Category Archives: Film Listings/Ratings

Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu – 2014) B+

It’s been more than a couple of weeks since I’ve seen Birdman. I wanted to let it sit and see how that ending …sits with me. The good news is that the film is very good. It’s such a refreshing entry in Iñárritu’s filmography. I just could not care less for anything after the great Amores Perros. This one is fresh on many levels. It is fun, it has an effective style that puts us right “there” it seems . You get to be a proverbial fly-on-the-wall during the days leading up to a Broadway opening of a play. That play is the last effort of a once famous super hero movie star played brilliantly by Michael Keaton who is trying to do something meaningful. The actors are all great here especially Edward Norton who almost steals every scene he is in. Even the sparse soundtrack (basically just drums) works very well. As for the ending, well, I am not crazy about it. It just could’ve ended 5 minutes earlier and the movie would’ve been better for it.

About Time (Richard Curtis – 2013) A

I loved this film, the characters, the style, the dialogue, every actor,..really everything about it. It’s a movie that has time travel but has very little interest in that aspect or its mechanics. Instead we get a sweet story that tackles love and human connection wrapped with the candy of “time travel”. What is most important to our lives? If we can go back in time and live any day we like, would we really choose to go and see the French revolution or the toppling of the Berlin wall? Or maybe just go back and be there again when our 5-year old comes back from his first day of school? Or maybe to that nice walk on the beach with a loved one? Like his Love Actually, Richard Curtis manages to make a film that I can ignore every flaw or plot hole it  might have and just watch it over and over.

Interstellar (Christopher Nolan – 2014) A-

A couple of months ago I went t NASA with a couple of cousins who were visiting from overseas. I was a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed the whole visit. I was awed by the last few decades of space travel and the shear human achievement of it all. It’s simply amazing that we have been to space and landed on the moon. I don’t think we give this as much thought as we should. It really is a testament to what humans can achieve at their best. Then a few days before seeing this film an unmanned ship lands on a moving asteroid! That’s brilliant stuff! Interstellar at its core has this idea, that space exploration and discovery is not just “nice” but is essential to the human race’s survival. I love it for that. It is a really spectacular piece of movie making with gorgeous set pieces that I am so glad I got to experience in  a movie theater.

Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey in yet another strong performance, is an ex NASA astronaut who is forced to leave his daughter and son behind on a mission to explore the viability of three separate “worlds” that are exposed via a wormhole close to Saturn. I don’t care much of the science is “accurate” or not. This is not a college course. I did like how it handled the idea of relativity. When Cooper and Brand (Ann Hathaway) are debating which planet they should explore, they have to seriously consider that an hour there is about 10 years on earth! Time is really of the essence. As they waste time on a planet people back on earth are aging and dying. One particularly heartbreaking scene is right after they get back from one of those planets and Cooper is going through years of messages from his family. 

Interstellar is spectacular as I mentioned and it has many flaws -mostly script and dialogue- but it is so worth seeing because it is done so well and when it is firing on all cylinders it really is great. It’s a film that we do not see much of anymore. I am curious to see how this one ages. Will I see it again in 10 years and admire still? I hope so.

 

Big Hero 6 (Don Hall, Chris Williams – 2014) C+

Typical decent animated movie. Looks good with a predictable plot. I like the mashup of San Francisco with Tokyo in the setting here…called fittingly San Fransokyo. It’s an origin story of sorts and features a really cool robot that looks unique and is quiet funny. All in all it makes for a fun time for the kiddos.

The World’s End (Edgar Wright – 2013) B+

It’s funny and charming in it’s own British way. I like that a lot. This one is the third in what is known as the Cornetto Trilogy and it’s a very good entry. The premise is that five high school buddies, now in their middle age, brought back together by the leader of the pack (Simon Pegg) to do what they failed to do on their last day of high school. They need to go on the 20-pub crawl in one night in their quaint hometown ending in the pub known as The World’s End. The comedy works and the film has many funny moments but it really is a bit more than that. The character played by Pegg, Gary King, is the only one who never changed out of the group. He still wears the same clothes, talks in the same manner and even drives the same car. He’s the guy who peaked in high school and never went anywhere in life. The idea that going back and finishing the pub crawl will fix everything is really his. It’s his way of “doing something”. Everyone is different by now though including their hometown and it’s residents.

This is a concept most of us are familiar with. We like to think that we can go back home and do what we used to do exactly the way we used to do it as if that mythical home town is stuck in some time warp and never changes. The World’s End takes that idea to the extreme and plunges our heroes into a literall war to save mankind all wrapped in a funny charming package.

Gone Girl (David Fincher – 2014) A

Gillian Flynn’s novel is packed full with plot twists, subplot, backstory, alternate points of view and a whole lot of subtext about relationships, our image and what we choose to portray, modern news cycles, shitty parents, fame, and awful people…whew. the film captures all that pretty much perfectly! At 2.5 hours a less competent director could’ve made a mess of things. Here we get the story of Amy Elliott Dunne and Nick Dunne told perfectly from the moment they meet at a New York City party and through the events that happen years later after they get married, have troubles and she is gone.

The movie is at face value a thriller, a procedural of sorts as we try to suss out what happened to Amy. Is Nick involved? Is he good guy or a bad guy? In reality there is much more going on here as I alluded to in my opening. The film (and the book actually) manages to capture our attention from the opening close-up shot of Amy’s head lying on a white pillow and Nick’s monologue:

“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head….cracking her skull open and unspooling her brain….”

It worked very well for me and I loved every minute of it. Sure, the book has more nuance and more balance between the him and her points of view but Fincher delivers beautifully shot scenes and perfect restraint in his movie. His choice for Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) is excellent as well. They play those roles so well that I could not see anyone else in their shoes, especially Pike. Even Tyler Perry is used to great effect here. This is a dark and morally ambiguous film with characters who are tough to like by and large. Still it is one of the best I’ve seen recently and would love to watch it again.

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen – 2013) A

What a horrific story. Obviously, slavery is a horrible enterprise but here we see it just how terrible it is framed with the true story of Solomon Northup. He was an educated free black man, a well-off violinist, a husband and father of two living in upstate New York. He gets abducted and sold as a slave in Georgia where his nightmare goes on for 12 years! It really is a horrible journey as we follow Solomon from one master who is “kind” to the next who can be described as a monster (although his wife might be even worse). We meet various slaves and see how they try to adapt and survive. Northup on the other hand faces various difficult choices and  tries to survive a day at a time. He is not a hero, he is not hatching plans to free his fellow slaves. He just wants to get home and his actions are at times not enviable.

McQueen does a brilliant job in telling this difficult story and builds well-rounded characters who we grow to hate, love or pity. The movie is tough to watch at times but it never felt exploitative or gratuitous. It is just bold and unflinching in its depictions of slavery and its impact on everyone. The movie has a lot of excellent performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon to Michael Fassbender as his sadistic master Epps and Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, Epps’ favorite and most unfortunate slave. It is not a movie I want to watch many times over but it is a great telling of this tragic story that I’m guessing almost no one knew about.