HIDDEN FIGURES

Director: Theodore Melfi (2017) BBFC cert: PG

Equations lead to equality in this astronomically uplifting biopic.

When NASA find themselves behind communist Russia in the space race, three groundbreaking African American female mathematicians prove they have the right stuff.

Their brain power is instrumental in figuring out how to to return an astronaut alive from Earth orbit.

Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer bring warmth, integrity and humour to their roles. The latter was up for the best supporting actress Oscar, but all of them are deserving of an award.

The real life characters they play may have been hidden from history, but they’re easily identifiable in the labs occupied by white men.

Rather than preach, the script uses humour to mock the stupidity of racism and sexism. And the science is pitched at a level so dummies like myself can easily understand it.

Stirring, sentimental and sweet, it’s a powerful and entertaining story of heroism in the face of prejudice.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Director: Robert Schwentke (2015)

Welcome back to the future for the glossy second instalment of the dystopian action adventure quadrilogy.

Renegade heroine Tris returns to face a series of tests – but the biggest threat to success is herself.

Containing all the strengths and weaknesses of the first film, it balances handsome design and two great female performances with indifferent dialogue, silly stunts and a tiresome abundance of teenage posturing.

The decaying walled city is beautifully realised and accompanying uniforms, guns, trucks and technology are all heavily convincing.

Beginning where the last film ended, we’re quickly brought up to speed on the story before being thrust into the action.

Society is divided into five factions, each with it’s own role. Tris (Shailene Woodley) qualifies for more than one faction and therefore as a Divergent she is considered a threat to society.

Tris and her brother Caleb (Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort) are now outlaws. They’re hiding in the peaceful pastoral faction of Amity along with her boyfriend Tobias and friend Peter (Theo James and Miles Teller). It’s a creepy commune of niceness.

Guilt-ridden over her parent’s death, Tris suffers nightmares and scalps her hair in a self-harming act of penance. Her self-prescribed therapy for her anger is to take plenty of physical punishment through the film.

Back in the city, evil Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has obtained a box containing secrets that belonged to Tris’s mother.

In order to unlock it’s secrets, victims have black suspension cables plugged into them and are put into a dream-state. In this condition they have to pass five tests – one for each Faction.

We see their subconscious go maximum Inception with exploding digital buildings galore – and death in their dream means they die for real.

Realising only a Divergent will possess the qualities to open it, Jeanine sends sneering Dauntless commander Eric Coulter (Jai Courtney) to hunt down the renegades. She is convinced Tris is the best candidate and is determined to capture her.

His crack troops no know fear, no danger and no tactics – they can’t see a wall without abseiling down it and striking ferocious moonlit action poses. There’s lots of train-hopping action but despite a lot of fighting, there’s a general absence of blood or bruises.

Chased by Dauntless, the four split up. Peter turns traitor, Caleb goes home and Tris and Tobias plan to kill Jeanine.

En route they are captured by the Factionless – now a heavily armed rebel force lead by Tobias’s mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts). She asks them to join up. But when Jeanine implants her friends with remote controlled suicide devices, Tris has a difficult choice to make

Winslet wears a killer electric blue dress and Woodley aside has so much more presence than her co-stars. It’s a wonder she can’t crush the rebellion with a single exasperated sigh.

Woodley carries the film with a combination of physical strength and emotional vulnerability. It’s great to see two actresses in roles defined by their actions and not their gender – it’s a shame the film’s not deserving enough of them.

It’s a good job Theo James is so buff and handsome as he’s more than a little dull. He and Woodley share strikingly little chemistry – there’s far more spark between Woodley and Teller and even between Teller and Winslet. Teller’s strutting wind-up-merchant is the only engaging male performance.

No matter how hard the film works to surprise us – and it does work very hard – nothing ever throws us off balance as it prettily plods to the third instalment.