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Birdman – Keaton thrills in Iñárritu masterpiece

By on January 5, 2015

A great line-up to kick-off 2015 is headed by the coruscating and unforgettable Birdman, joining The Theory of Everything to be early contenders for film of the year, writes Ruth Allen. Also reviewed are the thought-provoking Big Eyes, jaw-dropping epic Exodus and the powerful Whiplash, together with the latest in popular series Night At The Museum: Secret of the Tomb.

BIRDMAN (15)

(Run time: 119mins; Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu; Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Lindsay Duncan, Andrea Riseborough).

Synopsis: Struggling actor Riggan Thomson is still remembered today for his portrayal of superhero Birdman from his early career. Fed up with only being recognised for one thing, Riggan stages a comeback with a difference. Riggan aims to broaden his fan base and win back some of his credibility through a performance on Broadway, but his biggest problem has always been his ego and taking orders from people is not on his to-do list. Can Riggan put aside his feelings of self-importance in order to rekindle his career? facebook.com/BirdmanUK?fref=ts

Acclaimed Director Alejandro González Iñárritu adds to his impressive body of work (Biutiful, Babel, 21 Grams, Amores Perros) with this coruscating film about a washed-up actor (Michael Keaton – never better) who once played an iconic movie superhero but who must now overcome his ego and family problems as he attempts to stage a Broadway play and reclaim his past glory.

Birdman is a dark and complex comedy about what it’s like to try to fund a major theatrical project and be a respected, credible actor while remaining well-liked and a good father.

Riggan Thomas was once a household name as ‘The Birdman’ – an iconic super hero. But now he has turned down a fourth instalment of the franchise and decides to reinvent himself starring as well as writing and directing his new version of the Raymond Carver story ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’  on Broadway. This he hopes will restore his credibility but events leading up to the Saturday night premiere prove to be one disaster after another.

With a terrific script, incredible photography from Emmanuel Lubezki – filmed to look like one continuous take, inside Manhattan’s landmark St James Theatre – we follow Riggans’ frenetic attempts to keep it all together.

At stake is his own confidence and fragile relationship with cast and crew – co-star Lesley (Naomi Watts), girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and most of all his resentful daughter Sam (Emma Stone), recently out of rehab. Into the explosive mix comes Mike (Edward Norton), a fanatical method actor.  Riggans is also trying to schmooze an acidic and powerful critic, Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan) who has threatened to shut him down with a scathing review.

Birdman feels utterly authentic about its world of actors and theatre-land and also has a great musical score by Antonio Sanchez, with incredible drumming. Destined to become this year’s must-see experience, it is an unforgettable masterpiece.

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (12A)

(Run time: 118mins; Director: James Marsh; Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior, David Thewlis, Simon McBurney, Maxine Peake, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson).

Synopsis: The Theory of Everything is the extraordinary and uplifting story of one of the world’s greatest living minds, the renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, and of two people defying the steepest of odds through love. thetheoryofeverythingmovie.co.uk

Director James Marsh (Man on Wire) brings this sensitive portrayal of a relationship to the screen with two stunning performances – Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking and a luminous performance from Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking, on whose book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen the screenplay by Anthony McCarten is based.

Clearly one of the films of the year, it is heartrending, uplifting and very beautiful. The supporting ensemble of actors comprise a breathtaking array of talent with excellent contributions from David Thewlis, Maxine Peake, Emily Watson and Charlie Cox.

Eddie Redmayne’s mentally and physically challenging role depicting Hawking’s brilliance and progressive motor neurone disease is a wonder to behold and Jones complements this beautiful love story which demonstrates that time and love have no boundaries and as Hawking himself says: “Where there is life there is hope.”

BIG EYES (12A)

(Run time: 104mins; Director: Tim Burton; Cast: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Danny Huston, Terence Stamp, Jason Schwartzman, Delaney Raye).

Synopsis: Big Eyes is based on the true story of Walter Keane, one of the most successful artists of the 1950s and early 1960s. The truth would eventually be revealed: Keane’s art was actually not created by him at all but by his wife Margaret. The Keanes had been living a lie that had grown to gigantic proportions. Big Eyes centres on Margaret’s awakening as an artist, the phenomenal success of her paintings, and her tumultuous relationship with her husband, who was catapulted to international fame by taking credit for her workfacebook.com/BigEyesMovie?fref=ts

Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Alice in Wonderland) teams up again with scriptwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszszewski for this – his second biopic. It’s a fascinating story about the emergence of the painter Margaret Keane, her phenomenal success in the 1950s and the subsequent legal difficulties she had with her husband, who claimed credit for her works in the 1960s.

Amy Adams is superb as Margaret, striking the right balance of vulnerability and ethical ambivalence as she walks out of one marriage with her young daughter Jane (Delaney Raye) and almost immediately falls under the spell of Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz).  Keane is a smooth-talking part-time unsuccessful artist who soon sees potential in Margaret’s strange, kitsch paintings of girl waifs with huge eyes, which were about to become a massive popular hit in America.  Keane soon had Margaret churning them out and persuaded her to allow him to take the credit on the basis that a woman artist would not sell.

At the height of the success of the Keane paintings Andy Warhol is quoted as saying: “I think what Walter Keane has done is just terrific. It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.”

Emotional and psychological abuse, women’s position in art and the question of what good art is, are all themes scrutinised in this story where truth is stranger than any fiction.

