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The Imitation Game

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On the surface, The Imitation Game might seem like your typical British biopic, but it’s much deeper than that. Mathematician Alan Turing was a fascinating man, and he is brought to life here brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch. There’s never a dull moment in The Imitation Game, and director Morten Tyldum keeps you on your toes as he flashes forward and back in Turing’s life. Unlike another British biopic this Oscar season, The Imitation Game is just the right amount of ambitious and involving, propelled by fantastic performances and a bolstering score.

The Imitation Game, adapted from Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, shows us the life of Turing as he was recruited to help crack the Nazi code during World War II. He helps lead a team of code-breakers at Bletchley Park and their goal is to break the Enigma, the Nazi encoding device, to intercept messages and win the war. It’s a really interesting true story, and it is estimated that Turing helped reduce the War by at least two years. We see a side of the war that we rarely see in The Imitation Game. Unlike Fury or Unbroken, two other WWII prestige pics this year, Imitation Game gives us the glimpse at the men and women behind the scenes.

Turing himself, though, had plenty of secrets. He doesn’t play well with others, leading to plenty of conflict as Turing is convinced that his computer “Christopher” will crack the code. Also, Alan was a homosexual, which at the time was illegal in Britain. The film plays subtly with this theme, never bringing it to the forefront, but keeping it in the back of our minds the entire time. In flash-forwards, we see Turing on trial for his crime, and some truly devastating scenes follow. On top of that, one of the codebreakers is a mole, and some thrilling scenes result from this. It’s a tragic tale, an important one, and Game deals with important themes throughout, as Alan himself was an ‘enigma’ of sorts. But Game is never bogged down by its heavy-dealing themes. Instead everything moves along at a smooth pace.

We also meet Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), and through her the film deals with a duality as both her and Turing are outsiders during this time. They strike up a friendship that is truly something to behold on screen, and surprisingly Knightley has actual chemistry with Cumberbatch. Speaking of, Cumberbatch gives the performance of his career in The Imitation Game. I’ve never been a big Cumberbatch fan, but I’ve never not liked him, however this movie changed my mind. He brings all of Turing’s complexities to the stage, giving us a calculated, awkward, but still likable character that we root for. Some might say Imitation Game is an underdog story, and in some aspects it definitely is, but it’s more about recognizing that Turing, like everyone else, is only human. A quote repeated three too many times in the film paints this well.

Couple this with a score from my favorite composer, Alexandre Desplat, and The Imitation Game is the whole shebang. A complex, well-told story with a tight script from screenwriter Graham Moore and a flat-out terrific performance from Benedict Cumberbatch has Oscars written all over it. But awards aside, The Imitation Game deserves to be seen because it’s an important film, one about a great man whose legacy will be remembered for ages.

 

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 

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Best of 2014: Television

Another year, another top 10 list. This time, I’ll be covering the best shows that aired during the year, new or old. We had a lot of good hits this year, from new staples like Jane the Virgin and The Affair to returning favorites like Mad Men and Veep. Netflix and HBO pave the way for great original programming, but that doesn’t discount some great network hits from ABC and NBC. It was hard making a list of 10 great shows this year simply because there were so many good ones, but I’ve come up with a confident list of shows that I think everyone should be watching now.

10. The Goldbergs

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In its first season, I didn’t think much of The Goldbergs. It was a funny, better than average network sitcom that luckily got a renewal. Season two so far has been the highlight of my Wednesday nights – it dethroned Modern Family as my favorite ABC sitcom. The family is just so likable, and the characters are so endearing and relatable. Barry, who I initially disliked, has quickly become my favorite. His one-liners and lovable stupidity is so charming that I look forward to seeing whatever mishaps he and Adam get into each week. Beverly as well, played with vigor by Wendi McLendon-Covey, is an under appreciated mom who any parent will relate to. The family’s interactions are hysterical, and the ’80s nostalgia is just icing on the cake.

