Talking Movies

August 8, 2018

The Oscars are beyond saving and must be allowed to die

That is a quote most members of the Academy would not recognise, because it was from a popular comic-book blockbuster movie. Batman Begins.

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I wrote a piece a few months back that suggested the Oscars needed to change and not in the way they think. Instead today we have the jaw-dropping plan to give a most popular film award at the Oscars, you know to keep the philistines happy.

Here is a modest suggestion. To emphasise how this is not a proper artistic award, but a sop to the rabble, it should not take the shape of a golden Oscar, instead they should literally break the mould and sculpt the statuette in the shape of a black panther; because that is what is going to win it. Black Panther must be acknowledged in some way, or social media, actual media, and Spike Lee will catch fire and we will all burn to death. But the Oscars would literally rather create a new nonsense award than give the damn Best Picture Oscar to a film that just passed 700 million dollars at the North American Box Office a mere 5 years after Ryan Coogler and Michael B Jordan made Fruitvale Station for .9 million dollars. Coming in 123rd at the North American Box Office with 16 million dollars the tragicomic truth is that Coogler and Jordan would have more chance winning Oscars with that movie than with Black Panther.

The Oscars have nothing but contempt for the people who literally pay their wages, so do what I have been doing for years: don’t care and don’t watch these clowns flatter each other for indie cliches, pious tripe, and bad art that says the right things.

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February 16, 2017

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures tells the neglected story of the black women mathematicians behind the scenes during the early days of NASA.

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Katherine Johnson (Taraji P Henson) works as a computer in the backrooms of NASA as the fledgling agency tries to put a man in space. She is tapped to work out analytical geometry for hard-nosed director Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), and suffers the contempt of Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) who resents her attempts to gain credit for her work on his project. Fellow mathematicians Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) have parallel struggles. Karl Zielinski (Olek Krupa) wants Jackson as his engineer, but she must jump through Jim Crow hoops to achieve that title, while Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) offers no help to Vaughan in her quest to be given the title of supervisor of the coloured computers given that she’s doing the job. Their difficulties are mirrored by America failing to keep pace with the USSR.

Always be suspicious of important films, they are rarely good. And always be suspicious of films based on a true story, they usually make pig-swill of history and defensively claim artistic license even as they demand Oscars for their fearless dedication to telling true stories. Director Theodore Melfi and co-writer Allison Schroeder’s script is full of transparently bogus movie moments that are the hallmark of screenwriting designed purely to create Oscar ceremony excerpts: Costner desegregates NASA with a crowbar, Henson gives her boss the sort of haranguing that in reality precedes being escorted from the premises, and, in perhaps the most delirious touch of all, to symbolise how Johnson despite her important work had the door slammed in her face by white men, Melfi has Johnson hand over her important work and have the door slammed in her face. Indeed.

Spencer hasn’t changed her shtick since I disliked it in Ugly Betty but is Oscar-nominated for Supporting Actress. Spike Lee’s calculated tantrum reaped 6/20 black acting nominations this year, but Spencer is nominated when Greta Gerwig is not for 20th Century Women, and you wonder about that during Spencer’s jaw-dropping put-down of Dunst (who is obviously a snob not a racist). A put-down redolent of the current cultural moment’s disquieting joy in fault-finding witch-hunts which insist dissent from the (ever-changing) party line betrays a racist/sexist/et al mindset which might not even be conscious of its own white privilege/toxic masculinity/et al. Hidden Figures, like Supergirl, is rather effective when it gets off its soapbox. Monae translates her soul star charisma, Mahershala Ali plays quiet grace, Glenn Powell is an ebullient John Glenn, and the rise of IBM in rocketry is fascinatingly handled.

Hidden Figures is entertaining, despite missed opportunities to dig deeper into black identity via radical Levi Jackson (Aldis Hodge), but its depiction of history needs to be taken with a whole cellar of salt.

3/5

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