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Bombs and Bombshells

Oppenheimer and Barbie



OPPENHEIMER. It comes as no surprise that Christopher Nolan's latest magnum opus should be heralded for its audacity and scale. He being a holdover from another time, if such a time even existed; all of his opuses are magnums. Seemingly to demonstrate this, or to prove that even the great director is susceptible to hubris, Nolan even pitted Tenet (2020) against the global pandemic. Results were mixed. So yes, of course the making of Oppenheimer required the detonation of a real(ish) atomic bomb with, as Cillian Murphy's titular character describes it, the attendant 10,000-foot column of fire. Again, no surprise.

The secret inside Oppenheimer, then, is that the movie is actually about death, both physical and figurative, a commentary about the end of the modern intellectual renaissance and a taut courtroom thriller rather ingeniously disguised as a biopic/historical drama.

Our entry point to the story is rather obvious: An iconoclastic genius is called upon by "his" government to devise and execute a plan to end the second world war. Plan, of course, being a euphemism for a weapon of unparalleled lethality and permanent, devastating geopolitical implications. To become death, the destroyer of worlds. The fascinating turn, though, is in Nolan's examination of Oppenheimer's almost artistic zeal for his field of study — physics, more specifically "the new physics" — coupled with a naive desire to do the right thing. That thing being, in the opinion of the U.S. Military, the destruction of an anti-Semitic fascist regime bent on world domination, which seems right enough to him. The cost of human life in Japan becomes a devastating concern for him after the bombings.

But Oppenheimer becomes unwittingly crucified on a crossroads of history, that terrible moment when military industrial dominance subsumed creativity and expression and the motive force of cultural consciousness. When, ultimately, the straw man of communism replaced fascism as the enemy of "freedom," thereby allowing the fascists to self-regulate.

Nolan presents the early-mid 20th century as a troubled time, to be sure, but one charged with possibility. Scientific discoveries abound, physicists appear on the covers of popular magazines. Even in the face of global conflict, ideas retain importance. Governments turn to explorers of thought to end wars.

And that, Oppenheimer posits, is the abrupt beginning of a larger end. Oppenheimer, the man, seduced by the unprecedented opportunity to advance his field of study, likely too self-important, fallible, falls prey to a rapidly evolving mechanism of suppression and control. And in clinging to his principles, including a curiosity and ambivalence about systems of power, he finds himself cast out of his own kingdom, tortured by the reality of what he hath wrought.

Oppenheimer is a war movie, in the superficial sense — it has to be. But the wars within oneself, the public battles for popular influence and the shadow conflicts resulting in a new dark age are really the stuff of Nolan's story. J. Robert Oppenheimer becomes representative of those many wars, those countless deaths, his ostracization being a small but nonetheless excruciatingly pointed symbol. For his continued questioning of his own ambition, for the virtue of his intelligence, he is vilified by the real villains. R. 180M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

BARBIE. To be perfectly honest, I was a little skeptical. I had no real right to be — Greta Gerwig's track record as director (Lady Bird, 2017; Little Women; 2019) is fairly unassailable. Maybe there's a little gender-normative asshole in me, after all. Consciously, though, my questions had more to do about the kandy-kolored fantasia of the thing, the seemingly unimaginable nuance it would require to translate the ubiquitous, problematic cultural icon into a work of contemporary art that could say something significant.

Thing is, Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach have proven themselves more than capable of what I thought impossible: they've rendered Barbie with such force and subtlety that even those members of the audience who don't want to hear what they have to say are going to show up in droves.

In Barbieland, Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) leaves a life of easy, unending enjoyment. She lives in her dream house, has an amazing wardrobe, drives a sweet Corvette and her heels never touch the ground. Every day is a beach day, every night is ladies' night, culminating in a choreographed dances with all the other Barbies. The handsome, empty-headed Kens (Ryan Gosling and Simu Liu foremost among them) mainly serve as set dressing. One day, though, SB's waffle comes out burned, there's cellulite on her thighs and she has intrusive thoughts of death.

So begins a saga wherein SB and, for better and worse, Ken rupture the diaphanous barrier between Barbieland and the real world, introducing notions of sexism, repression and self-identity into their formerly idyllic existence.

Barbie has the feeling of an instant classic, with its note-perfect sarcasm and cartoon beauty shot through with trenchant ideas about patriarchy and the manufactured gender conflict that has come to such a troubling boiling point, out here in the unreal world. PG13. 114M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.


EARTH MAMA. Drama about a pregnant single mom in the Bay Area trying to get her kids out of the foster system. R. 97M. MINOR.

ELEMENTAL. Animated adventure about a city of fire, water, earth and air elements. Voiced by Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie and Catherine O'Hara. PG. 93M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 (2010). Part of a Wednesday and Thursday morning $2 family series. PG13. 146M. BROADWAY.

HAUNTED MANSION. Another life for the Disney ride-inspired franchise with LaKeith Stanfield, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish and Jamie Lee Curtis. PG13. 123M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY. In ‹Art Imitating Life› news, Nazis are back. But so›s our favorite Nazi puncher. An aging Indy comes to the rescue in 1969 as the Nazis try to rise again – proving they›ll never hold a torch to him. PG13. 142M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

INSIDIOUS 3. In this prequel to the Insidious movies, we see how medium Elise develops her demon-fighting chops. While more emotionally complex than Insidious 1 and 2, it still packs plenty of jumps. Hold onto your popcorn. PG13. 97M. BROADWAY.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: DEAD RECKONING PART 1. Tom Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie uphold the gold standard for superhuman stunt choreography and engaging plot in a drum-tight spy thriller. PG13. 163M. BROADWAY.

SOUND OF FREEDOM. Child trafficking drama/thinly veiled Q-Anon propaganda film. Starring Jim Caviezel. PG13. 135M BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS (2016). Part of a Wednesday and Thursday morning $2 family series. PG. 90M. BROADWAY.

TALK TO ME. Aussie teens commune with spirits via an embalmed forearm handshake and things get ... out of hand. R. 95M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed due to earthquake damage. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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