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Posts Tagged ‘Octavia Spencer’

Robert Forster, John Hawkes

“SMALL TOWN CRIME”  My rating: C+ 

91 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Ex-cop Mike Kendall is a “shit heel” according to one of the other characters in “Small Town Crime.” It’s hard to disagree with that assessment.

Mike is an alcoholic who’s usually wasted by noon. He drives his souped-up car like an irresponsible teen; one morning he awakens to find his ride parked in the front yard amongst the wreckage of a picket fence.

Mike has been jobless since the unfortunate incident that led to the death of a fellow patrolman. To keep getting unemployment benefits he goes through the motions of applying for jobs, but should a prospective employer actually show an interest, Mike scotches the deal by confessing to being a hopeless drunk.

The good news is that Mike, as played by the great John Hawkes, isn’t a mean drunk. He loved being a cop and has a hopeless dream of once again wearing a badge. And despite his maddeningly childlike behavior, he’s just charming enough that you can’t hate him.

This noir drama from siblings Echo and Ian Nelms finds Mike thrust back into the game when he discovers a young woman dying in a roadside ditch. His cop instincts kick in, and despite warnings from his old colleagues on the force, Mike starts poking around into her death.

Posing as a private detective, he contacts the girl’s rich grandfather (Robert Forster), who is infuriated by the cops’ sloppy handling of the case (“To them she’s just another toe tag”). Despite his granddaughter’s self-destructive history of drug addiction and prostitution, he’s ready to spend big bucks to find out how and why she died.

Mike’s dogged digging eventually reveals a murderous conspiracy.  Before it’s over, other young prostitutes are being murdered and Mike is himself a target.  Not to mention his “sister” (Octavia Spencer), with whom he grew up in foster care, and her husband (Anthony Anderson) and their kids.

 

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Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones

“THE SHAPE OF WATER” My rating: B+

122 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Blend the whimsey of “Amelie” with the sci-fi fantasy of “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” wrap it all up in Cold War paranoia, and you’ve got Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” an interspecies love story that will leave you swooning.

Horror and beauty are never far apart in del Toro’s cinema; what’s noteworthy about this picture is that the horror is generated not by the fantastic creature at its heart but by human fear and loathing. This time around we’re the monsters.

Set in early ’60s Baltimore, where it’s always raining and everything is tinted bottom-of-the-sea green, “The Shape of Water” opens with Elisa ( Sally Hawkins) awakening from a watery dream and getting ready for work. Elisa is mute and communicates through sign language (we get subtitles); she works the night shift mopping floors at a top-secret government research station that looks and feels like a giant concrete mausoleum.

Michael Shannon

The scientific staff is all agog over their new acquisition, an amphibious creature captured in a river in South American, where the natives worshipped him as a god. The current condition of this beautiful/disquieting creation (that’s frequent del Toro collaborator Doug Jones under the spectacular prosthetics developed by Legacy Effects) is anything but god-like; he’s in chains and is the subject of the sadistic cattle-prod attentions of Strickland (Michael Shannon), a malevolent CIA type who can’t wait to vivisect this new species.

Using her passkey to gain entrance to the creature’s prison, the empathetic Elisa brings hard-boiled eggs and a portable phonograph player with a collection of jazz LPs. This frog/man may not be able to speak, but he digs eggs and music.

Elisa soon discovers that the captive is not a mindless beast; before long they’re conversing in sign language. And and as her affections for this scaly  newcomer deepen, Elisa hatches a plan to spirit the amphibian man out of the lab before he can be vivisected. He can live in her claw-footed bathtub.

She is abetted in this quest by her co-worker, the mop-swinging Zelda (Octavia Spencer),  by her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), a mild-mannered commercial artist, and by one of the scientific eggheads, Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), who wants to preserve this great discovery at any cost. (more…)

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Octavia Spencer, Taranji P. Henson, Janelle Monae

Octavia Spencer, Taranji P. Henson, Janelle Monae

“HIDDEN FIGURES” My rating: B+

127 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

A piece of  fact-based historical uplift that flirts with sappiness but never succumbs, “Hidden Figures” is a late addition to the 2016 awards race.

The story it tells — largely unknown until the film’s publicity drive kicked in a few weeks ago — is kinda jaw dropping. And the three lead performances instantly land on the list of Oscar contenders.

During the early days of the American space program — back when a mechanical computer took up an entire floor of an office building — NASA hired two dozen mathematically gifted African American women to perform  complex calculations using nothing more than their brains and slide rules.

These women were referred to as “computers” — that was their official job designation.

Despite being second-class citizens both on and off the job, they made possible John Glenn’s breakthrough orbital flight and gave the U.S.A. a fighting chance in the space race.

Writer/director Theodore Melfi (he was behind the sublimely funny Bill Murray starrer “St. Vincent”) balances the private stories of three of these women against the grand historic sweep of those years. The film works equally well as a satisfying celebration of personal triumph and as a symbol of national pride.

The screenplay (with Allison Schroeder) wastes no time in illustrating the times.  Three “computers” are on their long daily commute to their jobs in north Virginia when their car breaks down.  The white highway patrolman who investigates their stalled vehicle at first exhibits the overt racism of the times.  Only when he learns that the three are helping Uncle Sam beat the Commies to the stars does he drop the attitude and ensure they are sent safely on their way.

Once at work, the women must put up with more crap.  The space program (it wouldn’t take the name NASA for several years) and its white management practice what might be called “racism with a tight smile.”

The African American women work in their own building separate from everyone else. There is minimal interaction between them and the engineers and scientists who daily shower them with mathematical problems.  Like the field hands of a Southern plantation, they produce the wealth but get none of the credit.

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Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis in "The Help"

“THE HELP”  My rating: B+  (Now playing wide)

137 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

You can’t throw a rock at “The Help” without hitting an Oscar-worthy performance, making this adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-seller one of the best-acted films since, well, “The King’s Speech.”

All that thespian power comes in handy in diverting our attention from some of the story’s more Hollywood-ish plotting and an unimaginative visual style.

OK, maybe I’m being too much of a critic here. There may be a few pedestrian elements in this sure-fire box office smash, but there’s no ignoring the pure emotional power of this story set in the Jim Crow South.

This is a movie that will set audiences to laughing, then bawling, then laughing and bawling all over again.

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