With great ensemble acting – including Terence Stamp’s wonderfully acerbic art critic, Danny Huston as a journalist and Jason Schwarzman as a gallery owner – there is much to ponder in this bizarre story of how an art forgery unravelled.

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (3D) (12A)

(Run time: 150mins; Director: Ridley Scott; Cast: Christian Bale, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, John Turturro, Ben Mendehlson).

Synopsis: Moses and Ramses have lived their lives as close as brothers until a revelation from their protector Nun sees a rivalry emerge like nothing before. When Moses learns of a prophecy that names him as the liberating leader of Egypt, the only thing that stands in the way of his destiny is his ambitious adopted sibling Ramses who is prepared to go to any lengths to secure his own future. facebook.com/exodusmovieuk

The master of the epic film, Ridley Scott (Prometheus, Gladiator, Alien, Blade Runner) combines this spectacle of 3D visuals and CGI with a story with an old fashioned feel as Moses (Christian Bale) takes on the might of an empire, defiantly rising up against the Egyptian Pharoah, Ramses (Joel Edgerton), setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and unleashing a terrifying cycle of deadly plagues.

With a stellar cast and thousands of extras and jaw-dropping visuals, Scott brings this Biblical story of a fight for equality to the screen in a manner truly epic in every sense.

Scott foregrounds Moses’ relationship with his adopted brother Ramses, chronicling his change from a Prince of Egypt to fabled prophet and liberator, where, after killing an Egyptian slave-master, he encounters the God of Israel speaking to him from within a ‘burning bush’.

The Ten Plagues – as Egypt is attacked by locusts, frogs and more – are stunning in 3D, together with the breathtaking parting of the Red Sea as Moses leads the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt following receipt of the Ten Commandments. These sequences, combined with strong performances from the top ensemble cast, ensure the film’s status as a modern classic epic.

WHIPLASH (15)

(Run time: 106mins; Director: Damien Chazelle; Cast: Miles Teller, Melissa Benoist, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser).

Synopsis: Andrew Neyman is an ambitious young jazz drummer, single-minded in pursuit of his aim to rise to the top of his elite east coast music conservatory. Terence Fletcher, an instructor known equally for his teaching talents and for his terrifying methods, leads the top jazz ensemble in the school. Fletcher discovers Andrew and transfers the aspiring drummer into his band, where the two form an odd relationship as the student tries to achieve greatness. whiplashmovie.co.uk

In this powerful film from writer/director Damien Chazelle, Andrew (Miles Teller) is a 19-year-old student at a prestigious Manhattan music conservatory when he is spotted by Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) a teacher with a ruthlessly brutal teaching style.

After selecting Andrew to play in the school band, Fletcher pushes the student to his limits in order to realise his full potential – at a terrible risk.

There is a deep irony here. We mostly think of jazz as a genre for freedom of expression but here the strict Fletcher keeps a tight rein on Andrew, while pushing stories and myths of jazz heroes such as Charlie Parker being driven to the edge.

There is great tension in this film – as much as in any thriller. While Fletcher on the surface doesn’t seem a very likeable character – rather like Keating in Dead Poets Society – he remains enigmatic and charismatic in an utterly brilliant performance from Simmons.

Miles Teller inhabits the role of the student Andrew.  A drummer himself since he was 15 he is reported to have blistered his hands and really drawn blood during the vigorous, frantic and unconventional jazz drumming performances.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB (PG)

(Run time: 98mins; Director: Shawn Levy; Cast: Ben Stiller, Rebel Wilson, Owen Wilson, Robin Williams, Dan Stevens, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Ben Kingsley, Rami Malek, Micky Rooney).

Synopsis: Larry Daley, night guard of the Museum of Natural History, returns in the third and final instalment of the ‘Night at the Museum’ trilogy. As the magic of the Tablet of Ahkmenrah – the power that brings the museum exhibits to life after sunset – begins to fade, Larry travels around the world in order to reunite members of his museum crew, including Teddy Roosevelt, Jedediah, Octavius and Ahkmenrah, to try to save the magic before it’s too late. facebook.com/NightAtTheMuseumUK

In this final instalment of the popular series, the exhibits don’t just come to life – they come to London and the British Museum.

After the events of the previous film, Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) begins to take pride in being re-hired as the night guard for the American Museum of Natural History as he watches his exhibit friends entertain the visitors while pretending to be robotic exhibits.

However, when the power of Ahkmenrah’s tablet starts to run out, the exhibits, including Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams) and Dexter the Monkey, run amok, vandalising the museum and scaring the visitors. As a result, the museum curator, Dr McPhee (Ricky Gervais) loses his job.

In the wildest and most adventure-filled Night at the Museum ever, Larry leaves New York City for the British Museum in London. Here he unites favourite and new characters while embarking on an epic quest to save the magic before it is gone forever, with the help of Merenkahre (Ben Kingsley), Ahkmenrah’s father who is a powerful pharaoh and the tablet’s creator.

Expect lots of fast paced fun and entertainment, with Stiller playing a double part; a feisty security guard Mindy (Rebel Wilson) and a dashing – if deluded – Lancelot (Dan Stevens).

But in among the fun there is a bittersweet tinge, with final performances from two cinema greats, Mickey Rooney as Gus and Robin Williams reprising his role as Theodore Roosevelt, the wax statue of the 26th President of the United States.

Look out for Williams also voicing a Garuda artefact in the British Museum and for guest appearances by Dick Van Dyke as Cecil Fredericks along with Hugh Jackman and Alice Eve as themselves, as actors from London’s West End.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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