Hidden Figures (2017) starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, & Janelle Monae

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A poster for the movie Hidden Figures

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the film.

This is a crowd-pleasing Hollywood movie (which I saw w/ my mom 2 wks ago), BUT about a subject we’ve NEVER heard about- three professional African-American (then referred to as “Negro”) women at NASA in the ’60s. ALL the ladies give strong performances here; they have strong chemistry that makes their long-time friendship seem real. At the center is Katherine Coleman (Taraji P. Henson of Empire)- a former child prodigy, widow, mom of 3 young daughters, and mathematician. Her mind works fast, BUT working w/ the team of engineers (under Al Harrison- Kevin Costner in a low-key performance) prepping for the first manned rocket launch IS a challenge. Katherine grows in her job, gaining confidence and respect (even from racist senior engineer Paul Stafford- Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory).

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Katherine works out the math for a future rocket launch.

In some ways, the film is traditional, esp. how the problems are wrapped up quite nicely. We get the feeling that MAYBE Mary Jackson’s (Janelle Monae) hubby, Levi (Aldis Hodge- star of Underground), is NOT all in for his wife working such long hours and becoming an engineer. However, there are moments where you want to cheer, b/c these ladies are succeeding w/ SO much stacked against them (in a segregated South- Langley, VA). Even going to the bathroom is a hassle, since the “colored” restroom is located on the other side of the large campus!

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Katherine surrounded by her coworkers (all white and male) engineers.

This story would NOT have been told w/o the 2014 book upon which it’s based by Margot Lee Shetterly. She is the daughter of a NASA engineer (her dad); she also grew up in the same town as these “human computers.” As a youngster, Shetterley knew these ladies as neighbors and fellow churchgoers. Yes, we are in the time before IBM was a household name, though eventually Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) learns FORTRAN to program the new computer.  

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Col. John Glenn (Glen Powell) meets Katherine Johnson.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a math/science/history nerd to LOVE this film. (I personally liked the historical elements, esp. the clothes and cars.) One of my fave elements was the slow burn romance between Katherine and a National Guardsman, Major Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali- also in Moonlight). “It’s very rare to see a black man pursuing a black woman” (as was discussed on the JAN 25th Slate Culture Gabfest). Henson and Ali have great chemistry. The surprise proposal/family dinner scene had me in tears!

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The “computers” gather around the TV to watch Col. Glenn’s historic launch.

Films like this are important, esp. today when certain world leaders are trying to close-up borders, restrict (legal) immigration, and creating unease (in anyone who isn’t straight/ white/Republican/ male). Why NOT take the example of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) in this film?  According to historians (and his contemporaries), Glenn was considered “ahead of his time” when it came to race relations. Though one of the white women supervisors tried to rush him inside, Glenn (who later became an Ohio senator) walked over to where the black computers were standing in the welcome line; they shook hands and chatted briefly. Without the combined work on dozens of black women, he would never have gone into space! 

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Movies & Plays To Check Out (JAN 2017)

MOVIES:

Hidden Figures

This movie centers on three brilliant African-American women (referred to as “human computers”) working at NASA in the 1960s. The three leads are Taraji P. Henson (Empire), Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae (who is also a singer). They are joined by Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Kristen Dunst, and Mahershala Ali (House of Cards; Luke Cage). Before Col. John Glenn (up-and-coming actor Glen Powell) went into space, Henson’s character (Katharine Johnson) had to “check the math” behind the mission. I learned that Johnson is still alive in small-town Virginia- wow!  Check out the trailer below.

 

Lion

Critics have raved re: Dev Patel in this film, as well as the boy who plays Indian adoptee to Australia (Saroo Brierley) as a child.  In case you’re NOT a big fan yet of the British-Indian actor, know that Patel is transformed for this role (hair, body, and accent).  I’ll be seeing it next weekend.

See the trailer below; the cast includes Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, and David Wenham.

 

Singin’ in the Rain (in select theaters: SUN, 1/15 & WED, 1/18)

TCM and Fathom Events is co-presenting this musical at select theaters for two days ONLY. This movie premiered 65 years ago (1952) and stars Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds (who recently passed away at age 84), and Donald O’Conner. I heard about it on TCM, then checked online for details (see link below).

http://fathomevents.com/event/singin-in-the-rain/more-info/details

One of the most famed/respected dancers/choreographers of her time, Cyd Charisse, has a supporting role. Checking IMDB, I found that Rita Moreno is part of the ensemble (VERY cool). I’ve never seen this film before, but it’s available on YouTube for ONLY $2.99! 

