March 7, 2021 • No Comments
Released in 2019/20, directed by Marjane Satrapi, with Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie and Sam Riley as Pierre Curie
Description: After the death of her beloved husband, Marie Curie’s commitment to science remains strong as she tries to explain previously unknown radioactive elements. But it soon becomes terrifyingly evident that her work could lead to applications in medicine that could save thousands of lives — or applications in warfare that could destroy them by the billions.
I was curious about this movie from the moment I heard about it. Marie Curie is a fascinating figure, but not one that I knew much about. I came away with a much better idea of how she discovered the djinn of radioactivity and what happened next, but it was a mixed experience.
First off, this was a beautiful movie filled with lush visual detail. Rosamund Pike gave a splendid performance as Marie Curie, who proved to be a prickly, brilliant, egotistical but ultimately sympathetic woman far ahead of her time. Sam Riley played the appealing husband. At times it felt like the story leaned on their romance to give shape to the plot, but that only lasted (obviously) until Pierre Curie’s death. After that, the plot scampered off with more enthusiasm than focus.
The difficulty with telling a story about a real person and real events is that life doesn’t follow a three-act structure. As a result, the film splooshed out of its narrative bounds in an attempt to capture events not fitting the timeline. The assorted uses of radiation—from medicine to Hiroshima to Arizona bomb tests—come stampeding across the screen at random moments. A few passages got too arty—and kind of trippy—for any real coherence.
Overall, it felt as if the film wasn’t entirely sure what it was trying to be. A romance? A biography? A social commentary about the dangers of uncontrolled scientific inquiry? A super cool montage with mushroom clouds?
To be fair, I still enjoyed the ride. After all, we are talking about a Victorian-set film about a strong and opinionated woman of science. I wish however, the writers had formed a better idea of what they wanted to say about the subject. There was a lot to like here, especially Pike’s performance, but the film seemed to get in its own way.
Recommended, but best when in an easy-going frame of mind, possibly with wine involved.
March 1, 2020 • No Comments
I have a long list of “I really should watch that someday” documentaries, especially ones about lifestyle and stuff.
Forks Over Knives
Last week I finally watched Fork Over Knives (2011, Virgil Films), which talks about the virtues of a whole-foods, plant-based diet. It’s a few years old but some of the scientific studies cited were new to me. The film spells out why chronic diseases can be reversed through lifestyle. Given my family’s incidence of cancer, this caught my attention. For example, casein, an animal protein, “switched on” cancerous growths in test animals when it formed more than 5% of their diet. When it dropped back down to 5%, the disease retreated.
I know that no study is perfect (for instance, I have strong feelings about animal testing) but it infuriates me that there isn’t more focus on this kind of evidence. There is an epidemic of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Something like one in three adults develop diabetes in North America. Diet will at the very least alleviate the symptoms in most victims. Why don’t we see the same action on this file as on, say, a virus that kills a mere few thousand world-wide? Because the virus doesn’t have a corporation to lobby on its behalf? I resist conspiracy theories, but one has to wonder.
Will I become vegan? I’ll definitely explore the diet and see how I respond. I’ve been mostly vegetarian for decades but never seriously considered dropping all animal-based foods. I know many people who have and their health is amazing. What’s important, I think, is to have a handful of reliable recipes in advance. That’s how I cut out meat without feeling deprived. I was already able to turn to familiar dishes. Click here for more on Forks Over Knives and its community.
Two other great documentaries I’ve watched recently while doing my ironing are:
Playing With Fire, which is all about the “Financial Independence, Retire Early” movement. This is inspirational and so common-sense, especially if one has a rebellious streak. It definitely made me rethink my savings plan!
What’s With Wheat I saw this one on Amazon Prime. The approach here isn’t “wheat is bad” so much as “what the heck have we done to this crop?” With the recent rise of gluten intolerance, it’s a good question. Some friends who have eaten bread while visiting Europe don’t notice the same side effects, which lends credence to the idea that it’s hybridization and agricultural practice, not so much wheat itself, that’s the problem. Interesting stuff.
As you might have guessed, I’m fascinated by food, lifestyles, and other health stuff. Especially food, because it’s the cornerstone of health, pleasure, and social interaction.
February 27, 2017 • No Comments
It’s rare that I go to a movie and think about it the next day and then the day after that–most box office material doesn’t demand that level of engagement. Arrival did, and I’m ever so grateful to be intrigued.
I know there was some grumbling about the authenticity of the linguistic methods used to decode the alien communications. I don’t know enough to weigh in, but the story did make me think about the minimal linguistics I took in university and how very unprepared I would be should heptapod aliens invade and the translation app on my iPhone fail to provide adequate interpretation. Great science fiction asks these questions.
So what specifically did I like about Arrival? The characters. It’s great to see such a meaty female lead role in a sci-fi film, and to see it so well done. Amy Adams handles the many layers of her character beautifully, coming across as deeply ordinary and exceptional at once. Jeremy Renner is endearing. Both have an air of vulnerability and honesty that gave the storytelling weight. Without giving too much away, everything in the movie–the close camera work, the acting, the way the story is put together–draws the viewer into an enormously intimate relationship with the protagonists and their fates.
This is sci-fi, and there is the odd explosion and nifty effects, but this isn’t a movie for those looking for ray guns and a high body count. It’s the kind that makes you go “Waaaaaiiit just a minute” as the penny drops and everything changes.
What did I not like about Arrival? There were a couple of moments when the characters seemed unobservant one moment and capable of superhuman leaps of logic the next, but given everything the film got right, these were small issues.
The story is based on a piece of short fiction by Ted Chiang. I haven’t read it (yet), but going by the fact that the structure of the movie held together, the adaptation was well done.