Theory of Not Quite Everything

The new movie about the world’s most famous living physicist, Stephen Hawking, is a fine film, as far as it goes. The problem is, that’s not very far. Winner of the Oscar in 2008 for Best Documentary, James Marsh, forays into drama with “The Theory of Everything,” which works OK as a love story: A geeky Cambridge student meets the love of his life, and despite the ravages of ALS, they soldier on with admirable British stoicism, eventually experiencing “normal couple” struggles such as divorces and affairs. Eddie Redmayne does yeoman’s work bringingoff the physically deteriorating Hawking….He may even get a “best-actor” nomination out of this….And Felicity Jones does similarly good work as the Mrs. It’s what isn’t in the movie that holds it back. We could have learned something of Hawking’s or his wife’s early years; his kids are little more than props; and while few want heavy mathematics or physics in a picture like this, it needed something to break up the disease management story and establish this over-arching aspect of his greatness.

Imitation Game One of Best Movies of 2014

An Oscar-bait performance that truly lives up to the hype. The end of the year marks the beginning of the great Oscar race and this year, there is not one but two contenders that tell the tales of brilliant British scientists who have bad things happen to them. The first is “The Theory of Everything” that tells the life story of the well-known physicist, Stephen Hawking, while the other, “The Imitation Game,” is of the lesser-known and arguably more tragic mathematician Alan Turing. While few may have heard of the latter, nearly all of us benefit from the work he did which lead to the eventual invention of the computer. Set primarily during World War II, most of the movie focuses on Turing’s effort to crack the so-called unbreakable Nazi enigma code.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

A famous South African jurist once said “All revolutions are impossible until they happen; then they areinevitable.” “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” marks this departure in the legend of this franchise. While the politics associated with the society portrayed in The Hunger Games films was never far below the surface, the drama and suspense of the games themselves always took precedence, helped along with the cynical black humour of the courtiers in the capital. All that is now gone, having been replaced with the narrative of a particularly vicious civil war between the districts and the capital. Donald Sutherland’s deliciously sleazy President Snowhas gone full-on sadistic war criminal…Think Hafez Al Assad…And the spunky Katniss –Jennifer Lawrence- is now playing for much higher stakes as the Mockingjay, symbol of the revolution. Lawrence captures the nuance as an Oscar winner should, of Katniss the warrior, Katniss the propaganda star, Katniss the girlfriend of the Capitol-held captive Peeta, and, curiously, Katniss the doubter, first about her role in the revolution, and then aboutthe revolution itself –done with facial expressions only– when listening to the speeches of President Coin, leader of the revolution played by Julianne Moore.

Inside Jokes Make ‘Birdman’ Stand Out

One of the most enjoyable things about Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s “Birdman” is the number of inside jokes it contains. Take for instance its protagonist: a former A-List actor who turned down millions in the early 90s to reprise his role as a flying superhero in a successful franchise. If you guess Michael Keaton, you’d be correct, but Gonzalez Inarritu is actually referring to Riggan Thomson, who is played by Michael Keaton. Riggan, who is now officially a has-been, has a shot at redemption via Broadway play that he writes, directs and stars in. However, just like his past action movies were the unexpected is always lurking around the corner, Riggan is forced to replace one of the actors at the last minute with a popular, arrogant actor, played brilliantly by Edward Norton.

Rosewater: Now We Know What Jon Stewart was Doing

As John Oliver held down “The Daily Show Show” last year, Jon Stewart was off making a movie called “Rosewater,”now out. It’s a “torn-from-the-headlines” story of Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was detained by Iranian authorities after the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, and later released under international pressure. The film begins with Bahari leaving his pregnant wife in London for friends & family in Tehran to cover the election and expected victory of the reform candidate, but quickly takes a darker turn as the election is subverted and protests begin. Depicted in the film is the real-life event of Stewart, on “The Daily Show,” having Jason Jones conduct one his ironic interviews with Bahari, where joking reference is made to western spying. To put it mildly, the humour is lost on the Iranians… For about four months he is tortured “without leaving marks,” to quote one of the two regime drones, called specialists, sent to extract a confession.

‘Interstellar’ Best SciFi Since Kubrick

Good science fiction has always been about examining some aspect of the human condition in a new and different way, based on the perceived realities of a universe with new and different rules. Christopher Nolan’s latest opus “Interstellar” keeps this tradition alive with a story where love and devotion meet the dimension of time–and maybe some others–in ways not seen before. The story opens in a new American dustbowl where it is made clear that the days of earth’s ability to feed its population are numbered. Chief protagonist Cooper –we never hear his first name- is a farmer, but had formerly been a test pilot for NASA, thought to be defunct, but now operating underground. He is mysteriously directed to a secret base where he becomes involved in an ongoing project to find a new home for earth’s inhabitants on the other side of a wormhole that has appeared near Saturn.

John Wick: A Body Count with Style!

Movies that feature a story that’s been done to death, characters we’ve all seen, and lots of kinetic action, had better do it all right, or it’s going to be 10% on the tomato-meter, and late-night cable in six months. Fortunately, Keanu Reeves’ new one, “John Wick” does get it mostly right. After the spoiled-brat son of a Russian gangster kills retired assassin John Wick’s puppy, which had been a gift from his recently deceased wife, and steals his beloved classic Mustang, the race is on to see how many of the bad guys he can shoot, stab, choke, blow up or otherwise dispatch in the time it takes for you to finish a box of popcorn. The plot is no-frills, but the film DOES have just enough character development to gin up appropriate fear and loathing of the villains, with the help of on-screen talent like Willem Defoe, John Leguizamo, Michael Nyquist (of “Dragon Tattoo” fame), and Alfie Allen from “Game of Thrones.”

What really makes the film work, though, is Chad Stahelski’s directing. He coordinated stunts for other Reeves projects, including “The Matrix” series, and in charge of the whole film the first time, we see well-choreographed, long-duration action sequences,sometimes called “gun-fu,” where the evil-doers are eliminated, frequently as they fly through the air.

A Saint and Sinner are One and the Same

St. Vincent has a lot of positive things going for it but originality is not one of them. Rather it’s built on the popular cliché of the curmudgeon next-door turning out to be a good guy despite his rough exterior. (I also predicted how it was going to end by the trailer alone.) Oh, and did I mention that at times it can be maudlin? Still, St.