Movie Review: Ammonite (2020)


TitleAmmonite
Release Date: September 11, 2020
Director: Francis Lee
Production Company: BBC Films | British Film Institute | See-Saw Films
Summary/Review:

This film is based on the real life of Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) who was an underappreciated pioneer of paleontology who found and studied fossils along the coast of the English Channel at Lyme Regis. The film begins with Anning reluctantly guiding a geology enthusiast, Roderick Murchison (James McArdle) on one of her collecting trips on the shore.  Accompanying Murchison is his wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) who is suffering severe depression.  Roderick arranges for Charlotte to remain in Lyme Regis for convalescence and pays Mary Anning to take Charlotte on her trips to the shore.

The better part of the movie is Mary and Charlotte slowly lowering their defenses, becoming friends, and then beginning a romance.  I thought with the stellar lead actors and the true life story of Anning’s contributions to science that this would be an interesting film. Winslet and Ronan do their best, but the whole movie has a paint-by-numbers approach full of well-worn tropes of period dramas and lesbian romance.  We certainly don’t learn much about the real Mary Anning and Charlotte Murchison, which is a shame, because even their short Wikipedia entries detail fascinating lives.

I’m not sure if this is a noble failure or if Francis Lee just totally missed the point, but what we end up here is a pretty, but hollow, film.

Rating: **1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending April 17


Best of the Left :: Our Democracy is Filibusted, Time to Kill the Filibuster

The filibuster is a tool of white supremacy and it must be eliminated to allow the United States to pursue freedom and equality for all.

99% Invisible ::  Welcome to Jurassic Art Redux

The best way most people have to understand how extinct animals like the dinosaurs lived is through art.  Over the years, paleoart has transitioned from maintaining outdated ideas, to illustrating new understandings of dinosaurs, to entirely speculative art of different possibilities of how dinosaurs looked and acted.

Throughline :: The Real Black Panthers

If your understanding of the Black Panther Party is informed by depictions like Forrest Gump of a group of radical Blacks who hate white people, it’s worth listening to this podcast to learn what they actually understood.  In reality, the Black Panthers were seen as a threat by the FBI, and others, due to their radical vision of cross-racial activism.

The Story Collider :: Stories of COVID-19: Teachers

Teachers have dealt with a lot during the pandemic, from the brunt of redesigning education for remote learning on a moment’s notice to being the target of anger from parents and politicians.  Here are some of their stories.

Unf*cking the Republic :: AOC & the Lying Men Hydra

New York congressional representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the target of rage from Republicans, establishment Democrats, and Leftists alike.  This podcast explains what they have in common.

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Awards for 2021

Photopost: American Museum of Natural History


Last weekend my son & I made a whirlwind visit to my mother in New York and we stopped by to visit the American Museum of Natural History. Highlights include:

  • the 3-D movie Earthflight where it felt like birds flew threw the theater and included an exciting sequence of gannets, dolphin, and fish all interacting underwater.
  • the mind-blowing comparisons of sizes of cosmic objects in the Rose Center of Earth and Space
  • The Willamette Meteorite (my son still doesn’t believe it’s real)
  • paleontoligical remains of dinosaurs and ancient mammals of unusual size

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Related post: Photopost: American Museum of Natural History (2015)

Book Review: The Humans Who Went Extinct by Clive Finlayson


Author: Clive Finlayson
TitleThe humans who went extinct : why Neanderthals died out and we survived
Publication Info: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2009.
Summary/Review:

Finlayson is a paleontologist from Gibraltar who writes in this book about Neanderthals as a species of human that evolved parallel to the ancestors of homo sapiens.  Finlayson challenges common beliefs such as the “Out of Africa” theory, noting that ancestral humans and proto-humans could move freely back and forth between Africa and the Eurasian landmass, especially when the ocean levels were much lower than they are now.  He also theorizes that the fossil record of a many early human communities that lived by the shore have been lost to ocean levels rising.  The role of climate plays a large part in Finlayson’s model of human evolution, and attributes homo sapiens adaptation to the climactic changes that made the Neanderthals go extinct more to luck than the superiority of our species.  Despite the title, Neanderthals are not the main focus of this book, which is disappointing. His defensiveness about how his view contrast with the common wisdom make me wonder if he’s a renegade that cannot be trusted.  While writing on a fascinating topic, Finlayson’s writing is a bit dry and repetitive so the book is less engaging than I would’ve hoped.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway by Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll


Author: Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll
Title: Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway: An Epoch Tale of a Scientist and an Artist on the Ultimate 5,000-Mile Paleo Road Trip
Publication Info: Fulcrum Publishing (2007)
ISBN: 9781555914516
Summary/Review: I’ve long been a fan of the art of Ray Troll who specializes in drawing realistic but whimsical representations of fish and prehistoric creatures.  This book is written by Kirk Johnson, a paleontologist from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science who teams up with Troll for a fossil-gathering road trip through the Rocky Mountain states.  Johnson does a good job of balancing the roles and importance of academic and museum work with commercial diggers and fossil collectors, showing respect and admiration of all.  The journey detailed by Johnson visits many beautiful and awe-inspiring locations that are richly illustrated with Troll’s art and photographs.  It’s a great book for anyone interested in paleontology, travelogue, and popular art.

Recommended books: Planet Ocean: A Story of Life, the Sea, and Dancing to the Fossil Record by Bradford Matsen and Ray Troll
Rating: ****