Dec 30, 2014

Two Days, One Night

This may be the most accessible film by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, and also the most contrived, but they still manage to make it an extremely taut, emotionally suspenseful experience. It helps that they have the astounding Marion Cotillard starring as Sandra, a woman who is about to be laid off from her factory job. Her fate hinges on her coworkers vote to keep her on, so she must convince each one of them to vote for her. The twist (and here is where the Dardennes get you to suspend your disbelief) is that either she stays, or they get a bonus. They also give Sandra an enormous hurdle, which is the reason for the precariousness of her situation: she is trying to recover from depression. Her struggle, then, is doubly heroic, as she must overcome both herself and her predicament.
You will be momentarily distracted by thinking that this situation would never fly in the Lawsuit States Of America, and probably even less in Europe, where employment laws make it virtually impossible to fire workers in certain countries, but the Dardennes are such skillful and elegant writers, that it doesn't matter much. What matters is the core of the argument: are you willing to ask people to sacrifice something for you? Is what you are asking fair? Sandra's coworkers need the bonus money as much as she needs to keep her job. She and her husband have kids and a mortgage, they are inching towards the middle class.
The Dardennes show us how difficult it is for most people to claw their way into financial stability. And these are not the poor. These are productive people who are not in the margins of society. The Dardennes are chroniclers of the struggling working class, and all their movies are moral fables about hard ethical choices their characters face in an indifferent, callous system. They make high concept films with incredibly tight premises and turn them into harrowing emotional and moral thrillers. They do this without violence, and without dramatic extravagance in modest but very powerful films. My favorite, L'Enfant, is the story of a dissolute young father who decides to sell his baby, because, why not? Everything else seems to be for sale. It is more horrifying than many scary movies.
Two Days, One Night is, like most of their films, a quietly subversive movie. It may be about a woman struggling to keep her job, and it may include a strong critique of capitalism (as most of their movies do), but it keeps you glued to your seat wanting to find out what will happen to Sandra. It even has a ticking bomb plot; there is a deadline to her efforts and if she fails, her world will collapse. Just like Tom Cruise trying to defuse a bomb in Mission Impossible III, but with an outcome of real consequence. The planet may not be in peril, but we want to know if Sandra will be able to sway her peers, who will surprise her with kindness, indifference, or cowardice. We are used to movies with such manipulative plots, but they are rarely at the service of profound ideas about work, society, and solidarity.
Making it all hit you in the heart like a ton of bricks is Marion Cotillard, a fierce actress who can cry oceans at will without an ounce of self-pity. American glamorous actresses (think Julia Roberts or Angelina Jolie) try for everywoman roles once in a while and no matter how many notches they are taken down in the looks department, you never for a minute forget that they are glamorous beings pretending to rough it. While they may give it their all, they do not successfully conjure the illusion that they are truly someone else.
Here, La Cotillard wears the same pair of jeans and a couple of wifebeaters for the two days of the title, and makes you wonder how this shriveled woman also happens to be the face of Dior. She is haggard and walks with a slouch. Yet at her most vulnerable she does not fish for sympathy. She is just natural and real, and willing to go to the depths of despair for us, which is what all great actors do: go boldly to places in the soul no one really ever wants to visit.

Dec 23, 2014

Best and Worst of 2014

I was a bit underwhelmed by movies this year. Somehow, I felt last year had more punch.
Here's my list.

Force Majeure
The Wonders
Two Days, One Night
Mr. Turner
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Babadook
Under The Skin
Obvious Child
Jodorowsky's Dune
The Unknown Known
Bad Hair
The Passionate Thief  - A restoration of Mario Monicelli's classic

Very Good
A Most Wanted Man
A Most Violent Year
Yves Saint Laurent
Magic in the Moonlight
Venus In Fur

Gone Girl
Big Eyes
The One I Love
The Two Faces Of January
Blue Ruin
Listen Up, Phillip
Young And Beautiful
Top Five
The Trip To Italy
The Princess Of France
Clouds Of Sils Maria
Love Is Strange

Could Be Better
The Immigrant
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Inherent Vice
The Blue Room
Into The Woods
Art and Craft
The Skeleton Twins
Beyond the Lights

