A Figure Of Speech (Hidden Figures review)

When given the space to work, we are capable of incredible things. So how is it that skin and gender are still considered barriers to greatness?

 

Hidden Figures (2016)

Cast: Taraji P. Hensen, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell
Director: Theodore Melfi
re-released on blu-ray April 11, 2017
******* 7/10

IMDB: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, Audience Score 93%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Theodore Melfi is an American director, producer, and writer of whom I could dig up very little information on. Melfi has only recently stepped up into the role of director, with the Billy Murray film St. Vincent being his first time at the helm, and Hidden Figures as his second outing.

Luckily for us, his involvement with the film industry has been a fairly measured one, which began in 1998, on a whim, by helping raise money for the film Park Day. So humble and full of admiration for this story is Mefli that he turned down the opportunity to direct Spider-Man: Homecoming over Hidden Figures…which blows me away, personally.

That mentioned, what follows is a very brief overview of the film, and to give a sense of how it unfolds.

 

Set in 1960s America, and taking place near Cape Canaveral, we watch the stories of mathematician Katherine C. Johnson (Taraji P. Hensen) (formerly Goble), engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) and computer supervisor Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) as they work for NASA during the space race to put a man into orbit around the Earth. Taking place at NASA primarily, we watch these human computers fight for equal rights as both women and minority figures on campus.

All three woman are in the midst of proving themselves to their peers, and especially outperforming many of them, much to the shock of the average NASA scientist, like lead mathematician Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), head supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) and floor director Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), though Harrison is not portrayed with prejudice, only as stern in his approach to success.

We also see into these women’s lives and watch them address family matters and challenges associated with romantic relationships. For instance, Goble eventually enters into a romantic relationships with the recently returned Colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali), who initially repels her with an ill-made comment about women and mathematics.

Based on true stories surrounding these three legendary women who helped John Glenn (Glen Powell) up until his launch date, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson truly are well deserved pillars for any of us who struggle with gender, race, and professional boundaries but have a desire to to bring something good into the world.

A familiar story of triumph over adversity, Hidden Figures offers a unique slant in the tone being set with the content and the performances that drive the action forward. All three arcs work well together, with a little more time being spent on the growth of Katherine Johnson and her supporting cast-mates. It never holds your hand on the issues of the day, but instead faces them indirectly so that you can might better glide through a key moment in history.

Yes, it is incredibly heart-warming and very much an easy to digest movie, but the fact that it is able to look at crucial women in the history of NASA without pandering too heavily to us, is a very odd thing to experience.

Pros: An uncomplicated story which gives some well merited screen time to people that did great things for humanity. It also does well to elevate the profiles of Hensen, Spencer and Monae; with Monae stealing the show every turn she gets.

Cons: I can’t help but wonder if a story about great people deserves greater treatment for its characters and more details coming through each scene… And if it has any real staying power in coming years.

Runtime: 2 hours 7 minutes

Points of Interest: The coffee brand used in Katherine’s work area is significant, it was Chock Full o’Nuts, which was one of the first corporations to hire a black executive at a VP level. The man Chock Full o’Nuts  hired was retired baseball legend Jackie Robinson, the first person to break the color barrier in professional baseball. Also, the set used for Dorothy Vaughan’s house is actually an historic house in Atlanta, where civil rights pioneers Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King met.

Hidden figures manages to entertain and showcase great performances from its three leads, but I have to wonder if the feel-good angle was the right way to to go with this story.

theories Summarized

Overall, Hidden Figures is an excellent film from an entertainment perspective and does great work in highlighting the efforts of those black women who made major contributions to the space race happening during the Cold War. Odd that echoes technological advancement and racism throughout it’s story in a time when that is exactly what we seem to be experiencing a lot of of.

And man do I ever wish that was only a theory, but we really do need to be vigilant in the face of these injustices.

Tim!

Life Is… (Li Kunwu)

Like any big meal, it takes some time to digest what you’ve consumed and let the food settle before you can fully appreciate what you just went through.

