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Five Cent Cine At Home: Hidden Figures

With movie theaters closed, Five Cent Cine is shifting gears. While some movie houses are getting super creative – North Park is rolling out streaming Q&As and Virtual Cinema, “2 film critics” will continue our usual reviewing schedule of about 3 movies per month, now labeled Five Cent Cine At Home, with all of those films available streaming or for rent or purchase. Each review will list (at the top) the source(s) for you to access the film in your own living room or bedroom.

In addition, we’ll be posting a “Streamer of the Week,” a review from our catalogue (more than 110 reviews dating to mid-2016) of a film available for streaming—a way to revisit a film you’ve already seen or to decide you would enjoy.

Streamer of the Week: “Hidden Figures” 2016

Available: For rent or purchase on Amazon, Fandago and other sites.  (See Just Watch listings for it here.)

Space-race racism

In the early 1960s NASA assembled some of America’s best and the brightest scientific minds in its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, hoping the group would calculate how to launch an American astronaut into earth orbit. Yet the best and the brightest were not equal — at least not in NASA’s desegregation-resistant Hampton facility.

Director Theodore Malfi’s “Hidden Figures” (he co-wrote the script) covers the story of three black women at Langley. Though racial segregation had been ruled federally unconstitutional in 1954, the women still had to work in an all-black wing.

Though racial segregation had been ruled federally unconstitutional in 1954, the women still had to work in an all-black wing.

One of them was brilliant mathematician Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson). When promoted to the elite all-male, all-white launch group, she had to pour coffee from a pot labeled “colored” and walk to a colored ladies’ room located in a separate building.

The film tells five stories — six including NASA’s 1962 success in launching John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit. These rich plot lines and strong performances from the three female protagonists — mathematicians Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and aspiring engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) — give the film a fascinating and distinct personality.

There is Johnson’s intellectual ascent within the so-called Space Task Group (she calculated rocket trajectories), Jackson’s drive to become an aeronautical engineer, and Vaughn’s campaign to be officially named the supervisor (in reality, she got that post in 1949). Behind all this work are two romantic backstories. Henson in particular brings captivating power and considerable subtlety to a role that should have earned her an Oscar nod.

The film’s white characters are mostly one-dimensional. Head mathematician Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) irrationally maintains a racist grudge against Johnson throughout the story. Task Group leader Al Harrison (Kevin Costner, in a familiar PC-guy-as-authority-figure performance) behaves much like a football coach at halftime.

Parts of the film stretch credulity. Johnson’s many runs to the distant bathroom grow tiresome. Her reassignment — after calculating Glenn’s flight re-entry — seems improbable, as does Vaughn’s self-taught mastery of an IBM super-computer. A scene of the three women striding together down a NASA corridor is more likely more myth than reality, just as it’s unlikely that Harrison ever took a crowbar to the colored ladies’ room sign.

Like most films based on “true events,” the key words remain “based on.” Still, Malfi’s movie is a superbly structured drama that vividly evokes a little-known aspect of the space race.


Date: 2016

Director: Theodore Melfi

Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell.

Oscars: Nominated: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer); Best Adapted Screenplay (Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi)

Runtime: 127 minutes

Also see reviews on…

Ford v Ferrari

Captain Fantastic

First Cow


Ordinary Love

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Uncut Gems

Les Misérables

The Last Black Man in San Francisco



Little Women

Marriage Story

Queen & Slim

The Irishman


Cold Brook

Jojo Rabbit

Pain & Glory ( Dolor y Gloria)



Downton Abbey

Ad Astra

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

The Goldfinch

Good Boys

Written by 2 Film Critics

2 Film Critics

William Graebner is Emeritus Professor of History, State University of New York, Fredonia, where he taught courses on film and American culture. He is the author or co-author of 11 books and more than 50 scholarly articles, including essays on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” and zombie films as they relate to the Holocaust. Dianne Bennett, the first woman to head a large U.S. law firm, is a retired U.S. tax lawyer.

Dianne and Bill were early and passionate attendees at the Toronto Film Festival, and today enjoy the film scenes of Los Angeles, Rome, London, and Buffalo, New York. They began reviewing films for the Rome-based website “TheAmerican/inItalia” in 2016, have maintained a blog on Rome for a decade, and published two alternative guidebooks to the Eternal City. They still can’t resist going to the movies, not to mention the ensuing discussions, sometimes heated, over a bottle of Arneis at the nearest wine bar.

​And that's just the beginning of our reviewing process. For one or two hours we discuss the film, as one of us takes notes. The notetaker transcribes the notes and prints two copies. Dianne or Bill (usually depending on who had the most compelling understanding of the film, or who was most taken with it) writes the first draft of the review--supposedly taking into account the views of the other--which is followed by 3, 4, or even 7 more drafts. At some point, sometimes days later, when we're both comfortable with the result (or accepting of it, anyway), it's done.

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