Archive for the Drama Category

Hidden Figures

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2017 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1961, mathematician Katherine Goble works as a human computer in the segregated division West Area Computers of the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, alongside her colleagues, aspiring engineer Mary Jackson and their unofficial acting-supervisor Dorothy Vaughan.

Following a successful Soviet satellite launch, pressure to send American astronauts into space increases. Supervisor Vivian Mitchell assigns Katherine to assist Al Harrison’s Space Task Group, given her skills in analytic geometry. She becomes the first black woman on the team; and in the building, which has no bathrooms for non-white people.

Katherine’s new colleagues are initially dismissive and demeaning, especially head engineer Paul Stafford. Meanwhile, Mitchell informs Dorothy that she will not be promoted as the bureaucracy is not planning to assign a “permanent supervisor for the colored group”. Mary is assigned to the space capsule heat shield team, and immediately identifies a flaw in the experimental space capsule’s heat shields. With encouragement from the team lead, she submits an application for an official NASA engineer position and begins to pursue an engineering degree more assertively.

At a church barbecue, widow Katherine meets National Guard Colonel Jim Johnson, and they are attracted to each other, but she is disappointed when he voices skepticism about women’s mathematical abilities. He later apologizes, and begins spending time with Katherine and her three daughters.

When Harrison invites his subordinates to solve a complex mathematical equation, Katherine develops the solution, leaving him impressed. The Mercury 7 astronauts visit Langley and astronaut John Glenn is cordial to the West Area Computers.

Katherine becomes better acquainted with her colleagues. Harrison finds Katherine not at her desk one day, and is enraged when she explains that she must walk a half-mile away to another building to use the colored people’s bathroom. Harrison abolishes bathroom segregation, personally knocking down the “Colored Bathroom” sign. Regardless of Stafford’s objections, Harrison allows Katherine to be included in their meetings, in which she creates an elaborate equation to guide the space capsule into a safe re-entry. Despite this, Katherine is forced to remove her name from all the reports, which are credited solely to Stafford. Meanwhile, Mary goes to court and convinces the judge to grant her permission to attend night classes in an all-white school to obtain her engineering degree.

Dorothy learns of the impending installation of an IBM 7090 electronic computer that will replace her co-workers. She visits the computer room to learn about it and successfully starts the machine. Later, she visits a public library, where the librarian scolds her for visiting the whites-only section, to borrow a book about FORTRAN. While congratulating Dorothy on her work, Mitchell assures her that she never treated her differently due to the color of her skin; Dorothy is unconvinced. After teaching herself FORTRAN and training her West Area co-workers, she is officially promoted to supervise the Programming Department for the IBM, bringing 30 of her co-workers to do the programming. Mitchell eventually addresses Dorothy as “Mrs. Vaughan,” indicating her new-found respect.

As the final arrangements for John Glenn’s launch are made, Katherine is informed she is no longer needed at Space Task Group and is being reassigned back to West Area Computers. As a wedding and farewell gift from her colleagues (Katherine is now married to Jim Johnson), Harrison buys her a pearl necklace, the only jewelry allowed under the dress code.

The day of the launch, discrepancies arise in the IBM 7090 calculations for the capsule’s landing coordinates, and Astronaut Glenn requests that Katherine be called in to check the calculations. Katherine quickly does so, only to have the door slammed in her face after delivering the results to the control room. However, Harrison gives her a security pass to the control room so they can relay the results to Glenn together.

After a successful launch and orbit, the space capsule has a warning light indicating a heat shield problem. Mission control decides to land it after three orbits instead of seven. Katherine understands the situation and concurs that they should leave the retro-rocket attached to heat shield for reentry to which Harrison agrees immediately. Their instructions prove correct and Friendship 7 successfully lands in the ocean.

Following the mission, the mathematicians are laid off and ultimately replaced by electronic computers. Katherine is reassigned to the Analysis and Computation Division, Dorothy continues to supervise the Programming Department, and Mary obtains her engineering degree and gains employment at NASA as an engineer.

An epilogue reveals that Katherine calculated the trajectories for the Apollo 11 and Space Shuttle missions. In 2015 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The following year, NASA dedicated the Langley Research Center’s Katherine G. Johnson Computational Building in her honor.

