Dick Tracy

(USA 1990)

“You better get over here fast. They’re gonna find out we’re not together.”

— Dispatcher (from Dick Tracy’s watch)

Dick, that’s an interesting name.

It took 15 years for Warren Beatty to achieve his vision of Dick Tracy, Chester Gould’s hard-boiled square-chin (and nose) comic strip detective in the hideous yellow trench coat (http://www.newsweek.com/tracymania-206276). I skipped over him in favor of lighter and friendlier (not to mention more current) stuff like Peanuts, Hägar the Horrible, Hi and Lois, Marmaduke, The Far Side, Life in Hell, and later Calvin and Hobbes and, um, Crankshaft. Good times!

I remember the media blitz during the summer of 1990. It included Madonna — I’m Breathless, an album of music from and “inspired by” the film, and a landmark world tour (Blond Ambition). I guess it makes sense coming a year after Tim Burton’s mega successful Batman that the studio would push Dick Tracy to be the next big blockbuster. This one cost more and made less, but it still made a mark at the box office.

Dick Tracy (Beatty) is dying to bring down mob boss “Big Boy” Caprice (Al Pacino), the city’s most notorious criminal. He may have found a way through femme fatale lounge singer Breathless Mahoney (Madonna), Big Boy’s new girlfriend. She knows a thing or three. Now, if only Dick can get her to talk. The problem is, she’s more interested in Dick.

Written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr., the screenplay is adequate: it doesn’t knock your socks off, but it certainly holds your interest. It doesn’t really matter, though, because the story is secondary.

Dick Tracy is a sensory feast. Rick Simpson’s sets are gorgeous and elegant art deco cityscapes punctuated with primary colors and Depression Era practicality. Makeup designers John Caglione Jr. and Doug Drexler concoct memorably grotesque prosthetics that define each villain — there are many — and actually help you keep track of who’s who. Vittorio Storaro’s camera work pulls the whole thing together like an Edward Hopper painting.

Finally, there’s the music. Danny Elfman’s score is cool, but throw in some Stephen Sondheim songs — three of which Madonna performs — and you’ve got a winner. In fact, “Sooner or Later” won the Oscar for Best Original Song (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1991). Bonus: Dick Tracy is the closest you’ll get, at least up to now, to seeing Madge perform “More,” an overlooked classic from her catalog that to my knowledge she has never done live. Ever.

Dick Tracy isn’t perfect. A few moments teeter dangerously close to overboard on cuteness and camp, but fortunately Beatty knows when to pull back. This is not an essential film, but it’s an enjoyable one. I like it.

With Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, James Keane, Seymour Cassel, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Durning, Dick Van Dyke, Frank Campanella, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, James Tolkan, Mandy Patinkin, R.G. Armstrong, Henry Silva, Paul Sorvino, Lawrence Steven Meyers, James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Robert Beecher, Mike Mazurki, Ian Wolfe

Production: Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, Mulholland Productions

Distribution: Buena Vista Pictures

105 minutes
Rated PG

(Music Box) B-

Chicago Film Society

The Florida Project

(USA 2017)

“Your daughter’s perfectly fine in my hands.”

— Moonee

Sean Baker’s Tangerine (https://moviebloke.com/2015/07/28/tangerine/) impressed me. On the surface an offbeat odyssey of castoffs living on the fringe in West Hollywood, it’s one of those films that creeps up and hits you at the end. Comprised largely of small moments and vignettes strung together, its sum is much more — and completely different — than its parts: insightful, powerful, and quietly profound.

Come to think of it, Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight (https://moviebloke.com/2016/11/19/moonlight/) operates in a similar way even though it’s not the same story.

I was thrilled to hear that Baker has a new film, The Florida Project, out this fall. The comments I overheard from audience members while walking out of a prerelease screening were amusing but maddening: “That was realism, hard realism. Too hard.” “Well, that didn’t go anywhere.” “I had to force myself to stay awake.” “I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone.” Insert eyeroll here.