Dear White People
Guardians of the Galaxy
Saint Laurent
Only Lovers Left Alive

Morally Dubious
American Sniper

Goodbye To Language

So Bad It's Good
Exodus: Gods and Kings

Time Out of Mind
A Master Builder
I Origins

So Bad It's Terrible

Heaven Knows What 

Dec 22, 2014

Exodus: Gods And Kings

Any movie where John Turturro plays a Pharaoh and Christian Bale plays Moses is worth seeing in my book. But just as it should not have taken the Jews 40 years to cross that desert, it should not have taken Ridley Scott almost three hours to tell the story of Moses and the exodus from Egypt.
But three hours it takes, and it befuddles that Scott, who is quite a visual storyteller, chooses to linger on endless chariot chases, multiple aerial views of Memphis (not Tennessee), has Jews sauntering through the desert with what seems nary a care in the world,  and Moses falling in love for forever in screen time with Zipporah (who cares?). But then he doesn't let the story alight on more interesting stuff.
Blink and you will miss the golden calf. But the most egregious omission is that he diminishes the very payoff of the story: the bequeathing of the ten commandments to the Jews. They were slaves for centuries, they are liberated by Moses with the help of some fabulous CGI plagues, courtesy of a very testy God who murders everything in sight, and, in an amazing ironic twist with a Biblical amount of chutzpah, gives them the basic tenets of civilization in writing, which include, in capital letters, Thou Shalt Not Kill. It is with these laws that they will flourish as a free nation. Alas, we are not to see this epic moment in this epic film. Instead, we see a much diminished Moses sitting inside a dumpy cart guarding the ark of the covenant as if it were lost luggage at La Guardia.
Why bury the most redeeming aspect of such a violent story? To me this is far more ridiculous than the decision to have God appear to Moses in the form of a British child. I would have much preferred the thundering voice of say, Benedict Cumberbatch coming from behind that feeble burning bush that looks like someone lit it by accident with a can of Sterno, (perhaps Reese Witherspoon wandering in from Wild - same story), but apparently Scott and his four writers move in mysterious ways.
Having a physical presence for Moses to argue with is not an uninspired choice. It may have seemed more modern to the filmmakers, but it does detract a wee bit from the majesty and mystery of an unseen, but very much felt, God.
Epic movies about anything that happened more than two centuries ago are not to be taken factually or seriously. They tend to be a hoot. Hence, it is my humble opinion that it is a waste of time to disparage the racial casting in this movie. We might also whine about 2000 years of Western art in which Jesus, the Virgin and the Apostles are always all as white as Wonder Bread. I didn't see an actual Jew playing any Jews, but I haven't heard anyone complain about this either. I agree that movies need to be more inclusive and true to reality in casting, but not necessarily when it comes to ancient times. Ancient times call for British thespians and Aaron Paul looking as if he'd rather be dead in Arizona than Joshua in this other desert dump.
Turturro nails his sadly short part with a couple of wonderful scenes with Bale, with whom he seems to have real rapport. Edgerton, who has quite a pair of Egyptian lips, is also quite good and campy as a petulant megalomaniac with daddy issues. He finds something to hold on to in his Ramses, while Bale has a harder time finding Moses as Moses tries to find himself. It's hard to be a Jew. Also, it's hard to play a hero whose transformation into a revolutionary is not very convincing. Is it because he saw the suffering of the people, because Ben Kingsley told him to, or because God finally appeared to him? I love that he argues with God, true to biblical form, but I didn't understand how Moses gained his sense of purpose. So Moses is conflicted. But his conflict seems visited on him by the rulebook of Hollywood Personal Conflicts 101, rather than by a real identity crisis. Being an Egyptian prince your entire life only to find out you are a lowly Jew has got to to mess with your head, but Scott prefers to cut (again and again) to the bigger battles.
We can discuss other strange liberties taken by this movie, such as why the very corrupt and evil character of the Viceroy (an Egyptian played by Ben Mendelsohn, probably the only Jew around), is a raging homosexual of the most insidious variety. Why does he have to be a sibilant gay? Is that in the Bible? More importantly, is anybody other than me complaining about this yet? Why bring in Sigourney Weaver to give her half a second of screen time? After three hours of some truly well crafted spectacle interrupted by unnecessary padding, I realized that the reason why this this epic story was failing is because it has been boiled down to yet another irrelevant yarn about two dudes fighting. GAWD. Guys, you got to get a hold of yourselves. This is getting tiresome. You can feel the movie balloon in preposterousness while it deflates in intelligence as this ridiculous, simplistic thread is pursued. If we're not going to have a payoff of Biblical proportions, why bother?