REVIEW:

We all know that there are hundreds of thousands of people who have worked for NASA over the years, many of which were instrumental in getting the space program off the ground, as it were. With that in mind, I would be willing to bet no one knew about the three remarkable women that Hidden Figures is about. Let’s find out if the film taught us something about them, or should have left well enough alone.

What is this about?

As the United States raced against Russia to put a man in space, NASA found untapped talent in a group of African-American female mathematicians that served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in U.S. history. Based on the unbelievably true life stories of three of these women, known as “human computers”, we follow these women as they quickly rose the ranks of NASA alongside many of history’s greatest minds specifically tasked with calculating the momentous launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, and guaranteeing his safe return. Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson crossed all gender, race, and professional lines while their brilliance and desire to dream big, beyond anything ever accomplished before by the human race, firmly cemented them in U.S. history as true American heroes.

What did I like?

Who knew? As I said in my opening, the amount of people who know anything about these women can probably be counted on your hand. This film brings their story to us and also shows little girls that they too can grow up to work at NASA. It truly is amazing how this part of history has never been taught or even mentioned. Sure, they aren’t up there with the likes of George Washington, Martin Luther King, and Walt Disney, but these women paved the way for future generations!

Music. I was digging the soundtrack, I must say. On top of the score, we have some soulful period music, a couple of new tunes that were composed for this film and fit the era and, most importantly, there is some jazz on the side. A little something for everyone and these tunes aren’t depressing and morose, but rather upbeat and fun. I’m going to go track down the soundtrack and just sit back and listen to it. If I can keep from dancing, that it.

Tonality. Most biopics these days tend to focus on the negative side of a person’s life, totally ignoring that they did enjoy living at one point. These are human beings. Are you seriously going to tell me that they didn’t joke around with some friends at least at one point in their lives? Thankfully, this film takes note of that and shows these women in a way that represents who they were as human beings, rather than just characters in a movie. The film itself has an almost comedic tone at parts that I’m sure some will not care for, but it works for me, at least.

What didn’t I like?

Is that you, Sheldon? I feel bad for Jim Parsons. The guy has created a character so iconic and recognizable that he can’t play anything else without comparisons being brought up. His role as the head engineer, at least to me, felt like what Sheldon would have been doing were he “normal”…and then throw in the racism and sexism that this guy displays. I don’t want to say that he shouldn’t have been cast, because he did a fine job. I just couldn’t help but make the obvious comparisons to his character from Big Bang Theory

Race. I have two opposing viewpoints on how race was handled in this picture. On the one hand, I am glad it wasn’t the focal point of the film. On the other hand, we have here a picture set in the 60s, some things just can’t be ignored. This is the problem with this film. Race isn’t a big issue for the film, and I applaud it for instead focusing on the main characters, but there are times when we get some heavy stuff, such as any scene with one of the women’s husband, who seems to be more of a militant than the caring, peaceful types in the rest of the film.

Make it personal. I keep praising how the film focused on our 3 leads, Taraji P. Henson’s character, especially, but I can’t help but be a little disappointed in how we were shown their lives outsides of work. It is almost like they go to work and back home with maybe a side trip to church if it was convenient. A few more scenes of their home life would have been nice. The whole romance angle with Henson’s character could have been shown, rather than an introduction in one scene, a second meeting, and then they were getting married. Where was everything else?

Final verdict on Hidden Figures? Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect going in. I assumed this would be another one of those films that pushes the race angle down our throats. That was not the case as this turned out to be a fun film in which I learned something about these women and the space program, as well as had a few laughs. Do I recommend this? Yes, very highly! This is the kind of flick that everyone can enjoy and learn from.

4 out of 5 stars

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The Third Man

Posted in Classics, Drama, Movie Reviews, Thrillers/Mystery with tags , , , , on September 26, 2017 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

American writer, Holly Martins, arrives in post-war Vienna to visit his old friend Harry Lime. On arrival, he learns that his friend has been killed in a street accident, but also that Lime was a black marketer wanted by the police.

