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Some may not realize this, but Independent Ethos has a seat on the Florida Film Critics Circle. This writer has been a member since 2012. In previous years that I have been a member (2012 and 2013) we ranked three choices in each category. But this year, we tried something different. Two rounds of voting. Each of the 25* voting members offered three choices in each category, no ranking. Once all ballots were turned in, our chairman and vice chair tabulated the results and gave us a new ballot of three choices in each category. Everyone would pick one name or film in each category, and then the ones with the majority votes were declared winners.

Also new this year were two new categories: score and ensemble cast, and we have four new members in the voting group! So there were lots of changes with this years vote. Were these changes for the better? Probably. I would have liked more personal favorites like Only Lovers Left Alive represented, and the fact that the Raid 2, an action flick of all things, won the Best Foreign Language category… (cringe… but, full disclosure, I haven’t seen it nor did I have an interest in seeing it). But then I’m pleased that we don’t appear like your typical New York-following group. I’m happy with Under the Skin‘s recognition for score and, yes, even Birdman beating Boyhood, as much as I like the latteris refreshing.

Check out this link to see all the winners. Below you will find my ballot and nominees, which may hint at some of my favorite films of the year, but, as usual take it with a grain of salt. This is a political thing after all, and one should list and lobby for films that have a chance for recognition that at least define a certain aesthetic the I feel no shame in celebrating.

Below you will find the the nominees our group voted on. The winner is in bold and my choices have an asterisk* by them.

BEST PICTURE

Boyhood
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel*

BEST DIRECTOR

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – Birdman
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel*

BEST ACTOR

Michael Keaton – Birdman
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything*
Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler

BEST ACTRESS

Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon – Wild
Julianne Moore – Still Alice*

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
Edward Norton – Birdman*
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Patricia Arquette – Boyhood*
Jessica Chastain – The Most Violent Year
Emma Stone – Birdman

BEST ENSEMBLE

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Birdman
Boyhood

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Boyhood

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Gone Girl
Inherent Vice*
The Theory of Everything

CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Interstellar
Birdman

VISUAL EFFECTS

Guardians of the Galaxy*
Interstellar
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN

Interstellar
The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Into the Woods

BEST SCORE

Gone Girl
Under the Skin*
Insterstellar

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Life Itself
Citizenfour*
Jodorowsky’s Dune

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

Ida*
Force Majeure
The Raid 2

ANIMATED FEATURE

The Lego Movie
Big Hero 6
How to Train Your Dragon 2*

BREAKOUT AWARD

Jennifer Kent – The Babadook*
Damien Chazelle – Whiplash
Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Belle/Beyond the Lights

GOLDEN ORANGE

Borscht Film Festival*
Oscar Isaac

My initial ballot of nominees is below. All choices are listed in no particular order:

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BEST PICTURE

Inherent Vice
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel

BEST ACTOR

Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jason Schwartzman – Listen Up Philip

BEST ACTRESS

Tilda Swinton – Only Lovers Left Alive
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Edward Norton – Birdman
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
Jonathan Pryce – Listen Up Philip

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Mia Wasikowska – Only Lovers Left Alive
Naomi Watts – Birdman
Emma Stone – Birdman

BEST ENSEMBLE

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Boyhood
Only Lovers Left Alive

BEST DIRECTOR

Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Paul Thomas Anderson – Inherent Vice

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jim Jarmusch – Only Lovers Left Alive
Alex Ross Perry – Listen Up Philip

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel (as its based on the writings of Stefan Zweig it could qualify here too, and I wanted to give this a good chance for script)
Paul Thomas Anderson – Inherent Vice
Anthony McCarten – The Theory of Everything

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Emmanuel Lubezki – Birdman
Nick Bentgen – Hide Your Smiling Faces
Robert Elswit – Inherent Vice

VISUAL EFFECTS

Fury
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Birdman

ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Only Lovers Left Alive
Big Eyes

BEST SCORE

Jim Jarmusch and Jozef van Wissem – Only Lovers Left Alive
Mica Levi – Under the Skin
Alexandre Desplat – The Grand Budapest Hotel 

