Film Review: Countdown to Looking Glass (dir by Fred Barzyk)


“The world’s ending!  Let’s watch the news!”

That, in a nutshell, is the main theme of the 1984 film, Countdown to Looking Glass.  It’s a film that imagines the events leading up to an atomic war between the United States and Russia.  It’s designed to look like a newscast.  A distinguished anchorman named Dan Tobin (played by a real-life anchorman named Patrick Watson) gravely discusses the conflict between the two countries.  Another reporter (played, somewhat jarringly given the film’s attempt to come across as authentic, by Scott Glenn) reports from an aircraft carrier.  We see a lot of stock footage of planes taking off and world leaders meeting and people fleeing from cities.

There are a few scenes that take place outside of the newscast.  They involve a reporter named Dorian Waldorf (Helen Shaver) and her boyfriend Bob Calhoun (Michael Muprhy).  (If your name was Dorian Waldorf, you would kind of have to become a television news reporter, wouldn’t you?)  Bob works for the government and has evidence that the world is a lot closer to ending than anyone realizes.  Dorian tries to put the evidence on air but Dan tells her that they can’t run a story like that with just one source.  It would be irresponsible…. when was this film made?  I guess 1984 was a lot different from 2020 because I can guarantee you that CNN, Fox, and MSNBC would have had no problem running Dorian’s story and creating a mass panic.

(If Dan Tobin’s ethics didn’t already make this film seem dated, just watch the scene where Tobin announces that, because of the growing crisis, the networks will now be airing the news for 24 hours a day.  From the way its announced, it’s obvious that this must have been a radical and new idea in 1984.)

Still, despite those dramatic asides, Countdown to Looking Glass is largely set up to look like a real newscast.  We get stories about people naively singing up to serve in the army because they think war will be fun.  We get interviews with a group of experts playing themselves.  (The only one who I recognized was Newt Gingrich.)  Everyone discusses the dangers of nuclear war and also whether or not humanity could survive an exchange of nuclear weapons.  No one sounds particularly hopeful.  Dan Tobin says that he always believed that nuclear war was inevitable but that the sight of all of the destruction would cause the combatants to come to their senses.  That sounds a bit optimistic to me and the film suggests that Dan has no idea what he’s talking about.

In the end, Countdown to Looking Glass is a victim of its format.  The newscast itself is rather dull, as most newscasts tend to be.  Even the scenes that take place outside of the newscast tend to feel rather awkward, as if Murphy and Shaver were recruited for their roles at the last minute.  In the end, Countdown to Looking Glass works best as a historical artifact.  This is what a news report about the end of the world would have looked like in 1984.  Watch it and compare it to how the news is covered in 2020.

Speaking of watching it …. well, it’s not easy.  It’s never been released on video but you can watch it on YouTube.  The upload’s not great but that’s pretty much your only option.

Cinemax Friday: Not Of This Earth (1988, directed by Jim Wynorski)


Since today is director Jim Wynorski’s birthday, I want to review one of his early films.

A remake of the Roger Corman classic, Wynorksi’s Not Of This Earth stars Traci Lords as Nadine Story, a nurse who works in the office of Dr. Rochelle (Ace Mask) and who has a boyfriend named Harry (Roger Lodge) who is also a cop.  (The leads to jokes like, “Harry called.  He said he left his nightstick with you last night.”)  Dr. Rochelle’s main patient is the mysterious Mr. Johnson (Arthur Roberts), who dresses in all black, always wears sunglasses, and who needs frequent blood transfusions.  When Dr. Rochelle takes a look at Mr. Johnson’s blood, he sees that Mr. Johnson has a strange blood disease that has apparently never been discovered before.  Dr. Rochelle sends Nadine over to work at Mr. Johnson’s home as his private nurse.  Of course, Mr. Johnson is not of this Earth.  His planet is dying and, as Nadine discovers, he is on Earth to search for a new supply of blood.

