Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Movie Review: The Imitation Game (PG13 – 114 minutes)

Here is what will probably be the last of the Oscar movies that I watch for this year.  That brings my total to 4 of 8, and I am okay with that. 

During World War II, the Nazis were using a code to transmit their locations and plans to their various U-Boats and other factions.  British mathematician Alan Turing is recruited to help work on cracking the ‘enigma’ code.  He proves to be exceptionally difficult to work with, but builds a strong team around him, and eventually they crack the code – but then are careful not to reveal that they have cracked it so that the Nazis don’t catch on.  Essentially, he invented the computer to run all the codebreaking combinations.  He also happened to be a homosexual, which was illegal in England at that time.  After the war – since what they had done was so classified, he was not known as a war hero, and was arrested for “gross indecency”.  He chose to undergo chemical castration instead of imprisonment so that he could continue working.  After a few years of enduring that, he committed suicide at age 41, and was only recently recognized for the amazing work that he did.

This movie is directed by Morten Tyldum, a Norwegian director who has not really done any other English language movies.  The story is interesting, but there’s not much of it in the movie.  Basically we see the story unfold as Turing tells it to the officer who arrests him.  We also get flashbacks to him at school cut throughout.    Much of the movie is still – and there’s very little of the war in it.  It’s mainly the actors in the room, working on the project.  There’s also very little of Turing’s sexuality in the movie, we do see him spend time with Joan Clarke, one of his team members, and they get engaged so that her parents will allow her to continue to work on the project.  Aside from a boyhood crush that we see in the school flashbacks, we see no other relationships that Turing had in the movie.  It’s an interesting choice, and the writer stated that he wanted the movie to focus on Turing’s accomplishments much less than his personal relationships, and it certainly does that.  It's mostly people working on cracking a code in a little room. It’s boring, but it is really well-acted.

  • It is absolutely a Benedict Cumberbatch movie, and yes, he certainly was nominated for an Oscar, but this, at least at the beginning, seemed to be a variation on his ‘Sherlock’.  He does show quite a range of emotion throughout the movie, and does an amazing job of layering Turing’s true emotions under a hard shell.  He’s also amazing at the end when he portrays the broken man Turing has become when Joan comes to visit him after the punishment has been enacted.  Cumberbatch is an exceptional actor, and he does a great job in this - he won't win the Oscar for this role, but he will win one eventually.

  • Keira Knightly was also nominated for an Oscar, and she also does an amazing job as Joan Clarke.  Especially in any of the scenes where they don’t want to let her participate because she’s a chick (Haley Atwell has been doing an exceptional job at that same type of righteous anger on Agent Carter – which you should be watching).  Joan proves her worth, and proves to be the one person who can anchor Turing to reality and humanity, even when he’s cruel to her.

  • Matthew Goode (Ozymandias, as I always think of him) plays Hugh Alexander, another of the mathematicians.  His character is not really developed, he seems to be a bit put out at first because he was in charge of the team before Turing shows up – but once Turing proves himself, he works for him. 

  • Rory Kinnear plays Detective Robert Nock – the police officer that Turing is telling his story to.  He has little to do but convey some sympathy to Turing during his story, but a determination to do his job.

  • Allen Leech plays John Cairncross – who (spoiler alert) is actually working with the Russians, but he’s also the only one who is kind to Turing from the start. 

  • Matthew Beard plays Peter Hilton, who has siblings in the field, and has a powerful moment once they break the code because Turing makes the decision not to tell anyone so that the Nazis do not catch on they have broken the code – but they see an attack coming, and Peter’s brother is on one of the ships that will be lost.  He has the ability to contact them and save them, but listens to Turing and so has to live with the knowledge that he could have saved that ship, but did not act on that information to serve the greater good.

  • Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister) plays Commander Denniston – who hires Turing, but then seems to be looking for a reason to fire him, because he’s difficult.

