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New films: the Theory of Everything, Mockingjay, Horrible Bosses 2

It’s a good week at the movies with solid options to fit several tastes.

The Theory of Everything
Directed by James Marsh

The best and most meaningful film of the week is a film about the early life of famed physicist Stephen Hawking – who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease 50 years ago and who lives and works confined to a wheelchair, communicating through a voice synthesizer as he changes our understanding of the universe. But this isn’t really a film about Stephen himself, it’s a film about his first wife Jane and it tells the story of their love and life together from her perspective, based on her book Travelling to infinity: My life with Stephen.

So if you’re looking for in depth discussions and explanations of physics, this isn’t the right source. Stephen and Jane met at Cambridge University where he was a graduate student in the sciences and she was an undergraduate student in the arts – and this is a film that recounts his successes and challenges through her eyes and memories. Interestingly, Stephen is played by Eddie Redmayne who also studied at Cambridge but who probably has more in common with Jane, as he studied art history – something he mentioned jokingly apologizing to Stephen about in person when I interviewed him recently (that interview content can be found at E Street Film Society).

But Redmayne is also a very smart guy and he studied for several months to capture the disease in an amazingly convincing fashion and Stephen Hawking himself has commented, via his new Facebook page, that at times he thought he was watching himself onscreen.

Hawking also wrote on Facebook “It makes you realize how short life is when they cut out the boring bits.” As with most films of this nature, it skips ahead through various milestones in both his work and their relationship, playing a little fast and loose with some of the characters that passed through their lives. But years of married life can’t really be adapted any other way and the outcome is really quite amazing as it ponders the circumstances of a woman who married the man she loved, despite his devastating diagnosis, but who was also told quite definitively that he would live for only two years.

Felicity Jones is excellent in the less showy role of Jane, living a relatively quiet life in the shadows of her increasingly high profile and decreasingly physically able husband. It’s a performance that’s likely to be somewhat overlooked alongside Redmayne’s, an experience Redmayne himself had when playing alongside Michelle Williams who played Marilyn Monroe in “My Week with Marilyn.”

There’s much to admire and think about in “The Theory of Everything,” much of which relates to the nature of disability and how it affects not just the person with it but those around him. It’s also remarkable to think that even a very slight cognitive disability might have had a greater impact on Hawking’s work than the profound physical disability he has. He has gone so far as to say that his disease actually helped him as he had opportunities to think at great length about the topics that interested him and even that his reduced teaching load, as a professor who wasn’t able to communicate very easily, also helped in that regard.

I highly recommend the film and also any content you can find in which Redmayne explains the process of playing Hawking. It’s remarkable to capture the stages of such a debilitating disease in a film that’s shot out of sequence and for which Redmayne had to chart the progress of the disease in order to shoot multiple scenes in a single day at multiple different stages. There one particularly noteworthy scene in which Redmayne plays Hawking picturing himself as being able to walk and move normally, in a moment in which he wishes he could do something as simple as helping somebody by picking up a dropped item. But it’s also a noteworthy story of the triumph of love and human spirit, as much in regard to Jane as in regard to Stephen.

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Directed by Francis Lawrence

When the second “Hunger Games” film came out, I described it relative to the first as being a less interesting story better told. This time around, the tone has shifted yet again but the storytelling continues to feel more substantial, helmed by Francis Lawrence, the same director as the second instalment.

It’s not that it doesn’t have its problems – this time primarily in terms of some of the early pacing. Realize that this is the latest film to follow the dollar stretching habit of separating books into multiple films and so it’s perhaps additionally frustrating to feel that it might have been accomplished in one film if it had been a little snappier. But the content is solid, if a little ponderous at times, and the acting is better than most films of this genre.

After escaping the field of combat in the 75th hunger games, in the previous outing, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself holed up in the thought to be non-existent District 13 – a militaristic compound hidden deep underground and focused on combating the Capitol. Much of this becomes a war of media propaganda and those of us who haven’t read the books can begin to appreciate the extent to which the series plays out like an indictment of our media and screen-based society. From the reality TV violence of the Hunger Games themselves to the extent to which we are bombarded with video of conflicting talking heads.

It’s also a film that manages to draw parallels to the recent Jon Stewart film “Rosewater” about the psychological torture associated with captives who are deprived from contact with the outside world and compelled to provide false testimony for these video assaults.

In a better world, a better version of me might have the willpower to simply wait and watch all the films at one time – but for all of the frustrations associated with being told a long story in small doses, this particular dose works quite well.

 

Horrible Bosses 2
Directed by Sean Anders

“Horrible Bosses 2” is a much funnier and more worthwhile sequel than the not-worth-waiting-20-years-for “Dumb and Dumber To.” At least it is if you enjoy your humor R-rated and raunchy – which certainly isn’t to everybody’s taste.

Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day are back as the threesome of friends who again find themselves in a work related crisis that causes them to ponder a reprehensible solution to their otherwise unresolvable problem. One of the things that makes these films so much fun is that Bateman so wonderfully plays the straight man, providing a neat counterpoint to Sudeikis and Day as this film’s own pair of dumb and dumber wannabe criminals.

Chris Pine plays a somewhat odd character who gets involved in their antics. But what’s odder was watching a second film in one week in which Chris Pine’s character punches himself in the face – with very similar bloody results. (The other being Sacramentan Joe Carnahan’s crazy wild ride “Stretch” that fell victim to the vagaries of today’s distribution business but which can currently be found and enjoyed on Netflix.)

“Horrible Bosses 2” is crass, graphic, and likely to offend many. And funny.

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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