9. Jane the Virgin

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Who would’ve thought a show called Jane the Virgin would become one of my favorite shows this year? The concept, a virgin young woman is artificially inseminated and becomes pregnant, is ridiculous. But stick with it and you’ll find a hilarious and surprisingly smart and complex show with plenty of twists and turns. With its telenovela style and Latin lover narrator, Jane the Virgin is a parody, but one that takes its high-concept and runs with it, leaving great storytelling and characters to boot. Gina Rodriguez is the breakout star of the fall season as Jane Villanueva, and don’t discount Jane the Virgin just for its silly title.

8. Parks and Recreation

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One of my favorite sitcoms of all time aired its penultimate season this year, and along the way we saw the departure of Ann Perkins and Chris Traeger, Ron Swanson’s struggles to be a good father, Tom’s entrepreneurial pursuits, and Leslie and Ben’s governmental struggles and recall. Only on Parks and Rec can you find great storytelling like this, thanks to its great cast of characters. We also saw one of the best season finales of the year, with a surprising twist that shocked everyone. Parks and Rec gets better every season, and I am highly anticipating its final season, and you bet I’ll be there with tissues in hand for the goodbye to one of NBC’s best shows.

7. How to Get Away with Murder

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Shonda Rhimes continues to dominate network television with her well-written, female-driven shows, and How to Get Away with Murder is the best part of TGIT. Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) is one of the best new characters of the fall, and her band of law students make for an eccentric gang of attorneys who don’t have the cleanest moral code. Murder pushes the boundaries of network television with its violence and steamy sex scenes, and the great cast borrows from all over the Shondaland canon. While believability has never been its strong suit, Murder keeps you on the edge of your seat, wondering what happens next in this high-stakes series and I am highly anticipating its return.

6. Hannibal

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I feel bad for ranking this so high, because Hannibal’s popularity has been overshadowed by other great hits. Creator Bryan Fuller has made a cult hit with Hannibal, one that might be under appreciated during its entire run. But Hannibal is one of the best network shows this year, thanks to its grim and dark tone, and excellent characterization. Everyone is still talking about the finale for good reason, because it shocked us like none other. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) is a frightening character, and the show plays with our feelings for him and messes with our head every episode. Hannibal also boasts beautiful cinematography and excellent dream-like imagery, almost like something you’d find in a multi-million dollar production.

5. Orange is the New Black

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One show that definitely entered the zeitgeist this year was Orange is the New Black, Netflix’s biggest original series. Its second season gave us a frightening villain in Vee, who challenged our characters and pushed them to their limits. Season two wisely took the focus off of Piper and instead shined the light on the brilliant ensemble of likable inmates, including Crazy Eyes, Nicky, Lorna, and new fan-favorite Poussey. Even the guards got their chance to shine. The cliffhanger storytelling and excellent finale led for a great 13-episode season, and I and plenty of others are hungry for more.

4. Game of Thrones

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What is left to say about Game of Thrones? HBO’s biggest hit and fan-favorite entered its fourth season hot off the heels of a brilliant third, and boy did it surpass my expectations. As a book reader, it’s difficult to critique the series because it has handled so many moments well, but this season we saw a few changes as the series catches up to the current publication of the fifth book. But this changed little. We still got jaw-dropping moments, characters dropping like flies, another violent wedding, and a fight scene that I don’t think I can ever watch again. Peter Dinklage was robbed of his Emmy last August, one he definitely deserved for his trial episode. Other players like Cersei, Daenerys, and Sansa also had outstanding arcs this season. The most talked/tweeted about show has a long road ahead, as it has been renewed for at least two more seasons. As we head into uncharted territory, it’ll be exciting to watch where Thrones goes.