Wynorski’s version of Not Of This Earth follows the exact same plot of the Corman original, right down to having a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman fall victim to the alien’s bloodlust.  (In the original, the salesman was played by Dick Miller.  In the remake, he’s played by Michael Delano.  Miller does not even get a cameo in the remake of Not of this Earth, which is surprising considering it was still a Corman production and Wynorski previously cast Miller in Chopping Mall.)  They’re both enjoyable movies, especially if you’re in the mood for something that won’t require much thought.  The main difference between the the two versions of Not of this Earth is that the Wynorski version features a lot more nudity and that it makes no pretense towards being anything other than a comedy.

This was Traci Lords’s first role in a non-adult film and she knocks it out of the park.  The scandal surrounding her adult film career has always overshadowed the fact that, for all of her notoriety, Traci Lords was actually a pretty good actress who could handle comedy.  While the deliberately campy humor in Not of this Earth is no one’s definition of subtle, Lords shows good comedic timing and, most importantly, she delivers her lines with a straight face and without winking at the audience.

Wynorski later said that the movie was so popular on video that he was able to buy a house with his share of the profits.  Not of this Earth is a classic Wynorski production, featuring everything that made Jim Wynorski a late-night cable and direct-to-video favorite in the 90s.

Film Review: Wargames (dir by John Badham)


If you thought Tom Cruise nearly started a war in Top Gun, you should see what Matthew Broderick did three years earlier in Wargames!

In Wargames, Broderick plays David Lighter, a dorky but likable teenager who loves to play video games and who spends his spare time hacking into other computer systems.  (Of course, since this movie was made in 1983, all the computers are these gigantic, boxy monstrosities.)  Sometimes, he puts his skills to good use.  For instance, when both he and Jennifer (Ally Sheedy) are running the risk of failing their biology class, he hacks into the school and changes their grades.  (At first, Jennifer demands that he change her grade back but then, a day later, she asks him to change it again.  It’s kind of a sweet moment and it’s also probably the way I would have reacted if someone had done that for me in high school.)  Sometime, David’s skills get him into trouble.  For instance, he nearly destroys the world.

Now, keep in mind, David really didn’t know what he was doing.  He was just looking for games to play online.  He didn’t realize that he had hacked into NORAD and that Global Thermonuclear War was actually a program set up to allow a gigantic computer named WOPR to figure out how to properly wage a thermonuclear war.  David also doesn’t know that, because humans have proven themselves to be too hesitant to launch nuclear missiles, WOPR has, more or less, been given complete control over America’s nuclear arsenal.

(Wargames actually starts out with a chilling little mini-movie, in which John Spencer and Michael Madsen play two missile technicians who go from joking around to pulling guns on each other during a drill.  Of course, Madsen’s the one ready to destroy the world.)

Of course, the military folks at NORAD freak out when it suddenly appears as if the Russians have launched a nuclear strike against Las Vegas and Seattle.  (Not Vegas!  Though really, who could blame anyone for wanting to nuke Seattle?)  In fact, the only thing that prevents them from launching a retaliatory strike is David’s father demanding that David turn off his computer and take out the trash.  However, WOPR is determined to play through its simulation, which pushes the world closer and closer to war.  (One of the more clever — and disturbing — aspects of the film is that, even after the military learns that the Russians aren’t planning the attack them, they still can’t go off alert because the Russians themselves are now on alert.   Once the war starts, it can’t be stopped even if everyone knows that the whole thing was the result of a mistake.)

With the FBI looking for him, David tries to track down the man who created WOPR, Dr. Stephen Falken (John Wood).  However, Falken is not easy to find and not as enthusiastic about saving the world as one might hope….

Watching Wargames was an interesting experience.  On the one hand, it’s definitely a dated film.  (Again, just look at the computers.)  At the same time, its story still feels relevant.  In Wargames, the problem really isn’t that WOPR wants to play a game.  It’s that men like Dr. John McKittrick (well-played by Dabney Coleman) have attempted to remove the human element and have instead put all of their faith in machines.  The appeal of a machine like WOPR is that it has no self-doubt and does whatever needs to be done without worrying about the cost.  But that’s also the reason why human beings are necessary because the world cannot be run on just algorithms and cold logic.  That’s a theme that’s probably even more relevant today than it was in 1983.

