Movie Review: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Starring
Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan
Director
Alejandro González Iñárritu

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu was part of the Mexican Invasion that took Hollywood by storm in the early naughts alongside such visionaries like Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón. But after his little-seen 2010 drama “Biutiful,” he went on an unexpected sabbatical that left many wondering if he’d ever return. Iñarritu spent the last four years licking his wounds over the mixed reception of that film (as well as globe-trotting Oscar bait “Babel”), but he’s officially back with what’s arguably his best movie to date: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” a daring piece of filmmaking that’s as refreshingly original as it is wildly ambitious. The movie doesn’t always work – in fact, it’s sometimes as messy as the characters that inhabit it – but it’s also the type of magical cinematic experience that, just like fellow countryman Cuarón’s “Gravity,” you can only gaze in childlike wonder as it unfolds before you.

Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up actor best known for playing a superhero called Birdman in a series of successful Hollywood blockbusters. Desperate to revive his career and earn a little credibility in the process, Riggan mounts an adaptation of the Raymond Carver short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” on Broadway. When one of the actors is injured in a freak accident, Riggan’s indebted co-star, Lesley (Naomi Watts), recommends her boyfriend and theater luminary Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) as a last-minute replacement. There’s no denying that Mike is a talented actor, but his unconventional methods lead to a clash of egos between him and Riggan, and with only days to go until opening night, the whole production becomes in danger of shutting down before it even begins – especially if the cynical and malicious voice in Riggan’s head (a manifestation of his Birdman alter ego) has anything to say about it.

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Movie Review: “Ouija”

Starring
Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Douglas Smith, Darren Kagasoff, Lin Shaye
Director
Stiles White

With Halloween less than a week away, it’s nice to know that Hollywood wanted to give us one of the scariest, big budget films of the season. “Ouija” isn’t that movie, but the Stiles White’s directing debut could’ve and should’ve been.

Based on the popular Hasbro game, “Ouija” goes to its trusty trunk of horror movie clichés in a valiant way to cover up a mediocre script, a modicum of special effects and lack of a budget. Pretty, blond Debbie (Shelley Hennig) uses a Ouija board by herself and soon commits suicide. She does this despite knowing that one of the rules is never to Ouija solo. The other rules (discovered via flashback) is that you can’t use the Ouija in a graveyard and all convos must end in “Goodbye” on the board. And you thought the rules of “Fight Club” were weird.

Her best friend Laine (Olivia Cooke of “Bates Motel”) leads a grief-stricken group consisting of her boyfriend Trevor (Daren Kagasoff), her sister Sarah (Ana Coto), friend Isabelle (Bianca Santos) and Debbie’s boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith) to find clues as to why Debbie offed herself. With little to go on, they all decide to use the Ouija board for answers. (Except it’s never called a Ouija board, just “the board” or ‘spirit board,’ despite Ouija being the first thing you see when they show the board. Thanks, Hasbro.)

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Movie Review: “John Wick”

Starring
Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe
Directors
David Leitch & Chad Stahelski

“John Wick” is loud, as in ‘bring earplugs’ loud. It is muscle cars at full throttle, hailstorms of bullets, and shattered glass. There is an offbeat humor to it that vaguely recalls the wave of post-Tarantino crime movies of the ‘90s, but the story is a bone-straight, and therefore dull, revenge thriller. It is blood, death, and noise. There is “Keanu’s best since ‘The Matrix’” talk circling around this film. The very fact that that may be true is damning with faint praise.

Keanu Reeves plays the title character, a retired hitman who has just buried his terminally ill wife. He runs across some Russian thugs, who admire his car. They ask how much he wants for it. John tells them it’s not for sale. Later that night, the thugs break into John’s house, beat him up, steal the keys, and murder his puppy, a parting gift from his wife. The lead thug Iosef (Alfie Allen) is the son of Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), the gangster John used to work for, and Viggo tells his son that he done screwed up good, as John’s nickname within the organization was The Boogeyman, and now The Boogeyman has lost literally everything that ever mattered to him.