What people are saying:

“…an exemplary piece of moviemaking, highlighting the ruins of World War II and juxtaposing it with the characters’ own damaged histories” 4 stars

“A lot funnier than you remember it, Carol Reed’s immortal 1949 film noir seems to exist in the space between two worlds: an earlier time when thrillers were mostly serious affairs, and a future one, when such supremely witty entertainments felt passé.” 5 stars

“Boasted tremendously by a great performance from Orson Welles, The Third Man is an entertaining classic with some cool twists and turns, even though a well-verse modern film fan will find those twists to be extremely predictable.” 4 stars

“The Third Man is one of the finest noir mysteries to come out of the ’40s, however it suffers a bit from its imitators and you’ll be able to predict the big reveal LONG before it arrives. The film stars Joseph Cotten, who I was unfamiliar with, as a pulp fiction writer who travels to Vienna to visit an old friend and is astonished to find that he was accidentally killed a few days prior; or was it murder? The film plays out patiently, as our protagonist begins to dig into what exactly happened to his friend and the mystery elements truly shine, especially when he receives different accounts of what took place in the automobile “accident”. The film also stars Orson Welles as the aforementioned friend, Harry Lime, who receives top billing though he is maybe on-screen for 8 minutes total: which leads into my big problem with this film. Without spoiling too much, the reveal that arrives at about the one hour mark is masterfully done and one of the film’s more iconic scenes, but we’re never given any explanation as to what the motive was and it feels like the filmmakers were trying to be so clever, they didn’t worry about the scenario making sense. The film also incorporates a stringed instrument called a zither to score the music and while I can tell they were going for something unique, the sound is too absurd, especially in the more dramatic scenes, and the music actually sounds identical to the music used in SpongeBob SquarePants! Overall, this is an exceptionally-made film that still holds up today, but there are some questionable moments that stood out to me and it suffers a bit from what’s come out since.” 3 1/2 stars

“Delightful in how it uses the camera and its city to manipulate the viewer’s experience of the story, The Third Man is the height of the cinematic thriller, mainly because it rejects most of what makes a good thriller. Our villain is not exactly frightening and our crimes aren’t exactly disturbing as they are ingenious. In a sense, The Third Man is a tale about someone being forced to acknowledge an inconvenient truth, or a new world or idea. Dazzling music and compelling cinematography aside, really its the films final shot that the viewer will remember. Its the conversations on park rides and the excruciating nature of learning a negative thing about someone that you love and trust.” 4 1/2 stars

The Astronaut Farmer

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on September 13, 2017 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Dismissed from NASA’s space program, former astronaut-in-training Charles Farmer pursues his lifelong dream by building his own rocket. On the eve of his launch, he must battle foreclosure on his ranch, a small-town community of disbelievers, the FAA and FBI agents who want to shut him down in the name of Homeland Security–but he remains determined to reach his goal and instill in his children the courage to pursue their own dreams, no matter the odds.

What people are saying:

“While it is far too long, especially in the home stretch, The Astronaut Farmer is a heartwarming and fun story about the tenacity it takes to see a dream through.” 4 stars

“Although a fry cry from space classics such as Apollo 13, this nice, heartwarming family flick still has enough of the “man can do anything with love of his family behind him” theme to make it worth a watch, along with good performances from Thornton and Madsen. Farfetched but charming.” 3 1/2 stars

“Filled with lovely images (the opening credit sequence, of Charlie in his spacesuit, riding the range on horseback, is a beaut) and nice character turns, The Astronaut Farmer nonetheless veers too close to cliché.” 2 1/2 stars

“So many layers of awful. The science alone is completely bogus. I could write a review breaking down all of the completely improbable science in the film but it would be longer than the movie. Orbiting the earth is not exactly easy. Successfully entering the earth’s atmosphere without breaking up into a million pieces, is also not exactly easy. His pod lands on perfectly flat terrain within driving distance of where he took off, AND he accomplishes this with a lone parachute. TOTAL UTTER NONSENSE. The only redeeming value is that it’s funny to mock, that’s about it.” 1/2 star

“There’s something old-fashioned about The Astronaut Farmer that’s so conventional it feels unconventional. It follows the paradigm of inspirational movies so perfectly that even the smallest deviation seems rebellious. The movie’s orthodoxy is precisely what allows us to take such pleasure in its irregularities . . . With this movie, the [Polish] brothers have been given a giant coloring book. While both write and produce, Mark directs and Michael acts . . . and for the most part, they attempt to stay within the lines. But it’s in the few moments when they go outside those lines that the movie momentarily soars” 4 stars

