Particle Fever @ The Ross

The Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider

Mark Levinson’s new documentary Particle Fever is about relationships … relationships between scientists who practice theory and those who put theory into practice. It is about particle physics, or those parts that are observed, examined, and scrutinized in an effort to come to some understanding of a whole. Pieces of things. Particles of things.

In the plunge ahead, Particle Fever highlights the search for the Higgs Boson, or “the God particle”. Scientist Peter Higgs talked about its existence, but there was no proof that this particle had or does exist. How do we prove it? We build a machine to find it!

Levinson’s documentary highlights the Large Hadron Collider, man’s latest scientific feat in building machines. It is gargantuan, and seeing it onscreen, I very well can imagine Henry Adams’s wonder at the 40 ft Dynamos he observed at the World Columbian Exposition in 1893. The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Lucerne Switzerland. It will be used to prove Peter Higgs’s theory of the existence of “the God particle”.

The careers are riding on this discovery, and if one jot or tittle of a particle is left out, it could mean failure! It could mean disaster! It could mean humiliation! Oh, the catastrophe! But, Levinson so ably orchestrates a cadre of belief—no—faith among colleagues that is so compelling, you will want to put on your hard hat and overalls and see that project through!

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Particle Fever plays through May 8 at The Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

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The Lunchbox @ The Ross

Ila (Nimrat Kaur) prepares the lunchbox

Ila (Nimrat Kaur) prepares the lunchbox

This winter was bitter if not brutal, and the wind conspired to make our lives miserable from October to March. It was ice-madness in the streets, on the land,… in the air … First-time director Ritesh Batra has made a film called The Lunchbox. Set in Mumbai, the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtraa, The Lunchbox is a story that feels like a golden cup of hearty soup on a blustery winter’s night. It is a gentle narrative about a lunchbox, whose contents contain a hot lunch painstakingly prepared by a housewife named Ila (played by Nimrat Kaur) for her businessman husband Rajeev (played by Nakul Vaid). The camera focuses on Ila’s hands as she sprinkles spices on rice, vegetables, and meat. You can smell the curry, the cardemon, the fennel, the coriander, the masala, the cumin [smell] … What’s more, Ila places a little handwritten ‘love note’ encased in the folds of her handmade naan bread. All of this prepared for Rajeev who has refused to pay attention to his very attentive wife; her artistry in cuisine she uses to conjure him back to her.

Dabbawallahs prepare lunchboxes for delivery

Dabbawallahs prepare lunchboxes for delivery

She gives over her homemade victuals to an employee who works within the Mumbai institution called dabbawallahs, a complex delivery system that involves deliverymen on bicycles who collect from households prepared meals and then carefully load them onto a transit system to businessmen and women who have signed up for this service. Ila’s meal not only is delivered to the wrong address; her food potion lands on the desk of Saajan ( played by Irrfan Khan), a widowed accountant who is not her husband.

Saajan (Kirrfan Khan) reads 'love note'

Saajan (Kirrfan Khan) reads ‘love note’

Ritesh Batra uses such simple notions of everyday art to visually anoint his film. When was the last time you opened a letter? When was the last time you sent one? When was the last time you released the message from the envelope, unfolded it with your fingers, held it in your hands, and found the right spot to sit and read it? Nostalgic isn’t it? Batra will have you longing for those days of yore when people took the time to think about you on paper, and not in the cyperspace of e-mail and text messaging.

Ila and Saajan innocently connect by way of the written word read in the privacy of one’s own room over a sumptuous meal prepared especially … especially …. These are the things that will keep you warm on a winter’s night, just by seeing the script written by the hand who salutes you as “Dear …”

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The Lunchbox plays through May 8 at the Ross Media Arts Center.

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The Unknown Known @ The Ross

Donald Rumsfeld

Donald Rumsfeld

Reports that say there’s — that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Clever huh? That is former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld fielding questions about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction at a US Department of Defense News Briefing in February 2002. There are some things you just cannot curry any interest in, and that statement is one of those things. I want to go so far as to say Rumsfeld makes no sense but I won’t. Well, you have to take it apart, examine its pieces, and by the time you unravel the thing, you’re just as befuddled as when you attempted to understand it in the first place. Well, my dear listeners, there is another chance at Rumsfeld’s linguistic jumble thanks to Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris in his interview (or is it a conversation?) with Donald Rumsfeld in his newest documentary The Unknown Known. This documentary is to stand as a companion to The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert McNamara, for which Morris won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2003. McNamara is Rumsfeld’s predecessor.

Rumsfeld 2

You know, Rumsfeld has a sense of humor. He’s a likable guy. His former staff may disagree, however. He inundated them when in office with millions of snowflakes or memorandums as he calls them. He kind of reminds you of a distant uncle who promises quarters if you can answer his questions; except, he never pays up.

His personality puts you at ease; he’s even charming in some instances. No matter the questions thrown to him off camera by Morris, Rumsfeld smiles and tosses answers that he believes will suffice; and, he expects you to take him at his word. After all, the subjects are delicate; they cut to the psychological quick of the nation: Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, waterboarding used to torture prisoners, Guantanomo Bay, Iraq, Osama Bin Laden, are just a few. Rumsfeld talks about them as matter of fact consequences of war. Before you know it, the impulse to question or critique Rumsfeld’s views on war and politics and his ruthless approach to same, is crushed and quickly.

The Infamous Rumsfeld Snowflake

The Infamous Rumsfeld Snowflake

But the documentary is not that seamless. Some things slip, and Morris does nothing to catch them in the fall. Instead, he lets Rumsfeld talk … and … talk … and … talk, and if you listen … just listen … what spills onto the screen like marbles onto a hardwood floor is a man skilled in evasion and manipulation with no depth or groove; he’s like alcohol rubbed on skin but the nurse never returns to give you the needle to cure the problem. It’s just there; it evaporates.

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At the end of the day, however, Morris tells a satisfying story AND gives a history lesson about Donald Rumsfeld and his rise to power; but they’re “just the facts ma’am” because Rumsfeld never lets you into his head. Clever, huh? Donald Rumsfeld is the unknown known.

The Unknown Known plays through April 24 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also playing at The Ross through April 24 is The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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