Tag: chemistry

The Young Poisoner’s Handbook


The Young Poisoner’s Handbook (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★

Graham (Hugh O’Conor) has a fascination for chemistry because understanding the subject reveals every day mysteries that most people take for granted. But his passion is of no value in his family. He lives with his father (Roger Lloyd-Pack), stepmother (Ruth Sheen), and sister (Charlotte Coleman), all of whom consider Graham a pest who messes around with their belongings. In order to become a great scientist, Graham figures he needs an experiment that will set him apart from the rest. This plan involves introducing poison to the greatest number of people in a public place–a mass murder. But first, he needs a guinea pig: his stepmother.

“The Young Poisoner’s Handbook,” written by Jeff Rawle and Benjamin Ross, deals with its grim subject with confident joviality. What I loved about it is its consistency in challenging us to laugh, albeit uncomfortably, at the many afflictions that Graham causes to everyone around him yet keeping in mind that there is a sadness and tragedy in his genius.

His first poison of choice is antimony sulfide. It is a good poison because its symptoms are typical. Doctors often mistake its effects for treatable intestinal disorders so they assure the sick persons’ families that their loved ones’ condition is nothing to worry about. Graham’s stepmother is far from pleasant with her stepson so when she is made to suffer through vomiting and having irritable bowel syndrome, the scenes are very amusing. It does not come off cruel because the material focuses on what makes the young scientist tick through his actions, its repercussions, and his responses; his delusions of grandeur and intellectual superiority; and what he is willing to do or sacrifice in order to achieve his goals.

Graham may be lacking in conscience but no can deny that he is exemplary in observing, taking notes, and noticing trends. As he observes others, we observe him. Those beady eyes command an electric alacrity when he notices that his experiment is working. Meanwhile, our eyes widen from the increasingly horrific implications of his experiments.

Then Graham moves on to using thallium, commonly used to kill insects and rats. It is an even better poison than antimony sulfide because its effects vary depending on the person. But one thing people infected with thallium have in common is eventual alopecia. In charge of delivering medicine to his unsuspecting stepmother, he sprinkles just enough to push her into a catatonic state. Despite the dark comedy, we are aware of his nature.

The next third of the film introduces the question of whether Graham, after several tests indicates that he is a psychotic, can be rehabilitated. During his time in the mental hospital, he manipulates people to gain freedom. Interestingly, for him, freedom does not necessarily mean a chance to start over like most people who genuinely feel bad about the things they have done. Graham has an obsession and he needs to scratch an itch. His purpose is not to reconnect, make amends, or attempt to lead a normal life. In his words, he has to make thallium “tasteless, orderless, and untraceable.”

Directed by Benjamin Ross, “The Young Poisoner’s Handbook” is macabre, clever, twisted, some would label it “sick,” and based on a true story. And I watched spellbound.

The Philadelphia Story


The Philadelphia Story (1940)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When the sassy socialite Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) was about to marry a man (John Howard) who didn’t grow up from a family with money, Tracy’s ex-husband (Cary Grant) who still had feelings for her arrived prior to the big event to stir some trouble, along with him a reporter (James Stewart) and a photographer (Ruth Hussey). I instantly fell in love with “The Philadelphia Story” because of the effortless, magnetic chemistry between Hepburn, Grant and Stewart. The way they interacted with each other was so natural, I felt like I was listening to friends having a friendly banter and I couldn’t help but smile. I might not have gotten all the jokes because the comedy was a bit different back then but the bona fide feeling of the actors having a good time in their roles transcends time. I loved something about each of the leading actors. Hepburn played a plucky character with a distinct voice who wanted to show the world that she was strong but there were moments where she wore her weaknesses on her sleeve. Grant played a mysterious character who I found the most difficult to connect with but as the film went on, I felt his genuine love for his ex-wife and the pain and jealousy of seeing her with another man. As for Stewart’s character, my absolute favorite, he was charming, funny, and witty–such characteristics culminated when, ironically enough, he was drunk out of his mind. I was surprised with how much I was invested in the characters because some synopses I read described the picture as a screwball comedy. Perhaps I just had bad experiences with movies labeled as “screwball comedy” but I thought the movie was so much more than that. Not only did it have real moments of sensitivity and a little bit of romance but it did not settle for the obvious. I could see why Hepburn’s character was torn between her husband-to-be, her ex-husband, and the reporter because they all have positive and negative qualities about them. I also admired George Cukor, the director, for being efficient with his time. Not one moment did I feel bored or that the movie was going too slow because he kept the lead characters talking and he let the quirky supporting characters in and out at just about the right moments. I especially enjoyed Virginia Weidler as the nosy kid who wanted attention and the way she would act as if she was one of the adults. “The Philadelphia Story” is known as a classic comedy and I believe rightfully so.

