“Birdman”

If you appreciate magic realism,love acting and the cinema then “The  Birdman” is for you. Its subtitle, “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” sheds some light on every cliche you have ever known about actors and acting. Fresh and imaginative, the camera’s constant roll gives the viewer’s mind no time to rest or to breathe in a pretty frame. Surprises are everywhere,as are egos. The unmasking of an alter ego is one of my favorite jolts.

Michael Keaton is crazy good as the self-indulgent lead,but so is Ed Norton as the photographic- memory -logged genius. Emma Stone is memorable and archetypal as the now dutiful drug-rehabbed daughter–sassy-wise and risk- ready. Naomi Watts is  believable and fragile and dedicated to her profession.

Dark energy permeates and self-indulgent obsession pounds away. The drums are a tad too loud in the initial scenes and the soaring flights too long in the latter, but I was blown away at all there was to contemplate psychologically. Amid the tidy-whitey humor, I loved the toilet -paper- roll -hash -mark scene! Shakespeare’s “Sound & Fury” was given unique range.

“Birdman” is attributed to a Raymond Carver short story,known for its realism–yet, this film still smiles and spews a certain Latin joy of life that supercedes  the seven dealy sins constantly being portrayed. Dark,funny exasperating and celebratory all at once, I could easily enjoy this film again and again.

“Nightcrawler”

“Nightcrawler was a perfect creepy-crawling film to see on Halloween. Jake Gyllenhaal worms his way into your psyche as Lou Bloom. He walks like a man,talks like a man, but has no humanity. Lots of things are absent in Lou: no morals, no empathy, no ethics. Though, he does have a business plan with the vocabulary and the buzz words to push his grisly video ambulance chasing forward.

Gyllenhaal,33, and thirty-three pounds lighter, does some of his best work to date. We see an inner glow that is close to maniacal with utterly sharp cheek bones that would pierce a colleague who would dare to question his authority. This film is a satirical noir that mocks the entrepreneurial spirit and the language of start-ups. We are beyond the “cautionary tale” here and into the horror.

L.A. Looks hollow and ghastly,as does Rene Russo as the tawdry Nina. What won’t people do for a job?!  Riz Alymed,as Rick,the side-kick, is as haunting in his own way. I did not recognize Bill Paxton. He was so his character.  Age can give you this: One can lose oneself in a part because one is so sure of one’s real self. Jake,however, is the real star here. You will love his  rubber band hair snaps while fearing that there might be more of Jake’s Lou’s out there.

“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” and “My Old Lady”

For Marie,who asked that I continue with my film commentary, and for Shirley who likes to read my cinema thoughts,I can only write that the last two films I have seen have disappointed. They should have been better. The story lines were interesting & the actors for the most part held their own. Why then did “My Old Lady” and ” The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” keep me from timely expounding ?

Both films shared common themes: suicide & escapism . The tempo of ” Eleanor Rigby” was way slower than the Beatle Song it alludes to. Loneliness is what the viewer felt sitting in the theatre for fifteen minutes before the first interesting line was heard,and it was addressed to a pet goldfish as “Hello, Ralph”.

James McAvoy is crazy in love with Jessica Chastain. He warns her to be easy on his heart. He only has one. They chew red licorice sticks together;they have and lose a baby boy. They go back to their parents’ homes at thirty-three, and try to escape pain. Viola Davis, Wm. Hurt and Isabelle Huppert ( of “Lace Maker” fame) try to help or at best hollowly philosophize.All this is enervating and exasperating for the audience. My friend Mary remarked that Chastain’s forehead has not a wrinkle of grief. Jessica’s frozen forehead makes her look hollow and the dark eye shadow looks garish in trying to give her some depth of feeling. McAvoy is the star actor here. J.C. seems like two separate people pre and post baby. She ,per usual, asks too much work from her audiences.

Kevin Kline is the disappointment in “My Old Lady”. I normally love his personas,but he channeled Robin Williams so obviously that his manic alcoholic rages seemed like practice mimics. Maggie Smith & Kristin Scott Thomas were wonderful,but the rather moralistic tone left me cold. Neither film was in any way romantic except for the Parisian setting & the graveyard scene.I guess unloved children,or those who feel unloved only have hope for happiness when they find each other. Dual families & lots of withholding & lies do not a romantic comedy make.

