Rate Real (Movie Thoughts: Luce)

large_luce-posterJulius Onah’s ‘Luce’ was adapted from a play by J.C. Lee, who also co-wrote the screenplay.  The material is a powerful piece – one that makes you examine each of these characters closely – people are complex, you see, and people can be both be devil and angel. The film centers around Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr) who is a star student (Debate team, football hero, honors) who isn’t quite who he appears to be. Or does he? Complications abound whenhe submits an assignment to his teacher (Octavia Spencer) praising Frantz Fanon, who advocates using violence as necessary retribution. She has his locker searched and finds illegal fireworks there.

The setting is set up, and I have to admit it was a little on the manipulative side. And the conflicts are settled a little too simplistic – we see complexities in some characters, but honestly, not all. However, we get four fantastic performances here, and each one gives their character so much depth that everything just works. Harrison is a star in the making, and Spencer is magnificent as always (this could give her more nominations by the end of the year) but I was also quite pleased with both Naomi Watts and Tim Roth who play Luce’s adopted parents. In the end, their performances gave me more satisfaction than the piece that laid the groundwork.

Water World (Film Thoughts: The Shape Of Water)

MPW-121262How does one fall in love with a fish? Elegantly, it seems. A lot of people have described ‘The Shape Of Water’ as poetic, and I do agree that it is the best word to describe Guillermo del Toro’s film. It stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa, who works as a janitress in some kind of scientific facility (something called OCCAM)  Elisa lives a relatively normal life, hanging out with her next-door neighbor, watching old movies at the movie theater below her apartment, reenacting foot choreography from old musicals. There is a real old-fashioned wonderment in her existence, as she weaves her days in and out with her friend Zelda, played by Octavia Spencer (in a role she can do in her sleep)

the-shape-of-water-118512Until one day a ‘creature’ arrives in said factory, and she gets attracted to it. There’s a subplot involving Americans and Russians fighting for said creature, and there are forces who fight to save the creature. And there’s a love story in the midst of this all. I was less interested in the former than the latter, and for me, the film is at its best when exploring the love angle of the two. the former plot line seems rote, while there is a a lot of humanity in seeing two elements falling in love. For sure, a lot of people would think that the love story would seem odd (A lot of people have described the film as weird) but for me, stories about love – in all forms and shapes, even water – towers above all.

I liked this movie a lot, and I am always attracted to all things, old-fashioned, especially mid century settings. And there is Renee Fleming singing ‘You’ll Never Know’ at the end of the film that is quite exquisite. But sometimes, the ‘getting there’ seemed a bit of a chore.

It’s All In The Math (Film Thoughts: Hidden Figures)

514-film-page-largeIt is not surprising that ‘Hidden Figures’ has been the Number One movie for the past two weeks, and is 2017’s first big box office hit. This movie tells three beautiful stories that make you feel good. Add to that three outstanding performances and really, it’s a surefire formula for success.

Taraji Henson plays Katherine Johnson, a gifted Mathematecian who played a key role in John Glenn’s flight in space. This was during the time when segregation was still enforced in the state of Virgina, and we see her struggle with it – as she had to walk a mile to go to the colored bathrooms, and as the lone black in her department, was given a small coffee pot so she wouldn’t have to share with the whites. But her boss, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) is progressive so we scenes wherein Harrison singlehandedly jackhammering the colored signs in the bathroom. It makes for good cinema.

Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy Vaughan was responsible for having her whole department learn FORTRAN, a system for punch cards for the IBM machine in order for them to stay relevant as they were facing extinction from the calculating machines. Spencer here is more subdued, but just as effective.

I thought the whole film was engrossing from beginning to end, with just the right amount of drama and suspense to keep my at the edge of my seats, even though more or less I knew the outcome to these conflicts. The film is solidly written, solidly directed, and deserves its success.