Wargames is also an exceptionally likable film.  In fact, it’s probably about as likable as any film about nuclear war could be.  On the one hand, you’ve got everyone at NORAD panicking about incoming missiles and then, on the other hand, you’ve got David and Jennifer having fun on his computer and trading flirty and silly quips.  Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy are both likable in the two main roles.  Broderick brings a lot of vulnerability to the role of David.  (David Lightner is a far more believable teenager than Ferris Bueller.)  He handles the comedic scenes well but he’s even better as David grows increasingly desperate in his attempts to get the stubborn adults around him to actually listen to what he has to say.  When it appears the only way to save the world is to swim across a bay, David is forced to admit that he’s never learned how to swim because he always figured there would be time in the future.  Yes, it’s a funny scene but the way Broderick delivers the line, you understand that David has finally figured out that there’s probably not going to be a future.  It’s not that he doesn’t know how to swim.  It’s that he’ll never get the chance to learn or do anything else for that matter.

Wargames is definitely a film of its time but its themes are universal enough that it’s a film of our time as well.

Yuma (1971, directed by Ted Post)


At the start of this made-for-TV western, experienced lawman Dave Harmon (Clint Walker) has just been appointed the new marshal of Yuma.  He’s served as the marshal of several towns, all of which were near rowdy army bases.  He’s a laconic, no-nonsense lawman who is quick with a gun and smart enough to negotiate with the local Indian tribes.

As soon as Harmon rides into town, he comes across the King Brothers (Bruce Glover and Bing Russell) making trouble.  He kills one of the brothers in a saloon and then takes the other one to jail, where he’s mysteriously gunned down during a midnight jailbreak.  It turns out that there’s a third Harmon brother, cattle baron Arch King (Morgan Woodward), and he rides into town looking for revenge.  He gives Harmon a set amount of time to find and arrest his brother’s killer or Arch and his men are going to return to town and kill Harmon.

Fortunately, Harmon has a witness to the jailbreak murder.  Andres (Miguel Alejandro) is a young, Mexican orphan who sleeps at the jail.  He witnessed the murder but he only saw that the killer was wearing what appeared to be army boots.  Harmon’s investigation brings him into conflict with the local army base’s commandant (Peter Mark Richman) and also leads to the discovery of a plot to defraud the local Indians.

The main problem with Yuma is that it was clearly designed to be a pilot for a weekly television series and, as a result, it introduces a lot of characters who don’t get much to do.  There’s a lot of talk about how Harmon is searching for the men who earlier killed his family but that subplot is never resolved.  (If Yuma had been picked up as a weekly show, maybe it would have been.)  Yuma has to set up the premise for a potential show and tell a complete story in just 70 minutes.  That’s a lot to handle and Yuma ends up feeling rushed and incomplete.

As a B-western for undemanding fans of the genre, it’s acceptable.  Clint Walker was a convincing lawman and the film was directed by Ted Post, who knew how to stage a gunfight.  But it’s not really a western that you’re going to remember for long after you watch it.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Alfred Hitchcock Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

121 years ago today, the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, was born!

In honor of the most influential director all time, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Spellbound (1945, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

Vertigo (1958, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

Psycho (1960, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

The Birds (1963, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

Film Review: Top Gun (dir by Tony Scott)


Oh, where to even begin with Top Gun?

First released in 1986, Top Gun is a film that pretty much epitomizes a certain style of filmmaking.  Before I wrote this review, I did a little research and I actually read some of the reviews that were published when Top Gun first came out.  Though it may be a considered a classic today, critics in 1986 didn’t care much for it.  The most common complaint was that the story was trite and predictable.  The film’s reliance on style over substance led to many critics complaining that the film was basically just a two-hour music video.  Some of the more left-wing critics complained that Top Gun was essentially just an expensive commercial for the military industrial complex.  Director Oliver Stone, who released the antiwar Platoon the same year as Top Gun, said in an interview with People magazine that the message of Top Gun was, “If I start a war, I’ll get a girlfriend.”

