Monthly Archives: December 2014

Birdman Review – One of Those Films

Birdman is one of the most single brilliant films I have seen in ages. This isn’t just a movie. This isn’t just a love letter or a satire to and of the American theater. No, this film is one of the most unique, clever and downright amazing films I’ve seen in years. It’s the kind of film experience that only the genius of someone like Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu could bring to us. This is a movie that is an actor’s film, and yet at the same time, features some of the most magnificent and amazing scenes of the entire year. Birdman is a black comedy that everyone should see.

Birdman’s plot is that of the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton giving the best performance of his career), a washed up actor, who was famous for playing a superhero named Birdman in a trilogy of films. Riggan decides the best way to attempt a comeback, is by starring and staging in a play called, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Things, however, go disastrous, when Riggan’s lead actor is injured and the replacement is a method actor (Edward Norton), who thinks of himself way too highly and takes his job way too seriously. Riggan is also trying to keep up with his emotionally detached relationship with his daughter (Emma Stone). Riggan attempts to keep everything under-control especially while fighting with his ego (represented in a deep voice reminiscent of Keaton’s Batman voice) who continually reminds him of his glory days when he was on top of the world as his former film character Birdman.

This movie is an actor’s film, through and through. There is not a single performance in this movie I would consider average or mediocre, and considering it’s an assembled piece, that’s saying something. Everyone is in top form. In a comeback performance and as the lead, Keaton is perfect in a role that mirrors his own career as a washed up actor whose biggest days in the spotlight were when he was playing a superhero. The film even mentions the last Birdman film he made was in 1992 (the same year of Batman Returns). Keaton’s performance is the role of his lifetime, because not only does he plays an egotistical actor perfectly, but he shows his real range. The scenes where he fights with his own “ego”, are incredibly acted scenes from the actor. He delivers so many great lines, such as “This is not who we are” with such raw energy. A definite career all-time best performance for him.

The other actors are given a lot of time to shine, although this film is mainly “The Michael Keaton Show”. The film doesn’t shy away from letting the supporting performers have their moments to shine. Edward Norton is superb as Mike, an egotistical theater actor jerk, who sees himself as one of the greatest actors of all time and Riggan as a merely a washed up actor. The scene where we breaks down during a sneak preview and starts destroying the stage sets features some great acting from Norton. Emma Stone is also superb, in her best performance to date, as Riggan’s bored daughter who thinks of her dad as nothing more than a jerk. Her scene where she admits she’s using pot is Stone’s best acted scene in the whole film. Zach Galifianakis, not using his wheezing voice, is great as Riggan’s agent. Naomi Watts plays Lesley, an actress trying to make it big, and successfully manages to get a part in Riggan’s play. The scene where she claims to be a child at heart is greatly acted. Also rounding out the cast is Andrea Riseborough as Laura, and Amy Ryan as Sylvia, Riggan’s ex-wife. All of these actors work together and help make Birdman as magical a film as it is.

It’s not just the actors though who make this film great. Inarritu’s (director of Babel and 21 Grams) directing also deserves a lot of recognition. The amount of falling and ironic gags that happen during the film is amazing. The fact that the movie is one long continuous take (meaning that few scenes were actually shot for the film) is also something to appreciate and behold. The movie’s direction is one of the film’s best assets and largely part of the reason why it works. It’s a film that needs a director with a clear vision, and Inarritu is that kind of director.

Birdman’s script is simply magnificent. This film is a comedy through and through. With dialogue like “Oprah, hallmark, R. Kelly bad”, and “Play with my balls”, this film is uproariously funny from start to finish, never letting go of its “loose” sense of wacky humor. The film uses some Spanish music, which is nice to hear, and given that the director is Mexican, it makes sense, but since the movie is in English, it provides a unique flavor.

Choosing my favorite moment in Birdman is hard. Birdman is a movie with many fabulous sequences in it. There’s the opening shot of a comet falling, confusing the audience for a second, only to cut to Michael Keaton in his underwear floating. There’s also the scenes where Riggan is constantly fighting with himself, or running down the street naked. But my favorite sequence in the entire film was the scene where Riggan flies. Not only is the scene an example of the film’s use of warping reality (we aren’t sure if Riggan is truly flying or not), but the dramatic music and the way the flying is done, makes it one of the best movie scenes of the year for me.

It would be hard to truly describe my feelings about a movie like Birdman. It’s a magnificent piece of work, featuring terrific acting among the whole cast and some of the most fascinating and fabulous movie sequences of the year. A film that I think we will be talking about for years to come. A film that’s sure to get several Oscar nominations, including best actor for Michael Keaton. Birdman is one of those movies that needs to be seen on the big screen.

Listen Up Phillip – Review – Listen Up Movie

Listen Up Phillip is a very pretentious movie. It’s not a poorly made movie, but it gives me the feeling that it’s trying to be more than something it is. Listen Up Phillip tells the story of aspiring author Phillip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) who has just published his second novel. He wants to leave his adopted home city, and his relationship with his girlfriend, Ashley (played by Elizabeth Moss) is falling apart. When his idol Ike Zimmerman (played by Jonathan Pryce) offers him a chance to live with him at his isolated summer home, Phillip takes this opportunity to get some peace and quiet to focus on his favorite, and most important subject, himself.

