Film Review: Birdman

Birdman

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is an immensely satisfying black comedy which is skilfully crafted and finely executed.

Riggan, who hit the big time playing film superhero Birdman, is trying to make a comeback on Broadway. Directing and starring in a new play, Riggan must contend with family, co-actors, and his superhero past…

Director and co-writer Alejandro González Iñárritu has created a marvellous piece of cinema with Birdman. González Iñárritu controls the action with precision, but makes everything look endlessly natural and unrehearsed.

Birdman marries its different themes well. The film works on different layers; as a meta comedy, as surreal gameplay, and as tragic drama. Birdman is well paced, unfolding in a manner that is both engaging and unpredictable.

Comedy in González Iñárritu’s film is tight. There are lots of amusing asides to real actors and indeed the actors playing in the film. Part of the amusement arises from the film playing absurd situations straight; the comic effect here is most successful. Drama in the film works well also, thanks to the strength of performances. The script at times has an almost old-fashioned, rapid-fire quality to it, which is very welcome.

Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is a marvel. Lubezki captures both the claustrophobic freneticism of backstage, and the wonderfully abstract visuals of the more surreal sequences. The lack of obvious editing gives the film an energetic feel.

In this film about a former superhero star making a comeback, Michael Keaton is fantastic. The protagonist delivers a tour de force performance, serving as a timely reminder of what a great performer Keaton is. Acting is faultless across the board, with Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis delivering strong performances.

Birdman has hitherto received significant critical attention for good reason. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film is essential viewing. 

Stuff To Look At

This week, a look at the most eagerly-anticpated movies coming out in the next few months or next year, including Avengers: Age of Ultron, Birdman, and Into The Woods

Avengers: Age of Ultron

The week’s most talked about trailer sees a first look at the highly-anticpated Avengers: Age of Ultron. From this initial footage, the film appears less humorous than its wildly successful predecessor Avengers Assemble. We will find out whether this is the case or not when Avengers: Age of Ultron is released in April 2015.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Here is one of the new TV spots for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Things are heating up in the franchise, with Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss fights to save a nation and her friends. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 will hit the big screen on 20th November 2014.

Birdman

I cannot wait for this one. Black comedy Birdman features a stellar cast, headed by the wonderful Michael Keaton starring as a washed-up Hollywood actor who once played a superhero. Birdman, which is receiving an abundance of praise so far, is released in UK cinemas on 2nd January 2014.

The Drop

The Drop features the final performance from the late James Gandolfini. It also features Tom Hardy and a puppy, as illustrated above. No word on how integral a role the adorable puppy plays in the rest of the film. The Drop will be released in cinemas on 14th November 2014.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit 3 poster

What’s happened to Gandalf?! Here is one of the latest images from the upcoming The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. The final part of The Hobbit series, I am really hoping the film features Gollum. Everything needs more Gollum. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies will open on 12th December 2014.

Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice features an amazing cast and a fantastic trailer. Adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s novel, the film’s cast includes Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and Owen Wilson. Inherent Vice is set for release on 30th January 2015.

Interstellar

The more I see of Interstellar, the more interesting it looks. Christopher Nolan directs Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway in his stab at space exploration. Interstellar lands in cinemas on 7th November 2014.

Into The WoodsINTO THE WOODS image

Disney and fairy tales are like… two things that go very well together. Leading on from a new look at Into The Woods earlier this week, here is an image from the film. Starring Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp and Emily Blunt, musical Into The Woods is set for release on 9th January 2015.

Big Eyes

Tim Burton’s latest effort appears to mark a departure from his more recent films. For one, Johnny Depp is nowhere to be seen. Big Eyes seems more reminiscent of Big Fish than more recent films, and that is definitely a good thing. Starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes is set for release in the UK on 26th December 2014.

The Theory of Everything

Here is a clip from upcoming Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything. Starring Eddie Redmayne as the young physicist and Felicity Jones as Jane Wilde, the arts student he feel in love with at Cambridge, The Theory of Everything is released in UK cinemas on 1st January 2014.

Film Review: RoboCop

RoboCop

José Padilha’s remake of RoboCop does not reach the dizzy heights of the original. Nevertheless, the film is an entertaining action thriller.

In 2028 Detroit, multinational corporation OmniCorp is looking for a way to introduce drones and automated law enforcement to America, following their contracts abroad. When Detroit cop Alex Murphy is critically injured, OmniCorp may have found a solution…

The director’s cut of Paul Verhoeven’s ultraviolent satire is magnificent. When the production of a remake was announced, what a remake would offer was questionable. Nevertheless, given that 27 years have passed since the original, perhaps a remake would raise fresh concerns.

