Tag Archives: Kevin Costner

Hidden Figures (2016)

Of all the nine nominees for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year, Hidden Figures could well be the pick for most general moviegoing audiences. Seriously, not everyone is up for delightful song and dance (La La Land), heartbreaking/hard-hitting drama (Manchester by the Sea, Lion, Fences, Moonlight), the horrors of war (Hacksaw Ridge), modern westerns (Hell or High Water), thought-provoking sci-fi (Arrival), or the greatest movie ever (War for the Planet of the Apes) — okay, so one of these movies isn’t a nominee or even out yet, but still.

Embarrassingly, I knew nothing about the three remarkable African-American women Hidden Figures is inspired by — Katherine G Johnson (played by Taraji P Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (played by Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monáe). These three mathematicians overcame incredible social obstacles in the 1960s to essentially change NASA and were integral to some of the most important space missions in history.

While the film focuses on all three women, the central lead is Johnson (Henson), who was brought onto the Space Task Group headed by Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) to play catch up to the Russians, the first country to launch a man into orbit. Vaughn (Spencer), who was unfairly held back from a supervisory role, and Jackson (Monáe), who sought to attend an all-white college so she could become an engineer, are more like important supporting characters with subplots that take place around the core story.

It’s easy to forget that the film was set in a time when blacks still had to sit at the back of the bus and use different bathrooms. Moreover, it was also still a deeply sexist era, where women’s ambitions in the workplace were frowned upon if not overtly discouraged. It really was a double-whammy for the heroes of this film, who took on the system with amazing courage and determination. Director Theodore Melfi (who passed up a Spider-Man film to do this) does a fantastic job of depicting this period with the right amount of awareness, subtlety and delicacy, never falling too deeply into self-pity or outrage. Instead, NASA is shown to be rather advanced for its time and as a place that values ability and contribution rather than the colour of one’s skin.

Thanks to Melfi’s direction, Hidden Figures has a fun, lively energy to it that is as entertaining as it is uplifting. There are serious scenes of drama but also plenty of comedic moments and tense, thrilling space sequences. It’s a sign of great storytelling when you can be completely engrossed in the story even though you know how things will turn out.

The three leads deliver wonderful performances, and to be honest I wouldn’t have had a problem had all three earned Oscar nominations. Spencer did have the more lively personality of the three and got more of a chance to strut her stuff, which is probably why she was the only one to get the nod in the end.

The rest of the supporting cast is also really good, in particular Kevin Costner as the likable Harrison. Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, and Mahershala Ali (nominated for Moonlight) round off what is a fantastic cast that absolutely deserved the Outstanding Performance by a Cast at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

To me, Hidden Figures is like last year’s Bridge of Spies or The Imitation Game from the year before — it’s  based on a very important, inspirational, little-known true story; it’s driven by wonderful performances; and the direction and storytelling are top-notch. While I don’t think it’s quite as good as the aforementioned two, I do think Hidden Figures is definitely one of the best films of the year and certainly one of the most enjoyable and crowd-pleasing.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: 3 Days to Kill (2014)

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When I first saw the poster for Three Days to Kill, I was pretty certain that it would be a Taken ripoff with Kevin Costner as the Liam Neeson character and Amber Heard as his daughter. She gets kidnapped or something and he has three days to use his considerable abilities — ie, killing people — to get her back. I was wrong, but maybe it would have been better than what it turned out to be.

As it turned out, Three Days to Kill is very different to what I imagined. Kevin Costner is a CIA “lifer” sent into retirement due to dire health reasons and tries to rekindle his broken relationship with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld), who are both living in France. So who the heck does Amber Heard play? A CIA assassin who coaxes Costner to complete one final mission in return for an “experimental drug” that could save his life. So the film is essentially a father-daughter bonding movie (they have three days to spend together, hence the title, but it’s also a pun because his mission is to kill someone — get it?). There are action sequences and all, but the heart of it is about a dying man doing his best to make it up to his family.

