FlixChatter Review: RADIOACTIVE (2019)

Ever since her breakout role in Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike has become an even more compelling performer who often portrays brilliant real-life heroines. A couple of years ago, I thought her performance in A Private War as fearless war-correspondence Marie Colvin. Well, she plays yet another Marie in this film, Marie Curie, the Polish-born Nobel Prize-winning scientist whose inventions changed the world.

Directed by Iranian-born French filmmaker Marjane Satrapi, the biographical drama focuses on Marie’s struggle to work as a scientist, largely due to her gender, and how she eventually prevailed to win the Nobel prize. The story is told in flashback from the time Marie was in her mid 60s (Pike in heavy makeup) and she collapsed in her Paris laboratory. Most of the story takes place in Paris when Marie was studying at University of Paris and having trouble securing the proper resources and funding for her work, that is until she meets Pierre Curie (Sam Riley). Pierre takes an immediately liking to her and offers her a partnership.

Marie and Pierre worked together and eventually they did fall in love, got married and had two children together. The film showed their relationship was a happy one initially, though of course there was always something wanting. Despite the fact that the two collaborated on their scientific research and discovery–of polonium and radium–Marie’s continually discredited for her work. Pierre was nominated for Légion d’honneur, the highest French order of merit, that he rejected for not nominating Marie. Later on, Marie was basically left out of the Nobel Prize in Physics, but Pierre insisted the two jointly share that prestigious award.

Now, while the film’s subject matter is a fascinating one, the film’s narrative style almost feels a bit stifling and lacking in energy at times. I’m not sure the surrealistic elements work in the film’s favor, though I do give the filmmaker’s points for creativity. I just  wish there’s a bit more dynamic energy and sparks that would make the film more lively, though Pike’s performance remain captivating throughout. The cinematography also often appear too grim and gloomy which adds an unnecessarily bleak atmosphere.

Though I had obviously heard of Marie Curie, I did not know anything about her life What I come away from watching this biopic is just how tough and heart-wrenching her life was. Both she and Pierre were heavily exposed to toxic elements in their years of research, which naturally affected their health. Marie initially dismissed such concerns, even after more and more people die from health complications after exposure to radium.

The gender discrimination is to be expected and the film captured those moments well, as well as the times Marie was harassed by xenophobic mobs because of her Polish origins in her later years. I have to say that the scenes in third act during World War I is quite a memorable one. Marie’s daughter Irene (Anya Taylor-Joy) has become a scientist in her own right at this point, and the two of them developed a mobile radiology units that they themselves took to the field near the front lines. Apparently back then, many soldiers’ limbs were unnecessarily amputated and this x-ray machines helped save the limbs if they in fact could be saved. Apparently Marie sacrificed her own Nobel prize winning to fund this humanitarian effort to the French, though she was again, never formally recognized for her work.

Marie Curie’s story of bravery, intellect and resilience certainly deserve cinematic treatment and Pike portrays her beautifully. Despite its flaws, I’d still regard this film as a remarkable and heartfelt tribute to a singular heroine and her scientific legacy.


Have you seen RADIOACTIVE? Well, what did you think?

TV Review: THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT (2020)

The Queen’s Gambit (2020 – Netflix)
Directed by Scott Frank
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Marielle Heller, Moses Ingram, Bill Camp, Harry Melling, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Christiane Seidel, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd

Nearly a month removed from debuting on Netflix, there’s no shortage of publicity and buzz surrounding this 7 part mini-series. During these pandemic times with nearly everyone (hopefully) staying home these days, there’s a plethora of quality streaming shows to discover. (If you need recommendations, just peruse Flixchatter and you will find truly informed reviews of what’s out there.) This is the age of the streaming platform and with The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix has really stepped it up and delivered an engrossing and wildly entertaining mini-series.

Set in 1960s Kentucky, the series chronicles the rise of chess prodigy Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy). Orphaned at age 9, we see her meager beginnings at an all-girls orphanage run by the practical yet sympathetic Miss Deardorff (Christiane Seidel). While there she meets Jolene (Moses Ingram), a black orphan who takes her under her wing, showing her the ropes.

Isla Johnston as young Beth + Bill Camp as Mr. Shaibel

While cleaning erasers in the school’s basement, she spies Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), the school’s janitor playing chess and is intrigued to the point of obsession. She picks up the game just by watching and he proceeds to teach her the intricacies of the game as well as its etiquette. He recognizes her talent and invites a local high school chess organizer to play her. He then invites her to play the local high school team who she defeats singlehandedly. To complicate matters, Beth becomes dependent on Librium – a drug given out to the children to sedate them into compliance – a widespread and abusive practice at the time.

