Archive for December, 2014

Into the Woods: The Woods Can Be a Wonderful Place—Movie

December 29, 2014

Into the Woods” is a joyous, albeit dark, journey into the combined worlds of Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine and the Brothers Grimm. Directed by Rob Marshall, with screenplay by Lapine, based on the musical by Sondheim and Lapine, “Into the Woods” grabs you in the very first scene and never lets go.

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Through song we’re quickly introduced to a variety of familiar fairy-tale characters with some unfulfilled dreams, chief among them—the Baker and his Wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Cinderella’s Stepmother (Christine Baranski), Jack and his Mother (Daniel Huttlestone and Tracey Ullman) and most especially, the Witch (Meryl Streep). Yes, the Witch has unfulfilled dreams, too…dreams that only the Baker and his Wife can make happen. And why would they help the Witch? Well, as she explains, to reverse the curse they didn’t know was placed upon them…a curse that makes it impossible for them to have children. Helping the Witch puts the Baker and his Wife in contact with virtually every other character in the musical. The plot seems simple and direct, but that is not necessarily the case. As the Witch reminds them…and us…be careful what you wish for.

What helps makes “Into the Woods” so successful is that every single actor can actually act and sing. Each actor makes you believe in his or her character and is perfectly cast.

The supporting cast…and the word, supporting, is used loosely… is just phenomenal. As the Wolf, Johnny Depp is sublime. He is everything you’d want in a wolf…sly, sneaky, lithe and sexy…even with those ears and whiskers. What’s more, his voice suits his character to a tee. Depp has limited amount of screen time, but he makes the most of every single second. As the object of his “affection,” Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Hood is terrific. She conveys just the right amount of spunkiness. Crawford may be young and little, but this girl can sing…she’s a precocious belter and is fabulous. Daniel Huttlestone and Tracey Ullman as Jack and his Mother make the perfect team. Huttlestone is impishly cute with a great voice and his character’s “love affair” with his cow seems very believable. Tracey Ullman has a shockingly melodic voice. In a supporting role, we don’t see a lot of her, but she is fun to watch when she’s on the screen. Fans of “The Bold and Beautiful’s” Mackenzie Mauzy knew she could sing and as Rapunzel she doesn’t disappoint, making a beautiful and belligerent Rapunzel. Cinderella’s Stepmother, Christine Baranski, is hysterically mean. She can sing with the best of them and her role just seems meant for her.

Chris Pine as Cinderella’s Prince and Billy Magnussen as his brother and Rapunzel’s Prince have to be singled out for special praise, especially Pine. They are both fabulous and together are just hysterical. When they sing, “Agony,” you’ll be in anything but. Pine is the year’s comedic find. He has a bit more dialogue than Magnussen and as the slightly dim, but oh so charming prince, he just continues to astound, he is that good.

Then there are the leads…to say they are all amazing is putting it mildly. As the Baker, James Corden is so very lovable you can’t help but root for him. He might not be leading man handsome, but he is a terrific actor and with his wonderful voice, he makes you fall in love with him. His scenes with the young characters, Jack and Little Red Riding Hood, are very charismatic and his work with Blunt and Streep is especially good. Emily Blunt is extremely endearing as the Baker’s Wife. She has a delightful voice and her scenes with Corden and Pine are terrific in very different ways. Anna Kendrick gives us a very plucky Cinderella, one with a huge heart, but fierce in spirit at the same time. Her singing is amazing and she is just all-around magnificent. Finally there is Meryl Streep as the Witch. To say she is astounding and perfect in every way is an understatement. Many of us knew Streep could sing, but we’ve never heard her sing the way she does in ‘Into the Woods.” Ferocious and soft when she needs to be, she just nails it. The beauty of Streep is that her part is meant to be huge and she plays that just right without overwhelming her cast-mates. The other actors more than hold their own with her which makes the movie a well-rounded affair.

