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As if I needed more reasons to want to love Michael Keaton as a performer, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has given the actor a fantastic role that puts him back in the spotlight, in a film that puts heavy emphasis on what it is to mean something to many, only to want to redefine one's self. That is just one of the many ideas that Birdman tackles, as the film plays as a very entertaining dissection of Hollywood, Broadway, and the notion of fame in our modern culture. Additionally, Inarritu was far from content with treating this project as a simple satirical exercise, so the film is made to show us the weeks that go by in this story within nearly one long take. This shot is of course many shots carefully stitched together, but the screenplay is also a careful assemblage of ideas, themes, and great moments for all the actors to shine. This makes Birdman an ambitious and unpredictable ball of energy that just so happens to be a spectacular film to watch.
The Nightmare Before Christmas has become a widely loved kids film, when it comes to celebrating Halloween. If things go the way they should, The Book of Life is in a nice position to become the film that represents Dia de los Muertos for kids, let alone brings it further into mainstream prominence. Director Jorge Guiterrez and his team, including producer Guillermo del Toro, have created a stylish, animated, adventure-romance, which is full of life. It is a bit odd to point that last part out, given that the film celebrates the Day of the Dead, but then again, there is a lot of odd charm in this film that may be overstuffed with ideas, but is so lighthearted and fun, it is easy to look over some minor flaws, when it comes down to supporting a nice little animated film such as this.
Wardaddy: I had the best gunner in the entire United Army in S.E. Now I have you.
World War II has been the source of a lot of great war movies, let alone movies in general. It seems to have a near endless supply of material, when it comes to developing new ideas for screenplays. Fury may not be the first film about a tank crew, but it does seem like a refreshing approach to this sort of film in modern times. With that in mind, while writer/director David Ayer was able to provide some exciting action sequences, a thrilling final act, and strong enough material for the actors to work with, there is only so much a film like this can accomplish when we end up not learning a whole lot about who this crew is. As a result, Fury is a pretty straight-forward and occasionally intense war film that certainly looks like the effort to keep it authentic was made, but does not have much complexity, beyond visceral thrills.
Vlad: I'm the thing men fear. Not a ghost, something else.
Dracula Untold is 92 minutes long. There are likely just over 92 films about the character of Dracula, in some form, if we collected all versions (including Nosferatu and the Blacula films, of course), but suffice it to say that I was not expecting this latest concept for how to incorporate the character into a film to be anything special. Sure, I was intrigued by the idea of going way back and seeing what they can do with a story about Vlad the Impaler, but this really is not that film. Dracula Untold is more or less an excuse to provide another brooding period action hero, which has been currently in style since Russell Crowe in Gladiator (see: 300 and Ridley Scott's other recent period films). This time the gimmick relies on brooding action guy being a vampire with awesome powers. There does not end up being a whole lot of weight or excitement in this film, but it looks visually interesting at times and at least it was only 92 minutes.
Being a great drummer is clearly no easy feat. One would not think a young jazz musician wanting to play drum at a music school would be the source for a gripping thriller, but then again, writer/director Damien Chazelle was responsible for writing the film Grand Piano, which was a thriller about a man forced to play the piano (or else!). That in mind, Whiplash is not a guilty pleasure take on a Hitchcockian thriller; it is an intensely focused drama that matches its ace lead performances with striking cinematic visuals to deliver a pretty fantastic film. This is a film that pushes its characters to their limits, in an effort to show what it means to be talented, passionate, and transfixed by getting something exactly right.