Tag Archives: Kevin Costner

Space Racers

Spotlighting black female brain power that boosted America’s space program

DF-03283_R3 - Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae, left), Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) celebrate their stunning achievements in one of the greatest operations in history. Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer star in ‘Hidden Figures.’

Hidden Figures
Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe & Kevin Costner
Directed by Theodore Melfi
PG
In theaters Jan. 6, 2017

Behind every successful man, the old saying goes—as archaic and sexist as it may be—there’s a woman.

In the case of this movie, it’s literally, historically true.

Hidden Figures is the story of a group of black women who broke through racial and gender barriers in the late 1950s and early ’60s to work as mathematicians and other number crunchers and help NASA get America’s first astronauts, and its space program, off the ground.

In the pre-digital age, there were known as human “computers,” doing complex calculations about flight trajectories, orbit, reentry, splashdown and recovery with pencils, paper and pure brain power.

Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and singer-actress Janelle Monáe star as their real-life counterparts Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson.

Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner is the director of the Space Task Group, spurring his engineers to find a way ahead of the Soviets, who’ve already moved into an early lead in the space race. If you got a rousing rah-rah pep talk from the guy from Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Draft Day and McFarland, USA, wouldn’t it make you push that pencil just a little bit harder, a little bit later into the night, to beat the ruskies?

Jim Parsons—Sheldon Cooper on TV’s The Big Bang Theory—plays another egghead, time-shifted here to suit the situation: He’s a prickly lead engineer wary of a woman—and a Negro woman, at that—coming into his group. As the gentlemanly military man who courts Johnson, Mahershala Ali continues to add to his growing resume, on top of his breakout in the movie Moonlight and his recurring appearances in TV’s Luke Cage and House of Cards. Kristin Dunst is a supervisor who struggles to overcome the era’s hurdles separating employees into whites and coloreds.

John Glenn (Glen Powell) meets the "computers," the female mathematicians with whom he would come to trust his life.

John Glenn (Glen Powell) meets the “computers,” the female mathematicians with whom he would come to trust his life.

Glen Powell plays young hotshot astronaut John Glenn, who won’t get into his space capsule for blastoff until NASA brings in Johnson to double-check the crucial—life or death—math on his orbit and re-entry.

But the clearly movie belongs to its three central stars, and director Theodore Melfi (who also directed Bill Murray in the wonderful St. Vincent) gives them all plenty of room to shine in a story that oozes inspiration and rings with righteous pride, thanks to the zippy, well-rounded script by Melfi and Alison Schroder, based on the nonfiction book by Margo Lee Shetterly. Henson, Spencer and Monáe all bring spunk, sass, heart and humor to their roles.

The title “hidden figures” refers to just how deep behind the scenes women like Johnson, Vaughn and Jackson were at NASA—and elsewhere—in the early 1960s. Even though their contributions proved to be immense to the space program, they were practically “lost” in a sea of white men in white shirts. But it also refers to the math required to get America into space and headed to the moon—numbers “that aren’t there yet,” as Costner’s character tells Johnson, calculations so advanced, they hadn’t been invented, figures waiting somewhere yet to be found.

Katherine Johnson was the woman who found them.

The movie tells the “hidden” story of three super-smart, headstrong women who made tremendous strides in a time of shameful segregation and civil unrest, a time when a group of black women helped white men get into space—but couldn’t use the same bathrooms, coffeepots, water fountains or schools.

Three women, it reminds us, who had another kind of “the right stuff.”

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Running to Inspire

Kevin Costner is perfectly cast coach in uplifting true-life sports tale

McFARLAND

McFarland, USA

Starring Kevin Costner, Maria Bello & Carlos Pratts

Directed by Niki Caro

PG

When the folks at Disney were looking for someone to play the coach in this real-life sports drama, they knew who’d be perfect.

Kevin Costner, who turned 61 on Feb. 18, has been in just about every kind of movie, but he’s become a sort of senior statesman of sports flicks, with a career arc that started in the 1980s with baseball (Bull Durham and Field of Dreams) and continued through the ’90s with Tin Cup (golf) and into last year with Draft Day (football).

McFARLAND

Maria Bello, Kevin Costner, Elsie Fisher & Morgan Saylor

In McFarland, USA he plays Jim White, a high school football coach who—like Costner—has been around the block a few times. White doesn’t have a lot of patience with pampered jock-star players who don’t put their hearts, as well as their shoulders, on the line and into the game. An “incident” at the beginning of the movie—in 1987—finds the coach, his wife and their two kids on the move, again, transferred from Boise, Idaho, to the small central California town of McFarland, where he quickly discovers that the mostly Hispanic football team is a flop—but man, can those boys run.

That’s because they’re always running home from school to help their parents, or running after school to work in the fields. White sees their potential as a cross-country running team that could compete with bigger, better-funded schools—and possibly even compete at the state level. Never mind that the school has never had a running team, or that White has never coached one.

