Going into Birdman I had no idea what to expect from this film, but coming out of the theater I couldn’t help but keep an enormous grin on my face. So let me break it down to you in several parts to show you how memorizing this film really is. The first part is the star stunning performances of Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan, and Andrea Riseborough. All performed to the fullest extent of perfection. Birdman is a Broadway satire and black comedy all in one, hint its subtitle: An Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.
Riggan Thomson (Keaton) is a washed up actor who has fallen into hard times since he stopped playing his iconic superhero, Birdman, sum 20 years ago. Sound familiar? I thought so, this film actually parallels right with Keaton’s real life when he played the Caped Crusader in Tim Burton’s Batman sum 20 years ago. With two Batman films under his belt Keaton stopped and tried to move on to something else, but nothing came. The same goes for Riggan, after completing the Birdman trilogy Riggan called it quits to move on to bigger and better things, but still nothing came.
Keaton knows what it is like to be in a slum in the acting business, while also trying to move on from those damn tights in the past. Riggan is trying to get back on track with his acting career and makes a gusty call by writing, directing and starring in his own Broadway debut of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. His inspiration of the play and becoming an actor was influenced by none other than Carver himself. Riggan states that Carver apparently caught him, as a youngin, on the stage years back and wrote “Thank you for an honest performance. Raymond Carver” on a cocktail napkin. Keaton goes all out in his tour de force performance in this film.
Which leads us to the rest of Iñárritu's stellar cast. There’s Norton who gives us an award-worthy achievement as Mike Shiner, a Broadway actor whose ego is as big as his talent. With his mocks of mainstream media he drives Riggan off the wall and when the two clash it’s hilarious. Stone plays Riggan’s daughter Sam, a recovering junkie. Stone is raw and vibrant as the daughter who was over shadowed by her dad’s acting past and tells him he doesn’t exist anymore because he didn’t adapt to the viral world. Galifianakis breaks out of his comedic form to a more dignified role as Riggan’s loyal producer. Next, there’s Watts and Riseborough who are both trying to shine as young actresses, but Riseborough is a little distracted because she’s too busy screwing Riggan. Finally, there’s Ryan, Riggan’s ex-wife, who’s trying to bring balance to her family and a self-doubtful man whom she still cares about.
The second part is on a technical scale because Birdman blows every film out of the water this year. This film was shot too look like one meandering continuous take. This technical showcase was executed brilliantly by camera genius Emmanuel Lubezki (Oscar winner for Gravity). This aspect in the film, of course, is a major key to its glorious success. We follow all of the characters continuously throughout the film as their stories unfold right before our very eyes. The film smoothly veers from Riggan’s reality to his imagination and back again with no breaks … it’s breathtaking to watch on screen. Iñárritu throws us into the mist of Riggan’s craziness all throughout the film. One minute we are levitating off the ground too performing a play on stage too flying high above Manhattan. All of these illusion’s are pouring right out of Riggan’s head and blooming perfectly on screen.
The third part of this film that amazed me was its layered storytelling. Keaton’s narration is spot on and gives the film a since of ooh and aah. From the moment Keaton brings out his Birdman voice you’re hooked. Birdman gives Riggan hell and continues to stress him out until he gets to the point of a nervous breakdown in the film. Is he mad? A narcissist? A lunatic? Or just an actor? Either way, Keaton is potent and gives his best performance of his career. I’m smelling Oscar bait right here. The forth part that made this film vibe is the music. There's nothing but powerful drumming throughout the film, which drives Birdman to not fly but soar. Drummer Antonio Sánchez gave us a lively and upbeat soundtrack that jazzed me up.
Lastly, this all couldn’t have been done without the mind power behind the camera and that’s Iñárritu himself. This bold and beautifully captured film shows the human side of actors and their fight for survival on and off the stage. Iñárritu didn’t just create a film; he created a high and flying masterpiece that is sure to get lots of Oscar love this February. Birdman is a creatively risky work of art painted right on screen. Birdman is solidly performed, shot and executed from beginning until end. Plus there’s tons of laugh out loud moments evenly placed throughout. You’ll laugh until your sides hurt. It's one of my favorite films of the year and receives the highest of highs … five out of five stars. This is a film that will be talked about for years to follow. So brace yourself and buy a ticket now.
