Movie:  Fences

Rating:  5 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:    It is 1955, and in Pittsburgh Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is doing his best to make a life for himself and his family.  But it ain’t easy for a black man to get ahead in that time and place.  Troy might have been one of the best baseball players ever, but was past his prime when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball.

Troy has a steady job as a garbage collector, and makes $76 every Friday to give to his wife Rose (Viola Davis), who is in charge of finances.  They have a modest apartment and a 17 year old son Corey (Jovan Adepo), a promising high school football star looking to win a scholarship and go to college.  Older son Lyons (Russell Hornsby) has moved out, trying to make his way as a musician.  On payday there is enough change left over to buy a pint of Emerald’s Dry Gin and hang around the back yard shooting the bull with his best friend Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson).  Troy is sociable and extroverted, loves his family including his mentally challenged brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) who was seriously wounded in WW II, and Troy tries his best to keep all the plates spinning so everyone is cared for.  He does this because he is the man, the head of the household, and it is his responsibility.  But at times, the pain he feels as a black man who has had to struggle too hard to survive bubbles up to the surface to fuel his anger, as well as a deep resentment that he never had a shot at greatness as a ball player.

Fences, originally a play by August Wilson, was a celebrated success on Broadway.  Denzel Washington and Viola Davis played the parts on the stage, and brought their considerable talents to this film.  This is a totally character driven movie with 90% of the scenes taking place in the house or the back yard.  The characters are so real you can feel their joy, their pain, and their resignation that they must accept the hand that life has dealt them.  Only Corey with his youthful idealism believes that he can make a better life for himself.  This film defines the experience of what it was like for many black families at that time in America.  The acting in this film is brilliant.  My pick for Best Picture Oscar, as well as Oscars for Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

Mini Trailers: 

Troy – “I eye all the women.  I don’t miss nothing.”  Rose – “I told him if you ain’t the marrying kind to move out of the way so the marrying kind can find me!”

Bono – “Ain’t but two men ever played baseball as good as you; Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson.”

Troy – “Jackie Robinson!  I seen some teams Jackie Robinson couldn’t even make!  If you can play, you should be able to play.”

Troy – “If my brother didn’t have a metal plate in his head I wouldn’t have a roof over my head or a pot to piss in.”

Corey – “Can I ask you a question?”  How come you never liked me?”  Troy – “What law is there that say I got to like you?”

Gabriel – “I been chasing hell hounds.  The Devil ain’t no pushover!”

Bono – “Some people build fences to keep people out, and some people build fences to keep people in.”

Troy – “It’s not easy for me to admit I’ve been standing in the same place for 18 years.”     Rose – “What about me?  I’ve been standing in the same place too!”

“Life ain’t fair, that’s for damn sure.  As Troy liked to say, a big part of getting through life is knowing you have to take the crooked with the straight.”





All of these films were rated with 4 1/2 or 5 Stars by this reviewer.  The list is not prioritized in any way.



















OSCAR PICK FOR BEST PICTURE:   LA LA LAND is the favorite and will probably win.  HIDDEN FIGURES has a good chance to win as well.  My pick for BEST PICTURE is FENCES.  Denzel Washington and Viola Davis deserve to win acting Oscars for their portrayals in this film.



Hidden Figures

Movie:  Hidden Figures

Rating:  4 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   It is 1961 and the United States is in a space race with the Russians.  There is more than national pride at stake.  In the midst of the Cold War, leaders are all too aware that intercontinental missiles with nuclear warheads will soon become a reality.  The United States did not want to lose this race.  Then the damn Russians managed to put Yuri Gregorin into space first, and a bit of panic set in at the NASA Space Task Group at Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA.  The Task Group Manager Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) was not a happy man.

What NASA needed to put a man into space was engineers to figure out how to build a space capsule that could keep a man alive as he is rocketed into space, and survive the extreme heat generated during re-entry to earth’s atmosphere. To do this, they needed brilliant mathematicians who could calculate the exact equations necessary to perform space flight.  The mathematics needed for these tasks was unknown, and would require the most brilliant minds to create a new set of computations for the field of space travel.  NASA had a roomful of talented men working on the engineering and math problems.  But as progress was stymied and political pressure mounted on Al Harrison to get results, an extraordinary event took place.  A woman, a black woman named Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), was asked to join the elite team of mathematicians working on space trajectory problems.

Katherine Johnson broke a lot of barriers at NASA because she was simply a genius, and Al Harrison needed her to succeed.  Still, there were a few nagging issues for her to deal with, like having to trot 10 minutes over to another building to use the colored women’s restroom, and even have a “colored coffee pot” appear in her work area.  To her credit she persevered and contributed greatly to the success of the early United States space program, especially in getting John Glenn (Glen Powell) into space.  In addition to Johnson, two other black women from the NASA program are key to the story; Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) a computer programmer and first black supervisor for NASA, and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), the first black female engineer for NASA.

