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The Zookeeper's Wife (2017)
The Zookeeper's Wife: Strong Story, Excellent Performance, So-So Movie
"The Zookeeper's Wife" is a strong story. The 2017 film adaptation suffers from a weak script and direction that do not serve the story. Jessica Chastain gives a superb, understated performance as Antonina Zabinska, a real person. Antonina was a gifted zookeeper why call her "wife"? who helped save 300 Jews in Warsaw, Poland, during the Nazi occupation. She and her husband Jan were part of the Polish Underground and Armia Krajowa, or Home Army. The film is worth seeing to see their story, but it's just an okay film, not the great one it could have been.
Jessica Chastain is externally very beautiful and fragile-appearing. In her understated performance, she plays a resourceful, animal-loving Polish lady to perfection. She's the center of the film. All of the other characters are in the shadow of Chastain's central light.
Lutz Heck had the Nazi-goal of reviving extinct species like the aurochs and the tarpan primitive cattle and horses. Heck participated in the looting of the Warsaw Zoo. He selected which animals he wanted shipped back to his own Berlin zoo. Heck also lusted after Antonina. She had to do a careful dance of manipulation of Heck to protect her activity saving Jews. Heck is played by Daniel Bruhl, who also played a lovelorn Nazi in "Inglorious Bastards."
Czech playwright Arnost Goldflam appears as Janusz Korczak, the author, broadcaster, children's rights advocate, physician, and overseer of an orphanage. Korczak famously stayed with his orphans rather than accept any of the many offers he received to be smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto. The real Janusz Korczak was a slim man; Goldflam is portly. His appearance not only doesn't mesh with the real Korczak. Goldflam doesn't look like someone who'd been living under starvation conditions forced by the Nazis for the past three years. The scenes with Korczak and his orphans did make me cry, but they seem like a detour from the film's main narrative.
One problem the film faced: we have all seen Holocaust movies. Sad but true, during much of this film I was simply disinterested, waiting for it to show me something I had not seen in another film, to tell me something I had not yet heard. The film opens with Antonina happily taking care of her lion cubs, pregnant elephant, devoted young camel, and her son's pet skunk. We all know what will happen next: Nazi planes will bomb; Jews will begin to wear armbands. Brutality will increase and then there will be mass transports on trains.
Perhaps the film could have opened in media res, during the Nazi bombardment, and focused more closely on Antonina's interior life. The film tosses away references to her tragic history. Her parents were murdered by the Soviets and she had had to live on the run. Why not weave those facts into a richer portrait of the central character?
Poles who helped Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland had to scrounge food for their wards while they, the Poles, lived under forced starvation conditions. They also had to dispose of human waste without drawing any attention to themselves. The film never explores how the Zabinskis managed these considerable feats.
The film falls into a historically revisionist trap when it implies that Nazis were interested only in Jews, and Polish Catholics were allowed to live out the war in beautiful clothing. Nazis served Poles brandy in snifters and politely debated their actions. The film also implies that Nazi policies were in effect in Poland before the war began. Antonina and her son Ryszard see Jewish porters carrying heavy loads in Warsaw's market. Antonina makes a comment about how "they" are mistreating Jews. The scene is simply misleading.
Too, Nazis murdered and displaced more Polish non-Jews in the early days of the war than Polish Jews, but the film depicts Nazis as focusing almost exclusively on persecuting Jews. When the Nazi invasion begins, Jan makes a comment about how he has nothing against Jews. This is just a dumb thing for him to say. The bombardment of Warsaw was a thousand times worse than the film suggests. There are scenes were some herd animals are buried and others are set free in a forest. Poland was so desperate during the war that those animals would have more likely been butchered for meat, as happened to horses that fell in Warsaw's streets. The film just wants to tell a simple- minded, and false, story about privileged Poles and persecuted Jews. If the film had conveyed the threat the Germans posed to non-Jewish Poles as well as Jewish ones, the Zabinskis heroism would have been revealed as even more profound.
