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?

FlixChatter Review: UNCLE FRANK (2020)

I had the privilege of seeing this film at Twin Cities Film Fest last October, one of the three films I saw on the big screen. I had come into it blindly, not having seen a trailer or even read in details what it’s about at all or even seen the trailer. I find that as a rarity in the age of social media where incessant promotional campaign tend to reveal too much about a film. So for this review, I shall try not to spoil too much details about the plot, and when I absolutely have to, I’ll warn you about it and hide the spoiler-y bits.

Sophia Lillis as Beth

Now, even reading its description on IMDb would reveal key details about the plot, so if you want to come into it blindly, I’d refrain from going to its IMDb page. What I can safely tell you is that the film takes place in early 1970s in South Carolina and later New York City. It’s told through the eyes of the title character Frank Bledsoe’s (Paul Bettany) teenage niece Beth (Sophia Lillis) who clearly admires his uncle and claims he’s the only one in the family who sees and appreciates her for who she is.

We first see the Bledsoe’s family at a Christmas family gathering and while everyone seems to treat Frank well, it’s apparent right away that Frank is dismissed by his dad, the family patriarch referred to as Daddy Mac. At first it’s not clear why he isn’t quite welcomed at home and my initial thought is that the family isn’t too keen that he left the South to work as a literature professor at NYU.

Paul Bettany as Uncle Frank

It’s not until 18-year-old Beth ends up going to NYU that Frank’s true identity is revealed. Again I won’t spoil that for you, but it happened at a party at Frank’s apartment where Beth showed up without being invited. The person who shows up at the door is Walid or Wally (Peter Macdissi), Frank’s roommate. He was taken aback by Beth’s presence at first, but immediately warms up to her as if he’s known about her for some time. Now, if you don’t want to know more about the plot, I suggest you stop reading.

The party itself would easily give away just who Frank really is. Spoiler alert (highlight to read) – Beth soon finds out that uncle Frank is gay and he’s been living with his lover Wally for the past 10 years. There are guests of diverse backgrounds mingling, drinking, definitely not the kind of crowds Beth was exposed to in the South. The real journey began when Frank got a call that Daddy Mac has died and he had to take a road trip from Manhattan to Creekville, SC for his funeral. College is naturally a coming-of-age moment for many teens, but this road trip and all the revelations concerning Frank, as well as the reactions stemming from that, ends up being a growing experience for both involved.

This film is a sophomore effort from award-winning writer Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under, True Blood). He also penned the script, which apparently is partly based on his own dad’s life. I have to commend Ball’s ability to balance the drama, comedy and even tragedy aspects of the story as the film takes viewers in an emotional roller coaster. I always admire filmmakers who can tackle difficult subject matters and manage to inject humor into it without turning it into an absurd farce.  This one definitely covers tricky topics and sensitive, hot button issues, yet it’s not a downer of a movie despite some harrowing scenes.

Throughout the journey south, there are multiple flashback scenes told in stages as more and more of Frank’s past is revealed. This narrative style could’ve been really clunky and problematic, yet it works quite well here to tell the source of why Frank is so ravaged with guilt and the incident that changed his relationship with his father forever. I think the lack of subtlety is deliberate, though some of the scenes and dialogue are too on-the-nose and forced emotionally. Despite the inherent conflict between Frank and his dad, however, I appreciate the fact that Ball refrains from completely demonizing him despite the intense hurt he’s caused his own son.

The performances are definitely the film’s strong suit. Paul Bettany is quite a revelation as Frank in a committed, genuinely heart-breaking performance. His character is filled with so much sorrow and self-loathing which makes him infuriating and even hard to love, but Bettany tackles the role with a nuanced emotional honesty. Peter Macdissi is simply delightful here in such a warm, lively performance. The stark contrast between the eternal-optimist Wally and the often despondent Frank make for some comic-relief moments that would make you laugh and cry. Sophia Lillis is terrific as Beth and I think the fact that the film is often seen through her perspective makes the story more relatable. The supporting cast are filled with talented character actors such as Margo Martindale, Steve Zahn, Stephen Root, Judy Greer, and Lois Smith. I rarely see Root play such an unsympathetic character but he’s quite believable here as the insensitive patriarch.

