Month: April 2015

The Theory of Everything (2014)

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I have heard of plenty of negative reviews about The Theory of Everything, so I came in prepared. The good news is, I think it’s a fine film. The bad news is, I think it’s a fine film, but nothing more. That being said, the hate may be a little overwhelming, as there are far worse best picture nominees (The Blind Side???).

When you try to cramp so much about a legendary figure into 2 hours, it’s no surprise that everything comes off as rushed. And that’s pretty much my issue with this movie: it touches on everything, but on a superficial level. Every emotion, every tear, every “conflict” comes off as one-dimensional. Obviously, the movie is trying to focus more on the relationship between Hawking and his wife but I do wish it had explored his work a little more too. Surely it wasn’t as simple as him coming up with theories just like that? Anyway, everything pretty much zooms past just like that, only getting better when the characters of Jonathan and Elaine were introduced because there was finally some, you know, conflict. Of course, all these only happened in the second half of the film, while you are treated to a picture perfect portrayal of the Hawking’s marriage that can withstand anything. It’s not outright terrible, but I just wished there was more. Also, the fact that everybody seems to speak in inspirational quotes kinda bothered me at first, but at least the actors managed to sell their lines.

Of course, the whole movie is really pretty to look at, and I also like its score, which made it pretty relaxing to watch. I think this is the only nomination, along with Felicity Jone’s best actress nod (no win though), that I can agree with. I actually thought she was the one supplying the emotional power throughout the film. Despite how, well, basic the screenplay is, I thought she managed to develop her character throughout the film. I could see her frustration, her sadness, her inner conflicts (like her feelings for Jonathan) and her moving loyalty to Stephen. It’s a very good performance that I would even say is the mvp of this whole movie. Still, I have to confess I prefer her other best actress nominees. But it’s a good performance that I’m glad I watched anyway. And also, changing her hairstyle =/= ageing, but that’s not her fault anyway.

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Eddie Redmayne… I don’t know man. I know there’s a backlash against his win, and I initially thought it was because of who he beat. But having watched it in its entirety now, I’m afraid I cannot really agree with his Oscar win. I’ll give him credit when it comes to the physicality of his performance – clearly, he has done his research and the way he portrays the character’s physical deterioration is fantastic. He also has some crying scenes here and there that are moving, but I felt like he was just on one long note throughout his performance. It’s not really his fault though – the movie goes all out to portray Hawking as some likable and adorable saint who has no flaws, so there’s only that much he can do. Especially in the second half, where he basically doesn’t say anything at all and Jones overshadows him. A good performance, but nothing more.

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Of course, I was already aware that i’s going to be a weak year for the best picture category so I wasn’t too disappointed with The Theory of Everything. Like I said before, it’s a fine film but nothing more. 3.5/5.

Also, while I’d probably have to rewatch Gone Girl to have a clearer opinion, best actress would probably be something like:

1) Reese Witherspoon 5/5
2) Marion Cotillard 5/5
3) Rosamund Pike 4.5/5
4) Julianne Moore 4.5/5
5) Felicity Jones 4/5

I’d never have thought that there would be a day I give Reese Witherspoon my personal win for best actess, but I really loved her performance. It might seem like a strong year for me but I still very much preferred the last 2 years. I’m probably over-enthusiastic and honestly, Cotillard is starting to lean towards 4.5 while Moore is more of a 4 for me now. I will have to rewatch again to decide though!

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Paul Newman in The Hustler (1961)

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Paul Newman received his second Oscar nomination for playing “Fast” Eddie Felson in The Hustler (1961).

The Hustler is a terrific film. I disliked it the first time I watched it but this time round I found it to be incredibly well-made and directed. It’s a depressing and slow film for sure but for some reason it never becomes unbearable, and the overall atmosphere can really draw the viewers in. The film is stylishly-made, from the cinematography to the music, and the acting is brilliant all around. Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott give Oscar worthy performances, especially Gleason who would get my personal vote despite appearing only in the beginning and end. The only performance that I didn’t really like was Piper Laurie…found her to be mechanical and weird. Her character is strange and messed up for sure, and she does have some very good moments, but I couldn’t really buy her performance.

Paul Newman is a legend, and one of my favourite film actors of all time. The guy is a very definition of a movie star, right from his good looks and his incredible acting abilities. I really love his acting style and the way he brings out the complex layers behind the characters he plays.

