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Films: Hidden figures – T2 Trainspotting – Fences


HIDDEN FIGURES, tells the story of African-American women,
mathematicians, involved crucially in the NASA Space Program in the
1960’s, in its race with the Soviet Union and its Space program. In
2017, a story of timely importance, definitely politically, for our
times. It is an important story, then. I, I should confess, was moved,
cried and smiled often. Manipulated pleasantly like the rest of you.

This was despite the film-making having all the hall marks of an
Affirmative Action movie that Ticks All the Boxes on how to make a
popular commercial product. Now, there is nothing, essentially, wrong
with that except it is, in this case, irritatingly, too, too, obvious.
The Directing (Theodore Melfi), the Writing (Theodore Melfi and
Allison Schroeder), Editing (Peter Tescher) is all ‘timed’ to milk the
audience for its laughter, tears and comfortable political approval,
as if the ‘Pavlov Dog’ technique has been transposed for us dumb
suckers in the audience. The Production Design (Wynn Thomas), the Art
Direction (Jeremy Woolsey), the Set Dressing (Missy parker) the
Costume Design (Renee Ehrlich Kalfus), the colour, the lighting all
have the sheen of cleanliness and the unreality of a manipulative
cinematic experience. Goodness, those homes look as if they have come
from some sales catalogue of the period and the supposed everyday clothing
look like carefully made costume. This film is a cliche of movie making fantasy, at its best.

The performances are terrific, although Directed essentially in a very
knowing commercial understanding of cinematic type for all the
audience to have clear affiliations for each of them:

  1. Very attractive, sassy, provocative woman: Jenelle Monae. 
  2. Attractive, naive, single mum with adorable children but who is also a dependable nerdy genius: Taraji P. Henson. 
  3. Determined, wise and open hearted mother figure to all: Octavia Spencer. 
  4. Cranky but good hearted boss, a dutiful white American: Kevin Costner. 
  5. A white woman ‘meanie’, who is, perhaps, the victim of the system she works in, but has a heart-warming redeemable quality (scene) in the end (Ahhh!): Kirsten Dunst. 
  6. Handsome and Good man boyfriend (soon to be husband), happy to take on home duties for someone else’s children: Mahershala Ali. 
  7. Handsome, good hearted, shake every hand – every hand – non-discrimatory space HERO: Glen Powell (as, John Glenn). 

All of it so awe-fully formula, a film school text book model.

I loved this film but I hate myself for giving in so easily to such

Maybe, that’s why I still go to the movies – for a little bit of
escapism: enhanced ‘True Stories’ that just make you feel good about
the world and being in it. Tra-la-la. In a kind of la la land!

I just wished it had had a little bit more pointy-end politics – and that is
the quality that allows me to lift the Australian film, THE SAPPHIRES
(2012), out of the slough of the above ‘puffery’ – though, to be honest, JUST.

Watching HIDDEN FIGURES with a white middle class audience
(my identity, too) in the suburban cinema of the Ritz in Randwick
and hearing them, on cue, laugh, sigh and tut-tut disapprovingly about the ‘awful’ racism of 1960’s America had me reflect on our own present attitude to our Indigenous racism, still being practised in 2017.

I wondered how many of us had seen SAMSON AND DELILAH (2009),
and laughed, sighed and protested? And if they did see it, how many
thought it was a true picture of our Australia today? And what have
they done to change it? Come to think of it, how many really
understood the very muted politics of THE LAST CAB TO DARWIN (2015), and simply laughed and sighed and not discussed the issues? Euthanasia, Racism, etc,  inside the ‘packaged’ romantic escapism of most of the content and story-telling technique.

I understand, that despite not winning anything at the Academy Awards
HIDDEN FIGURES’ box-office has been boosted and is doing very nicely: $182.7 million.
Then there is MOONLIGHT: $28 million. Which is the greater work? Film?

I hope you’ve seen both.


Twenty years ago the first film TRAINSPOTTING, hit the screens and
became a brilliant counter-culture slap in the face to all who saw it
– a cult favourite of the young. Following the lives of Renton (Ewan
McGregor), Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), Begbie (Robert Carlye) and Spud
(Ewen Bremmer) in the underworld of the drug culture of Edinburgh
City, it was a full on adrenaline rush of image, soundtrack and
pathetic humanity. I remember, very vaguely, that experience, and
admit that, for me, the film was a fairly uncomfortable alpha-male
roller coaster. The world of Kubrick’s ‘ultra-violence’ droogs from
THE CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) came threateningly back to haunt my psyche
in 1997.

