Eddie Redmayne

Photo Credit: Andrew Brooks | Daily Texan Staff

With the Academy Awards coming up Sunday, all eyes are on host Neil Patrick Harris. The comedian faces high expectations, but his stellar record as a four-time host of the Tony Awards is a strong indicator he’ll be just as entertaining in his first Academy Awards hosting gig. Harris, however, is not up for an award — and ultimately, in between the host’s comedic bits, the Academy Awards is ultimately a show about awards. The nominees in the acting, directing and overall best picture categories are facing tough competitors. Here are movie reviewer Alex Pelham’s predictions:

Best Supporting Actor

J.K. Simmons, best known for his comedic roles in the “Spider-Man” trilogy and “Juno,” will win his first Oscar for his brutal performance in “Whiplash.” Having beat out Ethan Hawke and Mark Ruffalo at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, Simmons’ night will end in absolute victory.

Best Supporting Actress

For her work in “Boyhood,” Patricia Arquette will earn the Best Supporting Actress award. Her stunning performance as a struggling single mother has already won her a Golden Globe, a BAFTA award and a SAG award. It would be foolish to assume her name won’t be on that statuette.

Best Actor

The battle for the Best Actor award boils down to a duel between Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne. This sets up an interesting struggle between veteran Keaton and newcomer Redmayne — the former is a Hollywood legend who has never before been nominated while the latter is a rising star who is rapidly gaining attention for his dramatic roles. Despite Redmayne’s charm as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” Keaton’s role as a psychologically disturbed actor in “Birdman” is too good to pass up.

Best Actress

Julianne Moore is the safe bet for this category as her performance as a professor suffering from Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice” haunted critics. She’s swept the other major award ceremonies, so it seems incredibly likely that she’ll take the Oscar. Although Moore is a shoe-in, it would entertaining to see Rosamund Pike steal the award for her thrilling performance in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl.” Considering “Gone Girl” got completely shut out of all the Oscar categories except for Best Actress, it’s possible that Moore will not leave the ceremony with the prize. 

Best Director

Richard Linklater will be rewarded Best Director for his outstanding efforts in “Boyhood.” The director, who spent 12 years working on the film, has poured his soul into his celebration of childhood in Texas. “Birdman” director Alejandro González Iñárritu follows closely behind Linklater, but Linklater’s ability to manipulate nostalgia is more charming than Iñárritu’s cold directing. UT students are sure to be disappointed alumnus Wes Anderson won’t take the Oscar for his visually stunning “Grand Budapest Hotel,” but he’ll surely be back in years to come to claim a
well-deserved award.

Best Picture

Finally, the fight for the top prize will be between dark comedy “Birdman” and coming-of-age drama “Boyhood.” “Boyhood” will triumph, as its ability to tap into the sentimental nostalgia of moviegoers may give the film an edge over the quirky “Birdman.” Of course, given the Academy’s love for European period pieces, there remains a small possibility that “The Theory of Everything” can pull a stunning, “Shakespeare in Love”-style upset.

Though major shake-ups are unlikely, seeing some of the year’s best films and actors reap well-deserved benefits will still be entertaining. If nothing else, Harris will certainly do what he can to keep the evening compelling. No matter how likely it is the top contenders will walk away as winners, it’s important to remember that on Oscar night, anything
can happen.

Mila Kunis waits to be saved by Channing Tatum in the tedious and horribly written “Jupiter Ascending.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

In “Jupiter Ascending,” released Friday, directors Andy and Lana Wachowski attempt to combine a space opera, an action-adventure spectacle and political power struggle into one epic film. Instead, they cram three separate stories into one mediocre and confusing movie. The Wachowski siblings have cobbled together a poor excuse for a sci-fi spectacle, failing to repeat the success they generated from “The Matrix.” 

Far off in space, the ancient, alien Abraxas family claims ownership over the Earth and several other planets. When the matriarch of the Abraxas clan dies, siblings Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth) fight for supremacy and total control of their inheritance. On Earth, a young woman named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) learns that she genetically matches the trio’s deceased mother, making her the Earth’s owner. With the help of genetically modified ex-soldier Caine (Channing Tatum), Jupiter attempts to survive the onslaught of the jealous heirs who seek to claim her birthright.

Watch the trailer for "Jupiter Ascending" here:

“Jupiter Ascending”’s biggest problem is the Wachowskis’ unfocused story. It’s clear that “Jupiter” isn’t aiming to be a serious drama, but the logic the Wachowskis insert into this universe is, at times, just nonsensical. For instance, Jupiter learns she is a descendent of the royal family because bees refuse to sting her. 

The story is packed with an absurd amount of subplots. As a result, the pacing is an absolute mess. By itself, Jupiter’s conflict with the three siblings would have provide enough story for an entire trilogy — much less a 120-minute film. But on top of the sibling squabbles, the Wachowskis also throw in love triangles and spend copious amounts of time developing minor characters. 

It’s disappointing that the story is mediocre, as some of the Wachowskis’ ideas do have the potential to be fascinating. The notion of a galactic royal family in control of the Earth is an intriguing concept. The Wachowskis let their original storyline fall to the wayside as they focused on less interesting characters and plot points. 

