Watching and Writing Words

By Brenda Daniels

Three films, already out on DVD, all reflect an interest in words.

In the first of the three that I watched recently, Academy Award winner, Julianne Moore plays Alice, a character who experiences the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease. Diagnosed at the early age of 50, Alice’s deterioration is scarily swift. From momentarily forgetting words to not recognising landmarks, Alice quickly begins to suffer the ignominy of not being able to find the bathroom and of greeting her own daughter like a stranger. Still Alice delivers its message all the more poignantly by casting its lead character in the role of a linguistics professor who has written a book about communication. When elaborating on his diagnosis Alice’s doctor tells her that symptoms of this strange illness can be even more rapid in the highly educated. Very sobering indeed.

Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart are mother and daughter in Still Alice, a film about how Alice deals with early onset Alzheimer's Disease. Photo source: http://www.vwmin.org/still-alice-by-lisa-genova-9781501107733-paperback.html

Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart are mother and daughter in Still Alice, a film about how Alice deals with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Photo source: http://www.vwmin.org/still-alice-by-lisa-genova-9781501107733-paperback.html

Not nearly as believable or worth watching is Stuck in Love, starring Greg Kinnear, Lily Collins and Nat Wolff. In this film a father and his two children are all writers. Each of them writes (or experiences writer’s block) in response to their love or antipathy for the wife and mother (Jennifer Connelly) who “deserted” them some years before. Positing love as the artist’s muse is not a new idea by any means. But in Stuck in Love the portrayal is a bit ridiculous and makes a mockery of the hard work, as opposed to sentiment, that “inspires” writers.

In a way it is hard work that does inspire writing in The Rewrite. In this movie Hugh Grant plays scriptwriter, Keith Michaels, who simply can’t come up with a sequel to his first successful script. He is shipped off to the other side of the country to take up a job as a writer-in-residence at a small university. Here his lackadaisical attitude quickly gets him into trouble. It takes the writing output of his own students to help Keith turn his life around. Their scripts help him realise that, contrary to his initial thoughts, writing can be taught (not just caught) and their positive response to his teaching proves to be the catalyst for his next script.

In Still Alice and The Rewrite there is clear character development. In The Rewrite Keith realises his own and others’ value through his recapturing of the written word. In Still Alice, Alice remains, to herself and her family, still Alice despite her sad loss of words.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is definitely a favourite for the Oscar

Oscar Buzz – Whiplash, The Theory of Everything, Wild and The Grand Budapest Hotel A Feast of Tales has reviewed Birdman, Boyhood and The Imitation Game, three of the films nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture. Here we review four more of the nominated films, excluding American Sniper and Selma. The Academy Awards will be announced on 22 February 2015. Reviews by Brenda Daniels Whiplash In this film young music student Andrew (Miles Teller) is accepted into a prestigious music group conducted by the revered and feared Fletcher (J K Simmons). Andrew becomes Fletcher’s new protégée. Far from being nurturing, however, Fletcher’s teaching style fluctuates wildly between favouritism and cruelty. Young, impressionable and, most importantly, ambitious, Andrew, is sucked in by Fletcher and tossed about in a manner reminiscent of the film’s title Whiplash (Whiplash is also the title of the music group’s main song). The audience is drawn in to some extent as well and at times I wondered whether Fletcher had good intentions or simply enjoyed torturing his students. But ultimately Whiplash is a bildungsroman – the maturing of young Andrew Neimann. The picture of his protective father (Paul Reiser) looking with astonishment from the stage wings on his son’s superb drumming performance is symbolic of this. It is a memorable moment.

Miles Teller plays the lead role in Oscar nominated film, Whiplash. Photo: creative Commons

Miles Teller plays the lead role in Oscar nominated film, Whiplash. Photo: creative Commons

The Theory of Everything Another Oscar contender for best film is The Theory of Everything starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking. The film focuses more on Hawking’s personal life than on his professional life, and highlights his relationships and the progression of his illness. It spans several years, starting with Hawking’s time at Cambridge University to the launch of his first books in America. The romance of the young lovers Stephen and Jane is touchingly portrayed and Jane is to be admired for committing to marriage shortly after Stephen’s motor neurone disease diagnosis. At the time doctors had given him only two years to live. Stephen’s reaction to this news is seen in his sudden decision to do his PhD on “The Nature of Space and Time” (the title of one of his books). Other book titles appear in the film in the form of conversations and lectures. And Stephen’s atheism is shown in contrast to Jane’s gentle, yet enduring, Christian beliefs. Eddie Redmayne’s acting as the increasingly infirm Hawking is really good. But I would have welcomed a more intense focus on the scientist’s “theories of everything”; without it the plot is not meaty enough.

Felicity Jones plays a supporting role as Jane Hawkings in Oscar nominated film, The Theory of Everything. Photo: Creative Commons

Felicity Jones plays a supporting role as Jane Hawkings in Oscar nominated film, The Theory of Everything. Photo: Creative Commons

Wild Cheryl Strayd (Reese Witherspoon) embarks alone on a tough, demanding hike known as the Pacific Crest Trail. As her journey progresses, flashbacks to her past reveal that Cheryl has set out on this endeavour in order to properly grieve the death of her mother. A little self-indulgent to begin with, the film improves with time and I found myself identifying with Cheryl. For instance, Cheryl kicks a gas canister in frustration after discovering she had bought the wrong one. She accidentally knocks one of her boots into a ravine and then flings its companion after it in a fit of rage. I could see myself doing those things too. I also identified with images of Cheryl’s mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern). Laura Dern acts her part beautifully. The performance is worthy of its best supporting actress nomination and Dern certainly gets my vote. Bobbi’s relationship with her two young children (Cheryl and her brother Leif [Keen McRae]) is a delight to see and I found myself thinking fondly of the many hours I had spent with my own two children.

Reese Witherspoon, seen at the 83rd Academy Awards. She plays the chief character in Oscar nominated film, Wild. Photo: Creative Commons

Reese Witherspoon, seen at the 83rd Academy Awards. She plays the chief character in Oscar nominated film, Wild. Photo: Creative Commons

The Grand Budapest Hotel This is one of my favourites of the eight nominated for best film. The European setting in an indefinable hotel between the two world wars is mysterious, exotic and therefore attractive. The characters are a surprise. The acclaimed concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) is a refined, loyal employee of the Grand Budapest Hotel. But he also swears with abandon, cons old ladies out of their fortunes and gets arrested in the process. His new bell boy, Zero Moustafa, is amusing. He hardly speaks in the movie and his activities revolve mostly around drawing a moustache onto his upper lip every morning and rushing with wide eyes to do Gustave’s bidding. The pair nevertheless develop a humorously close relationship. All of this is couched in action that reminded me of the comics I read as a child; a funicular makes its way up a ridiculously steep pathway to the remotely situated hotel; Gustave’s escape from prison involves overly long ladders, unfortunate deaths and speedy getaways in snow-blanketed landscapes. Though not everyone’s cup of tea, I simply loved this film. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a delight.

Ralph Fiennes stars in Oscar nominated film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Photo: Creative Commons

Ralph Fiennes stars in Oscar nominated film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Photo: Creative Commons