Radioactive

Posted on July 23, 2020 at 5:58 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, brief nudity and a scene of sensuality
Profanity: Mild language and sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: WWI battle scenes,
Date Released to Theaters: July 24, 2020
Copyright 2020 Amazon Studios

Biopics, even the most sincere, even about the most fascinating real-life characters, even made by directors who are willing to break with the traditional structure, still two things are true. First, the only thing that really matters is the lead performance. Second, there is really no way to get around the basic structure that all lives follow and all biopics follow except those like “Jobs” that focus one or just a few incidents. We see crucial early experiences that either reveal the subject’s special talent or some life-forming experience or both. We see struggle. We see people who foolishly do not believe our subject can succeed. We see our subject succeed.There’s usually a setback or special mid-point challenge. And then we see how it ends.

Marie Curie certainly had a fascinating life and Rosamund Pike gives her considerable best. She is never less than mesmerizing. I particularly enjoyed watching her in the first half of the movie, as we see her struggling to be taken seriously as a scientist when she knows she is better than the men who look down at her because she is a woman, because she is Polish, and because she is not shy about letting them know she is better than they are. It’s almost a proto-“Big Bang Theory,” the way that the same determination, single-mindedness, unstoppable curiosity, and relentless quest for truth that makes her a scientist is what makes it difficult for her to get along with anyone well enough to get her the resources she needs to do her experiments.

And that is when she meets Pierre Curie. He tells her he has read her work and it is brilliant. She tells him she has read his and it is very good. He offers her a space in his lab. Her insight and his ideas about how to prove her theories like two covalent bonds or a double helix. A lot happens very fast as the brilliance of her discoveries is evident when she just 32 when her paper on radium was published. But the movie stops for a dinner party so that Marie can explain her research to a non-scientist friend, and to us.

It then hurtles along, trying to cram in every crisis faced by Marie, from continued gender discrimination to being accused of adultery after Pierre’s death, when her letters to her married lover were made public by his wife. Most interesting, and worth an entire movie of its own, is her service during WWI, when she developed portable X-ray machines that saved thousands of lives and prevented needless surgery. Like the man for whom the most important scientific award in the world is named, Alfred Nobel, Marie Curie’s great achievement was responsible for incalculable benefits (we see an early cancer patient treated with radiation) and unthinkable tragedy (we see a Hiroshima resident looking up to see the Enola Gay, and the ravages of Chernobyl. This makes things a bit muddled, but Pike’s stirring performance makes us believe we get a sense of Marie Curie’s fierce intelligence and even may make us wonder about what discoveries we can make.

Parents should know that this film includes WWI battle scenes and characters who have been wounded, characters who are ill and dying and references to deaths of family members, brief rear nudity, non-explicit sexual situation, and references to adultery.

Family discussion: What do we learn from Marie’s reaction to the death of her mother? Why does this film include glimpses of events long after Marie’s death? What can we do to make sure that what we learn about and invent is used to benefit humankind and not for wars and violence?

If you like this, try: the glow-in-the-dark graphic novel the film is based on and another film about scientists and inventors, The Current War.

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A Private War

Posted on February 3, 2019 at 4:33 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for disturbing violent images, language throughout, and brief sexuality/nudity
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Brutal wartime violence, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 16, 2018
Date Released to DVD: February 4, 2019

Copyright 2018 Aviron Pictures
I reviewed A Private War for rogerebert.com. An excerpt:

The dramatic, personal story of Colvin herself is absorbingly told here, largely because of Pike’s dynamic performance, showing us a woman who was courageous enough to risk her life for a story on a daily basis but remained vulnerable enough to make the stories viscerally compelling. That combination took a terrible toll. She used sex and booze to numb her feelings but they could not stop the nightmares. “You’re not going to get anywhere if you acknowledge fear,” she says, but she admits that after the danger is over, she feels it. It is surreal to see her back in London at an elegant gala event, picking up another journalism award in between trips to war zones where she has to maintain enough distance from the carnage all around her to write about it – and keep from becoming part of it. The contrast in perspective and priorities between Colvin and her editor (an excellent Tom Hollander) makes a deeper point about the uneasy and sometimes conflicted relationship between editors trying to sell papers and reporters trying to get the story read.

To the extent we need to know why she had this compulsion and whether she missed having a home and family, those elements are present without being reductive or simplistic.

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Hostiles

Posted on January 18, 2018 at 2:41 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence, and language
Profanity: Some very strong and racist language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive and very graphic violence, many characters injured and killed, rapes
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: January 19, 2018

Copyright 2017 Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
“Hostiles” is more in conversation with movies about the settlement of the West than it is about or in conversation with the brutal history of the West itself. For decades there were simple stories of brave cowboys and soldiers fighting racist caricatures of Native Americans. White men were heroes and Indians were savages.