At first glance, John Wick looked like a recycled revenge film, but instead it turned out to be some good ol’ B-movie fun. This film will fire-up any action junkie. Here’s the plot: Wick (Keanu Reeves) is an ex-hitman. His wife just died of cancer. Russian gangsters steal his ‘69 Mustang and kill his puppy, Daisy. Wick goes crazy, he wants revenge and he’ll kill a lot of baddies for it. The script is incredibility simple and sounds a little brainless, but first-time director Chad Stahelski brings action and style to the table. The film also features a redemption performance from Reeves who, let’s be honest, really hasn’t done much since the end of The Matrix trilogy.
Stahelski, along with scriptwriter Derek Kolstad, throw us right into the mayhem of this film. There will be fights, stabbings and shootouts in this bloody extravaganza. Reeves’ performance gets your pulse rushing … he’s a mad man on a mission for blood. While the dialog is not quotable and moral lessons are completely out of the picture: John Wick does also dish out some standout supporting roles from Michael Nyquist, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo and William Dafoe. So go crazy folks, John Wick is slick, stylish and bloody fun. Reeves is finally back to his fighting form. Action junkies unite, in John Wick we salute!
Bang! Bang! Bang! Racket … we need more racket to scare the audience! This is director Stiles White’s (Knowing and The Possession, ugh) logic behind scaring the audience effectively. And you know what? It didn’t work one single bit. In fact, if anything, it made the actor’s look even stupider than they already were. From the moment Ouija began you knew that you were going to be sitting through a major snore fest. Half of the film is just blundering product placement for that ridiculous Ouija board. Please come buy this. You know you’ll like it. It’s the game to die for …
If only that was the truth for this film: After the recent death of Laine’s (Olivia Cooke) dear friend Debbie (Shelley Hennig), she decides to invite all of her buddies (Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca A. Santos and Douglas Smith) over to hold an séance in honor of Debbie. So Debbie apparently committed suicide because of this Ouija board and Laine thinks it would be a great idea to still communicate with it? … Bravo Laine. On top of the unintelligent cast is the lack of scares and the kiddy PG-13 rating. Universal Pictures only did this to bump up their box office moola. It’s also a cheap scheme to get all of the middle schooler’s to see their so-called ‘scary’ Halloween movie … lame.
The part that’s really frustrating about this movie is the lack of scares. White thinks making loud noises will make the audience jump, but instead it makes the movies less serious and more laughable. An effective scary movie uses suspense, tension and dramatic/eerie music too draw the viewers in. There’s also lots of striking camera movements/angles to keep us on the edge of our seats until the scares come naturally not forcefully. Ouija does none of this and ends up recycling far superior horror films. This board, as well as the movie, is best left on the shelf.
Fincher finally takes on Gillian Flynn’s 2012 bestselling novel, Gone Girl, giving us a date movie to die for … literally. The script also written by Flynn who shows us an almost depleted marriage of a husband and wife (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike) who want to not only destroy the heart of their marriage but each other. From the start, Fincher never leaves any breathing room and goes right for the throat. His craftsmanship has significantly improved over the years and he proves his point here even more. On top of the eerie writing and vivid direction is the film’s lead actors (Affleck and Pike), who are the root of this film success.
Affleck has never been better and Pike is finally at the top of her game. Nick Dunne (Affleck) is a New York Journalist who is out of work and out of luck. That is, until he crawls back to his hometown in Missouri where he opens up a local bar with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon, outstanding). His wife Amy (Pike) is a trust-fund baby, Amazing Amy, also out of a recent writing career and wants nothing to do with 'Nick’s Missouri.' Flynn, also a writer who was laid off from her job by Entertainment Weekly, knows a thing or too about out-of-work writers. This hardship and experience is what inspired her to explore the psychology and dynamics of long term-relationships for her book. After that, the couple’s marriage starts to show signs of trouble and continues to rot, that is, until all hell breaks loose on the Dunne’s fifth anniversary. Nick comes home from work to find a break in and a bloody struggle throughout the house, but Amy is nowhere to be found. Nick ends up becoming a person of interest in the suspected murder of his missing, pregnant wife.