I disagree. The Florida Project switches gears, so it doesn’t end up where it seems to be going. The trailer makes it look like a childhood nostalgia movie, and it starts out like one. But it’s not. Often amusing but just as often difficult to watch, it paints a vivid picture that doesn’t criticize, demean, or sentimentalize its characters or their situation. I’ve heard Baker lauded for his humanism; his work definitely shows plenty of that if nothing else. His best attribute may be his willingness to let his characters develop into real people over the course of two hours or so.

To be clear, the impact of The Florida Project is not immediate. Baker’s pace isn’t quick, either. Written by Baker and Chris Bergoch, The Florida Project starts out as a sort of Little Rascals sitcom involving the misadventures of besties Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera), two grade school kids growing up in a sketchy roadside motel, the Magic Castle, that sits along a tawdry strip just outside the Magic Kingdon — a.k.a. Disney World in Orlando. A gun shop, a convenience store, a market that sells oranges, and a boarded up clinic dot the strip, which incidentally intersects with Seven Dwarves Lane.

Moonee and Scooty spend their days running around, screaming, and stirring up mischief. They spit all over a motel guest’s car. They drop water balloons on people. They spy on an elderly topless sunbather (Sandy Kane). They scam change to buy ice cream. They set a fire. They recruit a third hellion, Jancey (Valeria Cotto), who lives next door and easily goes along with their antics probably because there’s no one else to play with. Their favorite target is weary motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe).

Slowly, a different picture emerges and The Florida Project becomes another film. Moonee’s mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), can’t get it together. Feral and clearly her own worst enemy, she lives hand to mouth with her young daughter. She’s constantly about to be evicted, and she takes free meals wherever she can get them. When selling stolen amusement park passes and wholesale perfume in the parking lot of a “nicer” motel up the street doesn’t work, she turns tricks in the room.

After Halley has a falling out with Scooty’s mom, Ashley (Mela Murder), Baker literally zooms in on Moonee.

The events here are purposely mundane, and it’s hard to say exactly where the climax is. It doesn’t matter: The Florida Project works because of the way Baker executes the story. He’s just as careful about choosing what he shows as what he doesn’t. The thrill here is watching the characters develop, anyway; that’s what makes The Florida Project soar. It doesn’t hurt that the acting is superb, particularly Vinaite, Prince (who at six years old is a natural — I almost cried when she did), and Dafoe, whom I haven’t seen this good since Mississippi Burning.

Alexis Zabe’s cinematography — alternating long shots and pans with almost uncomfortably close shots — works beautifully with the gorgeously effervescent color pallet. The ending is unexpectedly touching and fun. The Florida Project just might be the first Oscar contender I’ve seen this year.

With Josie Olivo, Aiden Malik, Caleb Landry Jones, Shail Kamini Ramcharan, Sonya McCarter, Karren Karagulian, Kelly Fitzgerald, Lauren O’Quinn, Edward Pagan, Cecilia Quinan, Kit Sullivan, Andrew Romano

Production: Cre Film, Freestyle Picture Company, June Pictures, Sweet Tomato Films

Distribution: A24 (USA), Altitude Film Distribution (UK), Elevation Pictures (Canada), Filmcoopi Zürich (Switzerland), September Film (Netherlands), Front Row Filmed Entertainment (United Arab Emirates)

115 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) A-

Chicago International Film Festival

https://a24films.com/films/the-florida-project

Swept Away…by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August [Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto]

(Italy 1974)

“Oh, Madonna! This nightmare is finally over. God, do I want some coffee. Fresh, of course.”

— Raffaella Pavone Lanzetti

More than 40 years after the fact, Lina Wertmüller is still an audacious filmmaker. Not only does she incorporate sociopolitical commentary, satire, and crazy sex into her work, but her ’70s films are inherently interesting because they push buttons. She’s the first female nominated for an Oscar for Best Director, and there’s a reason for that: she’s a radical with more balls than just about anyone else working, even today.

Case in point: Swept Away…by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August [Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto] — or simply Swept Away for short — is not a standard comedy. The plot is simple: an insufferable rich bitch, Raffaella (Mariangela Melato), is vacationing in the Mediterranean with her millionare husband (Riccardo Salvino) and their friends on a yacht. Raffaella is thoughtless and demanding, and she relentlessly berates rugged deckhand Gennarino Carunchio (Giancarlo Giannini) because the coffee isn’t fresh, the fish doesn’t taste right, and the pasta isn’t al dente enough.

