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In the opinion of this reviewer, an extraordinary achievement.
The characters on which the film is based were special and unique on their own, and well deserving of the sort of semi-documentary films that Hollywood likes to serve up.
However, to take that story and bump it up to a major "feel-good film" that engages the viewer from the getgo and does not let up until the very end of its 2 hour and 5 minute running time, THAT is what elevates this project to greatness.
I want to be clear on this because it is important. There are two ways to do a feel-good film. One is (ironically!) by the numbers, using proved plot arcs and other script devices to make it work. An example of this for example is the latest Disney release MOANA which has taken some heat from critics for being derivative and not original. But that, you see, is the tried and true method to achieve the effect that the producers wanted. And it works.
The other way to make a film engaging and fun is to use your instincts and your actors to get the most from each scene. No rule book, no fixed way of doing a scene, just doing what works. This is, I believe the way that writer/director Theodore Melfi set out to do Hidden Figures, and boy did he pull it off! The acting is stellar. Costner has matured in his latest film roles and his work here is as far from the nonsense he used to do (like the dreaded Robin Hood) as the earth is from the sun.
Taraji P. Henson finally lands a great role, the kind of role she was looking for when she left the hit series Person of Interest a tad early.
And every good film or TV series needs a character who is "the glue" or a reference point that the viewer can use, like a compass needle, to see where we are in the main story. Here Octavia Spencer gives the performance of her life as that "glue" and helps the director to pace the film.
I'm an engineer. I designed computers, I grew up in the south during
the 1950s and 1960s. I was heavily involved in the space race at an
early age and watched every launch and recovery on black-and-white TV.
I never saw separate restrooms and drinking fountains for "colored" but
they were there. I never rode on segregated public buses, but they were
there and I knew it. This movie, "Hidden Figures," brings all of these
worlds back to me. No, it's not a painstakingly accurate picture. NASA
didn't have flat-panel screens back then. Communications between the
ground and the Mercury capsules were not static-free. But a lot of this
movie feels real. Very real.
The protagonists in this movie are three women of color working in one of the most unwelcoming environments they might hope to find: NASA Langley, Virginia, in 1961. As women, they were employed as human "computers" because they were less expensive and they got their numbers right. As "colored" folk, they got their own separate (and sparse) restrooms and their own, separate dining facilities. This was not America's shining hour, even in some place as lofty as NASA.
At the same time, civil unrest was rising in the towns. This is the time of Martin Luther King's rise to prominence. It's a time just before the rise of militant civil rights groups. It's a time when resistance to segregation and discrimination was still civil, but as the movie shows, that resistance was beginning to firm up and become widespread.
There are several reasons to see this movie: from a civil rights perspective; from a feminism perspective; from the perspective of the early space race when we lagged the Soviet Union, badly. If you lived during this time, see the movie to remember. If you were born later, see this movie to see what things were like.
A well told story of the 60's - fashion, seriousness of the space competition, but more importantly the contributions of 3 women in a time where they were not even given the credit of having a brain. Why this has not been known for many, many years - that is a sad state. Thank heaven the daughter wrote the book and these women will have the credit they so deserved. A good showing of the discrimination shown the black people in the 60's - it was well represented but the story took front page. I love these women - they were mothers, wives and eventually recognized as experts in their field of math and coding. I grew up in the late 50 and 60's - so impressive that the three did not let anything hold them back. They did it quietly and with respected results - but this story should have been told in the 60's. The acting is excellent, the sets are so believable, the culture is there - thank you Theodore Malfi for a an entertaining and educational film. And Pharrell for the music.
Appreciation. It's a condition which requires information and
understanding and results in increased compassion, acceptance and
inclusiveness. There are few ways to enhance appreciation for others
more effectively than a well-made movie and the 2016 historical drama
"Hidden Figures" (PG, 2:07) takes full advantage of that opportunity.
Without being too busy or too preachy, this film helps the audience
better appreciate the struggles of being a minority and a working
woman (and even a mother working outside the home) in the early
1960s, the pressure involved in competing with the Soviet Union in the
early years of the space race, the difficult challenges surrounding
getting man into space (and returning him safely to earth) for the
first time and the courage it required of those who were willing to go.
That's a lot for one movie and might be too much for many but
"Hidden Figures" is up to the challenge.
The film is an adaptation of Margot Lee Shetterly's book of the same name and follows three black women who worked in NASA's computer section in 1961. That's not to say that they worked on computers THEY were the computers. Back when electronic computers (with only a fraction of the capacity and speed of today's mainframes) took up an entire room and were just beginning to be installed in places like NASA talented mathematicians did calculations for the space program by hand.
