"HIDDEN FIGURES": This historical tale of three African-American women who broke through racial barriers to become heroes to the NASA space race against the Soviets is uplifting, engrossing and faith-filled and an absolute dateworthy film for anyone!
"A MONSTER CALLS" : This deeply moving fantasy film follows an Irish boy who learns to cope with the impending cancer death of his mother through the help of advice he gets from a tree that turns into a giant, but gentle, monster. An absolutely beautiful and moving film that's great for those who are more serious-minded and for fantasy fans.
This is the best time of year for movies, as noble-minded films fill theatres while hoping to draw attention on the way to winning Oscar gold. Often, these movies are also among the best films for discerning daters as well, forgoing excessive sex and violence while offering high-class entertainment.
I’m happy to report that this week, two superb new films are expanding their reach nationally, and both are great for viewing by families and just about any age group. “Hidden Figures” is an uplifting historical drama about three African-American women in the early 1960s who were key but overlooked figures at NASA during the race to space against the Soviet empire, while “A Monster Calls” is an impressive and emotional fantasy film about a young Irish boy learning to cope with his mother’s impending death from cancer by imagining that a favorite tree has come to life and is giving him lessons in physical and emotional strength.
“Hidden” is the real crowd-pleaser of the two, as it is bolstered by three vibrant performances by three actresses giving the performances of a lifetime. Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine G. Johnson, a woman who grew up as an incredible math prodigy but had her career path hampered by her race amid segregated society. She works among a division of other black women in a division of “computers” – people who compute statistics and other mathematical calculations for the space program.
Meanwhile, Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughn, who has been acting as the supervisor of that computing team, overseeing 30 women yet not receiving the title and salary she deserves due to her racial background. Finally, Janelle Monae plays Mary Jackson, a woman who ‘s capable of being a brilliant engineer but can’t be considered for the position unless a judge overturns segregation laws to enable her to finish nine key classes from an elite high school she was never allowed to attend as a youth.
Overseeing them all is a tough but good-hearted white male boss named Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), who demands the best of any of his employees. He’s long supervised white men only, but Katherine’s undeniable magic with calculations is key to ensuring that famed astronaut John Glenn can become the first American to enter space orbit, and when the unfairly prejudicial rules of NASA culture push her to the breaking point, he initiates reforms.
“Hidden Figures” may sound like a heavy drama from this description, but while it deals with important topics, there is such a sense of joy, ambition, achievement and patriotism at its core that it inspired four massive rounds of applause at the screening I attended. Director Theodore Melfi, who co-wrote with Allison Schroeder, has created a movie that is not only engaging and packed with goodness (all the women press forward in strength garnered by their Christian faith), but is also extremely timely as the nation struggles with morale and racial relations. It’s a must-see and likely to win Best Picture.
Meanwhile, “A Monster Calls” is a highly original and emotionally powerful tale that puts the higher-profile 2016 failures of Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG” and Will Smith’s “Collateral Beauty” to shame. Lewis Macdougall plays Conor, a young Irish boy who’s Mum (Felicity Jones) is dying from cancer. She has long told him that an impressive tree on the edge of the town cemetery has magical powers, and Conor is shocked to find the tree has come to life one night, complete with a booming voice (by Liam Neeson).
The tree both encourages Conor to have peace and understanding about his mother’s worsening condition, but also moves him to stand up for himself against a cruel bully and to establish a loving relationship with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), who will have to take him in when his mother dies. In each of these cases, as Conor unleashes his pent-up frustrations, the tree roars to life, giving life to his internal roiling emotions. But ultimately, Conor will have to face down the terrifying nightmare that is troubling him most of all.
Writer Patrick Ness adapted his own acclaimed novel, and director J.A. Bayona follows up his outstanding work in the 2012 film (a must-see about a family striving to reunite after being separated by the Indonesian tsunami) with a movie that brings together a beautiful mother-child dynamic with stirring special effects and incredible performances. “Monster” can be an intense film at times, and is likely too strong for young children to handle, but those viewers who are about 10 and up should find it a wondrous and memorable film on the order of the timeless Spielberg classic “E.T.”