Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Movie Review: Birdman (2014)

"Birdman" (2014) stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up movie star made famous for playing a superhero called "Birdman."  Birdman lives on as a voice inside Riggan's head often being very critical of Riggan.   Birdman is most critical of Riggan's choice to produce a play he adapted on Broadway, which Riggan thinks will revive his career.  Complicating the situation are the other characters associated with the play: Riggan's producer/lawyer Jake (Zach Galifiankis), Riggan's fresh out of rehab daughter/assistant Samantha (Emma Stone), Riggan's actress girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough), first-time on Broadway actress Lesley (Naomi Watts), and a method actor Mike (Edward Norton).

A quirky, beautiful film with a cast that doesn't disappoint.  I really liked Keaton and Norton though it was nice to see Stone in a more edgy role.  I liked the theme of love vs fame/celebrity, which made the actual play that Riggan adapted really interesting.  I admit that this film, like a lot of Academy Award winners, probably isn't for everyone.  Some probably won't like the Birdman alter ego or voice, but I didn't mind it as I thought Birdman was Riggan's voice of his doubts.  If you can get past the Birdman, there is a lot to like here in terms of the characters, the acting, and just a beautiful film.

I say the Birdman has wings - A  

Monday, February 9, 2015

Movie Review: I, Origins (2014)

"I, Origins" is written, directed, and produced by Mike Cahill.  Graduate student Ian (Michael Pitt) is determined to discredit creationists by proving that the eye has evolved.  Ian's interest in eyes leads him to meet the mysterious Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisby).  Despite Sofi's much different belief system, the pair date and are ready to marry.  Ian's lab assistant Karen (Brit Marling) calls him after discovering a breakthrough, which upsets Sofi.  The wedding is delayed and an accident sends Ian on a path causing him to investigate scientifically as well as his closely-held beliefs.

There's a lot to like in this film.  The story haunted me for days, especially the line about the lead character searching to disprove faith with science but what if that science is challenged by faith.  There is a strong theme here about faith vs. science and in Ian the audience can see a man who is ruled by science yet feels a pull towards the unexplained by Sofi and circumstances out of his control.  The acting is good here too - I liked Pitt, Berges-Frisby, and Marling.  Look for a small role for Steven Yeun from "Walking Dead" fame.  What I didn't like here was some uneven writing and directing where the film starts as this opposites-attract love story then abruptly switches to suspense, science fiction thriller.  I wish the transition was a bit smoother.  Otherwise, this is an engaging and thought-provoking film.

Thought-provoking though a bit uneven - B

Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is a 2014 reboot of the cartoon/comic/movies of the 90's.  April O'Neil (Megan Fox) is a reporter with a nose for news but stuck making fluff pieces when she lands on the trail of some secret vigilantes who are protecting New York City from a clan of thieves.  April's persistence leads her to a startling discovery - a connection between her deceased father's lab and the vigilantes who are really teenage mutant ninja turtles.  Also stars Will Arnett and look for Whoopi Goldberg in a small part as April's boss.

Fans of the original series might enjoy this film for the nostalgia.  There are some fun moments and some action sequences but overall this film isn't much to recommend.  At some points even Megan Fox seemed a bit bored with it all.

This is okay but nothing to run out to see - C

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Movie Review: He's Way More Famous Than You (2013)

"He's Way More Famous Than You" is a quirky comedy written by and staring Halley Feiffer as herself.  Halley is a washed-up drunken mess of an actress years after her brush with fame in an indie movie.  After losing her boyfriend, Halley decides it's time to get her career back in gear and the way to do that is to get as famous as possible.  Halley's master plan involves making a short film about her newly broken relationship and including as many famous people in it and involved in it as possible (expect some cameos here like Ben Stiller, Michael Urie, Jessie Eisenberg, and more).

This isn't the typical comedy but there's some laughs here.  Halley really nails her part as the washed-up, drunken, fame-obsessed actress.  Her character is totally crude and not likeable one minute and then the next minute she's funny and worthy of my compassion.  In today's reality tv/fame-obsessed society this film isn't too far off the mark in terms of what some will do for fame and fame as a goal in of itself.

Quirky and sometime crude, this is a different comedy that's a bit more on point than some of us want to admit - solid B.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Movie Review: Better Living Through Chemistry (2014)

"Better Living Through Chemistry" follows a small-town pharmacist named Doug Varney (Sam Rockwell), who lives an uneventful life and is constantly over-ruled by his wife Kara (Michelle Monaghen) and her father (Ken Howard).  Doug's life changes dramatically one fateful night when he makes a delivery to the home of Elizabeth Roberts (Olivia Wilde), a bored trophy wife.  A whirlwind of sex, drugs, and possibly murder follows.  Jane Fonda narrates.

This film is more of the quirky comedy than a laugh-out-loud obvious type but it's enjoyable.  Rockwell, Monaghen, and Wilde are good here as well as Ray Liotta in a small role as Elizabeth's husband.  Decent script as there are some twists here and Fonda's narration is a plus. The story isn't really a new idea or a fresh telling but the film has charm thanks to the cast and some good moments that make it watchable.

Not anything new but good cast - B

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Movie Review: The Signal (2014)

"The Signal" follows a group of college kids traveling cross country who make a detour to confront a hacker, who has been taunting the two guys in the group.  The group pursues the hacker to a seemingly deserted house in the Nevada desert and finds much more than expected.  Laurence Fishburne co-stars.

I don't want to give away too much about the plot because it is a bit of a twist from the synopsis I read before watching the movie.  Billed as a "sci-fi mind-bender," this movie definitely is twisted.  Though I was surprised by some of the twists and figured out others, I really found the script lacking.  It just seemed like an over-reach in terms of the twists and the result was sometimes kind of silly.  I feel like with a more solid story this film could've been much more.  Rather, I was kind of shaking my head and ready to move on.

This one needed some re-writes: D+

Monday, April 14, 2014

Movie Review: The Book Thief (2013)

"The Book Thief" is a film-adaptation of a novel by the same name that focuses on young Lisel (Sophie Nelisse), and her adopted family (Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson) in Nazi-era Germany. Lisel learns to read and write, finding enjoyment in much books. She reads to the Jewish man, Max (Ben Schnetzer), the family hides in their home and even steals books from the mayor's home.

This film has a lot to like.  The story is good though it feels a little sanitized perhaps because we're seeing a lot of the story through Lisel's eyes.  It's PG-13 and probably appropriate for most.  There is a strong theme of showing and recognizing humanity even in the midst of Nazi Germany.  I also loved Lisel's love of books and the power of the written word.  The acting here is good by Rush, Watson, and Nelisse.  

Cute film with some strong themes - A-