If only this movie was wilder. I have not read the book by Cheryl Strayed upon which this film by Jean-Marc Vallée is based, but it felt like reading the Cliff Notes. For a story about a woman who exiles herself into the wilderness to confront her grief, Wild feels detached and tame. It should be a tough existential movie, we should feel the harshness, the loneliness, the life or death risk of this woman, woefully underprepared in every way to go head to head with nature. Instead it's a collection of vignettes of her troubles with her ill-fitting boots, her ill-chosen equipment, and her memories, which is what got her there in the first place.  Instead of being viscerally gripping, it's like leafing through a calendar with photos of a national park.
When movies resort to flashbacks to tell a story my heart tends to sink, because no matter how emotional, dramatic or shocking the memories, for the viewer, if it already happened, it is not as powerful an experience as if it is happening as we see it. Because of the way Wild is structured, (the screenplay is by the otherwise capable Nick Hornby) we only see in flashback what made Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) hit rock bottom, yet we don't get a sense of the extremity of her decision. We know it's crazy, we know it's hard, we can see it's dangerous, but we don't feel it. Vallée doesn't know how to wring any ideas or real feelings out if the story. For a far more harrowing, similar extreme camping mishegoss, Into The Wild, directed by Sean Penn, with Emile Hirsch, is much more powerful.
Why could we not follow Cheryl's normal life up to the events that disrupted it, the bad choices she made and then make her decision to walk 300 miles from the Mexican border to Oregon the turning point of the story? We would be in her very terrible shoes, having seen her lose everything she holds dear in life and make an extreme choice with no turning back. Instead, she walks and remembers, walks some more and remembers some more, and the more this rinse and repeat cycle happens, the more her memories feel devoid of power. They all have the same emotional value, there is no sense of escalation. Everything feels equally dull and by the numbers.
Because of this, I had little patience with the main reason for her spinning out of control, which is the loss of her mom (Laura Dern). I thought, get a grip, girl. You are not the only person who has ever lost her mom, and many who do don't decide to self-destruct with such alarming gusto. Had we seen their relationship through time, instead of by thought bubbles, we might be more moved by it.
Of course, watching a person walk for miles may not be anybody's idea of fun in the movies, but surely there are ways to make such a journey more interesting than her just cursing every step of the way and singing to herself. I have always liked Reese Witherspoon, but I think she is too slight, and not only physically, for this role.
Vallée made Dallas Buyers Club, which is also like a Hallmark Movie of The Week, but it gave Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto the opportunity to tear into their roles with emotional ferocity, which won them their Oscars. But here Witherspoon seems to go through the motions. She seems to confuse getting naked for the camera with emotional transparency and bravery, and though she is engaging, she is not believable as a hardcore seeker of trouble.  She is badly miscast, and she and Vallée waste the opportunity to really go to dark places. The character of Cheryl Strayed needs an actress who is rougher around the edges. Racking my brain to find a suitable replacement, I managed to come up was Amy Schumer, for what it's worth.
There was only one scene that even though heavy handed, approached the level of tension that the whole movie should have had. It is an encounter with two redneck hambones out of central casting, and yet there is palpable fear in the air. Unfortunately, Vallée has neither a visual style, any imagination, or any clue about how to tell this woman's story. What should feel like a nightmare, or at least an intense journey of discovery, feels like a travelogue. Wild is anything but wild.