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Citizen Four
Life Itself
Jodorowsky’s Dune

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

Ida
Force Majeure
Norte: The End of History

ANIMATED FEATURE (I nominated only one)

 The Tale of Princess Kaguya

BREAKOUT AWARD

Director Jennifer Kent – The Babadook
Ana Lily Amirpour – A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Ellar Coltrane – Boyhood

GOLDEN ORANGE:

Oscar Isaac
Borscht Film Festival (It’s happening now! I lobbied hard for this one. Check out their trailer below)

I’ve actually covered Borscht a lot this year at the “Miami New Times.” Pick up today’s issue for My story in the film section. Also I wrote about the films “Papa Machete” and “Cool As Ice 2″ on the publication’s art and culture blog Cultist. Click on the titles for the articles.

Hans Morgenstern

*There are two other members of the FFCC with emeritus status who sit on the sidelines, one of whom who likes to send out an email to all of us with his opinionated recap of what he has seen.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Wild is an ode to women’s inner strength. The film is an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir, which tells the story of how she hiked 1,110 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. The film starts off with Cheryl – played by Reese Witherspoon – sitting at the edge of a cliff in a beautiful landscape of the Northern Pacific pulling a toenail off a bloody, battered foot. She has been hiking for a few weeks at that point and Cheryl is in pain, but she is also resolute, refusing to allow that pain nor the vast landscape overwhelm her. The scene, though a little hard to watch, sets the tone for the journey we are about to embark on with Cheryl: a lonesome trail filled with physical pain and emotional mountains to be climbed. Cheryl decides to embark on the hike after finishing a painful divorce, still grieving the loss of her dear mother and feeling guilty about the missteps she took while mourning, such as casual sex with strangers and picking up a heroine habit.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée’s adaptation focuses on Cheryl’s inner struggle. Vallée’s portrayal of the open spaces and the solitude on the trail is quite stunning, but the real cause for admiration is his treatment of Cheryl’s guilt-ridden past, which appears as flashbacks scattered throughout the film. The fact that the novel Wild is a bestseller can be tricky for a director, as many will inevitably compare the film to their personal experiences with the novel. However, this film can stand on its own as a different experience. The film medium is not as personal, but it allows for further introspection by the viewer.

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Cheryl’s memories of sorrow mixed with real happy moments that feature her mother (playfully portrayed by Laura Dern) are at the heart of the emotional baggage Cheryl lugs around the Pacific Trail. The memories seem few and scattered enough so that the story is not an expositional, linear sob story. Rather, Vallée invites the audience to join the journey, making connections on their own and offering a non-chronological narrative that showcases a deeply flawed heroin. While you might think it’s hard to root for a woman who engages in promiscuous behavior, has addictive tendencies and seems to have lost her vision; her redeeming qualities are so raw and real it’s hard not to feel for her. Her journey is as much a self-discovery as it is a re-invention. In a letter she writes to her ex-husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski),  she ponders:

Here are some questions I’ve been asking myself:
What if I forgive myself? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do a single thing differently? What if I’d wanted to fuck every single one of those men?What if heroin taught me something?

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As with the writing, Witherspoon has the ability to capture brutal honesty mixed with an intense vulnerability. To convey an internal struggle is not an easy feat, especially for an actress known for her comedic roles. In Wild, Witherspoon sets Cheryl free through a series of cathartic moments. Witherspoon has also earned a nomination for Best Actress from the Golden Globes, a well-earned nod for the actress who appears in almost every frame of the film.

The film’s cinematography captures the beauty of the Pacific Crest Trail, from the heat of the Mojave desert to the green and luscious forestry in Washington State. The emotional journey is also full of vivid imagery, from anger and deep sorrow over the mother’s death to forgiveness and heartache. One of the most poignant moments of the film comes when Cheryl encounters a boy, Kyle (Evan O’Toole), out on a walk with his grandmother. After a brief, polite conversation Kyle shares with Cheryl that he has some problems that he’s not supposed to talk about with strangers. Cheryl then over-shares too, opens up about her mother’s death and suddenly saying it out loud changes the tone of the conversation. The encounter is both a painful reminder of the sadness that has marked her and an acceptance of the past.

