Friday, January 06, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Hidden Figures (2016)

The 2017 moviegoing year kicked off to a good start with HIDDEN FIGURES (2016), the story of three black women who were pioneering NASA employees.

HIDDEN FIGURES was based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly. It tells the story of Katherine (Taraji P. Henson), a brilliant mathematician; Mary (Janelle Monae), who wants to become an engineer; and Dorothy (Octavia Spencer), a specialist in the newfangled IBM computers.

Katherine gets her chance when she's promoted to work in a group headed by Al Harrison (a "composite figure" played by Kevin Costner). She's referred to as a "computer," checking engineering numbers for Mercury flights in the days before a real computer could do it.

All three actresses are engaging playing brave and interesting women, though I was particularly taken with Henson as the mathematician, a woman of fascinating gifts. Beyond the fact that she was a groundbreaker on multiple levels, what I enjoyed most was simply seeing a really smart woman portrayed on screen.

The script might be just a bit heavy-handed and obvious at times, such as starting off with the women harassed by an obnoxious police officer -- who funnily enough is so impressed when he learns they work with astronauts at NASA that he ends up becoming more cordial -- but that comment on the presentation aside, the challenges they faced as black women in a male-dominated world were real. Katherine has to hike to a "colored" bathroom half a mile from her office, and Mary must obtain a court order before she's allowed to attend college engineering classes! Meanwhile all three women were also raising families.

Kevin Costner is a longtime favorite of mine, and I really enjoyed him as the project manager with huge responsibilities and pressures, who recognizes and encourages talent. Costner fans will enjoy him in this.

And as someone who first saw Kirsten Dunst as young Amy in LITTLE WOMEN (1994), it was a surprise to realize that time has marched on! The cast also includes Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Kimberly Quinn, Glen Powell, and Aldis Hodge.

HIDDEN FIGURES was directed by Theodore Melfi. It was filmed by Mandy Walker. The running time is 127 minutes.

Parental Advisory: This movie is rated PG for "thematic elements and some language." Honestly, I can't even recall anything which made it PG. This is an inspirational story on multiple levels which I recommend for family viewing.

The trailer is available at the movie's official website.

Finally, a sequel to comments made here last September on the current state of moviegoing.

1) I've seen a number of new movies since SULLY and managed to work around the reserved seating issues by usually attending morning screenings, which are still unreserved at my favorite theater. I still think it's a silly and inconvenient idea. Tonight we used passes received as a Christmas gift at a different theater, and like our discount passes the tickets could only be redeemed at the box office. We were there 40 minutes before the show time, and the only pair of seats left which weren't in the front row were in the very back row. Strangely, we realized when we left that some of the seats had been empty. Do people pay online and not show up?

2) We didn't realize until we got to the theater that it featured recliner seats...and I also didn't know until I sat down that I would be unable to sit in the seat "normally." If I want to lay down during a movie I'll do it at home. Someone with short legs who wants to sit upright against the seat back and not use it as a recliner is out of luck, your feet will be in the air. Add to that that the cushioned seating has all sorts of nooks and crannies where old popcorn had collected...yuck. No, thank you. Something else to avoid at theaters. (And I haven't even touched the problem of railings at the back of the row in front of us interfering with sight lines...)

3) And finally, that scourge of moviegoing, the cell phone. We've usually had good luck with this issue at our regular theater, but tonight two people in the row below us decided it would be a good time to surf the web during the movie. I finally told one of them to shut it off when the phone was turned on a second time. Fortunately they did. Yesterday I noted that Apple is working on an iPhone "theater mode." As more than one person has commented on Twitter since then, cellphones already have a theater mode -- you just hit the off button.

I'm feeling just a little bit like a "set in the ways" grump resisting the new tonight, but moviegoing should be a simple thing. You should be able to redeem passes and still get good seats, sit in a clean and comfortable seat with your feet on the floor if that's your preference, and watch a movie undistracted by glowing lights. That's becoming increasingly difficult to do, and it's a sad state of affairs for those who love movies.

Fortunately my next movie will be at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theatre, where I always have a good viewing experience!


Blogger Jerry E said...

You feel 'grumpy', Laura? You should talk to me!!!LOL

At our local cinema you can book specific seat numbers in advance and the system works very well. I know of another local theatre though where regular membership get all the best seats even before allocation is offered to the rest of us. I gave up bothering.

As for cell phones!....Maybe people should be frisked at the door on the way in!! So inconsiderate and arrogant to use one during performance. Time and a place etc. Grr.

There, I feel better now.

1:29 AM  
Blogger Irene said...

I am looking forward to seeing this movie next week at an "old fashioned" theater :) (The Regal on PCH). That being said there is a new theater in Downey and that is where I first experienced recliners. I rather like them though the first time I needed the help of a woman next to me to figure out how it worked. Then I stayed through the credits and wondered if I would be "stuck" because I couldn't figure out how to get it upright and everyone else had left! LOL So far I have not had a problem with getting the seat I want when I get there (I do not buy online if I can help it). Of course I usually go in the morning or early afternoon. So far I have not had a problem with phones, thank goodness. The comment "it has a off button" really made me laugh.

8:34 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Very interested to hear both of your moviegoing experiences, Jerry and Irene! Interesting times for film fans.

Hope you'll enjoy it, Irene!

Best wishes,

9:50 AM  
Blogger KC said...

I feel your pain about the movie theater experience these days. Taking screenshots with your phone? Chatting with your kid instead of teaching them to be silent when watching films? Bringing a babbling *baby* to see Moonlight? It feels like common sense has died. What happened to good manners? I went to see La La Land last week and the theater was dead silent the entire time. I could have cried. It was such a lovely experience. It should be that way every time.

A lot of people whose opinion I respect, like you, love Hidden Figures. It's really increased my interest in seeing it!

5:29 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's so frustrating, isn't it, KC? It *should* be so easy to just walk into a theater and have a nice time. I'm really happy you had such a good experience at LA LA LAND!

I'd love to know what you think of HIDDEN FIGURES if you catch it!

Best wishes,

11:58 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

I LOVED "Hidden Figures"! What a great movie and I was riveted the entire time. Frankly, 1961 doesn't seem that long ago to me (LOL) as I was in Jr. High at the time. I guess at the time you don't realize how women were treated because that's just the way it was. Looking back now I find it mind boggling. I also grew up in what is now called South Central Los Angeles and attended school and church with a varied mix of ethnic backgrounds. My friend, who went through school with me, and I were talking after the movie about how we were well into our adult years before we understood what was going on in other parts of the country with segregation. Anyway, a very well done movie that we both enjoyed immensely. Now I want to read the book!

6:23 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm delighted to hear you enjoyed it as well, Irene, and also appreciated the background you shared. I remember as a child finding segregation surprising when I learned about it -- I guess we were fortunate in a way that it was such a foreign idea to us growing up in CA. That aspect of the movie really kind of blows the mind, that it was a real thing.

Let me know what you think of the book if you read it!

Best wishes,

8:52 PM  

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