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?

Guest Review: CHRISTINE (2016)

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Written/Directed By: Antonio Campos
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Tracy Letts, J. Smith-Cameron, Michael C. Hall
Runtime: 1 hr 59 minutes

Depression and suicide do not make pretty subjects for a film. It is easy to produce a voyeuristic essay that exploits someone’s despair and self-destruction, but portraying tragedy without sensationalising or trivialising it is as tough as it gets for directors and actors. While most suicides are silent and private, TV journalist Christine Chubbuck chose the most public stage available when in July 1974 she shot herself in the head, live and on-camera. Christine (2016) is her story.

At 29 years of age, anxiety-ridden over a career that stalled, still a virgin and living with her mum, Christine (Rebecca Hall) faces a daily struggle with herself and everyone around her. She is a serious journalist who believes her main role is to tell the truth about important issues but she is also a very difficult person to be near. Hyper self-critical, she needs constant stroking and clashes frequently with her TV station boss who is under pressure to improve ratings. He wants sensationalist coverage of human interest stories, so she is side-lined while others get the breaks. She has long had a crush on another announcer, but he is wary of getting involved with someone so intense. When she finds out he is dating someone it adds another layer of despair; her divorcee mother brings home a date and it feels as if life could not rub enough salt into her wounds.

The tension across this story rises incrementally, with each episode triggering another outburst but not serious enough to push her over the edge. While the episodes subside they do not disperse, and their cumulative effect is to store increasingly volatile fuel that slowly approaches flashpoint. The storytelling imparts a sense of us intimately knowing Christine, seeing what she is going through, feeling her waves of emotion and knowing that she cannot take much more of this. Whether its empathy, curiosity or voyeurism, there is no mistaking our proximity to her when, in the film’s closing moments, she looks straight down the camera lens and says “bringing you the latest in blood and guts, and living colour, you are going to see another first”, and then shoots herself.

This film is not for viewers who are looking for action-based drama. It offers little of that, but loads of dialogue and characterisation. Rebecca Hall is brilliant as Christine, tip-toeing the fine line between appearance of normality and deep despair. It is extraordinary that in her final minutes we can almost feel what it is like to have no hope and see no other way out. This is one of the most high-voltage female lead performances of the year, and begs the question why Christine (2016) was overlooked at the Academy Awards.

Everything in this film leads inexorably towards what we know is going to happen. One effect of this is that we readily interpret all that we see as causally linked symptoms of acute depression. It would be easy to say that now, more than four decades later, this could not happen again because we know so much more about the causes and treatment of this debilitating condition. But of course, this is not true; and that is why this is such an important film.

cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


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

FlixChatter Review: Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

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I have to admit that I didn’t know this film was in the works until I saw it on the press screening list. I had listened to Kenneth Turan’s review of the French film Marguerite on NPR, which is also a biopic of a wealthy woman who loves music and the opera but is delusional about her singing ability. In this film, the title role Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) is a New York heiress who’s always dreamed to play in Carnegie Hall.

In the press screening I attended, there were quite a few members of the MN Opera, and so the audience responded very well to the movie right from the start. It begins with Hugh Grant‘s character, St Clair Bayfield, acting on stage. Then suddenly we see Jenkins descending from the ceiling, suspended on a rope, decked out as a naughty Valkyrie. She goes home with her husband Bayfield, who lulls her to sleep with a poem, but their marriage is more like an act, as they live separate lives. Bayfield lives with his beautiful mistress Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson) who tolerates this arrangement to some degree. But it’s clear that Bayfield genuinely cares for his wealthy wife and he dotes on her. He’s the one who protects her reputation and sustains her life in a bubble so to speak.

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The film’s funniest moments involves Jenkins’ accompanying pianist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), whom she hired on the spot. The shy young man couldn’t believe his luck, earning $150 a week is more than he’d ever expect. But soon he finds out what it actually entails to work for miss Jenkins. Helberg’s expressions the first time he heard Jenkins sing (if you could even call it that) is simply priceless!! He did whatever he could not to burst into uproarious laughter and it was a hoot to watch.

The rest of the movie is pretty much an elaborate scheme to shield Jenkins from criticism. The Carnegie Hall is closed to the public, as Bayfield goes out of his way to only invite friends and those he could bribe. No doubt critics aren’t allowed to attend, as he knew an honest review would crush Jenkins. British filmmaker Stephen Frears is no stranger to directing biopics starring seasoned actresses (The Queen, Philomena) and he did a splendid job once again. This film is definitely more comedic than the two I mentioned, and the laughs just keep on coming. The humor doesn’t simply rely on an elderly woman singing off key, but I’m fully invested in the whole ruse of keeping Jenkins inside her bubble. It’s funny but also a poignant and heart-warming drama, boasted by a terrific performance by the three main cast.

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Streep is an acting virtuoso, and she did all her own singing here, which must have been a challenge as she’s actually a pretty good singer. Helberg is quite the scene stealer, as he’s in all of the funniest bits in this movie. I’ve never seen him before but he’s definitely a gifted comedian. But it’s Grant who’s quite a revelation here with his heartfelt and understated performance. He made me believe that Bayfield’s love for Jenkins is genuine and that he’s not just a gold digger taking advantage of a wealthy senior citizen. All the quiet moments of him and Streep pack an emotional punch.

It’s hard not to root for Jenkins despite her delusion of grandeur. I found myself being swept away by her and this movie. I love the look of this movie too, with beautiful 40s set pieces and costumes. It’s a lovely crowd pleaser that will make you want to get up and cheer. I saw this the day after Suicide Squad, oh what a perfect palate cleanser this turns out to be! The protagonist may be off key but the film certainly is not.

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Have you seen ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’? Let me know what you think!