This new version of Robocop is less of a dystopian parable than its predecessor. Whereas the 1987 film questioned contemporary concerns through a satirical yet horrific futuristic vision, this update is more concerned with modern issues played out in a near-current environment. The film features some of the same subjects; the omnipotence of corporations, the dangers of technological advancement, corruption. Yet these concerns have somewhat come to pass, to a greater or lesser extent. What this RoboCop shows us is what is occurring now, albeit in a hyperbolic fashion.

There is less of a nightmarish future in Padilha’s RoboCop. Without this sense of projection, the void is filled by the ethical question of the treatment of Murphy himself. This is of course dealt with in the original, but it is less wry and more explicit here. There is a focus on Murphy’s family that is absent from the 1987 film. This works to humanise the character, but it is not really  a change for the better. What is missing from this version of RoboCop is the relationship with Lewis. Anne Lewis is replaced by Jack Lewis, who plays a much less significant role. Gone is the strong female character, who fulfils an important non-love interest part in the original.

Given RoboCop‘s rating, it is unsurprising the violence is sanitised. The grimy ugliness of the city is replaced by a more clinical depiction. There is still plenty of shooting, but the film lacks the grotesque humour of the original in these scenes. Even the corporation seems to lack bite; the villainy here is more subdued. The Novak Element television sequences are a welcome addition. Special effects in this new RoboCop are great. The action sequences are executed well, even if the ending feels a bit anti-climactic.

Joe Kinnamen is suitably cast as Alex Murphy. The lack of depth to this character is made up by Gary Oldman’s Dr Dennett Norton. Samuel L. Jackson amuses as Pat Novak, whilst Michael Keaton seems to be having fun as Raymond Sellers.

RoboCop does entertain, and at times amuse. Nonetheless, it fails to provide any real commentary. This is not a insurmountable problem, taking this version of RoboCop as a stand-alone film. It pales, however, in comparison to its predecessor.

Stuff To Look At

A brand new clip from The Wolf of Wall Street, Muppets Most Wanted and plenty more…

The Wolf of Wall Street

After the excitement for the trailer, here is a new clip from The Wolf of Wall Street. Jonah Hill’s character looks like he could be a lot of fun. Based on Jordan Belfort’s memoirs, The Wolf of Wall Street is out in UK cinemas on 17th January 2013.

Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted poster

Following the release of the trailer, here is the poster for Muppets Most Wanted. The film has a lot to live up to, after the success of The Muppets. Muppets Most Wanted is set for release on 28th March 2014.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Here is a clip from the upcoming sequel Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Will Ferrell and his co-stars have done a lot of publicity for the movie, and there is a weight of expectation given that the original has become such a favourite. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues hits UK screens on 18th December 2013.

American Hustle

AMERICAN HUSTLE poster

This poster is just everything. The Hair. The Costumes. The Hair. With an all-star cast, American Hustle is released in the West End on 20th December 2013 and in the rest of the UK on 1st January 2014.

Robocop

I watched the director’s cut of the original Robocop again recently and it really does hold up well (bar a few dated special effects). What this remake has going for it is an impressive cast (Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton). RoboCop is released in UK cinemas on 7th February 2014.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Days of

After the fantastic posters, here is a new image of Michael Fassbender from X-Men: Days of Future Past. The film blends its predecessor with the previous series of X-Men films, by the casting at least. X-Men: Days of Future Past is scheduled for a May 2014 release.

Maleficent

This teaser trailer for Disney’s Maleficent reveals little bar the title character. After the success of the musical Wicked and Oz The Great and Powerful, there seems to be a trend for revisiting fairy tales to show the other side. Maleficent is due for release in the UK in Spring 2014.

Stuff To Look At

A profusion of film-related goodness, including clips from Runner Runner and The Counsellor, trailers for Saving Mr Banks and The Monuments Men, and Loki…

Runner Runner

New Batman Ben Affleck shows a dark side in the above clip from upcoming crime thriller Runner Runner. This is why crocodiles are a bad idea generally. Runner Runner hits UK screens on 27th September 2013.

Nebraska

Nebraska is director Alexander Payne’s latest. Starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte, Nebraska is a father and son road movie. The film is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October and is on general release from 6th December 2013.

