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The Imitation Game (2014)
An exceptional film
"The Imitation Game" is a movie that makes known a part of classified history during World War II and it shows that even then, people 70 years ago were thinking ahead on how technology can impact and eventually alter how wars can be fought. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician who has a mind for the future. At the peak of the Blitz, the British government recruits him to crack the Enigmaa type of code that the Germans used to communicate their naval positions. Discovering that it is humanly impossible to decipher the code, he brainstorms the idea to build a machine that could break the Enigma and save lives. To put it quite plainly, Alan Turing is the man who founded the first computer.
His journey of working with a team to build this game-changing device is only part of the film. The movie also explores the man and his personal struggles of being a homosexual in a society that outlaws such "behavior." This subject matter is handled with tact and is never in the viewer's face in regards to say, showing sexual situations. With Cumberbatch's pro-gay advocacy and him personally seeing Alan Turing as an idol no doubt made him the perfect candidate for the role. Putting aside all of these matters, there is no other British actor who could portray this man and his struggles. Interestingly, the film depicts Turing as a bit of a recluse and exhibiting Asperger's tendencieshe says things bluntly and has no social graces whatsoever. He fires two employees out of merely "slowing everyone else down" and he does not understand or bear the time for diplomatic solutions for his fellow code-breakers.
At first blush, he can be quickly seen as an egotistical jerk. While the film progresses though, we clearly can comprehend his problems, accept his brilliance, and even feel empathy for him as a human being. Cumberbatch has given us a complicated, multi-layered, yet honorable performance. Graham Moore's witty dialog has supplied Ben with plenty of ammunition for his character as well as add flare for both funny and serious moments. Moore makes a front-runner for the Adapted Screenplay category. The remaining actors in the film are merely good and never reach Cumberbatch's level. Keira Knightley though does have some great moments, particularly in a scene where she tries to help a depressed Alan back on his feet again.
"The Imitation Game" is an exceptional film. It has a stellar performance by the lead actor. It is well rounded and explains character and plot in past, present, and future settings. It is supported with an emotionally charged score by Alexandre Desplat and has beautiful set pieces from the production design team. The ending is a little fast, but suitable. It is not a pure Oscar bait film. It is really an award-worthy one.
A great movie falls a little short on the ending
While "Foxcatcher" is inspired by real people and events the film's roots are in a psychological examination of its lonesome and disturbed characters. Channing Tatum plays Mark Schultz, the 1984 Gold Medalist in Men's Wrestling. Going nowhere with employment and training, he receives a chance of a lifetime from being recruited by John E du Pont (Carrel), a reserved and awkward multi-millionaire, who wants America to win the gold again in the 1988 Olympics. At Du Pont's mother's farm, he organizes the new US wrestling team for the International games.
Their relationship becomes the basis of this film and how it rises and then ultimately deflates. From the first five minutes we are introduced to Du Pont, he is presented as a wealthy, charismatic individual with a peculiar way of speaking and an even more peculiar nose. Progressively, we get to see the type of man Mark has befriended as he spirals out of control, engaging in drug abuse, guns, and irrational behavior. Carrel has performed a role at first glance may seem hard to swallow. However, he portrays his character in such a style that it is truly terrifying. Beneath the hours of make-up, he can display absolute nothingness, uncontrollable rage, and even pure narcissism without even speaking. Director Bennett Miller relies heavily on non-verbal scenes, allowing the silence between the actors on camera to create tension and intriguing interactions. This is a tough accomplishment, and he hits it head-on at every point.
The screenwriters supply the actors with straight-to-the-point, yet brilliant dialog, and the cast carry the weight of their characters superbly. Who could have imagined that Channing Tatum or even Steve Carrel could deliver such vulnerable and sophisticated characters? Mark Ruffalo is extremely limited in screen time but he is up to par with his leading co-stars as Mark's caring brother. The only setback "Foxcatcher" has is the ending. The first 100 minutes are electrifying and engaging, but the final 20-30 minutes kind of meander and depict a series of events that feel woven together. Too much of Carrel and Tatum looking depressed make a snail's pace for the final act. I wanted more character interaction and an actual conclusion that ties in with the violent tragedy of Dave Schultz's murder. It merely happens and Du Pont is arrested. No trial. No final face-to-face showdown between Mark and Du Pont. Not even a moment where Mark mourns his brother. Nor is there a clear motive for Du Pont's crime. As a viewer, the ending is quite cold and rather withholding.
