Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Why I'm Not Smart Enough to Work for NASA

The next film I got to see nominated for Best Picture for 2016 was Hidden Figures. A biopic based on the real life story of three NASA engineers who faced discrimination in the early 1960's for being women and black.  These women helped NASA in the early days of the space race and are part of the incredible intelligent and talented team of scientists and engineers who eventually put a man on the moon.

Now I know that I don't have what it takes to work for NASA or come close to the intelligence or skills of these three women, but I do have things in common with them.

First we must recognize Dorothy Vaughan, a brilliant mathematician and human computer, who taught herself and her coworkers, FORTRAN and headed the programming section of the Analysis and Computation Division at NASA.  It should be noted that FORTRAN is not an easy programming language to learn, according to me at least, and to do so in an era where there was no exposure to computers.  She was portrayed by Academy Award winning actress Octavia Spenser in the film and received another nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

On the right you can see me circa 1986 studying FORTRAN in high school.  Not to say that I didn't enjoy programming computers, but I didn't enjoy programming computers.  It was about this time I started to realize that being a computer programmer was not in my future.  I would get my projects done, but they were always at the last minute and consisted of days of aggravation of trying to get them to work.

Then there is Katherine Johnson who is the film's main character.  A woman so smart that she was called a human computer.   While at NASA she calculated the trajectories, launch windows, and emergency back-up return paths for many flights from Project Mercury, including the early NASA missions of John Glenn and Alan Shepard, and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, through the Space Shuttle program. Her calculations were critical to the success of these missions. Johnson also performed calculations for the plans for a mission to Mars.

Here is a picture of me circa early 1990's in my Calculus 2 class.  I was working about fifty hours a week and had a part time job as well and realized that besides having no time to sleep, I didn't have time to do homework.  I would go to class forgetting everything, spend two and a half hours relearning it again, and then not having time to study or do the homework and start the cycle all over again at the next class.

And then there is Mary Jackson.  She was a mathematician and aerospace engineer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which in 1958 was succeeded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  As seen in the movie, she was one of the first black women to attend advanced engineering classes.

And you can see me here when I was a student in engineering school back in the early nineties. You may be asking why I'm laying in the middle of the road?  Why?  When you take mechanical physics and you spend countless hours studying the text book, doing the same problems over and over again, spend all of my free time trying to learn this and then you get a 56 on the first exam.  So you double down, study even more hours, do twice as many problems, push yourself harder than ever before and then take the second test and get a 55. This is why I am laying in the road, probably somewhere on the West Side Highway, hoping that I would be run over by a garbage truck.  No such luck and I am very thankful that I was reading a great deal of Ayn Rand back then to help me get through those tough times.

So as you can see, I do have something in common with the three main characters in the film, I attempted to learn what they all did for a living and realized I wasn't smart enough.  I'm guessing this is for the best.

As for the film, it is well acted and the story flows.  Granted it is Hollywood, so they do take some liberties like the bathroom sign scene with Kevin Costner never happened.  But it is inspiring to see that even with hardships, these three women kept fighting and working as hard as they could to help NASA get our astronauts into space and back to earth safely.  I found it inspiring to see Dorthy Vaughan take the time to learn how to program the new computer and become the specialist on it knowing that it would be taking away her job, instead of fighting progress and sitting back and becoming obsolete.  Her actions not only saved her job, but those of her co-workers since they became the first computer programmers.

Only one major gripe I have with the film, and that was with Kevin Costner's character on how he wore a tie clip.  You are right by agreeing that this is a major, major problem and needs to be pointed out and discussed in full length.  But I will only cover the basics.

Not sure if this was his character who would dress like this, or him simply not knowing how to wear a tie clip.  As you can see from this chart, this is how a tie clip should be worn.
Things like this need to be pointed out.  This annoyed me to no end during the film since it is so easy to wear a tie clip properly.  As a strong supporter of tie clips, you should be wearing them more often but when you do, wear them properly.

That just leaves where does this film rank for Best Pictures.  Compared to La La Land, it, um, excuse me but I need to laugh hysterically...


Okay, that felt better.  This is about as far above La La Land as the rockets they were firing into space.  Well, I found it funny.  Fine, it is the best of the two films I have seen so far.  Check out the trailer and see it yourself, you will enjoy the film.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Best Musical Based in Los Angeles Since Cop Rock

Now I know technically Cop Rock wasn't a movie and was just a television program.  But the style of the show is very similar to the film that is the subject of this blog post, La La Land.  Nominated for fourteen categories, tying Titanic and All About Eve, it won seven awards.  It won for Director, Actress, Cinematography, Original Score, Original Song and Production Design.  Oops, that's only six, it didn't win Best Picture.  Take that Faye Dunaway! 

Besides a very surreal Oscar ceremony, La La Land was expected to win Best Picture and was even considered possibly pulling off a sweep which has only happened three times.  And it was a musical too boot.  There is so much to point out about this film before reviewing it so I decided to hire a Quiz Master to challenge me and educate you about La La Land.  He should be arriving at any moment.  Oh, perfect timing, he's here.

Quiz Master
The first question is, how many films have won Best Picture that were musicals.  No peaking!

Wow, this will be tough, but I guess I can try and go off the top of my head.  There weren't that many had won, but if you count the 1960's and not The Great Ziegfeld which I'll consider as a bio pic and not a musical, so my guess is ten.

Quiz Master
WRONG!  The correct answer was Chicago.  Next question.  What as the last musical that won Best Picture?