3. Mad Men

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While I’m still unsure of the decision to split the final season, Mad Men’s seventh season started off quiet and subtle, and we saw some beautiful and brilliant characterization leading for an excellent final half. Don Draper, television’s most mysterious leading man, went through some dark times this season. The split between New York and California gave some great moments for characters Pete and Megan, and SC & P saw some internal changes as well. This all led up to the sad death of Bert Cooper, one that will shock our characters for the second half of season seven. Mad Men’s biggest feat has been its slow building of our favorite characters’ personalities. I’m anxious but excited for the series to end, because AMC has given us one of the best dramas in a long time, one that will be remembered for years to come.

2. Homeland

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I can’t believe I’m putting Homeland this high on the list. A less-than-stellar third season should’ve spelled death for the series, but the death of Brody and removal of his family from the show has energized the series and kickstarted a new era for Homeland. The wise decision to leave the drama behind and get back to the core of what made Homeland great, its CIA action-thriller roots, has given us a tense and smart drama that touches on current topics and delivers excellent action sequences. In this season we got at the core of Carrie and Saul’s relationship. Despite taking a few episode to gain its footing, the Pakistan setting has given us great new characters and thrown old favorites like Quinn for a loop. With two episodes left in the season, I trust that Homeland will bring us home with a great finale, and I look forward to the fifth season with high hopes.

1. Transparent

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The best show of 2014 comes to us courtesy of Amazon and creator Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under). Transparent is a deep and affecting dramedy about one California family who is shaken to the core after their father Mort comes out as transgender. Becoming Maura has opened old wounds amidst the family, among siblings Ali, Josh, and Sarah, who all have problems of their own. But Transparent isn’t just a family drama, it allows us to examine ourselves and our inner demons. We see ourselves and our families in these characters. Lovable or not, the Pfieffermans are family, and they sick together. The theme of acceptance is ever-present in Transparent, and issues are handled with such delicacy and humor that makes the show endearing and affecting in its own unique way. Its shocking storytelling and well-written dialogue gives us believable characters, the likes of which I haven’t seen on television before. Couple the brilliant writing with awards-worthy performances from Jeffrey Tambor and Gaby Hoffman, and we have a hit on our hands.

 

Honorable Mentions:

The Affair

Broad City

The Comeback

Looking

Masters of Sex

House of Cards

Inside Amy Schumer

Special Mention

Masterchef Junior

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I rarely watch/talk about reality TV, but I love a good cooking show here and there, and I’ve found it in Masterchef Junior. Host Gordon Ramsay, known for his foul language and hellish temper, has toned it down, as kids ages 8-13 compete for the title. Unique cooking challenges push these kids to the limits, and the kids are so darn cute and ambitious that it makes them easy to root for and hard to watch them fail. When they do however, fellow competitors lift them up. Instead of commenting on what they did wrong, Ramsay suggests how to fix it and compliments on what they did right. It’s hard to watch these kids go home week after week, but knowing they have bright futures ahead gives me comfort. In a cynical world of reality TV garbage, Masterchef Junior is the standout, and we could all learn a thing or two from these kids.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2014 in Other

 

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Wild

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Wild is quite the experience. We find ourselves side-by-side with Cheryl Strayed, played with fervor by Reese Witherspoon, as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail and rediscovers herself after her mother’s death. Directed with great care by Jean-Marc Vallee, Wild is an intimate and personal film, one that dives deep into our central character’s psyche. With stunning landscapes and great use of flashbacks and storytelling devices, Wild is an unforgettable and emotional journey that leaves a huge impression.

Based on Strayed’s 2012 memoir, which I greatly enjoyed, Wild puts us in the shoes of Strayed in her self-healing. We feel her pain, see her experiences, and we are up close and personal with her; everything she feels, we feel. With a great use of flashbacks to flesh out Cheryl’s story, Wild strikes a delicate balance of biographical storytelling. The more accessible scenes of Cheryl’s physically exhausting hike are paralleled with flashbacks of her past. We learn of her mother’s death, her nasty divorce, and her reckless sex and drug abuse that leads her to make the decision to hike over 1,000 miles. If you’re not a fan of flashbacks, Wild probably won’t change your mind, but give it a chance because they’re necessary to get the full picture.

