CGB Review of Hidden Figures (2017)

Normally I’d begin this review with a witty remark, but instead I’ll open by thanking Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson for their service to our country.

This is my review of Hidden Figures!

hidden-figures-official-trailer-15768-large-4

This is the untold true story of three African-American women who were behind the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit.  The main focus is on Katherine Goble (later Johnson), a brilliant mathematician–someone you should call the next time you’re taking a complicated statistics class (another story from my life for another day)–and her struggles to be treated as an equal amongst her predominately white male colleagues.  While that’s going on, we cut to Dorothy Vaughan and her determination to become a recognized supervisor and Mary Jackson’s fight to be the first African-American female engineer at NASA.
You have my good friend Stargift Tarakasha: Pagan Pro-Life Advocate to thank for requesting me to review this, and I’m so glad I did because this is a terrific film!  🙂

The Hits
What a likable, charming cast!  I loved the bond and rapport between Katherine, Mary and Dorothy.  Their sisterhood is delightful to watch and is truly the heart of the movie.  Taraji P. Henson is exceptional as Katherine.  She brings a warmth and quiet strength to the character that makes her easy to relate to.  The best part of her performance comes when she gives an impassioned speech in which she confronts the fact that the “colored bathroom” is a mile away from her building.  I love how whenever she is doing calculations, it is as if she enters into her own world where it is just her and the numbers.  It reminded me of Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.
This film handles the topic of institutional racism as tactfully as possible.  You don’t have that one overtly racist character who hisses the “N-word” at our main characters, instead the film makes use of judgmental glances, half-hearted conversations between white characters and the leading ladies, and scenes such as a white librarian telling a very respectful Dorothy, “I don’t want any trouble,” signaling her [Dorothy] to leave with her two sons.  The movie personifies “Separate but Equal” in the way it has the white characters, both male and female, treat the African-American characters.  There’s an interesting evolution of the relationship between Dorothy Vaughan and Kirsten Dunst’s character Vivian Mitchell; it starts with Ms. Mitchell hiding her sense of superiority behind a veil of sympathy towards Dorothy and the other African-American women at NASA, and as Katherine, Mary and Dorothy make progress in their work, Ms. Mitchell begins seeing Dorothy in particular in a whole new light.  The same goes for Katherine’s relationships with Jim Parsons (Sheldon from Big Bang Theory) Paul Stafford and Kevin Costner’s character Al Harrison.  Paul and Al work as exact opposites of one another.  Paul represents blatant institutional racism, while Al’s obsession with space and calculation explains his inadvertent enabling of benign racism.
I’d like to say kudos to the audience I saw this with.  There were quite a few scenes where the audience clapped; for one, when Al Harrison knocks down the “Colored Ladies Only” sign from the women’s restroom, hence allowing the African-American women of the building to use any women’s bathroom they want.  I normally don’t comment on the audience when I see these movies, but I would like to point out that the audience at my screening was quite diverse, which speaks of Hidden Figures’ appeal to anyone regardless of their background.  🙂

The Misses
This movie sort of has the same problem as the 2015 Steve Jobs biopic and “The Martian” in that, unless you are an enthusiast of math and science, the calculations might go over your head.  Granted, the film focuses more on the emotions of the characters who are doing the calculations rather than the numbers themselves, but still filmmakers have yet to find a way to make chalkboard-mathematics exciting to those who aren’t fans of math.
This movie does fall into some inspirational-movie-tropes, like uplifting music playing in the background when, say, a main character makes a statement or when Paul Stafford and the other office workers first see Katherine’s equation.

Overall, Hidden Figures is an enjoyable, feel-good biopic to start off 2017!  With wonderful performances from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, a tasteful handling of institutional racism and an engaging story, Hidden Figures propels to the stars of good cinema, bringing to light the heroic service of three courageous women who paved the way in getting us to the moon and back.

hidden-figures-stick-together
Thank you Katherine Goble-Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan for your service.

 

Saint Josephine Bakhita, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Martian (2015)

I should not be up right now.  It’s exactly 10:37 pm and I need to be up at 7 am tomorrow morning to attend the annual Walk for Life hosted by the local Crisis Pregnancy Center.  Also I will be seeing (and reviewing) the movie “Pan” right after the event.  Oh, and then I have LifeTeen.
Anywho, as I announced on the CGB Facebook page, this review is the first of five movie reviews I will be posting this weekend, so here we go.

This is my review of The Martian!

martian-gallery3-gallery-image

Based on the book by Andy Weir, The Martian tells the story of an astronaut named Mark Watney, who ends up stranded on the planet Mars after a fierce storm interrupts his crew’s routine mission.  Back on Earth, all hope is lost until NASA is contacted by the lost astronaut.  From there, it’s a race against time to bring him home.

The Hits
You NEED to see this movie in 3D because the visuals are fantastic!   The 3D makes the storm sequence in the film’s opening feel realistic, as if you are actually stuck in an interrgalatic storm.  Between this, Interstellar and Gravity, it’s safe to say that Hollywood has come a long way in its portrayal of outer space.  The cinematography captures the vastness of space and the scorched atmospherics of Mars.  The movie makes good use of the red and orange color palate that dominates Mars.
Matt Damon succeeds in carrying a good portion of the film on his own.  He is alone for the majority of the movie, after all, and he commands the audience’s attention with Mark’s optimism and unbreakable spirit.  My favorite moment is when he straight-up says, “I’m not gonna die.”  This moment alone establishes him as an active agent of his own destiny rather than being a passive victim of circumstance.  Also, I really do like how he has to solve his problems using his knowledge of botany.
Yes, it is true; this movie is surprisingly relaxed and even funny.  The comedic moments are brought to us by Matt Damon’s performance.  He never overplays it. He uses humor as a coping mechanism to help relieve the stress of his predicament.  I don’t think I’ve seen this character arch done correctly.  A lot of movies tend to exaggerate a witty character to the point where their banter is their only defining trait.  However, the Martian handles this arch with tact and grace, recognizing that there is more to the survivalistic Mark than his quips.
To put it simply, everything right with The Martian is Mark Watney himself, which is a very good thing since the main character is always the most important ingredient of any story.

The Misses
The NASA scenes are a chore to sit through, mainly because in the second act, we spend a 25 minute period of NASA officials negotiate Mark’s rescue.  This is the only part of the film that had me checking my phone for the time.  To be fair, it’s much better than Fant4stic Four, which had me checking my phone six times. Still, a movie shouldn’t lag.  If a film needs to slow down for story development, character growth or whatever it needs to do, make sure that whatever is happening is engaging.  Believe it or not, watching a group of people in suits chit-chat is not that rivieting.
For me, the biggest flaw is that the film took a sinfully small amount of time to develop the family dynamic of Mark’s crew.  I could hardly connect with the crew that left him behind on Mars.  The scenes with Mark’s crew are few and far between, making it impossible to care for them as three-dimensional characters. When the movie cuts to Earth, we get more scenes of NASA negotiations than of the crew.  I understand that when adapting a book into a movie, the filmmakers have to make some changes and sacrifices, but at the very least make me believe that this crew is motivated not by the script, but by a bond with their lost crewmate to go out and rescue him.

My hands are starting to hurt, but luckily this movie was not painful at all.  In fact, if you love space, NASA and all things science, you will love The Martian.  Matt Damon’s charm and commitment to the role is what brings this movie home.

Saint Joseph of Cupertino, pray for us.