Saturday, January 28, 2017

Hidden Figures Review

Oscar nominations were announced earlier this week and sneaking into the lineup for best picture was the movie "Hidden Figures." I don't make my own predictions as to what's going to get nominated. I make predictions for what I think is going to win in February right before the awards are given out. But I do follow predictions year round from various places and "Hidden Figures" was a movie that was on the fence. Sometimes there's a movie that sneaks into the race last minute based that wasn't on many people's radars in the months leading up to the nominations and this year "Hidden Figures" was that movie. Two months ago no one was talking about "Hidden Figures." Right now a lot of people are after strong reviews led to a phenomenal January box office performance where it dethroned "Rogue One" from the top spot and remained there for two weeks and now is about to hit $100 million at the domestic box office. This weekend "La La Land" and "Hidden Figures" will be the 27th and 28th 2016 releases to hit that $100 million domestic mark. And do you know what? I'm happy for "Hidden Figures" getting all this attention. It's a very family-friendly, feel-good movie!

In case you are wondering, I did manage to see "Hidden Figures" before I made my top 10 best movies of 2016 list. And no, it didn't make that list. But that's not an insult to the movie. That's just a compliment to how good of a year 2016 ended up being. In terms of 2016 Civil Rights themed movies, I prefer "Loving" over "Hidden Figures," but not by much. "Loving" did make my list at No. 9 while "Hidden Figures" was a part of my honorable mentions at No. 16. I'm sure you've heard of it by now, but in case you haven't, "Hidden Figures" is a biopic focusing on three black ladies in the 1960's working for NASA. The focus of the movie is mainly on mathematician Katherine Goble, played by Taraji P. Henson, but we also get side stories along the way focusing on Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monáe, and Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer. This is the point in history where the United States was trying to get a man in space. John Glenn was the man. NASA needed some extra help and Katherine Goble was extremely influential in making that happen due to her top-notch math skills. Yes, math is cool. And useful. Math put a man in space!

One thing that I really loved about this movie is that it told a story that I didn't know much about. I think everyone knows that John Glenn in 1962 became the first American to orbit the Earth. Speaking of Glenn, talk about a timely tribute to the man considering he passed away just a month ago. But the movie doesn't focus on that John Glenn story that we all know. The movie focuses on all the behind the scenes stuff that made that happen. I don't know if you all knew this story of Katherine Goble. If you did, give yourself a pat on the back. Being that I'm not a historian, I didn't know about this and given the title of the movie, "Hidden Figures," the prediction here is that not many do. The movie tells the story of the "hidden figures" that made a huge difference. Like "Loving," this isn't a movie that shoves Civil Rights in your face. Not that doing so is a bad thing. That can be super effective. But this movie tells a simple story about some black ladies that made a difference in a time where a lot of people weren't allowed to make a difference. I personally really enjoyed watching this movie because it was super informative. I might not be a historian, but I love myself a good history lesson if done right. We may know the end goal, but I enjoyed learning what got them there.

Another thing I loved about this movie is that they weren't afraid to stick with the PG rating. We have an annoying stereotype with the MPAA that R is for adults, PG-13 is for teenagers and PG is for kids. G rarely exists and thankfully NC-17 is a rarity as well. I don't really like this. There's a lot of movies that are either R or PG-13 just because they want to target an older audience. I've seen countless number of movies that are almost PG in content, but because they're afraid that no adults will watch their movie if they're PG, they throw in some useless strong language just to get their R or PG-13. If the language or other content is essential to make your movie more emotional, then fine. Watered down movies are annoying, too. But if you have a movie whose subject matter doesn't need any "adult content," why not just have the guts to keep it out? Let's have more PG movies for adults like "Hidden Figures." Because why not? Destroy the stereotype. Yes, this movie is PG. But no, it's not for kids. Not that it's inappropriate. It has a bit of mild language and that's all. It's just a movie that younger kids are going to be bored if they watch. And that's perfectly fine. We have "Moana" and "Monster Trucks" for kids. We have "Hidden Figures" for adults. All under one rating. Genius, right?

If you're wondering why your kids will be bored with this movie, it's because that most of this movie is a math movie. Parts of it do drag on a bit, but not too much. For the most part I found it fascinating. All throughout grade school we were all forced to learn math. And as we did so, the big question that many of us asked is how is this math going to be relevant to us in real life. This movie helps answer that. Most kids have a dream of being an astronaut and going to space. While a very small percentage of kids with that dream grow up to actually follow in the footsteps of John Glenn, growing up to be like Katherine Goble, using math to send people to space, is a realistic option. Maybe you don't work for NASA specifically, but there are a lot of cool job opportunities that you can have by being good at math. While math teacher is a very respectable option, that's not the only option out there and I think this movie does a fantastic job at showing us that math is cool. I'm more of a words and numbers person rather than a math person, thus I didn't understand most of their formulas and equations even though I recognized most of the symbols, but I still found it fascinating.

Of course I can't end this review without talking about the acting. There's been friendly debate as to who in this movie deserved the Oscar nomination. Octavia Spencer is the one who got it. I think the most deserving of the main three girls was Taraji P. Henson. Her character was the focus and she did the best job. As such, she would be in the lead actress category, which was the much more competitive category. I wanted her to get a nomination there, but who do you take out? Thus we go to the best supporting actress category. In there we have Octavia Spencer vs. Janelle Monáe. The Oscars went with Octavia Spencer. I would've picked Janelle Monáe. I thought she gave the much more impressive, in-your-face performance. That woman had attitude and I loved it. I also don't think we should overlook the men in this movie. Kevin Costner has made a lot of great underrated career choices of late with the likes of "Draft Day," "McFarland, USA" and now this. Him and Jim Parsons provided a good balance of personalities in this with Costner being more open black ladies helping them with Parsons being more hesitant letting them in. Had Costner been given a best supporting actor nomination, I would've been fine with that. He had a lot of excellent moments.

Overall if you haven't seen this movie yet, I'd definitely give it a shot. It got a best picture nomination as well as a best adapted screenplay nomination and the aforementioned best supporting actress nomination for Octavia and I'm certainly not upset. I think this along with "Fences" and "Moonlight" got a little extra boost at the Oscars this year due to last year's "Oscars so white" controversy and if that's the reason it got into the race, then so be it. This is an excellent movie for the Oscars to get behind that a lot of people have reacted positively to. This is a great story that I didn't know much about heading into this movie, so I appreciated the educational opportunity that this movie gave me and I also loved the focus on math. This movie made math seem cool and it showed one of many great opportunities that knowing math can provide you in life. I also liked the more low-key approach to the Civil Rights discussion as it showed a great story of what three black ladies were able to accomplish at NASA in a day and age that didn't provide them with a lot of opportunities. That was cool. In terms of Civil Rights movies, I wish "Loving" would've gotten as much attention with the general public, but I'll take this. My grade for "Hidden Figures" is a 9/10.

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