Dorothy Vaughn (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer) is a mathematician who is also mechanically-inclined, develops a talent for programming IBM computers and is a natural leader, but is denied a well-deserved supervisory position by NASA culture and her supervisor (Kirsten Dunst). Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is a brilliant mathematician who struggles to balance the demands of her increasing responsibilities at NASA with caring for her three young daughters whose father has passed away. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) is an outspoken aspiring engineer who is held back from becoming an actual engineer because of her lack of education, which she has difficulty overcoming because of segregation.
All three women make progress in their attempts to reach their goals and fulfill their potential, but with much difficulty, based on their gender and their race. Dorothy has been managing the women of the computer section for some time, but has to fight for the title and the pay and even takes it upon herself to learn more about NASA's newly-arrived IBM computer, while understanding that doing so could eventually cost her and her co-workers their jobs. Mary continues to make valuable contributions to NASA's efforts, while trying to work through the catch-22 of needing additional education to become an engineer, with the only nearby school offering such classes refusing to accept any black students.
But most of the screen time belongs to Katherine's story. As the most talented mathematician of all of NASA's human computers, she is called up to work in NASA's Space Task Group where she works directly with the standoffish Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) and is supervised by the group's director, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). Even as Katherine continues to demonstrate her capabilities, she is still subjected to drinking coffee from a pot labeled "Colored" and having to walk 20 minutes (each way) to the building where the nearest restroom for black females is located. Eventually, she earns the respect of her peers and comes to the attention of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) himself, who comes to trust her calculations above all others. Katherine also attracts a different kind of attention from the commander of a local Army Reserve base, Lt. Col. Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali), who is also single. Embodying the dual meaning of the movie's title, Katherine works out the hidden figures needed for Glenn's mission and Jim doesn't mind that her figure is hidden beneath those unflattering 1960s dresses, as he comes to care more about her heart and the very sharp mind hidden behind her even less flattering eye glasses.
"Hidden Figures" is a marvelously entertaining film. The script adaptation by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi tells its true story accurately and engagingly, weaving its many story lines together seamlessly, educating and entertaining their audience throughout. Melfi also directs and uses his talented and award-worthy cast to thrill us, to make us cheer and give us moments of humor and just plain fun. I was impressed at how much this movie packed in without seeming cluttered, how much it affected me emotionally without being manipulative, and how much appreciation I gained for these women, their struggles and the importance of the times in which they lived and accomplished so much. It's also surprising that so little has been widely known about these women until now. Don't let "Hidden Figures" be a hidden treasure. See it soon! It's out of this world. "A+"
Based on true events, the film takes place in 1961 and three African
American woman, Katherine(Taraji P. Henson) Dorothy(Octavia Spencer)
and Mary(Janelle Monae) who all go to work for NASA in the beginning of
the space program, when they are trying to get a man in space. The
woman are all very smart, but struggle to deal with racism and sexism.
A very well made true story, now I'm sure that some things where creative for the film. I liked the 60's setting, Henson, Devine, and Monae all give great Oscar worthy performances. Kevin Costner really shows his strong commanding presence in the film, he is so good you feel he is your boss. Jim Parsons(The Big Bang Theory) is alright, does not get much to do. Kirsten Dunst is also quite impressive. I also liked to watch the beginning of the space program.
Not knowing what to expect, I checked out to see how the story of three
female individuals made a difference at NASA back in 1961. I've
witnessed in past historical dramas of where racism included violence,
but that is not the case regarding Hidden Figures. Rather it focused
more on how it was overcome in everyday life, especially the workplace.
The story revolves around three brilliant African-American women by the names of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson as they live their lives working at NASA among a nearly all-white staff. Despite segregation still circulating at the time, each of them proved that no matter what color they were, it's their intellect and willpower that got them through each obstacle of the day and also helped make history for astronaut John Glenn to be the first American astronaut to completely orbit the Earth.
With an interesting balance of wit and drama, I found its tribulations to be the main focus. Since the movie was based on true events, to me it felt like a wonderful tie-in to the 2014 drama "Selma" since that too revolved around a time when people marched to spread the word of ending segregation. But unlike Selma where black people and Dr. Martin Luther King fought for the right to vote, Hidden Figures tackled both the obstacles of racism and even sexism in of all places NASA. It was very jarring to see that despite the characters' extensive knowledge in their work and upon receiving their own respective degrees in their studies, it's still looked down upon by the self- righteous higher-ups. Taraji P. Henson (Empire) sure brought out a splendid performance as mathematician Katherine Johnson. Likewise for her costars Octavia Spencer (The Help) and Janelle Monae as they helped balance the drama, including sass to boot. Kevin Costner and 'Big Bang Theory' star Jim Parsons also helped give some depth (though I wouldn't call them antagonists) in these women's lives.