Marielle Heller as Alma

Eventually, she is adopted by a couple and develops a unique bond with her adoptive mother Alma (Marielle Heller) who nurtures her chess career while surrendering to her own addictions and disappointments. In the universe of high school and high stakes chess tournaments, Beth is faced with the trials of chemical dependency and psychological trauma, all in her quest at becoming a grandmaster.

Based on Walter Tevis’ novel of the same name, director Scott Frank’s adaptation is concise and well executed. Frank, who wrote Soderbergh’s Out of Sight (1998) and Logan (2017) has a proven track record and The Queen’s Gambit is no exception. Stylish with a good balance of wit and humor, Frank tones down the melodrama with subtle detachment. Scenes don’t seem overdone and you won’t find any extended soliloquies either. Frank gets and keeps it to the point with flair and confidence. Steven Meizler’s photography and Michelle Tesoro’s editing provide an exciting tension and suspense especially to the chess tournament sequences – no easy feat I’m sure. Gambit’s steady pacing and editing, excellent cinematography and a beautiful score (Carlos Rafael Rivera) make this binge-worthy.

The real joy here though is watching Anya Taylor-Joy’s magnetic performance as Beth Harmon. Her chameleon-like and quiet intensity is nothing short of brilliant. With silent-era charm, her strongest moments aren’t even when she speaks but when she stares down her opponent in icy coldness. It’s an establishing role in a film career that’s already well seasoned with starring roles in The Witch (2015), Thoroughbreds (2017) and most recently this year’s Emma. Supported by a terrific ensemble cast including Harry Potter’s Harry Melling in a nice grown up role and Thomas Brodie-Sangster as the likable chess champ Benny, The Queen’s Gambit is full of memorable performances making it one of the most satisfying shows to stream in 2020.

 

The Queen’s Gambit succeeds on so many levels.  Origin story, coming-of-age, cold-war thriller, psychological drama – all apply to this highly entertaining series. Scott Frank has put together a well-oiled machine that’s fun to watch and easy to digest, so you might as well surrender to it. I’ve no doubt it will be on many critics’ top 10 lists this year.

5/5 stars

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So did you get to see THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter review: EMMA. (2020)

Jane Austen never dies… from theater adaptations, TV shows to feature films, the demand for Austen-related content remains strong. I am perfectly ok with that. I don’t count myself an Austen purist, so I welcome new interpretations/visions, even crazy mashup like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies can be highly enjoyable (hello Colonel Darcy! 😍)

This new Austen adaptation has already broken grammatical rules with adding a period at the end of the title, and it immediately looks visually-distinctive from the moment the film opens. The setting and production design is very much Georgian–Regency England, but yet it feels decidedly modern. Set in a lush country village of Highbury where our protagonist Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) has lived all her 21 years in comfort, the mood is appropriately frothy. What does a young woman living a relatively practically stress-free life to do? One must stir up “troubles” of course… and Emma happens to have a knack for matchmaking, or so she thought.

Anya Taylor-Joy with Bill Nighy

The object of her matchmaking is Harriet Smith (Mia Goth). After she influenced Harriet to refuse the hand of a young farmer, Robert Martin (Connor Swindells), Emma’s set to match up her friend with an ambitious local vicar Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor), against the wishes of her close friend Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn). Let’s just say Mr. Knightley’s instincts proves correct… things do not go according to plan. That’s all to be expected in Austen’s comedy of errors. Emma is filled with fun characters, and though not all the casting work to my liking, for the most part the ensemble is quite agreeable.

Mia Goth as Harriet

Let’s start with what I enjoy most about this adaptation… I’ve mentioned the visuals, which is definitely a strong point. Director Autumn de Wilde is a commercial photographer and music video director by trade, and here she works with DP Christopher Blauvelt to create a visually rich and strikingly beautiful. The opulent world the Woodhouse’s and Knightley’s estates are appropriately opulent and lavish, with meticulous attention to details to their costumes, carriages, interior design, etc. The lovely music by Isobel Waller-Bridge keeps the mood constantly upbeat.