The wait for a table, the anticipation growing with every waft of food that lingers by on outstretched fingertips as the waitress hustles order number 56 off to table twelve. The decision making process of what to order itself is an experience, and then the final push comes as you promise yourself to limit the dinner roll indulgences as you sit there some more as the food is prepared.

Finally, the food arrives.

You take it all in, and consider the journey you are about to take. It’s never what you pictured in your mind, but any good chef is capable of surprising you, and hopefully she has laid a good foundation for your senses to adapt to dinner.

 

Or maybe this is all just a metaphor for a book I read last month, and finally got around to writing about in early April.

Tracing A Remarkable Journey

The author of about thirty books, Li Kunwu has been a central figure in The Daily in Yunnan for decades now. He is has made painting, drawn comic strips, and published his own works, one of which I personally read recently as part of my monthly book exercise.

Can you guess what theme he fits into?

It’s actually two categories – LIFE and LOVE.

A Chinese Life is an autobiography presented in a graphic novel format, and it chronicles the journey of Li Kunwu throughout his life in China. He was born in the 1950s, so we get to experience the development of the People’s Republic of China through his youthful eyes. A member of the People’s Liberation Army, Li manages to recapture his own memories in a way that is both intimate and large enough in scale to be understood by an average historical student. There are parts filled with humour and with drama, but it never feels too heavy in one camp or the other.

It takes a few sessions of concentrated reading to get through, coming in at about 700 pages worth of content, and to be clear, the combination of text and image is at almost equivalent distribution.

Read Army

 

What I found most interesting in reading this story was not how little I really knew about The People’s Republic, nor how little I knew about Li himself. What I found most interesting was how well his story translated to english and how despite all of the seemingly incredible adversity he faced over his lifetime, that a lot of his struggles were universal.

From learning how to relate to his father, to finding love, to discovering his purpose in life, to simply living and experiencing a host of different things, A Chinese Life is an excellent demonstration of a life lived full. And Li does follow his purpose, all the while choosing to believe in what he has believed in from a young age.

It’s incredibly rewarding to see him make art to serve the purposes of a party member hairdresser, and how he finds ways throughout his youth all the way into adulthood which make him into a better artist, and which often tie in directly with his political climate. Illustrating for propaganda posters and newspaper cartoons alike.

Even when Yunnan has it’s first life model class.

And eventually we reach a point well into Li’s adult life, after his father has died, he has been through a divorce, and is taking care of his child as a single parent, that he meets a French writer and diplomat at a comic book convention. This is the point when the story begins to wrap up, and we have a moment to reflect on what we’ve been witness to.

The Modern Age

This is a story all at once encompassing and yet missing details.

Much like any good story, things have been embellished, while other pieces have been glossed over and left out. For instance, as much as I enjoyed the journey from youth, to adulthood, the final 100 pages or so seem sparse and cover a great period of time. This is intention of course, otherwise we’d be left with a 1400 page graphic novel, and I’m not sure that many people would have picked it up.

It is fascinating to see the world through the eyes of someone on the other side of it, and especially of one who holds a different political viewpoint then we are used to, but then again, life is… complex.

At least that’s my theory.

Tim!

Films That Changed The Game (Cross Talk Ep. 15)

There is this phrase out there which tells us that history is written by the victors, and attributed to Winston Churchill. It’s a good quote, and the gravity of it is not lost on anyone. But the intent of the quotation and the reality of it are two different things.

If we stop and consider what that quotation is really saying, its that history is written by writers, and much like present day events, there are conflicting viewpoints on what went down, and over time the extremists viewpoints are taken out and we are left with a more generic set of stories that can be taken in by those with an interest in the past.

Movies Preserved By Collectors

Much can be said about the history of cinema as well. We pick our favourites and share those stories with whoever we will, sometimes movies make it into our homes and sometimes distributors stop carrying copies as technology improves. I’ve seen it happen with one of my favourite movies Anti-Trust. Nearly impossible to find on blu-ray, it was FINALLY released just over a year ago.

