The Theory of Everything

“I’ve been describing lots of movies lately as beautiful. There’s some that I consider inspiring, even if I don’t say it in so many words, or maybe uplifting. There’s even the rare films that I would describe as perfect, in that every aspect is perfectly executed and there are no glaring flaws. Theory of Everything qualifies as all of those. However, the word that I would really use to describe it is encouraging.

I love the extent to which “”nerdy”” things have started to take the pop culture spotlight: superheroes, space, advanced mathematics, etc. And now we get to see the story of one of the biggest and most revered science nerds of our day, Stephen Hawking. He’s made incredibly valuable contributions to theoretical physics, but it wasn’t an easy road for him. He was diagnosed with a motor neuron disease while starting his graduate studies, told that he would lose control over his muscles and likely not survive longer than a couple years. The film centers around those struggles with particular emphasis on his relationship with his first wife, Jane.

There are several reasons why I describe the film as encouraging. One is just Hawking’s vivacity and will to live and overcome. He should have died in his 20s. He’s now in his 70s. There’s also the strength of his relationship with Jane. She perseveres thru some incredibly difficult years, far longer than she had signed up for, loyally remaining by his side. In many ways, this film is as much her story as his, maybe even more so. Despite everything both go thru, giving up is never an option. They stick to their guns and keep their humor and face the world head on. I’d say an inspiring movie makes you want to get up and do something. I call this encouraging because to makes you want to keep going. If they could make it thru their trials, certainly I can make it thru mine.

Our leading performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones were utterly fantastic. Redmayne not only had a trying emotional arc, but he had one of the most physically intense performances I’ve ever seen. From the early losses of balance or clumsy moments to being mostly immobile and bound to a wheelchair, the discipline needed is unfathomable. The resemblance the make up team pulled off is uncanny. Hawking himself has said that parts of the film felt like watching his own life, it was that realistic. Jones has such a strength and presence, she does not let herself get lost in the background. Truly truly beautiful.

I think what I loved best about it was the sense of humor laced throughout. Once Hawking started having trouble speaking, he made sure his words counted. That often meant some cheeky humor thrown in to diffuse a situation. I feel I can relate to that, since as a generally quiet person, in large groups the only thing you’ll hear from me is the occassional sarcastic but clever (if I do say so myself) response. Still, it’s nice to know that Hawking still has that sense of humor.

I’m just still in awe of how moving that film was. Executed to absolute perfection.

Theory of Everything – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Interstellar

“The key to enjoying a scifi movie is ignore the science and stick with the fiction. The key to said scifi being any good is if the focus also emphasizes the fiction, building strong enough characters and relationships that glossing over the science is acceptable. In making what is his most personal film to date, Christopher Nolan seems to have embraced this strategy. Knowing his intentions and wanting to have an open minded and positive experience with the film, I too tried to focus on the characters and their emotional journey rather than the details and implications of the science and theory. It resulted in an absolutely beautiful and absorbing movie watching experience.

Christopher Nolan, the brilliant mind behind such films as The Dark Knight, Inception, and Memento takes us on a journey into space with Interstellar. It’s an unspecified time in the future. Humanity’s lust for excess has mostly wiped us out, and those who are left struggle to find the resources to survive. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former engineer and pilot turned farmer, trying to raise his children in this world that is far more challenging than the one he grew up in. He stumbles on a secret NASA base run by a former professor of his that is looking to space for our salvation. Hoping to rescue his children (particularly his daughter, Murph) from the bleak fate that awaits our planet, Cooper agrees to pilot a mission that will take him thru a wormwhole to the otherside of the galaxy, in hopes of finding a hospitable planet.

