REVIEW: Hidden Figures

4 01 2017

Hidden Figures” features three black female protagonists – or, rather, the film features what feels like a single protagonist with three different facets all fighting different incarnations of the same struggle. During the heat of the space race, this trio of women little known to history played a tremendous role in boosting the fortunes and morale of a nation that still treated them like second-class citizens.

The mathematical calculations of Taraji P. Henson’s Katherine Johnson helped ensure that John Glenn could orbit the earth safely, but she had to contend with institutional racism and sexism that hampered her performance. Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy Vaughn learned how to work NASA’s first IBM computer, primarily because discriminatory hiring practices prevented her from traditional professional advancement. Janelle Monáe’s Mary Jackson became one of the agency’s most brilliant engineers, although in order to do so, she had to fight segregation in the courts to get the education she needed for the job.

While Henson might get the most screen time of the three – she’s the one whose romantic interests that writers Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder care to develop – the film really does feel like it possesses a set of co-leads. Their day-to-day struggles might be different, as are the people keeping them from reaching their full potential. Yet together, they provide each other with the strength to tear down the limitations holding them back: first within themselves, then in their workplace, and soon enough the world.

Even as “Hidden Figures” hews closer to the sentimentality of “The Help” than the strategizing of “Selma,” the film gives specificity and definition to each character. Though their hurdles might look the same, Melfi’s direction never allows them to become flattened out or treated as one in the same. The film could have foregone many scenes so obviously built around a vamp up to a Civil Rights-era declaration of humanity, but the cumulative effect of this inspiration and representation is tough to deny. These women were owed respect in their time, not only for their work but also for all they had to do in order to perform that work. It’s wonderful that the film brings their lives into the limelight. B+3stars





REVIEW: The Karate Kid

26 06 2010

Oh, the lessons a jacket can teach us.

The Karate Kid” is a remake of questionable necessity – after all, the original is barely a quarter of a century old. Don’t worry, Pat Morita won’t be rolling over in his grave when he gets wind of the update. It’s not awful, and no harm or foul is done; except maybe to kung fu, which is the actual martial art taught in the movie but doesn’t get the honor of being mentioned in the title.

The movie is Jaden Smith’s vehicle, who really needs it because he didn’t get enough exposure in “The Pursuit of Happyness.” I’m not expecting some fantastic performance from someone who obviously only got the job because his dad is Will Smith. And it’s wrong to expect him to give us all the charisma and swagger that his old man has spent decades developing. As Dre, Jaden Smith brings to the table two assets that will serve him well if he chooses to keep acting: confidence and presence, which is pretty good for 11.

Dre is making the strange and unexplained move from Detroit to China with little sympathy from his mother (Taraji P. Henson). After catching the eye of a dedicated young violinist, he is unexpectedly launched into a mismatched rivalry with a savage band of ruffians. It doesn’t help matters that these kids have been taught a brand of “no mercy” kung fu (not karate!) by a brutal master. The first half of the movie plays out like an anti-bullying PSA as Dre attempts to avoid his tormentors. All the while, we can’t help but think, “Hey! If only you knew his dad was Will Smith, then I’d like to see you try to beat up this kid!”

And then, as if by some misplaced stage direction, enter Mr. Han, the hermit-like maintenance man of Dre’s building who helps turn the tide in his fight against the bullies by pulling out some unexpected moves. While offering that assistance, he also manages to get a then untrained Dre into a kung-fu tournament against the same people that would love nothing more than to give him a black eye and a bruised rib.

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What To Look Forward to in … September 2009

17 08 2009

I guess this sort of serves as a “fall movie preview.” With this, I want to present what I’m looking forward to in September, what other might be looking forward to, and hopefully introduce you to some movies that you might not have heard of yet.

September 4

The movie that I’m most excited for opening this week is “Extract,” the latest comedy from Mike Judge, creator of “Office Space” and TV’s “King of the Hill.”  The movie stars Jason Bateman, who has been in nearly every comedy and yet I still have not tired of him, as the owner of an extract factory who is a bit down on his luck.  Also featuring a great supporting cast which includes J.K. Simmons (“Spider-Man,” “Juno”), Mila Kunis (TV’s “That ’70s Show”), Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), and Ben Affleck, the movie looks to be truly hilarious entertainment.

