Sunday, October 26, 2014

Birdman Review

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Cast Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts
Original Release Date: October 17th, 2014
            Birdman is a very dark dramedy directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrituu starring Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson. The character, an actor, who made a name through the superhero Birdman in a series of blockbuster films but is now a c-lister trying to create something “meaningful” through Broadway. This meta-aspect and its relation to Keaton’s career raise the stakes even more so. The movie could work as a biography. But it’s much more than that
            The difference between our Keaton and his role as Riggan is that he’s absolutely insane. The film has a hefty dose of the bizarre and surreal. Riggan floats in the air as he meditates in and uses telekinesis in his spare time. There is also the brilliant struggle of the jerk demonic voice of Birdman himself in his head which makes the struggle he faces all the more hilariously intense.   
            The film defies expectations and plays with the audience at several turns. Plot lines are interspersed with shocking twists whether the effect is one of laughter or gasping.  The play “doesn’t go as planned” and it feels as if one is right along with the in-film audience as they are surprised. This diegeticness also comes about brilliantly through the groovy jazz score as it snakes its way constantly in the background.   Several times  the drum hits are shown to be coming from a drummer around a corner and the volume adjusts.  Little touches like this exemplify Inarritu’s delicate touch.
            But as a character says I’ve just been using in my review “labels, labels, labels” as in Broadway.  This is a movie about intricate characters that make Riggan seem normal.  Zach Galifinakis does a great dramatic turn as his high maintenance assistant Jake.  Emma Stone is his just-out-of rehab daughter.  Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough as his equally distressed co-stars Lesley and Laura.  Each cast member delivers an incredible performance  and there’s some great interplay between each of them.  No one is really a “minor character” in this.
            But the absolute shining star who brings a nuance to match Keaton’s is Edward Norton as Broadway mega star Mike Shiner. Norton is here with his often-used antagonistic charisma  which correlates with Shiner.  Shiner seeks to tell stories of “complex human emotion” and ridicules Keaton for his career choices.  This may perhaps this is another meta-critique of modern blockbuster cinema.   The friction between the two makes for some of the best scenes in the film.
            Each moment is magnified by the fact that the camera is constantly moving. The unique cinematography is accomplished by having a camera “float” close up to the actors at all times.  Like the music there is never a second of “visual silence.”  However, this is one of the small negatives  from making the film perfect.  The fact that it zooms so in on Keaton’s face can make things uncomfortably claustrophobic at times.
            The other point of detraction is some of the reality bending moments towards the end.   It’s massively cool for the film to acknowledge the Avengers , Robert Downey Jr, and the popcorn-like existing within its world. But when a moment happens latter where Riggan imagines what it’d be like to be in a modern blockbuster the CGI is not the best.   This may also be intentional but it’s jarring when compared to the rest of the expert visual production.
            Overall most of the laughs in Birdman come from how pathetic and backstabbing its characters are. It’s so depressing one can’t help but snicker. But we cheer on these corrupt actors as their lives spiral out of control around them. There’s a tale of Riggan Thomson being the last of the Hollywood old guard who hasn’t sold out to do more action reboots, but its lost in a swirling darkness of confusion.  This hypnotic tone makes for a compelling argument and a amazing film. 9.8 out of 10

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dracula Untold Review

Dracula Untold
Director: Gary Shore
Cast Headliners:Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Charles Dance
Original Release Date: October 10th, 2014
                        There have been what, one million adaptations of the Dracula and vampire tale?  The Bram Stoker character has nearly become public domain by this point, which is why Dracula Untold only comes a couple years after Adam Sandler in Hotel Transylvania.   To create a new Dracula film in 2014 with the hope of being unique is akin to making a Fu Manchu film in hopes of being new.  It can’t help but feeling “overdone.”
            This film hopes to remedy that by taking a look at the real inspiration for the legendary vampire in Prince Vlad II “the Impaler” of Transylvania (then Wallachia).  The prince, played by Luke Evans, has to contend with a Turkish army led by the powerful Sultan Mehmet (Dominic Cooper), and so must turn to the dark vampiric powers offered by the Master (Charles Dance). The “historical” premise and origin of this famous character does make it stand but it’s almost certain they were not entirely accurate.
            What is here is a few good aspects. Evan’s Vlad also goes by the name “Dracula” or son of the Dragon, and he very much embraces that in his performance. He is one of the only interesting characters in the film and brings a brooding ferocity to his role.  The plot concerning his transformation down the dark side of vamprisim is quite cool and one can feel his emotion.   There is an overall dark atmosphere to the film accomplished through beautiful misty landscape backgrounds and more bats than you can shake a Bruce Wayne at.   His interactions with Dance as the vampire who infected them are also great, as Dance’s brief appearance makes him out to be a great villain who is woefully underutilized.
            What’s less interesting is the major plot concerning the Turks. The Sultan has less depth than a cartoon character, and his soldiers don’t seem to pose much of a threat at all besides their number.  The film’s action scenes can be counted on one hand and all consist of Dracula turning into a swarm of bats and destroying every one nearly instantly .  Pretty cool, but when it’s literally the only appeal of the film it’s  not the best argument to go see it.
            The movie has flat characters and sparse action but is saved by its characterization of  Dracula and some cool special effects. It’s not the worst movie ever and has some moments of dumb fun when Dracula destroys armies. But it feels like it ends way too sooner than its 2 hour run-time. Here’s hoping the sequel it’s hinting at brings things to more interesting areas which it does hint it.  Considering that it feels so much like the video game Castlevania : Lords of Shadow 2 already, that should be a cool  place indeed. ….  6.35 out of 10

