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January 27, 2015

The Theory of Everything


The Theory of Everything – Method

Following the SAGs, and the win by Eddie Redmayne (now that’s a SAG and a Golden Globe for Redmayne) I finally decided, “Screw it, I need to find out what all the fuss is all about.” This brings me to “The Theory of Everything,” the, some might say, ultimate story of Stephen Hawking and his fight against ALS with the help of his first wife. At it’s core, “Everything” is what you would expect in a melodramatic biopic. There are happy moments, sad moments, moments of triumph, moments of loss, and many more moments. However, and I’ll be the first person to say maybe I was wrong, the performance of Redmayne is method and pretty extraordinary, but is that enough to drive a film to greatness?

So, the story of “Everything” is pretty well known at this point, especially if you know the story of Stephen Hawking, a man who’s career is nearly torpedoed by Lou Gehrig’s Disease……or so we think. We also see the up-and-down relationship between Hawking and his first wife, Jane, played by Felicity Jones. Other than that we get a few scenes when Hawking talks about black holes and radiation, but other than that, it’s a film about what two people will do to keep both a relationship and career working.

With that being said, is “Everything” a good film? Meh, it’s simply okay, as a film that is. This is the same problem that I had with “Foxcatcher.” The performances in this film and “Foxcatcher” are very well done, yet the film itself is simply “okay.” Nothing in particular stands out in “Everything” other than the fact that Redmayne buries himself in the mythos of Stephen Hawking. The mannerisms, speech, and pain you feel is real. You feel that Redmayne IS Hawking.

What also detracts from the film, for me at least, is the metaphor of between love, black holes, and Hawking’s disability. Sure, I know you need a plot device that both summarizes his theories and coincides with his relationship with Jane, but it seems forced and all together cliché. There is also the issue of his theories essentially glazed over. There are two scenes where his theories are brought up and slightly talked about. I also find it hard to believe that his theories were all based on love and the metaphor that he was a “star” being sucked into a black hole. Again, just my issues with hiding a serious subject inside a pseudo-cheesy love story.

The rest of the cast is decent enough with Jones pulling her weight and even the future Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) putting in a good performance as Jonathan Jones. Another thing I like is the conflict between Jane’s Christian beliefs and Hawking’s agnostic sensibility, but again, while it’s nice they touched on that aspect of their life together it seemed rushed and merely a footnote.

In conclusion, will Redmayne do what many people thought the unthinkable and upset Michael Keaton in this year’s Oscars? There are two things that I’m noticing at this time. With so many people comparing Redmayne’s performance to Daniel Day-Lewis’ in “My Left Foot” (which won Day-Lewis the Oscar) the odds are improving for him. Second, I liken “Everything” to “Amoure” another film that gained major momentum going into the Oscar season, and even dealt with very similar content. Combine that with the fact that Julianne Moor will likely win her first Oscar for “Still Alice” another film dealing with a character with a debilitating disease, this could be the upset that not many saw coming until now. While “Everything” isn’t “everything” it’s cracked up to be, it’s one of the best male acting performances of 2014.

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Fun Fact: Hawking’s seminal book “A Brief History of Time” was published in 1988 and has sold over 10 Million copies.

May 15, 2013

Simplistic TV: Family Tree

I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.   HBO’s new show Family Tree, on the surface, is very ODD.  The same could be said of most of the works of show creator Christopher Guest.  However, Guest always makes sure that underneath the surface of the strange is really funny, warm, and ODDLY relatable themes.  The man behind This Is Spinal Tap, Best In Show, and A Mighty Wind brings his considerable talents to television in this ODDLY off beat mockumentary.  Those talents could be said to be Guest’s mastery of manipulating and showcasing the ODDITIES of the world while still making the ODD people he puts in this world feel genuine.  Anyone can be the over the top cooky relative who says funny things through a goofy puppet.  However, Guest’s famous use of subtlety makes a character like Bea Chadwick be funny and yet still totally believable.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Family Tree is about a brother and sister searching through their family history after receiving a mysterious box from a deceased great aunt.  As the show’s sizzle reel displays,  it will become more about a man finding himself and really getting to the root of what truly is family.  Now, you’re probably wondering how on earth can such an unremarkable and somewhat overdone storyline be fresh and funny.  It is the characters makes this show bloom.  Every interaction between any character is like a brand knew treat for the viewer.  You never know where a conversation is going to go.  This is accomplished through the use of improv for certain.  However, the way the characters are so fleshed personality-wise makes you anticipate the hilarity eagerly before it unfolds.  
I first saw Chris O’Dowd in Bridesmaids.  He stood out as a surprisingly funny and charming performer.  His small but hilarious role in This Is 40 had me hoping that the guy would get a starring vehicle in the future.  I’m thankful and fortunate that Family Tree is it.  His comedic timing and unflappable reactions as the shows straight man/lead are terrific.  The character that most will probably be talking about is Bea, played by comedian/ventriloquist Nina Conti.  Mel Gibson may have done the whole, use a puppet to express your feelings thing first.  However, Nina makes it more of a realistic quirk her character has than a slapsticky gimmick her character is using for comedic effect.  Don’t get me wrong.  Monkey is funny and is used for comedy.  Just not to the point where it gets annoyingly in your face about it.  He is explained in literally three sentences and then you just find yourself accepting it as apart of Bea.  That, again, is comedy through subtlety.
With a strong lead, a funny concept, and a litany of Christopher Guest all-stars like Michael McKean and Fred Willard, Family Tree is poised to be another winner for HBO.  Sharp, clever, and yes…ODD.
Pay close attention to the six fingered man…watch it….then tell me I’m wrong.  
December 16, 2012

Happy Holidays: Love Actually


Full disclosure.  I’m not the biggest fan of the holiday season.  I pretty much peter out after Thanksgiving and pray for New Years to start.  Pretty sure me and the Grinch are cousins.  Full disclosure.  I’m not the biggest fan of romantic films.  They are generally very color by numbers predictable or tragic for tragedy’s sake.  So, imagine my surprise when a film came along that combined both of my dislikes and still managed to knock my socks off.  Love Actually is that film.  For years I’ve held it up as my favorite, most watchable chic flick and my second favorite Christmas movie.  I’ll get to the first later.  No matter how many times I watch it, I’m left with a WARM feeling that actually gets me in the holiday spirit…if only for a little while.