The musical takes full advantage of the screen, using special effects where it’s called for and not a bit more. The effects help the film, but never overtake it. As brilliant as “Into the Woods’” cast is, the movie would be nothing without the breathtakingly beautiful and lyrically fun songs of Stephen Sondheim. Abetted by James Lapine’s marvelous screenplay, the astute direction of Rob Marshall and the most wonderful of costumes by Colleen Atwood, “Into the Woods” is a feast for the ears and eyes.

Sometimes it’s more than ok to go into the woods. This is one of those times. Run, don’t walk.

4 nuggets out of 4

 

Famous Puppet Death Scenes: Death Does Not Become Them—Theatre

December 28, 2014

“We are all dying each moment; we’re dying as I speak,” says puppet Nathan Tweak in his opening monologue for “Famous Puppet Death Scenes.” He is correct…part of me died a little watching this recent offering from the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

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Created and conceived by Canada’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop, “Famous Puppet Death Scenes” is extremely imaginative and humorous in spots, but when it’s not funny, it just sits there and I do mean sit. The “play” consists of 22 little scenes enacted by puppets. Some scenes have humans taking center stage as well. Most of the scenes have a brutal tone to them as suggested by the title. Some of the scenes are shockingly funny in their violent end…the first time. But too often the same act is committed several times in the same scene and, hence, loses its surprise and its fun. Other times, the same violence is enacted in a different scene.

The male actors who do come out on stage to either perform with the puppets or do scenes on their own are immensely talented in their expressions and in their physicality. But no amount of talent can make waiting for a huge eye to blink either amusing or entertaining.

“Famous Puppet Death Scenes” is directed by Tim Sutherland, Peter Balkwill, Pityu Kenderes and Judd Palmer and stars Nicholas Di Gaetano, Pityu Kenderes and Viktor Lukawski.

Once again, “Famous Puppet Death Scenes” is extremely original and the puppets are made to do some very unusual creative acts. But is it entertaining? For this reviewer, the answer is, “sadly, not very.”

“Famous Puppet Death Scenes runs through January 4.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004

1 ½ nuggets out of 4

Annie: Changed Up But Still Fun—Movie

December 22, 2014

Sometimes a movie surprises you…in a good way…and so it is with the 2014 “Annie.” Extremely entertaining, full of heart and fun, there’s truly not a bad performance in the entire film. And while you won’t tap dance your way out of the theatre, you’ll leave humming with a smile on your face. Directed by Will Gluck with screenplay by Gluck and Aline Brosh McKenna, based on Thomas Meehan’s stage play book and Harold Gray ‘s comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, the best way to enjoy this “Annie” is to leave your memories of yesteryear’s versions behind and appreciate this version on its own merit.

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“Annie” 2014 is less a traditional movie musical and more of a dramedy with musical numbers sprinkled in. Set in present day, Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives in a group foster home run by Ms. Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), a one-time wanna-be actress and present-day alcoholic. Annie was abandoned by her parents as a child outside an Italian restaurant, left with nothing but half a locket and a note saying that someday they hoped to see her again at the restaurant. One afternoon, while trying to save a dog from being tortured by some neighborhood boys, she is almost hit by a car, but is swept out of harm’s way by Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), a self-made billionaire running for mayor. His campaign advisor (Bobby Cannavale) thinks there might be benefit to his campaign…giving him some much need humanization…by inviting Annie to live with Stacks for a period of time. And so she and her newly adopted dog, Sandy, come to live with Stacks in his penthouse. Annie’s relationship with Stacks, his assistant, Grace (Rose Byrne), Ms. Hannigan and the girls under her “care” carry the story forward.

Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx, “Annie’s” two leads, are both very good and have terrific chemistry together. Wallis, so winning in her “Beasts of the Southern Wild” film debut, continues to captivate. She’s extremely convincing in conveying Annie’s innocence and street smarts. She definitely has some dance moves and sings well enough in the role. It is no surprise that Foxx can sing and dance, and as Stacks, he is absolutely charmingly perfect in the part.