The main character of Listen Up Phillip, Philip, is intentionally unlikeable and it’s very hard to root for him. In some stories, unlikeable main characters change throughout the course of the story, but in this story, Phillip not change from beginning to end. Although I feel this is intentional on the director’s part, if the protagonist was even meant to be relatable character at all, as the movie’s narration suggests, then I believe the film failed in that regard.

Elizabeth Moss is pretty darn good as Jason’s girlfriend, Ashley. She has all the right ingredients: she’s full of emotion. Jonathan Pryce does a good job playing a messed up author, Ike, in a somewhat predictable role. Props to Krysten Ritter, especially, as Ike’s daughter, who really gives us her all as an unhappy character. Also of note, is French actress, Josephine de La Baume, as Melanie Zimmerman, a woman Phillip starts dating at the end. Unfortunately, their relationship is underdeveloped, and somehow I was left feeling she was supposed to be more of a major character.

One of the better things I appreciated the film for, is how, despite the title, Phillip isn’t the only character that gets some perspective. There are a few scenes, halfway through the film, where we see things from Ashley’s viewpoint. There’s even a sequence where she’s talking to Phillip at a restaurant and we can only hear his voice, not see his face. There are even scenes where we are shown the perspective of other characters, Ike and Melanie, and we are given their thoughts on what they are thinking during those scenes.

There are some shots that I liked, too. The title sequence reminds me of a title sequence from the 70’s and 80’s, and I appreciate Eric Bogosian’s narration (the opening almost made me think I was watching a documentarian for a second) describing the characters and their feelings. There’s also a nice sequence where Phillip is driving the car which features some low-key jazz music in the background. While Listen Up Philip is not a film I would rush out to see again, it was enjoyable.

Dear White People – A Review – Interesting Social Commentary

Dear White People Review: An Interesting Social Commentary

Daniel Davis

December 13, 2014

With a title like Dear White People, I’m sure those racists out there (and yes racism is still alive and well) are already up in arms, with their guns out ready to shoot, but despite my fear going in, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the film. Justin Simien’s directing debut isn’t so much a film about black racism, as it a satire on the idea of racism as a whole. It is an interesting social commentary on the current status of racism for people of different skin color and appearances, and earned the director the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Dear White People a social satire that follows the story of four black students at a make believe Ivy League college as they go through their daily lives living in a white dominated environment. The title of the film is taken from a radio program hosted by a black woman on campus, who constantly critiques and compares black people to white people. The film really takes off when controversy happens on the campus. A group of white students throw a “black-face” (theatrical makeup used by performers to represent a black person) party.

This film has characters and character-arcs (the character’s status unfolds). Some of the characters in this film are people with problems/issues. Some of the black people in the film aren’t really acting all that black, for example, preferring white entertainment. There are black characters in relationships with white characters, particularly the president’s daughter, Sophia (played by Brittany Curran) and the dean’s son, Troy (played by Brandon Bell). The closest thing to an antagonist character is that of Kurt Fletcher (played by Kyle Gallner), who is responsible for starting the “blackface” party in the first place. His character is a complete jerk, very unlikeable, and thankfully, “get his due”.

Dear White People uses title cards to introduce its characters, college campuses and different segments throughout the film. This is very interesting to me, because the director is clearly trying to split his film into different segments, almost as if he’s making a skit film or something. Another sequence that I thought was well done, was the tip test sequence, in which one of the main characters, Lionel (played by Tyler James Williams), is given a test to show how “black” he is. The entire sequence is slowed down and then speeded up, as was the shot of The Winchester University Campus. Additionally noted, when questions are given during this sequence, there is a bell-like sound played in the background, as if Lionel was competing on a game show or something.

The score works well enough given the type of film it is. The use of the classical music, along with rap songs and near the end jazz, fit the film quite well. What makes Dear White People work is that director Simien doesn’t make a movie simply painting black people as heroes and white people as evil. The characters in this film are real, have problems, and go through story-arcs. It isn’t simple stereotyping or sugar-coating on the part of the director. While this film is rather uncomfortable, in terms of its subject material, it’s still a good film to see, and I definitely recommend it.

Laggies A Review – Lagging Around

Laggies Review: Lagging Along

Daniel Davis

December 13, 2014

 

Laggies is a “coming of age” romantic comedy with a twist as the main character is not an adolescent, but is 28 years old. The film is not exceptional, but it is enjoyable, and its performances and story progression help to elevate an average film overall. Laggies begins by telling the story of Megan (played by Keira Knightley) whose longtime boyfriend (played by Mark Webber) has just proposed to her. Megan, having also just found out her father (played by Jeff Garlin) is having an extramarital affair, experiences a bit of an identity crisis, and doesn’t know quite how to respond to her own marriage proposal. She plans a fake trip, in order to escape from her boyfriend for a week, and finds herself in the house of her newly found, 16 year old girlfriend, Annika (played by Chloe Grace Moretz), and her single, stern father, Craig, (played by Sam Rockwell).