While a lot of people are making the mistake of focusing on the hazy science and frustrating plotholes, at it’s core, this film is about a father/daughter relationship. I’ll admit, I didn’t quite trust the science completely, and I particularly have a lot of trouble wrapping my brain around the concept of time as it’s used here. What I do understand is the bond between a father and daughter. I’ll admit to tearing up a few times during the film, especially as Murph is absolutely begging Cooper not to leave her. She doesn’t understand that he’s leaving for her, and she simply does not want to be separated from her Daddy. Hell, I’m tearing up just writing about it. Throughout the whole film, Cooper doesn’t care about saving the world. He cares about coming back for Murph and taking her to a safe place. Their connection is what keeps him going, and their disconnection over the distance is truly heartbreaking. Maybe I didn’t quite get what was going on with a lot of the science, particularly when it started stretching in the third act, but I did understand what kept those two going. And that was enough for me.

Something that Nolan is so great at is creating a story filled with suspense and anticipation. While I had some theories about where things may be going, I never really knew exactly what was going to happen. The nearly 3 hour run time did not feel so daunting because I was enthralled throughout. The incredible incredible cast sold it with complete conviction. McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, and a few other surprise appearances along the way. Another thing I love about Nolan’s films is that it’s impossible to just walk away. They stay with you. Keep you thinking and processing. Interstellar was no different. I understand why it didn’t work for some people, but I got it. And it is staying with me.

Interstellar – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

In a World…

“I love it when a movie gives me insight into an industry/lifestyle/world/etc that I previously knew nothing about. In this case, it’s the secret underworld of voiceover artists. Okay maybe its not such a secret underworld, more of a quirky cadre or something.

Written by, directed by, and starring Lake Bell, In a World follows Carol, a struggling vocal coach and daughter of a legendary voiceover artist. Carol stumbles into some voiceover work and before she knows it, she’s up against her father and another superstar voiceover artist for an incredibly high profile job.

It was just a very fun and interesting movie. A lot of honest and clever humor and a lively cast. Maybe walking a little closer to the chick flick line than I’d like, but Bell is a pretty tough chick, so she keeps it real. I loved her in Million Dollar Arm, and she really gets a chance to shine here, showing off some fun accents and vocal abilities.

So thank you, Netflix. You pushed this one on me for a while. I’m glad I listened”

Horns

“I almost went into this one blind, knowing nothing except the image of Daniel Radcliffe in Gryffindor colors and horns. That really was enough for me. A couple days before, excitement and curiosity built enough that I broke my rule of not watching trailers online and I watched the trailer online. (I see enough movies at the theater that include enough trailers that I feel I shouldn’t have to seek them out elsewhere.) Then I really couldn’t wait. It just looked so freaking weird!

Radcliffe stars as Ig, an unfortunate lad who’s the prime suspect in his girlfriend’s murder. Outcast by his small town that’s turned against him, he wakes up one day to find devilish horns growing from his head. When people see his horns, they can’t help but reveal their deepest darkest thoughts and secrets. Ig tries to leverage this newfound ability to seek out his girlfriend’s killer.

The screenplay is based on a story by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, so that should tell you something about it right there. I’d classify it as horror because of the whole devil horns and allegories at play, but except for a couple scenes in the middle, I wouldn’t call it scary. The first half in particular had this dark comedy feel to it. The colors of Ig’s costume were no accident, and meant to add a satirical undertone by poking fun at and trying to distance itself from Radcliffe’s past. Really, it was just a good mystery. One I may have solved a little too quickly, but the secondary pieces did keep me guessing for a while.

And oh, Daniel Radcliffe was so great. He’s quickly rising up my list of favorite actors (as I now kick myself for not making an effort to see his third Broadway outting earlier this year). His post-Potter role choices have showed great versatility and skill. This time he tried on an American accent, and I don’t think I’ve ever considered one to sound so sexy before. He brought along a whole new punk attitude with it that we haven’t seen from him before. It just makes me want to watch more crazy career choices from him in the future.

Very different. Kinda campy. Very weird. Totally worth it.

Horns – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Nightcrawler

“I can’t remember the last time I was so creeped out by a movie in such an uncomfortable yet delicious way. I’d heard similar feedback about this movie, but I wasn’t sure that I believed it. Believe it!

