REVIEW: “HIDDEN FIGURES” (2016) 20th Century Fox

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Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), are more intelligent as children than most. But sadly, they have the wrong skin color for America of the 1960s, so educational opportunities aren’t as readily available to them as to most. And luckily for all of us, they don’t let it stop them.

“HIDDEN FIGURES” – written & directed by Theodore Melfi, is based on the true events of these three women’s accomplishments of beating the odds in a time when those odds were almost insurmountable. Although all three are working at NASA, they are widely under-ultilized, stuck in a mundane employee-temp circle with other African-American women. It is only when the ‘space-race’ heats up and NASA is concerned with the fact that Russia might beat us to manned space travel that they even get considered and their abilities are brought to light. But it is still a long journey to get from the temp pool to the point of where now-famed astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) had her double-check the numbers against a ‘new’ computer machine before his now-legendary orbit around the earth.
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The film does do well in summarizing the story and making the period of the early 60’s space-race look exciting. Melfi succeeds in revealing the perspective of the people who made it possible for a human being to be brought into an orbit were chiefly physicists and, above all, mathematicians. Making it truly special is the fact that three of these essential figures were not only women, but African-American women. In a time where different races were still strictly separated in everything from the bathrooms, to yes, even the coffee pot and how they had to fight not only to assert themselves into the circles of white, male-dominated NASA, but also with the colour of their skin.
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In addition, we have a decent supporting cast with Kirsten Dunst as Vivian Mitchell, head of the white secretarial pool and chief scientist, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), who while blind to all the bias at first, gradually begins to notice Johnson’s intelligence and how she is being treated by her white, male co-workers and steps up to the plate. Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Olek Krupa just to name a few, are great additions to the supporting cast.
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Performances are all above par here and not being Costner’s biggest fan, he comes off very well here in one of what is surely one of his more likeable performances. Hands down winner for me though is Octavia Spencer, who not only steals the show, along with hopefully not only a nomination, but a win from this performance.

Finally, do I think some liberties might have been taken here with the story-line or some of the characters, most likely, and it’s in these spots that the film lags, but it is also very simple to just look up history and see this is accurate in the frame of what these women did at/for NASA and what they went on to do in leading the way for so many to follow is even more impressive.

HIDDEN FIGURES is emotionally stirring cinema and should leave a lasting impression on viewers.

Grade: B
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Media Review Screening: Monday, November 21, 2016 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
In Limited Release: Sunday, December 25, 2016
NATIONWIDE RELEASE: Friday, January 6, 2017

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REVIEW ~ ST. VINCENT (2014)

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By this time, if there is anyone who hasn’t figured out that Bill Murray is a comedic genius then not only do I feel bad that they’ve missed so many fantastically funny, great movies, but maybe they can find some of it then in this film.  While Murray does a bit of a mixed bag here of comedy and a dramatic turn also, no one can deliver spot on, deadpan sarcasm like Murray.  NO ONE!  His character, “Vincent” is the corrosively, sarcastically funny old man next door who gets softened up a bit by the fact that his new neighbors seem to need his help somewhat with of all things, babysitting of the young boy, “Oliver” (played wonderfully by Jaeden Lieberher).  Oliver and his mom “Maggie” (Melissa McCarthy) are a bit down on their luck as she is going thru a divorce and trying to work long hours and take care of her son.  Step in ne’er-do-well neighbor and all around screw-up Vincent to ‘save the day’ and what ensues is a story of what could be taken two ways.. You can look at it as Vincent teaching Oliver ‘real’ life and what goes on when they spend the day in at the races using Oliver’s lunch money to make a bet and a surprising win, Vincent, showing Oliver how to deliver an upper-cut to nose to defend himself against the school bullies, celebrating at the local bar, or the sweetness of visiting his Alzheimers ridden wife.  Of course it’s not what you’re supposed to do, but taken in the context of the movie can not only be looked at as somewhat of a learning process, but quite funny as well.  StVincent2

But this isn’t all fun and laughs as not only does McCarthy go for a more dramatic start here, giving us some relief from what seems to be her playing the same character her last few comedic movies, but she does it well enough and it’s nice to see her showing she’s got more range than we thought. Murray, is as always quite genius even when his role becomes more challenging in the dramatic sense when he suffers a stroke and goes through a tough recovery process all with the help of what is probably one of the worst characters not only in this movie, but just in general, a very not funny, awfully acted Russian prostitute “Daka” played terribly by (Naomi Watts).  Not only is her accent just awful and grating on your every last nerve, but her garish, harsh makeup really does not flatter here at all. While she is supposed to be somewhat endearing and maybe even a bit funny, the whole character is sadly what makes this movie only good instead of fantastic.  On the fantastic side, newcomer Jaeden Lieberher as Oliver is remarkable in not only his acting skills, but as a child holding his own alongside Murray.  Who knows, we might have another Nicholas Hoult on our hands here! Add in a couple of fun smaller supporting roles from the always wonderful for me, Chris O’Dowd as “Brother Geraghty” a priest in the Catholic school which Oliver attends even though they and most of the children attending aren’t even Catholic, in his always fun, comedic ways, he helps Oliver make his presentation of “St. Vincent”. Terence Howard as “Zucko” the bookie trying to collect Vincent’s gambling debts and Kimberly Quinn as “Nurse Ana” who cares for Vincent’s wife “Sandy” (Donna Mitchell) in the care facility and has a soft spot for him as he tries to do anything and everything to keep her from being moved to another facility.

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Though they do a good job of mixing the right amount of comedic with dramatic adding in just enough heartstrings pull. all in all this adds up to only being a good movie..not a great movie,

Grade: C  (average)

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