  • Mark Strong is once again amazing as Stewart Menzies – the non-existent man from the non-existent branch of MI6 working with the group.  He’s subtle and supportive, and was the most interesting part of this movie for me.  But – I may have been staring at his wig, wondering how they attached it.

As I said – it’s exceptionally well done, but it is really boring.  It’s an interesting story, and it’s great that it is getting Turing some well-deserved credit, even though it’s long overdue.  I can’t help but wonder what else he would have invented if he had not died so young.  If you are a history buff, or a Cumberbatch superfan, check it out.

5 out of 10 – well done, just not entertaining.  Of course, it's not supposed to be.  It’s supposed to be an acting showcase of a true story, and on that level – it was a success.
Bonus Video 1:  In case for some reason you are not aware of the BBC Sherlock show - you should Netflix it.  It's pretty amazing - but I still prefer Elementary on CBS.
Bonus Video 2: Honestly - I really considered for a very long time what other WWII era movie I really enjoyed so I could put a clip here.  Then I tried to think of other Benedict Cumberbatch movies I really enjoyed, then I tried to come up with other Keira Knightly movies...the only thing I came up with this - Captain America: the First Avenger.  Hey - we all have our own tastes:
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Movie Review: Boyhood (R – 165 minutes)

You have to hand it to Richard Linklater – this was a truly original idea.  He filmed this movie over the course of 12 years – filming a week each year with the same actors, to follow the story of Mason, a boy, as he ages from 6 to 18. 

It was nominated for a bunch of awards, and cleaned up for most of awards season.  I can’t help but wonder if it didn’t have the gimmick of being shot over that many years – would it have been so critically acclaimed?

The reason I ask that question is that story-wise, not much happens.  We meet Mason at age 6.  He’s living with his older sister and mother, who already divorced his father.  Mason is a pretty regular kid, and he and his sister (Samantha) are dealing with the divorce pretty well.  Their father is bouncing around from place to place, stopping to see them when he can.  

Eventually, their mother starts taking courses at the local college, eventually graduating and marrying her professor.  The professor has two kids who are the same age as Mason and Samantha.  They seem to do well for a while, but the professor becomes a drunk, and gets abusive.  One day, he hits their mother, and she takes off, then comes back with a friend to get her kids – leaving his kids with him.  They move, she starts teaching, their father moves back into town so they see him more regularly.  Mason starts high school, makes friends, gets bullied (once), goes camping with his dad – who meets and marries a new lady (they then have a baby).  Samantha heads off to college, and their mother hooks up with a former soldier who was a student of hers (who also becomes a drunk and verbally abusive).  Mason gets into photography, gets a girlfriend, who eventually cheats on him with a college lacrosse player, and then graduates high school.  He goes to college – meets a new girl – and the movie ends.

Literally – it’s just this kid’s boyhood.  I had several issues – the first of which being that there were no hints as to when the timeline advanced.  You could sort of pick up when the kids changed a little, but a quick subtitle of the year would probably have helped because certain scenes end abruptly after a conversation, then another conversation begins and you realize it’s a year later (there’s a lot of conversations).  I was also really upset at the fact that the mother left her stepkids with that abusive drunk.  Samantha even says to her “are we ever going to see them again?”  And yes, she right in that she is not their legal guardian – but they never show up in the movie again.  And they’re really never mentioned again. The kids were close – and they are never mentioned again?  Maybe they were and I missed it.  Also – That dude was her teacher – so did she marry him after she graduated?  That wasn’t clear.  Then the next dude was her student – did she start a relationship with him after he graduated? 
Mason grows into a moody emo photographer kid – and we see one scene of him being bullied at high school – chances are that happened more, but it’s never mentioned again in the story.  He drinks a lot and does some drugs in high school – and at no point are there any repercussions for that (I’ve mentioned before the issues I have with just showing high school kids drinking and doing drugs with no repercussions – it bothers me).  Also – I get that’s it’s in Texas, but I had a huge problem with his grandparents giving him a gun for his birthday, then teaching he and his sister to shoot.  Yes, I get it – it’s Texas, and the rifle is a family heirloom, but surely that handgun they give his sister is not – and I don’t care what the reason is – handing kids guns makes me super uncomfortable.  Once Mason hooks up with his high school girlfriend, they get super close (how long were they dating?  1 month?  1 year?  No clue).  Then they suddenly are breaking up right before prom (but it may not have been all that suddenly).  Once he gets to college – he skips orientation and does more drugs with his new friends – and that’s where the movie ends.

