Skip to main content

Radioactive

When I was in fourth grade I acquired a huge chemistry set from someone who had tired of learning science and gaining knowledge. Or maybe they set their basement on fire as I recounted here. In the set was a small black device that looked like the eyepiece for a microscope, or maybe a printer’s loop. I discovered that it was actually a spinthariscope, a toy version of a tool that allows a viewer to observe the nuclear disintegration of ionizing alpha radiation on a surface coated with radium or other phosphor.

The Gilbert Company, maker of the Erector Set, created the U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, parts of which had been combined with the chemistry set I enjoyed. 

Can I just say, toys were really cool in the 1960s!

Toy Spinthariscope

This is the long way into a review of a movie about Madame Marie Curie, but allow me to finish by saying that I still have my toy spinthariscope. Late at night, long after your eyes grow used to complete darkness, looking into the eyepiece reveals frequent streaks and flashes of green light that look like shooting stars. It’s definitely a “wow” experience, especially when you consider that these same particles are passing through your body without even slowing down – all day, every day for your entire life.

Polish born Marie Curie was a “wow” kind of scientist. This biographical Amazon original does an adequate job of telling her life story, and rather heavy-handedly makes the case for her triumph within and beyond a male dominated field during Victorian era Paris. In fact, she was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the first person of either gender to win one twice. With her partner and husband Pierre she discovered Polonium and Radium and went on to discover X-rays that were used in the field to save the lives of soldiers in World War I.

The movie compartmentalizes her science, love life and feminism in a less than fluid script. Those times, like viewing old movies from the 1950s, induce cringe-worthy reactions to the behaviors and attitudes of her contemporaries. She was far ahead of her time, a brilliant, inexhaustible worker and mother to Irene, another Nobel Prize winning female in Chemistry for the discovery of artificial radiation. Sadly, Marie died of aplastic anemia, likely due to her long exposure to radiation.

As the wonder of radium became known to the scientific community it was popularized as a magical substance and commercialized in a bizarre variety of products ranging from toothpaste to cigarettes. On the face of watches and clocks “you could even say it glowed.” A brief series of actual product photos was incorporated like a Powerpoint slide show in a clumsy sequence at this point in the film. It felt like the director was a super fan of Curie, or maybe just not that great at directing. And indeed Director Marjane Satrapi has only five directorial credits in twelve years.

Rosamund Pike plays Marie Curie. She is best known for her Academy Award nominated title role in 2014’s Gone Girl. She captures the intensity and motivating self-righteous indignation that propelled Madame Curie beyond the accomplishments of her male counterparts. A scene in which she dresses down The French Academy of Sciences with the words, “Your understanding of this was wrong” is likely revisionist scriptwriting at a time when Curie was snubbed by the Academy for a seat that went to Edouard Branly for his work on wireless telegraphy.

If you have Amazon Prime you can do a lot worse than spend a couple of hours learning about an interesting historical figure. If you tended to daydream in science class, this is your second chance to learn about a pioneer of science. And since it’s a movie you don’t even have to read a book.

Radioactive (2019) runs 1 hour, 49 minutes and is rated PG-13.

Popular posts from this blog

Parasite

Honestly, are you at all reluctant to see movies with subtitles? I have to be in the right mood. They require a certain amount of mental work and you can’t look down at your popcorn for even a few seconds for fear of missing something. Our viewing of  Parasite  was at noon on a Saturday, since our very un-art-house Regal 16 apparently felt that two hours of precious screen time early in the day was all that could be spared for a film that doesn’t have star power, explosions or talking animals. And if  Parasite  had not been nominated for Best Picture it’s unlikely we would have been given any chance to see it at all. Metaphors abound, or are at least proclaimed to be in abundance by numerous characters in the opening scenes of  Parasite . One particular “Scholar’s Rock” continues to make appearances like the monolith in  2001: A Space Odyssey . It is a gift to the Kim family from Min, a friend of son “Kevin” who asks for a favor that sets the entire plot of the movie in motion.

1917

We have now seen the best movie of the year. It is April 6, 1917. The “War to end all wars” will rage on until the Treaty of Versailles is signed on November 11, 1918. Armistice Day commemorated that event until it was renamed Veterans Day in 1954. This is a uniquely effective, immersive film, due to being filmed in a continuous single camera shot (technically, listed as edited to appear as one shot). Only at one point at about the mid point did the screen go black, allowing for a reset, but then continued on in single camera fashion to the end. The difficulty of doing this, both from a cinematography perspective, performance by the actors, staging, lighting and set construction are hard to conceive, but Sam Mendes pulled it all together in the best war movie since  Saving Private Ryan .  And perhaps this could have been called  Saving Lieutenant Blake . 1917  was filmed in the UK on April 1, 2019. Imagine rehearsing the entire two hour journey of two young British soldiers

Fantasy Island

Ultimately, this is the “Tattoo” origin story. It just takes far too long to find that out. This is a low budget reimagining of the 1978 TV show by the same name that ran for an unbelievable six years. Launching off of the even more unbelievable success of  The Love Boat’s  eventual ten years at sea, this represents a dry period in the history of television, despite the vast waters that surrounded each show. Both ran concurrently with the long-running comedy game show  Hollywood Squares . These were simpler times, and the shows all provided a home for minor celebrities of the day.   Mister Roarke is back, but instead of the suave and sophisticated Ricardo Montalban, we now have the rather sleepy and thuggish looking Michael Peña who has played Ponch in the movie version of CHIPS and Enrique 'Kiki' Camarena in the Netflix series Narcos. He does an adequate job with the script but is unconvincing as the docent of a living island with magical powers. He is clearly bored and