expectations were not fully met, I will say that La La Land is a good film and there were things I liked. For one, Stone and Gosling give good performances and they had really good chemistry in the film. I also thought that this film was beautifully shot and paints a lovely if not idealistic portrait of Los Angeles.

I also appreciated the ending of La La Land which, while bittersweet, was a fitting way to end the film but I understand if people didn’t like the ending as it is not the traditional happy ending. For me, it worked well but, that being said, I do not think the film is the masterpiece that a lot of people think it is because it has some flaws.

Another Day of Sun in La La Land

The Flaws of La La Land

For instance, I thought that the film could have been trimmed by 5-10 minutes to improve the pacing and I would have liked the musical numbers to have been spread out a bit more. For me, it felt like the musical numbers, while good, were mostly in the first act of the film. La La Land would have been better if we had a few more musical numbers in the second and third act.

Overall, La La Land is a good film with catchy musical numbers, beautiful cinematography and good chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. However, it does have flaws in regards to its pacing and placement of the musical numbers which prevents it from, in my eyes, being the masterpiece that a lot of people consider it to be.

Manchester by the Sea (Film Review) – A Brilliant Film About Depression

Manchester by the Sea is a drama written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan and stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges. The plot of the film focuses on Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck, who has to look after his sixteen-year-old nephew after the death of his brother while, at the same time, dealing with his tortured past.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Manchester by the Sea

This is a film which has been on my radar for nearly a year. Indeed, it received a lot of praise at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and has been touted as being an Oscar contender for a long time, with Casey Affleck in particular gaining a lot of admiration from critics for his performance. As such, I have been eager to see Manchester by the Sea for quite a while and was certainly expecting that this was going to be a great, powerful film.

Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea

My Thoughts on Manchester by the Sea

I was right to think this way. Manchester by the Sea is a brilliant film and this is all down to its emotional story and the fantastic performances the cast gives. Undoubtedly, Casey Affleck gives the best performance of his career. He loses himself in the role and successfully plays a man who seems calm but has a great deal of inner rage and turmoil which, when you find out what he has been through, is understandable. The strength of his performance makes me think that he is a lock for Best Actor at the Oscars.

The supporting cast were also great. Michelle Williams is fantastic in the small role she has with one scene between her and Affleck, in my opinion, assuring her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars. Lucas Hedges was one of my favourite things about this film and I hope he gets a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. His contribution was vital in proving moments of relief through dark humour in this hard-hitting film.

Lucas Hedges and Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea

Certainly, Manchester by the Sea showcases a story which successfully portrays emotional withdrawal, depression and the fact that, while you can continue to live after horrific events, some things are too horrible to completely move on from. The film is very affecting in this regard. Yet, as I said, there are moments of relief, especially when Lucas Hedges character was involved.

Overall, the emotional story along with the fantastic performances make Manchester by the Sea a brilliant film which I am sure will get a lot of award nominations at the Oscars. Indeed, it already has quite a few BAFTA nominations and I am pleased it is being recognised for its exceptional quality, especially in acting which does make the film stand out.