Film review: Fences - an impressive piece of work
Cert: 12; Now showing
August Wilson gets a writing credit, and Oscar nomination, for Denzel Washington's third directorial outing. It is a posthumous credit, testimony to Washington's devotion to doing justice to Wilson's original play, Fences. Tony award-winning, both in its original run in the 1980s and during its revival in 2010, the play is considered an African-American Death of a Salesman.
Set in Pittsburgh in 1957, it deals brilliantly with the dynamics of marriage and fatherhood through the eyes of a man who feels hard done by and the people who have to live with him.
Washington's performance as bin man Troy Maxson is flawless. Viola Davis, reprising her role from 2010 as his wife Rose is also magnificent. Troy is a charmer but as the story and his character unfold it's clear that he is not always nice, his ego is massive and he is always the star of his show. Prejudice meant he didn't get to play professional baseball and he isn't entirely enthralled with the idea of his son doing better than he did.
As a subtle depiction of character and dynamic this is wonderful. Washington, who got the Tony for his role in the 2010 stage version, clearly wants to honour it and to bring it to a broader audience so his adherence to source material is admirable. But what works with a live actor onstage does not always, or often, translate entirely successfully to the screen. It is very wordy and most of the action happens either outside or inside the same home. It starts out engaging, albeit occasionally hard to understand, but at well over two hours it really starts to drag. This is clearly an impressive piece of work, but it borders on self-indulgence and its appeal is not that broad.
Cert: 12A; Now showing
There have been criticisms of this film because it doesn't examine the bigger picture around the introduction of fast food to the US, to the whole world in fact. But such an examination, while worthwhile in another context, would be misplaced in this story. It is about the beginnings of McDonald's as a phenomenon, an interesting story in itself, but it is also an interesting examination of the fine line between ambition and greed.
It opens in Illinois in 1954 with Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) a travelling salesman peddling, or attempting to peddle, milk shake mixers to restaurants. It is, it emerges the latest in a long line of get rich quick schemes in which Ray has invested over the years. When an order comes in for six, then eight mixers Kroc is inspired to visit the restaurant in San Bernadino which wants to buy them. There he finds a hamburger stand unlike any other - speedy, great food and family friendly. The brothers who own the stand are Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) McDonald, nice, principled men who want to stay small and make a decent living. Ray talks them into selling franchises and two world views collide.
John Lee Hancock's film is a timely look at a moment in American history. Keaton is always watchable and the slight moral ambiguity, leaving the audience to draw their own conclusion, adds a nice layer.
John Wick: Chapter 2
Cert: 16; Now showing
From the outset it is important to flag for anyone unfamiliar with John Wick and the rave reviews the original received in 2014 and which are currently being heaped on this sequel, that everything has to be taken within the context of action movies. The original film, Keanu-based neo noir, unapologetic action, mega body count, stylish, frenetic and testosterone-charged was adored by many, but it simply is not everyone's cup of celluloid. And this sequel is not going to broaden its appeal. It will however seriously satisfy fans of the first film.
In 2014 John Wick (Keanu Reeves) retired hitman supreme was lured out of retirement to avenge a puppy and a car. This chapter opens with him retrieving his car, killing a dozen or so henchmen in the process and then attempting to go back to the quiet life. But a dude called Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio) shows up with a marker, a blood oath that cannot be refused and John Wick is back. His first stop is the Continental Hotel in New York, the elegant establishment run by Winston (Ian McShane) where all good assassins hang. Then off to Rome to deliver on the marker. But that turns John Wick from hunter to hunted. Director Chad Stahelski delivers a worthy sequel. It's tongue-in- cheek, funny at times but at two hours it felt too long to me, although the cinematography and costumes are fabulous. The fights, both battle and hand to hand, although gloriously choreographed, got tedious.
Cert: 15A; Now showing
Chiron (Alex Hibbert) is a nine-year-old boy hiding from bullies. Light on conversation, the lad is also trying to evade his drug-addict mother (Naomie Harris), and refuge is provided by kindly stranger and local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali).
Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is an awkward high school teen. Still preyed upon by bullies, still grappling with his strung-out mother, his only companion is Kevin with whom he shares an intimate encounter one night.
And finally, Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) is a local drug dealer and street hustler. He is bulky and sports a bandana much like Juan once did, and his mother is now in care. He receives a call from Kevin out of the blue inviting him down to Miami.
Barry Jenkins's triptych is an awards-season darling for good reason, what with its gentle, stately power and the almost hymn-like sweep it brings to US suburbia. Jenkins, cinematographer James Laxton and composer Nicholas Britell combine majestically to elevate Chiron's epic to celestial plains.
Did it have to drag its feet in the final act though?
Hilary A White
Cert: PG; Now showing
Although set 50 years ago, Hidden Figures has lessons that feel timely. Director Ted Melfi, who co-wrote, does a nice job in classic storytelling. Plot and character-based, this basically true story remains stalwartly feelgood while making points about racism and sexism effectively.
Katherine Johnson (Taraji P Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) are three highly qualified "computers" working for NASA in Virginia before the John Glenn space orbit.
Kept separate, paid less and endlessly underestimated, their story is one of everyday racism and everyday heroism when people refuse to stay in boxes. It's light but solid, slightly corny on occasion but captures the period really well (and has added Kevin Costner). Very uplifting.