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Sunday 5 March 2017

Words & Numbers

Two films that I have seen recently that I have thoroughly enjoyed, in fact absolutely loved, have been Arrival and Hidden Figures.

Both films took me places that I love to go - one to the weird and strange place that science fiction can take you, and one to a historical time so often discussed but so rarely brought to life. Both had excellent scripts and soundtracks. Both had superb cinematography, but done in sumptuously different styles. The acting in each was absolutely delectable, though while Hidden Figures had a broader cast that had to hold their own against each other, Arrival was almost a single-character piece and excelled for it.

"But John," I hear you cry, watermelons raining around you like confetti. "But John, why do you like them? What about each of them? Be specific! We want to shred your opinion in the comments!"

Alright then.

Arrival is not the film you think it is. Just watch it, okay? Just watch it. Don't try to second-guess it. Just watch it and let it happen to you and you will be thoroughly and happily surprised. It has a wonderful wonderful twist that you simply don't see coming.

Hidden Figures is funny as all get-out. In some places, it is laugh-out-loud amusing. Janelle Monae in particular serves up some delicious comedy, but it's a witty film overall. A lot of it is deft script-writing,

Arrival breaks some of the annoying stereotypes found in similar films. The military are not constantly being serious douchebags - there isn't a second-act intervention from Spooky Man In Suit that nobody recognises but seems to be mysteriously influential - and the press response and geopolitics seems surprisingly feasible for a science fiction film.

Hidden Figures shows you what racism looked like in 1960s Virginia. There is no single person twirling their mustachio and cackling darkly, despite every other white cast member being totally chill. It's a consistent dragging factor that holds people back throughout most of their lives and is casually undertaken by everyone around them, without anyone really thinking about it. (The only problem I have with the entire film falls in this category unfortunately.)

Arrival talks about language in a very interesting way. It makes you think about it, though that doesn't get in the way of the plot. Far from it. It IS the plot - semantics and syntax. It's not about the world leaders and the militaries posturing and posing. It's about Louise Banks working on the greatest challenge of her life, while all that happens in the background.

Hidden Figures has an amazing soundtrack. I've mentioned this before but it deserves reiteration. Pharell Williams, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch do a great job of putting you in the place and the time. It feels good to listen to, and it distinctly fits the scenes it is set to. It is hope and hard work and happiness where you find it.

Below is a very minor spoiler for Hidden Figures.

I did mention a problem, back there. I didn't really have any with Arrival - it was just fantastic. Hidden Figures had one specific thing that niggled me and continues to. There's a moment where Kevin Costner's character decides to single-handedly desegregate the bathrooms in Langley. That just didn't happen - Katherine Goble just kept using the whites-only bathrooms. A complaint was raised, she ignored it, the complaint went away. A wealthy white dude didn't swing in and save the day for our plucky black lady. She just got on with it, because she had better things to do. I understand why they did it in the film, for cinematic reasons - also forgiving that the book it is based on takes place over many years and by the events of the film Langley itself was already desegregated - but that one thing just...itches at me.

But outside of that? If you can forgive that? Then go watch these two films. Pick them up and chill out with them. Screw on your thinking cap for Arrival and your feeling sweater for Hidden Figures. Myself and those who went to see it skirted on the edge of tears several times in the film. (For different reasons, it bears mention.)

...but yeah, I'm sure Beauty And The Beast will be juuuuust wonderful.

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