Movie Review: “Hidden Figures”

Starring
Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali
Director
Theodore Melfi

In the wake of famed astronaut John Glenn’s recent death, it seems appropriate that some of the unsung heroes of the Friendship 7 mission (and the NASA space program in general) have finally been given their due in director Theodore Melfi’s new movie, “Hidden Figures.” An incredibly timely and well-told story that serves as a nice counterpart to 1983’s “The Right Stuff,” the film shines a light on the African-American women who helped put Glenn into space during a time when neither African-Americans nor women were given those kinds of opportunities. Though it risks falling into the same traps as other feel-good dramas (after all, it’s basically an underdog sports film for the STEM crowd), “Hidden Figures” rises above its formulaic plot thanks to some terrific performances from the cast.

In the early 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a race to see who could get a man into space first, and with the U.S. desperately lagging behind its Cold War rivals, NASA needed all the brainpower it could get. What most people don’t know is that many of these employees were women (several of them African-American) who worked at the Langley Research Center in Virginia as human computers performing the complex calculations on the agency’s various projects. But because they were black, these brilliant mathematicians were tucked away in a room on the segregated west campus and largely ignored.

That all changes when math whiz Katherine Gobel (Taraji P. Henson) is promoted to the all-white east campus to work under NASA official Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) on the Atlas rocket launch. Though she’s treated like a second-class citizen by her co-workers (not only does she have to run half a mile across campus just to use the colored bathroom, but she can’t even share the same pot of coffee), Katherine quickly proves herself instrumental to the program’s success. Meanwhile, fellow colleagues Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), a headstrong supervisor who takes it upon herself to learn how to operate the IBM computers that will eventually replace her, and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), an aspiring engineer who’s stymied by a law that prevents her from attending the classes required to advance in the field, make strides of their own through hard work and determination.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Eight Years of “House” Guests

With “House” coming to its conclusion on Monday after an eight-year run, it’s fair to say that quite a few regular cast members have seen their way in and out of the doors of Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, but their number can’t hold a candle to how many guest stars – we’re talking people who were on the show for a single-digit number of times – have turned up over the years. This isn’t all of them, but it’s a start…

Season 1

Robin Tunney (Ep. 1.1, “Pilot”)
Character: a kindergarten teacher who becomes dysphasic and starts having seizures. Turns out she’s invested with tapeworms.

Sam Trammell (Ep. 1.4, “Maternity”)
Character: the father of a baby girl that’s not even out of the maternity ward and already on death’s door from a virus.

Elizabeth Mitchell (Ep. 1.5, “Damned If you Don’t”)
Character: a nun who looks like she’s suffering from stigmata but is later discovered to be suffering an allergic reaction to a copper cross IUD left over from her, uh, wilder days.

Dominic Purcell (Ep. 1.6, “Fidelity”)
Character: a husband whose wife – the Patient of the Week – turns out to have been unfaithful.

Amanda Seyfried (Ep. 1.11, “Detox”)
Character: girlfriend to the Patient of the Week.

Scott Foley (Ep. 1.12, “Sports Medicine”)
Character: a baseball player suffering cadmium poisoning from all the pot he’s been smoking.

Joe Morton (Ep. 1.17, “Role Model”)
Character: a senator suffering the after-effects of an epilepsy treatment from childhood

John Cho (Ep. 1.20, “Love Hurts”)
Character: a guy who, after spilling apple juice on House’s clothes, ends up being diagnosed by him as having had a stroke. Upon further investigation, it’s determined that he has a trauma-induced aneurysm as a result of a preference for sadomasochism.

Carmen Electra (Ep. 1.21, “Three Stories”)
Character: While begrudgingly lecturing a classroom of medical students about a past patient who is depicted as looking like Carmen Electra playing miniature golf. In reality, the patient was actually a male golfer…and he played regular golf, by the way. (Who knew miniature golf could be so sexy?)

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Bullz-Eye’s 2011 Fall TV Preview: What’s New for CBS

Monday

2 Broke Girls

(8:30 – 9 PM, Sept. 26, with special preview on Sept. 19 at 9:30 PM)

The competition: Dancing with the Stars (ABC), The Sing-Off (NBC), Terra Nova (Fox), Gossip Girl (The CW)

Starring: Kat Dennings, Beth Behrs, Garrett Morris, Matthew Moy, Jonathan Kite, Brooke Lyons

Executive producers: Michael Patrick King and Whitney Cummings

What the network says: “A comedy about two young women waitressing at a greasy spoon diner who strike up an unlikely friendship in the hopes of launching a successful business – if only they can raise the cash. Sassy, streetwise Max Black works two jobs just to get by, one of which is waiting tables during the night shift at the retro-hip Williamsburg Diner. Sophisticated Caroline Channing is an uptown trust fund princess who’s having a run of bad luck that forces her to reluctantly give waitressing a shot. At first, Max sees Caroline as yet another in a long line of inept servers she must cover for, but she’s surprised to find that Caroline has as much substance as she does style. When Caroline discovers Max’s knack for baking amazing cupcakes, she sees a lucrative future for them, but they first need to raise the start-up money. While they save their tips, they’ll stay at the restaurant, working with Oleg, an overly flirtatious Russian cook; Earl, a 75-year-old kool-kat cashier; and Han Lee, the new, eager-to-please owner of the diner. Working together, these two broke girls living in one expensive city might just find the perfect recipe for their big break.”

What we say: What’s this? A new sitcom in CBS’s Monday night lineup that isn’t a Chuck Lorre production? Will wonders never cease! Better yet, it’s a relatively strong one, though like so many other sitcom entries this season, it’s one where the leads are strong but the ensemble surrounding them is hit or miss…and, unfortunately, that includes Garrett Morris, who deserves so much better than hackneyed one-liners. (There’s a Duke University locker room joke, for God’s sake. Uh, zing?) Dennings, however, is the sarcastic version of Zooey Deschanel, which is to say that she’s cute, funny, and she could take you down a peg without even blinking, and Beth Behr is, for lack of a more elaborate phrase, sweet and pretty. The two of them also have instant chemistry together. If a cast as strong as “Mad Love” couldn’t make it more than a season, we probably shouldn’t pin any major hopes on “2 Broke Girls,” but it’s a certainly a show that we wouldn’t mind seeing succeed.

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