Sunday, November 23, 2014

Birdman (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Birdman

1. I admit I almost skipped this movie, because I couldn't figure out from the marketing what I was supposed to be going to see. So the biggest reason I went to see it is because of the director, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu. I've followed his career ever since Amores Perros.

2.  I'm very glad I took the chance with this movie. This is an acidic, melancholy comedy that takes on serious universal themes, while set almost entirely in a Broadway theater.

3. Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a has-been Hollywood actor who, in a kind of pathetic attempt to make himself relevant again, decides to create a Broadway show. As the show gets closer to opening night, his mental stability deteriorates, and everything starts coming unhinged. People around him are forced to face their own insecurities and fears.

4. The movie is very cleverly edited so that it seems like most of it is filmed in one long, continuous camera shot.

5. While the entire cast is great, this might be Michael Keaton's best performance ever. He plays Riggan with just the right mixture of exhaustion, hope, cynicism and defeat.

6. There is a dash of magical realism that pops up from time to time, which may confuse some audience members. And I'm still not sure what to do with the ending.

7.  One of the themes of the movie is coming to the realization that in the grand scheme of things, you don't matter very much, if at all. Even if you do achieve some fame in this world, it's temporary and pointless anyway.

8.  Another theme of the movie is the eternal battle about creativity. Specifically, it illustrates the way that the Hollywood movie culture and the New York theater culture resent each other for having differing ideas about art and importance and relevance.

9. This is a very quirky, dark-hearted comedy that takes stabs all kinds of people. celebrities, and situations. And it's exactly that sharpness, as it slices up the characters, that lets the audience see that inside, we're all pretty much the same.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Enemy (Canada, Spain, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Enemy

1. This is one of the only films in my life that actually gave me nightmares. And it's technically not even a horror movie.

2. It's about a neurotic, semi-depressed college professor, stuck in a routine life. When he sees a movie with an actor that looks just like him, he becomes obsessed with meeting his double.

3. From there the movie veers off into very surreal territory, and begins to fold over itself in unexpected and confusing ways.

4. Jake Gyllenhaal plays both the teacher and the actor. While they look identical, you can technically tell them apart because one of them wears a wedding ring. However, Gyllenhaal's two performances are so strong that he actually seems to be two actors. The two characters are so well delineated that you can tell just from Gyllenhall's body language and speech patterns which person he is.

5. There is a real, masterful sense of creeping dread and menace that builds relentlessly to the final scene.

6. Oh, and about that final scene. I don't care how good you are at predicting movies - you will not see this ending coming. And then either your soul will jump in frustrated horror, or you will start the movie over again. Or both.

7. There are a lot of really short scenes that last only a few seconds - or short segments of longer scenes - that provide some clues as to what's really going on. You won't realize their significance the first time you watch the movie.

8. The opening epigraph of the film is a quote from the novel on which the movie is based: "Chaos is order yet undefined". It not only sets the tone for the film, but provides the key for at least one of the film's possible meanings.

9. Part thriller, part allegory, part existential nightmare, this is perhaps the most brilliant and inscrutable movie of 2014.

Whiplash (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Whiplash

1. If I say this movie is about a kid who wants to be a famous drummer, it will probably make you think it's of those musical prodigy movies, about overcoming obstacles to achieve your dreams. But you would be wrong. This movie is actually more like a psychological battle in Thunderdome.

2. It's about a 19-year-old music conservatory student that named Andrew who desperately wants to become a member of a studio jazz orchestra conducted by the legendary and fearsome conductor Terence Fletcher. Fletcher sees some talent in Andrew, and gives him a shot as a drum alternate.

3. Once Andrew joins the band, however, he witnesses the cruel and demoralizing abuse that Fletcher hurls at his students when they don't do what he wants. Not wanting to lose his chance at greatness, Andrew practices to the limits of his endurance - and gets pushed to a breaking point.

4. Miles Teller plays Andrew and J.K. Simmons plays Fletcher. There are other people in the movie, but you hardly notice them. The performances of Teller and Simmons are fierce and mesmerizing - everybody else seems slightly out of focus

5. Jazz music plays almost constantly throughout the film. You don't have to like jazz to like the movie - but it helps.

6. The movie is refreshing in the way it illustrates the passion and sacrifice necessary to follow your dreams. It shows the emptiness of a culture where everybody is a winner. But it also makes you think about the line where you give up.

7. The movie is also about teaching, and how instructors push their students to achieve things they didn't think they could. But it also makes you think about the line where they push too hard.

8. "Whiplash" may seem like a weird title for a movie about student jazz musicians. But it's actually very fitting - the story slams your opinions and emotions around like a drumstick. By the end of the film, you may actually have psychological whiplash.