She insists that Gennarino take her swimming. The two end up stranded in the water, far from the yacht. They eventually spot land, which turns out to be a small uninhabited island. Gennarino, a fisher, has no trouble finding food or shelter. Raffaella isn’t used to doing things herself, and soon finds that she is dependent on Gennarino. He isn’t exactly gracious about his new upper hand. It isn’t long before their relationship takes a sexual turn.

Wertmüller, who wrote the screenplay as well as directed, plays on traditional notions of sex roles. By today’s standards, Swept Away is probably too violent to come off as funny. The many scenes where Gennarino slaps and physically pummels Raffaella are bad enough, but when he rapes her on the beach? It’s disturbing. How is that funny? That’s the point — at first, anyway.

Swept Away isn’t really about sex: it’s about power. Here, the power dynamic shifts once Raffaella and Gennarino are out of the “civilized” world and lost in the wild, where economics and social status no longer define one’s place. Like all of her early films, Wertmüller has a lot to say about class structure; here, she also has a lot to say about male/female relationships. She’s controversial, but her approach works really well. It helps that Melato and Giannini, who starred in earlier films together, have a believable chemistry — and they spend a bit of time here wearing very little.

Swept Away is not a typical film. I call it a comedy, but it doesn’t fit neatly into any category. It’s sharp, subversive, and still pretty potent.

With Isa Danieli, Aldo Puglisi, Anna Melita, Giuseppe Durini, Lucrezia De Domizio, Luis Suárez, Vittorio Fanfoni, Lorenzo Piani, Eros Pagni

Production: Medusa Distribuzione

Distribution: Medusa Distribuzione (Italy), Cinema 5 Distributing (USA)

116 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes rental) B+

http://www.linawertmuller.com/framegeo.htm

The 400 Blows [Les Quatre-cents coups]

(France 1959)

Childhood is fertile ground for storytelling. Usually, the stories that sell are heavily nostalgic and sweet, but the more interesting ones tend to come from a darker past. French New Wave pioneer François Truffaut’s autobiographical film The 400 Blows is the latter.

Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a prepubescent boy experiencing an existential crisis. At home, something is bubbling between his parents, mother Gilberte (Claire Maurier) and stepfather Julien (Albert Rémy). At school, a contemptible teacher known as “Sourpuss” (Guy Decomble) has him pegged as a troublemaker.

Antoine cuts class one day with his friend René (Patrick Auffay). They walk around, catch a movie, and enjoy a carnival ride—the Rotor, a cylindrical room that spins and the floor drops out, causing the riders to “stick” to the walls due to centrifugal force. While they’re running around, Antoine sees his mother kissing some man on the street. She sees Antoine, but it’s too late.

The next day, Antoine makes up an excuse for his absence: he says his mother died. It doesn’t work. After a few incidents involving Balzac, a fire, running away from home, and a stolen typewriter, Antoine winds up at a reform school.

Some New Wave films are hard to follow or quite simply just boring to watch. Not so with The 400 Blows, and this is because of quite a few factors.

The narrative is definitely loose. Like all New Wave films, what happens isn’t as important as what the director is showing us. Here, though, the plot is straightforward and sticks to a more traditional structure even if it doesn’t have a true “climax” or a single moment of reckoning. Truffaut gives us some really great scenes in this movie, not the least of which is this one:

400 Blows paddywagon.jpg

The 400 Blows is realistic and personal; it unfolds like something literally happening right before us. The acting, which doesn’t come off as scripted at all, is probably the biggest boon for this; the acting style is totally naturalistic. That said, Henri Decaë’s camerawork is a major contribution as well. He shoots on the streets of Paris using hand-held equipment, which allows him to get right up in front of the action. That’s likely a product of an independent low-budget film, but intentional or not The 400 Blows is so much better as a result; this film would not work the same way without Decaë.

Truffaut makes us empathize with Antoine. He’s not a bad kid; his behavior is no worse than his classmates or the adults around him. He’s made out to be one, though. The sad part is that he believes it. He clearly sees that there’s more to life than the little spot he occupies, but he’s not better off after he tries to be. At the end of the film, I want to be on the beach with him to tell him he’ll be okay.