Other releases this week include “All About Steve,” a comedy with Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), and “Gamer,” a non-stop action film with Gerard Butler (“The Ugly Truth”).

September 9 & 11

Opening on 9/9/09, “9” uses a clever marketing ploy to hopefully drive audiences its way.  But I’m not sold.  The ever creepy and quirky Tim Burton is behind it, and I have never really been into his type of movies.  The story revolves around nine CGI animated rag dolls living in a post-apocalyptic world.  Maybe this will be some sort of a breakout hit, but until I hear buzz from friends or other bloggers I trust, I’m not throwing my money at it.

“9” is the big attraction of the week.  Also opening is Tyler Perry’s latest movie “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” starring Taraji P. Henson of “Benjamin Button” fame, the thriller “Whiteout” starring the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale, and the horror flick “Sorority Row.”

September 18

There are several movies to get excited about that open this weekend.  First and foremost is “The Informant,” starring Matt Damon.  It takes your usual FBI rat story and flips it on its head, turning it into a comedy.  I have always thought Damon has a great knack for subtle comedy, perfectly illustrated in the “Ocean’s” movies.  The director is Steven Soderbergh, Oscar winner for “Traffic,” but has also helmed “Erin Brockovich” and all three “Ocean’s” films.  And the good news is that this is only Matt Damon’s first role of the year with Oscar potential (see the December preview later).

Also opening is “Jennifer’s Body,” which is the first film written by Diablo Cody since winning the Oscar for “Juno.”  It stars Hollywood’s beauty queen Megan Fox as a vampire who eats guys at her high school.  Her presence alone will drive every young guy in America to this movie.  It also features Amanda Seyfried, one of the bright spots in the otherwise disastrous film adaptation of “Mamma Mia!”  I love the quick-witted humor of “Juno,” and although this doesn’t appear to offer similar antics, curiosity (and Megan Fox) will probably get me.

In limited release, “Bright Star” opens, a movie consider by many to be a major Oscar player.  It isn’t the kind of movie that excites me just from watching the trailer, but the buzz surrounding it coming out of the Cannes Film Festival can’t be discarded.  The movie follows the life of the poet John Keats in the early 1800s.  It is directed by Jane Campion, writer/director of “The Piano,” and features a cast of nearly no recognizable names.  I feel obliged to tell you about it because many are sure that you will be hearing about it during awards season and also because so many people love movies set in the beautiful English country with tons of beautiful costumes and people.

Also opening is “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” an animated adaptation of one of my favorite books growing up. Unfortunately, their idea of adapting it is taking the basic premise of food raining from the sky and destroying the rest of the original story. Maybe I will check it out for old time’s sake, but I’m not expecting anything special. The week also puts forth a romantic drama “Love Happens” starring Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”) and Jennifer Aniston. And technically, the writer/director of “Babel,” Guillermo Ariaga, releases his latest movie, “The Burning Plain,” to theaters this weekend, but you can watch it on demand starting August 21 if you are that curious.

September 25

Being a musical theater junkie, I feel that it is my duty to push “Fame.”  The movie is a musical that follows a group of talented artists throughout their four years in high school in New York.  At a time in their lives where they don’t know if they have what it takes it to make it big, all the emotions appear to run high.  The movie features no stars. so hopefully this will launch some very promising careers.

For action fans, Bruce Willis is at it again in a high concept sci-fi called “Surrogates,” in which everyone in the world controls a robotic version of themselves from home called a surrogate. Willis plays a detective who investigates the possibility of the surrogates killing the user who operates it.  For sci-fi fans, a screamfest called “Pandorum” with Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster (“3:10 To Yuma”) looks to deliver.  For all those craving a raunchy comedy, a little studio will try to pack you into “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell,” adapted from the tales of drinking and its consequences in the book of the same name.  In limited release, those who like the costumes of “Bright Star” get “Coco Before Chanel,” the story of the legendary fashion designer.  (NOTE: “The Invention of Lying” was pushed back to October 2.)

So, readers, what is your most anticipated in September?  Anything I left off?  Take the poll and let me know.

Until the next reel,
Marshall