9. By setting an epic battle of wills in the normally stuffy reputation of a music conservatory, the movie turns a depiction of music lessons into a surprisingly intense and gripping character study.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Horns (USA, Canada, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Horns

1. The 2010 book on which the movie is based is an original surreal fantasy with commentary on topics such as psychology, love, and God. But this movie adaptation of the novel is one of the biggest disappointments of 2014.

2. Any story about a guy that turns into a demon after his girlfriend is raped and murdered needs to be handled delicately. And I think there needs to be a rule that if you don't understand a book, you can't make a movie about it. In which case, this movie would never have been made.

3. The screenplay is by the relatively unknown playwright and TV scriptwriter Keith Bunin. The movie was directed by Alexandre Aja, a horror director best known for "High Tension" and the 2006 remake of "The Hills Have Eyes". Oh, and, uh, "Piranha 3D".

4. Whatever subtlety exists in the novel was completely lost on Bunin and Aja. They changed a lot of the plot, and they misinterpreted key themes. In short, they turned this story into a silly mess. They simplified everything so much that the movie doesn't even really make sense.

5.  In order to keep the story moving forward, characters have to suddenly change motives with no justification, Random facts and events need to keep dropping into the script, usually for no apparent reason.

6. Daniel Radcliffe (who left Harry Potter behind a long time ago) stars as Ig Perrish, a guy that wakes up from a drunken bender to find horns growing out of his head. Any problems with the movie are not Radcliffe's fault. He does a great job, considering the terrible script he was handed.

7.  Most of the rest of the acting in the movie is not good. But again, that's not because they are bad actors, but because they were forced to turn a relatively sophisticated dark fantasy into a zany horror-comedy-romance-superhero-psycho-thriller.

8.  Some of the make-up and special effects were nicely done. Some were TV-movie quality.

9.  If you haven't read the novel, you might consider this to be a screwy supernatural comedy-drama that doesn't quite go where it needs to. But if you have read the book, you will know that the movie doesn't have a clue as to what it's supposed to be doing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (Britain, Germany, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Only Lovers Left Alive

1. This movie was written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. When you see Jarmusch's name on a film, you know right away that nothing will ever happen in it.

2. This movie is about two vampires that wander around, drive around, stare at things, talk, and do nothing. Random things slowly happen. And then the movie ends.

3. It's almost worth watching just to see the performances of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, the two ancient emo hipster vampires that are trying not to get bored with life. Or death, whatever.

4. Hiddleston plays Adam, a semi-suicidal musician who hates humans, so he lives in Detroit and releases music anonymously. Swinton plays Eve, who lives in Tangier, and finds joy in reading books and dancing. Together, they apparently knew every famous artistic person in Western history.

5. There is a weird little subplot about the Christopher Marlowe/William Shakespeare conspiracy.

6. There's also a weird recurring conversation about quantum theory, as well as Nikola Tesla. This just shows how embarrassingly little Jarmusch knows about science.

7. Visually, the movie is lush and sumptuous; it showcases the beauty of decay and the decay of beauty. Sonically, the movie is also luxuriously grungy. The soundtrack is a perfect match for the visual style.

8. Jarmusch almost seems to be making a point about humanity's self-destructive nature, or maybe the inevitable disintegration of everything. But Jarmusch fans don't need to worry; he stops himself from actually saying anything deep.

9. Jarmusch movies always have a tone that is more important than things like plot or character development. If you can get into that groove, then his movies are enjoyable. But you can't appreciate his vibe, then his movies swing from boring to annoying. This is possibly Jarmusch's best film - or his least annoying one, depending on your perspective.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Big Hero 6 (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Big Hero 6

1. This is the most pleasant surprise I've seen at the movies in 2014. From the cutesy trailer and the stupid title, it's like Disney doesn't want anybody to know what the movie really is.

2. It's about a 14-year-old genius named Hiro Hamada who lives in the city of San Fransokyo. He's out of high school, bored, and thinks college is for nerds. He spends his time in the city's battle robot underground. Hiro's older brother, Tadashi, is a robotics engineering student who has invented a new kind of robot named Baymax that specializes in health care.

3. After some bad things happen, Hiro reluctantly teams up with Baymax and Tadashi's friends to stop someone from stealing Hiro's own invention of swarming microbots. But that quest opens up bigger problems.

4. There are themes of death and loneliness in the film that aren't obvious from the way the movie is marketed. I was more emotionally invested in the movie than I expected to be.

5. The filmmakers consulted about six universities and robotics research labs for help on this movie. I'm pretty sure this is the only animated film I've ever seen that uses the term "tungsten carbide".

6. The character of Baymax was inspired by actual research in a new field called "soft robotics". And the swarming microbots in the film are also based on real research and inventions. Of course, the movie takes those ideas and then leaves reality behind.

7. The animation in this film is so incredibly detailed that some scenes look almost like real life. The 3D is also worth the extra price, if you like that sort of thing.