Eddie Felson is one of Newman’s many iconic roles, and it’s easy to see why. The character is an incredibly difficult one to play, considering that he doesn’t change much throughout the film till the end. Another thing about the character is how unlikeable he really is. Actually, I found him incredibly annoying during the first game with Minnesota Fats, especially when he was yabbering on about wanting to win. Still, every Newman performance would have that distinctive charm of his that he uses to complement his acting. Even though I found Eddie to be really annoying at the beginning of the film, the smile he gives can really draw you in.

That being said, the strength behind this performance is the way Newman allows us to understand the mentality behind this character, and why he has this obsession with winning. We realise that he pretty much has nothing else in his life to live for, and how playing pool is everything to him. In one particular monologue, he vividly describes the difference between being good and being great – fantastic. The whole obsession never feels overplayed and comes across as natural and realistic.

There’s also this prevalent sadness and loneliness that’s hanging around the character throughout the film. His relationship with Sarah (Laurie) is a fascinating one. They’re both messed up, and yet they needed each other as well. All this makes the last scene even more poignant, when he realises how much he loved her.

I can’t even begin to describe how powerful and complex Newman’s performance is. Raw, powerful and fantastic. 5/5

Reese Witherspoon in Wild (2014)

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Reese Witherspoon received her second Oscar nomination for playing Cheryl Strayed in Wild.

It absolutely surprises me to say this, but I loved Wild. It’s gorgeously shot, well-edited (in my opinion) and just so calming and healing to watch. I loved every aspect of it, and I would even have given it nominations for best picture and director. Yes, I loved it that much. Laura Dern was good, but like Patricia Arquette, I found myself wanting more from the performance. That being said, unlike Arquette, Dern has the disadvantage of shorter screen time so I’m a little more forgiving. Their performances are pretty similar though, and I can accept the nomination (such a weak line-up though!).

Reese Witherspoon is…not really my favourite actress. I don’t like her style as it usually comes across as forced and awkward, and no, it’s not good in a Diane Keaton way. Too often I get the impression from her movies that she’s trying really hard to suger-coat her on-screen persona, and I kinda feel the same way about her real life personality in interviews too. Let’s just say that whatever charm people saw in Walk The Line, Water for Elephants (MISCAST!) and Legally Blonde just flew past my head.

So I’ll just drop the bomb now: I loved her performance here. It’s crazy, considering how I came in with super low expectations, but came out super impressed. Like not just in a “hey, she’s better than usual” way. I don’t know what came over me, and it could be my overall affection for the film too, but I was engrossed in every single moment of her performance.

The awkwardness that’s usually present in Witherspoon’s performances is not present here, except for maybe the brief scene with the therapist, but what really impressed me was the layers and complexities behind the character that she presented on screen. I felt for Cheryl during every step of her hike: the fear (her eyes when confronted by the men), the vulnerability, the sadness, the depression. The character’s a real mess and I was surprised at how she did not choose to hide it at all, portraying her drug-addiction and promiscuity with brutal honesty. It’s clear to me that Witherspoon was highly passionate about this movie and character, and I felt like she really managed to dig deep into the character’s troubles.

She takes the viewers with her throughout the journey, and we can see Cheryl slowly letting go of the sadness that has been holding her down all these years. The flashbacks were also crucial in explaining how Cheryl became the person that she is, and she nails every one of those scenes.

You can call me crazy, but I just loved every moment of Reese Witherspoon’s wonderful performance in Wild. It’s powerful, beautiful and haunting to watch, and I’d even go as far to say that Wild is such a healing and great film to watch mainly because of her performance. 5/5.

Boyhood (2014)

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It’s one of the most critically acclaimed film of 2014, receiving a grand total of 6 Oscar nominations and 1 win for Patricia Arquette in Best Supporting Actress. The film is also famous for its 12 years shoot, which I have to admit sounded pretty gimmicky to me, but I’ll elaborate more on that later. Boyhood basically tells the life story of Mason, a boy from a broken family and his journey from childhood to college.

Boyhood, like pretty much every film in the world, has its share of haters and also its share of fans. Personally, I didn’t really connect to it as much as I’d have liked to, which is strange considering that I usually love these “slow and boring” films about life. If I’m being completely honest, I feel like I have seen European films that have done a better job at capturing these slices of life moments, including Two Days, One Night, which certainly didn’t take 12 Years to shoot. I agree, there were some thoughtful moments here and there that I was moved by (namely Ethan Hawke’s scenes), and I could actually empathise with the main character throughout the whole film despite Ellar Coltrane’s increasingly underwhelming performance. But at the end of the day, the dialogue still feels very movie-ish, if you get what I mean, and man, the acting by some of the cast members can be pretty laughable.