Oliver Stone was not necessarily wrong about that.  The film, as we all know, stars Tom Cruise as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a cocky young Navy flyer who attends the TOPGUN Academy, where he competes with Iceman (Val Kilmer) for the title of Top Gun and where he also spends a lot of time joking around with everyone’s favorite (and most obviously doomed) character, Goose (Anthony Edwards).  Maverick does get a girlfriend, Charlie (Kelly McGillis), but only after he’s had plenty of chances to show both how reckless and how skilled he can be while flying in a fighter plane.  Though the majority of the film is taken up with scenes of training and volleyball, the end of the film does give Maverick a chance to prove himself in combat when he and Iceman end up fighting a group of ill-defined enemies for ill-defined reasons.  It may not be an official war but it’s close enough.

That said, I think Oliver Stone was wrong about one key thing.  Maverick doesn’t get a girlfriend because he started a war.  He gets a girlfriend because he won a war.  Top Gun is all about winning.  Maverick and Iceman are two of the most absurdly competitive characters in film history and, as I watched the film last weekend, it was really hard not to laugh at just how much Cruise and Kilmer got into playing those two roles.  Iceman and Maverick can’t even greet each other without it becoming a competition over who gave the best “hello.”  By the time the two of them are facing each other in a totally savage beach volleyball match, it’s hard to look at either one of them without laughing.  And yet, regardless of how over-the-top it may be, you can’t help but get caught up in their rivalry.  Cruise and Kilmer are both at their most charismatic in Top Gun and watching the two of them when they were both young and fighting to steal each and every scene, it doesn’t matter that both of them would later become somewhat controversial for their off-screen personalities.  What matters, when you watch Top Gun, is that they’re both obviously stars.

“I’ve got the need for speed,” Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards say as they walk away from their plane.  The same thing could be said about the entire movie.  Top Gun doesn’t waste any time getting to the good stuff.  We know that Maverick is cocky and has father issues because he’s played by Tom Cruise and Tom Cruise always plays cocky characters who have father issues.  We know that Iceman is arrogant because he’s played by Val Kilmer.  We know that Goose is goofy because his nickname is Goose and he’s married to Meg Ryan.  The film doesn’t waste much time on exploring why its characters are the way they are.  Instead, it just accepts them for being the paper-thin characters that they are.  The film understands that the the most important thing is to get them into their jets and sends them into the sky.  Does it matter that it’s sometimes confusing to keep track of who is chasing who?  Not at all.  The planes are sleek and loud.  The men flying them are sexy and dangerous.  The music never stops and the sun never goes down unless the film needs a soulful shot of Maverick deep in thought.  We’ve all got the need for speed.

In so many ways, Top Gun is a silly film but, to its credit, it also doesn’t make any apologies for being silly.  Instead, Top Gun embraces its hyperkinetic and flashy style.  That’s why critics lambasted it in 1986 and that’s why we all love it in 2020.  And if the pilots of Top Gun do start a war — well, it happens.  I mean, it’s Maverick and Iceman!  How can you hold it against them?  When you watch them fly those planes, you know that even if they start World War III, it’ll be worth it.  If the world’s going to end, Maverick’s the one we want to end it.

 

Ghost (2020, directed by Anthony Z. James)


Tony Ward (Anthony Mark Streeter) is a former London gangster who, on the morning of his release from prison, discovers that his wife would rather hide in her flat than talk to him, that his son, Conor (Nathan Hamilton), is going to head down the same path as his father if he doesn’t learn to control his temper, and that his former partner in crime (Russell Barnett) has no interest in helping Tony go straight.