If Wick worked for Iosef’s father, how is it that they have never met before, even accidentally? Even if Iosef doesn’t know of Wick, you have to think that Wick knows of Iosef, and might recognize his boss’ offspring when he sees them. It’s a lot to ask of the audience, and honestly, there is no movie otherwise. This is the part where Basil Exposition appears and tells us to just go with it. Yep, it’s that kind of movie.

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Movie Review: “Fury”

Starring
Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena
Director
David Ayer

Dayid Ayer has always made macho movies; it’s evident even in his early screenplays for films like “The Fast and the Furious” and “Training Day.” But once he stepped behind the camera, Ayer’s proclivity for telling stories about manly men doing manly things became somewhat of a trademark for the filmmaker, one that he wears like a badge of honor in his latest movie, “Fury.” Although it’s nice to see Ayer taking a much-needed break from the crime thrillers that have dominated his career since the beginning, “Fury” also represents a more mature piece of work for him, showcasing his growth as a storyteller without abandoning the gritty style that sets the film apart from the countless others in the genre.

The movie takes place in April 1945, and while World War II has all but ended, the fanatical German resistance continues to fight, forcing women and children to pick up arms and hanging those who refuse. The U.S. military is suffering as well, but with an end in sight, they make their final push through Germany to wipe out the remaining Nazis. At the front of the lines is Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), a seasoned tank veteran who’s been fighting with the same crew – including Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) – since North Africa. But when their assistant driver is killed, clerk typist Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is ordered to replace him, despite having no experience on the battlefield, let alone inside a tank.

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Movie Review: “Men, Women & Children”

Starring
Adam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort, Olivia Crocicchia, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Elena Kampouris
Director
Jason Reitman

It’s never fun seeing a filmmaker you enjoy stuck in a rut, but that’s exactly what seems to have happened with Jason Reitman, who tainted his near-flawless body of work with last year’s soapy romance “Labor Day.” And though his latest movie isn’t nearly as bad, it’s a fairly mediocre drama that doesn’t completely succeed in its attempt to be a merciless social commentary on communication in the digital age. “Men, Women & Children” might as well have come with the subtitle, “Or Why the Internet is Really Bad,” because that’s pretty much the message that Reitman is preaching. Is it a little heavy-handed, melodramatic and obvious at times? Sure, but it also features some great performances and an intriguing multi-story narrative that doesn’t pull any punches in its denunciation of the internet.

Adam Sandler stars as Don Truby, a middle-aged schlub whose sex life with his wife Helen (Rosemary DeWitt) is so non-existent that he’s resorted to watching porn on his teenage son’s computer. Bored with the lack of excitement in his marriage, Don hires an escort from an online service, totally unaware that Helen is using a website for married people seeking affairs to have one of her own. Their son Chris (Travis Tope), meanwhile, has become so desensitized from watching porn at a young age that he’s unable to perform when he hooks up with sexpot cheerleader Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), whose own mother (Judy Greer) has been enabling the wannabe actress by posting provocative photos of Hannah on her modeling website. And the worst part is that she doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong.

The other kids at school are just as messed up. Fellow cheerleader Allison (Elena Kampouris) has resorted to anorexia in an attempt to win the affections of the school hunk, while star quarterback Tim (Ansel Elgort) has been taking his mother’s recent abandonment so hard that he’s quit the football team and rechanneled that energy into playing an online role-playing game. Having lost most of his friends as a result of that decision, Tim forms a bond with shy girl Brandy Beltmeyer, whose mother Patricia (Jennifer Garner) is so obsessed about the potential dangers of the internet that she monitors all of Brandy’s online activity and tracks her every movement with her phone. So when Patricia discovers that Brandy has been secretly hanging out with a boy, she doesn’t think twice about the ramifications of her constant meddling.

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