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Masters and Mistresses of Invention: Breathe and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Reexamining love, identity and sex

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Breathe is not only the best prescriptive advice for coping with our current political and cultural climate, it's also the title of a must-see film about how the human spirit endures. Both a metaphor for life and the actual physical act of inhaling, Breathe simply makes you feel better.

Breathe is first noteworthy for being the feature film-directing debut of Andy Serkis, the transformational British performer who took motion capture acting to new heights in the Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes franchises. Serkis has a keen eye for framing an intimate story against overwhelming landscapes, some gorgeous (African vistas) and others terrifying (hospitals for the permanently infirm).

Andrew Garfield plays Robin Cavendish, a roguish playboy who enjoys literally crashing tea parties by batting cricket balls into nearby clubhouses.

Among the ruined china sits Diana Blacker, played by the luminous Claire Foy (The Crown), and when Cavendish locks eyes with her, love and marriage quickly follow. Soon after, 28-year-old Cavendish is diagnosed with polio, which paralyzes him from the neck down—a near-death sentence in the 1950s. Cavendish, like millions of others, is shackled to an iron lung. A close friend and part-time inventor, portrayed by the always-welcome Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), develops a wheelchair with a built-in respirator that ultimately frees Cavendish from his bed confinement. What follows is an extraordinary true story that serves as a reminder of how people with disabilities were clinically warehoused and treated like living corpses not so long ago. More importantly, Breathe is a story of heartfelt decency, and despite minor references to the Cavendishs' lovemaking, it's a film for the whole family.

The same cannot be said for Professor Marston and The Wonder Women, also based on a true story—one about sex, identity, academia and more sex. This superhero origin tale could easily be construed as a companion piece to the 2017 box-office smash Wonder Woman, but leave any fanboy expectations at home. Professor Marston is William Moulton Marston, the American psychologist who created Wonder Woman for DC Comics under the name Charles Moulton. He was also instrumental in the invention of the polygraph machine. (Ever wonder where the idea for Wonder Woman's golden lasso of truth came from?) Marston's double life is the least provocation of this movie, though. It turns out Marston, (Beauty and the Beast's Luke Evans), was inspired by his brilliant wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and their mutual lover Olive (Bella Heathcote), two self-empowered women who defied social conventions. Professor Marston is smart and sexy, and I highly recommend it for discerning adults, but I think distributors are mistaken in pushing this out to multi-screen, general audience cinemas. If there was ever such a thing as an "art house" film, Professor Marston is it. My sense is that when it rolls into the multiplex, Professor Marston will be steamrolled by Blade Runner, Kingsmen and that killer clown in the sewer.

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Professor Marston & the Wonder Women

Director: Angela Robinson

Producer: Terry Leonard, Amy Redford, Andrea Sperling and Jill Soloway

Cast: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton, Monica Giordano, JJ Feild, Chris Conroy, Oliver Platt, Maggie Castle, Alexa Havins, Sharon Kubo, Allie Gallerani, Chris Gombos and Forry Buckingham

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