Hidden Figures

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**** (out of five)

You’d need to have a cold stone heart – or, I suppose, prejudicially racialist views – to dislike Hidden Figures, the true story of black women working as “computers” at NASA in the 1960s. It’s a wonderful, rather incredible story, full of triumphant moments and performed by a perfect cast.

Yes, these highly talented mathematicians were called “computers” – before we called machines computers – because they made computations, in the same way accountants account and actors act. Not all of the details of the story are this revealingly accurate – the white characters, for example, are all composites of real people – but the astounding and goosebump-inducing achievements made by the three central characters are all historically cOrr ect and profoundly inspiring.

Empire’s Taraji P. Henson plays the central character, Katherine G. Johnson, a bona-fide math prodigy-genius who rose to essential prominence during the “space race” and beyond. She’s terrific, and more than ably supported by Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughn and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson, both of whom also delivered major damage to ceilings for black people and women within this bastion of astronomical ambition.

Theodore Melfi directs unobtrusively, letting the story and performers shine, but admirably restrains from underlining, and thus undermining, the story’s Big Moments. Like its fellow nominee for Best Picture at the Oscars, Lion, this is the tasteful version of a story that could have been ruined by a heavy hand, a bombastic score or too many studio notes. The true story is monumental enough.

St. Vincent

** (out of five)

St_Vincent_posterContrived and melodramatic, Theodore Melfi’s debut feature St. Vincent is a desperate, “look at me!” example of screenwriting-by-numbers. Every possible story beat is walloped within an inch of its pre-programmed life: you’re meant to cry at minute eighty-nine, but by god you’re gonna cheer at minute ninety-four!

Bill Murray, in an Oscar-baiting performance, is very good, as is Naomi Watts (as a hooker with a heart of gold!), and that’s it. They’re doing their best in a seriously derivative, predictable and frankly schmaltzy tale of an old Brooklyn boozer, Vincent, who starts looking after the enjoyably upbeat son of his new neighbour, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy, the most over-rated actress in Hollywood, again delivering a completely unbelievable performance, alongside her ludicrous Tammy, also of 2014).

The kid is played by a genial fellow named Jaeden Lieberher, and he’s fine, and the scenes between him and Murray have no essential problems in the acting department. It’s the script that is terrible. The only reason you won’t be able to predict each of the gazillion creaky plot twists is because you’ll be astounded, in this day and age, that someone made such an obvious, over-used, creaky, old-fashioned, easy choice. Spoiler alert: just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, Vincent has a stroke. Cue acting. Sorry, Bill; they’re not gonna give you an Oscar for this.