Then there were some stories with a little more nuance and some better intentions but pretty much on the side of “civilization” and the more nuanced Native American characters were usually played by actors who were not Native Americans. Westerns went out of vogue in part because of the growing recognition that the stories were too complicated and painful for the “good guys vs. bad guys” cliches of the past. “Hostiles” is a sincere effort from writer/director Scott Cooper at a Western that frankly grapples with the challenge of building a society on the unthinkable carnage and injustice of the past. But there is more formula than drama, with each character specifically designed to represent a place on the spectrum of culpability. With dialogue like “I don’t know what we are going to do with these wretched savages” and “There ain’t enough punishment for his kind” and soldiers with too-symmetrical responses to their own culpability, and unceasing brutality to drive the points home, even the fine acting cannot bring it to life.

Christian Bale plays Captain Joseph Blocker, a man who has witnessed and inflicted horrible brutality in the fight with Indians. When he is ordered to escort an Indian leader and his family to their home, he refuses, until his superior officer threatens to court-martial him and withhold his pension. Blocker despises Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), who has been in prison for years and is dying of cancer. But the President has ordered that he be allowed to return home to die, and he will need an escort to protect him and his family.

Blocker assembles a group of soldiers and they begin the journey. They come across Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), whose husband and children have just been killed by Indians, who stole their horses and burned down her home. She is severely traumatized, but Blocker’s respectful treatment helps her begin to accept what has happened, and when Yellow Hawk’s daughter offers her some clothes, she changes out of her blood-stained dress.

Each encounter along the way, most horrifically brutal, is designed to add some variation on the theme, and all boil down to: both white settlers and Native Americans committed atrocities and both have to find some way to reconcile with the past. The film begins with a quote from DH Lawrence: ““The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” Perhaps more apt is a quote attributed to Golda Meir, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.”

Parents should know that this film has extended peril, violence, and rape, with many characters injured and killed, including children and a baby, and many grisly and disturbing images, suicide, racist epithets and comments, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What helped Mrs. Quaid begin to accept her loss? How were Blocker and Wills different? Why did Blocker get on the train?

If you like this, try: “Unforgiven” and “The Searchers”

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Trailer: 7 Days in Entebbe

Posted on December 7, 2017 at 6:52 pm

Rosamund Pike, Daniel Brühl, Eddie Marsan, Ben Schnetzer, Lior Ashkenazi, and Denis Ménochet star in “7 Days in Entebbe” from Focus Features, the story of the daring Israeli raid on the plane hijacked to Uganda in 1976. It will be in theaters in March, 2018.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

A United Kingdom

Posted on February 9, 2017 at 5:12 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language including racial epithets and a scene of sensuality
Profanity: Some strong language including racist epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, threats, violence including street fight
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 10, 2017
Copyright Harbinger Pictures 2016

In Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Lysander says, “aught that I could ever read/Could ever hear by tale or history/The course of true love never did run smooth.” It may just seem that way because the most enduring loves are those where challenges bring the couples together instead of tearing them apart. To quote Shakespeare again, this is the love that “looks on tempests, and is never shaken.” “A United Kingdom” tells the true story of a love that triumphed over the most intense opposition from both families and at least three countries.

Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo of “Selma” and “Queen of Katwe”) is studying law in post-WWII London when he meets Ruth (Rosamund Pike of “Gone Girl”) and they are instantly drawn to each other. They share a love of jazz music and a passionate commitment to the public good. Before they realize what is happening, they are deeply in love. Seretse explains that he is not just another law student; he is heir to the throne of his country, and his uncle is acting as Regent until he returns. He asks Ruth to take time to think about marrying him but she does not need time to think.

Even though they have already experienced some unpleasant, even threatening responses to their relationship, they believe that their good intentions and mutual devotion can overcome any obstacles. They will see that post-war optimism about a new era of tolerance and mutual commitment to continuing the progress toward freedom tested more intensively than they could have imagined.

Ruth’s sister is sympathetic, but she correctly predicts that their father “will hate him on sight. He is cleverer than him and he is black.” And indeed, he says, “You may deserve a life of insults and shame, but what about us? I can’t see you again.”

And then they go to Botswana, where his uncle and the community see his marrying a foreigner and a commoner as a betrayal, calling into question his loyalty and his ability to understand them. Has his time in London caused him to abandon the ways of his people?

And might his uncle have other reasons for wanting to stay in power?

The British government, in the form of the wonderfully condescending Jack Davenport (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), is even more disturbed. They have important business and political interests in the region, particularly in the adjoining country of South Africa, which is in the middle of adopting the 20th century’s most viciously racist laws, known as Apartheid.

Director Amma Asante (“Belle”), the British-born child of Ghanaian parents, has a sure sense of the worlds she is depicting. The Botswanans and their land are portrayed as respectfully and “normally” as the Londoners, with no sense of quaint or lesser “otherness.” And while the culture is not entirely equal (apparently only men vote), the female characters, including Seretse’s sister, have dignity and agency. This is a true love story, not just between Seretse and Ruth, but between the filmmakers telling this story and the people and the country where it is set.

Parents should know that the theme of the movie concerns an interracial marriage that was objected to by both families and their governments. There are some scenes of peril including racist street thugs, some strong language including racial epithets, and a sexual situation.

Family discussion: How did Ruth prove her sincerity to the Botswanans? Why did the British government intervene?

If you like this, try; “Loving” and the BBC program about Seretse and Ruth Khama.

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