Cheryl’s a likable character, to be sure, and Wild reminds us this fact several times along the trail. Her journey is funny, emotional, and altogether enjoyable. Any backpackers will relate with her struggles with her “monster” backpack, and her side journeys to towns and stranger’s homes gives us scenery changes that show Cheryl’s true colors.

Wild really excels at creating an emotional bond between the viewer and Cheryl herself. This wouldn’t be possible without Reese Witherspoon’s outstanding performance, her best by a mile. Witherspoon connects with Strayed in ways unimaginable, striking a chord with anyone in the audience. Wild is a feminist tale, and it’s great to see a well-developed female protagonist in such a physically and emotionally empowering role. Witherspoon lays out all her cards on the table as Cheryl Strayed. She’s vulnerable, but also she isn’t; She’s open to repair her emotional wounds because she understands herself. Her conversations with fellow backpackers along the PCT show us the true Cheryl.

Strayed’s mother, Bobbi, played by Laura Dern, is also a great character. Despite being developed entirely in flashbacks, we know enough about her to know she was more than just a mother to Cheryl. Dern brings her A-game as well – her infectious smile and personality are enough to put a smile on anyone’s face with their well-developed mother-daughter relationship.

Cheryl’s reinvention of herself parallels her emotional turmoil of her past, and the film employs unique devices to create that bind. Director Vallee is smart in his framing and storytelling devices that book readers will catch, but also non-readers will be familiar with and recognize. It’s some expert filmmaking that I haven’t seen in a long time. With Dallas Buyers Club and now again with Wild, Vallee has solidified himself as someone to watch. The film is meticulously and beautiful crafted, with beautiful landscape shots that make the viewer want to be there alongside Cheryl, and a soundtrack with hand-selected pieces that mirror her journey, Wild is the complete package.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 

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Foxcatcher

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Bennett Miller has done a few fascinating things with Foxcatcher. He’s made a chilling, calculated drama with knockout performances all around. It’s unfortunate though, that the script leaves a lot to be desired. With minimal dialogue, Miller lets the camera do the talking, which provides for some solid characterization but little impact.

Foxcatcher tells the true story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who strikes up a friendship with millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) who is sponsoring Team Foxcatcher for the 1988 Olympic Games. Du Pont takes a liking to Schultz, and the two form an unlikely partnership. Du Pont is driven by his disapproving mother while Schultz is driven by his personal ambition and his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), also an Olympic gold medalist. Du Pont and Schultz’s friendship goes to extremes, and there is exponential buildup to a great finale. It’s an excellent story that warrants being told, but Miller struggles along the way.

The fault lies in the script itself. The film is both exciting and drab, both harrowing and unaffecting. The problem is that Miller never delves too deep into the characters themselves, and instead wants us to conclude from what we see on screen. This is storytelling 101, and could work in the right hands, but the film has many discrepancies in its characterization, especially with the character of Du Pont. Not much “happens” in the film, and we are expected to connect with Schultz when he give us little to connect to. There isn’t much of a personality to the film; it’s personality is almost nonexistent. Dark and dreary films can have character, just look at the recent Gone Girl, but with Foxcatcher there isn’t much that stands out.

What does stand out, though, are the performances. Carell is indescribable. A force to be reckoned with as John du Pont. He’s one of the scariest villains of the year. The film’s little dialogue gives every line meaning, and Carell delivers. Physically, too, he’s fascinating. Some excellent cinematography from Greig Fraser gives us beautiful shots, and du Pont’s profile is astounding. The prosthetic nose added to Carell will make you forget he was ever the star of a popular sitcom for 10 years. That’s what roles like these should do, they should separate you from your prior work. A lot of actors struggle with this, but in Carell’s case he knocks it out of the park. Supporting roles from Tatum and Ruffalo are equally as good, especially Ruffalo. Tatum, not known for films like this, makes his case as a solid dramatic actor, but it’s Ruffalo who really stands out. While he isn’t on screen too much, when he is he’s great. It’s a subtle role, requiring tight intonation and Ruffalo nails it. A family man, he’s different from his ambitious brother, and the film keeps reminding us throughout.

