Kansas City native Janelle Monáe has proven herself to be a terrific musician. She can now add the title ‘acclaimed actress’ to her resume. She’s part of a strong acting ensemble in “Hidden Figures,” potent follow-up to her role in the current drama, “Moonight.” Monáe, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer star in the true story of mathematicians whose calculations helped propel NASA’s manned space program the 1960s, in spite of blatant sexism and racism. Kevin Costner is the NASA bigwig who relies on these female computers before IBM introduced mechanical ones. While the storytelling is standard, the cast of “Hidden Figures” is appealing, the production values are spot on and it is an inspiring tale that needed to be told.
An allegory is given the big special effects treatment in “A Monster Calls.” It’s a spectacularly produced adaptation of Patrick Ness’s novel about a 12-year-old British boy named Conor who is trying to cope with his mother’s illness, an overbearing grandmother and local bullies. In his dreams, Conor conjures up a giant tree monster, voiced by Liam Neeson, who tells him three stories. Conor must tell a fourth story, or be eaten by the monster. Newcomer Lewis MacDougall plays Conor, Felicity Jones is his ailing mum and Sigourney Weaver is his harsh grandma. But the real star is the art department that creates the creepy netherworld of Conor’s dreams. While the movie’s goals are a bit beyond its grasp, “A Monster Calls” is an interesting coming of age movie dealing with the thorny subject of grief.
Also opening this week, Jackie Chan returns in the action comedy, “Railroad Tigers.” “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is a horror thriller involving father and son coroners. And, “Underworld: Blood Wars” is the fifth movie in horror franchise. Kate Beckinsale returns as a vampire battling both werewolves and fellow bloodsuckers.