hidden figures

‘Hidden Figures’ shows women tapping on racial, gender ceilings in John Glenn’s orbit

Despite all the bad stuff we experienced (reel and real), 2016 deserves respect for bringing so many important – and often little-known – true stories to the screen. Among them, “Free State of Jones,” “Jackie,” “Loving,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” “Sully,” “Snowden,” “Masterminds,” and “The Birth of a Nation.”

Now add to that list the very affecting (and effective) “Hidden Figures,” about some African-American math whizzes who were crucial to NASA in the early ‘60s. Given that NASA was still stationed in Langley, Va., and Virginia still had strictly enforced segregation laws, this was not business as usual.


‘Fences’ not cinematic, but film version of August Wilson’s play a sure-footed shot at truth-telling

As both director and star of “Fences,” Denzel Washington, well, swings for the fences. And while he doesn’t quite hit a home run, he does manage a solid triple. And, almost as importantly, he brilliantly eases himself through the transition from leading man to character actor/star.

“Fences” is based on August Wilson’s masterful 1983 play which starred a galvanizing bigger-than-life James Earl Jones as Troy Maxson, a garbage worker in late 1950s Pittsburgh. Jones won a Tony for his portrayal, as did Washington for the 2010 revival.


‘Jackie’ captures quintessence of the widow in the days after Camelot ended

Here’s how you know the new film “Jackie” is working: You move from trying to decide just how credible Natalie Portman’s impersonation is to thinking about anything and everything except that.

Portman, who won a much-deserved Oscar for 2010’s “Black Swan,” doesn’t look in the least like Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (the Onassis connection is still in the future). Portman’s face is more oval, her nose is stronger.

Miss Sloane

Jessica Chastain dazzles in ‘Miss Sloane,’ a woman who burns through glass ceiling

Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), the protagonist of the lively political thriller, “Miss Sloane,” is one tough cookie. Some might even say of her, “Such a nasty woman.”

No, Sloane isn’t running for president. She’s a high-powered Washington lobbyist, whip-smart and utterly ruthless. And her tactics are as amoral as they are inventive.

manchester by the sea

‘Manchester By the Sea’ a heartbreaking exploration of grief

“Manchester By the Sea” is the reason people keep going to the movies. Because, despite all the crummy ones, there’s always the chance you’ll stumble across one like this – a movie so powerful, so beautifully done on just about every level, that it’s instantly etched in your memory. And your heart.

Few movies can handle that delicate juggling act in which profound grief alternates with wickedly well-observed humor. Don’t get me wrong. “Manchester” is, ultimately, a picture riddled with sorrow and unspeakable tragedy. Yet it is also oddly optimistic. A newborn cries at a funeral service – a birth astride a grave, as Beckett would’ve said.

loving, ruth nigga

‘Loving’ a perceptive, if somewhat plodding, view of Jim Crow South

Not even Hollywood could have trumped up a better double-entendre title than “Loving.” The word is both the name of the movie and the name of the couple at its center.

“Loving” is based on the true story of Mildred and Richard Loving. In 1958, they married – and in doing so, broke the law. You see, she (Ruth Negga) was African-American and he (Joel Edgerton) was white. And though they exchanged vows in Washington, D.C., they wanted to live in their home state of Virginia. Which, at that time, forbid interracial marriages.

Hacksaw Ridge

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ satisfying, perhaps Gibson’s remorseful apology

“Hacksaw Ridge” lets us know what we’re in for with its opening shot: a montage of soldiers in flames, caught in a slo-mo inferno.

Then it’s back stateside – rural Virginia where Desmond Doss lives with his brother, his beaten-down mom (Rachel Griffiths) and his dad (Hugo Weaving), a raging alcoholic who does the beating. His constant fury is an unwelcome residual of his service in World War I.