As for the nonsensical title, I didn’t realize that it’s a literal English translation of the French idiom “faire les quatre cents coups”, which means “to raise hell.” Now that I know that, the title totally makes sense.

Nominated for an Oscar for its screenplay by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1960), The 400 Blows is a movie that consistently ends up on many “must see” lists. There’s a reason it’s considered a landmark film. It’s hard to believe this is Truffaut’s first film.

With Georges Flamant, Pierre Repp, Daniel Couturier, Luc Andrieux, Robert Beauvais, Yvonne Claudie, Marius Laurey, Claude Mansard, Jacques Monod, Henri Virlojeux, Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Claude Brialy, François Nocher, Richard Kanayan, Renaud Fontanarosa, Michel Girard, Henry Moati, Bernard Abbou, Jean-François Bergouignan, Jacques Demy, François Truffaut, Philippe De Broca, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Michel Lesignor

Production: Les Films du Carrosse

Distribution: Cocinor, MK2 Films, Janus Films (USA), Criterion (USA)

93 minutes
Not rated

(iTunes rental) A-

Phantom of the Opera

(USA 1943)

I confess, I rolled my eyes when I found out that a print of Phantom of the Opera was chosen for a screening at the Nitrate Picture Show. I was totally unenthusiastic about seeing yet another version of something I’ve already seen more times than I care to admit. The trailer calls it “[a] story the world can never forget,” but that’s only because Gaston Leroux’s damned story won’t go away.

As it turns out, I quite enjoyed Arthur Lubin’s version. He switches gears with Eric Taylor and Samuel Hoffenstein’s screenplay, ditching horror in favor of romance and melodrama. In the process, he brings a really nice camp factor to the whole thing—I didn’t expect that. His version is a sillier, more fun soapy affair than what I’m used to.

Claude Rains is sympathetic as Erique Claudin, the downsized middle-aged composer who becomes the masked phantom after his publisher (Miles Mander) “steals” his new composition. One of my favorite moments of the entire film is the publisher’s exasperated secretary (Renee Carson) throwing acid from a baking pan in Claudin’s face. It’s so bizarre, it’s actually funny. Even with his acid face, Claudin has a crazy plan for making beautiful young soprano Christine Dubois (Susanna Foster) a star, even if she’ll never return his love. Her female rivalry with diva Biancarolli (Jane Farrar) stews while Anatole (Nelson Eddy), the baritone knight in shining armor, combs the Paris Opera House for the malformed monster (that would be Claudin) who murders anyone in his way. Things get dicier the closer Anatole gets to Claudin.

Phantom of the Opera is a treat for the senses, which makes it perfect for a nitrate print. A rich Technicolor dream, it won Oscars for cinematography (W. Howard Greene and Hal Mohr) and art direction (John B. Goodman, Alexander Golitzen, Russell A. Gausman, and Ira S. Webb) (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1944). Edward Ward’s score is lovely.

With Edgar Barrier, Leo Carrillo, J. Edward Bromberg, Fritz Feld, Frank Puglia, Steven Geray, Barbara Everest, Hume Cronyn, Elvira Curci, Kate Lawson

Production: Universal Pictures

Distribution: Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK), Motion Picture Export Association (MPEA) (Netherlands), Realart Pictures Inc. (USA), Universal Filmverleih (West Germany)

92 minutes
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) B-

Nitrate Picture Show

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

(USA 1947)

Richard “Dick” Nugent (Cary Grant) is a dashing, self-absorbed playboy charged with inciting a brawl at a nightclub. A self-employed artist, he shows up late for his hearing before priggish Judge Margaret Turner (Myrna Loy), who’s put off by his casual indifference. Nevertheless, she dismisses the case when she sees that the whole thing started with two floozies (Veda Ann Borg and Carol Hughes) fighting over him. With a slam of her gavel and an eyeroll, she sends Dick on his way, warning him to watch himself.

A free man, Dick heads straight to his next appointment: he’s the guest lecturn at a high school where Margaret’s dramatic 17-year-old sister, Susan (Shirley Temple), is a student. She attends the lecture, and is immediately smitten. Susan approaches Dick afterward and offers to, err, model for him. He’s noncommittal, clearly unaware that he’s dealing with a determined gal.