"Foxcatcher" is a great movie. I would definitely buy it when the Blu-Ray hits retail stores. Yet I don't think it is as great as some of the other movies released in 2014.
Inherent Vice (2014)
Not quite what I was expecting, but still pretty good
Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson and actor Joaquin Phoenix team up again for "Inherent Vice," a somewhat nostalgic look of Los Angeles in the 1970s. Phoenix plays dope-head PI Doc Sportello, who investigates at his ex-lover's request (Katherine Waterson), her boyfriend (Eric Roberts), a married, wealthy man. He quickly learns that he is in more than he bargained for as he encounters a black militant (Michael K Williams), a detective whom he shares a respect/hate relationship with (Josh Brolin), a druggie informant (Owen Wilson), a hedonist dentist (Martin Short), a brothel run by an Asian smuggler group, a cult, and crooked cops. These are only some of the mechanics that Doc discovers. The movie becomes so perplexing and multi-layered that we as viewers become just as dazed as Doc. We merely follow along and try to keep up with the shenanigans and ambiguous subplots.
"Inherent Vice" is a movie that requires multiple viewings. Even then, it may be questionable for someone to put all the pieces together. I cannot help but wonder if Paul Anderson knew what the film was all about in terms of a plot. However, he is anything but a conventional filmmaker. His past films usually somehow tie together in the end. His latest one though just leaves his viewers scratching their heads, wondering what they had watched for 148 minutes. The only information that sort of guides the audience is the narration by Joanna Newsom. Her character though is a druggie and is only seen by Doc. So, is she a reliable character? Or is she a figment of a drug- induced hippie's imagination? We are not entirely sure.
"Inherent Vice" is not by any means a bad movie. It is actually quite good. Like all of Anderson's past works, he pushes his actors to give performances to the best of their abilities, and then some. In my opinion, Joaquin Phoenix is a very underrated actor. Like with his role in "The Master," he embodies an unlikeable, yet unique character. The way he carries his gait. The way he remains silent and allows his face to express emptiness and want is remarkable. Brolin holds to the tough guy, hardass, he plays so well. Only this time, he beats up hippies and violently eats chocolate covered bananas on a stick. New faces Joanna Newsom and Katherine Waterson add flare to the roles they are given. Owen Wilson still displays his general awkwardness and goofy humor, too.
The nostalgia that is shown really sells to the overall fun of the film. Vintage cars, land-line phones, Adam-12, Richard Nixon, Afros, weed, sex, cult paranoia, and Rock 'n Roll are only some things that people who grew up in the era will recognize and get a smile from. I particularly enjoyed how Roger Elswit's cinematography captures the look of a movie from the 1970s. Shots are underexposed at night and never look lit. In result, there is sort of a natural look that almost makes the movie appear like an older film.
"Inherent Vice" is not a film for the average viewer. The humor is crude in nature and there is very little action or suspense. For fellow cinema lovers though, you may very well find a fit here. The trailers that try to advertise this movie as a quirky comedy are far from the truth.
American Sniper (2014)
Cooper's performance is the glue that keeps American Sniper together
"American Sniper" is a movie that can be very easily interpreted as American propaganda. The use of the word "American" in the film's title is enough for some to make this claim. The motto "God, country, and family" rings true to mind in what this film depicts. In actuality though, "American Sniper" is a feature that takes a patriotic individual, hoists him up as a legend and then brings him back down to the harsh level of a haunted soul. Clint Eastwood is a master director who knows how to show the flawed and imperfect nature of humanity. Just watch "Unforgiven," "Mystic River," and "Letters of Iwo Jima."
With US Seal Sniper Chris Kyle, he is portrayed as an unsophisticated character. From youth, we get to see his life grow from a god-fearing hunter who dreams of being a cowboy to the deadliest sniper in American history. In response to 9/11, just like many American men and women, he enlists in the Navy to serve his country. We watch as he endures four tours of active duty in Iraq and tries to readjust in the safe confines of suburban America. Writer Jason Hall molds him as a sympathetic and likable person, whom is determined to eliminate the enemy and protect his home.
