Friday, July 21, 2023

'Oppenheimer' speaks loud volumes; Initially sharp 'Barbie' goes flat

Color Christopher Nolan's often astonishing "Oppenheimer" long, loud, and a living -- though not exactly loving -- tribute to "the father of the atomic bomb."

The entire project rocks with great actors and recognizable faces, portraying famously brilliant scientists, spouting magnitudes of historical perspective, and playing a last act that mixes vile McCarthyism with America's overwhelming fixations on heroism and winning.

Director Nolan shares writing credits with Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, as based on their "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer," whose 800 pages often fit on the big screen like a riveting thriller.

Key to it all, though, might be the king-sized performance by diminutive, Nolan-film regular Cillian Murphy, whose intense magnetism in the title role allows fellow players to orbit around his Oppy planet like mere satellites.

Important (read: well-known) names include Gary Oldman (Harry Truman), Tom Conti (Albert Einstein), Kenneth Branagh (engaging physicist Niels Bohr), and Matt Damon (Leslie Groves, the Pentagon builder who chose Oppenheimer to head the top-secret Manhattan Project in now-fabled Los Alamos). We certainly cannot and will not neglect Emily Blunt (the tough and troubled Mrs. O.), Florence Pugh (full-fledged Communist mistress Jean Tatlock), or a nicely provocative Robert Downey Jr., whose companion story as Cabinet-hopeful Lewis Strauss adds more intriguing surprises to the rich mix.

See it, believe it, then await the end-of-year awards mentions for Nolan, his energetic ensemble, and killer creative team.

Rated "R" by MPAA: some sexuality, nudity, language; 3:00; $ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5.

My biggest complaint about "Barbie," the other alleged blockbuster on this weekend's movie menu, mostly surrounds the lack of legitimately playful substance for girls and boys still young enough to toy with the Mattel doll that has been alive now for 65 years.

I mean, a screenplay that so easily throws around words such as patriarchy, cellulite, and existential does not a kids' movie make, even if a "PG-13" stamp probably should provide enough encouragement to keep anyone but mature children under age 12 or so away from theaters showing it.

Alas, with promotion dollars making every child in the free world aware of the movie's existence, that certainly will not be the case. As a result, many parents who cannot resist the wishes of their darling 5-, 7-, or 10-year-olds, might be shocked -- or worse -- by what "stereotypical" Barbie (a fine Margot Robbie) discovers about the real world (at least according to director Greta Gerwig, who co-writes with partner Noah Baumbach).

In short, after an acceptably sweet and funny first 20 minutes, the performance of Ryan Gosling (as the ever-clueless Ken) and a grandly overstated, feminist soliloquy by America Ferrera, as a former Barbie mom now currently disenchanted as a real mother, become hip highlights of this more silly than clever movie.

And, if anyone cares, 9-year-old grandgirl Vivian, who still plays with every Barbie product just about ever made, ONLY gives thumbs up to those swell opening minutes.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: suggestive references and brief language; 1:54; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5.

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