Kevin Costner

Hidden Figures

There’s been a lot of talk of “making America great again.” At this point I’m sickened at the mention of the phrase, which is nothing more than a dog-whistle for white nationalists and racists. America has always been comprised of great people, even if their shameful treatment at America’s hands did not reflect their greatness. Making America great again mustn’t involve returning to an era where diversity and equality were completely ignored. Films like Hidden Figures are necessary now more than ever, a reminder of how far we’ve come in our recognition of things like wage equality, and an example of art as an informative teaching tool. The climate fostered by the new administration is not one conducive to artistry, but as long as we make our voices heard and support films like Hidden Figures, these stories will continue being told.

The film gives a biographical account of pioneering African American mathematicians Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson, No Good Deed), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer, Bad Santa 2), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae, Moonlight); three women who were integral to NASA’s early efforts at putting a man in space. Now we have terms like ‘intersectionality’ to describe the ways in which multiple forms of discrimination conflate with one another, but during the Jim Crow era in which these brilliant women found themselves – no one particularly cared about the disparities they faced. They were more likely to be resented than valued for their intellect, but still they pressed on.

Visually, the film was vibrant, its cinematography harkening back to a dichotomous time in our history, the bright veneer and genteel wholesomeness of poodle skirts and milkshakes belying an ugly reality of discrimination and brutality. Pharell’s score grounded the film and kept it humming along, while supporting turns from Kevin Costner (Criminal) and Kirsten Dunst (The Two Faces of January) rounded out a notable cast. I don’t typically go for the “feel good” movies, but for once I enjoyed a heartwarming story.

The three stars have wonderful camaraderie and chemistry with each other, and themes of sisterhood and solidarity are prevalent throughout the film. I was inspired by the protagonists’ unapologetic confidence and brilliance.Through sheer excellence Katherine forced a seat at the table, her calculations proving critical to NASA’s quest to put an American in space. Their story is a thoroughly American one, an inspiring example for girls and boys alike. Boldly resilient, these women forged a path for all women and represent the best of America – which doesn’t need to be made great again. Grade: A

Man of Steel

As other superhero franchises have recently established themselves as powerhouses (Batman, Iron Man), the venerable Superman franchise seemed like an afterthought.  Brandon Routh is somewhere salty as hell.  You’re probably like, who the hell is that?  Exactly.  Routh wore those famous blue tights only once in 2006’s Superman Returns, and now he’s a distant memory.  It seemed like Superman was lost in the iconic days of Christopher Reeve…until now.

Once Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises) was attached to the project, I think people were amenable to giving it a chance.  Just conjuring images of The Dark Knight franchise gets me excited, and Nolan brought instant credibility to the film.  The addition of director Zac Snyder (300, Sucker Punch) also ensured a fresh departure from the last Superman attempt.  The movie begins on Krypton, with a frantic Lara and Jor-El (Russell Crowe, Broken City) facing the destruction of their planet.  General Zod (Michael Shannon, Mud) has attempted an unsuccessful coup and been subsequently banished to an intergalactic prison.  Krypton and its inhabitants will become extinct as the planet comes to a tumultuous, destructive end.  Anticipating such an apocalypse, Jor-El and Lara planned to send their newborn Kal-El to another planet where he will thrive and ensure the survival of his race.

As the familiar story goes, Kal is given the name Clark and raised by the Kents – the couple who discovered him (and the vessel that brought him) on their farm.  However, after leaving Krypton the movie shifts to Clark’s adult life, as he grapples with finding his place on Earth, given his otherworldly abilities.  Nolan’s influence was apparent, as he offered a non-linear approach to Clark’s story.  Instead of following his upbringing chronologically, the movie flashes back to key events in Clark’s childhood that shaped his current existence.  We’re introduced to him as an adult, a nomadic laborer of sorts who lives in relative obscurity.  Clark consistently struggled with the two distinct messages given to him by both fathers.  Jor-El believed that he was special and could be a symbol of hope to many people.  Conversely Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner, The Company Men) cautioned his son that people will fear what they don’t understand, and that mankind would reject him.

When General Zod is released from his interstellar prison, he locates Kal on Earth and pursues him there, spelling dire consequences for humanity.  This new development is what forces Clark into action, causing him to confront his obligation, if he even has one.  I’ve purposefully omitted a lot of plot details, because I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, plus I think they are inconsequential to my discussion of the film.  There was an earnest quality to the film, though not quite as dark as the Batman movies for which Nolan is known.  This subtle restraint in storytelling made the interpretation unique, and I can say that Man of Steel was not like The Dark Knight or any of the Iron Man movies.  Whereas Batman seems affected by external forces, Superman’s struggle is largely an internal one – at least in this first edition of the reboot.  The structure of the movie was flawless, and the viewer feels as if he or she really understands Clark’s conflicting duality – revelation vs. obscurity.  Couple that with a lifelong feeling of being the only one of your kind, and it’s easy to see why Clark felt confused and alone.

In addition to the storyline and character development, I thought the casting was also effective.  Henry Cavill (Immortals) is perfect as the new Superman.  He looks the part and he is believable.  Those are big tights to fill, and I’m sure the role is his for a while to come, especially since Man of Steel 2 has already been announced.  The casting of Amy Adams (Trouble With the Curve) as a more intrepid Lois Lane was also successful.  Russell Crowe is incomparable; you already know this.  What more can I say?  The movie was nearly flawless.  In fact, the only criticism I have is minor and probably misplaced.  I’m no expert, but I had a small quibble with the editing.  I thought a few scene transitions were not seamless – but again, what do I know?  The special effects were incredible, and no self-respecting movie buff would go more than a week or two without seeing this movie.  What are you waiting for? Grade: A