8.  The movie unabashedly promotes science, technology, engineering, and education. It makes the point that some problems are too tough to solve through brute force; sometimes you have to think your way to a solution.

9. If you are expecting an "aww, that's cute and funny" superhero movie, then you will be disappointed. Don't get me wrong, this is a fun movie for the family, but it's also a real movie with real issues, emotions, and problems. It's the most thoughtfully fun animated film I've seen in a long time.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Shivers [aka "They Came From Within"] (Canada, 1975)

Nine Things About the Movie Shivers [aka They Came From Within]

1. Made in 1975, this was David Cronenberg's first film. As one of the godfathers of the "body horror" film genre, this film shows his first attempt at the topic of the human body as a frightening, strange, and grotesque process of destruction.

2. It's a strange little movie about rich, bland people living in an exclusive apartment complex on an island. A crazy doctor wants to get people to stop acting so boring and rationally. So he puts a creature in a girl that is designed to make her want to have sex, and then reproduce and spread to others like an STD. The parasite spreads to people in the apartment complex, and they all start trying to have sex with other people - willingly or not.

3. Now that I think about it, I think this is the only movie I've ever seen about sex zombies.

4. On one hand, this movie is a pretty bad exploitation film. The acting is amateur, and the script is clunky. The concept is ludicrously impossible. It made me laugh a few times when it wasn't supposed to. The special effects are... not very special.

5. On the other hand, this is a surprisingly original idea, especially for 1975. If you can get past the story, and pay attention to what Cronenberg is actually trying to say, it packs a nice little punch. Cronenberg said that the movie should be viewed "from the point of view of the disease".

6. All sexual contact is treated the same in this movie. Straight or gay, through incest or pedophilia, it's all depicted as grotesque and threatening.

7. The movie was pretty controversial for its time. Mixing sex and violence and monsters was not something that the general public was ready for.

8. The movie is also worth seeing just for the groovy 1970's fashion and style.

9. While not Cronenberg's best film, it's still very valuable for its ideas and as a way to see the evolution of his style and topics in later films.

The Rover (Australia, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie The Rover

1. This bleak, beautiful, existential meditation proves once again that nobody does post-apocalyptic dystopias like the Australians.

2. At first glance, this seems to be like a Mad Max movie. But it definitely isn't. This is a more thoughtful and realistic vision of life after what they call "the collapse".

3. Guy Pearce stars as Eric, a mysterious guy that really only cares about his car. When it gets stolen, Eric goes on a quest to get it back.

4. Robert Pattinson (yes, Edward from "Twilight") stars as Rey, the wounded brother of one the car thieves. He's slow in the head, and very needy. He half-willingly joins up with Eric to track down the car and his brother.

5. This is one of those movies that really doesn't have any good guys. Everyone is desperate and trying just to survive.

6. Pattinson continues to leave his days as a sparkly vampire pedophile behind him. He gives one of the best acting performances I've seen all year. He is almost unrecognizable in his portrayal of the pathetic, simple man that can't quite put all the pieces together.

7.  This isn't really an action film, although it does have some action scenes.

8. There is a strong theme running through the movie about the meaninglessness of everything. People can do what they want, and it doesn't really matter to anybody except themselves.

9. This is not a feel-good movie. It's an absorbing, stylish drama about the human condition in extreme circumstances.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Nightcrawler (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Nightcrawler 

1. This darkly beautiful film is hard to categorize.

2. It's a character study of an... intense young man.

3. It's also a scathing critique of ratings-hungry news media.

4. And it's a midnight-black satire on the "fight to accomplish your dreams" concept.

5. Jake Gyllenhaal absolutely owns this film as Lou, an intense but aimless man who discovers he can make money by filming crime and accident scenes and then selling the footage to a news station. As the news station demands more graphic footage, Lou decides to step his game up, which leads to unpleasant consequences.

6. Some people are upset with the ending of the movie, but I thought it was well-played and consistent with the rest of the film.

7. The beauty (and terror) of Gyllenhaal's performance is that he never shows exactly what's going on inside Lou's head. Lou is a smooth, awkwardly friendly young man. But every now and then his mask slips, giving us a glimpse of what he's really like. And it's not friendly. Gyllenhaal rides this razor thin line brilliantly.

8.  The cinematography is gorgeous, showing nocturnal Los Angeles in a shiny darkness, reflecting the personality of Lou.

9.  From the unusual opening scene to the unconventional ending, "Nightcrawler" is dark drama with elements of a thriller and a crime film. This one will stay under your skin for awhile.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Interstellar (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Interstellar

  1. One of the best movies of 2014 (maybe THE best), this movie brings a sense of wonderment and awe that I haven’t felt in a long time.