It is Bradley Cooper's deeply expressive performance that captures the essence of this simple yet larger-than-life person. As an actor, Cooper has acquired a power to display in both voice and face great emotion. Without him even uttering a word, we can comprehend the thoughts going on in his head. His performance is nothing short of deserving an Oscar nomination. Clint Eastwood smartly keeps the camera on him for the majority of the film, allowing the audience to empathize and understand his character. He also gives us a parched, desolate, desert landscape plagued by violence and cruelty. The amount of dedication in the cinematography and production design give viewers a gritty look of Iraq, which rivals Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker." The war sequences are quite brutal and intense. The final action scene alone is truly marvelous as a sandstorm blankets the battle-stricken Baghdad.
"American Sniper" unfortunately falls short on many other aspects, dragging what could have been a great movie down to mediocrity. While the focus is on Kyle, other parts of his life are introduced and then just as quickly dismissed. We get to see his younger brother join up the marines and then we never see him again. Likewise, the relationship between his strict father takes precedent in the first ten-minutes, and yet it goes nowhere afterwards. His war buddies appear, disappear, and then reappear usually for a plot device. As a viewer, we barely get a chance to know them like Kyle. When they are killed off, we really do not feel any emotional engagement or loss. The added subplot of a Middle Eastern sniper targeting US Soldiers feels clichéd and a poor attempt to draw a main antagonist for the lead character. Even the relationship between Kyle and his wife is limited in time. We are left with following a great American patriot consumed with torment. The frequent jumps between war and home grows old very quickly. An entire movie could have been just based upon one of Kyle's tours and it would feel like a more completed film.
In short, this movie left me wanting more than the 132-minutes had to offer. That is the sad problem with most biographical films. They are spread so thin that they actually show too little in too much time. I'm probably in the minority on this one, but "American Sniper" is a slightly above average film, and that is mainly because of Bradley Cooper's performance. I wanted to love this, but I cannot. Regardless, I still appreciate the people who brought Chris Kyle's story back to life.
Everything looks great but it is still missing something
"Unbroken" is the story of Louis Zamperini. The events of his life are beyond unbelievable and present the vision of a great bio-picture. Growing up in the poor slums of New York as an Italian-American, Louis participated in the 5,000 meter race at the 1936 Munich Olympic Games, fought as a bombardier in World War II, crashed landed in the Pacific Ocean only to be captured by the Japanese navy, where he spent two years as POW under the ruthless supervision of a Corporal Watanabe. There are so many fascinating components of his life that no wonder Angelina Jolie chose to shoot a film about him. The under dog story of his success, his defiance against both death and the brutality of the Japanese are the makings of an Oscar bait bio-pic.
What I really liked about "Unbroken" is how Jolie depicts Louis with the dignity and respect of a newly found iconic figure and war veteran. There are times where he seems to be displayed as almost a perfect, god-like individual. He is but a man, yet the movie makes him more than that. Great legends and stories are often molded from such feats of humanity. Jolie has also surrounded herself with some of the best geniuses in the business. The Coen Brothers wrote the script. Roger Deakins captured the cinematography. Alexandre Desplat composed the musical score. Nothing could potentially weight this movie down with such a great team.
While technically sound and backed with an intriguing character, "Unbroken" fails to engage me on an emotional level. Never do I really feel like applauding or rooting for the hero. I never feel like crying over his hardships or his loss of friends from the war. There is no 'oomph,' nor is there really any soul in the film. It is almost as if simply because we see Louis achieve greatness we are supposed to feel empathy for his character. Though I applaud the real man for how he had triumphed, I cannot do the same with Jack O'Connel in the pivotal role. His acting is quite flat and uninspiring. The other characters feel more like caricatures of the time versus actual people. There's the evil Japanese corporal who has it out for Louis. There is the friend who is weaker in will that relies on Louis to survive. There's the older brother who helped guide his life. There is his dad who wants to keep the family united. There is the mother who does nothing but cry when she is on camera. Get the picture? All one-dimensional personalities.