The screenplay is co-written by French master Luc Besson, and you do get a sense of his influence through the dialogue and the occasional use of humour. The director, on the other hand, is none other than McG, best known for the Charlie’s Angels films and Terminator Salvation, so in that respect you know expectations ought not to be so high. The technical aspects of it, including the action, are well executed, but the film falls way short in its desire to generate any genuine emotion from the family conflicts.

Kevin Costner, who has re-emerged as of late in supporting roles, does his best here as a poor man’s Liam Neeson. You can kind of see him as an ex-CIA killer, and you can definitely see him as an old, dying man whose prime left him a long time ago. Hailee Steinfeld, who was nominated for an Oscar for True Grit, is not bad either as the typical teenage daughter, but there’s not much we haven’t seen before from characters of this type.

The WTF award goes to Amber Heard. Seriously, it’s one of the weirdest roles I have ever seen. She is introduced as a serious CIA assassin in the very first scene, but for the entire movie she does — wait for it — absolutely nothing. She just stands and observes from a distance, showing up every now and then in tight outfits for no apparent reason other than to provide (sometimes unintentional) comic relief. I thought her job was to kill people — but then why is she getting Costner to do her job for her? And why does she have access to a test drug? None of it makes any sense.

In the end, I don’t really know what they were trying to do here. It’s commendable that there is an actual story here rather than just an attempt to rip off Taken, but having said that the father-daughter relationship by itself did not have enough substance or originality to keep the film afloat. The action was adequate but nothing special, and while the black humour and one liners were welcome it was fairly standard stuff from Luc Besson. It’s not terrible, and I did find some moments entertaining and fun, but at best 3 Days to Kill qualifies as no more than a solid DVD rental.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

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Alec Baldwin. Harrison Ford. Ben Affleck. And now Chris Pine. With the exception of Baldwin (who’s a bit of an outlier anyway), Jack Ryan is the Benjamin Button of spy characters in that he just keeps getting younger and younger. And less dopey-looking.

All jokes aside, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recuit is yet another rendition of Tom Clancy’s most famous character, and while there are some positives to take out of it I’m still fairly convinced this is again a one-and-done reboot. I enjoyed the concept and some of the action sequences, but it’s one of those films where the more you think about it the more ridiculous and silly it seems. It’s not bad as a standalone espionage flick but not strong enough to lay the foundations of a new series.

This time, we go right back to the beginning, when a young Captain Kirk (Pine) witnesses the horrors of 9/11 while studying in London and decides to become a US marine. It doesn’t go too well for him, but through the disaster he is discovered by a CIA operative, codename Dances With Wolves (just kidding, it’s Mr Kevin Costner). And so begins a new career for our protagonist, whose adventures take him to Russia and a tycoon played by Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film. There’s a conspiracy and there’s a terror plot brewing, one that could destroy the world as we known it, and Jack Ryan must find a way to stop it in time without pissing off his girlfriend, Kiera Knightley.

From that brief synopsis, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (horrible title, by the way) seems like your typical spy action flick. And while there are elements about it that intrigued me — the terrorist plot, the fact that Ryan was just starting off as an analyst as opposed to a field agent, and the always-welcome presence of Branagh in front of and behind the camera — in the end it really was just your typical spy action flick. That’s a shame, because I think there was potential for more layers and depth, in particular as they had brought in 9/11 and the whole economic terrorism angle, but instead they went traditional and opted for car chases and explosions.

Branagh, who surprised me when he did an excellent job with Thoralso comes out with a commendable effort here in terms of generating tension and at least a semi-realistic feel to the action sequences. His own performance was charismatic, and Chris Pine was rather believable as a brilliant analyst who starts out way out of his depth but eventually embraces his destiny. Kevin Costner is, well, very Kevin Costner, and Kiera Knightley puts on a decent American accent as the damsel in distress masquerading as a strong, independent woman.

So the execution is not bad, but it’s a shame that the script becomes more and more outrageous as it progresses. We are supposed to see what a brilliant mind Jack Ryan is, but if you really think about it he actually does a lot of stupid stuff that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I can’t discuss these without divulging spoilers, but let’s just say Ryan’s so-called “brilliance” relies upon giving up the easy route for the hard one (maybe so the task seems more difficult) and plenty of dumb luck. It’s not just Ryan either, as plenty of others, including the villain(s), are guilty of head-scratching behaviour. And don’t even get me started on the final climax, which goes from implausible to ridiculous to just plain silly.