Wild runs 115 minutes and is rated R (sexual content, nudity, drug use and language). It opens this Friday in select theaters. In South Florida, the only indie theater showing it is O Cinema Miami Beach. For other theaters across the nation showing it, visit the film’s homepage.

Ana Morgenstern

(Copyright 2014 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

1833A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the second vampire film this year that redeems the genre from schlock and Twilight. It also isn’t the type of film one usually expects from an Iranian filmmaker, though it has a social consciousness informed by the oppressive society that forces that country’s filmmakers to play with subversion in their storytelling. With this film, director Ana Lily Amirpour graduates from short films to her first feature. Working from her own screenplay and expanding on an earlier short film, she does not turn to the usual influences of the vampire film, and her bloodsucker is not treated as your regular creature of the night.

Only credited as “the Girl” in the film’s credits, Sheila Vand plays the vamp with an ethereal, hip quality that will allow you to buy it when petty drug dealer Arash (Arash Marandi) falls for her, even though he is in a drug-addled stupor at the time they meet. He has stumbled away from a costume party dressed as Dracula. As he stands mesmerized by a suburban street lamp, she approaches, already established in the film as a killer draped in a chador who creeps through the dark streets of “Bad City.” Arash musters some subtle charm and says he is lost. He does not know it, but this young woman is behind the violent murder of a drug dealer/pimp (Dominic Rains) who has hooked his father (Marshall Manesh) on heroin and stolen Arash’s restored 1957 Ford Thunderbird. It is thanks to her that he has his car back and has found lucrative job selling ecstasy pills.

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Just considering the place of male-female roles in Iranian culture explored in that boiler plate is enough to merit surprise for this film that seems to come from Iran. How did Amirpour get away with it? She’s actually based in L.A. and born in the UK to Iranian parents. She even spent time living in our hometown of Miami before settling in Bakersfield, near L.A., which stands in for “Bad City.” It’s the female who is setting things right, for it is her actions that takes care of the oppressor of the father and son. In another scene, the Girl confronts a street urchin (Milad Eghbali), asking him repeatedly, “Are you a good boy or are you a bad boy?” as she leans ever closer to his neck. There is honor in this vampire, looking to set things right for the future of Iran.

Despite its grave social awareness, this film is above all witty, fun and atmospheric. Shot in luminous anamorphic black and white, the cinematography by newcomer Lyle Vincent will take your breath away. Its quality of image, from obtuse angles to its stark contrast, recalls Rumble Fish, which the filmmaker credits as inspiration in her Indiegogo page. The production design also pays tribute to the 1983 film by Francis Ford Coppola, which, in full disclosure, I must admit is my all-time favorite movie. 852Amirpour gives the setting a strange timeless quality by giving Arash a classic car and having him dress in a plain white T-shirt and jeans, something Coppola also set out to do with his film. David Lynch is also a strong influence. The backdrop of an industrial setting, which dominates the screen in brief scene transitions featuring giant silos and oil pumps creaking and rumbling, as they suck fluids from the landscape, recalls Lynch’s 1977 feature debut Eraserhead. Also leading one to think of Lynch is the film’s sound design, which includes the ambient noise of the semi-industrial town where the story unfolds and the alien drone that marks the first mysterious appearance of the Girl.

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The lush ambiance of this film would not be complete without a special music soundtrack. It not only includes Iranian pop music, which features elements like bouzouki mixed with electric guitars, but also features a great scene when the girl puts on a record by White Lies in her bedroom lined with posters that include Michael Jackson and Madonna in the ’80s. She plays the oh-so appropriate “Death” to the drugged-out Asar, as they slowly turn to face each other for the first half of the song.

