First Run Features
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Julia Newman
Writer: Julia Newman
Cast: Michio Kaku, Michael Paley, Alice Calaprice, Herbert Freeman, Jr., Susan Neiman, Barbara Picht, Jürgen Renn, Ze’ev Rosencranz, Robert Schulmann, Milena Wazeck
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/6/20
Opens: On Apple TV, iTunes, Amazon VOD & DVD

Still a Revolutionary - Albert Einstein (2020) - IMDb

Someone once said that the four people who have influenced today’s world the most were Jews: Jesus, Freud, Marx, and Einstein. Jesus influenced one the world’s great religions followed by some two billion people. Marx was the intellectual founder or a religion of its own, communism, which though not so popular today as it once was serves as a leading critique of capitalism. Freud, in his theory of the unconscious, believed that we know not what we do since most of our emotions come from the unconscious, and Einstein said that everything is relative, which is said to be a mighty important insight.

In her freshman documentary, Julia Newman focuses not on Einstein’s contributions to the laws of physics, which many people do not understand and which in my college compelled the professor to boost everybody’s grades or nobody would have passed. Instead she looks at the physicist’s moral code, not greatly different from that of people who are quite spiritual on Sundays. He followed the beat of a different drummer, opposing the rule of conformity that guides everyone with a smart phone.

For one, he opposed war. He criticized the march of extreme nationalism that led to a particularly stupid war in 1914, left Germany to be with his folks in Italy, then returned to his homeland (the only instance in which he was not smart) under the Weimar constitution. Perhaps it was the anti-Semitism of his southern German home that turned him away from the bullying. A teacher once brought a nail to the classroom, noting that Jesus was crucified with such, humiliating Albert who was the only Jewish person in the class.

The key word in this documentary is “compartmentalization,” the idea that we separate our lives into clear divisions: family, friends, work, politics. This explains that under the Nazis (1933-1945) a German soldier could love his kin and his dog, yet harbor murderous hate toward people who are not like him, or who he believes are not like him. Some men do not like women very much. Einstein spoke in favor of women’s rights. He was pro-choice, and being anti-nationalist did not at first believe that Jews should have a state of its own. He came around to favor the creation of Israel and enjoyed a friendship with its founder, David Ben-Gurion. He supported demonstrations for the rights of minorities and was friendly to Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson. Though brought up Jewish, he was a pantheist like Spinoza, believing “the whole universe is God,” a notion that is akin to atheism.

When he escaped from the Holocaust, winding up in New York, he abandoned his pacifism, holding that you have to meet force with force.

Though he was a celebrity, who mixed easily with people and could talk with anyone from kings to children, he was considered a luftmensch, naïve, an absent-minded Princetonian professor, a fellow who did not seem grounded. When he was scheduled to meet some big shot, his wife told him to wear a suit, but he refused. “If they want to see my clothes, they can look in my closet.”

See if you can guess what he would think of the people in power in our present government.

Director Newman’s film has too many talking heads, though their comments are backed up by some valuable archival celluloid. We see Einstein as a man, laughing, talking, a social butterfly really, making us wonder when he had time to make contributions that led to the creation of the atom bomb, to inspire his students at Princeton, and to be a rebel with a cause. Though he was at ease with ordinary people, he was an elitist who preferred to exchange ideas with other intellectuals. Julia Newman shows the man in all of his guises, providing an entertaining enough vehicle for our consumption.

80 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B+

THE AERONAUTS – movie review

Amazon Studios
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Tom Harper
Screenwriter: Jack Thorne, story by Tom Harper, Jack Thorne,s 2013 book “Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air.”
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Phoebe Fox, Himesh Patel, Rebecca Front
Screened at: Whitby Hotel, NYC, 11/28/19
Opens: December 6, 2019

The Aeronauts Movie Poster

Human beings have dreamed of flying since the Greek mythology adventurer Icarus, son of Daedelus, was given wings of wax and feathers. He was warned not to fly too close to the sun, but Icarus was ecstatic at his ability to zoom through the air, ignoring the warning by flying close to the sun. His wings melted and he fell to the earth. Well, there’s a fellow willing to risk his life for his dream, while some years later, the Wright brothers took their lives into the hands in 1903 from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in a flight that lasted only minutes. Between the Wright brother and the ancient Greeks, we have conquered flight by way of balloons at least since the mid-18th century. “The Aeronauts” tells us, for example, in a movie inspired by an actual event, that the fictitious character Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) and the actual character James Glaisher, took a chance on breaking a balloon record by flying 38,000 feet, or about seven miles closer to the sun. Instead of melting, however, they wound up freezing their buns off at five degrees of temperature and a scant ability to breathe when they reached a height greater than that of Mount Everest. Too bad the snobbish, insular, stuffy old men with long white beards claiming to be scientists would not think of allowing a woman to take part in the noble experiment—which is why director Tom Harper’s use of Amelia is fiction.

Almost nobody believed that weather could be predicted by any means whatever, but Glaisher, a scientist, is motivated to break barriers of technology while his companion Wren is simply an adventurer. When they take off in 1862—during a year that Americans were battling one another in the War Between the States—they feared only that they might lose the war against nature. There were fearsome winds, rain before they ascended past the clouds, and possibilities that their balloon might burst, but given the physically challenging work especially of Amelia Wren (while her partner was busy writing in the record book), they fought against Mother Nature particularly when they had ascended to the record-breaking height and their breathing was so shallow that they could have died. The movie unfolds virtually in running time, broken up through several flashbacks that indicate the motivations of the duo.

Histrionics are on display now and then. Cheered by a crowd of 10,000 spectators who paid tickets to watch them take off, Amelia would enter the ring with a flourish, turning somersaults and making announcements to the crowd that belie the idea that women would be such exhibitionists during those pre-feminist times. Amelia even threw her Jack Russell Terrier from the balloon at a flight of a thousand feet or so, the automatic parachute opening just as the shocked crowd is about to boo the explorers. If the pigeons that James used to carry messages to earth were real and not animations, the movie could not show in end credits that “no animals were harmed in the making,” since one of the birds had died from the sparse oxygen within the basket.

Director Tom Harper is in his métier, following up last year’s “Wild Rose,” about a Glaswegian dreaming of becoming a country singer. “The Aeronauts” is PG-13, suitable for kids, especially those who when asked what they want to be opt to become astronauts. The film is a wild ride with interesting characters, crack cinematography by George Steele aiming his lenses over several parts of England. Toward the conclusion it looks as though the twosome, inches apart, might kiss—and more—but this is out of the question given the hoped-for size of its movie audience.

101 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+