If you took out the 12 year aspect – and just shot the movie over the course of a month using different actors to portray the kids at different ages, I’m not sure it would work.  There’s just not enough happening.  But – the people in the movie do a great job at the various conversations in the movie:
  • Ellar Coltrane does do a good job at Mason – but you can definitely see the difference once he becomes old enough to be more self-aware about his performance.  He’s a good actor – but man, the character got really whiny and annoying.  Not really his fault, I mean, his mom does hook up with a string of losers, and his dad sells the car he once promised to Mason.  I have to say they did get lucky, I mean, the kid could have (at any time over the course of 12 years) decided not to do it any more, had a weird accident, or just gotten really weird looking!  Also – bonus points for the fact that the blue pickup truck at the end is really his.

  • Patricia Arquette won every award this season as the mother, and again she did a good job, but I just kept getting annoyed with her character.  It was interesting to see her go from struggling to back-to-school to college professor. 

  • Lorelei Linklater (yes, the director’s daughter) plays Samantha – and has a lot less to do, because after all – it’s Mason’s story.  Again – it’s a good thing that she stuck with it over the years, and stayed relatively grounded.  I’m sure there was some point in her high school years where she pouted that she didn’t want to be in her dad’s pet project!

  • Ethan Hawke played the father – and I feel like his character did some very obvious changing from being a bit of a loser at the beginning to growing and maturing, re-marrying and having another child.  Hawke is good, and his performance is very believable.

That’s it, the core of the movie are these four characters, and the growth and changes in their relationships.  It’s well-crafted, and certainly well-acted, but I really found it boring.  And, I just expected something incredibly dramatic to happen, like other Oscar-movies.  No one died, do one was seriously injured in an accident, no one got a terrible disease – they just lived – for 12 years.  It certainly was an original idea, but I can’t say I was a fan of it.

5 out of 10.  Gained points for the idea, but then lost points for the aforementioned issues – what happened to those stepkids?  Was she dating that guy when he was her professor?  Was she dating that guy when he was her student?  Why will Mason not photograph the football game?  Why did you just hand that really moody high school kid a gun?  Why is the entire movie just conversations?  I know, I know – to showcase the acting and the story.  Well, fine. 

Bonus Video 1:  Before Sunrise – Before Sunset – and Before Midnight, all movies with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy by Linklater, shot 10ish years apart.  Here’s the trailer for the Before Sunset:

Bonus Video 2:  Cast Interviews:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Movie Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service (R – 129 minutes)

Finally, we have come to the first movie from 2015 that I loved.  

Not a huge surprise, I think Matthew Vaughn is a great director – able to mix over-the-top comic violence with a graphic-novel sense of visuals.  His movies really do look like live-action comics.  Previously, he served as a producer on the good Guy Ritchie movies (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch), as well as the best remake of the Longest Yard – The Mean Machine.  He directed Layer Cake, Stardust (still one of my favorites), X-Men First Class, and Kick Ass (which I hated, but it looked good).  And now Vaughn has directed the movie version of the 2012 comic by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

In the comic, an MI-6 agent trains his nephew while tackling a global terrorist and his henchman.  The movie, like the comic, starts with Mark Hamill being abducted, but unlike the comic – in the movie Mark Hamill plays someone else.  In the comic – he’s just Mark Hamill, yes, I know that’s a little confusing.  In any case, the environmental scientist gets kidnapped, is almost rescued by a British secret service agent, but is then recaptured by Richard Valentine – one of the richest and smartest men on the planet.  Valentine is collecting what he considers to be the ‘best and brightest’ before he puts into effect a plan to cull the population of the planet. 

