Movie reviews: ‘Oppenheimer,’ ‘Barbie,’ ‘Theater Camp’

Oppenheimer: 4 and a half stars

Oppenheimer, the story of the father of the atomic bomb, is not a biopic of scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer. Director Christopher Nolan, in his 12th film, has included some biographical detail in telling the story of the man who invented the first nuclear weapon, but the film is more about the result than the creation.

“Just because we’re making an atomic bomb doesn’t mean we can decide how it will be used,” he says of the bomb.

Nolan divides the story into two sections. The colorful “Fission” follows the life of the prickly Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) as a tormented genius who overcomes anti-Semitism to rise through the ranks of the scientific elites of Europe and America and is recruited by the brusque Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) to oversee the Manhattan Project. For defeating the Nazis and Russia in the race to produce weapons of mass destruction, Oppenheimer has become, in his own words, “the destroyer of the world.”

His close ties to the Communist Party, through ex-girlfriend psychiatrist Gene Tatlock (Florence Pugh) and brother Frank (Dylan Arnold), are just one component of his left-leaning beliefs that ultimately led to his secrecy clearance being revoked. Rethinking his political views and the destructive power he unleashed upon the world puts him at odds with his military boss and founding member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Louis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.). Those events provide material for another section of the film, the austere black-and-white “fusion.”

An adaptation of Martin Sherwin and Kai Byrd’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the three-hour “Oppenheimer” is as dark as the weekend contest “Barbie” is bright.

Nolan takes his time telling the story, weaving together threads of scientific, psychological and political narrative to create a rich tapestry that goes beyond the chatty nature of the script. He derives great drama and tension from this story, which is essentially a retelling of two courts interrupted by the history-altering Big Bang.

Much of the film’s success is due to Murphy, who, while reciting a plethora of lines, goes deep inside to portray Oppenheimer’s brilliant intellect. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema shows Murphy’s stoic face in widescreen close-ups, demonstrating not only the great intelligence of the role but also the actor’s ability to reveal the realization that the power he ushered in will not be fully understood until it’s too late.

The Trinity Test sequence, which depicts the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, is a masterclass in Less is more filmmaking. Nolan deftly builds tension with a countdown clock and Ludwig Goransson’s unnerving soundtrack, but it’s the look of scientific accomplishment softened by the accompanying moral reckoning that spreads across Murphy’s face the moment the bomb explodes, cutting into the film’s core themes of innovation and consequence.

Murphy is backed by a top-notch cast, including Matt Damon, who exudes movie star charisma, and Downey Jr., who erases Tony Stark’s memory in one of the most interesting performances outside of Murphy since Zodiac.

But the real star is Nolan. ‘Oppenheimer’ delivers a personal tale of epic responsibility, with the director going all out. The cleverest blockbuster of the season, a period piece about a man with moral challenges to power and how to wield it, resonates as much now as it did when it happened.

Barbie: 4 stars

Those expecting Barbie, the new sex-fighting fantasy starring Margot Robbie as the title doll, to be a two-hour Mattel ad, may be shocked to learn that it’s actually an arcane film about what it means to be human. It’s an existential crisis Barbie!

“Since time immemorial,” narrator Helen Mirren says in unison. “Dolls have existed since the first little girl existed.

First introduced in 1959, this blonde plastic doll with arched legs and an optimistic outlook is by design capable and capable of anything.

“Thanks to Barbie, all the problems of inequality and feminism have been solved.”

At least, that’s what “stereotypical” Barbie (Robbie) believes.

She lives in Fluorescent Barbieland, a women’s paradise where “every day is the best day ever.” It was the same yesterday, it will be the same tomorrow, and it will always be the same. ”

Barbie the Robbie, Barbie the Doctor (Hari Neff), Barbie the Nobel Prize in Physics (Emma Mackie), Barbie the Mermaid (Dua Lipa), Barbie the Supreme Court Justice (Ana Cruz Kane), Barbie the President (Issa Rae) and many others live in the Dreamhouse and are free from public concern.

Barbie’s platonic friends, the Ken family (played by Kingrusy Ben Adeel, Scott Evans, Shim Liu and Nukti Gatwa) are also on board. Barbie may have a great day every day, but for her lovestruck Beach Ken (Ryan Gosling), her great day is only when Barbie is watching him.

Mostly sunshine and dance parties in candy-coloured Barbieland, but these days Barbie is in trouble.

“Have you ever thought of dying?” she wonders aloud.