The story structure does not help much either. The bulk of the plot centers on Louis's World War II experience, with intermittent flashbacks of his childhood and career as an athlete. Any one part of his life can be turned into a solid feature. Cramming it all in together is okay, but it suppresses other details of his life. In fact, the film ends abruptly as he returns home from WWII. His journey back home is just as important as the other parts of his life. Then again, only so much can be covered in a feature film. When it exceeds the 2.5 hour mark, it gets dull. Fortunately, "Unbroken" is not a boring movie by any means. It just takes certain parts of his life precedent over other ones.
I am sad that Louis Zamperini did not live to see the final product. I am sure he would have felt some catharsis and personal self-reflection if he had viewed this film. "Unbroken" is not a bad effort by Jolie and her team. It's just not the masterpiece that it could have been.
The Expendables 3 (2014)
How can making a third Expendables movie be so bad?
The first "Expendables" movie is a good action flick despite its amateur production quality. "Expendables 2" is simply an awesome movie, through and through. "Expendables 3" is the one in the franchise that should not have been made. Predictable plot, cheesy one-liners, gratuitous action violence, unrealistic fun, badass villains, and macho good guys are the components that sell the action-packed genre. The watered down PG-13 rating has nothing to do with ruining the latest installment of "The Expendables." Where to begin could simply take too long of a time. So I'm just going to list some of the many problems that sink this feature into the depths of lowness.
-Harrison Ford's appearance. He is too old. Plain and simple. He does not carry the energy or swagger that he has utilized for years as Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Jack Ryan. He delivers as an old fossil that should not have been even dug up. (This is sad, because I am a huge Harrison Ford fan). Sometimes, retiring is the best thing an actor can do.
-Mel Gibson as the bad guy. I will always regard him as a great actor with an intense acting style. Here as the new villain, he is given hardly any screen time and never delivers as a true badass. He does get the occasional moment of brilliance, like his line, "How hard can it be to kill 10 people?" But he can never be taken seriously in this role. I wanted to see him do something malicious, perhaps actually kill an expendable, or two, just to show that the good guys aren't invincible. That would have been something to see.
-The editing. This has to be one of the worst edited films ever. Not only is it hard to tell which expendable is killing which henchman during the fights, but even during the low-key scenes, the lack of continuity in between shots is incredibly atrocious. Wesley Snipes is given a very good scene to act in, but the amount of times his body changes positions in between shots is so distracting that I had to turn my head away from watching the television monitor.
-The plot and the film's pacing. Yes. I know. Why blame the plot? It's not supposed to be good anyway since it's a movie about good guys killing armies of bad guys. This Expendable's plot line is drug out much longer than necessary and the story is so obvious, that I could see what was going to happen an hour and a half into the movie. You might as well hit the skip button until you reach the big battle at the end.
-The new faces. None of the newcomers to the expendables' team are any good. They have no element for us to like them, nor do they have any panache or significant attributes added to their characters. Ronda Rousey was particularly bad with her constant MMA skills against male baddies, and how she uttered word the, "Men" with disgusting contempt. Yes, we get you're a man hater. You don't need to say anything. You just broke that guy's neck and dislocated another one's arm!
"Expendables 3" is not entirely a lost cause. There are some decent things about it that work. The appearances of Banderas and Snipes help bring life to the movie, in comparison to the pretty-faced zombies like Glenn Powell & Victor Ortiz. These actors have been in the business a long time and know how to charm audiences, especially Banderas. The final action sequence is pretty good in size and packs in some good moments of unexpected humor. The fight between Stallone and Gibson in the end is exactly how I imagined and what I had hoped for. No martial art moves. No aerobic skills or obvious stunt doubles. Just two, past their prime actors, going at it with their fists until one of them pulls a gun and shoots the other. Bloody marvelous I say!
With combining new upcoming action stars and revitalizing old ones, a viewer would think that "Expendables 3" would do justice to its film predecessors. It does not. It fails miserably. Bad writing to an already corny, crowd-pleasing concept does not equate success. If the producers want to do right for a fourth Expendables, they need to go back to the drawing board and learn from the first two movies.
It entertains well, despite its flaws, and there are many.
The final stretch of The Hobbit Trilogy possesses visual awe, energy, and a darker tone to Peter Jackson's vision of Middle-earth. Picking up directly from his previous film, Jackson grips our attention with an intense CG fire-show, as the dragon Smaug sets the fishing port, Laketown ablaze. The sequence is so fun, that one quickly understands why audience members go see the movies. We can now know why Peter Jackson has forced us to hold our breathe for a whole another year for this big showdown. It was well worth the wait and is a witty method to catch the audience's attention for the first ten minutes of the movie.
