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Oscars 2017 Review: Arrival (2016)

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Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay)

Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

 

 

Directing his first movie since 2015’s Sicario and just before he starts work on the eagerly anticipated Bladerunner sequel, Denis Villeneuve is a busy man. There is also the 2017 Oscars ceremony that I am sure he will be attending to see if his latest work, Arrival will pick up the award for Best Picture or even a Best Director gong for himself.

Villeneuve directs the Eric Heisserer penned movie in which 12 spacecraft mysteriously appear overnight in different locations all over the world. The government enlist the help of skilled linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to help find out what these beings from another world want exactly and she is instructed to decipher their code of dialogue and communication to translate for them. The movie is segmented with varying flashbacks of Banks with her daughter throughout the early stages of her life and into her teenage years where an illness takes her life. This new revelation becomes a distraction to her and one that she probably needs.

Banks works alongside a team of scientists to enter one of the many pods and attempt to communicate with these lifeforms, but with time comes panic and despite keeping in constant contact with the heads of other countries, the fear of whether the visit is a threat becomes too much and matters are taken out of their hands.

Arrival begins life as a quiet piece of work. It is slow paced to begin with as the story of Banks’ character and the visit is told. It has a tranquil beauty to it with moments of glory and visual wonder, particularly during the scene when the team first enter one of the pods. From there, the pace remains the same for the majority of the movie and what began as an encouraging way of telling the tale actually becomes its downfall. Despite the movie’s ending offering us a twist, it lacked somehow in idea or originality. Nothing can be taken away from the performances, particularly that of Amy Adams which surprisingly didn’t earn her a nomination for Best Actress. The movie begins to slow as the plot and storyline fades out. The expectation of a grand finale falls on a twist in the plotline which bears no real relevance to the ending and is almost placed there just to somehow make it different. The expectation of action or a quickening of pace is soon gone as the climax of the movie somehow leaves us disappointed and short changed.

There are positives in the direction and the acting of some of Hollywood’s leading players. Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker add weight to the casting, but there is no getting away from the fact that it’s a storyline with potential that ultimately fizzles out as the film is extinguished.

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Oscars 2017 Review: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

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Director: Mel Gibson

Writers: Robert Schenkkan (screenplay), Andrew Knight (screenplay)

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving

 

During the Second World War American troops tried in vain to overcome Japanese forces in Okinawa as they battled to take control of a cliff top area known as Hacksaw Ridge. Part of that troop was young soldier, Desmond Doss. A solider that many believed should not be there as he refused to handle a weapon. His purpose instead was to help his colleagues in his role as medic and his sheer determination to fight in the war makes for a truly unbelievable story. For Desmond Dross was awarded with the Medal of Honour, the military’s highest honour, after the war was over for saving the lives of 75 wounded infantrymen, despite the fact that he didn’t fire a single shot.

American troops moved in on Hacksaw Ridge, scaling the rope netting that led up the cliff face to the top where many Japanese soldiers were waiting for them. It was a battle that the Americans struggled to overcome and were forced to retreat when casualties became too high. Desmond Doss, however, stayed. Even though he had to spend the majority of his time keeping undercover, Doss completed a miraculous mission by himself as his refusal to leave any soldier behind drove him on. He single handily lowered injured soldiers down the face of the cliff using his rope and a homemade pulley system. His hands ravaged, his life at risk, nothing deterred him from his mission.

It was a mission that may never have taken place. Doss’ refusal to partake in any weaponry combat very nearly led to him being imprisoned and kicked out of the army. His fellow soldiers turned on him and even his captains as he continued to refuse instruction. They barred him any leave in which he was due to get married and made life difficult for him, but Desmond Doss was a man of his word and with God by his side, he would go to war.