Dec 17, 2014

Mr. Turner

Leave it to Mike Leigh to make a biopic that does not feel like one. Mr. Turner is a meditation on the mystery of talent, on the lack of a commensurate relationship between genius and virtue, on the solitary pursuit of art and creativity. It is not, like the two other biopics of British geniuses currently vying for awards, deliberately contrived to be inspiring. There are no forced moments of discovery or redemption, or triumph over adversity. Leigh knows life is adverse: get over it.
Mr. Turner is the portrait of the artist as a disgruntled, and grunting, man. The excellent Timothy Spall, a wonderful presence in many a Mike Leigh film, plays Joseph Mallord William Turner, one of the greatest painters in the history of Western art, a visionary genius. The film devotes itself to the last 25 years of Turner's life, thankfully sparing us Freudian flashbacks into his childhood or the ridiculous compression of an entire life into two or three hours.
This is a much smarter way to make a biopic. But then again, this is Mike Leigh.
Spall's Turner seems to dislike the company of most humans and spends his days quietly and furiously working on his art. This may be the only biopic in which watching an artist paint is not like watching paint dry, and that is because Leigh shows the work of the painter as a process of preparation, experimentation, research, discovery, and as powerful action. It is work, rising before sunrise to capture the light. It is not divine inspiration.
Turner was a great artist, hence he spent most of his time wanting to paint. Sensitive to nature and to light, he was much less sensitive to some of his fellow human beings. He refused to recognize the daughters she had with his first mistress. He was abusive to a mentally challenged maid who adored him. He loved his dad, with whom he grew up, as his mother died (in an insane asylum) when he was a boy.  He didn't suffer critics, even champions of his work like John Ruskin, gladly. Leigh portrays Ruskin as a flamboyant pontificator, and this seems a bit unfair, but it confirmed for me Leigh's deeply felt identification with his subject, a fellow artist.
The movie takes a while to establish Turner's world, and the first half seems to ramble along without much incident.  But Leigh subtly and masterfully paints the portrait of this man and his time, the Victorian era, straight-laced and uncomprehending of mavericks like him.  He shows up at the Royal Academy of Painting, a fusty place, where other very good artists like Constable are painting by the book, whereas Turner has freed himself to push the limits of his art further and further, until some critics, the Queen herself and an obtuse public deride the abstraction of his later works. He could have painted portraits of aristocrats and their hunting dogs and retired to greater wealth and fame, but he chose to keep searching. Turner was ahead of his time. He was interested in the experience of nature, in transmuting it not as faithfully and realistically as his fellow members of the Academy, but impressionistically, from within. He fastens himself to a ship's mast in a storm to find out exactly how that looks and feels like.
As in all of Leigh's films, the supporting cast is a perfect ensemble of character actors, acting like a single organism in harmony with their period, while sharply etching their individual characters. In my mind, any and all awards for best supporting actress should go to Marion Bailey as Mrs. Booth, a widow who rents Turner a room in Margate and with her sensible, natural wisdom becomes his companion at the end of his life. Dorothy Atkinson is also spectacular as the poor maid, beset with psoriasis, who loved Turner silently as he took advantage of her adoration.
There are a couple of wonderful moments where art meets science, as when Mary Somerville (the great Leslie Manville) pays Turner a visit, and a moment, elegiac, yet full of wonder, when Turner discovers the daguerrotype, which with one pouf of smoke and a blinding flash captures his image with far less exertion than any painting.
And that brings us to the other major character in the movie, which is light, gorgeously rendered by cinematographer Dick Pope, who wisely does not attempt to imitate Turner, but who gives the film the miraculous, multifaceted light that captured the painter's eye and his imagination.
Most commercial movies try too hard to anticipate our feelings, to get us in their corner, using well worn scenes and lines which heroic actors fight to make heartfelt and convincing. And then one sees a film like Mr. Turner and appreciates the quiet mastery and the exacting excellence of Mike Leigh. There is not one cheap, facile or crowd pleasing bone in his body, and yet his films are deeply emotional, and truly human.

