A Few Films on the Road

I spent a few days at my to be in-laws in Imatra between Christmas and New Year. They have some paid film channels and I watched one film on both evenings there. The first one just caught my attention, when we started watching and the second one was familiar to me due to Oscar fame and Stephen Hawking.

Words and Pictures [2013]

words_and_pictures

Some people feel the need to make films in defense of lofty ideals. Mostly those films fall short, since their message turns naive in the pathos of the creators. This is no exception.

The ideal is worthy – art. This film picks literature and paintings to focus on and places the events in a private school under budget pressures to cut down on the art education. A formerly great writer, Jack Marcus (played by Clive Owen) , who has been unable to write anything after his critically acclaimed debut novel, is now a drunken English teacher trying to spark his students and annoy his fellow teachers. A formerly great painter, Dina Delsanto (played by Juliette Binoche), who is crippled by a disease, comes in and provides a formidable sparring mate for the English teacher. There’s a formal contest between the literature and arts classes to determine, which art form is more worthy. Obviously students are inspired and the teachers have a romance that complicates the competition and is bungled up by the drunkard and finally everyone and both arts are redeemed through a remorseful drunk’s noble actions.

Yeah, it is that bad. The film is filled with great quotes, but those are all quotes from great writers. The parts of the script not quoted from great writers are as painful as an overly self-confident high school student’s first novel.

Direction isn’t much better. At least the portions that are about art are watchable, but when it comes to the romance between Jack and Dina, the film absolutely falls apart. Binoche is one of the great actors of our time and Owen has been good in some pieces, but here they don’t seem to be doing their best to get through the awkward dialogue. The witty sparring is not witty. The slow realization of a spark between them comes out of nowhere, since at no time, is there a spark anywhere. And when the alcoholic finally hits the proverbial rock bottom, he just flips the switch and is sober and remorseful.

Despite all the failings, the film presents everything with no self-critique or shame. The writers are clearly capable of picking great quotes from great writers, but are completely blind to their own writing. Also the supporting work for the film is bland. Camera work is by a professional, but he clearly came in to do his day job, not to create something inspirational. The same goes for pretty much everything else.

The stars go for the inspirational quotes and great paintings. Nothing else is worth the time.

  • Director: Fred Schepisi
  • Watched on: 27th Dec 2016
  • Watched at: TV broadcast (C More First HD)
  • 2/5

The Theory of Everything [2014]

the_theory_of_everything

I usually have a picture of the film I’m writing about just to give an idea about the visual nature of the film. I always try to pick some screenshot instead of using the poster. Usually the marketing people creating posters are trying to sell the film, so they present a really twisted view of the film. Here the poster is appropriate though – the film is as bland as the poster. The film is based on Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, a book by Stephen Hawking’s ex-wife Jane Hawking, and the film is a story about… well, I still don’t really know. Jane (played by Felicity Jones) and Stephen (played by Eddie Redmayne) are certainly in it.

So yeah, I went in with bad expectations. I thought that this was going to be the story of the life work of Stephen with some added relationship drama to get in some viewers, but instead we get the story of Stephen and Jane’s marriage with some added drama about Stephen’s disease. Here we have one of the greatest scientific minds of our time, one that is capable of popularizing science as well, so the scriptwriters could’ve just loaned Stephen for a bit to write the difficult parts for them, and what do we get? A love story.

The thing is, it’s not a good love story. If you take away the science and the disease, you are left with two people, who fall in love, live an ordinary life with ordinary struggles and in the end grow tired of each other and fall apart. The disease is there as occasional near deaths or intended-as-dramatic-but-failing shots of Stephen not being able to hold a pencil anymore, and as gadgets that improve over time. The science is there as a few glimpses of important positions gained or lectures held and as a guy utterly devoted to his work and not giving much time or thought to his long suffering wife. So is this then a story about Jane? Not really no. She is almost never in the spotlight. We mostly get short shots of a tired wife looking frustrated when the husband is not looking, and feeling trapped, because of the disability of his husband, or of her rushing in to save Stephen’s life. She really does not get more than one or two scenes with meaningful lines.

So yeah, the film ends up being pretty much about nothing. The wife spends her time on the sideline despite the film being based on a book written by her. The husband’s career is ignored and the disease is just shown as the everyday struggles this couple has to overcome. Mostly he is just an annoying presence for the wife.

I just don’t know… It has tiny bits and pieces from here and there and completely fails to concentrate on anything. This is partly due to falling into the most common novel adaptation trap there is – it tries to fit in everything from the novel, so it ends up racing through scenes without giving the film time to breath and live a life of its own.

The film is just riddled with deficiencies. The characters are boring due to editing out the interesting bits (I’m sure there’d be some interesting bits to the love story, but they are not in the film due to the film trying to fit in everything). The structure fails at having no main character. The pacing is non-existent, since the film just offers very quick glimpses here and there. The script is flawed, since it has managed to edit out everything that could be of interest, while trying to fit in everything. Camera work is analytical to the tee, which makes it just boring.

The Academy Awards are a suckers for mechanical performances, where the actor spends his time emulating some disabled person (Forrest Gump, The King’s Speech…), so it’s no surprise Redmayne won a trophy for this. The performance is impressive, but it is just that – Redmayne just repeats the shakes, awkward hand positions and drooling, nothing more.

This just feels like a missed opportunity.

  • Director: James Marsh
  • Watched on: 28th Dec 2016
  • Watched at: TV broadcast (C More First HD)
  • 1.5/5
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