January 28, 2017

Hidden Figures

A wonderful untold story of three ambitious black lady nerds who perservere through cultural and workplace racism and sexism to advance and contribute to America's space program of the early 60s.
While all businesses hold profit, success, and results over all other considerations, engineering and mathematics are special in that quantifying success is, erm, black and white. If you can deliver the right numbers the fastest, you are valued.
Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle MonĂ¡e) all defeat the low expectations of their white peers and bosses, and transcend totally unfair double standards to follow their professional goals in a workplace where only white men in skinny ties have achieved before.
These three leads have tons of charm and chemistry on offer as their characters boost each other up, while maintaining their dignity in the face of deep seated racism and sexism, mostly served with a dumb smile or a cold shoulder. The supporting cast was solid too:
  • Kirsten Dunst was terrific as the ladies' supervisor and blonde ceiling to advancement. This is the first grown-up role I've seen her in, and she's made the jump well in a thankless role.
  • Speaking of thankless, Jim Parsons made a small leap to play a closed-off math nerd who heaps work on Katherine, and serves as the inflexible face of white guy privilege. Not much different than his role on Big Bang Theory, he get a few laughs here and there, and his character only warms to Katherine in the last moments of the movie.
  • Kevin Costner was solid as the exasperated head of the nerds, continually focused on results above all other considerations, also, looking great at 61 (he turned 62 two weeks ago, the day after my birthday. Funny he played a washed-up ballplayer...28 years ago!)
  • Polish actor Olek Krupa brings plenty of color as Mary's engineering colleague, although their arc feels like it was mostly left on the cutting room floor.
Overall a charming and earnest film, essential if only to demonstrate to white folk that they've been taking their privilege for granted for too long; everyone else has to work wayy harder for even a chance at the same opportunities.
My Stub Hubby Grade: B-plus. Bonus points for Taraji P. Henson, so broad and loud as Cookie on Empire, completely transformed in this role, she deserved an Oscar nomination way more than Octavia Spencer. I loved Henson's trot/walk as she hurried across campus from her desk to the toilets and back. Her gait alone deserves a nomination.
We'll be back next month for The Lego Batman Movie!

Theater Notes: Emily went to see Hidden Figures January 9 with the ladies and came home with a strong recommendation, so when I had some free babysitting lined up three weeks (and three Oscar nominations) later, I headed to the Capitol Theater to catch the 7:15pm show...but it was sold out. I quickly discovered it was playing at the Belmont Studio Cinema an hour later, so I headed back there, bought a ticket 45 minutes in advance, then retreated to my car across the street to listen to Bruce Springsteen on the WTF podcast. Around 7:45pm I entered the overflowing scrum in the theater's tiny lobby. Turns out the 5:45 show hadn't let out yet. The crowd was excited and energized- a bunch of people around me had never been to the Studio Cinema before! The theater seating was recently upgraded, with a whole row of upholstered sofa-style seating, and small tables interspersed through some rows. I hope the sleeper success of Hidden Figures boosts the reputation and attendance of the Studio Cinema in the future!
ALSO At the Studio Cinema
The crowd waiting for the previous show to let out
spilled onto the sidewalk
Turns out I have been to the Studio Cinema nine times in nine years, but five of those visits were in the last year, so it's likely the pace will continue to rise. The cinema was closed for five months in 2015 for safety reasons, putting a dent in my opportunities and interest in attending!



January 19, 2017

She's All That

Searching for some pre-Inauguration escapist entertainment, we scrolled through the Amazon Prime Comedy Movies and stopped on She's All That. I'd never seen it before but Emily said it was surprisingly good - she described it as "like a poor man's Clueless".
It was pretty funny - a 1999 teenage rewrite of Pygmalion, or a reboot of Pretty In Pink without the love triangle - I had a pleasant time watching it. The script was good, the performances were fine. Sometimes the camera would linger on Freddie Prinze Jr or Rachael Leigh Cook and I wouldn't be exactly sure what their characters were supposed to be thinking? Does that mean the acting is bad or the directing...or both? Emily explained that one of the reasons the movie is successful is because - like the Twilight books and movies - the protagonist girl is a blank slate that girls can project themselves onto?
I'm going to pin the blame on the director- the film was full of clunky, pedestrian, or cliche camera moves. When the guys are making their bet and looking for a dorky enough girl to wager on, I thought to myself "when they spot Laney she's going to drop all her art supplies in the hallway, or stumble through a doorway and BINGO I guess I win the bet.
Matthew Lillard was great as the vain douchbag star of The Real World. It's kind of bizarre that Prinze's second-fiddle wingman is Paul Walker? Prinze is supposed to be the dreamboat jock prom king, but he's a skinny pencilneck geek compared to the broad-shouldered, tan and handsome Walker. It would have made a lot more sense if they'd switched roles? As for the adults, Kevin Pollak brings some life to his scenes- he clearly made up all his jokes, but you don't hire Kevin Pollak to just read his lines, right? There's barely two other adult speaking roles- Tim Matheson is playing his character from Animal House 20 years later, and there's exactly ONE schoolteacher in the whole movie, and zero scenes inside classrooms (except Laney's art studio).
It reminded me of watching Pulp Fiction in 1994 and wondering if any police were ever going to show up (they never do) - just because the characters are high schoolers at school, doesn't mean anything important happens in class.
NOTE: Anna Paquin is terrific casting as Prinze's sister, but I wonder if she whispers through all her roles? Do they have to use extra-sensitive microphones to capture her dialog?