With the desolation of Smaug being used as an introduction, the remainder of the film centers on its descriptive title, "The Battle of the Five Armies." Elves, dwarfs, men, and orcs on a scale that rivals the grand siege of Minas Tirith from "The Return of the King" face off and battle at the gates of the newly reclaimed city of Erebor. Though there is an abundance of action and subplots that are put to work simultaneously, the essential focus is on Thorin Oakenshield. Richard Armitage in the role as Thorin captures the essence of an individual consumed by greed in a very frightening manner. He becomes paranoid thinking that one of his fellow dwarfs is withholding his precious jewel, the Arkenstone, from him. He barricades the old city from all other races, despite his promise of sharing his wealth with the people of Laketown. He even threatens to kill his own fellow companions if they get in his way. Like the "Lord of the Rings Trilogy" with Sauron's ring, the Arkenstone corrupts the mind of the hero.
Interestingly, Bilbo Baggins takes more of a supporting role. Martin Freeman, who captured so well the transition from a character that was out of his element into a clever protagonist is unfortunately limited in screen time. He is not given a chance to add more depth or significance to the movie. Including 'The Hobbit' in the title is sort of misleading. Only until the end do we think, 'Oh wait! This movie is about Bilbo. Not Thorin.'
For a 144-minute movie, the film is quick, but it feels too short in comparison to the other Hobbit films. The ending is particularly rushed and important details that are introduced earlier in the film are either not concluded or are completely disregarded, which as a viewer, made me scratch my head and think, 'Wait? What happens now to this elf character or this dwarf character, or even this human character?' Whether from the studios, time constraints, or just bad editing, the movie does not come off as entirely finished. Scenes of Ryan Gage as the witless Alfrid could have been replaced with much more substantial material. Hopefully the Extended Edition will help resolve these problems.
The mightiest flaw that "The Battle of the Five Armies" faces is the lack of emotional engagement in the characters. Several important good guys die and while their deaths are unpleasant to watch, they never feel sad. The heightened musical score and slow-motion cinematography during these scenes are dull and a clichéd attempt to drive the viewer into an emotional state. It would be easier and more shocking for an important character to die quickly and suddenly versus being drug out like a dramatic opera performance.
"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" is not a dreadful movie by any means. Neither is it epic nor is it memorable. It does serve a purpose. It entertains well, despite its flaws, and there are many.
Creative. Brilliant. Original. The Best of 2014?
Christopher Nolan's latest film "Interstellar" is set in the near future where earth is facing an apocalypse. Blight has wiped out much of the planet's food supply. Dust storms ravage the landscape like the Depression-era's Dust Bowl. The only hope is a new home for humanity. Nolan and his brother John take an interesting structure on how to reveal their story to the audience. We are first introduced to Cooper (Mathew McConaughey), a widowed, former pilot and engineer turned farmer, who takes care of his two children Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and lives with his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow). He has a knack for chasing down surveillance drones and idealistic thoughts of space travel. He is a character that thinks very much outside of the box in terms of earth's future. Rather than being a "caretaker" for earth, he dreams of exploring new horizons. The Nolan brothers give us almost an hour's time to digest and comprehend all the characters. The film itself feels very much like a family drama with a gentle hint of science fiction. We are later introduced to NASA and learn that there is a program, which hopes to achieve planet relocation for humanity. The catch is for Cooper to partake in a journey that involves a wormhole and a severe space time continuum that may result in him not being able to return home, much less save earth in time.
The movie shifts gear to space, where three fellow astronauts and a walking, talking computer with sarcastic tendencies accompany Cooper. They explore new worlds, encounter perilous situations, and discover hidden truths that could ultimately determine the fate of humanity's survival. The last twenty-minutes alone is a masterwork that feels like a contemporary version of Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." For a first time viewer, the ending maybe a bit confusing or deep. Several people in the theater with me began uttering phrases like "What did I just watch?" or "I don't get it. What happened?" Like Nolan's "Inception," this is a film that warrants multiple viewings. This reason may not necessarily be for audiences to help understand the events of the plot better, but rather to find concealed levels of sophistication in this multi-layered film. "Interstellar" is a movie you can watch once and be entertained. It is also one that can be viewed many times as a method to catch all the little details that Nolan has thrown into his film. Like a good, thought-provoking film, every shot and every bit of dialog is important and has a reason.