Spoilers are a bitch and would kill the suspense and mystery of this film. So you’ll have to see it for yourself and let the mysteries pour out in front of you. Unless, you’re one of the six million who’ve read the book. What I will tell is that Gone Girl does live up to the hype and then some. Fincher hits all the right notes with every scary, suspenseful and seductive scene. It’s twistedly dark and will send couple’s running for the hills if they think marriage is all butterflies and lollipops. Affleck gives us one of his most intriguing performances of his career. He’s come a long way from the god-awful performance of Captain Rafe McCawley, Pearl Harbor, to the captivating performance of Tony Mendez, Argo. Now, he gives us a soulless and shallow low-life known as Nick Dunne. Is he a sociopath? Or is he innocent?
Pike's performance on the other hand is a career breakthrough for her. Having been in smaller roles (Pride & Prejudice and An Education) in the past, Pike finally gets her moment to wickedly shine as the morally corrupt wife. In addition, other actors (Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens and Neil Patrick Harris) are a knockout throughout the film. Perry is smart and riveting as Nick’s know-it-all lawyer. Dickens is astonishing as the obsessed cop who wants to find out all the answers and will not stop until she does. Finally, there’s Harris who breaks away from his usual comedic role to a much more darker role … he’s a stalker from Amy’s past. Harris is cunning with every move he makes or line he says. He’ll send shivers tingling down your spine.
On top of that, Fincher brings in his veteran’s cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, editor Kirk Baxter and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to help artfully craft the film, while also adding in more tension to the viewers experience. Gone Girl is stylish to a fault, but damn Fincher knows how to vividly bring a novel to life right before our very eyes. He’s always ahead of the game continually throwing punches at you until you’re morally and physically exhausted. Gone Girl is not a light film as you can tell, but its one to obsess over for a while. Its going to get a lot of Oscar buzz this holiday season will continue to be talked about years down the road. It rightfully has a spot at one of the best films of the year. It receives the highest of highs … five out of five stars.
“When I think of my wife, I always think of the back of her head. I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brain, trying to get answers. The primal questions of a marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?” … that’s marriage for ya folks.
How could a film so packed with comedic talent (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Corey Stoll, Adam Driver, Kathryn Hahn, Rose Byrne and Timothy Olyphant) fall almost completely flat on its face? It all starts with a lack of direction, subplots galore, flat jokes and clichés. Like the best of dramedies, laughter and tears are supposed to fill us up equally throughout the film. Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum and The Internship) does the opposite of that by leaving the viewer so frustrated you feel cheated by the end of the film. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you This Is Where I Leave You, this falls biggest disappointment.
Although, at times the film did have its moments (mostly from Bateman and Fey) its not enough to up hold the rest of the films mess. A 2009 bestseller by Jonathan Trooper (script writer for this film as well), tells the story of a Jewish-family dysfunction with every cliché thrown into the mix. With the recent passing of her atheist husband, Holly Altman (Fonda) gathers up her entire family (Bateman, Fey, Stoll and Driver) for Shiva (a period of seven days' formal mourning for the dead). The Altman family is finally all back together to sit, mourn, bicker and laugh. The film wouldn’t have been so bad if it would of just focused on the main relationship between the Altman family.
Instead, Levy and Trooper add in too many subplots (Bateman’s wife cheated on him with his boss, Fey is married to some douchebag but loves someone else, Stoll’s wife can’t get pregnant and Fonda turns out to be a lesbian) that drown the film out of its core message and pleasant moments. There were moments in the film that did shine. Bateman and Fey’s chemistry was on par and funny. Also, the entire getting high in the temple scene was pretty humorous as well. But those good moments were always followed by bad ones like: Fonda’s boob-job jokes, baby poop jokes and Driver turning out to be an obnoxious asshole halfway through the film. Sadly, Levy leads his cast astray from the film leaving the viewer’s disconnected.
For Your Consideration:
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Next Best Picture
In Their Own League
Mike, Mike, and Oscar
Squeaky Speaks Her Mind
The Movie Oracle