Director Mel Gibson has already carved out a very impressive name for himself in Hollywood for not only his acting, but also his direction. Not an easy piece by any stretch of the imagination, Gibson really thrusts us into the world of Desmond Doss and the rigours of war. There are scenes that have been compared to Saving Private Ryan and sequences of violence that he has not held back on, nor should he. There is no way that you can sugar coat war and Gibson hasn’t done that at all. Instead, he has produced a piece of cinematic brilliance.

 Andrew Garfield portrays the role of Desmond Doss and earnt himself an Oscar nomination in the process. It is not surprising why when you see his performance as it is magnificent. Garfield nailed every key aspect of Doss’ personality and character and the highest accolade he received was from Desmond Doss’ own son who praised Garfield on the performance.

Strong support came from Vince Vaughn as Sergeant Howell in an unusually serious role for the comedy actor, but one that was believable and showed the versatility of his talent. Sam Worthington played the often warming character of Captain Glover. Desmond Doss’ future wife, Dorothy, was played with such conviction and sincerity by  Teresa Palmer, but it was another standout role of Desmond’s father, Tom Doss, played by the charismatic Hugo Weaving that played a key part of the story and also Desmond’s life decisions. Weaving is an actor of great ability and this is certainly one of his best performances.

Praise must be given to Mel Gibson and his team for not only telling this story, but in doing so, producing one of Hollywood’s great war stories that deserves to sit alongside the classics. It is hardly surprising that the movie has been nominated for Best Film and Best Director and, although competition will be tough, this has every chance of winning.

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Review: Sully (2016)

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Director: Clint Eastwood

Writers: Todd Komarnicki (screenplay), Chesley Sullenberger (book) (as Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger)

Stars: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney

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In January 2009 the headlines were dominated by the footage of a US Airways plane on the Hudson River in New York. The airline had suffered from engine damage not long after taking off when a flock of birds flew into the engines forcing the landing. There wasn’t enough time to turn the plane around and land on one of the available runways, so pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger had no choice but to crash land the plane on the famous river saving the lives of all 155 passengers on board.

                Clint Eastwood’s film focuses on the story surrounding the aftermath of the incident as an inquest is held with the firm belief that the plane could have turned and landed at a nearby airport avoiding the need to crash and destroy the airline. Sully discovers that he doesn’t just have to deal with the nightmares of the incident that begin to dominate his life, but the accusations made against him which question his 42 year career as a pilot.

                The film is based on the autobiography “Highest Duty” written by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow and is cleverly patterned with the integration of sequences which highlight the effects that the incident had on Sully, despite his hero status. Tom Hanks takes the lead role of Sully complete with white hair and moustache and it is extremely difficult to tell the real Sully from the actor. Hanks, as always, gives a performance of such magnitude that it is no surprise that he is ranked as one of the world’s best actors, but he does so in a manner which seems so easy for him to portray. The subtle nature of his mannerisms are magnetised to an Oscar worthy performance once again, but, as the story suggests, he isn’t the only hero. Aaron Eckhart plays the role of First Officer Jeff Skiles who, alongside Hanks, really brings out a performance of true talent offering some of the movies more comedic moments, but also displaying the support and friendship he had with Sully. Laura Linney plays the role of Sully’s wife and despite the two sharing no screen time, she plays the fact that she has to try and struggle to support her husband from a distance encouragingly well.

                The scene of the plane crash landing and the subsequent panic that follows is up there with some of Hollywood’s finest moments and Eastwood really encapsulates on the tension, despite us all knowing the outcome. Away from the action, it really is the story of what happens next that draws the interest in the movie and the experience and knowledge that Sully had which he uses to defend himself. The fact that he could be even questioned on his actions was ludicrous enough and he earns his stature as a hero with great modesty and shares the wealth with those alongside him.

                With the announcement of the 2017 Oscar nominations just weeks away, there is no doubt that this will be up there among the contenders and, even possibly, earn the famous golden statue in the process.

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Review: The Imitation Game

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Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode

 

Mr. Turing, do you know how many people have died because of Enigma? Three. Whilst we’ve been having this conversation.”