That being said, I liked that the 12 years shoot actually did give the film a sense of continuity. The characters did age in front of my eyes, and the pacing of the film is pretty well done. I never felt it was rushed or haphazardly done, and it does feel like a life journey. Like I said, Ethan Hawke’s performance was very moving and he really showed how the character grew from the good-for-nothing dad to a responsible father. Patricia Arquette was fine. I have to confess that I don’t love her performance as much as the awards clearly do, although I suspect I could be missing something. Her final monologue was good, but it wasn’t enough and somehow I felt like I wanted more from her. Still, she was pretty good.

It’s not a film I particularly enjoyed, and to be honest some moments were pretty boring and unnecessary (But hey, I guess that’s life!). The segment with the alcoholic stepfather was weirdly out of place, but I guess it was to illustrate Olivia’s “bad life choices”. On one hand, I’m glad they didn’t drag out what could have been a painfully depressing segment, but on the other hand, it flew by so fast that it barely registered in my head. I guess I can understand what Richard Linklater was going for: to portray the way life flies and how each moment is transient in nature. Still, I can respect the effort and understand the love for it, but alas, I’m not one of them. I’m feeling lenient so I’m going for 3.5/5, but it’s more towards a 3. I guess I’m too “shallow” for it.

Steve Carell in Foxcatcher (2014)

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Steve Carell received his first Oscar nomination for playing John du Pont in Foxcatcher (2015).

Foxcatcher is a terrific film that I found myself loving much much than I expected myself to. I initially just wanted to watch it for its performances but I was hooked right from the beginning to end. It’s a slow-burner for sure and I get why some may find it boring but I was fascinated by the story and the acting throughout. In fact, it may even get my personal vote for best picture even though it wasn’t nominated and the only other nominee I’ve seen is the actual winner Birdman (okay, I know). Mark Ruffalo also gives a terrific and heartbreaking performance as Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum)’s caring brother Dave, and to be honest I don’t think I would have minded too much if he had won. I really miss the times where supporting nominees are so quietly effective and haunting. Channing Tatum was also surprisingly good.

Foxcatcher was an opportunity for comedian Steve Carell to showcase his dramatic chops. I have read several comments about how he just received the nomination because he was venturing into drama, and how people are pissed that he got the position over Jake Gyllenhaal (Whom I REALLY want to watch). I came in with low expectations because of the overwhelmingly negative reviews that I’ve read, but I came out more impressed than expected. I wasn’t expecting much based on what I’ve seen from the trailer, but I think I would give Carell more credit than most people would.

The performance is pretty divisive: Some are raving about it while some just think that he’s flat out horrible. I’m probably in the middle, but leaning towards the positive side. There were really moments here and there where I saw some brilliantly acted scenes. The “Ornithologist, Philatelist, Philanthropist” scene in the helicopter comes to mind, as well as the scene where he fires the gun in the gym and the slapping scene. It’s during moments like this where we can see du Pont’s troubled state of mind. One of the strongest part of his performance is the way he explored John’s relationship with Mark. John clearly sees himself as an all powerful and inspirational coach to his team, when in reality he is not. The way Tatum and Carell deals with each other is fantastic, from Mark’s increasing discomfort to John’s increasing need to dominate.

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One common criticism I’ve read about Carell’s performance is how he is too mannered throughout his entire performance. Actually, I feel it’s the other way round: it borders on underplayed and one-note. I agree that his way of talking could have been more natural, but it didn’t bother me as much as some people. I get that he is trying to be subtle about his portrayal of du Pont’s mental state, but there were some instances here and there where I felt…nothing. I’m no acting expert and I’m not too familiar with the real John du Pont’s story, but I wish he could have delved into the character’s psychological troubles deeper rather than just give a blank stare. One aspect I really wanted to see more developed was his relationship with his mother, which was probably the root of his problems. I felt like the conversation with his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) was a missed opportunity for him to really show his desperation to earn her approval. That being said, the scene where he pretended to coach in front of her was a great one, but it just wasn’t enough for me.

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Having said all that, Carell has a strong presence throughout his entire film and whenever he’s on screen I felt compelled to learn more about his character. I read that the cast were creeped out by him and in a way I can see why. You can totally sense that the guy is totally off despite how little he does. It’s not a bad performance, and despite being underwhelmed in some areas, I was still impressed by it. 3.5/5.