‘Birdman’ explores the space between reality and art with thrilling results

Viewers be warned: “Birdman” is not the start of another lucrative Marvel franchise, as the name may suggest.

Instead, the film is a personal, wild, and imaginative look at a fictional actor, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), who once played a caped hero but has since faded into obscurity.

To reclaim the celebrity status he once held, Thomson decides to write, direct, and star in a Broadway play.

The film starts off a few days before previews for the play begin, and the entire cast is on edge.  The audience follows characters as they frantically walk through the cramped theater, winding down hallways and up staircases.

The claustrophobic, almost feverish feeling of the setting is amplified by director Alejandro Iñárritu’s unique decision to film nearly the entire movie so that it feels like one continuous take, a technique normally considered daring when it’s utilized for just a few minutes.

Where other directors would cut and move on to a new angle, Iñárritu’s camera spins around the actor or finds a new target to the follow through the maze-like set. The results are both dizzying and dazzling.

While the cinematography in “Birdman” may be the film’s most innovative and impressive aspect, the visuals aren’t used as a crutch. The film is already peppered with phenomenal actors, including Keaton, who gives a startlingly strong performance, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Zack Galifianakis, but because of the film’s unique style of long, uncut takes, the actors are pushed to new limits.

When situations become uncomfortable, the unwavering camera forces the audience and the actors to endure the awkwardness. The scenes feel authentic, posing a question asked in many ways throughout “Birdman,” “What separates art from reality?”

Keaton can connect to Thomson on a real level, smudging the line between the two; Keaton’s career has plateaued since Batman in the early ’90s, and, much like the play for Thomson, “Birdman” represents a chance for Keaton to return to that peak.

When Thomson grumbles after noticing Robert Downey Jr. (star of the “Iron Man” franchise) on television, it’s hard not to wonder if Keaton would have responded in the exact same way.

Norton, in a masterful performance, plays Mike Shiner, a pretentious but talented theater actor. Shiner is fine spouting off lies about his life to the New York Times yet refuses to drink dyed water, downing real alcohol instead as he insists that theater is the only place where truth exists.

This focus culminates in a thrilling penultimate sequence in which Thomson balances on the fine line between art and reality, dealing with his ego onstage. Keaton sells it every hurried pace of the way, all with the camera tagging close behind.

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‘Nightcrawler’ explores journalistic integrity through a bloody lens

When a jobless Bloom pulls over one night behind a wreck, he unexpectedly finds a career that seems both appealing and doable: “nightcrawling,” or filming the aftermath of crashes, crimes, and other horrid events in hopes of selling the video to news stations.

As a veteran of the scene explains to Bloom, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Gyllenhaal has spent much of his career playing likeable, albeit sometimes troubled and complex, characters, which is why seeing him as Bloom is both startling and exciting.

With each friendly wave or eager bob of the head, audience members have to fight to see through Bloom’s thin disguise.

Bloom is charismatic and calculating, enthusiastic yet unfeeling, a strange blend of qualities that Gyllenhaal somehow manages to combine into a believable, engrossing character.

Bloom rapidly adapts to the nightcrawler lifestyle, familiarizing himself with L.A. roads and police codes and establishing a relationship with a local news station.

Before long, Bloom starts seeing himself more as a director than a reporter. Arriving at a scene before the police, he drags a bloodied corpse across the pavement like a prop, setting up what he believes is the perfect shot.

“Nightcrawler” isn’t just gory fun. The movie raises questions about our bloodthirsty society and how we see the world through the same red-tinted lenses Bloom dons in a more literal way.

Nina Romina, the morning news director played by an intimidating Rene Russo, cuts out important details from a multiple homicide story, opting to portray the drug dealing victims as unlucky affluent innocents. Sadly, this same sensationalism is undoubtedly present in the coverage of recent tragedies from which Americans cannot turn away.

However, the film’s message could be stronger; its own appeal largely stems from its graphic imagery, making its theme seem somewhat hypocritical.

The movie’s muted message isn’t its only problem; the ending is unsatisfying and the character of Bloom, while compelling, often has unclear motives. He asks anyone he can for a job and then, once he starts on the titular career path, works tirelessly to create a nightcrawling network and stubbornly negotiates the price per video, yet the money doesn’t seem to interest him.

Despite its faults, “Nightcrawler” represents an impressive debut by Gilroy, who creates a dark, sleek atmosphere, and a significant step forward in Gyllenhaal’s career.

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New television format offers solutions to many of the industry’s problems

Television has been trying to catch up with cinema for years, but movies seem to have every advantage possible.

As a result, television has suffered. Surprisingly, little has been done to change these circumstances; outside of adapting to the increasingly online setting of the new millennium, which hasn’t been completely successful, the format for television has changed very little since it first became popular.

Finally, TV shows are starting to understand how to combat the problems they face: by becoming more like cinema.

In the past few months, “anthology” series, or shows in which each season contains a succinct and complete story with new characters and settings connected by a certain theme, have become increasingly popular.

The format, which originally gained attention in “American Horror Story,” has been perfected by series like “True Detective” and “Fargo.”

These two excellent new series have both intelligently used their new format to their advantage. Noah Hawley, showrunner for Fargo, even described the first season as a “10-hour movie.”

Both were able to attract excellent and famous actors (Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in “True Detective” and Billy Bob Thornton in “Fargo”) because these stars were excited to take part in unique new shows and could commit their time given they’d only have to stick around for one season.

Typically, the large salaries, increased exposure, and sometimes acclaim films can offer, which cannot be found in the television industry, attract a much larger percentage of stars or simply talented actors.

Having well-known names in these shows paid off. The familiar faces undoubtedly attracted viewers as well as awards (McConaughey, Harrelson, and Thornton were all nominated for Emmys).