And carrying on that line of thought, there are some movie moments that have saved the future of cinema. Not in so literal a result, but by inspiring future directors to push the envelope in new ways. Many movies have their own unique examples that can stop a conversation in its tracks. The wood chipper scene in Fargo, the velociraptors in the kitchen during Jurassic Park, the box reveal in Se7ven, and The Pixies playing “Where Is My Mind” as the city blows up during Fight Club, are all iconic moments.

Whether these moments have taken good movies into the realm of great, or great movies into the exceptional, when it comes down to it, every year in film we get to see some scenes, technical achievements and themes which set new standards in film expectations. Making this art form still relevant and open for public consumption, but resulting in some ideas moving out of favour, ie the traditional western.

In fact, I like to think we prefer to think of film in this way. Quoting from Harry Potter, Dirty Harry, The Big Lebowski and Zoolander have become a natural process, because we embrace the new, though only when it is capable of enthralling us.

And so today, we share with you some of our favourite benchmark movie moments and why they are so incredibly relevant even decades later. Chris and I decided to share the couch with our friend André Lindo once more, and he brings some really cool examples to the room. This is episode fifteen of Cross Talk and it’s a thoughtful one.

Another day, another theory. I hope you enjoyed this episode creative cuties and that you have a fantastic week. Otherwise, please comment, subscribe, and share this video with friends. We want to hear your feedback!

Tim!

Let’s Get Credible (Georg Rockall-Schmidt preview interview)

We can’t all have good credit scores. Some of us because of circumstances, a lot of us because we made bad decisions about what to buy, but did you know that there are factors you wouldn’t have considered? Your payment history, credit file age, diversity of accounts, and how often searches are pulled, for instance. You do know that a credit score and credibility go hand in hand according to banks, credit card companies, collection agencies, and governments, don’t you dear readers? Credibility is the quality of being trusted and believed in. Or to put it another way, it’s a quality of being convincing or believable.

Perception is reality after all.

You see friends, when people think you’ll keep your word, they are more likely to trust you and let you make decisions. This is something that all good leaders have, salespeople and business operators included. Now this is where you come in – You make art. You love to make art, but you need to be credible in order to sell said art.

And as the old adage goes, it’s easier to ask forgiveness then permission. Especially from someone who is credible.

Once you realize that your public image is just as important as the one that you internally hold up for yourself, you can begin to consider all of the options, just a little more closely. Heck, it even applies to US politics but you’ll see what I mean when you turn on the clip

Oh wait, I forgot to mention, that this is preview of my first ever international interview with Georg Rockall-Schmidt. Georg is one of the most awesome people that I’ve never met in real life. Georg is a full-time creator of YouTube videos. You can find his channel here, but effectively he creates videos about pop culture, history, parody, his personal thoughts on life, and a whole lot more. An English dude with an anti-establishment educations, he believes that credibility defines ideation, and it’s important to him to have self-awareness but to simply leave all of the unnecessary elements out of the equation.

And that’s just a teaser. I have a full-fledged interview coming up in the next week or so featuring more of his incredible insights. This is Just A Thought on all that is Georg Rockall-Schmidt. Sorry for stealing your tagline Georg!

Can you believe it dear readers? I’m out of theories for the night. But just because I’m out of theories for now, doesn’t mean you can’t read more of my own thoughts! Browse the website, leave some comments, subscribe, and share with your creative friends. Otherwise, you should have a fantastic night, because I’ll be back tomorrow with a new Dragonette album review.

Tim!

Adventure Time (Mississippi Grind review)

Have you ever read the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? It’s more than 100 years old at this point. In case you haven’t read it, it’s a story that explores the subjects of race and identity. It has been studied over and over, because while it digs into the the existence of slavery, it also exists within the context of the time period and so there are a number of racial slurs and stereotypes played out in the story.