However, unlike a great intricate movie, there are moments in the plot where elements do not make much sense. Others feel forced and rushed. This may sound odd since it is almost three hours long. There are some moments that deliver as incredibly fast, such as Cooper saying good-bye to his family in one scene and then suddenly appearing in space with three characters that the audience had not been fully introduced. In this way, the movie feels almost like two films in one, the first with his family and the other as an epic space adventure. I can picture what Nolan wanted to achieve with his filma sci-fi masterpiece with three-dimensional characters and a unique story. Sometimes it takes a long time to tell a story in its, entirety. "Interstellar" never feels long. As an audience member, I could care less if this movie was five hours. There were transitions and scenes that needed explaining.
The film has many great things going for it. McConaughey turns in a truly believable and outstanding performance as Cooper. We can feel the pain he emanates from missing his family and accept that he is a family man. He moved me in this almost as much as he had in "Dallas Buyer's Club." The supporting cast fades in the background compared to McConaughey, but they do all right. Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, and Matt Damon are among the A-list actors in this movie. They all fit their parts.
The visual effects, cinematography, and production design set a futuristic setting without it looking too much like a traditional sci-fi movie (ex: Star Wars, Star Trek, Aliens, Blade Runner). Rather the look is kind of gritty and it doesn't feel glossy, sharp, or overly polished. The technical attributes are convincing and look photo-realistic, especially the robot TARS. Never did I feel like I was watching a movie surrounded with green screens. The choice of using some practical effects helps in this regard. The musical composition by Hans Zimmer is hypnotizing. It put me in a trancelike state and mesmerized me beyond words. It's his best work since "Time" from "Inception."
"Interstellar" is overall a very good movie, perhaps even a great one. Yet I would not call it the best movie of 2014, nor would I hoist it up in the likes of other science-fiction movies. There is the issue of the sound mixing that is worth addressing. While I could hear the majority of the dialog, the mixer artists put the sound effects at top priority over the dialog in some instances. Though many people complain about this, it is really not a surprising technique that Nolan has chosen for his film. "Inception" and "The Dark Knight Rises" had the SFX and music mixed at a higher level than the dialog. This creates a realistic dynamic range. Just think, when you're flying a spaceship that is crashing and you're trying to yell over the malfunctioning controls and engines, your words would not be heard clearly. It is only bad during one pivotal scene where there is no SFX present. Whether by aesthetic, error, or the director's choice, it is very indiscernible and only frustrates the viewer.
This is a movie worth seeing in the theaters and I can picture myself seeing it several times. Buying it on Blu-ray though, that's debatable.
Part avant garde. Part black comedy. Part satire. Part super hero fantasy. All excellent.
"Birdman: or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance" follows both the actions and the mind of washed-up movie star Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), who is famous for his past role as Birdman. He is introduced in perhaps the most avant garde way imaginable. He floats above the floor in deep meditation as a gruff voice talks, reminding of the mess he is in and that the room he has now called home "smells of balls." The voice, like a poisonous Jiminy Cricket, is no other than an extension of Rigganthe Birdman. The line of fantasy and reality is blurred for him. The reality is that he is almost out of cash and his last hope of renewed fame relies on the success of a Broadway play that he's directing, writing, and starring in. His illusions and dreams will always be the fame of the Birdmanwhich is what he hopes to break away from.
The film shows both him and the audience that reinventing oneself for a comeback is never easy. Right from the start, Riggan loses an actor to a freak accident, which he replaces with an egotistical and unorthodox Method actor (Edward Norton). In every twisted way possible, he causes carnage for both the cast and Riggan. Likewise, his former drug-addicted daughter (Emma Stone) battles him every which way she can. He even has to fight a snobby, stick in the mud play critic (Lindsay Duncan). The only characters that help Riggan are his two female co- stars (Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough), his loyal publicist (Zack Galifanakis), and his supportive ex-wife (Amy Ryan), who sort of becomes the voice of reason.