Personally, I enjoyed the events that unfolded overall. When it came to the racial undertones and confrontations in a few scenes, myself and a few others in the theater old or young were left curious and appalled at the same time by how this was a thing in the 1960s compared to the present.
The moral: If you put your mind to it, things can be accomplished no matter how many would say otherwise.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had looked forward to this movie ever since hearing about it. I am a
big space program buff, and delight in little-known stories being told.
There may be some spoilers in what I write below, so proceed with caution!
I did enjoy the movie while watching it, but was constantly taken out of the moment by the never ending stream of silly, sloppy mistakes. I have no problem with creative license and dramatizing stories for better results. But there were a LOT of real honkers throughout. I got the impression the everyone was so focused on the story that all the details went by without review or supervision.
I don't plan to write a comprehensive list of all that was wrong. But I will illustrate just a few things.
- The inside of a Mercury capsule was barely larger than the astronaut. Yet the scenes inside the capsule looked like something on the accuracy level of "Plan 9 From Outer Space". Just throw a knob and a duct on a piece of gray plywood behind the astronaut and call it a day. And when entering the Mercury capsule, the threshold looks for all the world like it is made from a white painted window frame bought at Home Depot. - From day to day in the NASA parking lot, it looks like nothing changes...maybe all those engineers never moved their cars. - Sound effects and foley sounds throughout are often inappropriate or inaccurate, and for no good reason. I just don't think the film makers were trying in this regard. One example, the IMB computer room printer sounds like a completely different kind of printer...this is as jarring as seeing the jet in "Airplane" with the sound of a propeller plane in the soundtrack, but unlike that movie it is not funny. - When John Glenn's capsule is discovered to have possible heat shield issues, that concern (which did not last long) has time to be carried to the press, distributed to the public, and there is time for all of them to get all worked up over it and fret in front of TV sets. - Apparently nobody on the film crew knows that the heat shield is on the bottom of the capsule, not the side.
Does this kind of thing ruin the movie? No, it does not. But if more attention had been paid this details this would have been a greater movie and not just a decent, feel-good movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There's a scene in Hidden Figures in which Al Harrison, the harried
NASA administrator tasked during the early 1960s with getting an
American into spacequicktells his staff of scientists,
mathematicians, theorists, and engineers, "We all get there together or
we don't get there at all." He's speaking not about ego or seniority or
degrees of education, but about the integration of an enormously-gifted
African-American woman into their ranks.
Although that line of dialogue, as spoken by actor Kevin Costner as Harrison, is inspiring enough to have been prominently featured in the television, radio, and computer advertising for the picture, there's really nothing particularly special about Costner's delivery of the line in the moviethe words are spoken with some authority, but also fairly quietly, almost conversationally, without any emphasis.
And that's one of the most likable aspects of Hidden Figures, the new 20th Century-Fox/Fox 2000 motion picture about the early days of the US space program and the importance of three very special people to the project's eventual success in landing a man on the moon. NASA was during that time very much a man's domain. The story of a handful of uniquely-gifted women who were able to gain entry to that exclusive territory is inspiring enough. That some of these women were African-American during a time of segregation and oppression makes a great story even better.
With the possible exception of the three women whose story it depicts, Hidden Figures is populated by characters who are sometimes flawed and eccentric or motivated by their own narrow personal agendas, but united in a mission to navigate the impossible, and in the process invent an entirely new branch of science.
In this way, Hidden Figures is refreshingly a movie about integration and civil rights in which integration and civil rights are almostbut not quitesecondary to a crackerjack story about exceptional people during exceptional times.
Katherine Goble, played by Taraji P. Henson, is an intellectual prodigy whom since childhood has grasped advanced theoretical mathematical concepts as if God Himself were her tutor. A shy, reserved, and bespectacled widow and mother of three, Henson plays the role as if segregation is an unfortunate and irritating inconvenience which only serves to distract her from her primary scientific passion.
Mary Jackson, played by model and recording artist Janelle Monae, is a research mathematician and physical scientist who yearns for an education in engineering. The mother of two and married to a civil rights activist, Mary is more career-oriented, determined and irreverently outspoken than her friend Katherinethe word sassy springs to mind. Unable to pursue her educational degree in a state where scholastic segregation is still legal, Mary ultimately takes her ambitions into a courtroom and challenges the law.