Odd then that I find myself watching a movie about the Mississippi and identity, but without the issues of race, well mostly.

 

 

 

Mississippi Grind (2016)

Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds, Yvonne Landry, Sienna Miller, Analeigh Tipton
Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
released on blu-ray Dec 1, 2015
******** 8/10

mississippi_grind

IMDB: 6.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, Audience Score 54%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are American film directors that have a habit of working together. They have co-directed Have You Seen This Man, Gowanus Brooklyn, Young Rebels, Sugar, It’s Kind of a Funny Story and now Mississippi Grind. Boden also co-wrote Half Nelson with Fleck while he directed that film.

It probably helps that they have been romantically involved, which as we all know if fostered probably leads to committed love, and whether they are still together or not (I don’t know and couldn’t figure it out), they obviously have a lot of love and respect for each other, which allows their stories to play out organically and realistically. It’s Kind of A Funny Story is one of my favourite movies after all.

Now, Mississippi Grind is the typical story of an odd couple, but rejuvenated with modern beats on gambler road movies. Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn), is a professional gambler who is on hard times, and definitely in a state of addiction to the sport. Upon visiting a casino in Iowa, he meets Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) in a game of Texas hold’ em. Curtis is a bit younger, extroverted and friendly. Curtis beats Gerry in a hand and then buys him a premium glass of Bulleit bourbon, instead of Woodford. They become fast friends and leave on good terms.

Later in the evening, Gerry runs into Curtis at a bar, while Curtis plays darts. After discussing their views on life, Gerry learns that Curtis is successful at cards because he doesn’t care about winning and just likes to play. After a night of heavy drinking, they crash at Curtis’ place and then decide to hit the dog track. They initially win a lot of money, but because Gerry is unable to walk away, they end up losing it all. Afterwards they head to another bar where they test the waters on playing pool and try to bet the local sharks on a game of $1000. The men are not impressed and the odd couple are booted from the bar. Curtis decides it’s time to leave town, and on his way to his car, Gerry is threatened at knife point by a guy who overheard the $1000 bet. Not realizing that Gerry was bluffing, the man stabs him and then runs.

The following day Gerry meets up with a lady he owes money to, and she expects repayment immediately. Gerry lies and states that he was robbed and shows the knife wound. Gerry then runs into Curtis again at another bar, and decides that it is fate and that Curtis is his good luck charm. Gerry proposes a trip down the Mississippi, consisting of several major gambling destinations, and a final game of poker at New Orleans with a $25K buy-in. Curtis agrees, stakes him $2K and Gerry agrees to drive.

But if I share too much more, you won’t watch, so let’s split the pair.

ProsAn excellent portrayal of the nature of the gambler, and how mideast America is still full of these locales. Gambling culture has probably not been this well showcased in a decade or more. Reynolds and Mendelsohn are lovable and disgusting at the same time.

Cons: Some of the characterizations are a little textbook and the backstories of our two leads aren’t really fleshed out in a deep and meaningful way.

Runtime1 hour 48 minutes

Points of Interest: Tony Roundtree, the gentleman that runs the New Orleans poker game, is played by James Toback, the guy that wrote The Gambler. The tattoo on Curtis’ leg is the same as the combination to his and Gerry’s hotel safe.

Mississippi Grind might come across as a boring and pathetic examination of addiction, but at the heart of it there is a lot more love between it’s characters and the nuances of their interactions with each other and their supporting cast is something to behold. The landscape of the film is rather sparse and washed out, but I think that it is intentional, to show that these guys are struggling against the typical humdrum of midlife.

 

 

 

Mississippi Grind fits itself right into the region in which it depicts, though it never quite addresses its reference to Huckleberry Finn and Jim directly. It is a spiritual exploration of two men from different worlds that become friends and fight against their environment and shortcomings in an attempt to escape to better circumstances. Does the movie achieve this end? In a word, yes. But you’ll just have to watch it yourselves to find out if I’m lying.

Tim!