Anya Taylor-Joy with Callum Turner

Anya Taylor-Joy is delightful as Emma (I actually like her more than Gwyneth Paltrow in the 1996 version). At times she feels a bit more modern in the way she behaves, but that could be because of de Wilde’s direction overall. Bill Nighy is always fun to watch and he’s quite hilarious as Emma’s obsessively-concerned-for-his-health father. I also adore Josh O’Connor as Mr. Elton and he’s such a great comic relief (at least in the beginning) and not quite as creepy as Alan Cumming was in the ’96 version that made my skin crawl. Now, perhaps I like him too much as I’m supposed to abhor Mr. Elton, but it’s so fun to watch him in such a different role from the more brooding Prince Charles in Netflix’s The Crown season 3.

Josh O’Connor as Mr. Elton

I think de Wilde’s direction definitely injects something fresh to this popular adaptation that it felt like I was watching this Austen story unfold for the first time. When I left the theater, a patron mentioned that this film feels a bit too ‘sitcom-y’ and I can see his point. I read in an interview that de Wilde, who grew up in New York, actually wanted to ‘…bring American screwball comedy as a style into the making of the film,’ The story itself is a bit of a situational comedy when you think about it, so the light & frothy tone is appropriate. The nimble pacing is definitely a plus as the film does not overstay its welcome, and there are definitely plenty of gorgeous visuals to distract us during the slower parts.

Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley

Now, there are things I’m not too fond of about this adaptation… one of them is Johnny Flynn‘s casting as Mr. Knightley. He just looks too much of a rock star (apparently Flynn is a rock star), complete with his blond bedhead hairstyle that is so ill-suited for that era where the upper-class is supposed to look so buttoned-up. Despite a nice chemistry between him and Taylor-Joy (particularly in the exquisite dance sequence), this Mr. Knightley doesn’t make me swoon the way oh-so-dashing Jeremy Northam did in the 1996 version. Oh, and what’s with the brief nude scene as Knightley’s about to get dressed. Is it supposed to rival Mr. Darcy’s wet-shirt scene?? I don’t know, but I just think it’s kind of silly and unnecessary. Now, I’m not a prude and the scene is not exactly sexual (he was being dressed by his servant), but it was distracting and took me out of the story a bit. I also have an issue with the nudity in 1999’s Mansfield Park, an odd choice in an otherwise wonderful adaptation.

Another meh casting is Callum Turner as Frank Churchill who comes across as extremely pompous. Yes he’s supposed to be immature and self-absorbed but Turner turns up the snobbery so much it’s utterly irritating. Fortunately he’s a minor character, he’s not on screen so much as to ruin the entire experience for me. There’s also a scene towards the end that leaves me scratching my head. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s also another moment that took me out of the movie. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be a comedic scene but it comes out really peculiar and not particularly romantic.

The social class commentary is an essential aspect in the novel, and I think de Wilde is able to capture that here. The moment Emma flippantly insults Miss Bates during a picnic which she then gets scolded by Mr. Knightley is a good example. The boarding school girls, including Harriet, hold Emma in such a high regard, following her around in awe the way fans would to a celebrity, shows the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The despicable snobbery of Mr. Elton and his wife (Tanya Reynolds), and their poor treatment of Harriet further exemplifies this theme. The setting, costumes, etc. also do a great job informing us of different social structure.

Overall, I enjoyed this adaptation, but Emma always feels a bit too frivolous for me. Even with the social commentary that Austen is known for, the story doesn’t carry the kind of pathos the other novels have that are so emotionally-moving. Plus, the character herself is tough to relate to… after all, Emma is someone who’s handsome, clever and rich, nothing has vexed her in her 21 years of living comfortably and without rival. I lost my mother at 16 so I identified with two of Austen’s protagonists who lost their mother at a young age. But unlike Persuasion‘s Anne Elliot did, it’s never mentioned that her mother’s loss hit Emma particularly hard. I do appreciate that the character does grow up in the end, so the transformation is there. Just because her journey to ‘happy ever after’ is perhaps not nearly as poignant as other Austen heroines, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t earned.


Have you seen EMMA.? Well, what did YOU think?

FlixChatter Review – Thoroughbreds (2018)

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Directed By: Cory Finley
Written By: Cory Finley
Runtime: 1h 32min

In Thoroughbreds, high school friends Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) rekindle their friendship after going through their own personal crises. As their friendship grows, the girls hatch a plan against Lily’s unpleasant stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks), enlisting the help of drug dealer and local deadbeat Tim (Anton Yelchin).

