Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Checking Out Hidden Figures and a Mourning First Lady

As movie award season kicked off early, I decided to check out three movies over the past two days. One was a second watch of Rogue One, which became the #2 movie of 2016. To be honest, I wanted to see it just for the final scene where the plans for the Death Star were given to someone who could wind up providing hope. If you've seen the movie, you know who it was.

I also just had to take a look at Natalie Portman's portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in Jackie. However, it wasn't in midtown or downtown Reno. It was at a shopping center eight miles away that was just as luxurious as the Galaxy Theater in Sparks, but the cost was cheaper thanks to Cinemark's Tuesday discount.

It was worth the extra drive because the movie takes a different look at Jackie that surprisingly no one thought of she dealt with the assassination of her husband including her grief and the planning of his funeral. In between the days after his death, the movie shows her classic tour of the White House that was televised in 1962, and an interview she has with an unnamed reporter played by Billy Crudup. Through this, we see the many faces of Jackie Kennedy:  First Lady, grieving widow, and a woman facing an uncertain future.

Portman has Jackie's breathy voice and mannerisms down pat it's really spooky, but two scenes that were done very well shows how deep Portman got in this role. The first is seeing Jackie changing her clothes several times, as if things hadn't changed, while "Camelot" was heard on the record player. The other was her extensive discussions with a priest played beautifully by John Hurt.

Peter Skarsgard was also very good as Bobby Kennedy, who tries to keep the government and her sister-in-law together. This is especially true when he suggests she march at the procession by the side of her husband's coffin. There's also a great scene where she's angry at Bobby because she wasn't told Lee Harvey Oswald was killed.

It looks like the Best Actress races, which will really get underway when the SAG Awards happen late this month, will be a showdown between Portman and Emma Stone in La La Land. What the Oscars need is a really competitive race, and this could be it.

Meanwhile, there was a movie that certain people couldn't remember at the Golden Globes. It's about the secret behind NASA's success in getting man into space:  three African-American women whose stories weren't even known until recently.

Just after I saw Hidden Figures, I overheard two men who thought it took more than 50 years to reveal the story because the women were sworn to secrecy, almost like the Bletchly code-breakers in World War II. Actually, it's just that, according to Margot Lee Shetterly (who wrote the book that became the movie), the women just did their job and didn't seek fame.

Still, the sagas of Katherine Gobel Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) should be told because it showed that women did have a role in the space race. Johnson's skill as a mathematician got her a building named after her, Vaughn helped NASA transition to computers, and Jackson became one of the first female and African-American engineers.

The movie is smart to divide the girls' stories into three pieces. They're all working moms, but Katherine tries to impress the others with her calculating skills, Vaughn goes to great lengths to figure out the new IBM system and make sure she and her fellow calculators aren't out of a job, and Jackson is determined to break the color line to have the right to take college courses in an all-white school to advance. It's great to see Mary tell a skeptical judge it's in his best interests to let her in those classes.

Some people may dismiss the movie as a cross between The Help and The Right Stuff, but co-writer and director Ted Melfi makes sure to get the story right, even talking to Johnson, and producing an inspiring movie. Henson is really good as Johnson, who is shy at first but lets her numbers do the talking. However, she does get some resentment from the guys, including Head Engineer Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons). Thanks to support from the head of the Space Task Group (Kevin Costner) and even John Glenn, she proves her worth.

There's some talk Spencer may get in the Supporting Actress race, but her role as Vaughn is too similar to her award-winning role in The Help. Henson is actually a little better, especially when she tells her boss she can't be at her desk because the building has no "colored only" restrooms. It's no wonder why it just edged Rogue One for first place last weekend.

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