 

The Salesman (AFI Silver Theatre: SUN, 1/22 at 5:15PM)

This film is part of the 21st Annual Iranian American Film Festival which was previously held at the Freer Gallery (now undergoing renovations).  It is directed by Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), who is NOT afraid to realistically tackle subjects which are still taboo in his native Iran. While A Separation was about impending divorce, this film deals w/ the assault of a young wife and her husband’s subsequent emotional turmoil and drive for revenge. I got my ticket already.

Follow the link below for tickets and see the trailer.

https://silver.afi.com/Browsing/Movies/Details/m-0100001136

 

PLAYS:

As You Like It: Folger Shakespeare Theatre (Pay-What-You-Will: TUES, 1/24 at 7:30PM)

This adaptation of The Bard’s comedy will run from JAN 24th – MAR 5th starring actors from Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. I’m interested in this b/c I’ve only seen one movie re: this play. I haven’t read the play (it’s rarely taught/studied in schools/universities). 

See the link below for more info.

http://www.folger.edu/events/as-you-like-it

Caroline, or Change: Round House Theatre (UPDATED: Pay-What-You-Can on THURS, 1/26 at 7:30PM & WED, 2/1 at 7:30PM)

This is a musical written (book and lyrics) by the renowned Tony Kushner; it contains aspects from his own life as a boy growing up in the South. The play centers on Caroline, an African-America maid for the Gellmans, a Jewish family in 1960s Louisiana. It combines different types of music: spirituals (gospel), blues, Motown, classical, and Jewish klezmer and folk. 

More details at the link below.

http://www.roundhousetheatre.org/performances/caroline-or-change

Miss Bennet Christmas at Pemberley (NOW PLAYING)

Droll and delicious, Miss Bennet Christmas at Pemberley is a charming, confectionary celebration of fan favorite characters from Pride and Prejudice, multi-generationally honoring the legacy of Jane Austen’s humor, playfulness and wit in a warm-spirited holiday theatrical production. –Gia Jun, DCMetroTheater Arts.com

This holiday tale is a MUST-SEE for Jane Austen fans in the metro DC area!  It can be seen until DEC 23rd at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda, MD.  My parents and I went last SUN afternoon; it was one of their pay what you can (PWYC) performances.  The fun, yet still true to the spirit of Austen, story was written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon (two friends/collaborators who have many works under their belts individually). There is only one set, BUT it has sections where various actions takes place.  The costumes look true to the times and very beautiful.    

The time is two years after the end of Pride and Prejudice.  A Christmas tree (a spruce) has been brought inside the house by an excited Elizabeth, which is (at first) quite surprising to the more traditional Mr. Darcy.  It’s a new German custom, she explains, and he quickly agrees that it should stay in the main drawing room. We learn that eldest Bennett sister, Jane, and the still-doting Mr. Bingley (Brandon McCoy, Eli from The Who and The What) are soon to be parents.  Vivacious youngest sis Mrs. Lydia Wickham is ALSO spending this Christmas at Pemberley (oh boy, watch out)! 

Mary, the middle sister of the Bennett family, has grown into quite an young lady.  She is intelligent, VERY observant, and brings interesting points to every conversation.  Lately, Mary has been wondering about her future life, aside from her pianoforte and the books in her father’s library.  However, her choices are limited in this time/society! 

Vaughan’s Arthur is a bumbling scene-stealer, emerging despite his endearing social awkwardness as a young man of principle and deep feeling. His partner in earnest geekiness is Kleiger’s Mary, possessed of a disciplined mind and a restless heart.  -Jayne Blanchard, DCTheaterScene.com

We are introduced to Arthur (a new character, NOT found in Austen) who is the nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and cousin to Mr. Darcy.  Arthur is a 25 y.o. who studies at Oxford and is NOT the best at socializing.  Mary and Arthur seem like they could be a great couple!  However, there are a FEW obstacles to overcome first.   

Follow the link below to learn more!

http://www.roundhousetheatre.org/performances/miss-bennet/