Dec 12, 2014

Inherent Vice

A mess, but P.T. Anderson gets brownie points for trying to adapt a Thomas Pynchon novel into a movie. And this is a very ambitious, literary film, with plenty of voiceover narration provided by dulcet toned Joanna Newsom, and the expansive feeling of curling up with a loopy book that never seems to end.
I can understand why Anderson may think that this comic noir shaggy dog story set in 1970 Los Angeles is worth telling now. If anything sums up the spirit of the movie, is the picture above. We think we don't, but we live in a dark place. As the rest of his movies (with the exception of Punch Drunk Love), Inherent Vice takes a look at yet another side of the prismatic underside of American culture.
Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix, munching the scenery), some sort of doctor stoner who moonlights as a P.I, gets dragged like Alice in Wonderland into a spiral of bizarre goings on under the placid LA skies, coming in contact with all kinds of quirky characters from all walks of life. There are tiny roles for the likes of Benicio Del Toro, Maya Rudolph, Reese Witherspoon, Martin Short (who seems to have landed from another circus altogether), Owen Wilson, and the much missed (by me) Eric Roberts, who has two seconds of screen time and kills. We barely get to spend any time with them before Doc is hurled into some other crazy situation. I don't think it is worth trying to unravel the plot. The idea is what is below the surface, what fresh and vast conspiracies really run the show.
Doc reminded me of Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski, he is that laid back and unhurried, although he may be a little less serene. Phoenix is one of those great hams who can do no wrong. Even when he is reaching he is interesting to watch, and he can be funny. Josh Brolin plays his foil and opposite, Lt. Det. Christian F. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen, (bless Pynchon and his wacky names) a square headed policeman with none of the lazy savoir faire of Doc. He is hilarious. Their scenes together are the best thing in the movie. Unfortunately, Anderson doesn't have the wacky comic touch of the Coens and the humor feels labored.
At two hours and a half, Inherent Vice is hard to sit through. The scenes take forever, the wild goose chases don't seem to gather momentum, let alone go anywhere coherent, and though I completely get that this may be on purpose, to give us the density of time as experienced by a stoner, it drags.
Robert Elswit's washed out cinematography and sometimes deliberately ugly framing captures the era but bores the eye. And I found Jonny Greenwood's score underwhelming, though the pop songs on the soundtrack are great.
I have a nagging feeling that perhaps a second viewing may bring more pleasures, but Inherent Vice is, like The Master, an intellectual exercise that fails to live up to its ambitious promise. The Master is gorgeous, sharper, and more jarring. This one is just exhausting.
However, as a body of work, Anderson's films gain in stature because there is a very coherent thematic preoccupation running through them. He likes to find the cobwebs and the dirt under the American entrepreneurial soul. Hard Eight, his impressive and modest debut, takes place around gamblers, Boogie Nights is about a community of porn stars trying to make it, Magnolia is a dark, enigmatic piece about family, There Will Be Blood, about the drive for profit, The Master is about the American obsession with perfecting (and controlling) the individual and our cottage industry of charlatans, and Inherent Vice is about the rivers of rot that course through our enterprising American veins. Anderson looks at the fringes, and under the polished surfaces of our increasingly frayed collective delusion of democracy, freedom and high standards of living. He is not buying any of it and that makes him a very interesting, if somewhat exasperating artist.

Dec 11, 2014

That's Entertainment!

No read has been more fascinating and scrumptious and has inspired more Talmudic parsing from me this year than the leaked emails from the hacking of Sony Pictures, which you can find here.
Part of the mysterious delight they bring is the frisson of schadenfreude at seeing a culture of grandiose self-delusion and out of control egos nakedly exposed and brought down to size through their own astoundingly naive and arrogant disregard for discretion.
And don't tell me that these communiqués were never meant to be public. You'd have to be either a three year old or a moron, or a Hollywood macher with delusions of untouchability to think that you can express yourself in writing so rankly without there being the possibility of a leak, accidental or malicious. Memo from David O'Selznick, this isn't.
The hack is a terrible thing, which has jeopardized Sony's employees' sensitive personal information among other bad fallout. It is also out of the realm of gonzo fiction, if, as suspected, it is orchestrated by His Craziness Kim Jong Un and his displeasure with a Sony movie starring his country, Seth Rogen and James Franco.
I am not gleeful at Sony's misfortune, yet if the executives at Sony had behaved electronically in a way that befits their standing and their salaries, we would not have been so mightily entertained, but they would have less appalling things to hide.
Consider the Kevin Hart email: A simple business negotiation. The studio wants him to promote his new movie on social media, his agent claims that he needs to be remunerated, as this was not part of the original deal. They could have had a perfectly civilized in-house discussion without resorting to calling the star "a greedy whore". Or they could call him a greedy whore all they wanted, but not in writing.
When email started being a thing, the company I worked for furnished us with a very useful set of rules. Besides the obvious plea to use civilized language, and to remember that we were representing the company and using a tool that did not belong to us, my impressionable mind never forgot the part that said not to assume that our messages could not potentially be seen by all the wrong people, let alone escape the company's or someone else's scrutiny. Just don't assume privacy of any kind. Ever. Even so, people sent embarrassing companywide emails meant for just one person. They thought they could say horrible things and no one would ever find out. As Ari Emanuel has now famously said: "Whatever"*.