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a guy who’s sort of always scraped by in life with his own ingenuity and shady morals. He stumbles upon the world of nightcrawling: chasing down police scanner calls in an attempt to get some grisly video footage to see to a news network. It isn’t the premise so much that skeeved me out. It’s the character. He’s very direct and matter of fact, which gets intense when he uses his logic to justify some of his shady behavior and ruthless actions. It sort of needs to be experienced as opposed to described, but believe me, it’s terrifying. He does some questionable things, but then backs it up with an explanation that sounds perfectly logical if you’re completely heartless. It also helps that I’ve been torn on Gyllenhaal as of late. I will forever be in love with him as Donnie Darko, but after a frustrating and less than ideal stage door encounter with him when he was off-Broadway a couple years ago, I’ve sort of cooled on him. Yes, he’s a great actor (and a gorgeous one to boot) but I’m not so quick to get excited about him. Approaching this film with that leeriness, combined with his haunted gaunt look set me on edge. His execution as Bloom is perfection, which is why I simultaneously wanted to run out the door and was glued to my seat to see what he’d do next.

Nightcrawler – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Funny Games (1997)

“I just saw the original Funny Games! I’d been curious about it since I absolutely _LOVE_ the US remake, but hadn’t felt the need to seek it out since the US one is said to be shot for shot. But Netflix decided to point out to me that it had the original, so I figured what the heck. Nice follow up to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer that I had just watched before.

The verdict is, yes it is a completely shot for shot remake. They even rebuilt the house and used very similar costumes. The beats all follow, the credit sequence and music, even costume pieces are all borrowed. Really the only reasons to pick one over the other are the language and the cast. I admit, watching this I kept picturing Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, and Brady Corbett. At least since I knew the US one so well, if I missed a few subtitles here and there, I wouldn’t be lost.

And yes, it’s just as disturbing in German as it is in English. And I still love it”

Dumb and Dumber To

“Dumb and Dumber finally got the sequel we’ve been waiting for for 20 years (that prequel that came in the meantime doesn’t count). It’s a little weird having such a huge time gap. Has that even happened before? For me, the long break seemed to fix some of the standard sequel issues (although not all could be avoided) but it also created its own problems. I love the original. It’s this great mix of clever and dumb comedy that’s just brilliant, especially in the hands of Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels. Okay, I really don’t think I need to sell this to you. You already knew all that, yeah?

Right, so it’s 20 years later. The boys have spent this whole time with Lloyd recovering from a mental breakdown over the incidents of the first film. Turns out, it’s just been a ridiculously long prank from which he finally releases Harry. Harry, however, has his own medical issues, and is in need of a kidney transplant. In trying to figure out who they can hit up as a donor, the duo finds out that Harry’s former flame Freida had his daughter and gave her up for adoption. Our witless heroes hit the road in search of her, and her kidneys.

Right away, the issue with sequels is always the balance of throwbacks/familiar vs new/different. Most of the time, if you’re referencing a joke that was made in a film three years prior, it feels a little trite. The advantage we had here, was that every referenced line or sight gag had a twinge of nostalgia. Yes, we do remember that bit! OMG I’ve been laughing at that scene for 20 years! However, maintaining similar set ups (road trip with a shady third wheel) does feel a bit like they weren’t trying. That’s where the deviations should have happened.

Carey and Daniels have still got it, although they have aged considerably. It’s one thing to see some young idiots running around, but it gets kinda sad when they’re older men. And a little bit creepy. Still, they’re quite young at heart, and their charisma usually carries it thru. That mix of clever/dumb is still there, where they say something that makes them sound like total dunces, but you realize that whoever wrote that line was actually quite brilliant. It does veer into the uncomfortably awkward sometimes, but so did the original. The question is whether this will stand the test of time as well as that did. I’m a little skeptical, but then again, I didn’t think much of it the first time around either.

Dumb and Dumber To – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Birdman

“I put off this post because I didn’t want to write it in the middle of a blogging marathon. Since it was just a unique and incredible film (in the running for my fave of the year), I wanted to do it justice with a clear and awake head, so I thought I could find that time within the couple of days that my marathons were auto-posting. Oops.

Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, centers around Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson. Back in the day, Riggan led the popular Birdman franchise. He eventually gave up the role, and his career spiraled ever since. In a last ditch effort to get his life and career on track, he’s eyeing Broadway. The film begins with the night before the first preview of the show which he has written, directed, and stars in and leads up to the hopeful opening night. Besides the usual drama that comes along with opening a show (difficult actors, budget constraints, short timelines, etc), he’s got his own personal demons to wrestle with, most of which are manifest by the voice of Birdman that is always in his head.

I don’t know if I can even count all the reasons I loved this movie. There was just so much that felt like it was a present just for me. I’ll be honest. This one is kinda weird. Okay, very weird. Not everyone will get it. God knows there’s a lot that I had to shrug off and just go with. But if you can suspend disbelief for two hours and let the Birdman fly, it’s well worth it.

I started to write down “”first thing that’s jumping out at me”” but then three thoughts hit me at once and I couldn’t decide which to start with. Umm, okay, the theatre part of everything. I loe theatre. I’ve been involved in many shows and seen countless others. I make trips down to NYC every so often and see as much Broadway as I can, to the point where I know midtown NYC better than a good friend who lives in the city. So of course it was great to be able to follow the action within a Broadway show, getting to see behind the scenes and how some of the last minute drama that I’m all to familiar with plays out. There’s one detail about it that got me excited beyond all reason. The real life Broadway theater they used is the St James. That’s where American Idiot played. I was there 9 times for that show. I wrote my name on the lobby wall (it was a thing for Idiot). I recognized all of the sights outside when we viewed the street, and I relished each shot of backstage, getting to see where all the magic of my obsession came together. If there was any venue I would have wanted to see that way, this would have been it.

As we trekked thru the theater and the nearby city, there was some incredible cinematography at play. Think about any movie you watch. How many times do you see cuts? Prolly every few seconds or so (less if it’s a Michael Bay flick). You cut from one side of the conversation to another. You cut between scenes. You cut and pick up when someone changes locations. Not so in Birdman. The idea was to make it all seem like one long dream-like shot. There was about ten minutes between each cut, and the ones that were there were masked to create a flow. The effect was unreal. Each piece had to be precisely choreographed so that entrances matched with the long tracking shots down twisty corridors. Then you had to hope that no one messed up their lines, or it would have had to start all over.

But oh, these actors were up to the task, leading some of the SERIOUS Oscar buzz (some are predicting as many as 10 nods total) for this film. I’ll just make a blanket statement about the difficulty with the long shots that I just mentioned. Clearly, they all kept up. Michael Keaton had the role of a lifetime. Of course, everyone is drawing the Batman/Birdman connection, but aside from that, Keaton claims Riggan Thompson is the farthest removed from himself of any character he’s ever played. Currently, he is the man to beat this year, and its not hard to see why.

And as a front runner in the supporting category, we’ve got my boy Edward Norton. To be honest, in the past couple years, his status as my fave actor was starting to fade. Not that I had anyone to replace him (Tom Hanks? Christian Bale? Channing Tatum?), but it had been so long since the days where his films allowed him performances that floored me. Birdman brought it all back. As Mike Shriner, the last minute replacement actor brought in just in time for the first preview, Norton gets to shine in a number of ways. He’s got some dramatic moments, as you find out some of the inner turmoil he goes thru, but he also has some great comedic moments. Shriner’s antics know no bounds, and Norton relishes in the chance to play them up. We’ve only seen Norton do comedy a couple times before (Death to Smoochy, Keeping the Faith), but he excels at it, and I wish he’d do more. And getting a chance to combine both ends of the spectrum of his immense skills is such a treat. Of course, any time his name is mentioned even remotely close to Oscar, I’m in his corner. I really hope this is his year. He shoulda had it 15 years ago for American History X. Birdman shows off an even more versatile and nuanced performance.