Foxcatcher is a polarizing film. It tackles some great themes, but it’s a jack of all trades, master of none. The depressing mood throughout seemed to suck any character of the film right out, and we’re left with a weak and uneven drama. Sure it’s a great plot, but isn’t told in the best way. Worth seeing for the performances alone, Foxcatcher wasn’t what I was expecting. I wouldn’t call it a let down, but don’t expect to be blown away.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

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Let’s be honest, Mockingjay didn’t need to be split into two parts. I totally understand the reasoning ($$$), but I was worried Part 1 would be all exposition, and none of the good stuff. But I was pleasantly surprised by Part 1 of the final book in the Hunger Games saga. Director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Danny Strong and Peter Craig make do with the not-so-great novel, and deliver another exciting and well-made entry in the franchise. Bolstered by impressive performances that get better every film, and a sense of urgency that sets the film apart from the first two, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is a big success.

Mockingjay Part 1 picks up after Catching Fire. The rebels have set up base in District 13, and are planning a revolution with this other districts against the Capitol. Peeta is still in the Capitol, being used to torment Katniss and the rest of the rebels. In District 13, Katniss is clashing with President Coin (Julianne Moore), and has agreed to be the Mockingjay, a symbol of rebellion, and participate in propaganda videos against the Capitol.

Mockingjay Part 1, like all of the Hunger Games, is all very topical, but Mockingjay is even more so. The script deals with some relevant issues we find in our society today. Katniss being the subject of propaganda videos, and her camera crew led by Cressida (Natalie Dormer) give us a lot of interesting scenes. The scene in District 8 is a harrowing a torn-down war zone, and it’s all very dark and significant.

The first thing you’ll notice in Mockingjay Part 1 is that the tone is completely different. It takes about 30 minutes for the first joke to crack, and the film drags a little in the beginning. This is the theme with final novels, but with Mockingjay the split part tends to show its weaknesses. With Harry Potter, it worked. With Twilight, not so much. Director Lawrence makes it work somewhat with Mockingjay, but it isn’t without losses. The beginning is a bit of a mess, and it isn’t until Haymitch shows up that the film really kicks into gear. Some characters aren’t given much to do, and others a bit too much. There is about twice as much Gale as there should be, and the overemphasis of Cressida and Finnick is a bit strange. Obviously Part 2 will be better, but I would’ve preferred one big cohesive film that gave every character a chance to shine.

But damn, how good of a performer is Jennifer Lawrence? She gets better as Katniss as the series as progresses. Lawrence is such a natural performer, and knows when she needs to bring it and also when she needs to pull back. In the book, Katniss is a bit of a mess, but luckily in the film she’s straightened out a bit. This characterization is well needed for a great finale where she struggles getting Peeta back. Josh Hutcherson has also stepped up his game. Although he isn’t given too much to work with, he has grown most as a performer out of anyone in this franchise. The rest of the cast is naturally great, especially Elizabeth Banks, whose character Effie has been written into the finale (to great effect, I might add).

Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, and Donald Sutherland round out the returning players and each gets their moment in the spotlight. New to the series is Julianne Moore as President Coin and while she is definitely chilling and a force to be reckoned with, she doesn’t hold a candle to the always-eerie President Snow.

Mockingjay Part 1 offers plenty of thrills, but it’s the subtle, quieter moments that really shine. A scene in District 12 where Katniss begins to sing might seem a bit out of place, but stick with it because it’s a great moment. Some of the monologues are great here, and the rapport between Katniss and Snow is better than ever. There’s some good writing here that borrows some important lines from the book but also keeps the film from ever feeling like other young-adult fare. What sets The Hunger Games franchise apart from films like Divergent or The Maze Runner is its attention to detail in world-building but also its believability and dialogue. We’ve been with these characters for almost three years now, and Lawrence has built upon what director Gary Ross started in brilliant ways.