Meanwhile, Eggsy, a young hooligan in London, is struggling with life as he has dropped out of the marines and his mother is dating an abusive moron.  He gets arrested, and calls the number on the back of the medal he was given as a child by the man who came to tell him and his mother that his father just died serving the country.  Harry Hart comes to bail him out, and tells him about the Kingsmen, a secret service of agents with code names from King Arthur’s knights of the round table (he’s Galahad, Merlin works at the base, etc.).  Since they have just lost Lancelot on the Valentine mission – Eggsy becomes Galahad’s submission to the new round of trainees to replace Lancelot.  He goes through a series of difficult tests (don’t worry – nothing happens to the dog, although it does get close).  Eventually, Valentine’s plan is revealed, and the Kingsmen have to save the day.
I don’t want to say too much else about the plot, because this movie is really good, and you should see it.  I only explain the entire plot when it’s a terrible movie that you should never see.  For example, my review of Mortdecai has the entire plot in it. 

The movie is really fast moving – really fun, and completely over-the-top.  The training sequences of Eggsy and the other recruits are cut between sequences of the other Kingsmen still on mission, so there is no lull in the action.  The fight scenes are amazing, fast, and almost video-game style.  Vaughn excels at this type of direction, and this is completely in his wheelhouse, making for the strongest possible product.  There are clear homages to old Bond movies, especially in the gadgets.  The gadgets are everywhere and they are awesome - especially the bulletproof umbrella.  The cast is exceptional:
  • Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, code name Galahad – and this is very much a Colin Firth movie.  He’s exceptional as the very tight-lipped and proper gentleman-spy.  When he does cut loose in a fight, he’s an incredible warrior – and much of it actually was Firth.  I have never really been much of a fan of his, and never really got the attraction a lot of women have for him – until this movie.  Which again, just goes to prove my Damon/Bourne theory:  men are much more attractive in action movies.

  • Mark Strong plays Merlin – and I did spend most of the movie waiting for him to turn, because of course, there’s no way Mark Strong can be a good guy.  So – slight spoiler alert here – he’s a good guy the whole way through.  I’m not sure about the accent he’s doing, it’s slightly Irish, which seemed unnecessary, but everything else was entertaining.  I still think he’d make an excellent Grand Admiral Thrawn.

  •  Taron Egerton plays Eggsy (or Gary).  This movie should really be quite a jumping off point for his career.  He’s grumpy and punk-ish in the beginning, but manages to layer that over a really frustrated young man who has the potential for so much more – making it easy to see why Galahad recruits him.  He also plays the transition to spy from thug with just the right amount of surprise, then comfort.  He’s great, and I can’t wait to see more of him.

  • Michael Caine plays Michael Caine as Arthur – the head of the Kingsmen organization.  He’s very proper and British and stuck in the way things have always been done.

  • Samuel L. Jackson chews all the scenery in the best possible way as Valentine.  He just Bond-bad-guy-s his way through it, and has a really good time.  It’s so much fun.  The added lisp is a bit crazy, but fits his crazy-villain mystique.  I particularly loved the stand-off between Valentine and Galahad in the tailor’s shop.

  • Sofia Boutella plays Gazelle – a character who in the comic was a man.   She’s a real-life dancer who does have both feet, but in the movie has no feet (how did Amy Purdy not get that job?).  Instead she has the running blades with optional retractable slicing blades.  It’s a hell of a henchman gimmick, and man, does it work great in this movie!  I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and how often do you get to say that anymore?  She’s mean, she’s nasty – and the fights with the feet-blades are incredible.