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Gone Girl Review

Gone Girl
Director: David Fincher
Cast Headliners: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Original Release Date: Cotober 3rd, 2014
            Gone Girl is a deceptive film.  On the surface this dramatic thriller, which is based upon a 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn which I have not read, appears to be a typical mystery quest.  There’s a missing wife; there’s barely any clues around; and dark shadows lurk in the corners.   But the truth behind the mystery is so much more horrifying than what it first appears to be. The same can be said for the film as a whole.
            Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is a former writer who runs a bar in Missouri with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon).   His marriage to his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has gone through some trouble of late and this is not aided when he comes home from work to find that she is completely missing with signs of a struggle in the house.  Nick enlists the aid of the local police amongst others including Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) to track down Amy.
            The movie could have continued along this line and been perfectly acceptable. But it’s an intricate evolving beast of a movie.  It’s refreshing to see in the tumultuous world a stable person in Nick. Affleck has grown tremendously as an actor over the past few years and his performance here is a quality one. He embeds Nick with a charismatic everyman charm much like his other films, but yet he manages to make it restrained and mesh well with the tone of this very dark film.  
            The film is intricate because it is not just straight forward playing but also a web of flash-backs and flash-forwards and separated side plots and more.  The directing effort of David Fincher absolutely must be praised as he makes it all work. It never becomes difficult to understand what is happening. As things become crazier, they also start to make more sense as the puzzle pieces slide into place.   His distinct style is present as well, as shots are crisp and arguments are impactful.  The dark tone of the film is something only he could have made. He has created a film which definitely belongs amongst the best of his filmography.   He is also aided by some incredible musical work from associate Trent Reznor who’s music fits this film so well.
            This aids to the role of Amy. Amy manages to be an incredibly important character despite showing up through flashbacks or narration in large parts of the film. Rosamund Pike has done an incredible job.  Even when it’s only her voice, she manages to deliver powerful words painting a picture of a marriage gone wrong. There is a subtle but impactful set of themes in the film which critique marriages as well as the role of perspective in media.  To spoil this would ruin the film’s number 1 greatest trait (the many shocking twists and turns), but I’ll just say that Amy is more than she appears to be from Nick’s perspective and that Pike is thrillingly chilling as the (antagonist).
            The movie drifts at times between being grim dark as heck with several touching moments, but also has some surprising laughs. Everything manages to blend together well which is another credit to Fincher. On a related note, normal comedy stars star as characters in Amy’s creepy rich ex-boyfriend Desi (Neil Patrick Harris) and celebrity charismatic lawyer Tanner (Tyler Perry).   Both are playing out of usual type and are fantastic . It’s a shame that they don’t appear to late into the picture and are woefully under-featured.
            The other gripe is that at 149 minutes long it’s no quick breezy experience. This is a film which really feels its length.  It’s worth it by the end, but one wonders if there was a way to cut down on the run time. But I suppose it needed all that time considering the amount of things which happen in the delightfully chaotic plot.  
            Overall the film contains a terrific cast and an exciting dark roller coaster of a plot.  Because of its runtime there are a few minor plot holes here and there and a sore lack of NPH, but otherwise it’s a nearly flawless film.   Affleck, Pike, and Fincher  have delivered amazing work in Gone Girl.  I’ve joked that it’s a test for Affleck as Bruce Wayne before his next movie in Batman, and he will do great at the job.   This movie gets a very deserved 9.15 out of 10