Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Movie Review #942

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Limited release on October 17, 2014. Nationwide release on November 14, 2014. Comedy/Drama. This film is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence. Runs 119 minutes. An American-Canadian production. Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu & Nicolás Giacobone & Alexander Dinelaris Jr. & Armando Bo. Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Merritt Wever, Edward Norton, Amy Ryan, and Lindsay Duncan.

PROFOUND, HYSTERICAL, SURREAL SHOWBIZ SATIRE. IT BLEW ME AWAY.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

I can’t get over what an incredible this was. “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is incredible in ways you’ve never seen. It’s Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s first comedy, and at that, it’s a profound, hysterical, surreal showbiz satire.

Michael Keaton has never done better than he does in “Birdman”. He delivers stupendously in the role of a split-personality character, resembling a celebrity’s internal struggle to choose his own path in the entertainment business, when haunted by a pressuring, suppressed desire for fame. The psychological drama here is dark and brilliant, largely due to Keaton’s performance. He plays Riggan Thomson, an actor who became famous quite some time ago when he starred in a trilogy about a superhero named Birdman. His fans want a fourth film, but he’s been refusing for the last twenty years. In fact, he’s now turned to a career as an actor and director for the stage. Except he’s not thinking along the lines of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. He’s actually adapting a melodrama based on the short story “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love” by Raymond Carver. (We are told that Riggan chose to become an actor because of a note Carver once wrote to him on a cocktail napkin.)

It’s not the pressure from fans, though, that drives Riggan crazy. It’s the voice of Birdman, a figment of his imagination who appears to Riggan constantly, tempting him to believe that he belongs in the action movies that made him famous, not a stage drama that nobody will give a damn about.

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American Sniper

Movie Review #941

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Limited release on December 25, 2014. Nationwide release on January 16, 2015. Action/Biography/Drama. This film is rated R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references. Runs 132 minutes. An American production. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Jason Hall. Based on a book by Chris Kyle and Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. Cast: Bradley Cooper, Kyle Gallner, Ben Reed, Keir O’Donnell, Kevin Lacz, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Sammy Sheik, Mido Hamada, Sam Jaeger, and Chance Kelly.

IT HITS THE TARGET, JUST NOT THE BULL’S EYE.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Clint Eastwood is a good director, but also an overrated one. Sure, there’s many films he’s made behind the camera that I thoroughly enjoyed–however, a good director gives us something for us to enjoy, whereas a great director gives us something for us to marvel at. With the exception of “Letters from Iwo Jima”, I’ve reacted to every Eastwood-directed movie the same way. Entertained, but expecting just a bit more.

My reaction has remained unchanged as of “American Sniper”. This film really connects with the emotions with its audience. The true story it recounts proves unmistakably poignant and exciting through Jason Hall’s screenplay. But how much of the screenplay was cut from the final product, I wonder? My immediate reaction once the credits started rolling was a disbelieving “That’s all?”

It’s important to note that the title is “American Sniper”. The keyword is not “sniper,” and if it were, we wouldn’t have such an emotionally built movie. Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) may be the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, with 160 reported kills, and likely many more. But he doesn’t relish this statistic at all. In fact, what makes Kyle a respectable hero in “American Sniper” is that he dedicates himself to his country. This is a true patriot, a man who would never lay a finger on another human being if it weren’t to protect the United States of America. What’s saddest about this is watching Kyle come home from each tour of duty. He serves in four of them over in Iraq, and he never manages to return to his family as the same man he was before the war. Bradley Cooper performs convincingly as the man afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder–the man who can never come home from war except physically.

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Chef

Movie Review #940

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Limited release on May 9, 2014. Nationwide release on May 30, 2014. Comedy. This film is rated R for language, including some suggestive references. Runs 114 minutes. An American production. Written and directed by Jon Favreau. Cast: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofía Vergara, Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris, and Robert Downey Jr.