  • Sophie Cookson plays Roxy – another recruit going through the testing with Eggsy – since I haven’t mentioned any others, you can quickly interpret that she and Eggsy are the only two that make it through, not really a spoiler there.  She does a great job, and is believable as an aspiring spy.

  • And yes, Mark Hamill plays eco-scientist Dr. James Arnold, and was equally happy to be in both this and the comic.  He does a commendable British accent, because really – he’s amazing at voices and accents.  He doesn’t have a huge role, but he’s fun while he’s there.  Also – I got really excited for the scene that he and Sam Jackson were both in, two amazing Jedi Masters in one scene!  Yes – yes, I know, sometimes I cannot control my Star Wars geek-ness.

Listen, this movie is great, it’s fun, and you should definitely go see this rather than any other movie that was released on Valentine’s day (ahem, you know which piece of nonsense I’m referring to).  Smooth move by the filmmakers to have the villain named Valentine – and have him counting down to “V-Day!” – pretty hilarious!  It is rated R, and like all Vaughn’s movies, there is a great deal of violence and cursing – but most is done in an over-the-top comic style, and easy to deal with.  I guarantee you’ve never laughed so hard at multiple heads exploding!

9 out of 10 – it’s excellent.  Gained points for Jackson; for Hamill; for Mark Strong; for Gazelle’s nifty leg blades; for cutting the training sequences in with other action so you do not have one really long training sequence; for the surprising turn when Valentine confronts Galahad; for the eventual replacement of Lancelot; and for the exploding heads – seriously.  Lost points for putting the dogs in danger (but still – they were okay), and for the scene with the Scandinavian Princess at the very end – it went just a touch too far – and as you know, I’m all for pushing for better females roles in action movies.  Cookson and Boutella were both amazing, so having the Princess promise Eggsy anal sex if he saves the world was a little unnecessary.  I did love that Eggsy’s first instinct during the “drown the recruits test” was to try the door.  Very logical!

Bonus Video 1:  Mean Machine – I love this movie.

Bonus Video 2: Vaughn’s Stardust – I love this movie too.

Bonus Video 3:  Cast Interviews:

Monday, February 16, 2015

Movie Review: Seventh Son (PG13 – 102 minutes)

As you have read me say before…January/February is where you find some really strange movies that the studios have ‘dumped’.  They’re too busy pushing re-releases of Oscar flicks and prepping their summer blockbusters (movie ‘summer’ gets earlier and earlier every year, May 1st is Avengers 2 this year) to worry about releasing anything worth watching.  You can argue that you will get the odd rom-com on Valentine’s weekend, and lord knows this year you will have to suffer through the overwhelming marketing of the slice of terrible that is 50 Shades of Grey (that’s just my opinion – I tried reading the book, and had to stop halfway through when Grey repeatedly stalks and harasses the female lead, and she finds it charming.  He tracks her cell phone for crying out loud! – so no, I’m not going to see that movie.  Also – let’s not forget it started as a piece of Twilight fan-fiction – ick.  I digress…).  
Usually, the early months of the year are reserved for barely entertaining crap.  Now – sometimes I find this crap really great – I loved Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters!  But even with Ron Perlman, I did not care for Season of the Witch.  I bring both those up because they are similar in content, tone, and story to this movie.

Seventh Son features Jeff Bridges, doing the same accent he picked up for True Grit and apparently forgot to drop – since he used it in RIPD and again in this.  However, in this – he wraps that accent around an added tweak that makes it seem like he forgot to put in his dentures.  I could barely understand him in this movie.  In any case, Bridges plays John Gregory – which is confusing, because everyone in the movie calls him Gregory – so you assume that’s his name.  He’s bumming around a village with Jon Snow (Kit Harrington is not worried about type-casting, and continues to just play Jon Snow in everything), who is his apprentice, getting drunk and fighting demons, witches, ghouls, and other dark magic-y stuff.  A witch he locked away years ago, who is apparently the most powerful witch around, gets loose, possesses a girl, and kills Jon Snow when Gregory tries to fight her.  