While Mockingjay Part 1 isn’t as tight as it could be, and it doesn’t match the heights of Catching Fire, it’s still a great entry in the franchise that sets us up for one thrilling finale next November. Thrilling action but also great characterization highlight the third film in the series, with knockout performances from the always-great cast. I’m eagerly awaiting the conclusion of the franchise, which should tell you something about the success and excitement that these films can deliver.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 

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The Theory of Everything

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The Theory of Everything is a pretty standard biopic. It doesn’t take any risks with its structure, and it doesn’t challenge its audience. But what it does feature is a pair of performances that are so pitch-perfect that the unimaginative plot structure seems less of a complaint. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are simply incredible as Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane. It’s a pair of nuanced performances from actors that have never been given the chance to do so, and you owe it to yourself to see these performers shine.

Based on Jane’s memoir Traveling to Infinity: My Life with StephenThe Theory of Everything gives us a glimpse at the cosmologist’s life at Cambridge University, and his relationship with Jane all while battling ALS and discovering his groundbreaking theory in general relativity. We see his first encounter with Jane while at a mixer, we see his diagnosis with moto neuron disease, and we see his exploration of the universe with his class including professor Dennis Sciama.

The film gives us plenty of insight into the moments in Hawking’s life, but rarely do we get a glimpse at who Hawking is deep down. The brief moments of flirtation between him and Jane, and an awkward family dinner are not enough to give us a clear picture of who the man really was. Instead we get basic biopic material such as his ambition and his drive to succeed. This isn’t bad if it weren’t for the fact that Jane is more fleshed out than the man himself. Battling her husband’s illness alongside him, getting frustrated with her children, wondering if she should move on, these brief vignettes give us insight into the woman Jane really was. The film never seems too interested in exploring Hawking’s really great ideas, and the focus on his belief in the existence of God seems like a strange focal point amidst the romantic drama.

Rather than being an earth-shattering biopic, The Theory of Everything never throws any expectations of the genre out the window. The first 45 minutes are incredible. Each moment is carefully crafted to advance Hawking and Jane’s relationship, but after that we fall into a typical marriage drama. This isn’t bad, it just isn’t as watchable as the first half, and becomes quite contrived. One scene towards the end of the film finds Hawking envisioning himself walking and getting out of his wheelchair, but as we know it is just a vision. These scenes play with the audience, and it would’ve been nice to have had a few more unexpected moments like those.

Luckily, the film has a great sense of humor, and the dialogue and writing is sharp and quick. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten avoids cliche romantic gunk in favor of some well-written quips. The British humor is alive and well in The Theory of Everything, and we learn Hawking was quite the smart ass. Moments such as Hawking running around and getting into trouble with his school friends are well-placed and dispersed with the drama, giving the film a good balance.

I haven’t even talked about Redmayne’s performance, which deserves significant awards attention. Going in, I knew he would be excellent. He nails Hawking’s mannerisms, and the transformation throughout the film as his disease develops is simply astounding. But I was blown away with Redmayne’s subtlety; Hawking’s light nods, his smiles, his expressions give him a lot of character for someone who speaks for only 30 minutes of the film. When he first meets Jane, we see his awkwardness, his devotion to her, and how his life is shattered after his accident. One reviewer compared it to Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot, but Day-Lewis doesn’t compare to the display that Redmayne gives. It’s an impressive performance requiring a physicality that would be hard to learn simply overnight.

Felicity Jones, too, is outstanding. Often times in a biopic like this one performer outshines the other, but the two stand on equal ground here. She’s a firm, strong character that the audience will both root for and root against. Her commitment to Stephen, but also her commitment to her family gives her a deep characterization. When she falls for Jonathan, played by Charlie Cox, you can see in her eyes the struggle she is facing. It’s a nuanced performance that grows even more complex as the film progresses.

