Movie Reviews: Birdman & Wild

WildAnd my quest to see every Oscar movie before the Oscars continues! I managed to nail two this week – both excellent. To hear more about WHY they were excellent, read on…If you prefer it when I completely slate movies, then this may not be the week for you ūüėČ

Birdman

This hard to fit into a genre film is probably going into the Oscars as one of the favourites to win best film – alongside Boyhood. The battle of the Bs if you like. And it’s very hard call to make as to which one will take it out (don’t worry, my Oscar prediction blog will be forthcoming). I went into this film knowing a little of what to expect in terms of plot, but also being warned that it was pretty crazy, hard to define and not for everyone. So, suffice to say, my expectations were somewhat hard to pin down also.

The movie tells the tale of a former superhero franchise movie star – brilliantly played (and cast) by former superhero franchise movie star Michael Keaton – who is trying to earn some respectability by adapting, directing and starring in a Broadway play. We follow him in the days preceding then including the ‘previews’ period – where people get cheap tickets to allow the¬†actors to hone the show, and allow some buzz to spread. Things are far from straight forward when a last minute casting change – involving the fantastic Ed Norton – is required, family dramas – involving the as always amazing Emma Stone as Keaton’s post-rehab daughter – occur, and Keaton himself struggles with his own demons. Sound too intense? Well, it isn’t. Remember this flick was in the musical/comedy category at the Golden Globes – and it definitely isn’t a musical. So although there are very dramatic moments and serious issues dealt with – there are many laughs to be had here.

Much has been made of the ‘one take’ nature of this film¬†– the fluid movement from scene to scene with clever creative devices showing time passing – and that is impressive to watch. But it was the script and the performances that made this film for me. It definitely shows the dirty side of Hollywood – and Keaton, Stone and Norton in particular imbue their characters with such life that you can’t help but go on the journey with them. Stone was a revelation for me playing a completely different role than I have seen her in before – she isn’t bubbly, energetic Emma that’s for sure. Her Oscar nom for supporting actress is well deserved. And with great support from the likes of Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Zach Galifianakis – there are no bum notes when it comes to performance. And the script is simply next level excellent. It’s commentary on the nature of Hollywood in particular – the focus on opening weekend¬†box office¬†and the current¬†obsession with all things super hero striking a real chord. This is truly a fantastic and genre-bending watch, and it will have you puzzled and thinking for days to come. Four and half multi-coloured M&Ms from me.

Wild

This film – adapted from a memoir by by Cheryl Strayed – definitely lands firmly in the drama category. Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl, a woman with – we assume – some skeletons in her closet who decides to air them out/dissect them by spending three months on her own hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. But, it isn’t all about the walking. Probably half the film is made up of vivid, well inserted flashbacks to Cheryl’s life, and the events which made her take on this massive challenge.

I caught five minutes of Sweet Home Alabama on TV last night and it was hard to marry up that Reese Witherspoon with this one. I remember being horrified when I heard she had acquired the rights to Gone Girl, worried that she might cast herself – I didn’t think she had the acting chops for it. Turns out – she totally does. She is in every scene of this film and anchors it beautifully. She doesn’t overact or turn to melodrama – despite the fact the subject matter could make that an easily done thing. Props must go also¬†to the director Jean-Marc Vallee – who also did Dallas Buyers Club – for ensuring the flashbacks never felt forced or badly timed, they were sinuously inserted into Cheryl’s walk through beautiful, challenging and changing scenery. And Laura Dern was simply excellent in her small but important role as Cheryl’s mother.

My sister warned me going in that I would need tissues – but I didn’t need them.¬†(The fact that she did proves I am WAY tougher than¬†her ;-)). But I didn’t find it as harrowing as maybe I should have or could have – especially since some of the issues dealt with were very relevant to my own life.¬†I found that – for whatever reason – I was somehow distanced from it a little. And I can’t explain why. So,¬†although I would highly recommend the film – and love the fact it is a female-led drama¬†that well and truly¬†passes the Bechdel test¬†– it didn’t quite meet the expectations I went in with, which may be my own fault. Even so, a solid four M&Ms for this one (and take your tissues, cos you may not be as tough as me either ;-)).

Check in again next week for (hopefully) more Oscar reviews – including The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game.

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