 

It is remarkable to think that because of the actions of one man we are all here today. If it wasn’t for the brilliant mind of mathematician Alan Turing then Germany could have prevailed in the Second World War and the country we live in now could be a very different place. It was down to his actions that historians believe the war lasted two years shorter than it could have done and approximately 14 million lives were spared in the process. But the country he saved turned its back on him and did so for nearly seven decades until in 2013 when Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon for the way he was treated simply because of who he was and not what he did.

During the Second World War the British Government employed a team of expert mathematicians and problem solvers to try and decipher one of the greatest codes in World History used by the Germans, The Enigma Code. Coded messages would be sent giving detailed briefs and instructions for planned attacks on the British. Alan Turing applied for a role and, despite showing a great deal of arrogance during his interview with the Commander in charge, was reluctantly accepted into the programme purely on the basis that he believed you’d need to build a machine to defeat a machine.

It is later revealed that Turing was to work for a team, but he wanted to work alone and slowly and reluctantly agreed to it, later developing a bond with his new colleagues. When Turing was refused the funding to back his machine he went to the highest source possible, Winston Churchill, who granted the funding and also placed Turing in complete control of the operation which began to take more and more time to develop.

With threats of closure and dismissal aimed towards him, he and his colleagues had to fight for the right to continue the project as pressured mounted on them to succeed. The machine, now fully built, was struggling to obtain any relevant information until one day when it all became clear to Alan Turing.

Despite his heroics, Turing lived in a time where laws were strict. He also hid a dark secret from a lot of the people he worked with for fear of repercussion. For Alan Turing was a homosexual and had a history that he wished to keep secret, for if the truth came out, then Turing could be in serious trouble.

Director Morten Tyldum has portrayed the chronicle of Turing’s life beautifully choosing to drift the story from present day, to his childhood at school and during the building of the machine. It allows important elements of Turing’s upbringing and personal affairs play to the forefront providing important information about Turing the man as opposed to what he achieved.

Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the role of Turing superbly with the detailed expressions and renown stutter captured beautifully in a performance deserved of the highest accolades. Cumberbatch ensures the unintentional humour and occasional arrogance are present throughout the role encapsulated into the timid surroundings of Turing as a person. Kiera Knightly plays the role of Joan Clarke, the only woman to apply for and succeed in being part of Turing’s new team. She shares a special bond with Turing and even goes to the length of agreeing to marry him in order to ensure she could continue working with him. Knightley’s performance is well polished and stable showing signs of strengths throughout the story in a performance born of experience and dedication to her art. Matthew Goode plays the role of Hugh Alexander, a fellow code breaker who doesn’t see eye to eye with Turing at first, but plays a relevant role in the success. Goode withheld the performance of the good-looking, intelligent Alexander with such ease allowing the talent of his work to glow. Other support was strong with the legendary Charles Dance playing the role of Commander Denniston and Mark Strong playing the head of MI6, Stewart Menzies.

The factual elements of Turing’s story and subsequent success are fascinating. The achievements alone that one man could do simply with his mind, but the fact he could take little credit for what he had done is admirable. Despite breaking the enigma code, the job they were doing still had to remain a secret for if the Germans found out it would mean years of work wasted.

You may already be aware of Turing’s achievements and there maybe more you will learn from watching this movie and with the combination of a well told story and strong performances it will be more than just the truth behind the story that will impress.

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Review: Selma (2014)

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In 1963 Black activist Martin Luther King delivered one of the world’s most famous speeches as he addressed the audience at the March on Washington. The following year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions towards combating racial inequality through nonviolence. It was also in this year that he helped to organise the infamous Selma to Montgomery marches, a message to the country, to the world even, that Black people should be allowed the right to vote in American. It is this turbulent time during King’s life which has been depicted in this movie directed by Ava DuVernay.

1960’s America was a totally different world to the one we all live in today. Black Americans were beaten, abused and bullied purely for the colour of their skin. One man decided to fight the law, to confront the powers that be and fight for the right that his people are treated the same as any other American.