As good as Wallis and Foxx are, it really is the rest of the cast that helps make Annie as entertaining as it is. At times Cameron Diaz’s Hannigan may seem over the top, but truth be told, she is really good as the drunk longing for the good old days. Her scenes with the girls are fun to watch and her “Easy Street” song and dance with Cannavale is very sweet. Her interaction with David Zayas as the shop owner, Lou, who harbors a crush on Hannigan, is especially good. And when her singing truly counts, her voice in the part works. Rose Byrne’s scenes with Wallis are achingly good. However, the real hands-down scene stealer is Stephanie Kurtzuba as Mrs. Kovacevic, the case worker helping Annie. She is just amazing…funny, musical, and capable of saying so much with just the blink of an eye, she steals every scene she is in without even trying.

There is some very appealing singing and dancing by Annie and the foster girls. “It’s the Hard Knock Life” is particularly enjoyable. “Annie” also features some amusing cameos and has some great NYC and subway shots adding to the film’s overall enjoyment.

See this “Annie” with an open mind and you’ll be glad you did. It’s just a plain good time at the movies.

3 nuggets out of 4

The Imitation Game: Film-making at its Best—Movie

December 19, 2014

The Imitation Game” is a brilliant film about how the man who broke secrets harbored a secret which eventually broke him. Directed by Morten Tyldum with screenplay by Graham Moore, based on the biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, “The Imitation Game” is the true story of Alan Turing, who, by breaking the Nazi code, helped bring an end to World War II. Beginning in 1939, Turing and his team worked at England’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. Because their work was done in secret, the world did not learn of what Turing and his colleagues did to change the course of the war in favor of the Allies until many years later.

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“The Imitation Game” begins in 1951 with the arrest of Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch). During the course of his interrogation, he decides to break his silence, telling his story to the arresting detective, Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear),   and warns him that what he’s being told can never be repeated. We then go back and forth in time, beginning with his Turing’s recruitment into the Enigma Program—learning about the work the group accomplished and the relationships that developed within the group and end with Turing’s arrest and the years that followed.

Turing doesn’t suffer fools easily and has an abrasive personality, to put it mildly. He’s not one for diplomacy, speaking the truth as he sees it. Although his superiors, Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) and Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) don’t love his attitude, they do appreciate his smarts.

Through the magnificent acting of Alex Lawther as the young Alan, we see the bullying Turing received as a young student. His boyhood friendship with student Christopher (Jack Bannon) affected him deeply and the manner in which Turing honors him later is a stroke of genius.  As an adult, Turing earns the respect of his colleagues, but not necessarily their friendship. Turing helps recruit the lone woman, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), into Enigma and the two develop a warm relationship, which, for a time, proves beneficial to both.

“The Imitation Game” is full of wonderful performances, but as Alan Turing, Benedict Cumberbatch is absolutely fantastic. He has the most expressive face which he uses to full advantage in this role. He simply nails all the inner conflicts his character goes through. When the final credits roll, you feel as if you have met the real Turing and walked in his shoes. It’s because of Cumberbatch’s performance that the movie has such a dark, sad feel to it.  The film’s supporting cast never lets the main character or the film down. It’s hard to think of someone better in the Joan Clarke role than Keira Knightley. She has a look that fits easily into the style of the times and there is something about her that makes you believe she could be that smart…matching Turing step for step…quip for quip. As his “colleagues,” Matthew Goode and Allen Leech turn in great performances. Each has a moment to shine and each takes that moment and runs with it. Charles Dance and Mark Strong are also very good as Turing’s bosses.

Special kudos must be given to Alexandre Desplat’s magnificent score which suits “The Imitation Game” perfectly. The real black and footage used within the film also lends a great deal of authenticity to the story.

Beginning with television’s WGN America series, “Manhattan,” about the making of the atomic bomb (which has many similarities to “The Imitation Game”) and “The Theory of Everything,” the smartly performed “Imitation Game” joins the growing list of 2014 stories about geniuses and their effect on world events. What makes all of these endeavors work so well is that there are genuine, compelling stories being told and that each one has real heart. Since Turing was eventually convicted of gross indecency, a criminal offence resulting from his admission of maintaining a homosexual relationship, “The Imitation Game” will not necessarily leave you in an uplifted mood…in fact, it could have the opposite effect. Turing, for all of his contributions to the world’s well-being, including being thought of as the father of computer science, was treated abominably. That one can feel so depressed from watching the story unfold from afar…a story that took place many years ago…speaks volumes for everyone associated with “The Imitation Game.”