Love Actually comes to us from writer and, then, first time director Richard Curtis of Bridget Jones’s Diary and Four Weddings and a Funeral fame.  The film is a collection of interwoven stories that explores the different aspects of love during the Christmas Season.  The stories range from slapstick comedy to heartfelt drama.  Some are hit and some are miss.  As a whole, however, they all compliment each other perfectly.

Love Actually set the ensamble films bar too high for puke inducing copycats like He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day and New Years Eve to come close to reaching.  Ggack!  Just reading the titles of those films almost made me throw up a little.  You might think Love Actually out does those films because the quality of actors in it are amazing.  Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightly, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Rowan Atkinson and many more.  However, I think its because Curtis just knows how to use his talent in the proper way.  Each actor is the right fit for their roles.  They aren’t haphazardly thrown in to parts that we’re forced to accept because they’re Zach Efron or Taylor Swift.  If each side story were a full length film, the actor in place would still be properly cast.  The film, as a result, thrives because of these performances.  Especially those by Neeson, Rickman and Thompson.

Neeson’s story about a suddenly widowed husband and his stepson is the most dramatic driving force in the film.  It is an almost frightening coincidence that this scenario would actually happen to Neeson later in life.  The story is extremely well done and has a rare great child actor performance in Thomas Sangster.  Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson’s tale about a waning marriage and infidelity always evokes a different feeling in me every time I watch it.  You should really hate Rickman for straying from his wife.   However, Curtis presents the circumstances in such understandable way that you’ll find yourself sympathizing.  Though, the tale that is sure to put a smile on your face has to be the one about Bill Nighy’s aging rock star Billy Mack.  Of all the stories that I wished had a full length film or sequel, it would be Mack’s.  Nighy’s obvious nods to Mick Jagger and his brazen attitude toward those around him are easily the comedy high points of the film.

Love Actually is a great film to see if you want to feel good about Christmas but avoid the overly cliched shlock we’re usually bombarded with.  I’ve made a habit of watching it every year.  I, then, immediately plop on Die Hard right after in order to keep my man card.  What?  Its my favorite Christmas film.  Don’t judge me.  Watch it…watch your heart grow three sizes that day…plop on Die Hard after just to be safe…then tell me I’m wrong.

September 29, 2012



I’m a child of the 80s.  I grew up with Michael Mann’s Miami Vice.  I watched movies like Scarface and To Live And Die In LA religiously.  I lived through the end of the Cocaine Cowboys era.  I called it the time of “colorful crime“.  Pink and green neon lights shining over crooked drug deals in night club parking lots.  Rhythmic synthesizer beats blaring out of passing car speakers.  That stuff just screams 80s.  Its why I love the film Drive.  It speaks to my youth.  Director Nicolas Winding Refn shot it like a film that could slide right into that era or universe.  Some people didn’t understand or appreciate its minimalistic nature and sudden brutal violence.   But it was a depiction and/or nod to the lifestyle of that time more than an intricately plotted crime drama.  A loner trying to make better of himself is unwittingly forced into a situation that brings it all down.  A simple formula that fits perfectly with 80s sheik.  After Drive, Refn produced a remake of his first film with that same formula and style.  That film is Pusher.

Pusher comes to us from Spanish director Luis Prieto.  Set in England, Pusher tells us the story of Frank.  A loner trying to make better of himself but is unwittingly forced into a situation that brings it all down.  See?  From the opening sequence you can feel the British crime vibe as Guy Ritchie like title cards flash over character’s faces.  British crime films like this are a little more frenetically paced than films like…Heat lets say.  Pusher, however, still feels very REMINISCENT of the 80s style.  The neon is there.  The rhythmic synthesizer beats are there.  The amazingly photographed night shots are there.  And boy, are the crooked drug deals there.

Prieto’s visual style does tend to teeter back and forth between 80s art piece and British gangster film.  From Manhunter to Long Good Friday and back again.  However, when he sticks to the neon and naked city aspects, the film really sets itself apart.  Less so than Refn’s original but still enough for you to take notice. 

Whenever Brad Pitt or George Clooney or Tom Cruise play a role, you have the sense that no matter what’s happening, they’ll be okay.  You don’t really worry for their characters the way you should.  They just present themselves as the inevitable winner in most of their films.  That works out well when they aren’t, but it only serves as a benefit for the end of that film.  You never experience the growing peril or dread fully.  In Pusher, Richard Coyle plays Frank with a rich and realistic feel.  He’s not a stereotypical hero.  He’s not amazingly smart or an amazing fighter or a nut case.  He’s real.  This makes you concerned for his safety and feel his desperation more than if they’d gone with a more recognizable star. 

Pusher is not groundbreaking or a classic.  However, it is a very visually interesting watch and does hold itself up as a worthy remake.  Blag some gear….give it a propah butcher’s….then tell me I’m Pete Tong.

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