The Railway Man

Here is the trailer for period drama The Railway Man. Starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, the film is based on Eric Lomax’s memoirs. The Railway Man is released in the UK on 3rd January 2013.

We Are What We Are

We Are What We Are is a remake of the 2010 Mexican film of the same name. It has one of those settings that feel disconcerting. We Are What We Are is out in cinemas on 25th October 2013.

The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men reunites George Clooney and Matt Damon as members of a World War II platoon tasked with rescuing masterpieces from Nazi thieves. The film also stars Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett. The Monuments Men is due for release on 9th January 2014.

Thor The Dark World

Thor The Dark World Loki

Loki! Let’s just be honest; he is the real reason everyone wants to see Thor The Dark World. That look on Loki’s face – so determined. Sequel Thor The Dark World is released in UK cinemas on 30th October 2013.

The Counsellor

The hair in the above clip is something else. In fact, Javier Bardem’s whole look is something else. With an all-star cast including Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt, The Counsellor hits UK screens on 15th November 2013.

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game is based on the best-selling novel of the same name. Starring Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, the film is set in a dystopian future. Ender’s Game is released on 25th October 2013 and there’s a trip to NASA to be won here.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

The sequel everyone has been waiting for! Above is San Diego’s finest newsman Ron Burgundy delivering the news on the Goodwood revival. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues hits UK screens on 20th December 2013. What a Christmas treat.

Saving Mr Banks

Here is the first trailer for Saving Mr Banks. The film tells the story of how Walt Disney brought Mary Poppins to the big screen. Saving Mr Banks is closing the London Film Festival on 20th October 2013 and is out on general release on 29th November 2013.

RoboCop

Nothing is going to match the perfection of the director’s cut of 1987’s  RoboCop. Nothing. However this new version features Michael Keaton, so it gets plus points for this alone. RoboCop is due for release on 7th February 2014.

Mandela Long Walk To Freedom

Idris Elba and Naomie Harris star in biopic Mandela Long Walk To Freedom. The film is released on 3rd January 2013; ripe for awards season. Let’s see how it fares.

10 Things To Be Grateful For In 2010

As with most years, 2010 has offered us the good, the bad and the ugly. The following is a highly subjective list of some of the best things to come out of cinema this year. Feel free to add your own entries in the comments below.

1. The Return Of Michael Keaton

Following appearances in such cinematic classics as First Daughter, Michael Keaton spent a number of years in the land successful wide releases forgot. That changed in 2010, with a memorable role voicing Ken in the hugely successful Toy Story 3, and scene-stealing as Captain Gene Mauch in The Other Guys. Although the latter was not exactly the film of the year, Keaton raised the bar with a fantastic comic performance reminiscent of his glory days. This served as a timely reminder of his charisma and aptitude for comedy in Night Shift and Beetlejuice among others. Welcome back, Mr Keaton!

2. Warner Bros Greenlit Inception

Despite its box office success, Inception is a film that has divided critics and audiences. Love it or hate it, we should all be grateful that the studio greenlit the big-budget production in the first place. Based on an original screenplay, Inception was a refuge from the barrage of sequels, remakes, spin-offs and adaptations. Inception was a blockbuster that was engaging yet accessible. For the film, Warner Bros expended the kind of marketing strategy usually reserved for pre-sold entities. Given the healthy box office returns, the gamble certainly paid off. Hopefully Inception‘s success will give more studios the confidence to follow suit.

3. Disney Released A Traditionally Animated Feature

The Princess and the Frog (released in February 2010 in the UK) marked the first hand-drawn animation film from Disney since 2004. The past five years have seen no shortage in animated films; however these have tended to be of the computer generated variety. While features such as Up look fantastic, there is something quintessentially Disney about The Princess and the Frog. The beautiful animation harks back to the golden age of the early and mid-nineties, when each year would see a now classic Disney animated feature. Only time will tell whether The Princess and the Frog will be appraised in the same way as films such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. In the meantime, the film indicates at least some variety in Disney’s output.

4. Referencing The 1980s Is Still In Vogue

Certainly not a new trend for 2010, for a number of years now cinema has been harking back to the eighties. Be it long overdue sequels to 1980s hits (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), remakes or even choice of soundtrack, referencing that most magical of decades has been a fixture in Hollywood in recent years. 2010, however, may have pulled of a coup d’état with the gloriously nostalgic Hot Tub Time Machine. With an amazing soundtrack and a plethora of references to 1980s films, fashion and popular culture, Steve Pink’s film was the ultimate homage to the much-loved decade.

