Sunday, January 22, 2017

Movie jag, Part II

Four silver screen movies in a month. This just never happens in our house. For Kim and me, going to the movies is our special treat to ourselves. It requires that we block off at least five hours on a Saturday afternoon, earmarking it as a "date."

We usually end up going for a meal some place afterwards, which really makes our five hours together special.

So when we go to the movies, the movie better be worth our while.

And so far, January has been remarkable.

A couple weeks ago, within a 48 hour time frame, we saw "Manchester by the Sea," quickly followed by "La La Land."

We added two more flicks this week. On Wednesday evening, we saw "Jackie," and then yesterday we were amazed by "Hidden Figures."

All these movies have elements of Oscar greatness in them, and when the Academy Awards come up next month, that could be something special, too. Expect Oscars all over the map. Maybe even shared Oscars.

First, "Hidden Figures."

If you don't know the synopsis already, the flick is the true story of three female African-American mathematicians/engineers (Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji Henson; Dorothy Vaughan, played by the omnipresent Octavia Spencer; and Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monae; and these women were called "computers" back in the 1960s) who helped get NASA launched back in the Project Mercury days, a timeline which just happened to parallel the rising civil rights activism of the era.

I was a teen-ager in that era. I was captivated by America's drive to put men in space. It never occurred to me that women might be involved. It never occurred to me that African-Americans might be involved. I just didn't know. Most of us probably didn't. Hence, the real-time beauty of this movie.

Henson, Spencer and Monae all turn in remarkable performances, but two solid supporting roles comes from Kevin Costner (as composite character Dr. Al Harrison, who headed up NASA's Space Task Group) and Jim Parsons (Sheldon in TV's "Big Bang Theory") perhaps typecast as head engineer Paul Stafford, who is also a composite character in the flick.

I love period-piece movies because for me it's like time traveling. I especially like it when they make you feel good, and they make you feel good because it actually happened. Kim and I left the theater wiping our eyes.

I wasn't particularly interested in seeing "Jackie." It was Kim's turn to pick the movie we were going to see, and this was her choice. It's a curious choice, because Kim was born in 1960, and the movie, of course, takes place in 1963. But Kim has almost always had a post-era fascination for Jackie Kennedy, as I guess many people do.

The movie mostly centers around Jackie Kennedy's life in the week following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. The title role is played with incredible skill by Natalie Portman, even to the point of Jackie's sometimes breathless-sounding speech patterns.

At the core of the movie's story is the assassination. About three-quarters of the way through the picture, we are there, riding in the limousine with Jackie, facing her. The rifle shot rings out in a surround-sound scream. We know it's coming but we still jump in our seats. It's graphic and it's horrifying. But it also explains exactly Jackie's life from that moment on. And in that light, it shows just how incredible Portman's tour de force here really is. Wow.

I'm not sure what's up next, although I think "The Founder," the story of Ray Kroc and the McDonald's empire, looks intriguing. Another period piece, for sure.

Pass the French fires. And stay tuned.

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