Poles fought much more than the film depicts. Jan Zabinski was a member of the Armia Krajowa, or Home Army. He taught in the underground university. He sabotaged trains and built bombs. None of this is shown in the film. Jan comes across as a hapless victim who can only stand by open-mouthed and watch as his wife attempts to twist lovelorn Nazi Heck around her sexy finger.
Polish-Jewish relations during the war were very, very, very complicated. I'm not using too many "verys." The film depicts Poles helping Jews, but it makes virtually no mention of Polish anti- Semitism. Not all Poles were heroes. Some betrayed Jews and their rescuers to the Nazis. In one scene, a Pole witnesses Antonina help a Jew. The Pole promises Antonina she will not betray her work. Had this eyewitness betrayed Antonina, the Nazis would have murdered the entire family, including Ryszard, the young son. These tensions and obstacles are only hinted at in the film.
The Case for Christ (2017)
Excellent Book; Mediocre Film
"The Case for Christ" is an excellent, bestselling, 1998 page-turner by Lee Strobel. I strongly recommend the book. "The Case for Christ," the 2017 movie, is only so-so. Please read the book and maybe skip the movie.
In "The Case for Christ" books, Lee Strobel, a Yale-educated Chicago Tribune reporter, takes up the major objections to belief in Jesus Christ. He then travels to a series of world-class experts in the question. Questions include, did Jesus rise from the dead? Did he die on the cross? How reliable are the books of the New Testament? Strobel had been an atheist. His search for the replies to these questions turned him into a Christian. The books make for an exciting read.
"The Case for Christ" the 2017 movie is nothing like the book. It's really more of a low-budget soap opera. Lee, an atheist, is married to Leslie, who converts to Christianity. He goes on a truncated and dumbed-down version of the journey of discovery recorded in the books. The experts he visits are depicted in simple-minded ways. One is a scientist. He is shown in a white coat, surrounded by other people in white coats. He walks among microscopes and lab flasks as he is interviewed by Strobel. Another interviewee is a university professor. She is shown in a large, old-fashioned, university classroom, seated at a large teacher's desk, with a large blackboard behind her. One is a Catholic priest. Strobel enters a Catholic church and walks through it.
The film has three foci: Lee's intellectual journey, Lee's marriage and relationships with his parents and children, and Lee's job as a reporter. The three narratives don't support each other. A better "Case for Christ" film could have been made as a documentary. The viewer could watch real interviews with real experts, without the distraction of the other story lines.
"The Case for Christ" is set in the 1980s, and the clothing, hairstyles and home décor appear to be not just of that era, but so weather- beaten as to be from that era. Other than Faye Dunaway, who makes a brief appearance, most of the actors are not well known, and they do not shine, possibly from the weak script or direction or their own lack of star power. Cindy Hogan has a small role as Lee Stroble's mother, and she is very powerful in that part. Her brief appearance stuck me as the one moment of authentic human emotion in the film.
Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Within ten minutes of "Beauty and the Beast" 2017. I wanted to rise from my seat and applaud. Within twenty minutes I had laughed, gasped, and been wowed. I can't say "go see it." You will see it. It's going to be a classic.
I saw a ten a.m. matinée, thinking that I'd avoid the crowds. No way. The theater was full. Some little girls were dressed in fairy tale gowns. In spite of the film's length, I didn't see anyone bail no one left the theater and never returned. When the film ended, the audience broke out in applause.
I love watching lots of money and talent explode on every inch of my visual field. "Beauty and the Beast" slathers on the money *and* the TLC. Someone took the time to paint roses on the lintels of a cottage, and to costume Belle in bloomers so she can ride a horse, and to wrinkle the noses of the CGI wolves when they growl.
"Beauty and the Beast" feels very much like a fairy tale. It has the plot conventions and morality of a fairy tale. The wolves menace when menacing wolves are needed to move the plot along, and they are nowhere to be seen when Belle needs to ride through that forest without being interrupted. This is how fairy tales work. They have their own logic. A peasant crone entering a rich man's house, begging for alms and being refused that is the classic spark of a witch frenzy, or a curse.
