Short Takes: Birdman, Nightcrawler & St. Vincent

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Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman is a stale, one-note show biz satire with an ambitious and occasionally dazzling formal design. Led by a manic performance by Michael Keaton as a washed-up super hero movie star attempting a comeback on the stage, Birdman weaves in and out of his Raymond Carver adaptation with a string of impressively executed tracking shots.

Birdman is more about executing and fusing those long takes than about saying anything exciting or fresh about theater or performance, though.  Iñárritu’s images are sleek but ultimately bland and empty, and the story about a middle-aged man reclaiming his glory is too.  Keaton’s performance as Riggan is the loudest, but I was moved more by Andrea Riseborough as his co-star and Lindsay Duncan as a bitter New York Times theater critic.  The two actresses have an irrepressible screen presence, and they quietly steal scenes from the self-parodying turns by Keaton and Edward Norton.  Grade: D+

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REVIEW: Somewhere

Somewhere
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Written by: Sofia Coppola (screenplay)
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Chris Pontius, and Michelle Monaghan

The Coppola pop cultural dynasty is an interesting and often overlooked member of the pop culture framework.  It has produced the immortal in Francis Ford Coppola, who directed masterpieces both well-known (The Godfather Trilogy, Apocalypse Now) and forgotten (The Conversation, Tetro).  Other members include Nicolas Cage, who changed his name to forge an identity away from the family name, and Sophia Coppola, who is the most interesting by far.

This Coppola is also a director, though she tried acting to universal disgust in The Godfather Part III.  Behind the camera, though, she is somewhat of a master.  Her latest, vaguely titled Somewhere, is the kind of film nobody really knows what to do with.  It stars nobody in particular and is about nothing in particular.  She is the only selling point because of the critical triumph of her 2003 feature Lost in Translation.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson (screenplay)
Starring: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller and Gwyneth Paltrow

The idea that movies can have a literary quality to them is something that a director like Wes Anderson often takes to heart.  His movies operate on many basic storytelling conventions- the dysfunctional family, the adolescent emerging the cocoon- but within them is an entire world of his own creation.

The Anderson Aesthetic is one where his art and his life-view merge; where the clothes of the characters often meticulously match their surroundings.  It’s a style of filmmaking that can be divisive, which also means that it’s a style that is always interesting.

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REVIEW: Get Low

Get Low
Directed by: Aaron Schneider
Written by: Chris Provenzano & C. Gaby Mitchell (screenplay)
Starring: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, and Lucas Black

Get Low, the feature directorial debut from Aaron Schneider, is a lot of things; visually enthralling, emotionally poignant, and terrifically acted are among them.  The hardest thing to figure out about it, though, is whether or not any of it is sincere.

Recluse Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) emerges from the woods after 40 years of near-solitude to plan his funeral.  Nothing too strange about that, until he announces to the planners (Bill Murray and Lucas Black) that he wishes to not only have it while he’s still alive, but sell tickets and have people tell stories about him.  Based partly on a folk tale and partly on writer ingenuity, Get Low traces Felix and his preposterous task and sees it all the way through the ceremony.

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Five movies to watch alone

To coincide with our “Five movies to watch with a group,” post from the summer, it’s time for the foil.  Here are movies that we think you’ll get a deeper understanding from if you kick out the guests and block out the rest of the world.  While the group movies offer visceral thrills and outlandish humor, these movies use a sometimes understated, subtle way of telling the story that can’t be appreciated with a loud group of people.

There Will Be Blood- We both named Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic the best movie of the 2000s, but we’ve never watched it together.  Something primal about Anderson’s direction and Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance (also topping our best male performances list) leaps off the screen and speaks right to you.  If you’re in a crowded room, you won’t hear it as well.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson (screenplay), Roald Dahl (book)
Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray

The world of awkward young males and disapproving father figures often associated with the world of Wes Anderson is polarizing.  You have those who absolutely despise his style and those who absolutely love it.  Typically I fall into the former.  For all his faults, though, he does have a style.  Had I seen Fantastic Mr. Fox before Mr. Anderson’s other features, I’d have wondered what he was getting at with all of the others.  This is his best, most assured, most mature work , and it’s a stop-motion animation adaptation of a children’s novel.

It becomes perfectly clear in this film that all of the characters in Anderson’s other movies really were just cartoon characters.  Now that they are in the literal sense, their absurdest actions look and feel right.  The stop-motion techniques of the animation greatly help flesh out the emotion and style.  The camera work is amateur in the best sense of the word, making this feel like chaos that came together at the last minute.

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