The Theory of Everything is a middle-of-the-road, Oscar bait flick… MoreThe Theory of Everything is a middle-of-the-road, Oscar bait flick that serves as a watered down biography of Stephen Hawking. It more or less boils down his life as centering on his relationship with his first wife and little else. In fact, it struck me as purely odd how little of Stephen Hawking the brilliant scientist was actually in the picture. The movie should really be titled STEPHEN HAWKING: HIS MARRIAGE AND ITS SLOW DRIFT TOWARD DIVORCE. Where the movie shines is where we see the slow progressive stages of ASL eating our protagonist alive and Eddie Redmayne completely commits to this. As for Felicity Jones' character, she vacillated between sympathetic and irritating quite frequently, and I have a hard time forming a concrete or favorable opinion of her. I wanted to see more of Stephen Hawking's career and his crazy off the wall theories that have made him such a maverick in the scientific community. We get little to none of that here. Now I'm not asking for complex mathematical theory to be on screen (the highest levels of Math and Physics verge on the metaphysical and the philosophical), but I wanted something deeper and smarter. But that would scare people off. This is exactly what will appeal to the Academy and general audiences - a complicated, soap opera-esque love story and a feel good drama. So I find it quite fascinating that this movie is largely a waste of the most important element in Hawking's work. Time.
Ridley Scott is another director whose reputation has taken a beating… MoreRidley Scott is another director whose reputation has taken a beating as of late. It seems everything after his masterful Kingdom of Heaven: Director's Cut and the damn good American Gangster has met with some misfortune. Body of Lies was well intentioned but heavy handed and like ten people saw it. Robin Hood was a well-crafted update with good visuals and decent action, but lacked oomph and was forgettable. Prometheus was beautiful and buoyed by strong performances and great ambition, but failed as an Alien prequel and its ending was subject to massive internet nerd rage a la Mass Effect 3. The Counselor was an outright disaster of a movie, but few people are aware of its existence, and Scott is probably thankful for that. But there was no escaping dishonor and scorn for this one, Exodus: Gods and Kings. This is public and high profile. Millions of eyes are watching to see if the director of Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator still has "it," or if he is another "has been" like George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, or Brian De Palma. In my personal opinion, the answer is more complicated than that, and it is quite clear that there are many more films to go in this man's filmography, so time will tell.
As for Exodus itself, we have a mediocre, but well produced, paint-by-the-numbers pseudo historical epic. It is quite clear that Scott has always been influenced by the sword and sandal epic films of the 1950's and 60's (see William Wyler and David Lean). It showed pretty heavily in Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, but this was his first stab at a biblical epic, which quite frankly is a genre that doesn't exist anymore. Most movies centering on Judeo-Christian themes today are made for a religious audience and are relatively small in scale and budget. A notable exception to this was the recent Noah, which used a deliberately apocryphal approach and irritated the few religious people who bothered to see it. Exodus mostly follows the broad strokes of the popular narrative and adds in small bits of PG-13 violence, as to entertain secular audiences and not invoke the wrath of the faithful. It's sound business strategy, but it has no teeth ultimately, nor does it stand out much from the many other versions of the tale already available.
The casting director quite honestly needs to be shot. Everyone has mocked the casting of Caucasian actors in all the title roles, but it goes beyond that. Christian Bale as Moses? John Turturro as Pharaoh Seti? Sigourney Weaver as an Egyptian queen with only two lines? And if that wasn't bad enough Aaron "BITCH" Paul as Joshua? Who the f*** signed off on that? To be fair all involved try their best to sell the crap out of this thing with mixed results. The visuals and locations do stand out and are beautifully rendered. It is Hollywood's Egypt in an even more extreme case than Gladiator was Hollywood's Rome, but it's all in service to the memory of The Ten Commandments and Cleopatra, or so I assume. And of course you can't help but gawk at the massive display of CGI plagues and acts of God, or more accurately watch millions of dollars burn on screen. This is a prime example of a "rental epic," in sharp contrast to The Hobbit trilogy which is almost exclusively "theater epics." The Prince of Egypt is still the definitive adaptation of the tale, and is probably the finest religious animated movie ever made. As for Scott, he best pray that the sequel to Prometheus reverses his fortunes or sell his soul to seal the deal. I still got my fingers crossed for that.
The Hunger Games is still the best YA franchise aimed at a female… MoreThe Hunger Games is still the best YA franchise aimed at a female audience (sorry Divergent) even if it does strain from being cannibalized from a score of dystopian fiction. Despite being about a leftist revolt against a totalitarian, top-down aristocratic dictatorship, it is probably the most corporately endorsed series out currently. That's a bit awkward. This installment, Mockingjay Part 1, mostly marks time with a couple of notable scenes and performances that save it from near mediocrity. Jennifer Lawrence throws everything into her increasingly schizophrenic and inconsistently written role. One moment she is compelling, shooting down gunships with explosive arrows John Rambo style, delivering moments of pure fury and fire with her perfect hair flowing in the wind. And the next she is crying behind some pipes, screaming at her comrades, and holding a rebellion hostage over her newfound love affair. The real heavyweight is Phillip Seymour Hoffman who shines as a clever propaganda artist and excellent manipulator. This guy was having fun. (Even in death, this man is winning.)
I enjoyed the brief glimpse of urban warfare and other moments of violence as war spreads throughout Panem. Not to mention the theme of propaganda and its manipulative influence on the course of history. And that is one advantage of this movie over previous installments - it feels a bit more weighty and dark. Yet, it lacks the element of fun that Catching Fire had going for it. For every scene that grabbed me, there were two more in which jumpsuit-clad characters sit in a semi-dark bunker and engage in a flat dialogue. There clearly wasn't enough plot for two separate movies. Hopefully the conclusion can knock it out of the park and elevate what has been an okay or decent series into a truly memorable or great one.
Oh and the entertainment media can officially stop sucking Lorde's dick for arranging the "official" soundtrack and that one blah, uninspired song that plays over the credits. I found the simple, folksy "The Hanging Tree" sung by Lawrence to be more moving and appropriate.
St. Vincent is a cute, well-acted comedy that showcases Bill Murray's… MoreSt. Vincent is a cute, well-acted comedy that showcases Bill Murray's talents as a character actor. This is a crude movie with a heart, but you can basically recreate the entire script just by watching the trailer or the first 3 scenes. A crass, gross, alcoholic Vietnam War vet babysits a smart, puny kid and they learn from each other while hijinks ensue. (See this basically writes itself.) It's also nice to see Melissa McCarthy in a non-comedic role; it shows she has some range. That being said it's worth a rental and probably not much else. The funniest gag is actually during the ending credits where we see Bill Murray listening to Bob Dylan on his Walkman and attempting to sing, while drinking and watering his dirt backyard.