Watching Emma Watson delighted me just as watching Julie Andrews in films like "Mary Poppins" and "Sound of Music" once did. Watson is an intelligent, dignified, decent human being and that comes across in her every move. She's never the dumb blonde, never the shrinking violet or damsel in distress, never the flirtatious coquette who has nothing to recommend her but her curves. She inhabits the role of a smart, inquisitive, integral human being.
Twinkly-eyed old pro Kevin Kline is a favorite. Ewan Macgregor somehow manages to turn on the charm even as he is nothing more than a CGI candlestick. Emma Thompson imbues a "there, there now" maternal instinct into a Cockney teapot, Stanley Tucci, Audra MacDonald, and Ian McKellan are more jewels in the cast.
You can practically smell the testosterone coming off of Luke Evans as Gaston. He's both funny and menacing, just handsome enough and just oily enough.
The few complaints I have with this film I had with the animated version as well. I wish there were more time spent building a relationship between The Beast and Belle, and less time spent on chase and fight scenes, but I recognize that this is primarily a film for children and kids don't want to watch the kind of subtle interaction and tender moments that Jean Cocteau depicted in his live action, adult-oriented 1946 "La Belle et la Bete."
I do think that Gaston is an anti-male character. Gaston is not just a bad guy. He's an indictment of traditional masculinity. But that's a whole 'nother essay.
I do wish we had had more time with The Beast generally. Dan Stevens is a very good looking man. I wanted more of him, both before and after transformation, and more of The Beast. But you can't have everything. For that, there's fan-fiction, and there's a lot of it on the web.
About the protests. LeFou casts yearning glances in Gaston's direction, and there is a very brief shot of him dancing with another male character. And that's it. *All* the movie does is remind us that there are gay people among our friends, neighbors, and fairy tale characters. There is nothing graphic or inappropriate for children. In fact, most children won't even notice LeFou's orientation. I'm not even sure I would have, had I not read articles about protests before going to see the film.
Too many Christians are willing financially to support violent, misogynist, and graphic films, TV shows and video games. If you liked the violent movie "Logan," if you voted for a man who speaks about grabbing ahem if you laugh at contemptuous humor, and yet you protest this lovely film, you need something that this movie provides a magical mirror. Not so you can see far away, but so you can see yourself.
The Shack (2017)
Beautiful, Profound, Moving
"The Shack" is a beautiful, profound, and moving film. I'm a lifelong movie fan and I always look at reviews before I go to see movies. Of course I went to Rotten Tomatoes and saw that "The Shack" had received uniformly bad reviews. There is something wrong with the critics who panned this movie. They probably have a problem with Christianity. I think if a similar film had been made in Iran, about Islam, with English subtitles, it would receive an Academy Award nomination. Don't let these bitter, twisted souls keep you from seeing "The Shack."
The plot is simple. Mack, (Sam Worthington), an American husband and father, suffers an unbearable loss. He and other family members sink into depression. One day, Mack receives an invitation to return to the shack, the site of the worst moment of Mack's life. He does return, and there he meets spiritual guides played by Octavia Spencer, Aviv Alush, Sumire Matsubara, Graham Greene, and Alice Braga (niece of Sonya Braga). Mack engages in conversation with these spiritual entities. He eventually returns to normal life with a changed outlook.
The film gets off to a rocky start. There is an unnecessary and amateurish voice-over narration by country music star Tim McGraw, who stars as Mack's friend. Otherwise, though, McGraw is excellent on screen, displaying an understated charisma and authenticity that are totally beyond the film's actual star, Sam Worthington. In fact I wish Tim McGraw had played Mack and Sam Worthington had played the best friend.
Too, there are many shifts in time in the opening scenes. There are flashbacks on top of flashbacks and a shocking crime that the movie never makes much use of. Once the movie gets started, about fifteen minutes in, it gets good.
