Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan
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.
Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater, Simon McBurney, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Eileen Atkins
Woody Allen has made some real stinkers over the course of his 50-year career, and though “Magic in the Moonlight” isn’t quite bad enough to be included among the director’s absolute worst films, it’s not very good either. Allen’s movies have always been pretty hit-and-miss, but since 2005’s career-altering “Match Point” – in which he inadvertently became a foreign film director by working almost exclusively in Europe – he’s only made three legitimately great movies. But while Allen has proven that he’s still capable of delivering a good film on occasion, he seems more concerned with maintaining his yearly output no matter what the cost, and that quantity-over-quality way of thinking only underlines the problems with his latest comedy.
Set in the late 1920s, the movie opens in a Berlin theater during a performance of world-renowned magician Wei Ling Soo. But just like the magic tricks in his show, it’s all a ruse. Wei Ling Soo isn’t Chinese at all, but rather the terribly racist stage persona of grumpy and arrogant Englishman Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth). He’s an elitist at heart who despises charlatans that give his profession a bad name, so when his longtime friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) asks for his assistance in debunking a young spiritualist named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), whom he believes is scamming the heir of the wealthy Catledge family, Stanley is all too happy to oblige. The pair heads to the Catledges’ mansion on the French Riviera in order to observe Sophie in action and catch her red-handed, but against his better judgment, Stanley begins to believe that she’s the real deal.
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHaan, Jamie Foxx, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, Paul Giamatti
You wouldn’t think that it’d be possible to overpromote a movie, but Sony has done just that with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” spoiling virtually every major moment during the course of its marketing campaign, including the appearance of several characters that would have been a far better treat were they kept a secret. But while the knowledge that there would be multiple villains in the film left some fans dreading another “Spider-Man 3” fiasco, that’s only part of the bigger problem, because the movie is bursting at the seams with so much material that it borders on excess at times. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is the rare comic book movie where the action is the least interesting element, but for all the things that the film gets wrong, it does just enough right to keep you entertained, even if it fails to capitalize on the promise of its predecessor.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has officially graduated from high school, but he has much bigger things on his mind than worrying about college, like how to ensure the safety of his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), when he spends his days fighting crime as Spider-Man. After growing tired of Peter’s indecisiveness about their relationship (due in part to the vow he made to her dead father), Gwen takes the initiative and dumps him for good, leading Peter to fill that void by diving back into the mystery of his father’s disappearance. But he’s soon distracted by the arrival of his childhood friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who returns home to assume control of Oscorp after his father’s death, only to learn that he’s dying from the same disease, which he believes can be cured by the spider venom that gave Peter his amazing powers.
Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke
Kirk De Micco & Chris Sanders
If this movie had a plot, it would be dangerous. As it is, “The Croods” is a rough sketch of an idea, kept afloat courtesy of some well-timed gags. It has heart and a fair share of laughs, and it’s hard not to like the message that we must evolve as a species if we intend to survive, but it feels like a sitcom episode stretched out to a grueling 98 minutes. Ninety-eight-minute movies aren’t supposed to feel long. This one does.
The Croods are a family of cavepeople who have outlived their Neanderthal contemporaries by playing it very, very safe. The father Grug (Nicolas Cage) insists that everyone stay near their cave, and to never leave the cave at night, much to the chagrin of his curious daughter Eep (Emma Stone). One night, unable to sleep, Eep sees a flickering light outside the cave. She sneaks out to investigate, and meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a homo sapien boy who warns her that the world is coming to an end (it’s actually continental drift), and that she and her family must find better, higher ground if they wish to survive. This idea, of course, does not sit well with Grug, but it is not long before Guy is proven right, which creates, in Grug’s mind anyway, a battle for supremacy between brains and brawn.
This is the kind of movie that sweats the small stuff – the disaster sequences will make Roland Emmerich squeal, and the animals they created, especially the piranha birds, are both amusing and inspired – but for some reason, they don’t put the same effort into the story. It gets to the point where they let Cage off his leash (never a good idea) and do this bit where Grug tries to be a thinker like Guy, only Cage sounds like he’s trying to channel Jeff Bridges in “The Big Lebowski.” On the one hand, it’s kind of fun to see an animated film play it loose and experiment. On the other hand, it feels forced and out of step with everything around it.
Hollywood is all about the Benjamins (what’s new?) so we shouldn’t be surprised, and the studios are eager to make anything that will highlights CGI effects in order to capitalize on the foreign box office.
Fortunately, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a worthy reboot of the franchise according to Jason Zingale in his Bullz-Eye.com movie review. The cast is excellent, and we have a clip of the lovely Emma Stone above discussing her role on the red carpet.