This is a fascinating film on several levels.  First, it is a true story that follows the efforts of three black women who were determined to fulfill their potential in their respective fields despite the unfair barriers placed on women, and the racism faced by blacks in the early 1960s.  Secondly, it is an engaging story of the problems overcome by dedicated people at NASA to succeed at the awesome challenges required to put men like Alan Shepard and John Glenn into space.  While cringing at the racism that was prevalent at the time, we are gladdened by the dedication and excellence of the NASA people to show the world what Americans can accomplish when we set our minds to a goal.  Excellent film, with top-notch acting to carry a terrific story.  Definitely an Oscar contender for Best Film and probable nomination for Taraji P. Henson as Best Actress.

Mini Trailers:

Mary Jackson:  “Three Negro women chasing a white police officer down the highway?  Ladies, that is a God ordained miracle!”

NASA Big Wig:  “The President is demanding immediate action.  We can’t justify a space program if we can’t put anything into space.”

Female Supervisor to Katherine Johnson:  “We’ve never had a colored in here before.  Don’t embarrass me.”

Al Harrison addressing his mathematicians and tasking Katharine Johnson:  “From time to time I will ask you (Johnson) to check their work.  I’m sure you all can, but if that were the case, shingles wouldn’t be flying off the capsule, would they?”

Al Harrison:  “No more colored restrooms!  Here at NASA we’re all the same color.”

Al Harrison:  “How the hell did we find ourselves in second place in a two man race?  We’re in the fight of our lives!”

President Kennedy:  “We choose to go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

John Glenn:  “Gentlemen, let’s launch this rocket.”  (See Nitnoid Fact)

Nitnoid Fact:

This scene takes a bit of dramatic license, but John Glenn did ask for “the girl” (referring to Katherine Johnson) to manually check the calculations generated by the electronic computers that were critical to the mission. This occurred well before the launch, and calculating the output for 11 different variables to eight significant digits took her a day and a half.  Her calculations matched the computer’s exactly, giving John Glenn, and everyone else, the confidence that the critical computer software was reliable.

Historical Conundrum:  The movie shows early IBM mainframe computers sitting around not being utilized.  Here’s why:

IBM initially sold its computers without any software, expecting customers to write their own; programs were manually initiated, one at a time. Later, IBM provided compilers for the newly developed higher-level programming languages Fortran and COBOL.

For History Buffs:  Something you probably don’t know about John Glenn.

He flew 63 combat missions in Korea with VMF-311,[6]:186 and was nicknamed “Magnet Ass” because of his ability to attract enemy flak (an occupational hazard of low-level close air support missions);[6]:180 twice, he returned to base with over 250 holes in his plane.[6]:180[14] Glenn flew for a time with Marine reservist Ted Williams (a future Hall of Fame baseball player with the Boston Red Sox) as his wingman,[6]:







La La Land

Movie:  La La Land

Rating:  4 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:    Remember all those great musicals from the 1950s when Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds danced in the rain, and Fred Astaire danced on ceilings?  Those movies are gone forever.  Or are they?

Cut to modern day Los Angeles, where hundreds of automobiles have ground to a halt on the expressway.  People are scrunched up in their vehicles, frustrated and hot under the collar.  Then shazam!  One young woman gets out of her car and begins to sing and dance, and soon everyone has exited their vehicles to join in a spontaneous celebration of a joyful day, just like they were in a big Broadway musical.  It’s wonderful, it’s marvelous!

Then we meet Mia (Emma Stone), an actress wanna-be (like half of LA).  She is marking time in a pastry shop to earn a few bucks, then frantically scurries off to cattle call auditions, waiting for her big shot at stardom.  Walking the same streets is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling).  He’s not an actor, he’s a musician.  A jazz man to be exact.  He’s paying his dues as well, playing for peanuts in a piano bar, and dreaming of saving enough money to open his own jazz club.

Naturally when the planets align, Mia and Sebastian are bound to meet, and when they do sparks erupt.  But will they live happily ever after with a big Hollywood ending?

Movie fans want to know – is this retro type musical worth their time to go to the movie theater?  The answer is a resounding yes!  The story is good, the acting better, but the major enticement has to be the musical numbers.  To be brutally honest, Stone and Gosling are pretty average vocalists, and neither have the athletic dancing ability of a Gene Kelly, or the elegant grace of Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron.  Having said that, the musical dance numbers have some magic in them that will make you glad you came to the movie, especially the number at the Griffith Observatory.  Trust me, Oscar nominations will be all over this film.

Mini Trailers: 

Sebastian – “I had a very serious plan for my future.  I got shanghaied.”

Sebastian to Mia – “I remember you.  I was a little curt the other night.  All right, I was an asshole!  I can admit that.”

Mia to Sebastian – “I should probably tell you something right now.  I hate jazz.” 

Sebastian – “Jazz was born in a flophouse in new Orleans.  It’s conflict, it’s enterprise, it’s new every night.  It’s exciting!”

Mia reading in an audition – “We can do it two ways.  Either follow my rules…” “THANK YOU!” (Director)

Mia – “It matters that if you give up your dream, the music you like playing.”  Sebastian – “Maybe I’m not good enough.  Maybe I’m one of the sad people that always wanted to do it, but it’s a pipe dream.”

Mia’s Apartment – Love those old movie posters on the wall:  The Killers (with Burt Lancaster), The Black Cat, and The Dove.  Best of all is the wall size photo of legendary beauty Ingrid Bergman.

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