MOVIES: An Oppenheimer companion piece illuminates and raises questions

Only a few new ones this week; the Oppenheimer and Barbie hold is still too strong. But there’s a sidebar to one and a kid-friendly fantasy somewhat nearby the other. And a modern relationship drama. Not Meg 2, though. Warner Brother’s didn’t provide a preview, but incidentally there’s an impressive-sounding history of that studio starting Sunday.

The title isn’t very imaginative: 100 Years of Warner Bros., but it’s narrated by Morgan Freeman and in four parts tells the studio’s history from its founding by the four brothers, through the first talking picture, to Casablanca, Bette Davis, Harry Potter (I expect), and on and on. Big stars and directors are among the 60 people interviewed. In Canada it’s showing on the Hollywood Suite site. My preview hasn’t arrived yet but maybe I’ll cover it next week.

For now, there are these:

A Compassionate Spy: 4 stars

Shortcomings: 3 ½

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mutant Mayhem: 3

A COMPASSIONATE SPY: This is a valuable addition to the Oppenheimer story. While J. Robert was accused of being a security risk with left-wing sympathies and the Rosenbergs were executed for passing atomic secrets to the Soviets, Ted Hall, according to this documentary, was much more complicit but got off scott free. Who? Theodore Hall was part of the atom bomb project at Los Alamos, a brilliant physicist, recruited when he was only 18 but slowly developing doubts. The US would be too powerful if it was the only country with that weapon. Russia was an ally at the time, but how long would that last? A close friend provided the analysis and with his urging and, apparently, collaboration Ted passed along the information that was key to creating the bomb. There’s video tape of him admitting it and giving his reasons. That was recorded not long before his death in 1999 and we see several excerpts from it.

Courtesy of MongrelMedia

But the heart of the film is provided by his wife Joan. She’s seen in a recent interview, sharing memories and still supporting what he did. He had told her during their courtship but she married him anyway and moved with him to England when the red scare era erupted in the 1950s. He expressed some doubts when he learned more about Stalin’s Russia. She doesn’t mention any. It’s an example of how some people keep on supporting an idea no matter what. There are also memories from their children and the children of his collaborator, context from two authors, scenes re-created with actors and a lot of archival footage including a clip of Harry Truman’s tiny laugh when talking about Hiroshima. It’s a strong film by Steve James, twice Oscar-nominated and best known for Hoop Dreams. (Arthouse theaters in Toronto and Vancouver) 4 out of 5

SHORTCOMINGS: It premiered at Sundance, drew accolades there and no wonder. It’s a typical indie relationship drama with young urbanites living in a hip, modern scene but distracted by their own foibles. Movies like this resonate with a lot of people and this time particularly with Asians. Acceptance and diversity is a main theme although immaturity is the central character’s real problem.

Ben, played by Justin H. Min, is unlikeable and opiniated. He runs a failing movie theater in Oakland, Calif., lives with Miko (Ally Maki) but has an eye for white women, both at work, at a party and on porn sites. Miko comments; he defends and then alludes to a double standard which raises the subject of representation of Asians in movies and elsewhere. A short spoof of Crazy Rich Asians opens the film and while that’s clever it gives way to it’s real goal: exploring his character flaws, mispeaking and sarcastically criticizing being the worst.

Courtesy of Mongrel Media

When Miko lands an internship in New York, and before he goes there to find her, he’s free to play the field with his friend Alice (Sherry Cola), a new hire at his theatre (Tavi Gevinson) or a sexy blonde (Debby Ryan) who he meets at a party, although he’s advised that “She’s total bad news.” She’s a performance artist who’s act includes a man totally naked. That’s the kind of film this is: eccentric and modern. It’s from a graphic novel by Adrian Tomine, who also wrote the screenplay, and is smoothly and briskly directed by actor Randall Park. It’s sharply observed, edgy with social commentary and often funny. But best for hipsters. (In theaters) 3 ½ out of 5

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM: They started in comics almost 40 years ago as a spoof of super hero stories and this is their 7th full-length movie. But it’s the first written by Seth Rogen and his pal Evan Goldberg and produced by the company they named after their Vancouver highschool. It may not be the last either because this one is fun. It has the feel of super hero movies and distinctive artwork in the animation that looks casual, like sketches, at times. It’s far more inventive than you might expect and yes it’s fine for kids, though there’s a lot of punching and fighting. You know turtles.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo are actually voiced by teen actors this time, a first for these films, though hardly necessary. They face off against some big-name actors doing voices, John Cena, Paul Rudd, Giancarlo Esposito, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Jackie Chan and most notably Ice Cube snarling it up as a villain gang leader right out of a Blaxploitation film and appropriately named Superfly. He’s a mutant too and says that makes him sort of a cousin to the turtles. They don’t buy it. They encounter him when they come up from below, join the bright-lit crowd in New York and hope to be accepted like regular teens. They help out a woman named April O’Neil and that sprarks an idea. If they can turn into heros, people will accept them. That puts them against Superfly and triggers all the fighting. It’s not art but it’s got energy and zest and is directed by Jeff Rowe who did The Mitchells vs The Machines, also a good one, for Netflix a while back. (In theaters everywhere) 3 out of 5

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