January 17, 2017

Rogue One (IMAX 3D)

I enjoyed seeing it a second time. I picked up some details, including Mon Mothma obliquely asking Bail Organa (aka Space Jimmy Smits) about Obi Wan Kenobi; and an implausible Wampa appearance in Jedha City. (the name Jedha City is too close to Jetta City for me; I wanted them to travel to the Passat System to see Senator Touraeg next.)
My eyes were not watering from the 3D viewing experience, but I still maintain that 3D is an overpriced boondoggle that does not add much value.
(AMC Assembly Row, with Jon & Bobbi for my birthday!)

January 15, 2017

Sing

Very nice movie about a singing competition. Who knew Matthew McConaguhey could be so charming? He was great in Kubo & The Two Strings (which Hawkeye and I saw in this same theater in September) and he's charming again here.
Arlington Capitol Theater, Screen 5

January 7, 2017

The Secret Life of Pets

My boy + the birthday girl!
At a seven year old's birthday party we were supposed to see SING but the projector was broken, so they showed The Secret Life of Pets instead, and all was well in the land. The kids also really enjoyed the 50-year-old Tom & Jerry short before the movie began.
(with my boy and many other first graders, while a snowstorm began outside the Studio Cinema Belmont)

January 1, 2017

159 Pre-Holiday Hangover

  1. "Unused Piano: Quadrophenia" Pete Townshend
  2. "All Across This Land" Blitzen Trapper
  3. "My Kinda Lover" Billy Squier
  4. "Cynical Girl" Marshall Crenshaw
  5. "Whisper Softly" Myracle Brah
  6. "Secret Separation" The Fixx
  7. "The Fitted Shirt" Spoon
  8. "I Can Dream About You" Daryl Hall & John Oates
  9. "80s Mercedes" Maren Morris
  10. "Everyday Is A Winding Road" Sheryl Crow
  11. "Lover Come Back" City & Colour
  12. "Nobody's Fault But Mine" Led Zeppelin
  13. "Busy Earnin'" Jungle
  14. "Man on the Corner" Genesis
  15. "Now It's On" Grandaddy
  16. "Alone" Pretenders
  17. "Queen of Hearts" Juice Newton
  18. "Telephone Road" Steve Earle
  19. "She Goes Out with Everybody" The Spongetones
  20. "Shakin'" Eddie Money
  21. "Regret" New Order

Year in Review 2016

Going to a classic movie on a first date, just like me and my wife!
I went to the movies 17 times in 2016, not a bad total for my parenting years! A nice batch of great movies too- here's my Top Ten, in order:
  1. Deadpool is laugh-out-loud funny and a welcome relief after too many grim comic book movies (like Civil War and Dawn of Justice)
  2. Kubo & The Two Strings: stunning, thoughtful, and mysterious not-quite-for-kids movie. 
  3. Manchester By The Sea is heartwrenching and moving, and perfectly captures the personality and landscape of the North Shore.
  4. La La Land: a very bouncy yet melancholy music romance. Ryan and Emma have ALL THE CHEMISTRY
  5. Moana has good music, and the young woman takes charge and saves the world despite the help from the demigod.
  6. Arrival is my favorite kind of Alien-First-Contact movie. Mind-bending conclusion that will leave you thinking.
  7. Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them: more magical world-building from the mind of JK Rowling!
  8. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a perfectly crafted espionage/war film that clicks in nicely just before A New Hope.
  9. The Secret Life Of Pets: I've seen it three times this year and it's still funny and charming. I love Jenny Slate's Gidget!
  10. The BEATLES Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years may be the best of many Beatles documentaries I've seen, maybe because Ron Howard devotes all his energy (and budget) on just the touring life of the Fab Four. Indispensable for any rock fan.