Despite the “I Had a Dream” speech being one of Martin Luther King’s most memorable moments, this movie is a celebration of his life and for everything he worked for. The depiction of brutality experienced by his brothers and sisters were one of pure devastation and the fact that they were true events only add to the power behind the story and the sadness that went along with it. There is also the feeling of admiration and pride for a man who fought all the way, despite having his own personal battles to contend with.

British actor David Oyelowo was handed the task of portraying one of America’s most iconic Black people and the task to fulfill the ambition, determination and purpose of King’s character was a hard one to perform. But, for the little known London born actor, it is possibly the performance of his career and one that will no doubt propel him to the cataclysmic heights of one of Hollywood’s true greats. His calm demeanor, movements and voice are captured to perfection in a truly spell binding performance that would make the man himself proud.

Oyelowo had extremely experienced support with bold and meaningful performances from Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B. Johnson, Giovanni Ribisi as Lee White, Tim Roth as Governor George Wallace, Common as James Bevel, Stephan James as John Lewis, Oprah Winfrey in a small, but perfected role as Annie Lee Cooper, but credit must also go to Carmen Ejogo who played the tumultuous role as Martin Luther King’s wife, Coretta.

DuVernay’s vision of Martin Luther King’s famous march is brutal in aggression, but also brutally honest in the depiction. The viewing can be uncomfortable at times in terms of the graphic nature of the story, but the cinematography has been expertly executed with moodful settings, ambient lighting and interspersed with actual footage allowing us the memory of the truth behind the story.

Writer Paul Webb has deployed a script heavily laden with dialogue and political history, but his intelligence of the story and segregation of scenes are beautifully portrayed upon a tainted backdrop.

Selma is up for two awards at this year’s Oscars for Best Picture and Original Song, but surprisingly no nomination for David Oyelowo for Best Actor. I know the competition is strong this year, but his performance was worthy of nomination.

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Review: Whiplash (2014)

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Stars: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist

A drum beat. It starts slowly and then it begins to gather pace. A corridor, void of life with the exception of the sound of drumming. The lone figure of Andrew Neimann is sat at his drum kit and is playing it well. This is the heart of the movie. However good it may sound to someone, it might not be good enough and it takes perseverance and commitment to become better. To become the greatest, even.

For Andrew that is his dream. To be one of the greatest drummers ever and he will stop at nothing to get to the top. During a solo practise one evening prolific music teacher, Terence Fletcher, enters the room to listen to him. What passes next is a difficult conversation between the two where Neimann struggles to understand what Fletcher requires of him. When he stops playing, Fletcher asks him why. So, he continues playing. Fletcher stops him again and says that he didn’t ask him to start; he simply asked him why he stopped. When it is evident that Neimann hasn’t grasped Fletcher’s purpose, he leaves and Andrew is left to play by himself again.

It is not the last that Andrew sees of Fletcher as he is drafted in as support at the Shaffer Conservatory of Music which is run by Fletcher, despite the recent incident. To Neimann it is a step in the right direction, but it’s the unorthodox way that Fletcher has of motivating his students to get the best out of them, occasionally bordering on violent, when he realises that he has a difficult journey to get to his full potential.

Fletcher makes it obvious to Neimann that he doesn’t feel he is good enough and pushes him to breaking point like he does to all his students. During one rehearsal he complains that a member of the group is out of tune and offers them the chance to confess. When nobody does own up he targets one person and asks him whether or not he thought he was in tune. When the student, who is terrified of Fletcher, admits he didn’t think he was in tune he becomes the next victim of one of Fletcher’s many violent outbursts and is exited from the room not before being reduced to tears in the process. Fletcher later admits that he was actually in tune, but the fact he thought he wasn’t is worse than actually being out of tune.

It is the method of his ways that Neimann struggles to overcome, but his determination is never lost and if anything it spurs him on to get better. He becomes isolated, focussing all his attention to doing what he loves and it takes blood (literally), sweat and tears to get there as he pushes himself further than he has ever done in his life to ultimately discover it’s still not good enough for Fletcher.

