You want to know what’s scary? A teenager dropping a wrench onto an aging but still very potent nuclear missile. Even scarier is that the wrench hit so hard it poked a hole in the missile, which led to a fuel leak, which led to a massive explosion, killing one man, injuring others, and destroying the launch facility. Scarier than that is that this happened in 1980, in Arkansas. It wasn’t a secret. Then-governor Bill Clinton appeared on television to reassure Arkansans that everything was all right. Here’s what’s scary: no one remembers it, and it was just one of many “broken arrow” accidents involving nuclear weapons stored on US soil, and that’s just the ones we know about that took place in America. Who knows what is going on in other countries?
Based on a book by reporter Eric Schlosser, “Command and Control” tells the story of the Titan II Missile explosion with riveting interviews and seamless re-creations, moment by moment of the night the young airman dropped the wrench and the steps taken at great risk and great speed to prevent contamination. We see how painful the events still are to the people involved and how terrifyingly close we — meaning all of us on the planet — were to complete annihilation. Schlosser, whose calm delivery somehow makes it seem even more dire, has assembled a terrifying dossier of denial and neglect.
Director Robert Kenner (“Merchants of Doubt”) wisely presents it like a “tick-tock” thriller, a “Mission: Impossible” or James Bond story come to life. But this film has no supervillain attempting total world domination. This is a Pogo-style “we have met the enemy and he is us” story. Somehow, it is easier for us to believe that a Dr. Evil out there can devise a strategy to destroy us than to believe that in a world where most of us cannot re-set our car clocks for Daylight Savings Time, we keep designing machines that are too complicated for us to operate, or, in this case, even store safely. The bombs used during WWII were built and dropped. The deterrence-arsenal built up during the Cold War has created an unprecedented maintenance problem. We simply do not know how to take care of them or even whether it is possible to do so for decades or centuries.
It seems pretty obvious that at some point, someone is going to drop a wrench. Indeed, that seems far more likely than someone breaking in to do intentional damage. And yet, Kenner and Schlosser show us, calmly, devastatingly, while we argue about every other political issue, this one keeps being overlooked. This movie should make it harder to continue to do so.
Parents should know that the topic of this film is nuclear weapons. There are scenes of peril and explosions and discussions of injuries and death.
Family discussion: Which politicians are paying attention to this issue?
If you like this, try: “Merchants of Death”
It is 1951. Tilly arrives home in the dust-covered town, her stylish heels stepping off the bus onto the dirt road. She goes up the hill to her mother’s shack, when there is a question from the local sheriff. “Is that…….Dior?” It is not; it is one of Tilly’s own designs. But she acknowledges the Dior inspiration. Sargent Ferrat (Hugo Weaving) is dazzled by the bold colors and sumptuous fabrics of Tilly’s designs. He’s a secret cross-dresser.
Winslet is marvelous as Tilly, who has come home to see her mother, known as Mad Molly (Judy Davis of “My Brilliant Career”), to find out the true story of what led to her exile, and to extract some revenge, both of the “living well is the best” variety and of the old-fashioned “make them suffer” variety as well. Tilly, then known as Myrtle, was abused by her teacher and the students in her class because she was poor and because her mother was not married. After an incident that resulted in the death of a boy in her class, she was sent away. The experience was so traumatizing that she cannot let herself remember exactly what happened, and worries that she was responsible, as everyone thinks. “Am I a murderer?” she asks of her mother.
Director Jocelyn Moorhouse and editor Jill Bilcock bring a vibrant energy to the storytelling that suits the theme of Tilly’s force and focus having an impact on the insular little town, and it is a lot of fun to see assumptions challenged and relationships in upheaval. There is a woman crippled by her wife-beating husband, a pharmacist who seems to be suffering from ankylosing spondylitis as he is bent over parallel to the ground. A civil leader gives his wife, agoraphobic and germophobic since the death of their son, knock-out medicine and then rapes her when she is unconscious. There are vicious gossips and snobs. And there are a few kind-hearted people, Ferrat, who regrets his treatment of Tilly and Teddy (Liam Hemsworth, clearly relishing the chance to speak in his native accent and very swoon-worthy when he removes his shirt). Molly becomes less mad and more feisty under Tilly’s care. Ferrat is not the only one who cannot resist the chance to wear something spectacular. “A dress never changed anything,” a local girl longing to be noticed by the town’s most eligible bachelor says to “Tilly.” “Watch and learn, my girl. Watch and learn.” And we know a Cinderella at the ball moment is coming — when it does, it is breathtaking. Soon, the tiny backwater is populated with ladies wearing haute couture. This has to be a dream assignment for a costume designer, and Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson (Winslet’s clothes) rise to the occasion with fabulously gorgeous and entertaining dresses.
The heightened quality of the story makes the darker turns unexpected and disconcerting. It is not as much of a feel-good movie as it originally promises. But it has its odd pleasures, and one of them is that, like its heroine, it has style to space.
Parents should know that this movie includes some strong language, drinking and drunkenness, sexual references and situations with some nudity, adultery and questions of paternity, domestic violence, murder, and very sad deaths.
Family discussion: What did Tilly want from her return home? Why was Teddy different?
If you like this, try: “Strictly Ballroom” and “Muriel’s Wedding”
Oscar-winner Natalie Portman plays Jacqueline Kennedy in “Jackie,” which was featured at the Toronto Film Festival and has been picked up for theatrical release. Director Pablo Larraín retells this story of the young First Lady, only 34 when she entered the White House. Her grace and poise and elegance made her an instant icon. Structuring his film around Theodore H. White’s LIFE magazine interview with the First Lady, just a week after the assassination of her husband, it covers her return to the White House, arrangements for the President’s funeral, and accompanying her husband’s coffin to Arlington Cemetery. The Chilean filmmaker told Vanity Fair he would not have considered making the film without Portman.
“All the films I made before, like Neruda, are movies about male characters,” explains the filmmaker. “So I had to connect with things I never connected before and I did it in a very personal way. . .I talked to my mother [about Kennedy], and, from the international worldwide aspect, Kennedy was like the one and only queen that lived in this country. . .a queen without a throne.”
Barbra Streisand (that’s sand like by the ocean) and Melissa McCarthy sing an updated version of the Irving Berlin classic “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” on Streisand’s new album of Broadway duets.
Here’s the original song from “Annie Get Your Gun.”