Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2016 Award Circuit: Hidden Figures Review

2016 Award Circuit: Hidden Figures Review
The 2016 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2016. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.

"Hidden Figures" tells the story of the brains at the back of the bus. At the height of the Cold War, when Russia was beating us into space. We needed to beat them to the moon. We just couldn't get the math and logistics correct for such a venture. Enter mathematician Katherine Gobel Johnson, who works at the segregated West Area Computers division at Langley Research Center in Hampton Virginia. With her friends and colleagues Mary Johnson (Janelle Monae) and Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), they work together on the doubling pressures of beating the Russians on the moon. At first, Gobel Johnson suffers from every racist movie cliche in the book. But she eventually plays an inarguable part in getting our astronauts to the moon. 

Goble Johnson, Vaughn and Mary Johnson suffer from every racist movie cliche in the book. The film plays out exactly how you think it does. The whites of the movie don't focus on the merits of the black characters, they take their triumphs and make them their own, dramatic scenes make us analyze why the whites need the blacks, then they learn to trust each other. It feels like several other movies that fit this mold. Some of you may wonder why there has to be another movie about race relations made. But if you are asking that question with a straight face, you just answered it for yourself. You may think we have become enlightened, but if anything over the last few years has proven, we have not. "Hidden Figures" and its message is something we gravely need right now, which breaks my heart.

But its not completely a movie about race relations that time. Its really about how those are applied to the idea of what got us to the moon before the Russians. I always hated math in school, so I figured this movie would bore the living hell out of me. Turns out, that the script finds a smart, humorous ways to incorporate the logistics behind getting our astronauts into space. This isn't just a bunch of actors standing around using big terms, there is some juice in the script. And its brought to life by a wonderful ensemble of actors, ready to work. 

This is a big moment for Taraji P. Hansen, who commands the screen with ease all throughout the movie. She anchors the whole thing, and she does a spectacular job doing so. We buy into the film's premise and learn much about the story and characters through her guidance. Octavia Spencer delivers yet another impeccable performance and there is a good reason why she was up for a Golden Globe earlier this year. Janelle Monae took my breath away on Monday night with her work in "Moonlight," and I have to admit that once again, she nearly steals the show in "Hidden Figures." Her role in this movie is nothing like the role in "Moonlight," but that doesn't matter. If she wanted to stop singing altogether and pursue a job in acting, she would be revered as one of the all-time greats of her generation. Kevin Costner shows up and delivers a good performance, as does Mahershala Ali, whom I am convinced was the entertainer of 2016. Bar none. I also want to give a special mention to Kirsten Dunst, who works at the Research Facility. She's one of those snooty white women we see in movies like this, but since its Kirsten Dunst, it feels original and profound. Dunst excels in roles like this, and she unleashes herself in the role that makes her look alive in a big way.

Despite dealing with race relations of our past, "Hidden Figures" is a feel good movie. A funny movie. An inspirational movie. An optimistic movie, for the most part. Its brought to life by a wonderful group of actors. There is a lot to enjoy here.


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