Bearing no resemblance to the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore/Whoopi Goldberg Oscar nominee of the same name, Ghost is a British film that was shot, on location in London, with an iPhone.  Ghost is a deceptively simple film.  Until the final few minutes, there’s not even much violence.  Ghost, though, really isn’t about crime and gangsters.  It’s about a man who is trying to move on from his past and who can only watch as his son makes some of the same mistakes that he made.  Ghost is about whether or not anyone can ever start their lives over again.  It started out as a short film but director Anthony Z. James was so impressed with Streeter’s performance that he expanded the film to feature length.  As a result, there are a lot of scenes in Ghost that feel like they’re there to pad out the running time.  At the same time, James is proven correct in that Streeter gives a very strong performance as the haunted Tony.  Throughout the film, Tony is constantly struggling to not give into his old ways and Streeter does such a good job of communicating that conflict that even scenes of him nervously walking around London feel compelling.

Considering it was shot on an iPhone, Ghost looks great.  Anthony Z. James has a good visual eye and the movie was filmed in some of the most haunting areas of London.  Usually, I visit London two or three times a year.  In 2020, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, I have only been able to visit once and I don’t know when I’ll be able to visit again.  Watching Ghost made me homesick in the best way.

 

Film Review: Insignificance (dir by Nicolas Roeg)


The 1985 film, Insignificance, opens in New York City in the 1950s.

On the streets of New York, a crowd has gathered to watch as the Actress (Theresa Russell), a famous sex symbol, is filmed standing on a grate while wearing a white dress.  Beneath the street and the Actress, a fan has been set up and the crowd of onlookers cheers as the Actress’s skirt is blown up around her hips, again and again.  Standing in the crowd, the Actress’s husband, the Ballplayer (Gary Busey), watches and shakes his head in disgust.  After the scene has been shot, the Actress hops in a taxi while the Ballplayer chases after her.  A very famous man is in town and the Actress is on her way to pay him a visit.

In a nearby bar, the Senator (Tony Curtis), drinks and talks and sweats.  Though it may not be obvious from looking at him, the Senator is a very powerful man.  He’s leading an investigations into subversives who may be trying to bring down the United States government.  He may look like a small-time mobster but the Senator can make and destroy people on a whim.  He’s come to New York on a very specific mission.  He and his goons are planning on pressuring another famous man into testifying before the Senator’s committee.

Though they don’t know it, both the Actress and the Senator are planning on dropping in on the same man.  The Professor (Michael Emil) is a world-renowned genius.  When we first see him, he is sitting alone in a hotel room and looking at a watch that has stopped at 8:15.  The public may know the Professor for his eccentricities but, in private, he is a haunted man.  The Professor’s work was instrumental in the creation of the first atomic bomb.  And now, with both the U.S. and Russia stockpiling their atomic arsenals and the world seemingly on the verge of war, the Professor fears that his work will be the end of humanity.

Though none of the characters are actually named over the course of the film, it should be obvious to anyone with even a slight knowledge of American history that the four main characters are meant to be versions of Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Joe McCarthy, and Albert Einstein.  Insignificance imagines a meeting between these four cultural icons and really, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which they all could have met.  Joe DiMaggio actually was present during the filming of the subway grate scene from The Seven Year Itch and most accounts record his reaction as being not that different from what’s portrayed in Insignificance.  Albert Einstein was suspected of having communist sympathies and several scientific figures (including many who worked on the Manhattan Project) were investigated during the McCarthy era.  Finally, Marilyn Monroe was often frustrated by her “dumb blonde” image and said that she found Albert Einstein to be a very attractive man.  When she died, a biography of Einstein was reportedly found on her nightstand.

In the film, the Senator pressures The Professor to appear before his committee.  It’s not long after the Senator leaves that the Actress arrives.  The Actress announces that she’s fascinating by the theory of relativity and, using balloons, toys, and a flashlight, she proceeds to demonstrate the theory for the Professor.  The befuddled Professor is impressed.  The Actress informs the Professor that he’s at the top of her list.  Meanwhile, downstairs in another hotel room, the Senator is met by a prostitute who bears a resemblance to the Actress. The Ballplayer sits in the hotel bar, tearing up a picture of the Actress and wondering why their marriage is failing.

