‘Radioactive’ is a Curie-ous Biopic

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Radioactive (CREDIT: Amazon Studios)

Starring: Rosamund Pike, Sam Riley, Anya Taylor-Joy, Aneurin Barnard

Director: Marjane Satrapi

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for A Little Love and Some Death

Release Date: July 24, 2020 (Amazon Prime Video)

Is there anyone who has been more iconic in the annals of both science and romance as Marie Curie? Her research has had far-reaching effects on human society, she was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (and the first person of any gender to win a second Nobel), and she was married to a fellow scientist who by all accounts greatly respected and encouraged her work. Considering all that, a biopic about her ought to be pretty wondrous, and that does seem to be what the Marjane Satrapi-directed Radioactive is after. As Marie, Rosamund Pike delivers an appropriately ethereal and almost supernatural performance. But like many true life cinematic stories that cover a wide range of time, the film struggles to focus on its strongest elements.

The Curie love story is sweet as Marie and Pierre (Sam Riley) find their way to each other via their own peculiarities. Their courtship is marked by lines like, “How do I look at you? Like a fermenting brain?” She initially holds him at arm’s length, worried that he will expect her to be the sort of wife who gives up her own pursuits for the sake of marriage. Of course, dramatic irony and the historical record assures us that isn’t the case, and it is lovely to see how the mutual respect of these two played such a big part in influencing the future of the whole planet.

Alas, the Curies’ marriage lasted barely more than a decade, as Pierre died in an accident at the age of 46. That leaves a pretty good chunk of movie left, during which Marie and Pierre’s elder daughter Irene (Anya Taylor-Joy), yet another scientist in the family, ascends to fill the role of her mother’s on-screen partner. During this back half, we get plenty of foreshadowing of the deadly fate that awaits Marie due to her years of exposure to radiation. Satrapi and screenwriter Jack Thorne could have played up this element a bit more to achieve more of a horror bent. It probably wasn’t what they were aiming for, but it would’ve made the film more distinct.

Beyond all that, the most effective element of Radioactive is the handful of flash-forwards we get to demonstrate the influence of Marie’s work: a doctor employing an experimental treatment on a young boy with cancer, the bombing of Hiroshima, a nuclear test explosion in Nevada, and a visit to the Chernobyl disaster. I wish there had been more of these moments, as they’re where the message really hits home the hardest. If the movie were structured more thoroughly around them, it could have made for a fully affecting film instead of an intermittently affecting one.

Radioactive is Recommended If You Like: Science, Feminism, Colleague Spouses

Grade: 3 out of 5 Radiums

Best Film Performances of the 2010s

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

Back in April, I revealed my lists of the best podcasts, TV shows, TV episodes, albums, songs, and movies of the 2010s. I declared that that was it for my Best of the Decade curating for this particular ten-year cycle. But now I’m back with a few more, baby! I’ve been participating in a series of Best of the 2010s polls with some of my online friends, and I wanted to share my selections with you. We’re including film performances, TV performances, directors, and musical artists, so get ready for all that.

First up is Film Performances. Any individual performance from any movie released between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019 was eligible, whether it was live-action, voice-only, or whatever other forms on-screen acting take nowadays. For actors who played the same character in multiple movies, each movie was considered separately.

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This Is a Movie Review: ‘7 Days in Entebbe’ Takes the Tension Out of Hijacking, But It Has Really Great Dance Scenes

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CREDIT: Liam Daniel/Focus Features

This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Daniel Brühl, Rosamund Pike, Lior Ashkenazi, Eddie Marsan, Mark Ivanir, Denis Ménochet

Director: José Padilha

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Threats of Violence Moreso Than Actual Violence and Outbursts Under Pressure

Release Date: March 16, 2018 (Moderate)

What does it mean when the best parts of a docudrama about a hijacking and a hostage rescue are its dance scenes? I don’t think this happens often enough to make any generalized conclusion, but in the case of 7 Days in Entebbe, it means that the dance parts are enthralling, while the actual meat of the story is not particularly attention-grabbing. And that is a problem, because while the dancing does take up a relatively significant portion of the running time, it still only amounts to about 10%. If Entebbe had suddenly turned into a full-fledged presentation of hoofing it up, it would certainly be strange and it would go against the promise its premise makes, but it would be a whole hell of a lot more interesting than what we have.