A LIGHT, QUICK, ENJOYABLE COMEDY WITH 2014 WRITTEN ALL OVER IT.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

Meet Carl Casper (Jon Favreau), a divorced man who can never seem to do right at work. He’s plagued by the horror of receiving a two-star review from the most prestigious food blogger in Miami, and his inability to bond with his son. He intends to invite the food blogger back to the restaurant, in hopes of offering him a menu entirely different from the one he disliked…and ends up making a fool of himself when he flips out at the food critic.

Casper’s outburst happens in front of dozens of customers, most armed with iPhones, so when videos of his tirade spread via social media, Casper becomes an internet sensation. He also loses his job as the main chef at the restaurant, which leads him to decide on his next profession: running a food truck. He’s joined by his son and a former co-worker, Martin, who would rather work in a food truck than at the restaurant (John Leguizamo).

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The Hundred-Foot Journey

Movie Review #939

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Nationwide release on August 8, 2014. Comedy/Drama. This film is rated PG for thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality. Runs 122 minutes. An Indian-Emirati co-production, with additional American involvement. Directed by Lasse Hallström. Screenplay by Steven Knight. Based on a book by Richard C. Morais. Cast: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon, Amit Shah, Farzana Dua Elahe, Dillon Mitra, Aria Padnya, Rohan Chand, Saachi Parekh, and Shaunak Parekh.

A DELIGHT.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

Don’t take my word for it just yet, but I feel I just might respect Lasse Hällstrom as a director now. There’s still films of his that I don’t enjoy (“The Cider House Rules”, for one), but I absolutely adored “The Hundred-Foot Journey”. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing here worth complaining about. Okay maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. The last twenty minutes are rather confusing, and Hällstrom presents at least forty different endings during that time frame before he actually cuts to the credits.

There. If you came to hear me fuss about the movie, then you can consider this review finished with, because none of the compliments that follow will interest you at all. As much as I love to bitch about movies, there’s no need for it when I’m reviewing a movie this delightful.

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Into the Woods

For the most part, everything’s hunky dory here. The sets are delightfully stage-oriented, not film-oriented; even outside of song-and-dance numbers, you’re always utterly convinced that you’re watching a musical. The cast delivers superbly all around, save for Anna Kendrick, who performs likably dialogue-wise, but exhibits perfection in the way her singing voice sounds like nails do when they sing their way down a chalkboard. Meryl Streep’s performance, if it comes as any surprise, is terrific. But all that’s great here is outweighed by the fact that this movie is dark. Going into a movie that Walt Disney Pictures produced, whose plot is based on every fairy tale you can name, you really wouldn’t expect a black comedy, and for some reason, that’s what “Into the Woods” seemed like to me. It’s funny, but in ways that adults may or may not “get,” and kids will no doubt find disturbing. Even the music here has an eerie shape to it. However, if you don’t see what’s so traumatic about reading the original, gruesome Grimm fairy tales to kids as bedtime stories, you might find a great family movie in “Into the Woods”.

SNIPPETS

Taken 3

22 years ago, there was a movie called “The Fugitive”. 22 years ago, Liam Neeson was known for dramas like “Schindler’s List”. Now he’s known for action movies like “Taken 3″, which is practically a remake of “The Fugitive”. In other words, the story concerns Neeson trying to prove his innocence to the authorities when he is framed for wife’s murder. This January release is ironically better than the November release that was “Taken 2″, especially since it takes a step back from the “guy tries to save his family from terrorists” trope. It’s also a lot more exciting than that last entry. On the other hand, the action sequences can be so hard to enjoy, because these scenes are edited frenetically by a madman. (If you’re prone to seizures, do not sit in the front review.) Also, we get it that Neeson wants to prove his innocence, but when he feels compelled to make his point by threatening and assaulting police officers and crashing police cars, he should probably just accept the fact that he’s gonna be serving jail time anyway.

SNIPPETS

Young & Beautiful

Movie Review #938

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Released in New York City, New York on April 25, 2014. Internet release on April 25, 2014. Drama. This film is not rated. Runs 95 minutes. A French production. Written and directed by François Ozon. Cast: Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot, Fantin Ravat, Johan Leysen, Charlotte Rampling, and Lucas Prisor.