This happened to Sony, but do not for a moment think that the rest of Hollywood does not comport itself this way. One only had to skim through Nikki Finke's Hollywood Deadline to be swamped by a barrage of malicious, arrogant, petty vitriol. I can imagine the armies of cyber security experts now building virtual fortresses for the rest of the studios. I can imagine executives daunted by the sheer thought of cleaning up the messages in which they excoriate the people who work for them. I wonder if executives express themselves in such a fashion in any other industry (besides perhaps the fresh hell of immature alpha male-dominated startups). I doubt it. Correction: maybe sometimes in advertising, when people don't get the company memo.

It's the best shit show on Earth.

As for the saga of Scott Rudin vs. Amy Pascal, and the Steve Jobs movie debacle, to me, this is a thing of beauty. A marvel in the annals of epistolary literature.
To this day, I do not understand what exactly created the conflict, but, and correct me if I'm wrong, it seems that Scott Rudin, an independent producer whose unpleasant reputation precedes him, was partnering with Sony to make a movie about Steve Jobs, starring Christian Bale (great), directed by David Fincher (great) and written by Aaron Sorkin (great). A golden trifecta of possible awards, a la The Social Network.
At the same time, Angelina Jolie wanted Fincher to direct her version of Cleopatra**, hence Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, did something to mollify the star at the expense of the Jobs movie, which had found financing and was ready to go. No small feat, considering all the giant egos and their schedules involved.
Thanks to Scott Rudin's extremely articulate, coherent and wonderfully descriptive emails I am now firmly on Team Rudin.  I wish I were on team Amy, but her writing style is very disappointing.
Now, let's be fair. Scott Rudin has little to worry about (he ruffled the massive feathers of the entire Jolie-Pitt clan, and of producer Megan Ellison, whom he labeled as bipolar, and who took it in stride on Twitter, calling herself merely eccentric). So what? He represents only himself.
Amy Pascal, however, is beholden to her bosses, to shareholders and to the company she leads. Perhaps she writes abysmally to protect herself.
Imagine her weighing the options. On the one hand, a prestige, niche project with a bunch of expensive alpha males, which may win awards and maybe make some money; on the other, Cleopatra, an epic extravaganza with Jolie, one of the biggest stars on the planet, which could potentially make gazillions because such monstrosities play well in Guangdong and Karachi, let alone Peoria.  From what we can glean, Pascal didn't handle all those competing projects and their respective egos well.
There are other gems, like an ass-kissing email from a Sony marketing guy and a ridiculous email from an agent begging Leonardo Di Caprio to consider playing Jobs, comparing the script to Citizen Kane, and Aaron Sorkin to Paddy Chayefsky. AS IF.
Leaks of the worst powerpoints on Earth will give you a glimpse about the paralyzing, generic idiocy of marketing. Executives claiming that Michael Fassbender is not yet a star add to the picture of a "creative" industry that only correlates success with money and seems to be out of touch with reality. 
You will learn interesting facts. For instance, that David Fincher asks $45 million dollars to direct a movie. He is very gifted, but isn't this insane? Or that stars like Tom Cruise, whom Sorkin originally wanted to play Jobs, bring their own writers to rewrite projects. Why are they allowed such a thing? (This is a rhetorical question: because they make the money). From these valuable exchanges, one comes to the conclusion that movie stars have become an unmanageable "clusterduck†" of entitlement.
The most damaging leak, in terms of public opinion, is the inane, pathetic conversation between Pascal and Rudin about a list of movies that Barack Obama might like, which turn out to be all for Black people. As a joke, it is painfully unfunny, and if it's for real, what disastrous poverty of imagination, to say the least. Still, even if this is the most scandalous leak, it also happens to be the most personal. It's not about business, and it puts sharply in relief how damaging and unfair it would be if any of us were not aware that the entire world is listening to our outrageous comments uttered in private. Which is why their apologies on this one sound forced and hollow. In particular when Pascal, who started the conversation, then claims that this does not represent who she is. If your private banter does not show who you really are, what does?
Sony needs some urgent spin control. I also don't know how this woman is not on the verge of a nervous breakdown. 
It is unfortunate that this leak is causing real distress to countless people, but this doesn't make it any less fascinating as an inside look at the movie industry.