Emma Stone is also garnering some supporting buzz as Riggan’s daughter Sam, currently hired as his assistant to keep her out of trouble and in recovery. She still manages to find some trouble. A much darker turn than we’ve ever really seen from her, but with that same spark of mischief in those big eyes. Another worth mentioning is Zach Galifianakis. Usually, I can only take so much of his awkward comedy. Turns out, he doesn’t need to hide behind it. He had a few moments of frantic energy, but didn’t cross into that awkward territory he’s known for. I loved seeing him in a serious role, and really want to see more of that. Huh, it’s the inverse of Norton’s situation. Cool. Other notable names: Naomi Watts, Merritt Weaver, Amy Ryan, and prolly others that may mean more to you than me. I was describing this movie to someone, and as I usually do, I lead with the cast. Their reaction was something like “”What?! How have I not heard of this movie! I love all those people and I don’t even care what it’s about I have to see it!”” Yes. Yes you do have to see this.

Birdman – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Shadow of the Vampire

“Perfect movie for Halloween weekend for our little family here at the Cave of Wonders. Lestat was purring on my lap and Nosferatu was nearby as well. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was getting confused by hearing his name repeated on the screen. He didn’t seem to notice. Maybe because I tend to call him Fehr more than Nosferatu (see, cause it’s Nos-FEHR-atu, quite a mouthful otherwise, esp when you add in his middle name Sylar to the end of that).

This is a movie I’d meant to see for years. It’s been on my wishlists, and I’d occassionally come across a DVD, but for whatever reason would pass. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood that day or maybe I was already buying a stack of more interesting ones. But good news, it just got added to Netflix. Or at least I think it was recent because I’m sure I would have searched for it when I was first setting up my queues.

Shadow of the Vampire is a fictional account of the filming of Nosferatu. As we all know, Nosferatu was an old silent movie that was basically Dracula, but for copyright reasons the names were changed. It would have been the first time that master vamp had appeared on screen. There was a rumor that Max Schreck, the actor who played Count Orlock (guess who he’s a rip off of) was actually a vampire, which is why he was so pitch perfect in the role. This movie takes that idea and has it play out. The director actually knows the actor’s secret and has made a deal with him to appear in the movie.

I can’t believe it took me so long to see this. The film itself might have ebbed and flowed a bit, but the performances were so good. I have never seen anything like Willem DaFoe as Schreck/Orlock. I loved him so so much, and it made me proud to have a cat named after his character. Combination of creepy and slightly doofy that would have you let your guard down until he’d do something to scare the living daylights out of you. The makeup job they did on him is fantastic, and he fully embodied the role like, well yeah, nothing I’d ever seen. Got himself an Oscar nomination for it too (he lost to Benicio for Traffic), AND I’m told by IMDB that this performance scored him his Green Goblin role. Also in the cast, we’ve got John Malkovich as the director. Eddie Izzard is in there too as the actor who plays the Harker character, and there’s Cary Elwes as a replacement photographer.

Actually, it is kinda interesting to go behind the scenes of a silent (even if they’re not real scenes). Seeing the director essentially narrate the action as it happens is kinda cool, and so different from how things are done nowadays. Back around the time I got the kitty, I did try and watch the original Nosferatu. It was only right. The day I brought Lestat home, I sat her down for Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned before starting a Buffy marathon. So I tried to do the same for little Nosferatu. Problem was, I couldn’t really get into the film. The score was to blame. The copy I had came with two audio options: full orchestration or organ only. I’m not too savvy about music, but even I could tell the orchestration was just BAD. Nails on chalkboard I couldn’t deal with. The organ sound fit better, but you can only listen to straight organ for so long. I remember I kept falling asleep and waking up again with that organ haunting my dreams until I’d have to rewind to catch up on what I’d slept thru, but would doze off again. I eventually gave up on the rewinding and just made sure it played thru. Netflix did just add it. Maybe I should check that out soon and hope it has better music than my cheap-o DVD.”