The nominal focus of the film is the 1976 hijacking of a plane en route from Tel Aviv to Paris by a group of two Germans and two Palestinians. They take the passengers hostage, rerouting them to Uganda, where they stow them away with the unlikely help of Ugandan president Idi Amin. They demand a ransom and the release of Palestinian and pro-Palestinian militants, making some provocative statements along the way, such as a claim that Israel is “the heir of Nazism.” The hostage operation offers little in the way of knuckle-biting thrills, and the film’s political bent is too ill-defined to say anything much beyond, “Israel and Palestine are stuck in an eternal impasse.”

But back to the dancing, because that’s the only aspect of this film that I really want to talk about. Choreographed by Ohad Naharin and performed by the Batsheva Dance Company, the dance scenes are justified by a subplot in which one of the dancers is the girlfriend of an Israeli commando. That justification is remarkably thin, but not unwelcome, considering the electric charge of the performances. About a dozen dancers are arranged sitting in chairs in a semicircle, popping up in stiff poses when the music hits an explosive note. The commando’s girlfriend has been struggling, and she keeps falling when everyone else stands up. But this routine is so powerful that that mistake could legitimately be part of the routine, and it would make perfect sense. Bottom line: if you’re an action aficionado, Entebbe will be sorely disappointing, but if you’re an appreciator of dance, summon the patience to deal with some boring action for the opportunity to witness some brilliant movement.

7 Days in Entebbe is Recommended If You Like: The existential prison of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Pina

Grade: 2 out of 5 Humanitarian Hijackers

This Is a Movie Review: Christian Bale Gives It His Grimmest in the Dour, Distressing ‘Hostiles’

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CREDIT: Lorey Sebastian/Yellow Hawk, Inc.

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Q’orianka Kilcher, Ben Foster, Bill Camp, Stephen Lang

Director: Scott Cooper

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Rating: R for Western Hostility

Release Date: December 22, 2017 (Limited)

Christian Bale excels at playing men who are forced into carrying the weight of a profoundly demanding mission, whether by their own volition or due to leverage someone else holds over them. The Dark Knight’s “the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now” is basically that status as personal credo. In the 1892-set Western Hostiles (Bale’s second collab with his Out of the Furnace director Scott Cooper), he plays a much more reluctant protagonist, an Army captain forced to deliver a Cheyenne chief and his family back to tribal lands, under threat of losing his pension if he refuses. He looks like he hasn’t bathed in years; that stink and his impressive mustache tangibly represent the brunt he is under.

Ergo, Captain Bale (Captain Joseph Blocker is his character name) is filled with a lot of hostility, and he is surrounded by a lot of low-grade or full-blown hostility, whether it be from his fellow soldiers, the suicidal widow (Rosamund Pike) whose family was recently slaughtered, his Cheyenne transports, or the natives that ambush them. We might have our winner for Most Accurate Title of the Year right here.

While nobody in this film is particularly heroic, I do worry that its portrayal of Native Americans hearkens back to a more racist tradition of Westerns. The opening scene presents a group of Comanches at their most savage. For no clear reason, they burn down a family’s home, skinning the father’s scalp and mercilessly killing him and his two young daughters. I am sure that some natives were actually this brutal in late-19th century frontier America, and I do not mean to say that I think that Hostiles is implying that all of them (or all of this particular tribe) were this awful. But the fact that this worst version is all we see of them and that this portrayal is presented so bluntly is concerning.

At least we can appreciate at the aesthetic pleasures (or anti-pleasures, really) with fewer moral qualms. If you ever wanted to see Ben Foster tied up in the cold, muddy rain at night, Hostiles is the film for you. Cooper’s designs for how icky and uninviting nature gets without modern amenities is thoroughly harsh. Lovingly so, even (at least the crafty attention to detail is loving). You’ll probably want to shower afterwards, in a cathartic sort of way, or if you’re a 19th century fetishist, you’ll run right out and find the closest available barren lands.

Hostiles is Recommended If You Like: John Wayne and Clint Eastwood at their most rugged

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hostiles