If you are in the need for a spirit booster upon leaving the theatre, this reviewer suggests seeing “Pride” immediately to see how far we’ve hopefully progressed as human beings.

4 nuggets out of 4

The Babadook: Daytime Viewing Recommended—Movie

December 16, 2014

So very disturbing, but extremely well done, Australia’s “The Babadook” may be one of the creepiest movies ever. And it’s that excellence which makes it so horrific and terrific at the same time.

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Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, “The Babadook” is the story of widowed Mom, Amelia (Essie Davis), and her young son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Amelia’s husband died in a car crash while driving her to the hospital to deliver Samuel. Since then it’s been just the two of them. Amelia works as an orderly and seemingly has few friends except for a tenuous relationship with her sister who has a daughter the same age as Samuel. Samuel is in first grade and it’s his increasing aggressive behavior that has driven many of their friends away and has strained her relationship with her sister.

Samuel has a hard time sleeping soundly. He sees monsters everywhere. He has absolutely no problem speaking exactly what’s on his mind and what’s often on his mind is very weird and dark. He is very smart for his age and to counteract the monsters he “sees,” he has developed some fairly dangerous weapons to kill them. Amelia is in the habit of reading him stories before he goes to bed. One night the two of them read the pop-up storybook “The Babadook.” In retrospect that might not have been the best thing to do. Samuel becomes obsessed with “Babadook” and not in a good way.

What makes “The Babadook” so terrific is its acting. Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman are astounding in their range. From where did they find Wiseman? He is absolutely fantastic. His Samuel is such an obnoxious child at times, that in the beginning you almost want go to the screen and hug his mother to let her know she’s not alone. He is terrifying in his earnestness that someone or something is out to get them and he will do anything to protect the two of them, most especially his mother. Wiseman does an amazing job in conveying how smart and resilient Samuel is. Davis is equally convincing as the mother dedicated to the well-being of her son while being at her wit’s end in trying to figure out how to help him.  Her portrayal of the over-whelming fatigue Amelia feels in raising Samuel is palpable. Her character’s transformation from soft and gentle Mom to something else entirely is beyond spine-chilling.

“The Babadook’s” script and direction is very sharp in its story-telling. Some of the film almost looks black and white and that adds to the movie’s sinisterness.

Jennifer Kent has come up with a horror film for the ages. By all means see it, but a viewing while it’s still daylight outside is highly recommended.

“The Babadook” is in limited release and available On Demand.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Wild: Winning Fight Along the Trail—Movie

December 16, 2014

Wild” is a tour de force for Reese Witherspoon. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée with screenplay by Nick Hornby, based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, “Wild” is the story one woman’s fight to exercise her demons…literally.

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We are introduced to Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) mid-way through her 1100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Battered, bruised, fatigued and possibly at her lowest point emotionally, she gives out one gigantic, loud howling scream after watching one of her shoes fall into the abyss. She then defiantly tosses the other away and our journey with Cheryl has officially begun as we then we go back and forth in time with her.

Loving each other, but no longer in love, Cheryl and her husband, Paul (Thomas Sadoski), have amicably divorced. The fact that Cheryl has given up both her maiden and married names, legally changing her last name to Strayed, pretty much says it all. Cheryl’s life has been on a downward spiral ever since the death of “the love of her life,” her mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern). A chance reading of an article about hiking the PCT sets her on her course, in an effort to get her own life in order.

While the story may sound like a cliché, the way Cheryl’s story is told, assures you that it is anything but. As she hikes she runs into a variety of obstacles—some imagined, others not. The film also comes with a lot of humor. One doesn’t know what to make of Farmer Frank at first and her encounter with the Hobo Times reporter is very funny. But then there are the snakes—reptile and human, some of them friendly, some not so much. Throughout it all, when times are tough on the trail, Cheryl thinks back to her mother and the conversations they had. Bobbi faced many hardships, but somehow managed to survive and in her own way, thrive.