Because this film was directed by Nicolas Roeg, the film is full of seemingly random flashbacks.  We see the Senator as an altar boy, trying to impress a smiling priest.  We see the Ballplayer getting yelled at by his domineering father.  We see the Actress, growing up poor and being ogled, at first by the young boys at an orphanage and later by Hollywood execs.  Meanwhile, The Professor continually sees the destruction of Hiroshima.  His visions are apocalyptic and, towards the end of the film, he even gets a glimpse into a possible future of atomic hellfire.  It’s a film about fame and cultural transition, a film where people look to celebrities for hope while doomsday comes closer and closer.

Or something like that.  To be honest, I wanted to like Insignificance more than I actually did.  As is typical with so many of Nicolas Roeg’s films, Insignificance has an intriguing premise but the execution is a bit uneven.  There are moments of absolute brilliance.  Theresa Russell and Gary Busey both give perfect performances and the film’s final apocalyptic vision will haunt you.  And then there are moments when the film becomes a bit of a slog and the dialogue starts to get a bit too pretentious and on-the-nose.  Michael Emil has some good moments as the Professor but there are other moments when he seems to be lost.  Meanwhile, Tony Curtis gives such a terrible performance as The Senator that he throws the entire film off-balance.  Curtis bulges his eyes like a madman and delivers his lines like a comedian doing a bad 1930s gangster impersonation.

That said, Insignificance is still an interesting film.  It’s uneven but intriguing.  Though the film may take place in the 50s and may deal with a quartet of historical figures, it’s themes are still relevant in 2020.  People still tend to idealize celebrities.  Politicians still hold onto power by exploiting fear.  The possibility that everything could just end one day is still a very real one.  Insignificance is a film worth watching, even if it doesn’t completely work.

The Pledge (2001, directed by Sean Penn)


Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) is a detective who, on the verge of retirement, goes to one final crime scene.  The victim is a child named Ginny Larsen and when Ginny’s mother (Patricia Clarkson) demands that Jerry not only promise to find the murderer but that he pledge of his immortal soul that he’ll do it, it’s a pledge that Jerry takes seriously.  Jerry’s partner, Stan (Aaron Eckhart), manages to get a confession from a developmentally disabled man named Jay Wadenah (Benicio del Toro) but Jerry doesn’t believe that the confession is authentic.  When Wadenah commits suicide in his cell, the police are ready to close the case but Jerry remembers his pledge.  He remains determined to find the real killer.

Even though he’s retired, the case continues to obsess Jerry.  He becomes convinced that Ginny was the latest victim of a serial killer and he even buys a gas station because it’s located in the center of where most of the murders were committed.  Jerry befriend a local waitress named Lori (Robin Wright) and, when Lori tells him about her abusive ex, he invites Lori and her daughter to stay with him.  Lori’s daughter, Chrissy (Pauline Roberts), is around Ginny’s age and when she tells Jerry about a “wizard” who gives her toys, Jerry becomes convinced that she’s being targeted by the same man who killed Ginny.  Even as Jerry and Lori fall in love, the increasingly unhinged Jerry makes plans to use Chrissy as bait to bring the killer out of hiding.

The Pledge was Sean Penn’s third film as a director.  As with all of Penn’s directorial efforts, with the notable exception of Into The Wild, The Pledge is relentlessly grim.  Freed, by virtue of his celebrity, from worrying about whether or not anyone would actually want to sit through a depressing two-hour film about murdered children, Penn tells a story with no definite resolution and no real hope for the future.  The Pledge is a cop film without action and a mystery without a real solution and a character study of a man whose mind you don’t want to enter.  It’s well-made and it will keep you guess but it’s also slow-paced and not for the easily depressed.