Tempers become fraught between the two, but on occasions Neimann witnesses the lighter side to Fletcher’s character which doesn’t appear often. With hands bandaged, cut and bruised, Neimann continues to push himself in order to earn the position of the drummer in the band, but the barrier between himself and Fletcher just gets higher and higher as the acceptance begins to sink in that he might not be able to make it any further than is physically and mentally possible.

Quite simply put – this movie is absolutely outstanding. It is one of the best I have ever had the privilege to see. The encapsulating performances, combined with a strong, tense story bring real heart and grit to the movie. There is something for everyone to take away from the experience, to learn from it, to gain from it, to push yourself to be better. Self taught drummer, Miles Teller, plays the role of Andrew Neimann with a graceful, sincerity. The maturity of the performance over the course of the movie has been captured wonderfully with the emphasis on the isolation of his character as he becomes lost in his own fortitude, striving to become the best and pushing those around him away. J.K. Simmonds, though, produces perhaps one of the best on-screen performances in modern cinema to date. The intimidation and uncertainty behind the character have been personified into a role that is not only worthy of an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but of the award itself. The intelligence that exudes from Fletcher bursts onto the screen during every scene; the passion and anger have been captured to absolute perfection. His intensity and fire not only invoke fear into the other characters, but to you as an viewer. He is truly unbelievable.

Praise should also be deservedly awarded to writer/director Damien Chazelle, who used is knowledge of the intensity of playing in a jazz group to bring life to the script which initially started life as an 18 page short film and was discovered on website Black List, a site which includes the top screenplays for motion pictures yet to be produced. Chazelle portrays his wealth of experience to ensure that each segment of each performance were nailed with the right feel of tension and pace leading us through the chicanes of Neimann’s battle to become the best with the backdrop of his hard, fast drumming adding a deeply powerful moving soundtrack to accompany the emotions of the characters.

The heart of the movie is the battle between these two characters and their determination to, not only better themselves, but to better each other which is rounded off to a phenomenal end scene leaving you unable to remove your eyes from the screen. The music is sensational and for lovers of jazz it will just add to the enjoyment of the movie. Even if jazz music isn’t an interest to you, the appreciation of the hard work and difficulty that a drummer has to overcome has to be respected.

With the Oscars coming up next month, there is a lot of buzz behind Birdman walking away with the Best Picture, but in my opinion, Whiplash is better purely for the passion and strength of the performances and the intensity of the story which will blow you away.

 

This HAS to be seen.

 

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Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Stars: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric

Inspired by a fictional book, The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the story an author’s chance meeting with the owner of the hotel once resplendent with life and habitants now left cold and desolate with the same few guests who stay at the same time every year. The hotel is based in the fictional village of Zubrowka and is attended by a young author who meets a man that owns the hotel and who stays there once a year in a small, cramped room in the servant’s quarters, despite having the choice of the biggest and best rooms available. Fascinated by this man, the author (played by Jude Law) learns to discover how he acquired the hotel which cost him nothing at all.

In 1932, a boy by the name of Zero begins work at the Grand Budapest Hotel as a Lobby Boy where he meets perhaps the most eccentric and diverse concierge, the world renown, Mr. Gustave. Gustave is a concierge that everybody knows, not just at the Grand Budapest, but at hotels all over the world. His popularity among those who stay at the hotel is astonishing, particularly with members of the opposite sex. One of those is an elderly woman called Madame D. who leaves the Grand Budapest for the last time due to illness, much to the dismay of Gustave. During this time Gustave meets Zero and soon discovers the potential in him purely down to his enthusiasm to work at the hotel above anything else.