‘Denial’ avoids fireworks in portraying legal case against Holocaust revisionism

“Denial” is respectful, respectable and precisely the sort of film Stanley Kramer might’ve made. Trouble is, Kramer’s heyday was in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Meaning that, while exceptionally well-intentioned, “Denial” is also a bit dull.

Fortunately, dull isn’t always synonymous with boring. “Denial” certainly holds your interest. Plus, it offers a performance by Rachel Weisz that’s anything but dull.

Birth of a Nation

‘The Birth of a Nation’ a chilling view of rebellion against slavery

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

Arriving amid a swirl of controversy, rumors and standing ovations at the Sundance Film Festival, “The Birth of a Nation” is a powerhouse of a picture.

Writer/director/star Nate Parker has taken a little-known moment in American history and slammed it home with extraordinary force. In 1831, a Virginia slave named Nat Turner led a bloody revolt against the white plantation owners and their families (Yes, he murdered women and children). The rebellion was brief – only 48 hours – but around 60 people were killed. The uprising was subsequently used to justify harsher laws against African-Americans.

snowden, light

Blandness of ‘Snowden’ suggests Stone directed wrong script about whistleblower

“Snowden” is a snooze.

It’s also the least Oliver Stone-ish movie Oliver Stone has ever made.

Stone comes by his rep as a hot-button director legitimately. His movies stir people up. Sometimes rightly – “Platoon,” say, or “Salvador.” Sometimes wrongly – “Alexander” or “The Doors.” And sometimes, it seems Stone is being crazy just for the sake of drawing attention to his work – “JFK” comes to mind.

bridget jones baby

‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ reminds of endearing ‘Diary’ without finding itself

When we last saw Bridget Jones (2004), she was singleton no more, having finally found Mr. Right, aka, Mr. Darcy. But that was a dozen years ago and in “Bridget Jones’s Baby,” we (and she) are apparently back where she (and we) started: Sitting alone in her flat on her birthday, gobbling down a cupcake with one candle on it.

No, this isn’t the bad old days of self-loathing calorie-counting notations in her infamous diary. Bridget (Renee Zellweger) has another sort of female trouble, the sort you can’t diet away.

Light between the oceans

‘The Light Between the Oceans’ starts slowly, fizzles out

Something just isn’t right with “The Light Between the Oceans.” But just what, exactly, that something is isn’t easy to define.

Based on a 2012 book by Australian author, M.L. Stedman, the movie takes place shortly after World War I. Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) has come back with his body intact – many vets, the film reminds us, did not. But his head is, well, let’s say that something in him is broken to the point where a job tending a lighthouse on a lonely, storm-tossed island off the coast of Australia sounds like a good idea.

hell or high water

‘Hell or High Water’ so good it reminds how thin the year’s movies have been

Easily a candidate for dozens of Best of 2016 lists, “Hell or High Water” is one of those rare movies that feels exactly right from the get-go.

Five minutes in, you know you’re in good hands – that this picture is going to take care of you and take you along, almost effortlessly. It makes you realize how disappointingly thin most of the year’s movies have been.

‘Equity’ shines a light on ‘Lean In’ aspect of Wall Street culture

The new movie “Equity” evokes its cutthroat Wall Street world with admirable efficiency.

“18 Macallan, no ice” is how one orders a drink. The special at the expensive restaurant where everyone lunches is Tasmanian Sea Trout. And elliptical Big Brother Speak along the lines of, “The perception is that you rubbed people the wrong way,” is code for “You’re fired.”

don't think twice

‘Don’t Think Twice’ applies to all of us as we face the inevitable

It’s one of the oldest jokes in The Biz: Dying is easy; comedy is hard.

Heartbreaking, too, as we see “Don’t Think Twice,” an absolute gem of a film about a New York improv troupe called The Commune. Though the company’s membership has changed over the years, the stalwarts we see here – most of them in their mid-thirties (or older) – have been together for a while. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, as they ritualistically remind each other before each performance, they have each other’s backs.