The film has style to spare, and that’s why it’s so easy to forgive its inconsistent story-line. When the Girl gets her fangs on the drug dealer his actions are as meek as you would expect from the dimmest of horror movie victims. Maybe its homage, but there are also moments of convenience that seem like easy shortcuts in narrative. However, as soon as you might feel the need to wonder or question the drama, Amirpour will surprise you with some other witty moment of flair with her filmmaking that will bring a smile. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is truly one of the freshest and lightest films to come out of Iran that does not forget its milieu and makes for one of the wittiest additions to the vampire film genre.

Hans Morgenstern

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not rated, runs 99 minutes and is Persian with English subtitles. It exclusively opens in South Florida on Friday, Dec. 12, at 7 p.m., at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, which provided a screener link for the purpose of this review. For more screening dates across the US, see the film’s official website.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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Every year, during the first week of December, Miami becomes home to Art Basel – Miami Beach, one of the most important art fairs in the world. While usually celebrating visual art and artists around the world at the Miami Beach Convention Center, there are now many satellite events that celebrate all forms of culture and artistic expression. Here at Independent Ethos we are ecstatic that films are part of these events. Here’s a brief guide for film lovers who wish to navigate Art Week in Miami.

1. Warhol’s “Silver Screen/Silver Factory” playing at the Miami Beach Cinematheque

Direct from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the Miami Beach Cinematheque will be presenting “Lupe,” a 1965 film starring Edie Sedgwick. “Lupe” tells the story of young starlet, Lupe Velez who committed suicide and was found in a toilet. In “Lupe” we get Warhol’s take on popular culture. A must for the Basel-going cinephile. Lupe runs 36 mins. and will be shown on a 16mm dual projection on Thursday, Dec. 4 at 9 p.m., as the artist originally intended. Make sure to be there early to enjoy the Warhol-related photography exhibit as well.

2. Tim Burton’s Big Eyes at the Colony Theater

On Friday Dec. 5 at 8:30 p.m. there will be a free screening of Big Eyes at the Colony Theater. Starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes tells the story of painter Margaret Keane and her artistic awakening. Her paintings were popularized by her husband Walter Keane, who became famous by revolutionizing the commercialization and accessibility of popular art with his enigmatic paintings of waifs with big eyes. Walter also took credit for the paintings. With Big Eyes director Tim Burton analyzes the relationship between husband and wife, as well as the relationship between the artist and its work.

The film will be followed by a discussion organized by Art Basel. Big Eyes runs 108 minutes.

3. Advice Station by MK Guth at the Aqua Hotel

MK Guth is a multimedia artist and professor based in Portland, Oregon. Her video installation “Advice Station” is part psychiatry office and part information booth, where visitors can share personal advice that will later be assembled by the Elizabeth Leach Gallery in a book.  Advice Station is on view Dec. 3-7 at the Aqua Hotel. Tickets are available here.

4. Short Film Program: “The Night of Forevermore”

Art Basel will be hosting short film programs every night at the Soundscape wall of the New World Symphony. “The Night of Forevermore” will be on view on Dec.5, from  9 to 10 p.m. and will feature the following shorts: Un chien andalou by Ciprian Mureşan, which re-imagines Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s classic film and combines it with Shrek characters. For this short alone I would make the trip to the Soundscape. Look at a preview of the short here:

The program will also feature Feeling 4 (2000) by Tomislav Gotovac. Gotovac was a multidisciplinary artist from the former Yugoslavia who prominently features the body in his work. The Apple (2006) by Olaf Breuning. The Apple is a black and white silent film that is a welcomed humorous respite for this program. Next up is The Stranger, the Stranger, and the Stranger (2006) by Jose Dávila, a Mexican artist who was commissioned this film by Nownesswhere he re-imagines a classic western themed stand-off. Laure Prouvost created OWT (2007); the French artist is best known for winning the Turner Prize in 2013 for a tea party art installation. Maya Watanabe’s A-PHAN-OUSIA (2008), is an introspective short piece by the Madrid-based artist that explores filmmaking by removing its context but leaving in interwoven quotes that create an alternative meaning. La Traviata by Tim Davis (2013) shows seemingly straightforward images of different female characters singing. Each image, however, is packed with meaning, from the different languages represented in the singing to contrasting backgrounds that evoke connection between places and people. The singing changes languages, the landscapes are open and wide, suggestive of possibility. Hans Op de Beeck’s Parade (2012) and Alex Prager’s Sunday (2010) will also be on view. Finally, the program will be showing the title theme: The Night of Forevermore (2012) by Marnie Weber, which is quite an atmospheric piece. Catch a glimpse of it below.