This prompts Gregory to find another apprentice – which can only be a Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.  He finds Prince Caspian (yep – Prince Caspian from the Narnia movies), who is called Tom in this movie, and is plagued with visions – due to being a seventh son of a seventh son.  Gregory basically buys him from his father and his mother lets him go, knowing this day was coming.  She does give him the charm she wears around her neck.  He sets out for some big time demon/witch fight training.  Gregory does more drinking, and introduces Tom to his sidekick, Tusk, who is a troll? Or goblin? Or some combination of both?  Along the way, while Gregory is drinking, Tom meets a lovely woman named Alice, about to be burned at the stake for being a witch – because she is, in fact, a witch.  Well, Tom pays no attention to that, and promptly falls for her.  In the meantime, the super powerful witch, who is named Mother Malkin, sets off to rebuild her castle and re-recruit her allies – who all turn into fearsome CGI creatures.  As it turns out, the girl that Tom falls for is Malkin’s sister’s daughter and she’s been spying on Gregory for her mother, but her heart’s not really in it.  Eventually, it’s revealed that Tom’s mother was a good witch – and incidentally, this is revealed just as Malkin kills her, but – that stone that she gave to Tom is really powerful, and will help him bring her down.  She captures Gregory, and Tom and Tusk (although Tusk is not really all that helpful) set out to rescue him.  He saves Gregory, who promptly decides to retire, and Tom and Tusk set out to continue the work.

Listen, it’s not a terrible story – it could have been just fine.  So why did Hansel and Gretel work for me, but this one did not?  Easy – that one knew it was terrible, and everyone in it played up to that, and had a great time with all the nonsense.  This one seemed to be close to that, but it never fully committed to silly, which really would have benefitted it. 
The Director, Sergey Bodrov, has only Russian credits prior to this, and having never seen anything else by him, I’m not sure if this is typical of him, or something completely different.  The cast is impressive for a movie like this.
  • Jeff Bridges is an odd choice for Gregory.  I seriously cannot imagine why he decided to do it.  I also cannot tell if he’s having fun with the role, or if he made actual acting choices.  I bet he thinks he’s having fun, but I could have used a little more cutting loose, and for crying out loud – enough with the old-timey prospector accent.

  • Ben Barnes is very handsome, and does his best as Tom, but again – I could have used a little more cutting loose.  The one fun line, “I’m wishing I were a sixth son.” is funny – but we could have used a little more of that.  He’s certainly capable, and looks great in the costumes, but came off just a bit wooden for this type of nonsense.

  • Julianne Moore was pretty good as Mother Malkin, but again – just this side of too serious.  It was a great opportunity for her to really go at it, and chew all the scenery, but she seems just a bit too reserved.  Her costuming was really cool, and hey – she does get to turn into a dragon.

  • Alicia Vikander plays the turncoat Alice, and she’s plenty  capable too, but if Barnes is wooden, she’s a whole forest.  She really needed to have more fun with this.

  • Antje Traue plays Malkin’s sister Lizzie, and she also gets to turn into a really cool dragon – and she does get an awesome moment of turning against her sister to protect her daughter, leading to a cool CGI dragon fight.

  • Olivia Williams plays Tom’s mother, and plays it very much that she has a secret the whole time, so at no point are you surprised when she is revealed to be a witch.  She does get a very brief fight sequence to try to defend a town.

  • John DeSantis is the actor under the prosthetics as Tusk, and again – it’s never explained what he is or why he’s there.  Gregory is constantly insulting him, but then calling him ‘friend’ right after, so maybe he and Tusk go way back.

  • Djimon Hounsou plays Radu – who is basically Korath the pursuer, but with dragon-turning-into abilities.  He fights Gregory at the end, and surprise, loses.

