There’s a lot of spitting in Birdman. I’m not talking about the spit ball that Emma Stone’s character drops from the roof of a theater onto the head of an unsuspecting passer by. Saliva inadvertently bubbles up on the emphatic lips of every over-acting actor in this film and I suppose it makes sense. The chief takeaway from Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is that everyone within it is so busy salivating over the proceedings that no one stops to look at what it is they are salivating about, which is, in all honesty, not much.
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s simultaneously over- and under-stuffed follow-up to Biutiful stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, a once-famous actor who soared to fame as a big screen superhero in the ’90s and is now attempting to make a comeback with his Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Yes, Birdman is the latest addition to contemporary Hollywood’s bid for intellectual gravitas, the meta-drama (see also JCVD, The Wrestler), in which washed-up actors play out a life not too far from their own. But perhaps the creeping subtlety of reality got to Iñárritu because, outside college, I have never seen a film this overwrought and under thought at the same time.
Hellllp…David Fincher’s killing me…
Every single one of the reviews I’ve read of Gone Girl have mentioned the opening scene. Amy (Rosamund Pike) lies on a pillow, her hair forming a “sleepy golden storm,” as her husband, Nick (Ben Affleck), caresses it and, in a quiet voice-over, describes violently cracking her head open. It’s the sort of juxtaposition that’s eye-rollingly smart — it makes critics like Manohla Dargis wink in solidarity, while, at the same time, it is not too intellectual for the everyman, who can recognize irony even if he may not know exactly what it means.
It’s an odd moment of democracy for David Fincher, who is often too mired in his own mastery to really bother with frivolities like whether or not the audience is engaged. He lets his source material do that for him. Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac were profound enough to manage it, but Panic Room, The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were too shallow to fill in the blanks. Gone Girl, heavy on plot and light on everything else, can be added to the latter collection of films.
“How much longer?”
Richard Linklater has made his career expanding time. In his best known films — the “Before” series — we are invited every few years to observe brief episodes of a couple’s life and are often left bereft when the credits role. With “Boyhood,” the opposite is true. Linklater’s ambitious 12-year-project has him constricting more than a decade of a young boy’s (fictional) life into less than three hours. Unfortunately, where the filmmaker has proven himself so adept at stretching out moments, he has proven himself less capable of compressing them.
A long time ago, we used to be friends
But I haven’t thought of you lately at all
If ever again, a greeting I send to you,
Short and sweet to the soul I intend.
-“We Used to Be Friends,” The Dandy Warhols
Short and sweet to the soul is all Rob Thomas intended for the “Veronica Mars” movie. After using the crowd-funding site to back the film version of the prematurely cancelled hard-boiled cult hit about a pop culture-savvy teen detective, Thomas returned the favour to fans with a small screen valentine wrapped in a big screen bow. And that’s the problem.
“Veronica Mars” is not a movie, it’s a TV show. Seven years after the last episode aired, the “film” is basically four new episodes jammed into one overly long installment. That’s why you get that strangely underwhelming feeling watching it on the big screen that you never got watching it on the tube. That’s why the voice-overs, the beveled glass flashbacks and the pop-tinged delivery that were so charming on TV are a lot less impressive on film — parochial even. “Veronica Mars” at the movies is like a country girl in her hometown duds trying to impress at a downtown soiree. She’s just never going to measure up.
“People who love some Wes Anderson movies and hate others: You are mysterious and I don’t get where you’re coming from,” tweeted Scott Tobias, editor of the film site The Dissolve, last week. And, after much thought, I have found the solution to the mystery: Owen Wilson.
Just like that of any other artist in the world, Anderson’s work has gone through stages. The first stage could be categorised in layman’s terms as “the quirky indie comedy,” though I will admit that is a reductionist designation that does “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” a severe disservice. More than anything, these films are eccentric character-driven odes to universal themes like changing relationships and growing up. And the fact that all three were co-written by Anderson and Wilson seems to be a big part of that.
'We own this thing. For real.'
Christian Bale is as good as “American Hustle” gets. And it stops there. As Irving Rosenfeld, a portly con artist costumed in a comb over, velvet suit and aviators, he not only tricks the characters in the film, he tricks the viewers. Bale’s greatness dupes us into believing David O. Russell’s film is a great piece of work. But let’s be real, it’s not.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” has a serious case of ADD. Where Gary Ross’ “Hunger Games” wasn’t pulse-racing enough, Francis Lawrence’s follow up appears to have been injected with whatever drove “Crank’s” Chev Chelios to fornicate in the middle of a Chinese market back in 2006. The movie was so manically cut that by the end of the first half I was so bored by the monotonously relentless action I almost fell asleep.
I thought I signed on to a Steve McQueen film?
In the wake of the virtually unanimous critical acclaim surrounding “12 Years a Slave,” criticising Steve McQueen’s magnum opus about American slavery (oft-ignored in cinema) is tantamount to kicking a kitten. But that’s what I’m going to do (not the kitten part). Because a piece of art — and I’m pretty sure most critics would agree with this — should be more than its subject alone. There’s a reason Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” is more celebrated than Brueghel’s.
McQueen’s third feature is an adaptation of the 1853 autobiography by a black man who was once free and then kidnapped and sold into slavery. From his charmed life in Washington, D.C, he finds himself transported in shackles to various plantations in Louisana. It’s unsurprising that a number of critics have compared the film to Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust epic “Schindler’s List” considering McQueen is dramatising what many consider to be the American Holocaust. But the two films are similar in another way: They are both unmistakeable products of the Hollywood machine.
The two central performances in “Breathe In” are like a pair of Breughel paintings. There is so much going on — a glance here, a smile there, a whole lot of very shallow breathing — that you feel the urge to watch it over and over in the hopes that you will decode just one of the many pregnant pauses, each of which contains an entire story of its own. The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy called the film a “nuanced work that has the weight of a modest short story rather than of a larger composition.” But even the smallest stories can pose the biggest questions.
This blue-toned rhapsody by Drake Doremus (who co-wrote it with Ben York Jones) stars Felicity Jones as Sophie, an exchange student from the UK who arrives in turmoil at her host family’s upstate New York home. A prodigious pianist, she has fled her hometown just as she has fled her talent and is now left with a sense of freedom she doesn’t quite know what to do with. Should she be a pianist just because she can? Should she quit? Should she have stayed in England? Should she even be worried about any of this? She is “constrained by options,” according to Guy Pearce’s character, Keith, the host family dad, who is himself a rocker manqué. Sophie arrives just as he is on the brink of possibly recapturing his old life (or a variation on it) by becoming part of an orchestra and leaving teaching behind.
“When are we leaving?” Keith asks Sophie early on in the film when they are stuck at a soiree at a family friend’s grotesquely huge house. His desperate look is held too long to be fleeting — it’s existential. It’s moments like these that are the film’s most affecting because Jones and Pearce are so perfectly matched (I am a big fan of Doremus’ “Like Crazy,” which also starred Jones, but I always got the feeling Anton Yelchin could neither measure up to the subtle material, nor to his co-star).
I have to talk AGAIN in this scene?
“In space, no one can hear you scream.” That was the tagline for “Alien” back in 1979, and though it would have been equally apt for “Gravity,” perhaps more accurate for the latter would have included the response: but they can sure as hell hear you talk. “Visually, it was amazing,” a friend of mine said after the three of us came out of the film last night. We nodded, silently, as had a planet of critics before us. Then he added one more thing: “I just wish it would have shut the fuck up.”