I think the biggest issue I have with this film is that at times it feels like an ‘agenda film’ that tries to blatantly push certain values to the audience. Some of the familial scenes and Frank’s alcoholism feel a tad too maudlin and ham-fisted. Overall though, it’s a compelling and emotional drama that would definitely spark interesting conversations with people after you watch it. Definitely a perfect release around Thanksgiving, even if this year people might have to spend family gatherings virtually.


Have you seen UNCLE FRANK? Well, what did you think?

Trailers Spotlight: Radioactive + Mr. Jones

Hello everyone! I know the mood is grim as the world is grappling with the Coronavirus outbreak. As disappointing as seeing films we’re anticipating getting canceled, when put into perspective, it’s a small inconvenience for us filmgoers… though of course my heart goes out to filmmakers/festival organizers/artists and  businesses affected by this pandemic.

But hey, they can’t stop me from still being excited about films that would get to our screens eventually… and both of these are based on real historical figures AND directed by female filmmakers.

RADIOACTIVE

The first film I’m highlighting here is actually pretty timely and relevant given Marie Curie’s instrumental discovery in cancer treatment.

A story of the scientific and romantic passions of Marie Sklodowska-Curie (Polish scientist) and Pierre Curie, and the reverberation of their discoveries throughout the 20th century.

I’m immediately sold on this based on the two leads, Rosamund Pike and Sam Riley (who’s so criminally underrated!) as Marie and Pierre Curie. I love the role choices Pike continues to do, she’s definitely got the chops to play brave, headstrong, intelligent women in male-dominated fields. She was terrific in A Private War, interestingly it’s also based on a real life war photographer that’s also named Marie, Marie Colvin to be exact. I’m so glad to see Sam Riley in a prominent role (it breaks my heart to see him wasted as a silly raven in those Maleficent movies!!).

Per IMDb, this film is based on the graphic novel Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss. It’s Iranian director Marjane Satrapi‘s first film based on a graphic novel that she didn’t write herself. Two of her films Persepolis and Chicken with Plums are both based on her own graphic novels. That fact alone made this film all the more intriguing!

I don’t know much about Marie Curie’s life aside from her legacy in science and being the first female scientist to win a Noble Prize in Physics (albeit a shared prize with her husband), and later in 1911 she won another Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I can’t wait to see this one and hopefully it’ll arrive in Amazon Prime soon as Amazon Studios has bought the distribution rights.


MR. JONES

Here’s another based-on-a-true-story about a topic I’m not familiar with. Though there are numerous films about WWII and the Holocaust, I don’t think I’ve seen a film about the Holodomor genocide, a man-made famine in Soviet Ukraine in 1932- 1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians (per Wiki).

Agnieszka Holland’s thriller, set on the eve of WWII, sees Hitler’s rise to power and Stalin’s Soviet propaganda machine pushing their “utopia” to the Western world. Meanwhile an ambitious young journalist, Gareth Jones (James Norton) travels to Moscow to uncover the truth behind the propaganda, but then gets a tip that could expose an international conspiracy, one that could cost him and his informant their lives. Jones goes on a life-or-death journey to uncover the truth behind the façade that would later inspire George Orwell’s seminal book Animal Farm.

 

 

I’m not familiar with Polish director Agnieszka Holland but she has quite an extensive resume in film and TV, including acclaimed series such as House of Cards, The Killing, etc. I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that its screenwriter, Andrea Chalupa, has been inspired by her own grandfather who’s from eastern Ukraine to write about Stalin’s genocidal famine (per Guardian‘s rave review). So there’s definitely something deeply personal in the part of the filmmakers.

I’ve been a longtime admirer of British actor James Norton for some time, I’m glad to see him in the lead role! He’s a terrific actor and looks pretty convincing as an idealistic journalist. Nice to Vanessa Kirby in a prominent role here as well. As a big fan of journalism movies, especially those based on real-life events, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing this.


What do you think of these two trailers?