It’s a pretty basic underdog-tale movie template, but several things about McFarland, USA make it a standout. For starters, director Niki Caro (whose three previous other features include Whale Rider and North Country, both of which received Oscar nods) never cloaks Costner in the glow of aMcFARLAND “white savior” spotlight; he may be the star, but she makes sure the high school athletes shine. This “based-on-a-true-story” movie is their story, too, and the young actors cast as the runners, all newcomers and relative unknowns, give their onscreen characters personality, substance and dimension.

There’s humor as well as heart as White and his family clash with, and ultimately embrace, their new culture. “You got burgers?” White asks on their first—bumpy—night in town before settling for the local restaurant’s only offering: tacos. Maria Bello does a solid job as Mrs. White, even though she’s not given near enough to do, and Morgan Saylor, who played Dana Brody on TV’s Homeland, is lovely as their teenage daughter, Julie, who falls for the running team’s leader (Carlos Pratts).

We meet parents, neighbors, shopkeepers and other town residents. When the camera pans the crowd at the big state meet in the climactic final race scene, we realize that we—like coach White—have come to know, like and respect all these people, who were once unfamiliar, or even threatening.

As the credits roll, you’ll get to meet the real stars of this story: the now-grown McFarland cross-country runners from the team, and the real Jim White. And if you don’t walk out of this feel-good movie feeling better, more inspired and more uplifted than when you came in, proud of what happened back in this small California town in 1987 and proud of the boys and coach who made it possible…well, you must have seen a different movie than I did.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Feel The Draft

Kevin Costner leads all-star cast in behind-the-scenes drama

 0612176BTr1

Draft Day

Blu-ray $39.99, DVD $29.95 (Lionsgate)

 

Kevin Costner leads an all-star cast (including Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Sam Elliott, Sean Combs, Terry Crews, Tom Welling and Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, making his feature film acting debut) in this behind-the-scenes drama about a pro football team manager navigating and negotiating his way through the hurdles—unhappy fans, a contentious coach and a bottom-line manager—of the NFL’s high-stakes Draft Day. Bonus features include a 58-minute making-of documentary, commentary, and a behind-the-scenes look at the real NFL draft.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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I Feel a Draft

Kevin Costner goes to the gridiron in fictional yarn based on annual NFL event

DRAFT DAY

Draft Day

Starring Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner and Dennis Leary

Directed by Ivan Reitman

PG-13, 109 min.

Somewhat as Moneyball looked at the inside business of baseball, director Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day pulls back the curtain on the high stakes, high pressures and high-wire hoopla of the annual process by which the National Football League selects its new recruits.

Unlike the better-crafted, based-on-a-true-story baseball movie, however, this formulaic, made-up tale is a pure Hollywood concoction. But it blurs its line between fact and fiction by the use of real NFL locations, cameos by real-life past and present NFL players and other real-life sports personalities, and scenes filmed for the movie at last May’s NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

The movie is set in one 12-hour period, during which the main character, fictitious Cleveland Browns manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner), has to set things up to get the best new players he can when the Browns’ “picks” come up in the draft. This involves some serious war-room wheeling and dealing.

DRAFT DAY

It’s getting hot in here: The head coach (Dennis Leary) and manager (Kevin Costner) take a meeting.

Should Sonny go for the hotshot quarterback (Josh Pence), the humble son of a retired Browns player (Arian Foster), or the passionate defensive tackle (Chadwick Boseman)?

To add Sonny’s stress, he’s got a team owner (Frank Langella) who wants to fire him, a head coach (Dennis Leary) who doesn’t like him, and a girlfriend/co-exec (Jennifer Garner) who’s not happy that he’s not happy that she’s just found out she’s pregnant with their child.

Even Sonny’s own mom (Ellen Burstyn) piles on him. “You sold a cow for magic beans!” she chides him after hearing of a deal he intends to make.

Reitman and veteran film editors Dana Glauberman and Sheldon Kahn do some innovative things with split-screen wipes, swipes and pans, as when two characters have a telephone conversation and “overlap” into each other’s spaces. It gives a sense of motion to scenes where the only thing going on otherwise is just two people yakking—and there is a good deal of that.

DRAFT DAY

Costner and co-star Jennifer Garner

Football fans may be a bit disappointed that there’s so much blab-age and so little yardage—excessive talking at the expense of actual gridiron action. But the movie does a good job of dramatizing an aspect of the sport that’s become an entertainment event itself; this year’s draft will be televised on ESPN May 8-10.

And most fans will likely enjoy the all-around air of authenticity, spotting the real-life sports personalities—and throwing penalty flags when it feels like Hollywood puts a bit too much melodramatic spin on the subject.

DRAFT DAYAnd through it all, Costner—trailing decades of weathered charisma from Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and Tin Cup—anchors the story with a screen persona that seems right at home in a sports-themed movie about a central character under pressure, making decisions at odds with those around him, but somehow rallying to show that maybe he knows what he’s doing, after all.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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