Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the creepiest urban night-shift worker since Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976). In his best performance yetwhich is saying somethingGyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a small-time thief and glib sociopath who becomes a freelance video paparazzo in Los Angeles. "If it bleeds, it leads," says the ratings-hungry TV news director (a wonderfully sleazy Rene Russo) who eagerly buys his gory footage of auto accidents, crimes, and fires. This movie isn't merely a commentary on yellow journalism updated for the sound-bite era, though. Bloom's trendy business-babble and psychological con games also mock the corporate amorality that monetizes everything in our world, not least human misery. But don't expect these messages to resemble a preachy sermon. Nightcrawler is always a skin-crawling thriller.
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The Theory of Everything is an Oscar-bound biopic of physicist Stephen Hawking that focuses on his personal travails, not his physics. Afflicted with Lou Gehrig's disease while in college at Cambridge, the young genius nevertheless marries his sweetheart, Jane, who later wrote the book on which the movie is based (Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen). Consequently, her role is large and her treatment sympathetic, even as their relationship deteriorates. As romantic tear-jerkers go, this movie is a good one. But the real attraction is Eddie Redmayne's uncanny portrayal of Hawking's tragic physical decline and mental perseverance. Measured against his outstanding performance, everyone else seems like an extra. Redmayne is sure to be a top contender for a Best Actor Academy Award.
Interstellar is an ambitious science-fiction film that strives to get the science approximately right while tempering it with a warm father-daughter relationship. Matthew McConaughey stars as an ex-astronaut who's now a cornbelt farmer in a near-future Dust Bowl II. He doesn't like farming, but climactic changes are making Earth untenable for humans, and every food crop is precious. The only hope seems to be finding another world to colonize. McConaughey dominates the screen with his space-cowboy persona, and the excellent supporting cast includes Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon, and Jessica Chastain. In its epic scope, storyline, and length (almost three hours), this movie invites comparisons with Stanley Kubrick's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). But Interstellar is tidier, leaving no room for interpretation. That choice doesn't necessarily make it a worse film, but it will likely provoke less discussion, so it's unlikely to become another classic.
Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is dynamiteone of the best films of 2014. Michael Keaton plays a has-been action-movie star who's trying to make a comeback by writing, directing, and acting in a serious Broadway play. No more plot summary is necessary, because this film is all about the acting, cinematography, and suspense coiled by the play within the play. All the performances are revelations. Keaton has never been better; Naomi Watts nails the role of his long-suffering ex-wife; Emma Stone reveals new talent as his recently rehabbed teenage daughter; comedian Zach Galifianakis transforms himself into an intense dramatic actor; and the always-excellent Edward Norton almost steals every scene he's in. All this energy needs no further amplification, but Mexican director Alejandro Iñárritu (Biutiful, 2010, Babel, 2006) amps it up anyway by editing the film to appear as nearly one continuous tracking shot. The unusual score adds still more tension with its barrage of drum solos and a perfectly calibrated piano piece comprised of single notes without accompaniment. It'll be a crime if this movie doesn't gather Oscar nominations for acting, cinematography, film editing, sound editing, visual effects, and original score.
>> See more mini-reviews, including Before I Go to Sleep ... Fury ... Kill the Messenger ... The Giver ... Boyhood ... Lucy ... Magic in the Moonlight ... Begin Again ... Godzilla ... Edge of Tomorrow ... Maleficent ... Finding Vivian Maier ... The Grand Budapest Hotel ... The Monuments Men ... 12 Years a Slave ... Her ... August: Osage County ... Lone Survivor ... The Wolf of Wall Street ... American Hustle ... Inside Llewyn Davis ... Nebraska ... The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ... All Is Lost ... Ender's Game ... and many more!
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Fuji X20 Review
Read my in-depth review of the new Fujifilm X20 compact digital camera on the Maximum PC magazine website. Access is free!
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Index to Tom's Articles
Here's an index to more than 380 of Tom's articles in Microprocessor Report and Networking Report, the insider's guides to microprocessors and networking semiconductors. Learn about embedded processors, microcontrollers, digital-signal processors, and other chip-related topics. (Subscription required for most articles.)
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Scramble Text With ROTator
ROTator is a Java applet that lets you encode and decode text in the popular Internet format known as "ROT 13." Lots of other programs do that, too, but Tom's ROTator applet goes further by allowing you to encode and decode text in any rotational letter-substitution format. With ROTator, you can shift the letters left or right, and you can shift them by any number of letters from ROT 1 to ROT 26.
Here is an index to more than 180 of Tom's computer articles from BYTE Magazine published from 1992 to 1998. (BYTE ceased publication in June 1998.) Most articles are still available online and include the original photographs, figures, and screen shots.
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- Tom's Oscar Contest. An annual tradition for 25 years, Tom's Oscar Contest is both entertaining and challenging. Hundreds of people have tried to guess who will win an Oscar in each Academy Award category. Competing against them is the computer brain of Tom's famed OscarCalc program, which sometimes wins the contest and always places near the top.
- The Death of BYTE Magazine. In 1998, after 23 years of operation, BYTE Magazine was shut down by its new owner, CMP Media. A year later, CMP launched BYTE.com as a very different web-only publication. To learn the inside story about what happened to the world's second personal computer magazine, see Tom's Unofficial BYTE FAQ: The Death of BYTE Magazine.
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