  • Hey – BSG fans, Kandyse McClure is in this!  She plays Sarikin, who is one of Malkin’s allies, but gets no lines, and almost no scenes.  She does get to turn into a pretty badass CGI saber-tooth cat of some sort, but I could have used a little more of her.

  • The amazing Jason Scott Lee plays Urag – another of Malkin’s minions who manages to get caught by townspeople, even though he is transformed into a giant CGI bear at the time.  He’s pretty fantastic in this, and works his scene pretty well – and seems to have a better idea about what the tone should be than anybody else.  He’s definitely playing it big and over-the-top, and I wish everyone else was playing it at that level.

  • Zahf Paroo plays Virahadra, one of Malkin’s minions who doesn’t transform, but does have four arms, so is a pretty amazing swordsman. 

I think that’s one of the issues I had – all the minions were pretty great, and only Urag got his own scene.  I could have used more of them, because at least they were visually interesting.  The costumes were beautiful, and since the majority of the movie was shot in the forests outside Vancouver – it looks amazing.  The training sequence went really quickly, and at no point did we see that Tom was really learning anything.  The movie felt too long and too short at the same time.  Again – I really felt that if they had pushed more for the silly – it would have been way more entertaining.  It’s not terrible, but it’s not great.

6 out of 10, Gained points for the CGI monsters, the cool villains, and Julianne Moore’s costumes.  Lost points for Jeff Bridges.

Bonus Video 1:  The aforementioned Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Bonus Video 2:  The aforementioned Season of the Witch

Bonus Video 3:  Cast Interviews

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Movie Review: Birdman (R – 119 minutes)

Here we go – the first of the Best Picture nominees that I am seeing for the sake of seeing.  I saw Grand Budapest Hotel in the theater, and I loved it.  The rest of the list, I will be forcing myself through.  Of the list, Birdman was the one I was most looking forward to.  I have always enjoyed Michael Keaton, and always thought that he was better than people gave him credit for.  I had been warned that this movie was really surreal, and a bit wacky.

First off, let me just say that this is not a comedy.  It is an award-season “comedy”, which basically means a really heavy and bizarre drama with occasional funny scenes.  And in this case, very few funny scenes. 

Birdman follows the story of Riggan, an actor who once played the iconic superhero Birdman in three films more than 20 years ago.  In attempt to reclaim his career he is staging a Broadway play that he adapted from a book, he’s directing, he cast, and he’s funding.  He is also struggling to rebuild his relationship with his daughter who is freshly out of rehab, strengthen his relationship with his girlfriend, who he cast in the play and may or may not be pregnant – and maintain a friendly relationship with his ex-wife – all the while dealing with the voice in his head, belonging to Birdman, that gets louder and louder as the story progresses, pushing him to cave in to the public demand for more Birdman movies (that were all style, no substance).  The movie follows the couple of days leading up to the opening of his play, the two preview nights, and the opening night. 

As the pressure mounts, Riggan loses one of the actors in the play when a light “falls” on him (it may have been caused to fall by Riggan’s developing telekinesis – by the way, Riggan may or may not be developing telekinesis), and has to replace him with a difficult-to-work-with younger actor named Mike, played by difficult-to-work-with Ed Norton.  The first preview night goes terribly, as Mike gets drunk on stage and berates the audience.  The second preview night goes just as bad as Riggan gets locked out of the theater with no clothes and has to come back in the front door.  Riggan has a rough encounter with the locally famous broadway critic whose review will make or break his play – then has a mental breakdown, gives in to the Birdman voice in his head which just wants him to make more popular Birdman movies, and uses his telekinesis to fly around New York City.  Spoiler Alert - The opening night’s performance goes surprisingly well, leading to dramatic final move by Riggan that may or may not have been planned, resulting in him ending up in the hospital – which may or may not result in him flying around the city as his daughter watches.  The movie’s secondary title, “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”, is the title of the review that the aforementioned critic writes.
There you have it – crazy and insane, but actually quite watchable, with a whole lot of “may or may not”.  