Sam Worthington is okay as Mack. The thing is, his Australian accent is evident in virtually every word he speaks. Again, I wish the filmmakers had made McGraw the star.
Radha Mitchell is good looking but chilly as Mack's wife. She looks like a movie star, not like a wife, and that took away from the film for me.
The rest of the cast is excellent. Octavia Spencer is assigned to play an almost impossible part, and she handles it with great professionalism and depth. Aviv Alush is especially good. Moviegoers have waited a long time for a star like this to play this part, and he knocks it out of the park.
The production values are high. The scenery is lush. I was especially moved by how this family-friendly film handles the tragedy at the center of Mack's depression and alienation from God. The exact words are never used. Graphic images are never shown. Yet we know exactly what happened, and it breaks our hearts and causes us to ask the same questions that Mack asks.
Either you want to see a movie where an average man works out how to deal with unbearable tragedy or you don't. Me, I loved sitting there watching Mack wrestle with his pain and his faith. Many self- identified Christians hate this movie with a white hot hatred. Big name Christian leaders have denounced it as heretical. One man told me that seeing the movie would be the equivalent of shooting heroin.
It think these folks are wearing their shorts much too tight. The film is an allegory. Any thinking person who has been through pain has had the same questions as Mack, and anyone who has read the Bible or other spiritual literature has pondered the same potential answers. I sincerely doubt that any film-goer is going to leave the theater thinking that he or she has actually seen God on screen, or heard God's thoughts about human tragedy. Rather, like any good allegory, the film sets us on our own path of spiritual exploration. That's a very good thing.
Violent, Exploitative, Stupid
If you've ever wanted to watch a little girl roll a severed human head over a dusty parking lot, go see "Logan." "Logan" is a violent, gory, hateful, ugly, senseless and charmless movie. Hugh Jackman stars as Wolverine, aka Logan, a man with retractable claws in his hands. He connects with Laura, a mutant like himself. The girl is trying to escape from mistreatment in Mexico to a safe house in Canada called "Eden." She is being pursued by a bad guy, a white man with you guessed it a Southern accent. And I bet you already know the bad guy's name it's Donald.
Donald chasing a Mexican girl who must escape to safety in Canada I know what you are thinking. This is an artistically and intellectually ambitious film that will deliver more than clichés. Abandon all such hope anyone who buys a ticket for this splatter mess. In fact why not just stay home and watch terrorist videos on YouTube?
Hugh Jackman may as well not even have appeared in this bloated, exploitative, anti-human mess. The film is just one long hyperviolent chase scene. Donald catches up with Logan and Laura, and there is a lengthy fight involving decapitations, dismemberment, and graphic impalement of various body parts. You see Logan's blades puncturing faces and skulls. When the director feels that the fight scene has gone on long enough, Logan and Laura make a temporary escape. Donald regroups, lather, rinse, repeat.
There are a couple of gratuitous Christophobic images. One of the bad guys has a Christian cross tattooed on his arm. The arm is removed from his body. In another scene, a cross is repurposed into an X, for X- Men.
What Was Scorcese Thinking?
There used to be 200,000 Christians in Japan. In the seventeenth century, the Buddhist shogunate decided to eliminate them. Christians were tortured, starved, crucified, and wiped out by the Buddhists. Thank heaven Buddhism is such a tolerant religion. Otherwise it would be terrible to think what might have happened.
Martin Scorcese's film "Silence" depicts a slice of this history. Two priests, played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, travel to Japan seeking to learn the fate of their fellow priest, played by Liam Neeson. Japanese Christians rush to the priests, eager to receive the sacraments of communion and confession.
The priests are set upon by Japanese Buddhists who starve and torture them. Occasionally there is some flapdoodle dialogue about whether or not Christianity belongs in Japan. You will receive no spiritual insights from this dialogue. It is lifeless and uninteresting. Ask any college sophomore to talk to you about Buddhism and Christianity and you will be more intrigued.