"Birdman" can easily be interrupted as the iconic role of Michael Keaton. After all, he is most popular for his roles as Batman in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since then, he has more or less vanished from the spotlight. Whether Keaton achieved catharsis or personal reflections in himself as Riggin, none of us can know. However, it is fair to say that this role was meant solely for him. He gives us an honest portrayal of a man who is at wits end to accomplish one last act of remembrance. He brings his flare of humor that has been seen from "Nightshift" and adds a new element of drama that audiences have never seen in him before. The supporting cast shares their moments of greatness, particularly Norton and Stone. Both of their chemistry on screen lights up sparks. But, it is Keaton who keeps the show moving ahead.
Alejandro Inarritu's visual style for this film matches the one Alfred Hitchcock pioneered in the film "Rope," using only 7-8 long takes as the camera moves around from one location of the set to another. This gives the audience an incite of the various actions that happen behind-the- scenes of a stage play and it helps propel the story forward in an interesting way. This method of camera work, meticulously and flawlessly crafted by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, creates a feeling of real-life performances, where anything can happen spontaneously. The editing between scenes are carefully done with CG and time lapse effects to help master the seamless camera motions between cuts instead of simply shifting from one moment to the next. The set and production design imitate a grungy, old theater that looks real, almost disproving the notion for the viewer that the film was shot on a sound stage. The technical prowess of this film makes you feel like you really are part of the show.
"Birdman: or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance" is an outstanding film. It breaches the conventional story method and pushes the boundaries on how far a movie can go in terms of visuals and acting. Part avant garde. Part black comedy. Part satire. Part super hero fantasy. All excellent.
Gone Girl (2014)
A twisted, crazy, yet nicely executed mystery...
When a director crafts a mystery thriller for the big screen, he not only has to be able to spin a good story from his scriptwriter, and show that story with the editor's prowess, and have it performed to ripeness with his actors, but he also has to carry the capacity to intrigue the audience enough and push them beyond their boundaries of excitement and discomfort. David Fincher is a master of these powers and that makes him an awesome filmmaker. He knows how to make a movie stick with you and he takes his viewers to some of the darkest places of the human mind.
"Gone Girl" is one of those good mystery thrillers that do not rely on suspense, thrills, or even a big twist at the endall the typical makings of such a genre. In fact, I found myself guessing the remainder of the film's plot 30 minutes in. What kept me focused was the brilliantly written dialog and performances by the ensemble cast. Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a down on his luck writer whose wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has mysteriously vanished. As time of her disappearance grows longer, he becomes the prime suspect of her possible murder and the center of a media circus that is out for blood. The only solace he obtains is from his hipster twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) and a well-known attorney (Tyler Perry), who has a $100,000 retainer.
The first hour of the film sets itself up as a realistic mystery, but then switches gears to a psychological drama that borders on horror when the truth behind Amy's disappearance unravels itself. This sudden revelation to a pseudo-film critic may seem like a Brian De Palma/noir femme fatale knockoff, but it actually is a bit of a study on how a terrible marriage can lead to psychopathy. The events that further transpire are messy, twisted, disturbing, gross, and yet exactly what it needs to keep the film going. Without giving much more away, I will mention that ending is quite good and gives the viewer something to think about.
Once again, David Fincher has surrounded himself with a great team. Jeff Cronenweth's cinematography evokes the natural lighting look combined with deep bluish hues to emphasis the bleak atmosphere. Kirk Baxter's editing is sharp and to the point in showing the plot's progression. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's score adds an eerie atmosphere to the film. Fincher's direction displays his ability to capture exceptional performances from his cast. Rosamund Pike makes the movie as a very complicated, multi-layered character that we think we can understand, but we never really can comprehend. Carrie Coon fits in nicely as the supportive sister of Nick. She ranks as probably the most ordinary and down to earth character in the whole film. Even Ben Affleck delivers a fine performance. I never thought of him as much of an actor, but he plays an individual that is trapped in a horrific situation with plausibility. The sound mixing unfortunately lacks quality, making the dialog difficult to hear at times. It feels very much like a rough cut versus a final product. And while I like the ending, there are certain elements that seem to be overlooked or blatantly ignored if the events in the movie happened in a real scenario.
In short, "Gone Girl" proves itself as another great addition to Fincher's impeccable resume and may make the 2015 Oscar season.