Review of reviews: Film
Directed by Theodore Melfi (PG)
Three unsung heroes help win the space race.
Without a team of brilliant African-American women, NASA might never have sent astronauts into space, said Richard Brody in The New Yorker. That’s the little-known history behind this “subtle and powerful” drama based on a recent book. Taraji Henson plays Katherine Johnson, a former math prodigy who in 1961 is working for the space agency as a “computer,” or human number cruncher, on the mission to put John Glenn into orbit. She faces casual sexism and racism daily in NASA’s segregated workplace, and Hidden Figures evinces a “calm and bright” rage at the way things were. It’s “the Rocky of math movies,” said Richard Roeper in the Chicago Sun-Times. As Johnson and two colleagues, played by Janelle Monáe and Octavia Spencer, strive for dignity and recognition, this “unabashedly sentimental” picture remains “wonderfully inspirational,” thanks to its stars’ talents. “Henson delivers the performance of a lifetime,” and Spencer and Monáe both give “nomination-worthy” supporting turns. Straightforward story arc aside, Hidden Figures has “genuine art to it,” said Richard Lawson in VanityFair.com. “This is a movie made with care, not a sloppy, slapdash pile of corny sentiment. It’s a feel-good movie that actually, well, feels good.”
A Monster Calls
Directed by J.A. Bayona (PG-13)
A boy’s dream world helps him cope with loss.
Here’s a visually arresting fantasy film that “dares to be darker than the average family movie,” said Neil Genzlinger in The New York Times. Its protagonist is a 12-year-old coping with the impending death of his mother, and from the boy’s imagination arises a formidable creature who turns out to be “one of the more unnerving, impressive” specialeffects inventions of the past year. One night, a towering, gnarled yew tree appears outside the troubled tween’s window to begin sharing three fantastic stories meant to help the boy (Lewis MacDougall) face his coming loss and other life complications.
Nothing else in the movie is as powerful as the twisted morality tales the Monster unspools, said Noel Murray in AVClub.com. Rendered in animation that evokes watercolor painting, these sequences conjure witches and bygone eras, and none of the stories offers a black-and-white moral. But the larger drama proves quietly unpredictable, too, and “has too many well-observed moments to write off as merely for kids.” Even when the story gets syrupy, the visuals dazzle, said Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal. You want to watch this movie on a big screen—“to take in all the beauty.”
Things to Come
Directed by Mia Hansen-Love (PG-13)
A woman in late middle age is forced to reinvent herself
Isabelle Huppert “is indisputably having an American moment,” said Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. While her flashier performance in the revenge thriller Elle has earned the 63-year-old French actress a Golden Globe nomination, she’s equally impressive in this concurrent release “whose subtle satisfactions very much sneak up on you.” Here, Huppert plays a high school philosophy teacher whose comfortable Parisian life is disrupted when her husband announces that he’s leaving her for another woman. “A cascade of changes ensues,” said Ann Hornaday in The Washington Post. Her textbook publisher also wants to move in a new direction, her hypochondriac mother requires placement in a nursing home, and as Huppert’s Nathalie endures each blow, the star “imbues every scene with fragility and a fierce refusal to go down without a fight.” The third act, in which Nathalie drifts toward a possible romance with a former student, “tends to lack the narrative impact of what came beforehand,” said Jordan Mintzer in The Hollywood Reporter. But this isn’t a movie determined to give its heroine a new beginning. “Not to get all philosophical about it, but Things to Come is that rare movie where the future is shown to be neither dark nor bright. It just is.”