  1. It was directed by Christopher Nolan, who most people know from “Inception” and “The Dark Knight” trilogy. But this movie is not like those.

  1. It’s best not to know too much about the film before you see it, but the main plot is set in the near future, when Earth is not able to sustain the human population anymore, and a desperate attempt is made to find another planet for humans to move to.

  1. The script took four years to write, because they wanted to make it as scientifically accurate as possible (it’s rare to see a movie that actually shows that nothing in space makes a sound). One of the writers studied physics and relativity while he was writing the script, so there is a lot of math and hard science in the film. This may make it kind of hard for some people to really appreciate what’s going on.  

  1. A key part of the film is a gigantic black hole. The way the black hole looks and works in the movie is based on real mathematics. Well-known physicist Kip Thorne gave pages of theoretical equations to the special effects people, who used powerful computers to solve them and make the black hole. It was so accurate that new things were learned about black holes just from making the film.

  1. The movie is three hours long, but doesn’t feel like it. There is a lot going on, and many themes are interwoven. It’s not just about science. Most brilliant is the way Nolan juxtaposes the survival of a single family with the survival of the human race. It’s a study of human nature on both the smallest scale and the biggest. The whole thing feels immediate and real.

  1. There are a lot of plot twists and story turns in the movie, so that it never gets boring or predictable.

  1. The movie gets really speculative and strange by the end, and I don’t think it really explains everything it wants to. But it sure looks cool.

  1. Besides a few moments of sentimentality, and a weird climax that stretches believability to the breaking point, this is a smart, engrossing, beautiful, sophisticated science-fiction film that is just as thought-provoking as it is adventurous.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

ABC's of Death 2 (2014)

Nine Things About the Movie “ABC’s of Death 2” (2014)

  1. This is the sequel to the almost instant cult classic “ABC’s of Death” in 2013..

  1. But it’s not really a sequel, it’s a continuation. Using the exact same setup as the first film, 26 directors from around the world were given a letter of the alphabet. They picked a word starting with that letter, and then made a short film about that word that incorporates death. They were given complete artistic freedom to make whatever they wanted.

  1. Like the first one, this movie presents a wide variety of topics, settings and techniques. We go from Europe to Israel to Africa to secluded beaches in the middle of nowhere. Since the films last about 4 minutes each, if you don’t like one, just wait.

  1. On the whole, the films are more solid than the first one, and the quality is more consistent. There aren’t as many dumb films in this installment. Then again, there aren’t as many jaw-dropping, confrontational WTF moments, either.

  1. Some of the films are jokes, some are serious. Some are just plain strange. Like the first film, there is kind of a meta-game in the movie: you can try to guess what the word the director picked.

  1. I'm pretty sure there was only one giant penis in this movie. There was a large penis on the end of a tentacle in the film about torture porn, but I don't think it counts as 'giant'.

  1. There were a lot of head wounds and decapitations in this movie.

  1. There are a few that make some strong social statements about society, religion, and culture. Oh, and the award for weirdest movie goes to Japan. Again. Of course.

  1. Like the first film this is a rapid-fire, global investigation of the ways people encounter their ends. There are some definite minor masterpieces here. It is a worthy successor to the first, and is worth watching for those that have... adventurous tastes.

Warning: the trailer is NSFW

John Wick (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie "John Wick" (USA, 2014)

1. This is probably the best action movie of 2014. It's certainly the movie with the highest body count of 2014.

2. It's directed by two guys who, before they made this movie together, were mostly stunt coordinators and stunt doubles for people like Brad Pitt, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Keanu Reeves.

3. Speaking of Keanu Reeves, he's great in this. You see, there is a very specific type of movie in which Keanu excels - action flicks where he moves around a lot and hardly talks. This had to be his dream role.

4. Reeves plays John Wick, a depressed nobody dealing with the loss of his wife. When a few things go wrong, we find out that John isn't exactly a nobody. In fact, he has quite a reputation as an assassin for the Russian mafia.

5. What's fascinating about this film is that this is no street-level gang war stuff. These are all super rich, civilized professionals that move in their own exclusive circles. There are codes to be honored, and rules to be followed.

6. There are some truly great action sequences in the movie. These scenes were clearly inspired by John Woo's Chinese gun-fu classics like "The Killer" and "Hard Boiled".

7. The movie has a sleazy, industrial rock soundtrack which is a great counterpoint to the opulent, cultured environment that the characters live in.

8. Of course, being firmly in the action genre, it also follows those conventions, like bad guys that line up to take on the good guy one by one. And villains that like to tie the good guy up in a chair and give a speech, instead of just killing him. But people do run out of bullets sometimes, so that's a refreshing change.

9. The movie has a wry sense of humor, letting us know that it knows what it is. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and doesn't try to be anything other than a revenge flick that kicks ass. If that's what you're looking for, then you just found it.