Dorothy Vaughn, portrayed by the wonderful Octavia Spencer, is the most philosophically-canny of the three friends, seemingly willing to compromise with segregation for as long as it doesn't interrupt her plans or career path. A mathematician assigned because of her gender and race to a secretarial pool, Dorothy finally employs subterfuge, and even a humorous little piece of larceny, as a means of gaining the information she needs to operate the new room-sized IBM computer NASA's experts don't even know how to turn on.
Registering the most impact among the supporting characters is Kevin Costner as Al Harrison. As played by Costner, Harrison is so consumed and obsessed with his mission of placing an American into space that he's virtually oblivious to the world and society which surrounds him. A consummate professional, the gruff, humorless Harrison needs the best scientists in the country to help him invent the new science required of his mission no matter their color. Harrison is a fictional character, an amalgamation of several different NASA administrators, and Costner plays him perfectly.
Also notable is actor Glen Powell as astronaut John Glenn. Although he does not bear even the slightest resemblance to the astronaut, Powell easily captures Glenn's million-megawatt charisma and charm. When the IBM computer's trajectory figures appear shaky, Glenn insists Goble personallyhe calls her "the smart girl," the cardinal plaudit in Glenn's vocabularycheck the numbers before he climbs onto the rocket for his launch into history. It's a charming, little-known detail to an American legend, and it's absolutely true.
Theodore Melfi guides Hidden Figures with a loose and relaxed hand, wisely allowing the story to unfold naturally, in its own time. He essentially lets the story to speak for itself. While the viewer never gets the sense that actual historical events are unfolding on screen, it's a consummately agreeable history lesson. is so fascinating to others.
Hidden Figures takes more than a few liberties with the facts, but the filmmakers will be quick to point out that the picture is not a documentarythe words projected on screen at the beginning of the movie read, "Based on a True Story." As Americans, we sometimes seem to hobble ourselves, and move forward only with great reluctance and deliberation. And even accounting for the progress we achieve, often after a period of enlightenment we take a step or two backward and build walls of mistrust instead of bridges of understanding.
While Hidden Figures is being described accurately as a "feel-good picture," at the time of the historic space mission of John Glenn which concludes the picture, the fire hoses and police attack dogs shamefully used during the historic civil rights demonstrations of Selma and Birmingham were still a year or so in the future.
So as we're patting ourselves on the back and congratulating ourselves on how far we've traveled since that time in the early 1960s when Kevin Costner's character in Hidden Figures tells his newly integrated staff "We get there together or we don't get there at all," we might also want to be mindful of how far we still need to go.
The performances by Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe,and Kevin Costner
were compelling. Taraji P. Henson was superb. The story line is
remarkable and that it is based on a true story makes it so meaningful.
Aside from the fact that I thought it was well made, strong story line and fantastic chemistry between these characters, it may have resonated more with me from the professions they help, their individual self respect for self and one another, and how they looked beyond their perceived lot in life. To the really life women who the story is about, how courageous you all were and how important was your work. So very happy this story was told in such a tasteful, factual way.
It would be hard not to like this inspiring Ted Melfi movie (trailer) based on the true story of three womenthree black womenovercoming early 1960s gender and racial stereotypes to make it in the super-white-male environment of NASA, just as Americans are struggling into space. Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) were powerful role models for their, or any, age. Despite being relegated to the pool of "colored computers," as the black female mathematicians were called, and despite their superb skills being barely recognized, they showed astonishing levels of patience and tenacity, as the story tells it. At times, the movie feels like a deserved exercise in myth-making. Families are supportive, kids are perfect, home life is smooth. These women are almost too good. Their lives had to be more complicated than that. But those aspects of their stories are secondary to their achievements in the workplace, and that's where the movie focuses. With the recent passing of John Glenn (reportedly every bit as open and truly nice as on screen here), the early days of U.S. space program have disappeared into history. Today's Americans either weren't born yet or may have forgotten the fear that gripped the nation when Russia orbited the first satellite, when rocket after rocket blew up on the Cape Kennedy launch pad. When our education system, at least temporarily, geared up for greater student achievement in math and science. The pressure on NASA to succeed was enormous, and this is the environment in which these women worked and excelled. Despite their significant contributions five decades ago, something essential about the message has been lost. Between 1973 and 2012, 22,172 white men received PhDs in physics, as did only 66 black women. I liked this movie; I think the subject is great, and the broader recognition well deserved and too long delayed. The three women play their roles beautifully, as individuals, not symbols. While the subject was new and surprising, the film stakes no new emotional territory. More disappointing, fifty years on, the movie's "feel-good" moment is quickly trumped by awareness of our society's persistent racism and gender inequity. Perhaps the fact that this movie has been a top box office draw several weeks running, will help, but I've seen that movie before. See it for yourself, feel good, and then ask yourself, what next?
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