Friday, November 21, 2014

Squawk! The Unintended Virtue of Ignorance

Rarely in our age of ‘Dumb and Dumber’ sequels (want to see Jeff Daniels punch Jim Carrey repeatedly in the crotch, anyone?), a movie would come out of left field that not only feels refreshingly new but takes us by surprise with its wit, charm and laid-bare honesty.  Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu’s (21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful) eccentric and propulsive if somewhat garrulous indie anti-superhero film ‘Birdman' (aka 'The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance’) is such a film.  While ‘Birdman’ may never enjoy the commercial success at the box office it deserves even as it generates Oscar buzz, it provides us with a glimmer of hope that Hollywood is only creatively bankrupt 99 percent of the time.

In his most daring performance to date, ‘80’s era ‘Batman’ Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an aging actor desperately trying to recapture his past glory and stay relevant in a profession where you’re considered ‘old’ when you hit 35.  Doing what many washed up actors no longer employable in Hollywood would presumably do, he decides to produce and star in his own Broadway play, in this case an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.’  Part Broadway satire, part Seinfeld-esque ‘Show About Nothing’ dramedy and part ‘Black Swan’ psychological headtrip,  ‘Birdman’ gives us an intoxicating and humorous look at the trials of a man who may or may not have telekinetic powers, may or may not be able to fly, and who may well be delusional as he occasionally bickers with his former alter ego ‘Birdman’ in costume.

Nothing about ‘Birdman’ is conventional, whether it’s the film’s long continuous shots with few noticeable breaks, the improv feel to the acting, or its jazzy drums soundtrack.   The snappy dialogue and fine acting from Keaton, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Andrea Riseborough are engaging and ‘real,’ as we peer into their characters’ lives and experience their hopes and dreams, their struggles and anxieties.  The ever charming Emma Stone, as Riggan’s drug rehabbing daughter Sam, is an eye-opener in particular with her witticisms and mature outlook on life, not to mention she manages to steal every scene she’s in where I’m concerned.

Grade: A
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Monday, November 10, 2014

2047: A Space Odyssey

Alright alright alright!  Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey and a star-studded (no pun intended) supporting cast shine in director Christopher Nolan’s complex and surprisingly sentimental spacefaring sci-fi epic ‘Interstellar,’ an awe-inspiring movie that is grand and ambitious in scope yet delivered on so many levels, opening our eyes and minds to possibilities while exploring the very meanings of humanity and faith.

‘Interstellar’ isn’t one of those ‘alarmist’ movies from Al Gore or liberals about the imperative of saving our environment.  If you decide to miss the movie based on this misperception, that’s unfortunate because it’s really a cinematic tour de force.  Far from propaganda with a liberal agenda, ‘Interstellar’ delves into the nature of humanity and our basic instinct to survive as a species against impossible odds, even if it means making tremendous short-term sacrifices.  McConaughey delivered another stellar performance as the calm and soft-spoken space cowboy Cooper and brought his trademark southern charm to the role.  Underpinned by the touching relationship between Cooper  and his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain), ‘Interstellar’ proves that it has plenty of heart amidst all the drama, outer space adventure, cosmology and astrophysics on relativity, space-time, wormholes, black holes, singularities, gravitational anomalies and multiple dimensions throughout its nearly three-hour running time.  
Like its spiritual forebears ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ ‘Solaris’ and ‘Sunshine,’ ‘Interstellar’ might leave you head-scratching a bit with questions left unanswered, but that doesn’t diminish it’s being a remarkable, profound and deeply satisfying movie which will leave you spellbound with a sense of marvel and wonder at our place in the universe.  And why '2047' in the review's title?  Because Kubrick's 1968 seminal sci-fi masterpiece was set 33 years into the future, of course.
Grade: A
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Despicable Me

‘Nightcrawler,’ Jake Gyllenhaal’s latest starring vehicle, is one of those rare movie experiences that leaves a lasting impression in your mind and a bad taste in your mouth even as it provides valuable social commentary on our perverse media obsession for sensational ‘news’ that feed off other peoples’ pain and loss.  I almost didn’t see ‘Nightcrawler’ because its trailer and subject matter didn’t interest me (or so I thought), but I’m sure glad that I did.
Jake Gyllenhaal is Louis ‘Lou’ Bloom, a down-on-his-luck small time thief with much greater aspirations who found his true calling when he stumbled into the life of the on-scene news videographer.  The ‘news’ he pursues are ‘live’ breaking news of grisly murders, accidents and other late night (or early morning) tragedies that make the morning news, often with warnings that what you’re about to see “contains scenes of a graphic nature, viewers’ discretion is advised.”  These news hounds monitor police and first responder frequencies and then race each other (and the responders themselves) to the scene in order to ‘get the scoop’ like vultures flocking to a carcass.  Really, I think my regard for star-stalking paparrazi just went up a notch compared to this bunch.
Still, ‘Nightcrawler’ would not have succeeded without the bravura performance delivered by Gyllenhaal, who proved once again what a fine actor he is.  His borderline psychotic portrayal of the amoral Bloom is at once intense, charismatic and downright creepy.  Bloom is a sleazy scumbag (and SOB) who would stoop to any level to get what he wants, yet Gyllenhaal also imparted to the character a laser-like focus and determination that can’t be denied.  If nothing else, ‘Nightcrawler’ will make us feel more guilty or self-conscious the next time we tune in to these types of ‘news’ on TV or rubberneck at a horrific accident scene.  Then again, maybe not.  
Grade: A
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