A POOR SCRIPT ANCHORED TERRIFICALLY BY A GREAT PERFORMANCE.

★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“Young & Beautiful” is an ambitious coming-of-age film. It’s a bit too ambitious, though, and it doesn’t go about approaching these ambitions in all the right ways.

Though it’s not a terrible movie. Let me take you y’all back to the 66th Cannes Film Festival, held May 15-26 in 2013. France’s “Young & Beautiful” premiered In Competition on the festival’s third day. However, “Blue Is the Warmest Color” premiered seven days later at the festival; this entry being a solid but superficial version of that longer, more poignant coming-of-age film.

Marine Vacth gives the performance that really anchors “Young & Beautiful”. She plays a seventeen-year-old girl effectively; the emotional immaturity she offers in her role nearly compensates for the character’s underdevelopment in the script. Writer-director François Ozon divides “Young & Beautiful” into four distinct parts, each titled after one of the four seasons. But this isn’t just one story. It’s four different stories weakly attempting to form a single, unified story. The results are glaringly incoherent.

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Selma

Movie Review #937

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Limited release on December 25, 2014. Nationwide release on January 9, 2015. Biography/Drama/History. This film is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language. Runs 128 minutes. A British-American co-production. Directed by Ava DuVernay. Written by Paul Webb. Cast: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Wilkinson, and Tim Roth.

A POWERFUL MOVIE, EVEN WITH ITS WEAK SPOTS.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Ava DuVernay has created “Selma” carefully and passionately. The camera acts not as an eye but as a glass barrier. We have to power to watch hundreds of African-Americans protest the denial of their Constitutional right to vote; we just don’t have the power to help.

“Selma” begins as a heartbreaking movie, and has become an extremely profound one by the end. David Oyelowo is the major contributor to the film’s magnitude. His performance as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. captures the activist exceptionally. A respectful, patient negotiator in one light, and in another light, a powerful orator who feels strongly about civil rights, and compels every one of us to feel the same.

Continue reading Selma

The 87th Oscar Nominations are here!

Hey everybody!  Sorry I’m putting this post up so late.  Like I’ve said before, I’m really busy this year.  But, of course, I’m going to do everything I can to see 7 out of 8 Best Picture nominees this year (because there’s always one I just can’t get around to until after the Oscar telecast).

Speaking of Best Picture, let’s reveal the nominees:

The Nominees for the 87th Annual Academy Awards (and how much I actually agree)

Best Picture

American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

Will win: Birdman
Might win: Boyhood or The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win: Boyhood
Won’t win: Selma
Snubs: Gone Girl

Additional thoughts: I really, really thought Selma was gonna win up until the nominees were announced.  But excluding Best Picture, it only has one other nomination.

Best Director

Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Birdman
Richard Linklater for Boyhood
Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game

Will win: Richard Linklater for Boyhood
Might win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Birdman
Should win: Richard Linklater for Boyhood
Snubs: Ava DuVernay for Selma, Clint Eastwood for American Sniper, David Fincher for Gone Girl

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore for Still Alice
Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon for Wild

Will win: Julianne Moore for Still Alice
Might win: Everyone, except for those who are not Julianne Moore.
Should win: It doesn’t matter, because there’s literally no chance of anybody beating Julianne Moore.  Just sayin’.
Snubs: Amy Adams for Big Eyes, Jennifer Aniston for Cake

Best Actor

Steve Carell for Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper for American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton for Birdman
Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything

Will win: Michael Keaton for Birdman
Might win: Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything
Should win: Steve Carell for Foxcatcher
Snubs: Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler, David Oyelowo for Selma

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette for Boyhood
Laura Dern for Wild
Keira Knightley for The Imitation Game
Emma Stone for Birdman
Meryl Streep for Into the Woods

Will win: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood
Might win: Emma Stone for Birdman
Should win: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood
Snubs: Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall for The Judge
Ethan Hawke for Boyhood
Edward Norton for Birdman
Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons for Whiplash

