2015 promises to be a, uh, promising year for movie goers. Superheroes are part of the landscape now, while depth-filled dramas and thought-provoking action try to take a piece of the pie as well. More so, the lines between genres are being blurred more than ever before, perhaps an attempt by directors (and their team) to highlight their adaptive skills and to attract a more varied audience.
This is a revolving list, so stay tuned for updates!
Uhm, this was unexpected. The Babadook puts a new twist to the (psychological) horror genre that legitimately gave me the heebie-jeebies, one that crawled under my skin building tension and fear, not unlike Alien.
The work of Jennifer Kent, this Australian export is a slow burn from the get-go, introducing widowed Amelia (Essie Davis) and her young son Sam (Noah Wiseman), each processing in their own way the loss of their husband/father, who they lost in a tragic auto accident. Sam obviously has behavioral and emotional issues, while Amelia tries hard to put on a fortified front to show love and support for Sam, but undergoes – and gradually gives in to – issues of her own. The plot takes a change when one night, Sam brings a strange new children’s book from the shelf to read with mom, called The Babadook. I’ll tell you something, never has a children’s pop-out book creep me out like this one.
The creature itself (with one of the scariest voices I’ve heard in a long time, second only to my 5th grade math teacher) is something straight from your worst nightmares. It slowly but surely makes its way into the family’s life, which in turn, ups the performance of both Essie and Noah to a very memorable degree. You can feel the love they have for one another, that they’d do anything to protect the other. Essie deserves an award for portraying different aspects of her character. Her voice octave range, body language, and expressions sell every emotion and action.
Maybe it was intentional, but there are various points in the story where I was left wondering if the Babadook actually existed at all. Was it a hallucination? If so, who was experiencing them? Mom or son? Or both? Spooky.
Another praise: this movie deserves applause is its lack of gore, cheap scares, or CG effects – a welcome respite in this day and age. It’s all psychological and very effective at that. A modern day The Shining or aforementioned Alien? I dare say – yes. This movie comes highly recommended.
Sidenote: The curious part of me hopes they start making and selling that children’s book, the other part hopes that they don’t.
Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The trailer was what initially piqued my interest. Quirky dark humor it seemed to advertise. The final film is so much more than that – it’s audacious and creative as much as it is funny and insightful, delivered masterfully in a unique cinematographic style. The story is deceptively simple on the outside (Michael Keaton, as Riggan Thomson, is basically trying to revive his dying career by putting on a play, on Broadway, no less), but it is a thoroughly entertaining canvas that has more depth than anything I’ve seen since Boyhood. I must add that there are many great movies with depth, but they require multiple viewings to grasp it. Birdman just takes you by the end credits.
Alejandro Iñárritu (Babel) managed a great cast that tugged on many of my heartstrings – Michael Keaton made me sympathize for the once relevant, but now worn, soul-searching man; Emma Stone reminded me of my (literal and psychological) young self who struggles with balancing wants, desires, love, and attention, with inner peace; Ed Norton is just like myself who criticises people like Keaton’s character, wears it on his shoulder for everybody to see, but turns out to be no better than that person himself; Amy Ryan reaches out to me with the compassion and affection the same way my better half does.
Let me just say that Michael Keaton’s performance in Birdman is wonderful – it’s strong, intense, and is a slight dig to his own life as an actor and as Batman. There’s a scene where Keaton briskly but brazenly walks through Broadway in his tighty-whiteys, which is similar to Pierce Brosnan in the equally unapologetic hotel lobby piece in post-Bond Matador; both actors poking fun at their professional pasts, it seems. Ed Norton and Emma Stone looked like they were enjoying their roles and lines. I’ve always admired Edward Norton for his flexibility and ease as an actor, and as Mike Shiner, he confidently and often humorously embodies narcissistic pride combined with introverted vulnerability. Emma is beautiful in this flick – some of her best acting yet. One of the longest monologues (pg. 54 of the script) she does in one take is simple but hits me like a brick as much as it did to her father, Riggan. Like, wow.
And then there’s the much hyped about camera/post-editing work, which adds another layer to the storytelling. Iñárritu insistently envisioned a story unfolding to the viewer in seemingly one single take. There was some shooting tricks as well as tech geekery involved here, but the result is not as jarring as one would think. By riding with the camera, the viewer is transported minutes, hours, even days, through the eyes of Riggan Thomson and other main casts as Riggan’s Broadway production unfolds.
TL;DR – At first, I didn’t think Birdman would be able to play with some of the heavy-hitters from 2014 like Interstellar, Calvary, or Whiplash. However, 20-30 minutes into it, I was humbly floored. The content or genre may not be for everyone, but I say give it a chance. It has my two thumbs up.