To read about other video installations projected at the Soundscape Wall or presented by Art Basel – Miami Beach, please visit this link.

Ana Morgenstern

(Copyright 2014 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

goodbye-to-language-3d-posterAnyone who loves cinema — and I’m talking about visuals, sound and editing, with acting and narrative falling into fourth and fifth place — needs to see Jean-Luc Godard’s first 3D film, Goodbye to Language (Adieu au langage). The pioneer French New Wave filmmaker has long moved into a more subversive yet pure exploration of cinema. There is something about his movies that celebrate cinema while trying to tear it down. Though that dichotomy is always fun to watch, with 3D Godard finds a fresh level of experimentation that adds a new thrilling perspective that also does not stray too far from his thinking of cinema.

There simply has been nothing like Goodbye to Language in the movies, and some will be uncomfortable with it while others will delight in it. Those familiar with late-period Godard, like his last movie, Film Socialisme (my review: Godard’s ‘Film Socialisme’ and the entrancing “music” of visuals) will recognize a certain style. The quality of his visuals vary. There are diverse images like the hyper-color-saturated shots of flowers in nature and grainy black and white archival film and cheap, low-def video but also crystal clear HD images of an obscure drama following two couples who are almost doppelgängers of each other (or it could be a sense of Jungian synchronicity that makes us perceive them as one and not).

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Godard’s synopsis of the film in the press kit is quite funny. He opens with “the idea is simple,” and continues:

a married woman and a single man meet
they love, they argue, fists fly
a dog strays between town and country
the seasons pass
the man and woman meet again
the dog finds itself between them
the other is in one
the one is in the other
and they are three
the former husband shatters everything
a second film begins
the same as the first
and yet not
from the human race we pass to metaphor
this ends in barking
and a baby’s cries

That is the basic story or, better put a taste of the sequence of events in Goodbye to Language, but the effect of these events and the connections between these “narrative elements” are so creative and loaded with so muchd48a139f-e443-4096-ac49-f41c7628cc59 meaning, it defies plot. Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Darwin, Sartre, among others, make appearances in quotes and Shelley even appears in the flesh (Jessica Erickson). But great thinkers are actually playing second fiddle here.

Beyond narrative and philosophy, there are the moments of 3D trickery, whether it highlights the pubic hair of an actress (Héloise Godet) or the snout of the director’s dog Roxy Miéville, it also plays with depth of field focus in ways that can feel dizzying, like a pylon’s view of a ferry gliding over the sea or Godard’s interest in floors that highlight their disappearance in an unseen horizon or looking into the depth of a flat mirror. But what most will notice is how he overlaps left and right images to create a super-imposition like no other in cinema. It happens on three occasions. Each time Godard finds a new way to make it relevant to his exploration of the medium as well as the action in the scene.

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But it’s not that these visuals try to move a narrative forward as much as capture the experience of time and space overlapping as an experience while celebrating creation in cinema. His “narrative” is loaded with meaning and history while also destroying any of its relevance in existence. He covers all sorts of heavy topics: gender roles, Hitler, marketing, nature, literature, socialism, but demands the viewer to inform the topics. It’s an invitation to bring competence to a work of abstraction.