That evening, Susan gets all dolled up and sneaks out to Dick’s apartment, a spacious two-story downtown suite I’d kill to have. He’s not home, but she persuades the young doorman (Ian Bernard?) to let her up so she can wait for him. Naturally, she falls asleep on the davenport.

A big misunderstanding leads to Dick punching Margaret’s date, district attorney Tommy Chamberlain (Rudy Vallee), when they show up at his apartment to rescue Susan soon after he gets home and discovers her there. Dick is sent to the slammer, where court psychiatrist Dr. Matt Beemish (Ray Collins)—Margaret and Susan’s uncle—figures out what’s up. The good doctor proposes a “simple” solution: Dick agrees to date Susan, Margaret agrees to allow Susan to date Dick until her infatuation runs its course, and Tommy agrees to drop the assault charge. All three grudgingly agree to the plan. Hilarity ensues, especially as Dick and Margaret start digging each other—and Susan proves to be a real pain in the ass.

Penned by future TV creator/writer Sidney Sheldon (The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, and Hart to Hart), The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is a solid textbook screwball comedy. It actually feels like a sitcom. Sheldon won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for this (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1948), and I can see why: his script is light and fun, capitalizing on the generation gap between youth culture and, I guess, middle age. I doubt the story would fly today; the whole premise reads as creepy by 21st Century standards. For a more innocent time, though, it totally works. And it’s amusing.

Director Irving Reis straddles the line between silly and ridiculous without going overboard. Grant, Loy, and Temple all have better work under their belt, but each still gives a memorable performance here even if their characters and this fluffy film are forgettable. I heard some grumbling from others in the audience, but I enjoyed this for what it is—and it ain’t Citizen Kane.

One final word about the nitrate print I saw: it was stunning, exceeding my expectations. I had my doubts that black and white film would make me sing the praises of nitrate, but The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer made me a believer; the whites were luminescent and the blacks and greys were deep and complex. Lovely!

With Lillian Randolph, Harry Davenport, Johnny Sands, Don Beddoe, Dan Tobin, Ransom Sherman, William Bakewell, Irving Bacon, Dore Schary

Production: RKO Radio Pictures, Vanguard Films

Distribution: RKO Radio Pictures

95 minutes
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) C+

Nitrate Picture Show

Good Will Hunting

(USA 1997)

“Well, I got her number. How do you like them apples?”

—Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting, the final screening of Chicago International Film Festival’s Totally ’90s series, is not something I associate with its director, Gus Van Sant. Frankly, I didn’t know he directed it until I saw his name in the credits.

No, I associate Good Will Hunting with longtime friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who while they were both still relatively unknown turned the former’s drama class project into the script that would become this film (http://www.eonline.com/news/802830/looking-back-at-the-totally-crazy-story-behind-the-making-of-good-will-hunting). The success of Good Will Hunting seemed to come out of nowhere and established both of them as actors—never mind that they snagged the Oscar for Best Screenplay in 1998 (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1998). Damon and Affleck have both written since, but none of their screenplays has been as successful as this one.

Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård), a professor at MIT, is baffled when someone anonymously solves a wicked hahd math problem he posted on a chalkbaord in the hall as a challenge to his students—he expected it to take the entire semester. No one steps up to claim the work. He posts a second problem, one that took his colleagues two years to figure out. He’s amazed when he catches one of the school’s janitors, Will Hunting (Damon), red-handed. Will won’t have anything to do with Lambeau—until he ends up in jail for assault.

Recognizing Will’s gift, Lambeau makes a deal with him: he’ll pay for bail if Will works with him on math and sees a therapist. The problem is, Will doesn’t make it easy to connect. In fact, five different therapists fail. As a last resort, Lambeau calls former classmate Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), who has a similar Southie background as Will and stands up to his crap. Sean sees that Will is deflecting to hide his self-sabotaging tendencies.

Meanwhile, Will meets Skylar (Minnie Driver), who sweeps him off his feet. It all goes well until she tells him she’s going to medical school at Stanford—and asks him to go with her.