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl is simply amazing. She’s basically in every scene and you can’t take your eyes off  her. Grimy, feisty, slutty, sullen, bewildered and triumphant, she is Cheryl.

“Wild” has a very strong supporting cast used sporadically, but importantly, throughout the film. Just when you think Laura Dern’s Bobbi is a tad too ethereal and saintly, she puts some bite into the character when you least expect it. Thomas Sadoski is very good as the husband trying very hard to understand his wife. Performances by W. Earl Brown as Frank, and Cliff de Young as the one-time hiker with sound advice, make strong impressions.

The film has a terrific score and makes extremely good use of songs by Simon and Garfunkel. Hornby has done a great job in turning a book into a movie and director Vallé helps guide Witherspoon to the performance of a lifetime.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Two Days, One Night: A Vote of Confidence—Movie

December 4, 2014

Among other things, “Two Days, One Night” poses the question, “how far would you go to get your job back and how hard would you fight?” Written and directed by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, “Two Days, One Night” is a film about friendship, morality, love and the will to live. That covers a lot of territory but the Dardennes handle it all spectacularly well.

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The film is set in Seraing, an industrial town in the Belgian province of Liège. Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a wife and mother, was an employee in one of its industrial plants and has been on sick leave for depression…for what…we’re never told, but whatever the cause, it was extremely powerful. Ready to come back to work, Sandra’s been told that management gave her co-workers a choice of bringing her back and getting no bonus or letting her go and getting a bonus. A vote was taken and she came out on the losing end. However, she’s encouraged by an associate who’s also a friend, Juliette (Catherine Salée), to talk to their supervisor and ask for another vote based on the fact that some people might have been given questionable information about the nature of the vote. It takes a lot of convincing by Juliette and Sandra’s husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), but Sandra finally agrees and she just makes the deadline her boss has given to meet with him. He relents to another vote on the coming Monday. There are 16 votes and she needs a majority of them to win back her job. This means her weekend will be spent calling on co-workers and making her case for their vote. The process sounds a lot easier than it is. For someone recovering from depression as is Sandra, summoning up the courage and strength to make phone calls and in-person visits is not simple under normal circumstances, let alone when one’s confidence is not in top-notch shape.

The Dardenne brothers have written a terrific, relatable story. Through them we meet a variety of every day, working-class citizens. None of them have a vendetta against Sandra—they just have their own lives to lead and we see how each thinks about Sandra’s situation differently. The Dardennes also use music very effectively to demonstrate the changing spirit of their character.

Marion Cotillard is simply perfect in capturing the sadness and uncertainty Sandra still feels. You believe her character’s awkwardness as she talks with her co-workers. Her character doesn’t want pity…she just wants what she believes is fair. Cotillard manages to pull all of this off. Watching her portray Sandra’s growth—from the very bottom of despair to real progress and rise in her self-esteem is a master-class in acting. Hers is an incredible performance and well worth the price of admission.

“Two Days, One Night” is Belgium’s submission for the foreign language film category for the upcoming the 87th Academy Award and deservedly so.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

 

Rosewater: The True Scent of Evil—Movie

December 3, 2014

If “Rosewater” wasn’t a true story, one could almost see the humor in it. Directed and written by Jon Stewart, based on the book “Then They Came for Me” by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Malloy, “Rosewater” is the true story of Maziar’s 2009 imprisonment in Tehran, where is charged with, among other things, of being a spy for America.

