Awards Circle: Foxcatcher, Whiplash, The Theory of Everything

2014 was indeed a year full of memorable silver screen performances – those that were vigorously inspired from their actual counterparts and were spectacular in fleshing out their fictitious characters. The actors’ extraordinary presence gives life to a vanilla script, which is the crucial base of any cinematic undertaking. The common denominator among these three films is the celebrated screenplay but at least one will be disproved in this brief film review. Read at your own risk and feel free to share your thoughts.

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FOXCATCHER

Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum are a triple threat in director Bennett Miller’s harrowing psychological drama that chronicles the unsettling relationship of an American wrestling team until its brutal end. Tatum is unflinching as the self-inflicting Olympian Mark Schultz who detached himself from the shadow of his renowned brother, Dave (Ruffalo), only to find himself ensnared in the claws of the infamous John du Pont (Carell). Director Miller diffuses a seething atmosphere that brews the gripping tension, particularly on the unpredictable du Pont. Trading his comedic facade to a prosthetic nose and whispery voice, Carell is unrecognizable as the “ornithologist, philatelist and philanthropist” who adheres himself as an eagle; but in truth, he morphs into a vulture that gorges on anxiety and fear that ripples to the audience’s goose bumps. A rare, authentic drama, FOXCATCHER will be best remembered in how its likable leads conjured their most serious and best performances to date, all in the hands of a credible bio-pic director.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

WHIPLASH

Pounding of talent in every cinematic aspect, WHIPLASH is a wholly showcase of artistry from director Damien Chazelle, whose sophomore film sizzles with the electrifying performances of Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons and the potent sensation of jazz that transcends more than to the eardrums. Bruising yet brilliant, WHIPLASH is full of passion between the manipulative and naïve kind (in the personas of maestro Terence Fletcher and music freshman Andrew Neiman) and pain of its relevance that will engross the audience. Teller fosters his burgeoning filmography as an aspiring young drummer pulsating of aspiration and compelled even in drastic situations. He shares the spotlight with Simmons whose sharp gestures and blistering words are mere figments of the intimidating force he fearsomely has become. More than the animated antagonist, Simmons is a riveting villain — a black hole suffocating all the attention to him — who strikes venom on his students’ vulnerabilities and betrays them of any flicker of trust he lured them. In its brutal moments, WHIPLASH is almost merciless as Fletcher fumes and erupts over a physically and emotionally battered Andrew. But as the film’s David, Andrew is determined to keep his passion on beating and finally earns the approval of the Goliath in a black suit. Reinvigorating of hope and ambition, WHIPLASH, in its unlikely way, becomes a story of triumph not just for Andrew but for the viewers who see the character in them. What director Chazelle created as inspired by his life turns into an inspiring modern masterpiece that definitely deserves a standing ovation.

Rating: 4.5/5.0

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

It has the precise production elements, galvanized by the memorable performances of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, but the loose thread on its themes and the superficial treatment of its source material dispel the potential of THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING on becoming a more self-sufficient adaptation. There’s no denying of the love that stood between acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking and ex-wife Jane Wilde but the onscreen journey of their relationship felt like an obligatory and theoretical portrayal of Wilde’s memoir, rather than the inherent evolution of their feelings that would have made the romantic aspect more endearing. Unfastened from each other’s orbit, Redmayne and Jones are transformative of their craft; Redmayne physically committing himself in Hawking’s withering state that was both fascinating and agonizing to watch while Jones carrying the weightier emotional barrel as Jane struggles in her growing family, frustration and feelings for her lover. Together, the leads are bounded by simple pronouncements of loving and letting go (which is quite understandable) but the chronology of events after their marriage seemed like a disparate reenactment of the Hawkings’ plot-moving moments that one can simply skim on the film’s source material. The film is blatant on its universal motif of love and hope but Director James Marsh only fished on the skin-deep surface of Hawking’s extraordinary life. Without the emotional core that it flimsily established, The Theory of Everything tumbles on its detached storytelling and shallow direction that could have been greater, if it only embraced everything — the heart, mind and soul — of its subject matter.

Rating: 2.5/5.0

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Capsule Review: Begin Again, John Wick

BEGIN AGAIN

Seven years since captivating indie lovers and Oscar voters of the modern classic ‘Once’, writer-director John Carney returns with bigger stars jamming to more mainstream records in BEGIN AGAIN. His second musical have the more star power (attracting musically-inclined Oscar nominees and The Voice coaches) and more accessible music (with a shinier New York guitar case than the dilapidated one in Dublin) yet its appealing spark doesn’t quite match the soulful glow of its predecessor. Begin Again may have undergone a mainstream treatment on its music, atmosphere and characters, but it still plays consistently on Carney’s coursework of endearing platonic musicals.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

JOHN WICK

With a wicked atmosphere, sleek action sequences, and an intriguing character to elevate itself from bland assassin innuendo, JOHN WICK is a stylish, welcome return to kinetic form by Keanu Reeves, resulting to an agreeable consensus that his retired hit man days are far from over.

Rating: 3.0/5.0