The Theory of Everything

Be prepared to have a 'what if I end up like that' conversation after this film. Mine ended with my husband, eyes full of concern, looking deeply into mine and stating with confidence: "don't worry, I won't put you in a home. I'll wheel you off a cliff first." Crass jokes aside, it does provoke discussions about care and expectations, about how we help those who need it in society about the advances in medicine and ethics - I'm not sure this film provides any answers, but it's good to spark debate.

It's 1960s and at Cambridge University it is crystal clear that Austin Powers and his 'swinging' buddies haven't reached the dorms of this studious town. Rather we see future physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) racing along on his obligatory bicycle (I think they are standard issue on entering the Uni) with fellow undergrad Brian (Harry Lloyd). They arrive at a party and he is introduced to future wife Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). Tragically at 21, Hawking learns he has incurable moror neuron disease (helpfully explained as Lou Gehrig's disease for the US market). Rather than accept defeat, he gets married and begins an ambitious PHD studying time. Against the odds, he lives on to discover new and controversial findings in science, achieving more than he or Jane imagined.

That sounds rather cosy, much like the tweed jackets and old fashioned pints of ale Hawkings and his buddies drink in the college bars. However, as we all know, it doesn't really pan out like that. I had a vague notion that Hawkings marriage didn't last, I knew he had children, and obviously, I knew he is still living, way beyond the predicted two years he had in the 1960s. This film explains the path of his life in a rather plodding linear way (the least exciting aspect of time) so it's really all about the acting, and I agree the performances are deservedly Oscar worthy. It creates moments of great pathos and sadness, but it felt a little too sketchy and rose tinted to be real enough.

My thoughts...

 - Firstly, every undergraduate is impossibly good-looking at Cambridge. Their end of semester formal's would put Cinderella to shame for ostentatious gilded glitter and glam. I've had friends who went to Cambridge, and I love them, but when I visited, there were a distinct lack of model good looks on the campus. Also, at the balls, people wore ill fitting DJs, drank cheap wine and danced to poor pop music. No ensemble jazz quartets did I see. However, Visit Cambridge must be tickled pink as the cinematography makes the city look stunning and ethereal. First class.

- Love: We see Jane as a naive undergraduate, hopeful with love and admiration that she can care for the boy she loves, and watch it unravel as the boy turns to a man, whose needs are ever more demanding. I thought Felicity Jones' performance was excellent as we see her fray under pressure and frustration, but stoically keep plodding on. As she laments to him 'I did love you. I did my best'. I think it's a fair, heart breaking comment. The film is balanced in the way it shows her resisting the temptation of a 'normal' life with family friend Jonathan but also her belittling behaviour when she speaks on Stephen's behalf.

- Women: Sadly, this film presents women in an obvious dichotomy of madonna/ whore. Or rather in Stephens case: matron/ naughty nurse. Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake) is the fun-loving, confident speech therapist who exposes Jane's role as Mother as being dull, prescriptive and cold. She provocatively states, 'you must worship the ground he walks on' exposing the obvious irony to Jane. The following montage of mucking about, laughing and private jokes enhanced by a sunny camera filter, is in stark contrast to earlier grey scenes with a frustrated Jane attempting to finish her PHD while Stephen destroys the house playing with the children.

- Academia: In my experience of working with academics, the most eminent also appear to be the most selfish and arrogant. We don't see a lot of that in the film, but I'm sure it must have been there in real life. There is one moment where he delivers his key speech to a lecture hall of international colleagues. He seeks Jane's encouragement at the start, but by the end, when he is accepted triumphantly, she is left to catch a glimpse of her husband being wheeled away from her. A metaphor perhaps for how his work will take him away from her, their home, their relationship.

- Technology: I realised if Stephen Hawking had been born twenty years earlier, he may have never been able to communicate his work and that thought triggered a chain reaction of 'what if' other disabled people in the past were capable of such progress but were trapped by their illness' to convey their ideas. A tragic thought. I think 'Mirosoft Sam' should be renamed 'Microsoft Stephen' because if you ever hear that antiquated, digital voice it's distinctly Stephen Hawking speaking - no one else.

- Religion: thankfully this film is agnostic in it's comments on faith. Stephen holds to science like Jane holds to the Church of England, and both are seen to be mutually respectful of each other's beliefs.