The movie is very slow. Events are depicted almost in real time, with no editing. As one reviewer said, "the movie starts in the 1500s and never ends." The torture is graphic and grotesque. There are decapitations, crucifixions, and drownings. The ending won't surprise anyone. The priests have no power. They are surrounded by people who are not only eager to torture them, but also to torture other people. The Buddhists tell the Christians, "We will only stop torturing these innocent Japanese people if you renounce Jesus."
What on earth was Martin Scorcese thinking? What is the point of this movie? Is Scorcese trying to get us to renounce something? The film sure feels like torture.
The movie questions whether or not Christianity "belongs" in Japan. It implies that Christianity does not belong in Japan. Here's the thing people are being tortured. Under torture you'll say whatever the torturer wants you to say. You'll say that Trump won the popular vote. With the threat of torture hanging over the head of every character in the film, the debate is rather skewed.
Even as he appears to be belittling Christianity as an imperialist, colonizer's religion, Japanese Buddhism doesn't come off any better. The film consists of one scene after another of Japanese Buddhists torturing innocent people, coldly and gleefully. Not a great advertisement for Buddhism. Buddhism was also used by Imperial Japan during WW II. It's time we take a serious look at how Buddhism has been exploited to condone evil.
A Monster Calls (2016)
Weirdly Christophobic and Underdeveloped
"A Monster Calls" is a weirdly, distastefully Christophobic film.
Conor, an adorable little English boy (Lewis MacDougall) is very sad because he is bullied in school and his mother has cancer. His father lives in LA and is married to someone else and has another child. His grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) appears cold and controlling. Conor is artistic and he likes to escape from his sad life by drawing.
One night, Conor is visited by a talking tree (Liam Neeson). The tree promises to tell Conor stories that will help him with the burdens he faces in life.
That's pretty much all that happens in the film. The film doesn't go deep into the pain a child feels when he watches his mother go from being a bit pale to being bedridden and bald. It doesn't do much of anything with Conor's heartbreaking relationship with his absentee father. It doesn't delve into the complexities of bullying. Why do the bullies behave so badly? How can bullied kids change their situation? The film doesn't even ask these questions, never mind answer them. The film doesn't explore or articulate Conor's relationship to art. Conor is at the age when romantic love first rears its head. Conor cuddles in bed with his mom, but he doesn't seem to see or be seen by any romantic prospects.
The talking tree promises to tell Conor stories that will help him in life. The stories are animated and narrated by Neeson. The animation is lovely. It is pen and ink and watercolor. The watercolor splashes colorfully across the screen.
The thing is, the tree's stories suck. They are boring and pointless. There isn't much going on in this movie, and the stories, which are promised to be profound, are just painful to listen to.
I did cry watching this movie. I think you'd have to have a heart of stone not to cry watching a lad deal with such depressing life circumstances. But the film is so underdeveloped that I left the theater feeling unsatisfied.
The one thing the movie does do and does with great efficiency. The film bashes Christianity. Watching this movie, I had to ask myself, what is going on in England? Why does England hate Christianity so much? Why are Christophobic themes so prominent in English films, from the creepy clergyman Mr. Collins in every new iteration of "Pride and Prejudice" to this film, which opens with a scene of a church crumbling into the earth?
One of the stories the tree tells is about a bad bad bad bad English clergyman, maybe even as bad as Mr. Collins, who is disrespectful to an herbal healer. I mean, come on. The herbal healer gets revenge against the bad clergyman in a really vicious way, and the film celebrates that. To make everything crystal clear, in the animated portion, the clergyman is shown with a giant white cross on his bad bad very bad no good chest.
This film creeped me out. It uses the most poignant of life circumstances to bash Christianity. How exploitative and nasty.
On the plus side: Young actor Lewis MacDougall is beyond spectacular in this role. He gives one of the great child actor performances of all time. This kid, I hope, is going places.