It’s Complicated


It’s Complicated (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Jane (Meryl Streep) and Jake (Alec Baldwin) had been divorced for ten years. In that time period, Jake married a much younger woman and Jane established herself as an independent woman by running her own business. But the two began having an affair during their son’s (Hunter Parrish) college graduation and that’s when things began to get complicated (and convoluted). The picture had good focus when it tried to explore the dynamics of the relationship between the two former married couple. There was a certain energy about it that felt fresh because the two actors were clearly having fun in their roles. The script may not have been as realistic as I would have liked but I found myself smiling at the fact that two people of a certain age could still be romantic and have fun. Streep and Baldwin had good chemistry because both were so colorful and both could deliver power in their scenes when they really needed to. I also enjoyed Jane’s relationship with her charming architect played by Steve Martin. Spending time with him made her realize things she’s somewhat forgotten such as letting go of control once in a while and just have fun. However, whenever the film shifted its focus to the impact of the romantic entanglements on the children, I just didn’t believe it. I found it difficult to accept the fact that none of the three children (not including John Krasinski as the future son-in-law who was sometimes amusing, sometimes distracting) had the maturity to accept the fact that former couples can fall for each other again. Haven’t they had past relationships themselves? They didn’t act their age (the youngest was in college) and I cringed at the scene when Streep was forced to explain and justify her decisions to them. I felt like all three of them had the same brain and I wished that they weren’t in it at all. The kids dragged the movie down instead of adding a new dimension to the story. However, I did admire the way the movie ended because, just like the three leads, it handled the complicated situation in a mature way and it was able to impart some sort of wisdom regarding trust and fragility of relationships. Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, “It’s Complicated” offers a nice perspective concerning people in their 50s and what it means to find and rediscover romance. I was glad that it took the time to focus solely on Streep and Baldwin initially and eventually just Streep and Martin. It highlighted the positive and negative qualities of both men and it explained why Streep was torn between them. “It’s Complicated” is not a bad movie because it has charm and is accessible. However, it too often suffered from almost tried-and-true sitcom-like set-ups especially the scenes involving the family.

The 39 Steps


The 39 Steps (1935)
★★★ / ★★★★

Loosely based on the novel by John Buchan and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, “The 39 Steps” was about a man named Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) on the run to prove his innocence after a woman (Lucie Mannheim) who was staying with him told him bits of information about the 39 Steps and was then killed. I’ve read that this was Hitchcock’s first international success in the film industry and I believed it showed. Even though it wasn’t as strong as some of my personal favorites from Hitchcock (“North by Northwest,” “Dial M for Murder,” “Notorious”), this was where he introduced some of the elements that he used in his later films to produce such powerful force of human drama and adrenaline-fueled (yet astute) action sequences. In this picture, I loved how the story would evolve in a matter of minutes or by saying key lines or two. I also admired how the director chose to end a scene, despite it lasting only thirty seconds or so, right when he finished getting his point across. With thrillers (and movies in general) today, many scenes are dragged on which contributes to running times of two hours or more. In “The 39 Steps,” although the movie was under an hour and thirty minutes, it was efficient with its time so it was able to accomplish so much. It actually treats its audiences like intelligence people instead of simplifying everything; the depths and implications in the story allowed us to identify with the characters as we questioned ourselves what would we have done when placed in the same situations. Yet at the same time, this film achieved most thrillers could not: it was comedic. Don’t get me wrong, the comedy did not get in the way of its tone. It’s just that funny things happen when people panic and placed in very desperate situations. Such amusing scenes happened whenever Richard and Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) were on screen because they had such chemistry but they did not like each other from the moment they met on the train. It goes without saying that I’m giving “The 39 Steps” a solid recommendation because the way it explored its themes and characters was beyond its time. Another reason was it was downright entertaining. Don’t let the black and white fool you because it was actually able to use shadows to its advantage–like the best noir films in the 1940s and the 1950s.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
★★ / ★★★★