Wait a moment, how can the answer be Chicago?  In fact that would be the answer for this question.  Fine, looks like you may have your answers mixed up, but I will say Chicago.

Quiz Master
WRONG!  The correct answer was Oliver.  Next question.  What was the previous Best Picture that was a musical that won before Chicago starting a thirty five year drought?

Time out.  It is clearly obvious that you are one off on each of your questions.  You are giving the answer of the next question you are asking.

Quiz Master
Is that your final answer?

I haven't answered anything.  You gave the answer, then asked the question!  This is turning to be out to be a bad idea.

Quiz Master
WRONG!  The correct answer was ten movies.  Let's total up your score, zero plus zero plus zero, hold on, carry the zero, and done.  Your final score is zero.  You're not very knowledgeable about movie musicals.

Actually, I got all of them right.  Doesn't matter, I'm not paying you for your services.  Hey, where are you going?  That doesn't belong to you.  Put it down.  I said put it down.  No, don't drop it!  I don't believe this, just leave.

Sorry about that readers, the Quiz Master was recommended to me by a reliable source so I though it would make the post more interesting.  I mean we're talking about La La Land so it needs all the help it can get.  Although it was a popular movie because Hollywood loves movies about themselves.

The film is a romantic comedy, but not that funny, but not that dramatic, and then doesn't seem to be a musical for awhile, and then someone starts singing.  Man meets woman, they don't get along, then they do, then their careers take off and they drift apart.  Add a few dance scenes and a super obnoxious musical opening that made me want to leave the theater.  And there you have La La Land.

But going into the Oscars, it was the front runner.  Why?  Three of the films from the decade, The Artist, Argo and Birdman, all about actors, had won Best Picture.  So going in it seemed obvious it would win and probably sweep.  Why it lost?  I think I'll cover that at a later time when I blog on the actual Best Picture winner.

Personally I am not a big fan of musicals and as such I wasn't too big of a fan of the movie.  But I will admit that it was done well.  Just as there are many classic musicals I wouldn't consider in my top films, but they are done perfectly and that makes it easier to watch.  La La Land is one of those films.  It's a musical but done in the style of the 1950's.

Being the first picture I am reviewing for 2016, obviously it is in first place. Ironically it's also in last place.  This will change as I review more of the films nominated.

And while you watch these clips of Cop Rock and the opening freeway dance scene from La La Land, I want to you take a moment and curb your initial thoughts of violence and any threats you may want to make towards me.  I want to encourage you to clear you mind and be at one with the stupid as these two over here have done.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Tree Grows in Kings County

Part of my new blog format has me meeting with The Academy Award Project board of directors on a regular basis.  Since they control the sponsorship and somehow have ownership of the blog, something I am still looking into, I have to go over all my proposed blog posts and get their approval.

Here is a transcript of my last meeting with them and trying to get authorization to blog about 2015 Best Picture nominee Brooklyn.

Me: Do you have to keep shining that light in my eyes.
Director 7: Fine.  Are you ready?
Me: I have been for the last twenty minutes.
Director 7: Then start.  What is the next movie?
Me: Thank you.  The next film I will be blogging about is Brooklyn.
Director 2: But weren't you born in Queens?
Me: Well, yes...
Director 1: That doesn't matter.
Director 2: Then how can he talk about a borough he didn't grow up in?
Director 4: It's about the movie Brooklyn.
Director 2: There was a movie about Brooklyn?
Director 3: There are many films about Brooklyn.
Me: Excuse me, the film is called Brooklyn.
Director 5: Is is about Brooklyn?
Me: Well, yes, most of it...
Director 2: Not many good films are made about Brooklyn.  Why would we want to hear about this one.
Director 1: It is his responsibility to blog on films nominated for Best Picture.
Director 2: I don't see him posting about Saturday Night Fever.
Me: That wasn't nominated for Best Picture.  You know The French Connection takes place in Brooklyn.
Director 2: So does Vampire in Brooklyn.
Me: Dog Day Afternoon.
Director 2: Kazaam.
Me: Ouch.  Well, okay this film is happy and cheerful.
Director 2: Like Requiem for a Dream.  Or Sophie's Choice?
Me: Wow, that's not what I was expecting to hear.  What about the classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?
Director 5: Wasn't that filmed in Los Angeles?
Director 2: And shouldn't be A Tree Grows in Kings County?
Director 1: Fine, I think we've heard enough, let's take a vote.  All in favor.  All opposed.  The board has voted five to two to allow you to do your next post on the film Kings County.
Me: The title is Brooklyn.  Oh forget it.

As you can see, meeting with the board is a very frustrating process.  Anyway, Brooklyn was nominated for three Oscars, beside Best Picture, Best Actress for Saoirse Ronan and Best Adapted Screenplay.  It takes place in the early 1950's and starts in Ireland where a young woman, played by Ronan, decides to go to America to find work.  The film shows her trials and tribulations as she becomes adjusted to American culture and her new life in Brooklyn.  She has to travel back to Ireland (don't want to spoil too much) and then has to decide will she stay in Ireland or go back to America.

Personally I loved this movie.  It is so well done.  The acting is great all around, but Saoirse Ronan is a incredibility talented actress who I look forward to seeing her in many more movies.  Most of all, the screenplay is well written.  The film moves at a steady pace and keeps you in it from start to finish.  Usually movies like this fall flat by the second act, this is one that doesn't do that thankfully.

Being the fourth film that I have seen, or half of the Best Picture nominees of 2015, I would currently rank this as the second best film of the year.  The Revenant is still the top picture and The Martian gets pushed down to third.  Mad Max is now in fourth.