How to Steal a Million

Posted in Classics, Comedy, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on July 19, 2017 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

In this elegant “caper” film, Audrey Hepburn stars as the daughter of a wealthy Parisian (Hugh Griffith), whose hobby is copying famous works of art. His replica of a famed Cellini sculpture is inadvertently displayed in an art museum, and he begins to worry that he’ll lose his reputation once the experts evaluate the statuette. Audrey decides to rob the museum, and hires a burglar (Peter O’Toole) for that purpose. But the burglar is really a detective, who has every intention of arresting Audrey and her father when the deed is done.

What people are saying:

“A decent enough film, but I still can’t help but dislike Peter O’Toole for some reason. Hepburn is terrific, as usual. There isn’t much unusual in what’s going on here, but Eli Wallach’s character is a bit of an interesting character so he catches my attention when he’s on-screen.” 2 1/2 stars

“…the sort of genial, fluffy little caper flick that rarely gets made anymore, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” 3 1/2 stars

“A charming heist movie with a handsome leading man and ever beautiful Audrey, and of course interesting plot, funny jokes and interesting supporting roles that enrich the movie.” 4 stars

“Young Peter teams up with -glamorous as always- Audrey in this romantic comedy, set in Paris and revolving around a museum heist. The characters are entertaining, the plot jolly good fun & the performances remarkable. Overall, a good film to watch on an easy-going night in.” 3 1/2 stars

“Being a huge Audrey Hepburn fan this review may be a little biased. She never ceases to amaze me with how she can be somewhat versatile in her roles without sacrificing her notable style and ethereal beauty. The film itself is quite comical, and is almost like a romantic version of Ocean’s Eleven. Good movie for fans of Audrey, or Peter.” 5 stars

Big Eyes

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on June 18, 2017 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Directed and produced by Tim Burton, BIG EYES is based on the true story of Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), who was one of the most successful painters of the 1950s and early 1960s. The artist earned staggering notoriety by revolutionizing the commercialization and accessibility of popular art with his enigmatic paintings of waifs with big eyes. The truth would eventually be discovered though: Keane’s art was actually not created by him at all, but by his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams). The Keanes, it seemed, had been living a lie that had grown to gigantic proportions. BIG EYES centers on Margaret’s awakening as an artist, the phenomenal success of her paintings, and her tumultuous relationship with her husband, who was catapulted to international fame while taking credit for her work.

What people are saying:

“”Well-acted, thought-provoking, and a refreshing change of pace for Tim Burton, Big Eyes works both as a biopic and as a timelessly relevant piece of social commentary”. 3 1/2 stars

“Middling drama from Tim Burton, based on some real life art controversy. There’s some nice integration of pop art into the visuals and some evocatively cartoonish recreations of the era, but there’s something decidedly underwhelming about the film as a whole. Amy Adams is good as always if not always well served by the script, but Christoph Waltz can’t save a character that sadly descends into caricature well before the end. Not up to Ed Wood or even Big Fish standards (comparable as this is another rare film where Burton drops his gothic schtick – although you can clearly see that his animated fare owes something to the big eyed waifs featured in this). You can do worse. You can also do much better.” 2 stars

“Bright yet disturbing, Big Eyes is both an indicator of just how far women have come in the past 60 years and a comment on the commercialization of pop culture.” 4 stars

” It’s not a bad movie, but it is slow (I fell asleep twice). What to say… it’s an interesting story, but it’s just not told in a very riveting way. I wanted to like it more than I did, especially as I usually enjoy Amy Adams. But she seems to be somewhat “dialing it in” these days. I miss the performances of her early career. She amazed me in “Catch me if you can”, and again in “Junebug” (a rather odd little film but fascinating character study). This film can be summed up in one word: “Meh”. ” 2 1/2 stars