These series can spend their budgets more freely; with the short seasons of this new format, which usually last less than 10 episodes, the shows can afford more expensive visual effects that actually stand up when compared to movies.

Because of this, the visuals of “True Detective” and “Fargo” were noticeably superior to those of other popular dramas.

Anthology series also remove any fears of cancellation for fans, as even if a show is ended prematurely, the planned season finale should satisfy.

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Movie remakes ruin the original interpretation

In a 2012 interview, Joel Kinnaman, the star of 2014’s “Robocop” remake, stated that creating a reboot that could be labeled PG-13 would be a “huge mistake.”

But the shocking violence of the original film wasn’t present in the remake, and the film was in fact given a PG-13 rating.

While Samuel L. Jackson, another star of the film, insisted that the remake would have been rated R at the time when the original was released, the film nonetheless felt like an empty attempt to emulate the first film without truly adding anything of its own or even respecting the shockingly graphic imagery and controversial nature of the original.

Director José Padiliha stated that the movie was meant to be PG-13 so that it could appeal to the broadest possible audience; in other words, Padiliha’s remake had to make money, even if that meant sacrificing the integrity of the film.

Remakes are no longer made because filmmakers believe they can put a fresh spin on an old classic; instead, studios simply add updated special effects and reuse old stories just to make some easy money.

In 2013, theaters were loaded with remakes. Even acclaimed directors like Spike Lee (“Oldboy”) and Baz Luhrmann (“The Great Gatsby”) contributed to the unfortunate trend, and both of their movies received tepid reviews as a result.

2014 will bring even more unnecessary and likely terrible remakes. An “Annie” reboot produced by Jay-Z and starring 10-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis will be released next December, and the trailer makes it look just as awkward and misguided as it sounds.

Meanwhile, “Fantastic 4” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” remakes threaten to top the originals in terms of pure unpleasantness while “Jungle Book” and “Godzilla” remakes simply seem unnecessary or even insulting given the originals are still seen as undisputable classics today.

The flood of remakes hitting theaters sets a dangerous precedent for filmmaking. The industry should be built on innovation and original ideas, not bland remakes.

The idea that kids in a few decades may only know about a mediocre “Robocop” remake that doesn’t stand up against the controversial original should scare movie lovers everywhere.

In a 2012 interview, Joel Kinnaman, the star of 2014’s “Robocop” remake, stated that creating a reboot that could be labeled PG-13 would be a “huge mistake.”

But the shocking violence of the original film wasn’t present in the remake, and the film was in fact given a PG-13 rating.

While Samuel L. Jackson, another star of the film, insisted that the remake would have been rated R at the time when the original was released, the film nonetheless felt like an empty attempt to emulate the first film without truly adding anything of its own or even respecting the shockingly graphic imagery and controversial nature of the original.

Director José Padiliha stated that the movie was meant to be PG-13 so that it could appeal to the broadest possible audience; in other words, Padiliha’s remake had to make money, even if that meant sacrificing the integrity of the film.

Remakes are no longer made because filmmakers believe they can put a fresh spin on an old classic; instead, studios simply add updated special effects and reuse old stories just to make some easy money.

In 2013, theaters were loaded with remakes. Even acclaimed directors like Spike Lee (“Oldboy”) and Baz Luhrmann (“The Great Gatsby”) contributed to the unfortunate trend, and both of their movies received tepid reviews as a result.

2014 will bring even more unnecessary and likely terrible remakes. An “Annie” reboot produced by Jay-Z and starring 10-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis will be released next December, and the trailer makes it look just as awkward and misguided as it sounds.

Meanwhile, “Fantastic 4” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” remakes threaten to top the originals in terms of pure unpleasantness while “Jungle Book” and “Godzilla” remakes simply seem unnecessary or even insulting given the originals are still seen as undisputable classics today.

The flood of remakes hitting theaters sets a dangerous precedent for filmmaking. The industry should be built on innovation and original ideas, not bland remakes.

The idea that kids in a few decades may only know about a mediocre “Robocop” remake that doesn’t stand up against the controversial original should scare movie lovers everywhere.

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Ambitious films of the coming year create excitement among moviegoers

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – MARCH 7

After the success of “Moonrise Kingdom,” Wes Anderson moves from a New England summer camp to a Hungarian hotel without losing any of his signature quirkiness, if the offbeat trailers are any indication. With many of Anderson’s recurring stars, including Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, and Bill Murray, as well as a few new, but still famous, faces, such as Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, and Jude Law, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” will definitely surprise moviegoers. The film also largely features virtually unknown actor Mario Revolori, who stands to gain significant recognition just as Schwartzman once did in Anderson’s s second film, “Rushmore.”

INTERSTELLAR – NOV 14Movies to look forward to (Interstellarl, interstellarmovie.com)

  To say that even by his own standards, director Christopher Nolan’s newest film “Interstellar” sounds both technically and visually daring means a lot. Could it be that Nolan, whose films includes mindbenders like “Memento” and “Inception,” is being too ambitious in the new movie, which follows a group of explorers’ journey through a wormhole? After all, the standards are set high, and not just among Nolan’s films; space movies have reached a new level, especially with this year’s Oscar favorite “Gravity.” However, the film will likely match expectations with Nolan at the helm, especially since he is directing a cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Caine.

FOXCATCHER – TBD

  In one of his few dramatic roles, Steve Carell will play John du Pont, a mentally unstable man who murdered Olympic medalist David Schultz (Channing Tatum) in 1996. Carell was already a frontrunner in the Oscar race when the movie was delayed until 2014, and his performance will likely be different than anything he has ever done before. After all, the only other truly derailed character Carell has ever played was Brick Tamland in the hilarious “Anchorman” series.

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