Of course his film is also dense in commentary. For instance, a man, Gédéon (Kamel Abdeli) claims to take the position of Rodin’s Thinker while sitting nude on a toilet taking a noisy dump. It’s a profound gesture but also humanizing in uniting him with his female lover, Josette (Godet) who is also naked and watches him as he shit/speaks. He thinks it puts them on the same level as human beings. d1095a57-21c3-466d-9aae-c40d0dee4780But, as a man of a certain era, Godard cannot help but raise the woman to a higher state. The naked woman, her back to the camera, is all clean, curved lines. He’s a scruffy, unshaven troll sitting below her. He is still the man shitting, while she possess the great forest where life comes from (an unseen narrator, perhaps Godard himself, mentions a Native American tribe that refers to the world as “the forest” as he trains the dual camera lens on her hairy pubic area).

Staying true to the notion in the title of the film that language is a weak symbol for truth or expressing reality, the unseen narrator captures the unknowable character of woman in another great line repeated in the film regarding women: “A woman can do no harm. She can annoy you or kill you. That’s all.” Two extremes with the mystery of woman caught in between. The film, is about dualities on many levels, in another wonderful moment Gédéon says, “The two greatest inventions: infinity and zero.” She counters: “sex and death.” This review could be five times longer in exploring the play of dualities, it’s lush with them. Godard is a naturist in the way he celebrates nudity in a mundane sense, and it’s great fun in 3D, but then there is also the way he treats nature itself with his dog roaming through it. These moments provide wondrous respite from all his intense experiments in 3D, whether it’s the face of Roxy or a camera wandering up the trunk of a tree.

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Ultimately, with Goodbye to Language, you will feel something unequivocal in cinema. With the 3D medium, the master has once again found a new way to bring visuals to the forefront of the cinematic experience. Long frustrated with any idea of “truth” in cinema, Godard has gone on to make movies that expose the faults in the medium as far as storytelling but also raising them to a higher level. With Goodbye to Language he comes closer than ever to making the medium the message. He seeks to create a cognitive dissonance for anyone seeking some straight narrative informed by human history or current social concerns in an exhilarating way. Goodbye to Language is so much more than film or even experience for that matter. It is a portal meant to wake the mind out of a stupor numbed by expectation and trained by plot and narrative. It is awareness incarnate in image.

Hans Morgenstern

Goodbye to Language 3D runs 70 minutes, is in French with English subtitles and is not rated (there is violence, language and nudity).

Update: Broward County will now have a chance to experience this extraordinary movie. It opens December 19 at Cinema Paradiso – Fort Lauderdale.

It opened exclusively in South Florida this Friday, November 28 at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, which invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review. 

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Theory-of-Everything-PosterEvery year, there’s a certain film guaranteed to come out in the fall: the performance-driven biopic/period piece. The Theory of Everything, which is based on the life of the theoretical physicist/cosmologist Stephen Hawking, could be shrugged off as another one of those. But it shouldn’t. At the heart of the film are Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, who offer two of the most transcendent performances of the year.

Redmayne’s portrayal of Hawking is uncanny. On the surface the actor captures the physicality of Hawking so impeccably some shots will remind the viewer of images of the real man (now 72 years old). As ALS gradually diminishes Stephen’s ability to control his muscles, Redmayne contorts into postures — face, lips, brow and all — vividly bringing Hawking’s familiar nuances to life. But it’s a gradual transformation that unfolds dynamically throughout much of the film. The story opens with his years in graduate school at Cambridge, where we first see him entrenched in an exuberant, playful bicycling race with a classmate. But he also has a klutzy side and bad penmanship. Then his clumsiness gradually becomes something else. His ankles buckle, his knees wobble and his hands become stiff. There are also changes in his speech, and just when you think Redmayne might run out of a range in Stephen’s debilitating condition, the actor goes deeper.

The challenge is to act through this and express a man who seems generally undeterred to crack “the theory of everything” while growing as an intellectual. Though Stephen’s slow plunge into ALS is portrayed as difficult and challenging, it’s also accepted as an inevitable, and the fact that the disease does not diminish Stephen’s brain power means he can maintain a certain TTOE_D02_01131_CROP1409353791steadfastness in his intellectual quest. There is a moment where he is trapped under a sweater he cannot fully pull over his head, but staring through the fibers into a fireplace leads him to a moment of eureka. When Jane finally comes over to help, he transmits a contained moment of transcendence. The disease does not really trap him, and that the sense is transmitted with delicacy under such physical constraints speaks to Redmayne’s careful approach to this character.