Money Never Sleeps

Following on from V for Vendetta, I caught Oliver Stone's 'Money Never Sleeps' the long anticipated sequel to infamous 80s Yuppy flick 'Wall Street'. It seemed like fate was leading me down a path of films that critique society and our 'lust' for money. Here Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is back but seemingly 'cured' of his love of money, he exits prison and starts a tour of motivational talks about how greed it no longer good, but rather 'legal'. Hmm... from the moment he leaves prison and stands alone and unimportant in the world you know this is another Gekko rouse.

I would summarise the plot but it left me scratching my head. I'm all for films that flatter the audience by assuming they're intelligent enough to follow complicated plots (thank you Christopher Nolan) but this movie needed one of two things, either for protagonist Shia LeBeuff to slow down his zippy NuwYourka dialogue, or to hand out a guide to financial services abbreviations. I do not, nor ever will, work in 'the city' and I found it pretty hard to follow the details of the tale. And a moral tale it is - I know that because it's Oliver Stone - but I'm not wholly sure I understood the lesson objective.

So this is what I took away from it. Gecko is not the worst thing in Wall Street, since he's been inside a new, super rich, super immoral breed of b*stard bankers (Bretton James played by Josh Brolin) has taken over. This breed like to use a lot of war metaphors to show that it's not about the money, just the thrill of conquering others. Jake (Shia LaBeouff) is a plucky trader, who's impressive money making talents are used solely to fund green energy, that little halo of his doesn't stop shining there, as he spends the film seeking financial revenge for the death of his mentor Louis Zabel (Frank Langella). His savvy city skills are blindsided by a smooth taking Gekko who manipulates him to take a job with mega bank run by Bretton all part of a bigger plan to reuinte with his daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan), Jake's fiance.

There's some weird things which are never fully resolved in this plot:

1. The idealistic, righteous Winnie hates her father and doesn't trust money, yet she agrees to marry a Wall Street trader - Freud I'll leave that up to you
2. Jake's mother pops up occasionally (played by Susan Saranadon) as a strange metaphor for victims of the property boom, to show how the 'little' people have greed too.
3. Gekko is supposed to be a terrifying metaphor for all that's wrong with the finance world - but at the end he's a soppy Granddad, smiling and cooing at family BBQs, which kind of crushes the critique.
4. There's too much 'bad daddy' symbolism to keep up with: Gekko and Jake, Jake and Louis, Louis and Bretton. It's a roundabout of relationships that was dizzying to focus on.
5. Charlie Sheen rocks up reviving his role as 'Bud Fox' for a swift cameo to show he's now rich... and bland, and boring, and incapable of acting as demonstrated by his stunted reaction to Gekko. He should have stayed in the 80s.

This is a director who has focussed on exposing the political edge of America, but like Gekko, he clearly has mellowed with time. As sadly, for a film where 'money never sleeps', Stone presents a movie where there's no moral wake up call for any of the characters and their cavalier actions.

Nightcrawler

As a critic of the media, this film doesn't so much as subtly highlight the immortality of our news broadcasters, rather it points to them in a shaming, flashing, neon finger. We get it. Media is bad. Very bad if your state-side and I have to say, it did make me grateful for the less sensationalist and balanced view of Auntie. In a world where a shady metal merchant won't hire 'a thief' but the local cable network will snatch his hand off, we wonder who's the true criminal?

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a petty thief eeking out a living in LA during the day, while ingesting hours of motivational business talk online at night. He stumbles into a new career of being a 'stinger' crawling LA at night with a camcorder to capture the latest horrid crimes on film to peddle out to the local news broadcasters. Desperate news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo) can't resist the chance to boost her station's ratings, so encourages Lou to seek out new material at increasingly dangerous lengths.

This film starts so well, it creates a wonderful atmosphere about LA drawing a craving from me to return again and explore this exotic city. You really get a sense of summer heat, mystery and an oppressiveness which makes this coastal metropolis an appealing location. Like Drive, Nightcrawler starts by making LA another character in the film, as we are guided through a series of impressive ariel shots before landing in closely on Gyllenhall stealing metal, metaphorically on the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike Drive, the cinematography in Nightcrawler seemed to die out to a series of stock imagery which left me feeling a bit 'meh'. If I was feeling generous I might think it was a comment about how the media drains authenticity from it's world. No. I think it's just lazy editing.  

Rene Russo's character is sadly a bit one dimensional: flat and singular in her purpose in the movie. The risk of losing her job in the ratings war eclipses her need for professional journalism. Her remit is to sell a version of the news that sinks deep into the public's morbid curiosity. As she states matter of factly, every story is 'a woman in a rich neighbourhood running screaming down the street'. We can't criticise her cynical and depressing style to broadcasting, as sadly it's one that's lapped up by so many consumers. 

