Despite my sluggish rate of posting film reviews recently due to insane work life and trying to find some time to sleep, I actually did find the time to watch two new films at the cinema recently – two Oscar-nominated films, no less. And somewhat in celebration of International Womens’ Day on the 8th of March, I bring you short reviews of two films which play host to strong female leads – Arrival and Hidden Figures.
When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors. (source)
I am a big fan of sci fi films that are well made and nicely conceptualised, and sci fi films that push the boundaries of an already stretched genre. Starring the supremely watchable Amy Adams and the somewhat reprehensible Jeremy Renner, who are both supported by a perfectly reasonable Forest Whitaker, Arrival is an example of mainstream sci fi done right. It might not be the cleverest sci fi film in the existence of cinema, but it is certainly one of the best films I’ve seen this year so far. I love that this is the kind of alien film that brings in the academics to solve a problem rather than just shooting guns or bombs (or computer viruses) into a foreign spacecraft. And I secretly also love that this film has inspired me to open my old linguistics textbooks from university and explore my love of language analysis again. Arrival is a surprising tearjerker with a strong emotional core, which is only enhanced by the beautiful score by Jóhann Jóhannsson; which somewhat reminded me of Mica Levi’s strange, unique score for Under the Skin (2014). Direction by Denis Villeneuve was gorgeous as per his usual fare, with the scenes involving human-alien interactions being a particular highlight. Arrival plays with one’s understanding of alien films and drip-feeds its viewers key information, leaving you wanting more. It’s not just good viewing, it’s really, really interesting and thrilling viewing. Highly recommended.
Is it worth paying for a ticket?: 100% yes!
Watch the trailer here.
Hidden Figures (2016)
The story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program. (source)
Hidden Figures is a notable film for me because I knew literally nothing about its subject matter(s) before seeing the film. Being a person hailing from Australia, we take a cursory glance at American history during high school and see its struggles and its injustices, but we’re not informed about much else within its heaving machine of systemic racism. We certainly aren’t informed about many success stories. Which I think is a shame, because stories like Hidden Figures need to be told, and need to be celebrated. These three women – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae respectively – seek empowerment and respect within their chosen fields, within the constraints of a wider society that won’t even let them use the same restroom or coffee kettle as their white colleagues. Whilst I was somewhat disappointed to see certain moments seemingly played for laughs, particularly around trips to the bathroom, I thought the matter of the racism of the time was confronted very authentically. These are women who want better and more for themselves and for each other, but just seem exhausted. The same goes for Kirsten Dunst’s character, who, although she is white, is a woman within a wider patriarchal system, and experiences her own difficulties as a result. The film’s direction by Theodore Melfi wasn’t anything too interesting, but the cinematography by Mandy Walker was absolutely gorgeous, with some beautiful colour palettes that feel comforting and homely within the womens’ homes and safe places, and cold and alienating within the NASA campus. This film’s power is in its three female leads, who are all amazing in their own right, but together form a sisterhood which is so infectiously joyful; an alliance between colleagues that in real life was ultimately unstoppable, with all three women eventually experiencing high achievements in their careers. Hidden Figures is an uplifting and inspiring story, and it’s an important one to see.
Is it worth paying for a ticket?: Yes.
Watch the trailer here.
(Note: These are both still on at the cinema in Australia, but if they’re not in the cinema where you are and you haven’t seen these yet, they are definitely worth watching for home viewing as well.)