Tuesday, February 14, 2017

And The Square Root Is...

"Hidden Figures" is one of those movies where the very first shot features the slide..."based on true events."

Every time I see one of those films with the immediate validation of truth, I want to start questioning everything I see moving forward.   I remember when I saw the absolutely dreadful "Lee Daniels' The Butler."   The supposed true story was totally ludicrous.  

So, thinking about "Hidden Figures" before I saw it, I was skeptical.   I mean, why is it that we are first hearing about these three women, mathematical geniuses who just happen to be Black, now after fifty years?   Was the story suppressed due to racism?   Did these gals really exist?   Or are we being told this tale now because of the push from diversity from Hollywood?

Hmmm.  Well, you learn in the epilogue that there are several buildings at NASA now dedicated to their efforts.   I doubt there was a lot of fabrication here in the story about these three women who contribute mightily to the Mercury space program.  I think there's a tinge of overwriting when it comes to some of the hardships they suffered, most notably with tons of screen time devoted to bathroom segregation.

That said, "Hidden Figures" is an uplifting saga which showed me just how far we have come in the last fifty years in this country.   Of course, the exposition is always a little backwards because the tendency is to always remind us of how bad it used to be for African-Americans.   I prefer to think about the positive future as opposed to the negative past, but that's just me.  

Nevertheless, this is a biography that needs to be told.   While the characters played by Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae are ground breakers, this movie belongs to Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, whose calculations helped to get astronaut John Glenn back to Earth after his three orbits around the planet.   She did so despite being a woman and Black and somebody who obviously has severe bladder issues (see the movie and you'll know what I mean).  Again, to remind us about our rotten past, most of the characters around Katherine are White and racist.   That strikes me as another example of some overwriting.   But I get the point and Henson's work here is marvelous.   

Equally good in this film is the work of Kevin Costner, who plays a composite of a bunch of NASA directors.   He champions the work of Johnson and I would be remiss in not remarking just how strong an actor Costner has become in his most recent roles.  Also we are treated to a surprising acting turn by "Big Bang's" Jim Parsons as a very villainous version of Sheldon Cooper.

What's also remarkable here is how a movie that features lots and lots of mathematical equations can be so damn un-boring.   Credit for that goes to director Theodore Melfi, who lets us feel the preciseness of the calculus without being confused by it.   

I was quite pleasantly surprised by how compelling a story this was.   And, yes, the true events at its base were...indeed...true.

LEN'S RATING:  Three-and-a-half stars.

Dinner last night:  Leftover chicken and veggies.

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