Equally disturbing is that her arched feet, which are perfect for the super high heels she always wears, were squashed after a fall.

“Several things have happened that may be related,” she says. “Cold showers. Fall off the roof. And heels on the ground.”

After all, it turns out that there is a rift in continuous time and space between the dolls and the real world. Barbieland elder Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) advises that the only way to cure Barbie’s creeping ennui is to go to the real world and find a little girl to play with. The two are inexplicably intertwined. If a girl is sad, it might tell Barbie.

“In no time you’ll be back with perfect feet and it’s like nothing happened,” she says.

Brought to Venice Beach, the real world is nothing like what Ken, who has been madly in love with Barbie, expected.

“Nobody can rest until Barbie doll is back in the box,” dictates Mattel’s CEO, Will Ferrell.

Unlike the dolls on which the movies are based, Barbie has a large, beating heart. An examination of what it means to be alive, to be a woman, to feminism, patriarchy and toxic masculinity, this hilarious and humane social satire could set a world record for the use of the word ‘patriarchy’ in cinema.

Director Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Baumbach of Noah’s The Squid and the Whale, takes a maximalist approach in creating Barbie’s thermonuclear pink world. It’s a spirited and playful representation of her life, like Barbie doll’s dream home magically brought to life. It leans heavily into the Mattel legend and is sure to stir up feelings of nostalgia for Barbie Heads.

“I’m the Barbie that comes to mind when someone says ‘Barbie,'” she says.

But when Barbie leaves the superficial life she’s known so far, her head is filled with the unfamiliar. A flood of emotions. In a world as opposed to feminist utopias like Barbieland, exposure to submission and objectification—“basically everything men do in your world, women do in mine,” she says—had a profound effect on her self-perception. She may still dress like a “hot skating Barbie,” but her perspective has changed and she’s now longing for the meaning of her life, to figure out who she really is.

Robbie brings Barbie’s journey to life with a performance that’s both heartfelt and hilarious. Gosling steals the show in a more comedic role, playing Ken, a flimsy, dumb man whose quest for misogyny takes up much of the film’s second half.

“Barbie” is not your typical summer blockbuster or your typical toy movie. Of course it does both, but somehow finds a way to push it back and become its own plastic and political thing. The piece has both style and content, and while the final volume can be confusing with the story becoming too lively, Gerwig’s perspective on gender roles and how women are treated in society delivers little punch.

Theater Camp: 3 Stars

“Theatre Camp,” now in theaters, is a mockumentary set in a cash-strapped theater camp in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, where “the last kids picked at the gym end up on the team.”

Written and starred by Ben Platt and Molly Gordon, the children of a theater camp who actually made it to Broadway, the film takes place at Camp Adirond ACTS, a summer school for aspiring drama actors. When owner Joan Lubinski (Amy Sedaris) falls into a coma after having a seizure while making “Bye Bye Birdie,” the future of the camp is questioned.

After Joanne is in intensive care, her brainless business vlogger son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) takes over. Faced with a nearly bankrupt camp operation, he is torn between abandoning his mother’s life plans or selling the land to his next-door neighbor, the very attractive Camp Lakeview.

Financial ruin may be on the horizon, but the show must go on. There is a season for running and a season for students to teach. Neither of them know what to do, so Troy enlists quirky acting teachers Amos (Ben Platt), Rebecca Diane (Gordon) and production manager Glenn (Noah Galvin) to put together a musical that will keep things running and attract attention to finish off the camp season.

“We are theater people,” says Glenn. “We know how to turn cardboard into gold.”

‘Theater Camp’ is perfect for audiences who love the 3 S’s: Sondheim, singing and the performing arts. This is a celebration of those who bowed to Patti LuPone’s altar and began singing naturally.

Updating Judy and Mickey’s “let’s put on a show” trope, the film is a story of musical underdogs that fits perfectly into the atmosphere of camp, a home for misfits who don’t fit in anywhere else. Focusing on campers and their teachers, Nathan Lee Graham made a memorable cameo as an instructor, saying: The rest will either be sent to a mental institution or a go-go box in Hell’s Kitchen. ”—This piece has a pleasant combination of humor and sweetness.

As production deepens into the final show, “Joan, Still,” the film’s one-joke premise begins to fade.

Combining a loving portrayal of theater camaraderie with edgy and awkward humor, “Theatre Camp” balances satire and macabre sweetness, celebrating theater kids culture but feeling a little too internal for a wider audience.

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