* I just love that this word is what he chooses for a greeting. 
** Why would she think that David Fincher would want to do such a thing is beyond me. 
† As Amy Pascal dixit. 

Dec 1, 2014

The Theory Of Everything

Well, my theory of everything is that most biopics feel like one continuum of time and space. It's hard to tell them apart, these tales of human ingenuity and survival against all odds. They are decorous, and lovingly crafted, splendidly acted, excellent candidates for awards, but they all feel like they come from the same singularity, if you get my drift.
Biographies, the written kind, seem to have a little more inclination to explore the more complex humanity of their subjects (when they're not puff pieces). But biopics tend to be the filmic equivalent of a puff piece. Apparently, in movies our cultural heroes need to be wholesome and aspirational, and utterly admirable. Because who wants to deal with the fact that someone who overcame the most incredible obstacles also had a shady side to them? We much prefer rousing edification.
So having seen two biopics about British mathematical geniuses back to back, I find it a little hard to tell them apart. Of course Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking are very different. One was treated like a pariah and the other one like a rock star, but the texture of the movies is very similar. They are feel good movies about amazing heroes.
The Theory Of Everything, directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire), however, has an edge because Marsh has a more intimate, probing sensibility.  His film concerns the life of young Stephen Hawking, promising genius, as he discovers almost all at once that time may have a beginning, that he has Lou Gehrig's Disease and as he meets his first wife, Jane, upon whose memoirs the movie is based.
Nobody understands how Hawking has been able to survive and thrive through a diagnosis that gave him two years to live over fifty years ago. The movie is not overtly saying that it is because of the love and ministrations of his wife, but it does have her make a compelling case to him not to give up. And then it shows us what that meant.
Eddie Redmayne, one of the most adorable beings that ever walked the Earth, is probably going to win an Oscar for his incredible work as Stephen Hawking (if the inclination for the infirm in the acting category prevails). He is charming and full of vim even when the illness has gnarled his limbs and his speech. He doesn't force the genius. His intentions come through clearly from within, although I was left wanting more of him somehow. Was he ever angry, petulant, ungrateful, afraid?
Felicity Jones is equally amazing as his fierce wife, who decides to stick with him through thick and thin with determination and focus. You see her change from a timid young girl to a woman who is taking charge and whose care of her husband takes a toll. Together, they have chemistry. There should be a joint award for that; it almost never happens.
For those who want a closer look at Hawking's influential contributions to our understanding of the universe I recommend Errol Morris' entertaining documentary A Brief History of Time, starring Hawking himself, in an adaptation of his book, which you could also read. In this movie, we get excited at Hawking's ideas by proxy (If David Thewlis gets excited, so do I), and I don't blame Marsh for not going more into them - this is not an astrophysics class.
The Theory Of Everything is a look at the private life of a handicapped genius, and it is mostly well calibrated, moving, beautifully shot and not overly schmaltzy, although it does succumb several times to ghastly cliches, the worst of which is a scene at the end of an audience applauding Hawking. As if he needs the applause and as if we need it to confirm he is worth cheering for. These kinds of cheesy scenes (I counted several) underestimate the audience and undermine the lovely work Marsh does with the characters and their shifts of feeling: extraordinary people dealing with the extraordinary day in and day out.