Patriots Day (2016)
An Efficient Thriller that Takes No Risks
"Patriot's Day" is an efficient little thriller that recreates the events of April 15, 2013, when the Tsarnaev brothers detonated two bombs during the Boston Marathon. Mark Wahlberg stars as a police officer, but there is really no main character in this movie. It is more of a docudrama, moving from event to event, from one person affected by the bomb to the next. We are introduced to, and spend a few minutes with each of the victims, police officers, FBI agents, and unidentified interrogators. We visit in the Tsarnaev home previous to the bombing. We watch as the governor ponders the decision to shut the city down. We watch police go from house to house in Watertown, seeking Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
It's all very suspenseful and interesting but the film made no lasting impact on me. "Patriot's Day" never takes any of the risks that might propel it into the territory of memorable art. It takes virtually no stand on the many questions this bombing prompts us to ask. The Tsarnaev family were immigrants. They applied for political asylum. They were, for all intents and purposes, Muslim refugees, though they were never given the "refugee" designation.
There is a debate going on around the world right now about what to do about Muslim refugees from war-torn regions, and whether or not taking in Muslim refugees is safe for the receiving country. "Patriot's Day" goes nowhere near this question.
There is also a debate about what to do about terrorists' family members. Noor Salman, the wife of the Orlando terrorist, was arrested on January 16, 2017. What about Katherine Russell, the widow of Tamerlane Tsarnaev? Before the bombing, Russell performed a google search of the rewards Islam offers to the wife of a dead Muslim terrorist. This is mentioned in the film. Russell is shown living in the same tiny apartment with the brothers, where they prepared the bomb. The film implies that she was aware of their plans. She is free and no charges have been brought against her.
The film depicts Russell being interrogated by a woman in a hijab. The suggestion is that America needs good Muslims to fight bad Muslims. In any case, the interrogator gets nothing out of Russell.
In addition to following police officers and other first responders, the film also follows the victims. The viewer is given a brief intro to young lovers whose legs must be amputated. Eight-year-old Catholic schoolboy Martin Richard was the youngest victim. The film does not show him alive. We see, rather, a cloth covering a very small body. We see the cloth rippling in the wind, and a police officer standing guard over the body till investigators can address the corpse without disturbing evidence. In fact the bomb tore Martin's little body apart. The damage was described at the trial. Martin Richard's beautiful face, in a photograph radiating young life, innocence and hope, is shown on screen after the film concludes.
La La Land (2016)
Sweet and Fun with a Powerful Fantasy Sequence
"La La Land" is a fun, sweet movie about two young artists, their attempt to establish their careers, and their love affair. It's enjoyable but not the masterpiece reviews insist it is.
Mia (Emma Stone) is a barrista and an aspiring actress. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist. They meet during a traffic jam, get together at a party, and go through the ups and downs of young people who are in love and who are also chasing artistic success.
"La La Land" is a musical. People sing and dance. That's fun. Neither Stone nor Gosling is a professional singer or dancer, so the singing and dancing are mediocre.
Mia and Sebastian go for a walk at night. Their walk is cinematically reminiscent of a walk that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse take in the 1953 movie musical, "Band Wagon" to the tune of "Dancing in the Dark."
Just like Fred and Cyd, Mia and Seb begin their nighttime walk as bickering enemies, but during the dance they warm up to each other. They dance under trees and streetlights. The difference is that Gosling and Stone can't begin to match the magic that professional dancers like Astaire and Charisse conjure in their dance number. Gosling's voice is barely there.
In another scene, Stone sings what might have been a show-stopping number, a song about her free-spirited aunt who lived in Paris and went swimming in the River Seine. During this song, Stone wears a non- descript, baggy sweater and she barely moves. Stone is very compelling as an actress. As a singer, especially during this number, she falls flat.
Damien Chazelle's direction doesn't highlight the dance numbers as it might. The opening scene depicts an LA traffic jam. Passengers emerge from their cars and dance on the highway. They sing a lyric-dense song; you can't hear them over the music in order to make out the words. It's frustrating. Their movements are not flattered by Chazelle's camera.