“Big Eyes certainly isn’t what you’re used to. It’s unique, it’s compelling, and its cast, led by Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, make it entertaining from start to finish. As my girlfriend, Katie, said, “Some of it left me speechless.” Waltz plays the villain so well in every film, and especially in Big Eyes, where you do not realize he is the villain till later on. The story itself is fascinating, and unpredictable, and the “paint-off” at the end in court is the climax that the audience deserves. Although it is not perfect, it definitely shows glimpses of brilliance, which Tim Burton always provides the audience. It will certainly be remembered as one of Tim Burton’s most interesting and realist films, and will also be remembered when it comes to the topic of women’s rights and feminism. It is a sad story, made happy, and was a good film to start of my year at the movies.” 3 1/2 stars

Joy

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2017 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

JOY is the wild story of a family across four generations centered on the girl who becomes the woman who founds a business dynasty and becomes a matriarch in her own right. Betrayal, treachery, the loss of innocence and the scars of love, pave the road in this intense emotional and human comedy about becoming a true boss of family and enterprise facing a world of unforgiving commerce. Allies become adversaries and adversaries become allies, both inside and outside the family, as Joy’s inner life and fierce imagination carry her through the storm she faces.

What people are saying:

Joy is anchored by a strong performance from Jennifer Lawrence, although director David O. Russell’s uncertain approach to its fascinating fact-based tale only sporadically sparks bursts of the titular emotion” 3 1/2 stars

“Joy is far from Joyful; with an uninteresting narrative, performances that feel drained of passion and a filmmaker caught between his roots and his new-found mainstream sensibility, it is an utter mess.” 2 stars

“A well constructed modern fable, but a couple convenient coincidences made for the sake of time at the behest of honesty, as well as Joy’s blind focus on an selfish family, keep it from earning its deserved heart.” 3 1/2 stars

“Jenifer Lawrence has the ability to make some of the most amazing women seem just AWFUL maybe its just her garbage acting skills but God i wanted to love this movie. I knew the story of Joy and i find her a great inspiration but this movie makes her seems like a crazy push over who got as far as she did on luck. ” 1 star

“One of those movies like the Blind Side that just makes you smile. Jennifer Lawrence is at her least annoying and carries the movie well. I enjoyed Edgar Ramirez’s performance too, but Bradley Cooper somewhat stole the show for me. He’s such a great actor and has such great chemistry with Lawrence it’s a shame he wasn’t in it more! ” 4 stars

Paris Blues

Posted in Classics, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2017 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Ram Bowen and Eddie Cook are two expatriate jazz musicians living in Paris where, unlike the US at the time, Jazz musicians are celebrated and racism is a non-issue. When they meet and fall in love with two young American girls, Lillian and Connie, who are vacationing in France, Ram and Eddie must decide whether they should move back to the US with them, or stay in Paris for the freedom it allows them. Ram, who wants to be a serious composer, finds Paris too exciting and is reluctant to give up his music for a relationship, and Eddie wants to stay for the city’s more tolerant racial atmosphere.

What people are saying:

“Despite how square this movie about hepcats seems — if only from the admittedly unfair vantage point of more than five decades on — expressions of raw emotion stir Paris Blues to life.” 4 stars

“An interesting cinematic mis-step, the movie is of note for getting these three great actors in one movie — and for capturing images of a Paris at a transitionary time in its post war history.” 3 stars

“Martin Ritt directs Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier as jazz musician American ex-pats living in Paris. How could a film with that set-up not be great! Newman and Poitier fall for the pretty tourists Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll. Take all that and add in an amazing Duke Ellington score and you’ve got an incredibly cool film.” 4 stars

“You’ve got Newman and Woodward and Poitier and Diahann Carroll, you’ve got a great soundtrack by *the* Duke Ellington–throw in Louis Armstrong as “Mad Man Moore” and you’re pretty much set. It would’ve been nice for Poitier and Carroll to have had more screen time because their story (she wants to return to the US to fight for civil rights, but he likes the fact that Paris doesn’t marginalize him as a black man) is genuinely interesting and they have a great chemistry. But all in all it’s a solid film with solid acting.” 3 1/2 stars

“This films certainly has all the pieces; Newman, Poitier, Woodward in their prime, with a score by Duke Ellington and a Paris setting, the only thing missing is a strong story. It follows budding romance, but doesn’t really go anywhere…that being said, it’s still worth watching to see these fine actors work and hear the excellent score. Give it a try!” 3 1/2 stars