Uplifting ‘Theory,’ Strong ‘Rosewater, ’Dismal ‘Dumb’

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By FS
Contributing Writer

 

 

 

 

 

“The Theory of Everything”

A true-life story of a man’s struggle against the odds, “The Theory of Everything” (Angelika) dramatizes the story of Stephen Hawking, the physicist whose triumphs in his field are juxtaposed against his battle with motor neuron disease. Director James Marsh, who won an Academy Award for his documentary “Man on Wire,” will probably be nominated again for this inspirational tale, which can be compared to Ron Howard’s “A Beautiful Mind,” another Oscar winner, in both theme and approach.
It lacks the central narrative twist of Howard’s film, which dealt with a genius afflicted with schizophrenia.  But it is a similarly glossy, and frankly manipulative, treatment of a story about a brilliant man brought low by illness which could have been told with greater earthiness.
If you are willing to accept the sugarcoating of what must have been a far darker reality — and the picture’s tendency to downplay some of the less appealing aspects of Hawking’s life (like his divorce of his first wife, played by Felicity Jones, who, as portrayed in the film, was the rock who brought him through the initial stages of his illness) and to simplify his ideas for popular consumption — this is a fine film in the vein of “Mind,” “Shine,” “My Left Foot” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”
It also showcases a masterful performance by Eddie Redmayne as Hawking.  He handles the physical demands of the role expertly — transforming himself from the awkward, shambling Cambridge student to the wheelchair-bound celebrity of the present, talking through an automated voicebox, with uncanny skill.  But he also captures the man’s intellectual confidence and his sense of humor in the face of adversity.
This “Theory” might not tell you everything about Stephen Hawking, but what it chooses to include, it covers quite skillfully.

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.” -Photo courtesy of collider.com
Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.”
-Photo courtesy of collider.com

“Rosewater”

Jon Stewart’s break from his hosting duties on “The Daily Show” proves to have been worth it.  “Rosewater” (wide release), the film he directed during the hiatus, is a solid, realistic dramatization of the 2009 incarceration and interrogation in Tehran of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-born Newsweek reporter charged with being an American spy.
The unfortunate journalist’s ordeal was actually occasioned by a sketch in which he’d appeared on “The Daily Show,” which Iranian authorities took literally rather than as satire.  It is understandable, therefore, that when the man was released, Stewart should have felt a certain responsibility to bring his story to the world.
And he has done so quite creditably.  “Rosewater” has an authentic feel, arising not only from the Jordanian locations but from the gritty, no-nonsense style Stewart and his crew adopted to tell the tale.
The film is also blessed with a nuanced, affecting lead performance by Gael García Bernal as Bahari.  The Mexican star expertly captures the man’s combination of bewilderment, fear and courage.
“Rosewater” is an excellent tribute by an ersatz journalist to a real one.

Gael García Bernal as Maziar Bahari in “Rosewater.”  -Photo courtesy of popsugar.com
Gael García Bernal as Maziar Bahari in “Rosewater.”
-Photo courtesy of popsugar.com

“Dumb and Dumber To”

One can hardly imagine characters as far removed from Stephen Hawking in terms of brainpower than Lloyd and Harry, the goofy duo that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels play in “Dumb and Dumber To” (wide release).
The movie is, of course, a twenty-years-on sequel to the original 1994 movie that was one of the earliest gross-out comedies.  The pretext for the two dopey friends getting together again and going off on a cross-country road trip is so flimsy it does not deserve the slightest thought.  Suffice it to say it leads to a chain of cheesy slapstick episodes marked by an avalanche of scatological and sexual gags.
When Carrey and Daniels were in their thirties, one could get a few laughs out of watching them perform such “Three Stooges”-style routines.  But now that they are in their fifties, your reaction is more likely to be concern for their physical well-being than mirth.
“Dumb and Dumber To” has an almost pathetic sense of desperation about it.  The picture is obviously meant to revitalize the stalled careers of its stars, as well as those of Bobby and Peter Farrelly, the fraternal writing-directing team who enjoyed a brief span of success with the first “Dumber,” “Kingpin” and “There’s Something About Mary” but then fell behind the cinematic comic curve, as Mel Brooks had done before them. The reboot all of them are looking for is unlikely to be generated by this pale copy of an already stale original, which will appeal only to those who have watched the first movie so often that they can recite dialogue from it by heart.

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