News soon filters back to Gustave that Madame D has passed away, so he and Zero embark on a journey to the funeral to pay their last respects. The War has begun and due to Gustave’s popularity, he and Zero make it through checkpoints with relative ease as it transpires that Gustave looked after one of the Commanders when he was a child and is treated with great appreciation. It is during the service that the last will and testament of Madame D’s fortune is read out and a priceless painting is left for Gustave, much to the disgruntlement of her nephew, Dmitri played by Adrien Brody. Dmitri is determined to claim the painting for his own and will stop at nothing to ensure that is the case.

It is later discovered that Madame D didn’t die of natural causes and was murdered with the finger of blame pointed towards Gustave. Any friendship or admiration from the Commander is soon forgotten and Gustave gets captured and put in jail awaiting trial. In jail Gustave hatches a plan to escape with a group of cell mates and finds himself on the run. With the aid of his new friend and confident, Zero, Gustave must uncover the truth to clear his name and get back to the Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel reads like a who’s who of Hollywood acting credentials. A number of the actors who appear in the movie are actors that have previously worked with Director Wes Anderson and there are numerous other stars adding their names to the billing. Anderson, who also wrote the screenplay has produced a work of art. The appeal of the movie is in the look and feel and he has captured this wonderfully in a portrayal of beautiful colours mixed with wonderful performances to make the whole experience magical. The story was an inspiration from Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig with the character of Gustave based on Zweig.

The performances associated with this wonderfully depicted tale are what gives it the life and realism. Ralph Fiennes has been criminally overlooked for an Oscar nomination for his role as Gustave as he is truly excellent. His performance is a blend of solemn, dramatic cascading into occasional hilarious comedy and it is superb allowing Fiennes to encompass a variety of emotions and characteristics to his performance and create one of the finest, funniest onscreen characters in cinema. Little know Tony Revloroi plays the role of the Lobby Boy, Zero, who looks up to Gustave as their friendship blossoms. He plays the role of the timid Zero with a great level of professionalism unfazed by the act required of him and not in awe of the ensemble around him. Then, it is a case of spot the celebrity with cameos from Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Willem Defoe, Owen Wilson and Harvey Keitel to name but a few all adding weight to this beautiful story.

The blend of the finest acting talents on offer with a superbly written screenplay by Wes Anderson himself could suggest there may be a surprise on the cards for the Awards ceremony this February with The Grand Budapest Hotel possibly being a dark horse on the final furlong of the race.

And it would deserve it too.

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Review: Birdman (2014)

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BirdmanStars: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton

 

A movie with two titles – Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance – tells the story of an actor trying to detach himself from the role that made him famous. Riggan Thomas was renowned for playing the title role in superhero franchise “Birdman” back in the early nineties, but he has struggled with his career ever since and wants to be known for his abilities as an actor. He has the chance to portray his true talent in the theatre as he directs and stars in a new play which is an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story, “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love”.

Aided by his friend and assistant (the wonderful Zach Galifianakis), Riggan is currently in the throes of rehearsals with the main performance a matter of days away. Unfortunately, an actor portraying one of the parts gives him cause for concern and when a piece of lighting equipment falls and hits him he has no choice but to re-cast. What also strikes as being slightly irregular are Riggan’s claims that he made the piece of lighting fall and hit him. Such as is the burden of Birdman, he cannot get rid of him. Birdman talks to him, controls him. He can levitate, he has powers of telekinesis. Or so he believes.

A method actor by the name of Mike Shiner who is one of Hollywood’s hottest names agrees to do the part in the play, but it is evident from the outset that his outspoken nature and behavior clash with Riggan as they argue and fight with each other throughout the performance. That coupled with his brazen, former drug addict daughter acting as his PA leaves Riggan’s life in a confusing place as he struggles to free the demons from within.