I had high hopes for this film going in after seeing the cast list, and I was not disappointed. I was already impressed with Anya Taylor-Joy‘s performances in 2015’s The Witch and last year’s Split, and seeing her in this cemented her as one of my new favorite actresses. She goes from being relatively sweet and naive to ruthless and unhinged seamlessly throughout the movie, so gradually that it doesn’t seem forced or over-the-top. Olivia Cooke is excellent as well, making the cold and emotionless Amanda funny and surprisingly sympathetic. Lastly, Thoroughbreds is a reminder of the talent and charisma we lost in the late Anton Yelchin; he makes a character who is completely infuriating and sleazy hilarious while maintaining a sinister undertone.

Despite the strong acting, Thoroughbreds is not a particularly memorable movie. I’ve seen a few ads and reviews hailing it as the new Heathers, but besides the fact that both films are dark comedies with teenage girls as the leads, the two aren’t that similar. While the writing isn’t bad, and the cast delivers the deadpan, rapid-fire dialogue deftly without making it sound like a Gilmore Girls script, it’s not as enduringly quotable as the 1988 film it’s being compared to. It’s still a suspenseful story, and it could be an interesting exploration into mental illness, given a little more time and focus, but it’s just not strong enough to be iconic.

While Thoroughbreds isn’t a film you need to see in theaters, it’s a good showcase of some serious young talent. It’s only an hour and a half long, so if you’re bored, scrolling through Netflix and want to see some impressive performances, give it a watch.

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Have you seen ‘Thoroughbreds’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: SPLIT (2017)

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Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Written By: M. Night Shyamalan
Runtime: 1 hr 57 minutes

M. Night Shyamalan has struggled over the years to regain his early 2000’s glory. From a movie about trees compelling people commit suicide, to a horrible adaptation of a beloved animated series, several of his more recent films have been flops. His newest movie, however, has been attracting a lot of attention, and people are wondering if it might be a return to the tense, unique thrillers that originally made Shyamalan a household name. Does it deliver? In addition, can a movie with an antagonist whose defining characteristic is a legitimate mental disorder succeed without being offensive or painfully inaccurate?

In Split, three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, Haley Lu Richardson as Claire, and Jessica Sula as Marcia) are kidnapped by Kevin (James McAvoy), a man with dissociative identity disorder. Kevin currently has twenty-three personalities who are awaiting the arrival of a new, mysterious one who is simply called The Beast. The girls must figure out which personalities they can trust or manipulate to help them escape.

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While this film had its problems, it was still one of the better ones I’ve seen out of Shyamalan in quite a while. It starts out tense and is suspenseful the whole way through; at the risk of sounding cliché, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, watching the girls’ constant attempts at escape and tense interactions with Kevin’s multiple personalities. James McAvoy gave a fantastic performance, managing to portray nine different personalities without overdoing any of them in an attempt to make them distinct. The actresses playing the kidnapped teenagers gave great performances as well, especially Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more of their work in the future.

split_mcavoy

That said, this was far from a perfect movie. There were some moments where the tone felt a little confused, and I wasn’t sure if the audience was supposed to laugh or feel unnerved. Much of the exposition comes from Kevin’s psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), and the way it’s presented is pretty clunky. Then, of course, there is the portrayal of dissociative identity disorder. Is it insensitive or inaccurate? To answer that would spoil Shyamalan’s signature “twist,” so you’ll have to highlight this next part in order to see it [SPOILER ALERT] Based on the climax of the movie, it appears whatever Kevin suffers from isn’t dissociative identity disorder, but some sort of supernatural ability to not only be host to multiple personalities, but to change physically depending on the personality. When The Beast finally makes his appearance, Kevin’s muscles grow and his skin thickens, earning him near invincibility. He can easily climb walls and ceilings and receive multiple gunshots without being taken down. So because the antagonist doesn’t actually have this specific mental disorder, I can’t say it was portrayed insensitively, since technically it wasn’t what was being portrayed at all.

The twist doesn’t come out of nowhere- it’s hinted at during a session between Kevin and Dr. Fletcher- and, for people who are familiar with Shyamalan’s style, one could almost predict it from the plot summary alone (maybe not the exact details, but at least the general idea). As far as accuracy, Dr. Fletcher does discuss her research on physical changes in individuals with DID, some of which sounded pretty far-fetched, but upon further research (Google searches during my lunch break at work), I found that much of what she said in the movie is based on actual DID cases, so at least the little they did include regarding the actual disorder was mostly based in reality.

Split isn’t necessarily a major comeback for Shyamalan, but it’s still an interesting watch, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you want to see a solid acting performance

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Have you seen ‘SPLIT’? Well, what did you think?