“Rosewater”

I am used to being awakened with a call for a recipe,but this mid-morning I was asked why my movie review from last night was not yet posted. Whoa, that felt good! Jon Stewart’s “Rosewater” felt good ,too. The Western spirit of freedom has never been so ironically portrayed. A trapped and tortured young man is more free than his captors. Thematically,this is a gem. Movies are for the senses as well as the mind and the initial frames of rose petals being pressed are a delight. I thought immediately of Patrick Suskind’s 1986 novel “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” where scent and the ancient art of making exquisite fragrances turn macabre.

Tension is built but beautifully through the words of the celebrated modern Iranian poet,Ahmad Shamlou. As a master of championing liberty, he writes” ..he knocks on your door in the middle of the night/his mission is to break your lamp/we must hide our lights in dark closets.” This verse presages our Tehran -born -Canadian Newsweek reporter’s visit to his mother and background info on the past imprisonment of this sister and father.

The acting is fine and Gael Garcia Bernal & his new found friend Dimitri Leonidas are easy to identify with in their banter and coaxing. A great line about the power of the video is dropped and the frustrated eyes of the interrogator,Kim Bodnia, are discernible and universal as the mark of one who is not getting the outcome he wishes. Shohreh Aghdashloo has the eyes of a mother who has suffered and knows she can not protect her loved ones from their own suffering. The middle imprisonment is a tad draggy,but maybe that is intentional. 118 days,much in solitary confinement,is well— long.

I wish I had read Maziar Bahari ‘s memoir”They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival” before I saw the film. Stewart seems to presume we know more background than we do, or he is trying to drive home the fact that we are fated by our circumstances and only the humanities of art,dance ,and yes,humor can get us through.

The middle did drag, though I loved the touching- the -wall -dance scenes and Bernal’s sly smile on the return trip when a seat mate puts on his night mask to bury the light. “What a strange time it is”, Stewart seems to be repeating. No agonized solitude here . Viewers of this film will have no “smiles cut from their lips”or ” songs from their hearts.” This reviewer likes Jon Stewart even more in this first attempt at film making!

“Interstellar”

I am breaking the first rule of reviewers: Do not play cute with the movie title.
Sorry, but I can not help myself. There is nothing “stellar” about director Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi film “Interstellar”. While Matthew McConaughey is grand and Jessica Chastain & Anne Hathaway very good,the screenplay is a mess of unmeshed, weightless ideas. I wish I had been in concert with The Fifth Dimension for the three hours instead of holding my ears against the insanely loud blast -off sequence, the both too dark yet too light cinematography, and the agog pacing that ended up with the answer is “love”.

This film does have it all in terms of the mad scientist, the physic ghost, the symbolic reliance on the past while pushing toward the future. Here a second hand on a wristwatch captures astro-physical data using Morse code. Quite a feat!

John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” staging of Earth has the audience hear that we now “look to the dust of a dying Earth–and not at the stars and their possibilities”. The theme is we can no longer be underlings of our sun if we are to survive as a species. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s optimistic saw is turned into a directive,”When it is dark, men ‘need’ to see the stars”. A NASA Underground group,(underground since they are no longer government -funded) drafts Cooper ( McConaughey) to find the best of their outlier astronauts, who have been seeking new possible homes to save our species.

Moral dilemmas abound here. One introduces Matt Damon, who ludicrously does not even seem to acknowledge the woman who portends to love him. She ( Anne Hathaway) also seems to have forgotten the vibe in the quest of the greater good.

If you like abandoned children who finally reconcile, and worm-holes that open as if by divine promptings , and recitations of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into the night” to the point of sickness ,Nolan’s film is for you.

“Mockingjay” Part one

With all the tragedy in the U.S. & in the World, depictions of abuse of power deserve
endless screen time. War & revolution are intoxicating fare, and sadly rarely the endgame.
Suzanne Collins has created a young adult trilogy to describe the struggle for freedom & equal justice that pits districts against each other, while the Capitol bathes in luxury & privilege.

In the third adaptation of her “Hunger Games”, strong women continue to lead & fight for
freedom. “Mockingjay Pt.1 ” is cinematically dark. The screen seems to absorb every color of blue , gray and brown. Some frames are arrestingly beautiful monochromes. Jennifer Lawrence poses in front of many of these sets as Katniss,arch enemy of President Snow. ( Donald Sutherlin). She reminds me of Melissa Gilbert of “Little House On The Prairie” fame in her determination & moral strength. Katniss is much tougher for more brittle times. Juliette Moore, as Commander- -in-Chief,Alma Coin, shows tactician coolness and level -headed decisiveness. Women Power looks good.

The male actors all hold their own. Woody Harrelson is unusually intense as the alcoholic rebel-friend,and Philip Sidney Hoffman’s line “I’m optimistic” will make you shudder in its sad irony. Still having strong women lead the way out of injustice warms my heart.

The music is haunting as are the lyrics to an Appalachian – like song “strange things strangers do not see”. Refrain after refrain builds a kind of theme song for the revolution.The role of the media,electronic grids and symbol import,be it white roses or hyped -up arrows,are mixed with natural babbling brooks and wildlife , innocent enough to know no danger.

The mockingjay is not forgotten either. The juxtapositions are nostalgic. The manipulation of propaganda like “showing your face” to your comrades- in -arms is stressed . Katniss does this repeatedly, maybe too often, kind of like an adolescent’s mirror time! A few humorous lines cut through the war efforts. The dead Cinna’s & pin and uniform design were his artistic contributions. “Try doomed to live in jumpsuit land” was snarky and funny!
Support good sci-fi and see.

“The Homesman”

Tommy Lee Jones directs & stars in “The Homesman”. Besides disliking the title borrowed
directly from a novel of the same name, I would say that this film should be kept to the small screen. The action haltingly moves forward. The only cinematic offerings are a cool shot where three mad women cling to Mr. Briggs ( TLJ) in a rolling stream & a touching tribute to a perceptive main character Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) where she gives a literal thimbleful of water to a disturbed woman’s baby substitute, a rag doll.

What bothers me most about the film are the characterizations that seem like caricatures.
This film had me longing to re -teach Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” where the Nebraskan Territory kindled real people. The prairie fare of “The Homesman” is much more primitive : the screenplay poorly written. If you like reading the Dictionary of Mental Disturbances, you may like seeing live infants thrown in latrines,women mutilating & burning their skin,catatonic stares and asylum -like cat-moaning.

Cameo parts from Meryl Streep, James Spader and John Lithgow are almost distracting. Streep may have taken the part of a Methodist minister’s wife so that she could work beside her daughter, Grace Gummer. Gummer plays the youngest of three mad women claimed by the harshness of early prairie life. James Spader has another cameo that shows Capitalism at its worse and the ensuing revenge just as disheartening. John Lithgow’s talent is wasted on this poorly written script. And Hilary Swank’s surprise is more disappointing than enlightening.

This is a very depressing film that seems to underscore that flawed people never fully change, yet religious nods to compassionate care, baptism and communion are here. Sex is seen as “given” by loutish males who wish to sow their seed or to initiate the the virginal.Women being appreciated only for their beauty and their subservience is sad,too. “Too bossy & too plumb plain” are critiques that say more about the sayer than anyone else. Difficult water pumps, soundless piano crocheted mats, snoring lullabies, homemade cheese kept in pant pockets, and neglected proposals are all glum.

Some humor is seen. The calling of insane women “cuckoo clocks” is not as humorous as having the three crazies watch “love-making” under an animal skin that has been dislodged from a Native American’s burial wrap. Is this the fever that took Mary Bee?

Hilary Swank is good as Mary Bee Cuddy as “plain as an old tin pail”.Cuddy herself is maybe too good as she sees herself “living uncommonly alone”, and does ultimately ” hush herself up” along with the crazy women who miss their handsome parlors. Grave tending has been a Christian focus of Mary Bee’s, but though Mr. Briggs tries to emulate her beliefs, he lets her marker sail down stream.

Much of this two hour Western sailed downstream,too.