Kunis can’t do anything to save the dull, weakly written Jupiter. Despite being heir to the entire planet, Jupiter never rises above the textbook damsel-in-distress. Caine saves her countless times, but even his role as a protector doesn’t make his character any more interesting. Tatum is reduced to a scowling grunt, and it’s difficult to take him seriously when he wears eyeliner and prosthetic ears. Meanwhile, Redmayne gives a bizarre performance as main antagonist Balem, rarely speaking above a whisper — except when he shrieks loudly during moments of displeasure. 

The movie’s visuals served as a rare bright spot in what was otherwise a mediocre movie. The Wachowskis demonstrate their knack for creating massive worlds and spectacles through beautiful cities and environments that hover around in space. Even though practically every effect is computer-generated, the result is still dazzling. 

“Jupiter Ascending” is a great looking movie with clever ideas, but it is crippled by dim characters. In its attempt to be an over-the-top galactic adventure tale, the film forgets to flesh out its main characters — and loses the chance to deliver a clear, focused story. What could have been a promising space adventure is instead an incompetent, disappointing mess of a movie.

“The Theory of Everything” explores the relationship between physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his first wife, Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). The film premieres Friday.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features | Daily Texan Staff

“The Theory of Everything” is a film about both failure and success. On one hand, it pays tribute to the achievements and hardships of Stephen Hawking — one of the most celebrated scientific minds of all time. On the other, it explores the slow deterioration of his romantic relationship with his first wife and greatest friend. The balance between the narratives is in favor of the romanticized account of their relationship, which ultimately displays Hawking’s life as an engaging and emotional journey.

While studying at Cambridge, young Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) meets Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). The two bond instantly, around the time Hawking begins to develop an intricate theory about black hole radiation. Tragically, Hawking discovers his body is deteriorating because of a motor neuron disease, which shuts down his body over the course of several years and leaves him nearly paralyzed. Despite this, Stephen marries Jane and becomes world famous for his research. As he becomes more renowned, and his body continues to shut down, Stephen and Jane’s marriage begins to disintegrate. This leaves the couple wondering whether their relationship can survive both the destruction of Stephen’s body and the fame thrust upon the physicist. 

The focus on Hawking’s relationship with Jane bodes well for the film because the true emotion of the movie relies on the bond between the two. It’s interesting to see the marriage develop, which makes it more devastating when it becomes inevitably clear it will not survive. Anthony McCarten’s script details both the humor and tragedy that defined the duo’s time together.

It is indeed jarring to watch the breakdown of his body. Director James Marsh does not gloss over how agonizing the disease is to Hawking. The gradual impact of the disease is subtle and disturbing. Every limp and failed attempt to create motion are painful to witness, but they make his journey feel more inspiring.

Redmayne is great at portraying the awkward yet clever demeanor Hawking possesses. The character becomes more enjoyable as he struggles with and adapts to the disease. Redmayne underplays some of the arrogance that the real-life Hawking has been accused of possessing and spends more time playing-up Hawking’s charismatic side. Jones wonderfully displays the patient struggle with her husband’s disability and success. She accurately showcases the kindness of the character, along with the sorrow she feels as she recognizes the marriage is slowly collapsing.

“The Theory of Everything” is heavily romanticized yet remains an intriguing look into Hawking’s accomplished life. The film explores the more emotional side of his legacy and does so with brilliant acting from the leads. It examines a relationship that is wonderful to watch and heartbreaking to see collapse. The combination of McCarten’s screenplay and Marsh’s direction creates a stellar look at both Hawking’s accomplishments and failures.

Review

Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) and Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper) in “My Week With Marilyn.” (Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company)

My Week With Marilyn” more or less hinges on Michelle Williams’ performance as American sex symbol Marilyn Monroe and even builds in a certain amount of awe around the actress by staging the film from the perspective of young show biz hopeful Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne).

Clark, who wrote the memoir that inspired the film, is entranced with Monroe from the first time he sees her onscreen, and Williams gives a dazzling performance. Her portrayal of Monroe displays an understanding of the actress and public figure that goes far deeper than mere imitation, and Williams continues to stand out as one of the boldest, most watchable actresses of her generation.

It’s a shame, then, that the back half of “My Week With Marilyn,” where Williams takes the spotlight, is much spottier than the early sections that are mostly concerned with the making of Sir Laurence Olivier’s “The Prince and the Showgirl.” These earlier scenes make full use of the film’s expansive and entertaining supporting cast, including Judi Dench’s elegant turn as Dame Sybil Thorndike.

Dominic Cooper and Toby Jones also stand out as members of Monroe’s management team, and Kenneth Branagh makes for an outstandingly theatrical Olivier. Meanwhile, Redmayne is almost entirely overshadowed and outmatched by a cast of renowned thespians, many of whom are given the short end of the stick as the film’s focus turns from the movie-within-the-movie to Clark and Monroe’s short-lived attempt at romance.

There’s plenty to like in “My Week With Marilyn,” and Monroe makes for a fairly interesting character when given an ensemble to bounce off of.

Even in the film’s slower moments, Williams is compelling enough to keep one interested. But it’s hard to shake the idea that centering the film around a few flirtatious conversations between Monroe and an assistant director isn’t nearly as interesting as telling the story of a Hollywood starlet going head-to-head with a bonafide thespian, something that “My Week With Marilyn” is far too star-struck to realize. 

Printed on Monday, November 28, 2011: Actress captures essence of American sex symbol