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We are first introduced to Maziar (Gael García Bernal) in the London home he shares with his pregnant wife, Paola (Claire Foy). Maziar works for Newsweek and is leaving London to cover the elections in Iran. Iran is his birth country and where his mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo) still lives and with whom he will stay while working there. Upon landing in Tehran he hits it off with his cab driver, Davood (Dimitri Leonidas), who offers to take him around town for the duration of his trip. He agrees, although he is shocked when he discovers that his mode of transportation will be on the back of Davood’s motorcycle. Davood introduces Maziar to some of his more activist friends who oppose the existing Iranian government. While in Tehran, Maziar does an interview with “The Daily Show’s” phony news correspondent, Jason Jones. During the interview, Jones accuses Maziar of, among other things, being a spy for America. Unfortunately the Iranian government doesn’t share America’s sense of humor and for Maziar it’s all downhill from there as word of the interview reaches the government. Maziar is grabbed from his mother’s home and imprisoned in solitary confinement for 118 days. During that time he is frequently and brutally interrogated by someone he refers to as Rosewater (Kim Bodnia) because of the scent of his toilet water. As part of his interrogation Rosewater plays “The Daily Show” video and again accuses Maziar of being a spy. The interrogations are emotionally brutal, the goal being to take away Maziar’s hope of ever leaving the prison alive. Through it all, Maziar has imaginary conversations with his deceased father, who had been imprisoned by the Shah, as well as with his late activist sister, who also spent time as political prisoner. These conversations help bolster his morale immeasurably.

As a first-time feature film director, Jon Stewart does an excellent job in relaying this harrowing tale. Through no fault of their own, the actors are not the stars in this movie…it’s the story…it’s that compelling. Stewart doesn’t paint the villains of this piece with buffoonish strokes. He makes a point of showing that what happens to Maziar is political and what one culture deems funny is completely lost on another culture. He gives us a very good sense of what life is like in Tehran in general and the prison in particular.

Gael García Bernal provides an outstanding, understated performance as do the actors who play his interrogators and mother. But in this case, the story is the thing and quite a story it is.

3 nuggets out of 4

 

The Theory of Everything: This Film Has It All—Movie

December 2, 2014

Thankfully one doesn’t have to be a scientist to appreciate the excellence that is “The Theory of Everything.” One just has to love a great story and outstanding acting from a cast that’s simply perfect. Directed by James Marsh with screenplay by Anthony McCarten, based on Jane Hawking’s book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, “The Theory of Everything” is the story of brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife, Jane (Felicity Jones) and what a story it is.

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The film begins in 1963 on the Cambridge campus where we get an early look at the wonderful wit of Hawking. Brainiac that he is, Stephen also seems to be beloved by his classmates as just a regular, fun guy. At a party he meets Jane, a fellow student. Jane is a literature major and extremely smart, fully capable of holding her own in conversation with Stephen. There seems to be an immediate attraction. However, Stephen is fairly inarticulate and clumsy around women and it takes some time for the two of them to get together. When they finally do become a couple, sparks literally fly. He has a close relationship with his professor, Dennis Sciama (David Thewlis), who seems to “get” his brilliant student in a way few others do. It’s he who helps guide Stephen in the direction of the topic of his doctoral thesis—the origin of the universe. At a time when everything seems to be coming together for Stephen…academically and personally…it all goes horribly wrong when he suddenly collapses on his way to class. Stephen is diagnosed with motor neuron disease (ALS) and is given two years to live. His first reaction is to hole up in his room, seeing and telling no one. Finally he confides in his friend, Brian (Harry Lloyd), who tells Jane. Stephen wants to call it quits with Jane, but she manages to convince him otherwise. They marry soon thereafter and two children come in quick succession. Stephen’s condition worsens…from one cane to two canes to wheelchair…but he is adamant in wanting their life to be as normal as possible and refuses to get help, saying they can’t afford it and don’t need it. Through it all, Jane somehow manages to take care of him, the two children and their home. Jane’s mother (Emily Watson) realizes that Jane needs something more in her life and suggests she join the church choir. It’s there that Jane meets Jonathan (Charlie Cox), the church choir director. He’s a widower and offers to assist Jane in any way he can. Stephen finally decides that help is needed and approaches Jonathan about becoming his nurse and he accepts. Despite the ALS, Stephen and Jane have one more child. Unfortunately Stephen develops pneumonia and although a tracheostomy saves his life, he loses the ability to speak…a robotic voice replacing his real voice. Jonathan eventually leaves and another nurse—the attractive, light-hearted, Elaine (Maxine Peake), takes his place. With this change, all go on to the next phase of their lives.