5. David Fincher Signed On To Direct A Film About Facebook

A film about the creation of social networking site Facebook sounded just about the most unappealing premise of the year. Interest was peaked when David Fincher was announced as director of the project in 2009, but many, like myself, remained unconvinced. All that changed when the film was released in October 2010. The Social Network was one of the most absorbing films of the year, brilliantly executed and visually handsome. A very welcome surprise.

6. Woody Allen Dusted Off A Script From The ’70s

Released in June 2010 in the UK, Whatever Works saw a return to form for prolific director Woody Allen. Based on his original script from the 1970s, Whatever Works featured all the hallmarks of a classic Allen feature; witty dialogue, well-written characters and the New York setting. The film served as a reminder of why Woody Allen is such a lauded filmmaker, and is reminiscent of some of his best-loved pictures of the 1970s and 1980s. Here’s hoping Allen has a few more scripts gathering dust in his attic.

7. Colin Firth Stepped Up His Game

A bastion of period drama and romantic comedies, in 2010 Colin Firth revealed his flair for more serious dramatic roles with two magnificent performances. Firth conveyed the aching tragedy of George in Tom Ford’s A Single Man (released in February 2010 in the UK), and was thoroughly convincing as George VI in The King’s Speech (screened at the London Film Festival in October 2010). Having won awards for A Single Man and already receiving nominations for The King’s Speech, these triumphs are almost enough for us to forget Mamma Mia. Almost.

8. Danny Boyle Produced One Of The Most Wince-Inducing Scenes In Film History

Collective squirming ensued in screenings throughout the world when Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours was released (screened at the London Film Festival in October 2010). Most viewers would have known what to expect, but the film excels in building tension right up until this point. The event itself was visceral enough to apparently induce vomiting and fainting amongst audience members. This may just have been good marketing, but what remains is one of the most memorable scenes of 2010.

9. The Bounty Hunter Was Released In March

Though it has faced some stiff competition, The Bounty Hunter was the worst film released this year. For an action comedy, The Bounty Hunter was painfully unfunny. Like a childhood trauma, time dulls the pain, although you never entirely forget.

10. Joe Dante Directed A ‘Family Horror’

The Hole (released September 2010 in the UK) may not be the greatest film of the year, but it was certainly one of the scariest. For a film with child protagonists and aimed at a family audience, the film was surprisingly frightening. The Hole played on the most primal of fears, which resulted in a film that was far more effective than many of the adult horrors released this year. Although The Hole has been rather overlooked in terms of critical acclaim, it is a must-see for horror aficionados.

Film Review: The Other Guys

The Other Guys is not as funny as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. That is not to say it isn’t a decent comedy, but merely that it does not reach the peaks of hilarity of Adam McKay’s 2004 film. Contending with the likes of Date Night and Dinner for Schmucks, however, The Other Guys becomes one of the better comedies of 2010.

Detective Terry Hoitz is sick of doing paperwork for hero cops Highsmith and Danson. When the opportunity arises, Hoitz and his reluctant partner Allen Gamble attempt to fill their shoes, but things don’t go according to plan…

 The Other Guys combines elements of the buddy cop movie, comedy and action to produce a very entertaining film. Whilst the narrative is linear and fairly predictable, the film amuses sufficiently so that this is not a problem. For example, juxtaposing a headstrong, aggressive cop with a goofy and more placid partner is not highly original, yet the relationship works due to a good script and chemistry between the pair.

The Other Guys is successful because of the various strands of humour at play. On a surface level, the antagonism (intentional or not) of Gamble towards Hoitz, and Hoitz reaction to this is a great source of amusement, particularly in the first half of the film. Elsewhere, the humour is sometimes juvenile but good fun nonetheless. The multiple references featured in the film (everything from Derek Jeter to Enron to Star Wars) are also a site for comedy, although sadly a number of these may be lost on some audience members. Finally, The Other Guys works well in the way in the way it skewers the conventions of the action and crime film. Hardened cop Hoitz has become adept in ballet only to make fun of the kids who took ballet, whilst Captain Gene Mauch also works a part-time job in retail.

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg work well as the odd couple, with Wahlberg sending up his alpha male image. Eva Mendes performs well as Gamble’s unlikely wife. The Other Guys provides a welcome return to the mainstream for Michael Keaton, whose flair for comedy remains as strong as ever.

Coming at the end of a season bereft of good comedies, The Other Guys is an excellent caper; perfect if you want to switch your brain off and have a few laughs.