20th Century Fox
Rated PG for mature themes and mild epithets
NASA Docudrama Belatedly Credits Contributions Of Unsung African-American Mathematicians
All of the astronauts picked by NASA to participate in its maiden manned space programs, Mercury and Gemini, were white males. However, behind the scenes, there was a dedicated team of African-American, female mathematicians who played a pivotal role in ensuring that they launched and returned safely, whether from orbiting the Earth or a mission to the moon.
Equipped only with pencils and slide rules, these so-called “human computers” were among the best and the brightest minds recruited by NASA to do the critical calculations needed to win the space race with Russia. Author Margot Lee Shetterly gave these unsung heroines their due in Hidden Figures, a best seller belatedly crediting their quantitative contributions to the cause.
Besides chronicling their considerable accomplishments, the book also recounted the indignities these brilliant black women simultaneously suffered, simply because they had the misfortune to be living in Virginia during the dark days of Jim Crow. Back then, African-American brainiacs employed by NASA were automatically assigned to work in its segregated West Computing Group.
Directed by Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent), the overlooked icons’ story has now been adapted to the big screen as an uplifting, overcoming-the-odds docudrama. The picture recounts the trials and tribulations of three members of the unit Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae).
We are flies on the wall when, without complaining, Katherine routinely has to run to a distant “Colored” ladies’ room despite the presence of one for whites right nearby. On another occasion, we witness Mary’s frustration in furthering her education on account of the fact that blacks aren’t allowed to matriculate at the local college offering the courses she needs.
By film’s end, both the bathroom and school are indeed integrated, albeit after an emotional intervention by NASA administrator Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). A worthwhile, teachable moment correcting a shameful chapter in American history.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 127 minutes
Manchester By The Sea
Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions
Rated R for sexuality and pervasive profanity
Blood Thicker Than Water In Dysfunctional Family Drama Set In New England.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) was having a hard time hanging on to his job as a janitor in Quincy, Massachusetts, when he received word from a family friend (C.J. Wilson) that his big brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), had just suffered a heart attack after a fall on his fishing boat. Lee immediately rushed to the hospital only to learn that his sibling had just passed away.
Joe had been raising his son (Lucas Hedges) alone, since his long-estranged wife (Gretchen Mol) had a serious substance abuse problem. Therefore, it now not only falls upon Lee’s shoulders to inform Patrick about the tragedy, but to serve as the grieving teen’s guardian and role model, in accordance with his brother’s last wishes.
Out of a sense of duty, Lee reluctantly moves back to his hometown, Manchester By The Sea, a place where he’d already experienced more than his share of misfortune. While subsequently trying to control a headstrong 16-year-old, he finds himself forced to confront his demons when he crosses paths with his contrite ex-wife (Michelle Williams).
Thus unfolds Manchester By The Sea, a character-driven drama written and directed by two-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Lonergan (for the scripts of You Can Count on Me and Gangs Of New York). Another Academy Award nomination is likely in the offing for this heartrending portrait of a working-class hero.
Lee is not your typical protagonist, not by a long shot. He’s an uncharismatic underachiever with a checkered past. Yet, by the same token, it is clear that he is determined to do his best by the boy with whose care he’s been entrusted. Trouble is, Lee’s a man of few words who simply doesn’t come equipped with a sophisticated skill set.
Still, Lonergan somehow manages to explore the inscrutable everyman’s psyche in a novel way which not only makes him accessible, but likable. Credit must go to Casey Affleck, too, for his nonpareil performance in a role where he was often forced to resort to non-verbal communication in myriad situations where words would ostensibly escape Lee.
An emotionally-engaging tale of redemption certain to garner its share of accolades over the course of the awards season.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 137 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening December 30, 2016
Fences (PG-13 for profanity, mature themes and sexual references) Denzel Washington and Viola Davis co-star in this screen adaptation of August Wilson’s Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play chronicling the struggles of an African-American family living in Pittsburgh in the ’50s. With Mykelti Williamson, Jovan Adepo, Stephen Henderson and Russell Hornsby.
Gold (R for sexuality, nudity and pervasive profanity) Unlikely-buddies drama about a down on his luck businessman (Matthew McConaughey) who joins forces with a geologist (Edgar Ramirez) to search for gold bullion in the jungles of Borneo. With Bryce Dallas Howard, Stacy Keach and Bruce Greenwood.
Live By Night (R for sexuality, nudity, graphic violence and pervasive profanity) Ben Affleck wrote, directed and stars in this adaptation of the Dennis Lehane crime thriller of the same name about the reign of a ruthless Boston mobster during the Prohibition Era. Ensemble cast includes Zoe Saldana, Brendan Gleeson, Elle Fanning, Scott Eastwood, Chris Cooper and Sienna Miller.
Paterson (R for profanity) Adam Driver handles the title role in this character-driven dramedy, set in New Jersey, revolving around the mundane life of a poetry-writing, municipal bus driver. With Golshifteh Farahani, Rizwan Manji and Method Man.