— Incinerater

Adam Driver, Star Wars

‘I can’t feel my face.’

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is aptly titled. It is nothing more and nothing less than an awakening, the establishing shot of an old story for a new era. The opening scene itself, the white carapaced storm troopers, historically established as an army of morally deficient drones (you were never sure if there were actually humans in those suits) who seemed to merely exist for the main characters to plow through, are jostled by the landing of a spaceship. Within minutes, these iconic faceless animate inanimates are humanized by the banal unsettling nature of travel. J. J. Abrams thus starts out with sabers blazing, “Everyone has a pulse here,” he seems to be saying, “from the Jedis down to these guys.”

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Kurt Cobain in "Montage of Heck"

I am more than a drawing.

Pretty much the whole time I was watching the new Kurt Cobain doc Montage of Heck, I was thinking about Reality Bites. Not because Troy Dyer is one of the more popular examples of Kurt Cobain’s mainstream fall-out — the tortured greasy-haired grungy-voiced anti-establishment genius — but because of the movie within the movie (which, as fate would have it, was released the year Cobain took his own life). Lelaina Pearce spends much of the film making a documentary about her disenchanted generation only to have it massacred by an MTV-like network that turns their lives into animated pizza. And that is what director Brett Morgen does to Kurt Cobain in Montage of Heck, turns him into fast food for the Internet generation.

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'These are my arms.'

‘These are my arms.’

I remember reading ages ago about Quentin Tarantino’s obsession with bad movies, particularly that exact moment before a bad movie becomes un-watchable. He was fixated on finding out what specifically it was that made these terrible pieces of so-called art just good enough to keep us in our seats, watching.

We’ve established that 50 Shades of Grey is lousy. Not one critic has disputed that fact. Having said that, as far as I know, there have been no mass walk outs. People have remained until the credits rolled. I did. Admittedly, I shut my eyes several times because sometimes it was just that bad. But I didn’t leave.

So what is it about this film that kept us in our seats? It certainly wasn’t the sex, which is the only reason anyone bothered to read the book (before they discovered even that wasn’t enough). We all agree that Kelly Marcel’s script is an improvement on E.L. James’ cliche-to-end-all-cliches-which-is-itself-a-cliche-to-prove-my-point “novel” — the pacing, the dialogue, even the characters. And the cinematography sort of  luxuriates beneath that elegant muted grey palette that Steve McQueen handled so much better in Shame. But is that enough to make something so unbearable bearable?

50 Shades of Grey is about an English lit major, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), who falls for a brooding millionaire, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), who happens to have a taste for S&M. A number of critics have argued that Johnson saves the film from being a total loss and I agree that she infused her character with several chewed pencils’ worth of much-needed charm. For them, that was enough to stay. For me, it wasn’t. But Dornan was.

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Michael Keaton in 'Birdman'

‘Too much?’

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.

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Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 10.36.12 AM

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.

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"How much longer?"

“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.

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Kristen Bell in 'Veronica Mars'

‘I’m 28?!’

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.

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Owen Wilson, 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'

‘Miss me?’

“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.

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'American Hustle's' Amy Adams and Christian Bale

'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.

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Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in 'Hunger Games'

'Bored.'

“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.

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