Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hidden Figures Is a Feel-Good Flick, Whatever That Means

Reviews of "Hidden Figures" and "A Monster Calls," plus local movie news and notes.




Photo by Hopper Stone. TM & © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
 

Among the many movie terms that have been reduced to meaningless fluff — “blockbuster,” “award-worthy,” even the word “cinematic” itself — few are so reductive as the peculiar hyphenate “feel-good.”

What meaning is even implied by that adjective? Is it that a film leaves the viewer feeling affirmed, positive and warm? Is it simply a spoiler-averse way of implying that a movie has a happy ending? Is it a meaningless label affixed to milquetoast dramas?

In any case, the term is a somewhat hokey signifier. Most critics are likely to roll their eyes when someone describes this or that picture as a feel-good flick, internally sneering at the essential meaninglessness of the phrase.

Until we see a movie like “Hidden Figures,” anyway. Because “Hidden Figures” ... ... well, it’s just a feel-good movie.

It’s the sort of historical narrative that rarely makes it to the big screen, telling the story of three African-American women — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — whose contributions to NASA research in the 1950s and ’60s were vital to the success of early American space exploration, particularly John Glenn’s 1962 orbit of Earth.

Henson, Spencer and Monáe are as strong a leading trio as one is likely to find; Henson is unimpeachable as always, and Monáe is emerging as a powerful onscreen presence after her work here and in “Moonlight.” The plot is more than a bit formulaic, but the goal here is not to keep the audience guessing — it is to enlighten and educate in the form of entertainment, bringing an underrepresented group of scientists narrative recognition for their contributions to American history.

Is it essential viewing, though? Probably not; while it’s quite good in most regards (especially those laudable performances), “Hidden Figures” errs slightly on the side of schmaltz, delivering an easily affirming tale and little more. Anyone who chooses to go will be better for having heard the tale; anyone who doesn’t will miss out on the lovely history lesson, but not on top-tier cinema.

But it is definitely a feel-good movie. Whatever that means.

*    *    *

Another late-2016 release finally making its way to Pittsburgh this weekend is destined, I think, to become more of a footnote — albeit one that is likely to gain devotees among lovers of fantasy. “A Monster Calls,” based on the young-adult novel by Patrick Ness (himself working off of an idea from the late novelist Siobhan Dowd), concerns the emotional journey of Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) as his mother (Felicity Jones) struggles with terminal illness. The roster here are mostly stock characters from the YA well — the absent parent, the domineering relative, the neighborhood bully — with the exception of The Monster, a gigantic tree-creature that appears to Conor at night to relay parables. The Monster demands that Conor deliver his own story after receiving three in exchange, a request that confounds the young man as his more earthbound pressures begin to increase. MacDougall gives a moving, raw performance, and Jones — who will be watched by many more moviegoers this weekend in “Rogue One” — continues to demonstrate her considerable range. (The motion-capture performance of Liam Neeson as The Monster leaves more to be desired; his voice and general affect are simply too recognizable to allow the viewer to forget who’s behind the digital curtain.) It’s a good film, if not a great one, and worth a look for lovers of the genre.

*    *    *

The Montage: It’s a bit hard to keep track of what’s coming and going at this point in the year, but in addition to “Hidden Figures” and “A Monster Calls,” the latest film in the “Underworld” franchise, “Blood Wars,” opens on a few local screens this weekend. Kate Beckinsale stars in the paranormal thriller ... It’s Italian Cinema week at Row House Cinema, featuring Fellini’s “Amarcord,” Antonioni’s “La Notte,” the 2000 comedy/romance “Bread and Tulips” and Paolo Sorrentino’s 2015 Oscar winner “The Great Beauty.” Showtimes and tickets here ... The Lawrenceville theater also announced it will in February host a Harry Potter Film and Cultural Festival, with revivals of all eight Potter films, special events and offerings at both the theater and companion bottle shop Bierport and much more. Details forthcoming, but the event page is here. (As a very-late-to-the-game Potter fan and proud Hufflepuff, I must admit I'm excited.)

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Halloween in Pittsburgh: How to Embrace the Fright

From haunted houses and scary movies to pumpkin patches and zombie bars –– we are here to help you experience as much of the ghoulish holiday as you dare.

Perspectives: Mourning Without a Road Map

A 30-year-old woman “who had lost her father too soon” learns the importance of following a plan when saying goodbye.

On Fitness: Peace and Posture Instead of No Pain, No Gain

Client by client, personal trainer Ian Riggins is dismantling the aggressive side of the fitness industry.

Angling for Tranquility: The Lure of Kayak Fishing

Kayak fishing is growing in popularity as anglers discover the peaceful joys of casting a line from the water's surface.

MultiStories: Pittsburgh's Art Deco Obelisk – The Gulf Building

As the Gulf Building rose into Pittsburgh skyline in the early 1930s, the prospects of its owner were headed in the opposite direction.

“First Man” Author to Appear at Heinz History Center

James R. Hansen, author of the authorized Neil Armstrong biography, will speak about the astronaut’s life on Nov. 1.

Results Are In: Jobs are Plentiful in Pittsburgh

Glassdoor’s newly released city shortlist for hot jobs ranks Pittsburgh #1.

The 400-Word Review: The Old Man and the Gun

Robert Redford's alleged final performance is a quiet, fitting farewell.

Sandwich, Helmet, Teammates Await Bell’s Return to Steelers

Le’Veon Bell reportedly intends to return to the Steelers before the second Browns game on Oct. 28, but hasn’t yet. But that didn’t stop some of his teammates from trying to have some fun with Bell at the media’s expense.

A New Day for Craft Beer in Pittsburgh

Day Bracey, along with Ed Bailey and Mike Potter, forges a more inclusive approach to craft brewing.

Southern Cuisine Served with a Big Side of Hospitality

Sugar and Smoke owner Andrea Robinson not only wants to feed customers of her new eatery in Bloomfield –– she wants to know their names.

Meet Pittsburgh's 40 Under 40 Honorees for 2018

For two decades, Pittsburgh Magazine and PUMP have presented the annual 40 Under 40 list. And every year, 40 people who have been alive for less than four decades are chosen because of their career accomplishments, dogged volunteer work and commitment to the Pittsburgh region. This year is no different. Read on to learn more about some of our very best neighbors.

Restaurant Review: Pie for Breakfast

Pittsburgh gets an updated, all-day diner with a sense of place from the owners of Legume Bistro and Butterjoint.

This is Not a Drill: Can Pittsburgh Survive a Disaster?

Location and geography make Pittsburgh one of the safer places to be in a disaster, but just how well would we do in the face of a cataclysmic event?

Finding Her Voice: An Acid Attack Victim Fights Back

Hanifa Nakiryowa's life changed forever after becoming a victim of a disfiguring acid attack.