Even so, I very much enjoyed "La La Land." Its strengths would have been evident whether anyone had been singing or not. "La La Land" brings home how hard it is for struggling artists to nurture healthy relationships. Mia and Sebastian live in poverty. At one point he looks at a water stain on the ceiling and despairs. They are crushed when their best efforts meet with failure. They are tempted to sell out. Their careers demand that they not be present for each other for months at a time. Mia and Sebastian let each other down.
"La La Land" drags after a bit. Stone and Gosling are virtually the only characters in the film. Their key interactions are repeated. "La La Land" redeemed itself, for me, in a final, fantasy sequence that was incredibly poignant and true and that was unlike anything else I'd ever seen in any other film. I'd recommend seeing "La La Land" for that sequence alone.
Hidden Figures (2016)
Inspirational, Starchy, and Skewed
"Hidden Figures" is an inspirational bio-pic about three real black women mathematicians who played a part in NASA. It's relentlessly wholesome and a bit starchy, but worth seeing for the history it presents.
Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, who calculated the flight trajectories for Project Mercury and the Apollo 11 moon flight. Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan, the first black woman supervisor at NACA (later NASA). Janelle Monae plays Mary Jackson, a mathematician and aerospace engineer. Kevin Costner plays the fictional Al Harrison, a composite boss figure. Kirsten Dunst is another composite figure, representing the mean white racist. Jim Parsons is, again, a composite figure, playing the mean white racist male version.
"Hidden Figures" shows its leads struggling against white racism. NASA was located in Langley, Virginia, which operated under Jim Crow. Johnson must run between buildings, often in pouring rain, in order to use the "colored" restroom. Her coworkers decline to drink coffee from the same pot she uses. White coworkers refer to the black women by their first names, while the black women refer to the whites as Mr or Miss and last name. In spite of all this, the women are able to achieve significant contributions to the space program, using their superior skills at mathematics.
The movie's thoroughgoing wholesome preachiness can make it a bit dull. The black people in the film are all perfect beautiful, perfectly dressed, kind, rational, great parents. Not a single black character ever dresses poorly or loses her temper or swears or is impatient with children or makes a mistake. Such perfect people make for boring drama.
In recent years, Hollywood has caught much flak when it produces movies that show whites advancing black civil rights. "Mississippi Burning" was widely criticized for telling the true story of white contributions to the Civil Rights movement. Critics demanded films that depicted blacks as heroes and whites as bad guys. The historical reality is, though, that without white allies, Civil Rights would have been dead in the water.
As I was watching "Hidden Figures," I thought of the invisible white allies the film erased from its account. Virtually every white person the film's black women encounter is a hostile bigot or merely clueless (as is Costner's composite character). A Polish engineer, the real life Kazimierz Czarnecki, is shown in a seconds-long scene encouraging a black woman, but it is made clear that he is encouraging her because he is a foreigner and not American. In another seconds-long scene, astronaut John Glenn is shown going out of his way to be pleasant to the black women; Harrison pulls him away, as if to say, "Being nice to black people is not allowed at NASA."
I don't believe that African American women were invited into NASA, encouraged to get advanced degrees, and to spread their wings without white higher-ups deciding that NASA would challenge Jim Crow and play a part in the Civil Rights Movement. Those farsighted heroes, whoever they were, have been erased from this account.
Another aspect of the film is ironic. The movie wants the viewer to accept black women as thinkers. And yet it dresses two of its leads in the tightest of dresses and the highest of heels and the lushest of fake eyelashes. Even when at home, putting the kids to bed, the leads are picture perfect. Look at photos of the real Jackson, Vaughan, and Johnson. They were not hot models. They looked like mathematicians often look: a bit rumpled, with average attractiveness.
Yes yes we all know movies must have attractive leads. But Russel Crowe was allowed to look rumpled and nerdy in "A Beautiful Mind," about mathematician John Nash. No one forced him to wear a tight shirt that displayed his chest hair or his pecs. Even movies urging equality must resort to old fashioned, sexist objectification of women's bodies in order to bring in viewers.