Went out to see Hidden Figures recently and enjoyed it. I agree with @Burritoad that it had some of the usual biopic problems, but I think the compression also helped a bit in that it created a tighter, more focused narrative. I prefer that approach over having a movie fall into the biopic trap of trying to cover an entire life in loosely-related snippets across two hours. The compression also doesn’t hurt the spirit of the historical material much, so that’s fine I feel.
The treatment of the racism elements was interesting, though I’m not sure they were as nuanced as they needed to be. I was glad at least to see that the “good white characters” like Kevin Costner are confronted with their complicity in racist structures, such as when Katherine lays into him about the washroom issue and how nobody thought about how that might be a problem for her. Then again, that issue is resolved with frustratingly few consequences, and Kevin Costner gets to display his ally cookie on full blast by knocking down the bathroom sign so that the audience is reassured in his “good white” status. So on that a bit, especially since Miriam Mann took down those signs in real life.
And in general, there is not much in the film that actively confronts modern white audiences about their own continued complicity. Most of what’s presented in the film can likely be written off by white viewers as “Phew, well I’m glad we’re not like that anymore!” Though, there was one particularly good little scene between Dorothy Vaughn and Kirsten Dunst’s character. They meet in a newly de-segregated washroom, and though they’re technically “equal” now in that sense, there is still a subtle tension between them that gets across without any dialogue having to be exchanged. Then they do talk a bit, and the end of the scene, Dunst says something sincere to the effect of “You know I don’t actually hold anything against you,” and Dorothy replies with “You know, I’m sure you believe that.” That I felt was a nicely cutting remark that still applies widely today.
Still, it was extremely satisfying to see a movie that features so, SO MUCH black excellence – achievements-wise, character-wise, relationships-wise, politics-wise, and more. I loved the chemistry between the three leads and I especially loved seeing Janelle Monáe killing it in her part (she was great in Moonlight as well - really hope she continues to do more acting!). I forgot that Mahershala Ali would be in this as well, and he continues to prove why he’s becoming such a fast-rising star. He is so damn watchable, oh mans.
So yeah, not perfect by any stretch and probably still problematic in ways that I can’t fully detect as a white viewer (especially since this was still directed and written by white people). But still really enjoyable and definitely better than other Oscar-bait-y films about race like The Help or The Blind Side.
Aside from that, I decided to go through some DVDs of old schlocky horror movies I hadn’t watched yet. Will post more short reviews as I watch more!
Tales of Terror - An anthology film directed by Roger Corman featuring three Edgar Allen Poe-inspired shorts starring Vincent Price, with appearances by Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone. Competent as Corman stuff goes, though the Poe adaptation aspect ended up being pretty clunky. Some reeeaaally off-puttingly bad distortion effects in the Peter Lorre segment. Still, mildly entertaining.
Twice-Told Tales - Another Vincent Price anthology with three stories, this time adapting Nathaniel Hawthorne works. This movie was in the same DVD collection as Tales of Terror and is a LOT better. Still obviously low budget and corny, but there’s actually some decent character writing as these kinds of horror shorts go. My favourite segment was “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”, which had surprisingly good dialogue writing and performances from Price and Sebastian Cabot. I also just love me a good Fountain of Youth story. “Rappaccini’s Daughter” short was good too, if a lot cheesier. “House of Seven Gables” short was a bit meh, but still watchable.
Blacula - I’ll admit I haven’t dipped my toe into a lot of actual blaxploitation cinema, so I wasn’t entirely sure how to react to this. Mostly it’s just kind of dull, but William Marshall’s performance as Blacula/Mamuwalde was as good as promised and I’m still looking forward to watching the sequel just for more of him. Also, was not expecting to see blatantly gay characters in the movie and for them to end up being Blacula’s first victims, which you could probably read a lot of interesting things into as far as vampire cinema and queer horror cinema goes. Was good to see that the funeral for one of those characters implied that he had a family and friends who accepted him as well, which is really good to see for 1972. Still, afterwards those two are repeatedly referred to with gay slurs by other characters in the film, which was super uncomfortable, soooo… yeah, not exactly a full win there.