Friday, January 2, 2015

December 2014 Movie Reviews - Recap

A lot of friends asked for reviews of the films, new for 2014, that I saw in theaters in December. I posted these reviews on Facebook, but I'm going to begin now, in 2015 -- as part of my overall set of life changes this year -- to convert to providing content that I write that is more substantive to my blog instead of directly to Social Media channels.

  1. The Theory of Everything: Director James Marsh, Academy Award-winner for the astonishing Man on Wire, shaped a film that is extraordinary in its simplicity. First, it tells the truth about Stephen Hawking's life in a way that most biopics fear to tread. I'm unaware if  small details are fictionalized, but, having read extensively about Dr. Hawking -- and having heard and seen many interviews with him -- I know his incredible story quite well, and the film stays true to it. What I especially appreciate about Eddie Redmayne's performance as Hawking is that you feel his goofiness and child-like quality throughout his life, while also his genius and his overpowering struggle... and his overpowering beyond-tenacity and hopefulness. Felicity Jones is brilliant as Dr. Stephen Hawking's former wife (and still close friend), Dr. Jane Wilde Hawking--her strength of mind and character in her youth, growing to greater strength, paired with human frailty, are perfectly etched. The rest of the cast is so strong that you feel that they're really the characters, not actors. I particularly liked the wonderful David Thewlis as the pioneering Cosmologist, Dr. Dennis William Sciama--whom, btw, Professor Hawking was actually disappointed to have as the instructor guiding his dissertation (he wanted to study with the Astronomer, Dr. Sir Fred Hoyle instead). Also of note: A fine score by Jóhann Jóhannsson

  2. The Imitation Game: Ah, if only this great film told the whole truth, or at least the whole truth of the parts of the story that are dramatized in it on screen. As a piece of cinema, it is -- despite a bit of sentimentality -- very pleasing, with finely-paced, subtle direction by Morten Tyldum, an equally engaging score by "the hardest working man in show business (today)," composer Alexandre Desplat, and rich, multi-textured cinematography by Óscar Faura. Benedict Cumberbatch is magnificent. So far, my choice for the Best Actor Academy Award--even over Redmayne, and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman's Michael Keaton--the latter, a remarkable performance; one that should have won in any other year, but Keaton is up against stiff competition, including this monumental performance by Cumberbatch. Keira Knightley is also pitch-perfect, albeit that the real Joan Clarke didn't have the glamor, or many aspects of the relationship with Alan Turing, written for the brilliantly-talented and beautiful Knightley. On whether or not the film "glosses over" Turing's sexuality: With the simple, slice-of-life method of inclusion of this part of his life story in the screenplay, rather than a "deeper dive," it does obscure by omission. However, the way it is played in the film is right for the film as a piece of cinema.
  3. Unbroken: (Honorary) Dame Angelina Jolie, DCMG's, second directorial outing is nothing short of brilliant from the perspective of her specific effort. The film is stunning to look at -- recreating the seemingly impossible to render -- and the directorial pacing is strong. Her work with all of the film's actors is very fine, probably stretching their talents to get really effective performances. Alexandre Desplat is here (again) with a fine score--HEY, where were you with these really brilliant themes for Godzilla 2014??? (With only one really glaring exception, involving sharks and a cue that was, imho, very, very distracting--most people won't get it, or even care. I just notice these things.) As for the script... well, if the majority 110-or-so minutes of the script by the "dream team" of The Coen Brothers, Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson (!!!) were of the same quality as the first 25 minutes, I confess, despite the fact that the visuals in the first part of the film are so compelling, the acting very good, and the pacing spot-on, I would have walked out of the theater. I felt like I was watching the most beautifully scored, photographed and acted version of the absolutely worst, most amateurish off-off-off-off-off-off-off-Broadway theater you can imagine. But, as soon as the first of the extraordinary events that shaped the life and legacy of late U.S. Olympian and WWII veteran and POW, Louis Zamperini, happens, and then the majority of the story begins, and the script, and the film overall, turns riveting, with only a few minor weaknesses throughout (still unforgivable considering the pedigree of the writers, but nothing that would make me want to get up and leave). As events unfold in the film, I was so drawn in to the story, the acting, the genius cinematography of the now-legendary Roger Deakins, Desplat's score, that I never once thought about its almost 2 1/2 hr. length. English actor, Jack O'Connell, playing the American of Italian parentage Zamperini, is absolutely wonderful, and there are many other strong performances, particularly, Japanese pop star, MIYAVI 石原 貴雅 (or "雅"), playing prison camp leader, and post-WWII-classified top war criminal, Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Watanabe 渡邊睦裕, who has been talked about for -- despite not being nominated for a Golden Globe -- a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination, which he, imho, strongly deserves. One thing about which the story of Unbroken reminds us is that we truly must respect our veterans. Despite political differences surrounding war, and even participation in war, it is essential to realize their sacrifices, and that what they've lived through, no matter their circumstances.

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