Awards season is upon us and usually that, combined with tight, post-Christmas spending habits, means Hollywood pukes out crap they paid to make but don't deem good enough to release in the more profitable times of the year. Welcome to the cinematic doldrums.
Luckily, Village 8 has at least one decent new option this week — Hidden Figures is a true-story civil rights film set in the 1960s, when the world was rushing to put the first man into orbit. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe star as three female African-American mathematicians that were America's secret weapon in the space race. NASA didn't have computers in 1961, so they used smart women, who were paid less than the men who depended on their data.
Faced by oppression and prejudice at every turn, Katherine Johnson (Henson) is such a brilliant numbers machine that she actually gets to join the team of men tasked with putting the first human astronaut into space. Of course, the struggles only intensify once she gets promoted, but, as we know, American John Glenn made it into orbit, a key event in the unrolling future of science/tech peacockery, and Cold War idiocy, between the U.S. and Russia. (Did you know that Glenn refused to get in the rocket until Johnson had checked the math?)
Directed by Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) with a restraint often lacking in these sorts of feel-good historical dramas, Hidden Figures is a compelling (more so cause it's true) story of unified and personal strength in trying times and a stupid world. Since it looks like we have more of the same ahead, it's nice to see this one had a big week at the box office. Check it out if you like uplifting dramas.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Underworld: Blood Wars is also playing. Fresh off an actual job on a real movie where she was pretty damn good (Love & Friendship) Kate Beckinsale returns to the tight-leather-and-trench-coat blues for another instalment of the "epic" vampire-werewolf blood-feud story. This one is unnecessary, the fight scenes look weak, the story can only be laughable and the take-away message here seems to be that this franchise keeps making money so here's some more of the usual garbage.
Speaking of recurring roles, Mark Wahlberg is back this week milking his everyman appeal once again in Patriots Day, a true-story account of one good cop trying to hold the world together in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013. The good news is it's directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) and we know he is capable of making a tense, well-paced, American disaster action flick, because he released one just three months ago called Deepwater Horizon (also starring Wahlberg). It at least added a bit of insight to the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Patriots Day, while easy to watch, adds nothing to the conversation except rah-rah-rah.
Also opening, Live By Night is a 1920s-era mobster movie written, directed by and starring Ben Affleck. Call it a passion-project not a blockbuster if you want to justify the early January release from a double Oscar-winning (Good Will Hunting, Argo) writer-director, but the truth is this one is out early because it just wouldn't last very long in the joint, it doesn't have the guts. The rumour mill has been churning that Affleck was rushed to complete Live By Night because of his Batman commitments but regardless, he has so much crammed into it that nothing is given the space to breathe, burn, or make us care. For all the slick car chases and ratta-tat-tatt tomgunnery, Live By Night is also chock full of exposition (we never see a key character die, we just hear it happened) and packs way too much in. Affleck is a talented director, but even he can't cram a Texas Mickey of bootlegged rum into a 26-ounce bottle. This would have made a great mini-series though and still worthy for fans of the genre who have no expectations.
And for the children, Sing is about a shady Koala promoter trying to stage an Idol-esque singing competition to save his family theatre and line his own pockets by way of other people's talent. The assembled cast of singing animals belt out hits through the ages but other than a few high notes (a stage lit by squids, the dangers of a head-banging porcupine), Sing isn't even the fourth-best animated flick of the last 12 months. Kids won't get up and walk out, but do they ever?
The final Punk Rock download of the week is Bruce McDonald's Hard Core Logo, a Canadian-made mockumentary about the road, the music, and how hard it is to make new friends the older you get. One of the best films this country has ever produced.