As I said – certainly not a comedy, but it does have some funny parts.  I also loved director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s technique of making the movie look like it is all one single shot.  Most of the scenes are clearly one take, and one continuous shot and it really is powerful that way.  You feel like you are observing things in real time.  I liked the choice to have Riggan hearing Birdman the whole time acting as his conscious – of perhaps acting as his ego.  The score, which is almost entirely drumming, is a little distracting, but does work with the tone of the movie.  I did learn that apparently it was disqualified from running for the Best Score Oscar, but I’m not sure why – too much drumming?  I will go with that – too much drumming.  The flying scene looks great, the Birdman suit is fun, the story is interesting, and while not especially entertaining, it was watchable and the reason is the fantastic cast:
  • Michael Keaton has always been good – but never as good as he is here.  The Birdman voice in Riggan’s head is somewhere between Burton Batman voice and BeetleJuice voice, but that is certainly not an issue.  Keaton plays slowly unraveling in an amazing way – his tense relationship with Norton is fantastic, and the slowly increasing relationship with Stone’s character is great.

  • Emma Stone plays Sam – Riggan’s daughter, and for some reason, her eyes look crazy big in this movie.  Sam is just barely hanging on, and Stone portrays her as disinterested, but interesting.

  • Zach Galifianakis was a small surprise to me as Jake, Riggan’s lawyer/best friend.  His performance is genuine and straightforward and is devoted to Riggan and helping him make the play a success.

  • Naomi Watts plays Lesley, one of the other actors in the play.  She is the one who brings in Mike, because they are ‘together’.  She is really excited about the opportunity to be on broadway, but aside from that, doesn’t have much to do.  I did enjoy the scene where she talks about how creepy Sam is, without realizing she was in the room.

  • I did spend a great deal of time trying to figure out where I had seen Andrea Riseborough before, until I realized she was Victoria in Oblivion.  Here, she plays Laura, the fourth actor in the play, and Riggan’s girlfriend.  She has less to do than Watts – and there is one extremely random scene where the two are consoling each other and suddenly end up making out – which makes no sense.

  • Edward Norton is the fourth actor in the play, Mike.  He’s creepy, difficult, and exceptionally off-putting, which is the point.  He does sexually assault Lesley just before they are going on stage, which is really disgusting, and then steals a story Riggan tells him when he gives an interview – which is also upsetting.  He’s just an all-around terrible person, and then Sam hooks up with him, and I couldn’t tell if we – the audience – was supposed to be in favor of that or against that. 

  • Amy Ryan plays Sylvia, Riggan’s ex, who shows up from time to time to keep him grounded, and Lindsay Duncan plays Tabitha, the broadway critic.

For those that care – the movie was shot in St. James Theatre on Broadway, and the single-shot work required most of the actors to perform up to 15 pages of dialogue at a time while hitting really precise marks because of the camera movements. It is interesting that Riggan has some similarities to Michael Keaton because of the Batman/Birdman connection, but Keaton has stated that he feels Riggan is the character least like himself that he had ever played.  Like I said – it’s certainly watchable, but not necessarily enjoyable.  Of the best picture nominees, so far it’s my second favorite (I have still only seen 2).

6 out of 10 – Gained points for the single shot camera pieces.  Lost points for Norton, I just cannot stand him.  Gained points for the Birdman suit.  Lost points for the random lesbian kiss, which made no sense.  Gained points for the guy reciting lines from MacBeth outside the theater.  Lost points for the end, because it just wasn’t a happy ending – but maybe it was close?  Gained points for Zach Galifianakis.
Bonus Video 1 – Mr. Mom – one of Michael Keaton’s very best.

Bonus Video 2 – The Dream Team – another of his best.

Bonus Video 3 – BeetleJuice, because – BeetleJuice.  "From the Director of Pee Wee's Big Adventure" Ha!  Who knew what he would go on to become!  

Bonus Video 4 – Cast Interviews: