review//BIRDMAN

Grade: A-

BIRDMAN
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan

This year has already contained a full helping of innovative and unique filmmaking. Inarritu's Birdman is quite the feat. His star, Michael Keaton, is perfectly crafted for this rebirthing of a role and the story, a dark and dramatic comedy, is intriguing enough to keep us watching. But, neither of those pieces are strong enough to stand on there own. What Birdman lacks in the form of brilliance, it makes up for as a display of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's remarkable talents.

Keaton stars as Riggan, a washed up has-been actor whose career peaked after starring in a handful of hugely popular superhero flicks as Birdman. As he's gotten older, and after passing on a fourth sequel to the Birdman franchise, he's struggling with staying relevant. He chalks it up to his drive to leave a legacy, especially for his daughter Sam (a biting turn towards the dramatic for Emma Stone). This ambition leads him to trying to put up a play on Broadway. He is the director and star. But, it's hard to separate blockbuster actor from respected artist. Zach Galifianakis shows up as Riggan's best friend and compatriot through the playmaking process. Naomi Watts is the star-hungry actress whose own insecurities get the best of her. Edward Norton enters as the egotistical douche actor who, in essence, saves the play. And, the interactions between these people lay the groundwork for Riggan's fight or flight survival.

The whole film takes place in the span of a couple of days. When thinking back on the story, a lot goes on in that short span of time. But, it's understandable, assuming Riggan's emotional state has been on the brink for a while. When we first meet him he is meditating, in his underwear, while floating in midair. There are quite a few of these metaphysical moments that occur throughout that are left to the viewer to make sense of. It's an allegory that can be discussed over and over. Riggan also wrestles the muffled, tough-guy sound of his Birdman character's voice invading his thoughts while he's at his lowest. The voice serves as a loud, abrasive conscience motivating him to do what he's always done and just give up on these people and this project and focus on what makes him happy. This, too, is a throwback to the life he must've led before we met him.

His relationships are key, even if he doesn't realize that at first. He isn't close to his daughter, which could be the reason she gravitated towards drugs and the "wrong crowd." His ex-wife (Amy Ryan) is fully supportive of him, but also weary of the man he's become. His new lover Laura, an actress in the play (played to Hollywood ingĂ©nue perfection by Andrea Roseborough), is struggling to find her own dignity through him. He's relied upon by many, but forgets how to handle that.

While wrestling with what is reality and what is fantasy, Riggan, in essence, earns some relevance. It's not in the form he wants, but what exactly is it that he wants? He doesn't seem too sure of how to fix his problems. The film's full title is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). It's a pinpoint on the realm of Riggan and his abundant lack of regard for self or others. He feels like the victim when he's not quite there.

The story has so many facets that are left unopened that repeat viewings may be necessary. Inarritu is clever at laying the foundation of a story so thick that you have nothing to do but talk about one of his films after you've seen it. Unfortunately, this piece isn't quite as moving or gripping as his other films. Babel is a great example of a layered tale rich with pieces of a puzzle that are more alarming the more you watch. The difference here is Inarritu's choice of how we see and experience the film. Lubezki's camerawork is front and center. The entire film is, in essence, one long take. This talking point saw similar discussions as last year's opening shot from Gravity. Birdman is on a masterpiece level during the majority of the film, as far as how everything looks, but there is a point when less would have been more. It's impressive filmmaking, don't get me wrong. I think that it may have become too important that the story happened to suffer just a bit because of it.

The film takes aim at pop culture and the seemingly lack in the art of performance in today's society. There's an interesting moment between Riggan and Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan), a highly-respected theater critic who's planning on killing his play. He has quite mouthful of thoughts on the idea of criticism and how it hurts the art world, especially for artists like him. Her rebuttal is equally as poignant. At the end of it all, art is for the viewer just as much as it for the artist. Sometimes those two views collide beautifully and sometimes the meaning gets lost in the work. Inarritu's Birdman fluctuates too much around that middle to live up to the masterpiece I was expecting.

Rating: R
Runtime: 119 minutes

news//'OUIJA' SCARES UP THE NUMBER ONE SPOT OF A QUIET WEEKEND

BOX OFFICE



It was a quiet weekend at the box office when compared to previous weekends. With only two wide releases to tout, studios were hoping for heavy returns to previous weekend winners like Fury and Gone Girl. Newcomers Ouija and John Wick may have come out on top, but neither opened to numbers seen in previous weeks. This weekend is typically a big fall festival weekend around the country and, with great weather in most of the states, there was even more of a reason to stay outside. 

Scary flick Ouija was the victor with a $20 million opening. It was a great number based on the small budget (studio estimates put production at around $5 million) and no-name cast. The film follows a group of young people who open the spirit world after playing with a Ouija board. Following the low-budget scary movie path and the movies-based-on-board-games path, Ouija could be written off as a surprise winner.

Even more of a surprise was the $14 million brought by the Keanu Reeves actioner John Wick. Reeves has a poor track record as of late. Just look at last year's 47 Ronin for proof. Going into the weekend, however, John Wick received mostly positive reviews across the board. The praise definitely helped drive more of an audience. The film could see a nice return by the end of its run.

In holdovers from previous weeks, Fury didn't hold up as much as people thought it would. The Brad Pitt starrer fell 45% in its second week. Gone Girl will become director David Fincher's highest-grossing film sometime this week, having reached $124 million over the weekend.

St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy, jumped from 68 screens to over 2,000. The comedy brought in just over $8 million and is receiving some Oscar buzz, especially for Murray.

At the smaller level, documentary Citizenfour earned $125,172 from five theaters. Birdman, starring Michael Keaton, expanded to 50 theaters, bringing in $1.5 million. That number barely beat Dear White People. The social commentary comedy earned $1.3 million.

Here's a look at the Top Ten:

1. Ouija, $20 million (NEW)

2. John Wick, $14 million (NEW)

3. Fury, $13.5 million (Total: $46.5m)

4. Gone Girl, $11 million (Total: $124m)

5. The Book of Life, $9 million (Total: $29m)

6. St. Vincent, $8.2 million (Total: $9.3m)

7. Alexander...Very Bad Day, $7.1 million (Total: $45.6m)

8. The Best of Me, $4.8 million (Total: $17.7m)

9. The Judge, $4.2 million (Total: $34m)

10. Dracula Untold, $4.2 million (Total: $48m)


nominees//2014 GOTHAM AWARDS

AWARDS COVERAGE



Traditionally the first award nominations announced each year, the Gotham Independent Film Awards celebrate independent film and directors. As independent film has grown in popularity in the last decade or so, several nominees end up joining the list of potential Oscar nominees, such as last year's 12 Years a Slave.

Leading the nominees is Richard Linklater's Boyhood, with four nominations. A special jury prize has been announced for the stars of Foxcatcher: Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo. Special tributes will be given to actress Tilda Swinton, director Bennett Miller, and Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

The awards will be handed out December 1 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York.

Here's a complete look at the nominees.

BEST FEATURE
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Love Is Strange
Under the Skin

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Actress
CITIZENFOUR
Life Itself
Manakamana
Point and Shoot

BINGHAM RAY BREAKTHROUGH DIRECTOR AWARD
Ana Lily Amirpour, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
James Ward Byrkit, Coherence
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
Eliza Hittman, It Felt Like Love
Justin Simien, Dear White People

BEST ACTOR
Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year
Michael Keaton, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Miles Teller, Whiplash

BEST ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Beyond the Lights
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin
Mia Wasikowska, Tracks

BREAKTHROUGH ACTOR
Riz Ahmed, Nightcrawler
Macon Blair, Blue Ruin
Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood
Joey King, Wish I Was Here
Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
Tessa Thompson, Dear White People

 

review//FURY

Grade: A+

FURY
Directed by David Ayer
Starring Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal

Movies set in WWII are a dime a dozen when looking at the war genre. It's a time that has become romanticized in every aspect of the word. American troops are gleamingly the heroes and concentration camps are the one constant that will have everyone choking back tears. As far as movies go, films set in WWII are possibly the most overdone, but welcome, of any other type of movie. There's something inspiring, emotionally, about seeing what the world went through together, even in the most direct or exact moment. David Ayer's Fury is one of those stories. Minute in its scope compared to the rest of the war, but spectacular in its visage of heroism and sacrifice.

Pitt stars as Don 'Wardaddy' Collier, a sort of antihero, at first. He's a rough and tough army sergeant bent on taking out any and every enemy he finds in Nazi-controlled Germany. He leads a ragtag crew of soldiers armed with the same mission. There's Boyd 'Bible' Swan, a charming Christian who reads last rites to dying enemy soldiers and tries to be an inspiring voice, played with fervor by Shia LaBeouf. Trini 'Gordo' Garcia, played by Michael Pena, is a Mexican-American always up for a good time. And, Grady 'Coon-Ass' Travis is an irreverent, white-blooded American who isn't afraid to push the buttons, played by Jon Bernthal. War has jaded their minds and nothing seems bad enough to make them falter. The team has been together for four years and you can tell by the way the respect each other and know each other's ticks. When a rookie army clerk is assigned to the frontlines and placed in their tank crew, the fight for survival becomes a little shaky. Logan Lerman becomes the star as Norman Ellis, a bewildered soldier whose fresh mind is quickly put to the test. Riding around in a tank called Fury, the crew develops a certain ability to masterfully take on any battlefield in which they are placed. When they find themselves at a crossroads alone with hundreds of enemy soldiers approaching, the ultimate sacrifice begins.

First and foremost, this is a war movie. There is plenty of violence and gory sights that'll make you squirm in your seat, very similar to Saving Private Ryan's opening beach scene. Director Ayer has a knack for creating interesting and realistic worlds in each of features, no matter how gritty they might be. The Germany we're introduced to here is very believable and the terrifying WWII images are subtle, but haunting. It's a vision of Nazi Germany we're familiar with, but a version we've not quite endured before.

Pitt is at the helm of the ensemble cast, who works wonders with the great script, also written by Ayer. While, at first, it may feel like a new rendition of Pitt's role in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, it is in fact a more sincere turn that the scalp-hungry Nazi fighter we've already seen. His Wardaddy can still be mean, though. A scene where he forces Ellis to shoot an enemy solider at close range is all things startling and intense. Lerman, as the inexperienced Ellis, quickly reminds why he's one of Hollywood's best young talents. He portrays Ellis with a brutal honesty that makes the final chapter all the more emotional. LaBeouf is the other standout. He's almost unrecognizable with his bushy mustache and focused accent. His personal life may have overshadowed his talents in recent years, but there's no denying the guy is hugely brilliant when given a meaty role like Bible. Like Lerman, the final act is his true moment to shine. Trust me, he's incredible.

The film works on every level. The effects are great. I especially liked the Stars Wars-like green and red chasers following the bullets. It was a nice touch that could've been distracting, but wasn't at all. There was so much meat in the script and the flow was just right that the entire two hours felt like nothing.

The final act, which I won't say too much more about, is so cleverly done that it is a great example of how giving a good director this type of material means you'll get the best version it can be. I could easily see a run-of-the-mill director take this film into ultra-action movie mode. It wouldn't work. Sure, it'd be exciting to see all of those explosions. But, what holds Fury together is its heart.

Rating: R
Runtime: 134 minutes
 

history//PLAZA THEATRE, ATLANTA

HISTORY AT THE MOVIES



From the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, let's travel across the country to the southern capital city of Atlanta and the historical Plaza Theatre.

Situated on Ponce de Leon Avenue among the famous Druid Hills, Virginia Highlands, and Poncey-Highlands neighborhoods, the Plaza Theatre was designed by George Harwell Bond as an art deco styled building for both cinematic and live entertainment shows. Opening in 1939, the Plaza Theatre was part of a new Atlanta being showcased around the world with the release of high profile films like Gone with the Wind.

While the theatres located further downtown received things such as the premiere of Gone with the Wind and a better selection of first-run shows, the Plaza Theatre quickly became the hub for a busy area of town, boasting 1,000 seats, a lot for that era. Plus, it was not only located in a central travel location, but was an anchor to the Briarcliff Plaza shopping center, the first-of-its-kind shopping center in Atlanta featuring off-street parking.

The theatre celebrated its grand opening on December 23, 1939 with screenings of The Women, starring Joan Crawford. For the next almost-30 years the Plaza would be the destination for many Hollywood films like Around the World in 80 Days, as well as unique live events, such as musical cabarets.

But, by the free-spirited 1970's, the Plaza became a different type of theatre, promoting screenings of adult films like Teeny Buns and showcasing live burlesque shows with large XXX letters on the neon marquee. It wasn't until a decade later that the entire shopping center received a facelift after George Lefont purchased the theater. He completely renovated the space. The second floor became a second screening room and the entire theatre became known for its eclectic show schedule, featuring foreign films, art-house movies, and independent features.

The theatre struggled throughout the next two decades until it was purchased by Jonathan and Gayle Rej, Atlanta natives, in 2006. They created the Plaza Theatre Foundation in 2010 to help with the theatres restoration and preservation. Briarcliff Plaza saw a similar restoration with Urban Outfitters now occupying the other anchor position and allotting itself as a popular destination in the midtown Atlanta area.

Still running today, the Plaza Theatre holds the title of the longest continually running theatre in Atlanta. Beyond screening new and old fare, the theatre is home to several special events, like Atlanta's own version of the traditional Friday at midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, complete with live performances as the movie plays, encouraging audience participation.

The theatre screens new and classic films on a regular basis, hosts special live events in conjunction with special screenings of films, and is home to the Atlanta Film Festival, the only Oscar-qualifying film festival in the city. For its 70th anniversary in 2009, the theatre hosted screenings of The Wizard of Oz and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, both films released in 1939. Turner Classic Movies' Robert Osborn officiated the event.

The theatre was purchased by Michael Furlinger in 2013. As a theatre enthusiast, Furlinger has continued the Plaza Theatre Foundation's efforts to keep the Plaza going by financing another renovation, as well as adding a full-service bar featuring signature cocktails.

The Plaza offers a unique and special movie experience. It's a piece of cinema history still available to experience today. For an even better experience, grab a bite to eat at the historical Majestic Diner next door, an eatery that opened in 1929 still serving delicious diner food.