“The Theory of Everything” is powerful on so many levels. Director Marsh does a great job in showing us through Eddie Redmayne’s performance the kind of man Hawking was and is, beginning with his early college years. Stephen is brilliant, smart alecky, joyous and very human. Marsh provides small hints of the disease that is about to strike, but when the disease finally hits full throttle, it’s still a shock. The film doesn’t make Stephen out to be a saint…brilliance and ALS aside…he shows him to be a real person. Cinematographer Benoît Delhomme does a wonderful job in shooting the film. Several sequences are shot like old-fashion home movies to show the passage of time in joyous fashion which works just beautifully.

“The Theory of Everything’s” performances are universally terrific—not one false note among them—but three come to the forefront. Charlie Cox, reminding one of a young Colin Firth, is wonderful as Jonathan. His character basically saves Jane’s life and Cox perfectly captures the myriad of feelings he has for Jane and Stephen. As Jane, Felicity Jones is absolutely astounding. Hers is a fabulous performance. She epitomizes Jane’s tenacity and love to the fullest. Jane is just the right match for Stephen and so it is with Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne. One can only hope she’ll be remembered come the awards season. Finally there is Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking. His is the most amazing performance of the 2014 movie year. Words can’t describe how fantastic he is. Physically and emotionally he is Hawking. He manages to find the essence that is Hawking…his joie de vivre in particular. When Hawking succeeds, it feels like we are watching the real Hawking succeed and feel his joy at so doing. Redmayne comes as close as one can in making the audience know what it’s like to have ALS. He never goes over the top. He is just absolutely pitch-perfect. Watching Redmayne is like watching a star, in every sense of the word, being born. He more than deserves every award that comes his way…and one hopes that there are many.

“The Theory of Everything” has everything one can ask of a film—wonderful story powerfully told and fantastic, fabulous acting. It should be on everyone’s must-see list.

4 nuggets out of 4

Horrible Bosses 2: One Too Many—Movie

December 2, 2014

Sometimes once is enough and so it is with “Horrible Bosses 2.” The pained expression that Jason Bateman wears throughout most of the movie says it all…it’s almost as if he is in the audience watching the annoying performances of Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis. Directed by Sean Anders with screenplay and story by Anders, John Morris, Jonathan M. Goldstein, John Francis Daley and Michael Markowitz, “Horrible Bosses 2” picks up where the first one leaves off.

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With former bosses either dead, in prison or seeking help for addiction, Nick (Jason Bateman), (Kurt) Jason Sudeikis and Dale (Charlie Day) have formed a company and are looking for investors to bring their invention, the “Shower Buddy,” to market. When they are swindled by investor Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz), the trio resorts to drastic measures—the kidnapping of Hanson’s son, Rex (Chris Pine), who becomes a very willing victim. Along the way, the three come into contact with Dale’s former dental boss, Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), and Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), Nick’s former boss now residing in prison. And for old time’s sake, they once again go to Dean “MF” Jones (Jamie Foxx) for advice who surprisingly provides sound counsel.

The problem with “Horrible Bosses” isn’t that it’s dumb or unfunny. The film does have some very amusing moments, with the emphasis on some. The issue is that there just isn’t enough there, there. Thus we are left with the never-ending Greek chorus of Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis spouting the most imbecilic conversation imaginable. After half an hour of this you’re ready to charge the screen shouting, “STOP IT!! ENOUGH ALREADY!” Jason Bateman is left out of most of this nonsensical dialogue and he’s slightly the better for it. But that begs the question; does he really need the money this badly to do a sequel as bad as this one? He looks like he’s swallowed a lemon for most of the movie. The film’s two saving graces are Christoph Waltz and most especially, Chris Pine. Waltz makes for a terrific villainous father and businessman. Pine is a complete surprise as a comedic actor. He seems as if he was born to do comedies, he is that good.

In the end, nothing or no one can really save “Horrible Bosses 2.” To see really funny, clever movies about terrible bosses, save your money and seek out “Swimming with the Sharks,” with an evil Kevin Spacey or Michael Caine’s “A Shock to the System” to learn how to really take care of a bad boss.

1 ½ nuggets out of 4


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