Though physically demanding, there is a balance of empathy and cockiness that also informs the role. It is essential that the filmmakers bring something else to this man so he does not appear like a caricature, and part of that lies in the chemistry between Redmayne and Jones. Their courtship is charming in how they cannot seem to resist one another, and it evolves through subtle glances glued together by intellectual exchanges between two people connecting with their minds, above all. Their eyes are always on each other with a coy, sweet curiosity and interest in what the other might say next. As the years pass, Jones never modulates Jane’s gaze, even when she might be angry or impatient with Stephen.

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Jones is wonderful to watch throughout the movie. She always seems connected, even when she becomes frustrated with her lover. The film is based on her perspective, after all, but it never feels like Jane is a victim. She still comes across as strong and loving, even when things grow complicated over the years, especially when other adults enter their lives.

The relationship could have easily slipped over the edge into unintended pathos, but the performances are so stellar and sincere while avoiding saccharine overdose that the characters feel easy to admire and sympathize with. Working from a script by Anthony McCarten who adapted Jane Hawking’s Travelling to Infinity: The True Story Behind The Theory of Everything, director James Marsh shows wondrous growth as a feature director. Though his first feature, Shadow Dancer (2012), had its moments of tension, the twisting story sometimes overwhelmed the heart of the film. The gloomy setting of 1990s-era Belfast limited his palette to a drab, cold quality that kept the audience at a distance. But this time, Marsh works with such a vibrant range of color and uses so much light, it virtually enhances the pacing of the film.

Marsh is also a man who understands the profound and varied shades of complexity in human relationships. It was there in his documentaries Man On Wire (2008) and Project Nim (2011). The latter was about the various figures who entered a chimpanzee’s life, during an experiment to raise the animal as a human. The former was a biography of the first wire-TTOE_D04_01827_R_CROP1409353818walker to walk between the Twin Towers, a man who experienced life more vividly when it he put in danger, and those who loved him suffered quite profoundly for it. Within these documentaries Marsh showed a deep compassion to the complex relationships between people, purpose and love, and it comes across in The Theory of Everything.

Ultimately, it’s the complexity of the relationship and the heart of the two lead performers that make this film worthwhile. It’s captured in the smallest moments sandwiched between montages that mark life events like a wedding and the births of children, and it has no shame going places that includes sexuality and the intrusion of other people into their lives. Marsh shows keen interest in the intimate details that can shake up a couple. Fine, there’s the schmaltzy score by Jóhann Jóhannsson featuring overwrought swooning strings and bright, tinkling piano that effectively if a bit too sweetly enhances the film’s emotional tone. Cinematographer Benoît Delhomme mostly uses shallow focus to highlight the acting by the two leads and enhance the bright lights in the backgrounds. But everything about the film is overshadowed by Redmayne and Jones. If you want to catch what’s sure to be a highlight of the acting offered this year in cinema, do not miss The Theory of Everything.

Hans Morgenstern

The Theory of Everything runs 123 minutes and is rated PG-13 (some language and sexual references). In South Florida the film began screening in limited release at the Coral Gables Art Cinema (see screening details for the latter here) as well the multiplexes at AMC Sunset Place, AMC Aventura, The Gateway 4, Regal South Beach and the Cinemark Palace. It opens wide everywhere else the following week, beginning Wednesday, Nov. 26, as well as at another indie cinema, O Cinema Miami Beach (see screening details for the latter here). Focus Features invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
John Coplans catalogue, 1970, from the MBC Archive

John Coplans catalogue, 1970, from the MBC Archive

We at Independent Ethos are extremely supportive of the Miami Beach Cinematheque and its Speaking In Cinema series, which would not be possible without funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The series has brought some excellent filmmakers to Miami since it began earlier this year, and we helped out with its inaugural event (An Interview with ‘Hide Your Smiling Faces’ Filmmaker Daniel Patrick Carbone in ‘Miami New Times’). We’ve covered them all because, frankly, it is damn exciting to consider movies thoughtfully for an hour (sometimes longer) in such a setting with some amazing guests.

This month and next — the month known in Miami Beach for one of the biggest art festivals in the world: Art Basel – Miami Beach — the Cinematheque has begun screening some rare films by Andy Warhol thanks to The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA at the Carnegie Institute. The four films are all about Golden Age Hollywood starlets and their scandals recreated in the experimental and exploratory way only Warhol could have made. The Velvet Underground, Edie Sedgewick and famous drag queens are all collaborators. The films include Harlot (1964), Lupe (1965), More Milk Yvette (1965), and Hedy (1966)*.

Discussing the films with depth and knowledge will be our old Miami friend and compatriot on WordPress Alfred Soto (check out his terrific blog Humanizing the Vacuum). He will lead a discussion with director/producer Tom Kalin and Claire K. Henry, Senior Curatorial Assistant and project manager of the Andy Warhol Film Project at the Whitney Museum of American Art. I corresponded with the out-of-town experts via email ahead of their visit and wrote an article for the art and culture blog of the Miami New Times, “Cultist.” Among other topics, we discussed common misconceptions of Warhol’s film work, and I even asked them for a personal favorite of the the four Warhol films screening at the MBC (it turned out to be unanimous). You can read the result by jumping through the link below:

cultist banner

But, as always, there was more. Asked what mainstream filmmakers can learn from the work of Warhol, Henry declared that indeed they have already learned a tremendous amount. “The commercial success of The Chelsea Girls in 1966-67 paved the way for more radical filmmaking,” she notes, “both in subject matter — Midnight Cowboy (1969); A Clockwork Orange (1971); Pink Flamingos (1972) — and in technique — Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975); Memento (2001).”

She deferred to Kalin for more on this notion. Though he was rushing to board his plane to Miami, he offered, “Sometimes in mainstream cinema a pop star crosses over and becomes a screen star. This blurring of the lines — the synergy between music and movies for instance is very Warholian. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable was ahead of its time and the boundary pushing of his expanded cinema like Chelsea Girls still resonates in this era of ‘multiplatform storytelling.’ Also Warhol’s superstars, mere mortals transformed by the magic lens, anticipate today’s preoccupation with reality, real faces.”

Tom Kalin 2

Finally, since Speaking In Cinema also tries to go off topic to discuss film in general, it was worth asking Kalin, what he is up to as a filmmaker, considering this writer is only familiar with his work as a feature filmmaker of 1992’s Swoon and 2007’s Savage Grace. “In addition to my feature narrative work, my films and videos include short experimental work, installations and collaborations,” notes Kalin, who is also a professor at Columbia University. “Recently, I have been collaborating with musician Thomas Bartlett (Doveman) on a series of projects. We premiered My Silent One at REDCAT in Los Angeles in July. You can read a bit about it here and here.”

He also pauses to note Warhol’s own influence on his work. “Of course Warhol famously was a key figure in the combination of film and live music in his work with The Velvet Underground, and like many filmmakers, I have been inspired by this work. I also have just made a new short film for Visual AIDS’ 25th Anniversary of Day Without Art. The film is called ‘Ashes’ and features the voice of Justin Vivian Bond.”

Finally, for those curious about his feature work, Kalin offers: “I’m developing two new features, one of which is about a crime in a small town, my first feature set in present time.  I will shoot summer 2015.”

Hans Morgenstern

Director/producer Tom Kalin will join Claire K. Henry, Senior Curatorial Assistant of the Andy Warhol Film Project at the Whitney Museum of American Art and “Humanizing the Vacuum” critic Alfred Soto for the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss the films on Thursday, November 20, at 7 p.m. A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. Tickets for all the Warhol screenings and the event can be found by visiting mbcinema.com.

*The films in the retrospective are from the Collection of The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh. Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © 2014 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA., a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
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