I rarely comment on direction and cinematography, but in The Theory of Everything it is a disservice not to. James Marsh employs brilliant camera work, and every shot has meaning. Thematically, The Theory of Everything deals with time, and how we deal with the passage of the clock. Cinematographer Benoît Delhomme is smart with this theme, giving us some beautiful shots featuring the relativity of time. Jane running up a spiral staircase, Hawking’s coffee spinning. These aren’t exactly subtle, but they are brilliant. The score, as well, courtesy of Jóhann Jóhannsson is excellent enough that it warrants conversation. I’m a sucker for British period pieces that feature brilliant scores (The King’s Speech, Philomena), and add The Theory of Everything to that list. An affecting main theme, and some great cues throughout, the score is neither overpowering nor forgettable, something a film like this deserves.

I only wish the script were tighter. The Theory of Everything definitely deserves attention for its main leads, but I have a hard time believing its script and structure are anything worth mentioning. It’s an easily digestible film, akin to another recently easy biopics such as Get on Up. You can guess where it’s going, and while the film is definitely affecting and profound, it’s a pretty standard formula that we’ve seen too much of.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 

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The Comeback

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Valerie Cherish is back. Almost 10 years after its one-season run, The Comeback is back. When it aired, The Comeback wasn’t an instant hit, but over time people recognized it as being ahead of its time. With biting satire on reality television and featuring one of the most endearing characters in recent memory, The Comeback returns in an excellent premiere that doesn’t feel too foreign from its first season, despite the time gap.

Season two of The Comeback revolves around Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow) navigating the new television landscape of 2014. She is being filmed by another camera crew, this time her nephew Tyler and others. In the past years, she’s worked on independent films and QVC appearances, mostly on the down low while the rest of her costars are enjoying the limelight.

The season premiere find Valerie reuniting with some of her old friends, including nemesis Paulie G (Lance Barber), who is creating a new HBO show Seeing Red about a self-destructive writer on the set of a sitcom he created, starring Mallory Church. That sounds awfully suspicious to anyone who watched season one, which followed Valerie on Room and Bored and her bouts with Paulie G. Eager to take action, Valerie confronts Paulie, only to be cast in the role after she learns they wanted her in the first place.

If this is your first episode of The Comeback, you might be lost. If that’s the case, watch season one and then come back. Season two features all the hallmarks of what made season one so damn good. Old favorite faces are back, like Mickey (Robert Michael Morris), Valerie’s flamboyant assistant. Even Juna (Malin Ackerman) makes a brief appearance, before being swarmed by paparazzi. Valerie’s husband Mark (Damian Young) is still sick of his wife’s reality show environment, and he urges her to call her lawyers.

The Comeback still works 10 years later, thanks in part to Kudrow’s outstanding performance as Valerie. Kudrow gives off such an earnest demeanor that you don’t pity Valerie, but rather you’ll find yourself actively rooting for her to succeed. This worked in season one as she clashed with her neurotic coworkers on Room and Bored, but it still works here as Valerie storms through the offices of HBO, only to be embarrassed in front of the Seeing Red crew. Painfully awkward but hilarious moments like these are where The Comeback shines.

The meta-ness has been cranked up to ten in season two, as well. Valerie meets with Andy Cohen and RuPaul, who convince her to go to HBO. Chelsea Handler and Kathryn Hahn are both auditioning for the role of Mallory. The celebrity culture remains unchanged in The Comeback, telling us something about the product of our time as well as how smart the show was back in 2005. Reality TV has come a long way, and The Comeback predicted that. Before Duck Dynasty and Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, we had Real Housewives of Orange County.

So in summation, nothing has really changed. The reason The Comeback feels so confident and so seamlessly integrated is because we as a society haven’t. It honestly feels like season one could have aired in 2013. That’s a testament to the fantastic writing and how The Comeback snaps a portrait of Hollywood as it is. Still as funny and as cringe-inducing as ever, The Comeback returns even smarter and even fiercer, as Valerie plans to take Hollywood by storm.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2014 in TV Reviews

 

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