Gyllenhaal has a tough role in this film, as his character is constantly playing a character. The affable, friendly local man, who works hard, and repeats business speak mantra like a robot, exposing the benefits of the American Dream like a blind cult follower. There's only one line that gives away his obvious real personality when he responds to his co-worker that "what if it isn't that I don't get people. I just don't like them." I really feel he needed more scenes by himself where we could glimpse an insight into his true sociopathic mind. Occasionally watering a plant, doesn't really signal this. It meant that Gyllenhaal becomes a bit flat and robotic and ultimately I didn't care if he succeeded or failed.

So out of these two media peddlers, who is worse? Lou provides this material because she buys it: she pays for it, because he's got it. Essentially they both want success, but the irony is they become worse as people, justifying their immoral actions in order to be perceived as 'better' by society. The smiling interns at the end demonstrate how 'normal' these malpractices have become.

Ostensibly, this is a film about spin and that any tale can be rewritten: personal life story or the 9 o'clock news. Whatever sells. At any cost.

Interstellar

Best not hang about in space
I've never been a big science nerd, I struggled to get my GCSE Physics and from the moment I threw down my biro and walked out that exam hall I proudly thought I'd never have to deal with any of this stuff again. It was like the final scene from The Breakfast Club - hand in air, liberation from science. Then they make this film. Oh boy. Look, if you like your astrophysics reviewed in detail, then look away now. As I confess, even with that hard-earned B grade, like many Christopher Nolan films, I feel I need to see this film a few more times to really get my head round it. 

So, in the 'some-time' future, Earth has been rendered a giant dust bowl by a global crop blight which is slowly choking the life of out the planet. Professor Brand (Michael Cain) is a NASA physicist who is secretly working on a formula to transport the planet to a new home by manipulating gravity and pushing us all through a wormhole. Simple. Well... not quite. A team of researchers let by former NASA pilot, now small time farmer, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) must zip through the wormhole and explore the new galaxy to find a planet suitable for mankind's new home.

That summary doesn't really do this film justice, as it's not really about that. Time is linear, and so is that plot, but the themes and ideas in this film extend, manipulate and bend further than gravity around a black hole.Turns out, it's all about love. Sheldon from Big Bang Theory will no doubt be disgusted. 

Here are my thoughts on it:

- 'They' have saved us. But it's not what you think, it's not extraterrestrials, neither is it an omniscient God, but rather, it is us. Humans, from the future, who have mastered time and space to communicate messages to save us via a Tesseract contained within the worm-hole. Helpfully, they made it look like that back of Murph's (Jessica Chastain) library bookcase. Personally, this feels a bit like hubris - can we really be confident we are alone in the universe? That we are the pinnacle of evolution that nothing greater exists past, present or future? Meh. Some of the humans I know, could win a Darwin Award, so I'm still hopeful we have time to evolve further. Dare I hope, evolve so far that we don't need to ravage our planet and each other?

 - Mocked by many, Andrew Lloyd Webber had it right when he wrote 'Love, love changes everything'. Who knew? Quite literally, it is the only force which can extend beyond our framework of physics. As Brand (Hathaway) comments, 'why do we love people who have gone' as she laments the potential loss and potential hope of being reunited with a fellow NASA nerd Edmonds who's pioneered the trip ahead of them. I liked this idea and it struck a cupid chord with me - love is a force which cannot be proven or explained by science - you can't prove it, but we all believe it. We willingly accept this, but not the idea of a God, or the concept of Tesseracts shaped like libraries - we are a contrary bunch.

- The metaphorically named Dr. Mann (Matt Damon) demonstrated the extent and desperation for our will to live. For me, his unapologetically selfish actions throw open a new debate about euthanasia. How can you really tell someone wants to die, as in those fading final moments, our will to survive can lash out like a primeval animal instinct in us.

 - As a Christian it make me think a bit more about how ideas around creation might not be so 'crazy', now I've got my head around the concept of relativity (three hours on one planet in one galaxy is 27 years on another planet in another galaxy). What's a hundred billion years to an omniscient being - could be 1 day in our time frame? But that's a whole other bag of cats to contend with so I'll leave it there...

This has just scratched the surface of a rich and interesting film. I'm still not entirely clear on the point Nolan is making, but it's a beautifully shot film with a suitably oppressive soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, (who ever since True Romance has not missed a step for creating perfect atmosphere). It's worthy of second or third watch, but immediate impressions are pretty stellar (sigh) and it could rocket (sigh) with cult success as I can imagine Blue Ray and DVD sales will skyrocket. Okay. I'm done now.