Will win: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash
Might win: Once again, it doesn’t matter.  J.K. Simmons has been getting all the Oscar talk for this category since October.
Should win: Ethan Hawke for Boyhood
Shouldn’t be nominated: Robert Duvall for The Judge

Best Adapted Screenplay

Paul Thomas Anderson for Inherent Vice
Damien Chazelle for Whiplash
Jason Hall for American Sniper
Anthony McCarten for The Theory of Everything
Graham Moore for The Imitation Game

Will win: I wish I could say.
Won’t win:
Paul Thomas Anderson for Inherent Vice
Snubs:
Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl

Best Original Screenplay

Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness for The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye for Foxcatcher
Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo for Birdman
Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Will win: Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness for The Grand Budapest Hotel
Might win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo for Birdman
Should win: Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye for Foxcatcher

Best Foreign Language Film

Leviathan
Ida
Tangerines
Timbuktu
Wild Tales

Will win: Ida
Might win:
Leviathan
Snubs:
Force Majeure

Best Documentary Feature

CITIZENFOUR
Finding Vivian Maier
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt in the Earth
Virunga

Will win: CITIZENFOUR
Might win: Finding Vivian Maier
Snubs: Life Itself

Best Animated Feature

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Will win: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Might win: Big Hero 6
Snubs: The Lego Movie

Best Film Editing

American Sniper
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Whiplash

Should win: Boyhood
Snubs:
Birdman, Foxcatcher

Best Original Song

“Everything Is Awesome” from The Lego Movie
“Glory” from Selma
“Grateful” from Beyond the Lights
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
“Lost Stars” from Begin Again

Should win: “Lost Stars” from Begin Again
Shouldn’t be nominated:
“Glory” from Selma
Snubs: “Miracles” from Unbroken, “Split the Difference” from Boyhood

Best Original Score

Alexandre Desplat for The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alexandre Desplat for The Imitation Game
Johann Johannsson for The Theory of Everything
Gary Yershon for Mr. Turner
Hans Zimmer for Interstellar

Should win: Alexandre Desplat for The Grand Budapest Hotel
Snubs: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for Gone Girl, Alexandre Desplat for Unbroken

Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins for Unbroken
Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman
Dick Pope for Mr. Turner
Robert Yeoman for The Grand Budapest Hotel
Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski for Ida

Should win: Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski for Ida
Shouldn’t be nominated:
Roger Deakins for Unbroken

Additional Note: Roger Deakins is my favorite cinematographer, but I found Unbroken to be a weak spot for him.

Best Costume Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Maleficent
Mr. Turner

Should win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Snubs: Big Eyes

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

Should win: Foxcatcher
Snubs: Into the Woods

Best Production Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Should win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Sound Editing

American Sniper
Birdman
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Interstellar
Unbroken

Should win: American Sniper
Snubs: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Gone Girl

Best Sound Mixing

American Sniper
Birdman
Interstellar
Unbroken
Whiplash

Should win: American Sniper
Shouldn’t be nominated: Interstellar
Snubs:
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Best Visual Effects

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Interstellar
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Snubs: Godzilla, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Stay tuned for the winners, coming February 22nd at 4PM Pacific Time!!  In case you haven’t heard because you’ve been living under a rock, Neil Patrick Harris is hosting this year, which is all kinds of awesome!

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death

Just to make sure, this is a horror movie, right? It doesn’t strike me as one. It’s honestly more of a period piece with ghosts, than it is a horror movie set in the 1940’s. Take one look at George Steel’s cinematographer and tell me with a straight face that it doesn’t remind you of Downton Abbey. That’s not what we usually expect of a modern-day horror movie, but don’t worry, our expectations are met too, because nobody here can act. In fact, they can’t even talk at a normal volume it seems. Everyone here’s practically whispering throughout the whole damn movie. Call that spooky, but after about five minutes, it’s not spooky, it’s boring. I found the first “Woman in Black” to be the same way, but if it makes any difference, “Angel of Death” only uses that film’s title as part of its own so it can rake in some money at the box office.

SNIPPETS

Time is money, and bad movies are never free.

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