The cast is made up of familiar character actors, most of whom probably took their roles as a favor to Penn.  Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Noonan, Patricia Clarkson, Sam Shephard, Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren, and Mickey Rourke have all got small roles and they all give good performances, even if it’s sometimes distracting to have even the smallest, most inconsequential of roles played by someone familiar.  Most importantly, The Pledge actually gives Jack Nicholson a real role to play.  Jerry Black is actually an interesting and complex human being and Nicholson dials back his usual shtick and instead actually makes the effort to explore what makes Jerry tick and what lays at the root of his obsession.

Though definitely not for everyone, The Pledge sticks with you and shows what Jack Nicholson, who now appears to be retired from acting, was capable of when given the right role.

Film Review: Radioactive (dir by Marjane Satrapi)


If you want to talk about the birth of the modern world, you have to talk about Marie Curie.

That’s the argument made by the biopic, Radioactive.  It’s a compelling argument and it’s very much correct.  Born in Poland and a citizen of France, Marie Curie was the 1st woman to win the Nobel Prize, the 1st person and only woman to win the Nobel Prize a second time, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two scientific fields.  She shared her first Nobel Prize (in Physics) with her husband, Pierre.  After Pierre’s tragic death, Marie won her second Nobel, this time for Chemistry.  Both her daughter and her son-in-law would go on to win Nobel Prizes of their own and the Curie family continues to produce notable scientists to this very day.

Marie Curie is best known for her pioneering research on radioactivity, a coin that she termed.  She developed techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes.  She discovered that radioactivity could be used to battle aggressive forms of cancer.  Without her research, there would be no nuclear power, no chemotherapy, no X-ray machines, and no atomic weaponry.  Marie Curie is one of the few people about whom it can legitimately be said that they changed the world.  Of course, Curie herself later died of a radiation poisoning.

Radioactive opens with Marie (played by Rosamund Pike) on the verge of death, before flashing back to show us her early life and she went from being an obscure scientist to becoming the world renowned Madame Curie.  We watch as she meets and falls in love with Pierre Curie (Sam Riley).  The film celebrates not only their love for each other but also takes a look at Marie’s struggle to escape from Pierre’s shadow.  Though she was acknowledged as his partner and won her first Nobel Prize with him, it’s not until Pierre is trampled death by a bunch of horses that Marie’s genius is truly acknowledged.  The scenes in which Marie expresses her frustration at being overshadowed by her husband are some of the best in the film, largely because the film doesn’t make the mistake of attempting to portray Pierre as intentionally stealing all of the glory for himself.  Instead, society just assumes that Pierre deserves most of the credit because …. well, Pierre’s a man and Marie’s a woman.

Unfortunately, Radioactive makes some perplexing narrative choices.  Throughout the film, there are random moments when we get a sudden flashfoward and see random people interacting with radioactivity.  For instance, we go to a hospital in the 1950s and we listen as a doctor explains that he’s going to use radioactivity to help a patient combat cancer.  Another scene features the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima.  We see the nuclear tests in Los Alamos.  One moment, Marie is crying in the middle of the street.  The next minute, an ambulance drives past her, on the way to Chernobyl.  On the one hand, it’s easy to see what the film’s going for.  It’s showing us everything, good and bad, that will happen as a result of Marie Curie’s work.  It makes the very relevant argument that sometimes, in order to get something good (less pollution, treatments for cancer) you have to risk something bad, like the possibility of being vaporized by an atomic bomb.  But the flashforwards are handled so clumsily that they actually detract from the film.  When I watched the sequence taking place at the hospital, I found myself wondering if Marie Curie discovered bad acting before or after she discovered radioactivity.  This is probably one of the few instances where a biopic would have been helped by taking a more traditional approach to its material.

On the plus side, Radioactive does feature a very good performance from Rosamund Pike, who really deserves to be known for more than just killing Neil Patrick Harris in Gone Girl.  (Don’t spoiler alert me.  The film’s nearly 6 years old.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you weren’t ever going to.)  Radioactive is currently playing on Amazon Prime and you should definitely watch it if you’re planning on keeping radioactive isotopes in your desk at work.  Seriously, don’t do it.