Writer and Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has produced a truly captivating piece of cinema with his story. Choosing to encompass some of Birdman’s abilities into Riggan’s life leading him to believe he is still part of the infamous Superhero adds an exciting twist to the vision. But it is the cramped, condensed environment of the theatre where most of the movie’s story plays out which allow us to feel the claustrophobia that Riggan has in his current predicament and the camera follows him around as if the audience were playing the burden bearing role of the title character, Birdman, watching as everything that he has worked so hard for starts to crumble away from him. The direction of the piece is haunting and funny in many occasions and allows the ability of one of Hollywood’s finest actors, Michael Keaton, to really show his true capabilities as an actor, much like he is trying to do in the role in the movie.

Edward Norton adds superb support as the antagonizing Mike Shiner. Norton’s encapsulating performance targets the true malevolence and egotism of the actor he is portraying performing against Keaton’s character and trying pin pointing the weaknesses which includes targeting his daughter.

Emma Stone is truly wonderful as Riggan’s daughter, Sam, playing an unruly wild child also trying to escape from the person her father was, playing the role with an occasionally victimized and aggressive stance, but with underlying difficulties which instantly allows her to connect with the character of Mike Shiner.

Birdman is a dark movie with moments of pure genius. The essence of the piece is brilliant and Michael Keaton performs perhaps the best we have seen of him. The casting has been spot on with Edward Norton and Emma Stone both rightfully joining Keaton in the Oscar nominations and with Alejandro González Iñárritu up for best picture and director there could be a whole host of awards heading their way.

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Review: American Sniper (2014)

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Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner

It is during the opening sequence of American Sniper where we discover the true intensity of the movie. Marine Chris Kyle is positioned at the top of an abandoned building in Iraq, his rifle is positioned and we are looking through the telescopic sight first at an Iraqi soldier and then the attention is drawn to the ground where a mother and her son emerge from a building, the son clutches something to his chest under his jacket as his mother whispers instructions. The boy then sets off running towards Kyle’s fellow American troops and Kyle’s finger is poised on the trigger…

The beauty of Clint Eastwood’s direction is the level of intensity he can produce from a moment such as that, but the true story of Chris Kyle is depicted brilliantly not just through the direction, but through the story and the acting.  Eastwood has taken the focus of the story and balanced it between the war in Iraq and a normal life for a soldier returning home, which is anything but. The main part of the movie is in Kyle’s difficulty to separate his home life from the life he risks everyday fighting in the war. His decision to join the marines came to him through his father predominantly. His father would teach him and his brother to stand up to bullies and be strong and this is what exactly, as young men, they chose do. When the Twin Towers were attacked in 2001 this form of ‘bullying’ spurred Kyle on to want to fight and it was soon evident his skills lay in using a rifle.

Chris Kyle had four tours of Iraq and the movie follows each one of them and also the life he shared at home with his wife and children. Like most soldiers returning from active duty, the adjustment to a life at home is difficult with everyday noises drawing dark memories to his life in conflict. In Iraq, Kyle is witness to the brutality of the enemy and an unknown assailant, also useful with a rifle, is his main target.  The price on his head from the Iraqi’s is substantial, but the bounty refuses to deter Kyle in his mission to capture Osama Bin Laden’s number two and bring an end to the war.

Bradley Cooper portrays the role of Chris Kyle in a performance that has seen him nominated for an Oscar and understandably so too. Although Cooper performs superbly, I don’t think this is his strongest performance to date. Certainly not in comparison to Silver Linings Playbook in which he was also nominated. Sienna Miller is almost unrecognisable as Kyle’s wife, Taya, in a strong role in which the depiction of her struggles with her life married to a marine is executed superbly with the emotional distress that any woman in her position would go through. It is one of the best roles I have seen her in.

My admiration goes fully to Clint Eastwood. A master in his field both in front of and behind the camera he shows no signs of letting up, even at 84 years of age. The pace and passion of the story is sublime and Eastwood doesn’t hold back for some of the more uncomfortable scenes of life that is happening every single day as our soldiers fight. The drama and intensity are with us throughout the whole movie and supported by a wonderful cast you can see how this has been nominated for best picture at the Oscars. I personally am not sure it has the strength to go on and win, but it is still an exhilarating experience not to be passed up.

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