The main characters go through changes as they begin to know each other. Megan starts out as a manipulative lying person who uses people, but as the film continues, she realizes this is not what she wants and begins to take charge of her own life by becoming more responsible. The character of Annika goes from being a risky teenager to becoming more of her own person, even confronting her own mother. Her father, Craig, goes through a character progression as he becomes less stuck-up and more of a person who actually cares for other people. All of three of the main characters story arcs nicely parallel each other. Out of all of the character arcs, I found Megan’s due to Keira Knightley’s performance, to be the most believable.

However, I did have my issues with this film. I found the boyfriend of the film, Anthony, to be a bit of a push-over and too much of a plot device. He gets introduced, gets a few scenes and then reappears during the climax. Another thing that bugged about the film, was an absurd scene where Knightley has to pose as Moretz’s mother and I couldn’t honestly believe that anyone would honestly believe that Knightley and Moretz were mother and daughter, what with the twelve years difference, and looking more like sisters.

There are some interesting directing choices by Lynn Shelton, including having the film start out with a flashback and then cutting to ten years later. As well as Knightley’s introduction, where we see her listening to a CD player on the streets as she holds up a sign advertising her father’s accounting business where she works. Check it out for yourself, and see what you think of it.

Art and Craft: A Review

Art and Craft: A Review

Daniel Davis

12/06/14

Art and Craft is one of the most fascinating documentaries about art that I have ever seen. It’s well made, well put together, and delivers a very satisfying experience overall. In fact, this film fascinated me more than some live action movies have.

Art and Craft is a documentary that follows a few days in the life of famous art forger, Mark. A Landis. Mr. Landis is a savant who has spent 30 years deceiving museums with his drawings  by making them believe that they actually have art by a famous artist, when, in fact  it’s just him. Landis has the amazing ability to copy a painting almost exactly like the original artist, although Landis is not a very good artist, rarely paints original art of his own, and prefers instead to cheat and copy. This film explores Landis as we see him go through his childhood, learn how he became obsessed with art, how his fraud was eventually exposed, and also see him prepare for an exhibit based upon his “fake” work.

This documentary was a very pleasant surprise. After weeks of films that were okay, but lackluster, Art and Craft’s high quality was a breath of fresh air. This documentary doesn’t portray Landis as a criminal or villain, or glorify him as some sort of hero. Instead, it just portrays him as a real human being who is a curiously strange person. In total, Landis has given 47 forged paintings to 46 art museums around America. In the film, we see interviews with Landis himself where he explains why he became a forger, what his life is like, and his understanding of his mental problems. We also see interviews with people who have met Landis, or people who worked at various art museums that Landis has tried to give forged paintings to, and how they may or may not see him as a villain. This documentary method is quite effective and allows us to see perspective from both sides.

Some of the directing choices in this film were interesting as well. Filmmakers Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman really show they know how to use a camera. Sequences such as the one where we see Landis’s photo gallery and his forged art really help to emphasize him as a person. While I quite liked how the regular scenes kept being intercut with movie clips from films like Casablanca and Charlie Chan, as Landis is shown to be a bit of a classic film fan, having grown up watching a lot of television and movies.

Art and Craft is a wonderfully made documentary about one of the most fascinating characters of real life art. I’ve watched plenty of great documentaries in the past, but this one reminds me of why I find filmmaking to be interesting in the first place. I definitely recommended this film. A minor note though, the quality of the print is not good and there are a few scenes where the film froze, but the sound will still be heard.

The Blue Room – A Review

The Blue Room: A Review

Daniel Davis

12/06/14

The Blue Room is a French crime drama based on a novel of the same name by Georges Simenon and is directed by the lead actor, Mathieu Amalric. The film opens up in what is later revealed to be a flashback where the main character, Julien (played by Amalric), a married man, recalls his sexual experience with a woman (played by Stephanie Cleau) in a hotel room to the police. Julien is being accused of a crime that he doesn’t apparently know anything about. As the film continues, and we go further and further into the story, we find out what actually did happen between this man and woman, as well as, the relationship between this man and his wife, eventually leading to a court case.

The movie’s most interesting elements are its story structure, told in flashback, and its use of its musical score. One of my favorite scenes concerns Julien trying to burn some papers and they slowly vanish into the darkness of the ocean. The way this scene is filmed and framed, being intentionally slow, made it very interesting from a filmmaking standpoint.

The musical score is often bombastic, and scenes that aren’t really meant to be dramatic carried a melodramatic theme. The score itself goes through different phases, from the very dramatic, to the mysterious, scary and even intimidating. The best use of the score in the film is during a court scene where we see people doing various things all at once. The background piano music fits the theme of this scene particularly well.

This film has good acting from its lead actors and lovely cinematography. If you like stories of adultery and crime, you will not be disappointed, however I found that the film wasn’t particularly memorable or anything special overall. At a length of 76 minutes, it is the shortest of all of the movies I’ve seen at Catamount Arts thus far.