Seeing this new film with Director Danny Boyle, re-uniting the
original actors, using John Hodges’ screenplay, loosely based upon
Irvine Welsh’s novels TRAINSPOTTING (1993) and PORNO (2002) we are
taken on a back to the future mix of the older film and the present –
we see these men as kids, as well as the hell raisers of 1997, and as
survivors of today. The characters have not really learnt
much/changed, and yet are still, oddly, embraceable even as alarming anti-heroes.
What is it? Have I become just more secure an individual? Have I, (at
last) grown up and gained some confidence and can, now, look the
threatening in the eye?

Ha, ha, I hope.

What is great about the film is the virtuosic, energetic Direction of
Danny Boyle; the Visual (Jon Harris) and Music editing (Allan Jenkins)
with an eye-pleasing Production Design of a vital, atmospheric colour
palette (Patrick Rolfe, Mark Tildesley) that illuminates the four
principal actors’ wonderfully inspired characterisations. For Robert
Carlyle is just as frightening as ever; Jonny Lee Miller is still just
as pathetic a human being as ever and Ewan McGregor, just as
beguilingly seductive a crooked man. The real surprise is the empathetic
growth for our still heavily addicted Spud, created by Ewen Bremmer,
who finds encouragement and inspiration to write the history of his
‘mates’ adventures, and perhaps, a new life. As well, the sly double-act,
of the woman of the film Veronica (Anjela Nedyalkova), who outplays
all the men, and like Renton of the original film, absconds with the
gang’s money, giving a kinda feminist victory to the schemata of the
2017 story. (Reminiscent of the Patricia Arquette character in the
Tony Scott, Directed film TRUE ROMANCE, written by Quentin
Tarantino, of 1993)

Now, I know, after reading my objections to HIDDEN FIGURES, that my
championing of T2: TRAINSPOTTING, seems to be inconsistent. However, my
excuse is, that the manipulation of this film is kind of hidden in the
shelter-skelter energy of it all, there is so little down-time to
consider what Mr Boyle is doing, while watching the film,
unlike the plethora of relative down-time in the other.
The propulsion of the story and film-making is ecstatically
hectic and one just has to hold-on to one’s seat and suck-up the offers
of entertainment without too much resistant judgemental thought.
These guys, this story, this world is criminally aberrant and ugly
and yet the exhilaration of the movie making is so tremendous that one
comes out of the cinema invigorated and pumping with life.

CHOOSE LIFE is the theme of both of the TRAINSPOTTING experiences
and the lesson that I took from the film was to let go of the past and move into the future.
If Spud can move on, anyone of us can. There is hope.

I recommend T2. I believe Danny Boyle a ‘genius’ Director of film
(despite the supreme manipulative skill and intent) – for, how could
one forget SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE? (2008) – now there’s another example of high class manipulation, eh?



FENCES, is a screenplay by August Wilson (maybe with work from Tony
Kushner) of his 1985 Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award, winning play. FENCES
is essentially a film of that play with five of the principal actors:
Denzil Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Russell Hornsby and
Mykelti Williamson, reprising their roles from the 2010 Broadway
Theatre production. Jovan Adepo joined the company to play the young
son, Cory, for the film.

At 138 minutes this can be a long film for an audience unused to
listening to lots and lots of dialogue. But for those of you who can
cope to being an audience – that is able to take in the audio – FENCES
is an absorbing time in the cinema of a very old fashioned kind.

FENCES is one of ten plays that August Wilson wrote in what as become
known as THE PITTSBURGH CYCLE. These ten plays cover the lives of
families in each of the decades of the last century. It is told from an
African-American point-of-view. These magnificent plays are
unlikely to be seen, live, in Australia because of the casting problem. (I,
have had the good luck when working in the USA to have seen six of the
plays. They remind me, in dramaturgical structure, of the great Irish playwrights – Synge, O’Casey, Friel – with their story and characters). This film, then, is an opportunity for us to appreciate one of the great writers of the last century.

The writing is wonderful and all the performances are of a very high quality. Two reasons to urge you to pay attention and go see.

The film is Directed by Denzil Washington, in which he plays the anti-hero, Troy Maxson. Troy is a flawed man, unusual casting for Mr Washington. (It is interesting to look at the You Tube showings where you can see James Earl Jones playing the same character.) Unfortunately, Mr Washington has some major scenes with Viola Davis and the difference between what I regard as ‘good’ and ‘great’ acting is discernible when they are side-by-side, ‘going at it’.

Ms Davis is, as usual, deeply invested in her creation and transforms the story of Rose Lee beyond the ‘individual’  dimension into a deeply ‘profound’ observation and experience. Ms Davis has been nominated for three Academy Awards. She won the Academy Award for this work as Rose Lee Maxton, this year, deservedly. Who can ever forget her performance in DOUBT (2009), opposite Meryl Streep? It was the first time I noticed her and came to be a fan, an appreciator.

Jovan Adepo, as the son, Cory, scores in his performance, particularly, in the late scenes of

An old fashioned language driven experience of story and character revelation. Masterful. FENCES is worth seeing, particularly, if you love the theatre, too.