Hidden Figures

Spotlight Review by guest blogger Erin Marshall

Hidden Figures celebrates the real-life contributions of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson to America’s space program. Starting out as computers, literally doing the mathematical work of modern-day mechanical computers, these three ladies broke professional barriers at Langley in the 1960s. In a male-dominated racially segregated facility, these brilliant women stepped up to solving the puzzle of space flight. They rose in the ranks of mathematicians, engineers, and programmers because their intellect and skills were necessary to furthering the cause of dominating Soviets in the Space Race.

I was very excited to see this movie. I am a self-proclaimed NASA nerd and love reading anything astronaut-related. I left the theater feeling inspired by the tenacity and patriotism of Americans in the 1960’s. And, it renewed the pride I have in America’s pioneering spirit. Time and time again we overcome what seems impossible. At the same time, the film was an eye-opening look at the cultural norms of segregation. It highlighted the stark contrast of our society during that time. There was a driving determination to push forward, to innovate, and to propel technology. At the same time, many of these same people were clawing and scraping to hang onto ideas and traditions of keeping people “in their place”. There is a striking scene where Katherine mindlessly pours herself a cup of coffee while calculating numbers. All heads turn to look at her, as she realizes, she’s not welcome to drink from the same coffeepot as her co workers. She is forced to run a half mile from her desk to reach the “colored ladies room” because there isn’t one on the side of the Langley campus where her new position is located. There’s a flurry of apprehension when she needs to attend a meeting because “there is no protocol for women” there. We were as a society, taking huge strides. But, at the same time, we were dragging our feet and digging in our heels over petty trivial progress towards basic human decency. It’s a reminder that every generation needs to advance not only science and knowledge but, we can’t neglect the advancement of unity in the human race.

I do want to reiterate that this film is based on true events. But, the creators did definitely take some Hollywood liberties at making characters and situations more appealing. For example, twenty-something; Glen Powell plays the part of John Glenn. He looks fresh faced and innocent. He’s portrayed as this boy next door character that is naive to the danger he’s about to take on. Kind of, “Gee fella’s if that smart lady says the numbers are right, that’s good enough for me.”  In reality, Glenn was a forty year old combat pilot with a receding hairline that was exhaustively qualified and anything but naive. His memoirs mention nothing of last minute “go-no go” numbers arriving at the last possible minute before his launch. Further, there is a  tense scene where Katherine is running to a capcom mission control room on the other side of the Langley campus with vital numbers to the mission. In reality, this room was in Cape Canaveral, Florida, not Hampton, Virginia. Nevertheless, this is a great movie. It’s child appropriate, thought provoking, and highly entertaining. I look forward to seeing it again and I highly recommend you see it as well.

Erin enjoys all things science and nerdy, the outdoors, and time with her husband and twin children.  You can follow Erin on her blog Under An Elm Tree.

 

Sung from the heart

SING STREET

Ireland, the 1980’s, boy starts a high school rock band to try and get girl.  Why would a middle American raised man in his forties care for a movie like this?  It’s all about heart.

Sing Street, directed by John Carney (Once, Begin Again) and starring Lucy Boyton (Raphina), Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Conor) and Jack Reynor (Brendan) is the story of a boy trying to impress a girl so he starts a band.  There would seem to be many troupes here but Sing Street sails above them all.  Sing Street is first and foremost a movie about brothers Conor and Brendan are growing up in Ireland in the 1980’s during the economic depression.  Conor has flunked out of college and spends most of his time in his room smoking weed and listening to his rather large vinyl record collection.  Brendan has been pulled from a swanky private school and put into Synge Street public school which is run by the church and is more like a maximum security prison than a High School.  After seeing a girl across the street (Raphina) and trying to impress her Conor tells her he is in a band and needs her to be in one of their music videos.  He then proceeds to talk his buddies into forming one.

This movie works for me on so many levels.  First the acting performances are so full of truth and authenticity that you feel like you have been transported back to the 1980’s where MTV was the cool thing and music videos reigned the airwaves.  Reynor’s performance as the older brother (Brendan) is so refreshing because he doesn’t fall too far into the stoner stereotypes and for that matter none of the other actors do either with their characters. The tension in Raphina and Conor’s relationship is played perfectly with it never falling into teenage angst.  Conor and Brendan might just be the most honest brothers relationship I have seen on film.

The musical performances are spot on and if you are like me and grew up in the 80’s then you will appreciate the throw back sound and music video feel.  The highlight of the film to me was the ending which I won’t spoil here, but left you to imagine for yourself how this story would end and left me singing the movies praise!

FOUR treble clefts out of five for SING STREET.

 

Streaming now on Netflix.