The script here is loaded with good ideas and gorgeous details—that story about Sean ditching a Red Sox game to be with a girl he just met in a bar (she would become his wife) is gold. So is Will’s confrontation with a grad student (Scott William Winters) at a dive. Hearing Damon sing “Afternoon Delight” while he’s faking hypnosis is hilarious. The story, though, is predictable. Good Will Hunting excels because of the acting. The casting—by Kerry Barden, Billy Hopkins, and Suzanne Smith—makes all the difference in the world.

With Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, John Mighton, Rachel Majorowski, Colleen McCauley, Cole Hauser, Rob Lyons, Steven Kozlowski, Jennifer Deathe, Philip Williams, Patrick O’Donnell, Kevin Rushton, Jimmy Flynn, Joe Cannon, Ann Matacunas, George Plimpton, Francesco Clemente

Production: Lawrence Bender Productions, Be Gentlemen Limited Partnership, Miramax Films

Distribution: Miramax Films (USA), Bac Films (France), Buena Vista International (UK), Cecchi Gori Distribuzione (Italy), Filmes Castello Lopes (Portugal), Intersonic (Czech Republic), Laurenfilm (Spain), Lider Films (Argentina), SF Norge A/S (Norway), Scanbox Entertainment (Sweden), Scotia International Filmverleih (Germany), Shochiku-Fuji Company (Japan), Svensk Filmindustri (SF) (Sweden), Svenska Filminstitutet (SFI) (Sweden), United International Pictures (UIP) (Switzerland)

126 minutes
Rated R

(Public Chicago) B

Chicago International Film Festival

https://www.miramax.com/movie/good-will-hunting/

Hidden Figures

(USA 2016)

Houston, do you read me: NASA employed black people in its infancy during the early Sixties. What’s more, NASA’s first major project, Mercury, probably wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without three black female “computers,” or mathematicians, whose efforts literally put John Glenn and Friendship 7 into orbit. The result was a serious boost in American morale during the race against the Soviets into space and a boon to the Space Program under President Kennedy. So, with its historically significant and truly enlightening subject matter, what most caught me off guard about Hidden Figures is its tone, which is light, upbeat, cute, and often comical. While not in itself a bad thing, it’s not what I expected.

Unfortunately, that’s about all Hidden Figures offers that I didn’t expect. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy this film; I did. It’s a great story about remarkable people who actually lived. According to one subject, their real stories are not far off from this film (http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-hidden-figures-katherine-johnson-20170109-story.html). Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, a recently widowed math whiz who works for NASA in Virginia, as a bookish nerd complete with glasses that keep sliding down her nose. She and her coworkers, smart and sassy Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and fiery and coquettish Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), quietly but forcefully demonstate their worth in an environment that doesn’t treat them as equals. While Katherine lugs binders and a calculator back and forth between her desk and the “colored” rest room clear across campus to figure out arcs and other shit I sure can’t, Dorothy teaches herself how to operate the new IBM that not even IBM technicians can set up correctly and Mary pushes her way into engineering classes at night in an all white, all male school. Director Theodore Melfi does a really nice job demonstrating institutionalized racism and sexism through characters who may not have anything against black people or women—as administrator Vivian Michael (Kristen Dunst) curtly tells Dorothy in one scene and unwilling research partner, Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), makes clear to Katherine in another scene by redacting her name from a joint report they both wrote—but don’t recognize the issue.

Despite its merits, I found Hidden Figures to be slightly more sophisticated than a Lifetime movie. Melfi, who with Allison Schroeder adapted the screenplay from Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same name, takes a pretty basic approach to the material. It’s so easy—obvious, even—to gage where the story is headed. John Glenn (Glen Powell) sings Katherine’s praises while a love interest develops for her in handsome Col. Jim (Mahershala Ali). So cute. Hidden Figures gets into civil rights issues, but only on a superficial level. There are a few overdone Oscar grabs, like a scene between Katherine and her boss, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), that ends with him smashing the sign outside the “colored” ladies’ rest room, but no true show stoppers. Frankly, though, most of the actors here have appeared in better movies. Too bad, because this could’ve been a great film instead of just an okay one. Hidden Figures doesn’t quite do its trailblazing subjects justice.

127 minutes
Rated PG

(AMC River East) C+

http://www.foxmovies.com/movies/hidden-figures