I feel like I’m the only person in the world who didn’t enjoy this western classic about two fugitives, Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford), who decided to go to Bolivia in order to escape the law and rob banks there instead. Directed by George Roy Hill, Newman and Redford were definitely charismatic and their characters had a brotherly chemistry without even trying; unfortunately, everything about it was so blasé to the point where I thought I was watching boys acting on their id rather than men trying to accomplish something that they could be proud of (no matter unlawful such things may be). Although it had a lot of energy especially during the chase and gun-wielding scenes, the movie had no idea when to turn down the energy and focus on the characters so that the audiences would know more about the two leads, such as where they came from, why the turned to the life of crime and what was it about their relationship that made them dependent on each other. The romantic angle regarding Katharine Ross as Etta Place was a mere filler for me. Those scenes lacked passion and sensuality so I was somewhat uncomfortable watching it. I wish Redford and Newman’s characters had more edge or danger instead of just being likable because there were times when I thought the film glorified violence. Except for the final minutes, I didn’t feel like their actions had any sort of consequences so the movie became one-dimensional for too long. I expected a lot coming into this film because I’ve heard from both critics and audiences alike that it was nothing short of exemplary. Perhaps I was in a bad mood when I saw the picture, I don’t know, but it didn’t engage me like “Bonnie and Clyde,” with which it had a number of parallels. I wouldn’t have minded the (very light) humor so much if it let the darkness took over from time to time. It’s a shame because I really do love watching Newman and Redford because I think they’re very talented actors. Luckily, they star together again in “The Sting,” a movie that really showcases the two of them as a whole package backed up with superior writing and direction (also by George Roy Hill).

Conversations with Other Women


Conversations with Other Women (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Conversations with Other Women,” directed by Hans Canosa started off with seemingly two strangers (Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter) flirting and finding some sort of connection. Eventually, they realized that they’ve known each other in the past–ten years to be exact. What I love most about this picture was its ability to present opposites and the insights that go with them. For instance, Eckhart was more light-hearted and likes to makes jokes while Carter was more of a Debbie Downer and oozes sarcasm. The split-screen worked well because it played upon the very opposite of things, such as one screen would present the past while the other the present, one screen would present reality while the other fantasy, and then back to the characters as it captured the exact facial responses and body languages when the two would converse. I understand that a plethora of people were put off by this film because of the split-screen and the fact that the whole movie was an extended conversation between two past lovers. However, I didn’t find anything bothersome about it. In fact, the whole thing made me smile because it reminded me of great films like Louis Malle’s “My Dinner with Andre” and Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.” With a short running span of one hour and twenty minutes, it was very efficient because the first half was more about the comedy and rekindling an old romance, while the second half–after the sex which was the midpoint–focused more on the circumstances on why these two people, despite their obvious chemistry, could potentially never be together. I recommend this film to anyone interested in great conversations because it made me feel like I was right there in the room with them. To be honest, I found myself laughing out loud with some of the jokes and teasing that each character threw at each other, something that happens in real life. Another reason why I was glad to have finally seen this movie was seeing Carter play a “normal” person. Whenever I see her, I usually think of her being an evil witch (“Harry Potter” series) or a woman who serves pies made of human flesh (“Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”). This is a strong, quick-paced little movie and intelligent cinema lovers should not miss it.