At the end of the day, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is what it is: sleek albeit familiar B-grade entertainment featuring a popular character and a stellar cast. It’s serviceable as a DVD rental but it would be unfair to expect too much. There clearly is something about Jack Ryan that makes Hollywood keep wanting to make movies about him, but this one doesn’t exactly show us why.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Man of Steel (2013) (2D)

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Every Superman movie comes with unreasonable expectations. We already saw how the 2006 Superman Returns directed by Bryan Singer and starring Brandon Routh (whatever happened to his career?) turned out when it tried to reboot the franchise with a more serious, thoughtful take on the Superman mythology. It wasn’t as bad as everyone said it was, but no matter which way you look at it, the film was a bitter disappointment.

And so I was somewhat apprehensive about yet another reboot, the long-awaited Man of Steel headed by Zack Snyder, the man who gave us 300 and Watchmen, two flawed films  I really enjoyed. Snyder is supposedly a massive Superman geek who knows the universe inside out. Coupled with his unique visual flair and penchant for relentless action, it seemed like a good fit. Indeed, the initial trailers and the pre-release word of mouth were promising.

Having now watched the film and given some time digest, I have to admit I still found Man of Steel a disappointment — albeit one that was very interesting (especially in the first half) and had a lot of positives going for it.

One of the biggest positives is Henry Cavill, formerly the unluckiest man in Hollywood (having just lost out on the lead role in Superman Returns to Brandon Routh, Casino Royale to Daniel Craig, and Twilight to Shovelface Pattinson),. Cavill is perfect as Clark Kent/Superman. Apart from being superhumanly handsome and buffed out of his mind, he exudes a vulnerability that at times reminded me of Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Nolan, by the way, served as a producer on Man of Steel.

Secondly, a problem with any Superman movie is that everyone knows the plot, so kudos to Snyder for making an origins story that covers some things we have not seen before, or at least not done in a way we’ve already seen before. I’m no Superman expert, but I understand there are quite a few subtle adjustments to the story, characters and narrative progression that made the film feel familiar but fresh.

The best parts of the film, surprisingly (or not surprisingly), are where Superman is out of his suit (which made the controversial decision to keep the underwear inside this time), the bits where he is learning who he is and how to control his powers. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane do a magnificent job as Clark Kent’s parents, stealing the show with the most human and emotional portions of the movie.

So the first half of Man of Steel is brilliant, dare I say almost Nolan-esque. The second half, when the villain, Zod, played by the brilliant Michael Shannon, arrives on Earth — well, that’s when things start to unravel and the film morphs into your more conventional superhero affair…except that it goes on for far too long and the carnage is so overboard that it all becomes numbing and dull. OK, maybe “dull” is taking it too far, but the tension and excitement was certainly not commensurate to the number of buildings being blown to pieces.

That said, the special effects were very good, and it wasn’t easy distinguishing between what’s real and what’s CGI. Some of the Krypton technology was pretty cool too, a clever divergence from the typical alien technology you might have seen in the past.

I like Amy Adams, but I never really liked Lois Lane in this one. Her relationship with Superman didn’t feel close enough to warrant some of the interactions between them. It was like we had to accept that there was chemistry between them (when there wasn’t) just because she’s Lois Lane. Adams is good, but the character felt lacking.

As for Russell Crowe as Jor-El, I have to admit he is pretty good in a “I’m Russell Crowe, the greatest f*&%ing actor in the world!” kind of way. I didn’t expect he’d have so much screen time either.

I sound more negative about Man of Steel than I should be, but only because my expectations were so high. The cast and the first half of the film were super but for whatever reason the storytelling in the second half lacked the emotional depth that would have made it a great film. And it was unnecessarily long. All things considered though, it is a solid Superman flick that is clearly better than Superman Returns, but not quite what I believe it was trying to achieve — ie, Dark Knight territory.  Perhaps the planned sequel(s) can get there.

3.5 stars out of 5