Trailer park: Ultron, Tomorrowland, Crimson Peak and Aloha

To butcher Led Zeppelin lyrics a little, there’s a whole lotta love out there for a whole lotta films coming out in the next few months. Too many to go through in much depth, but here’s a few I’d like to briefly pick out for your consideration.

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ok, not everyone is a fan of this current glut of superhero films, yet this one really does look impressive. And so it should, given the budget, cast and studio muscle. At one point or another it’s all going to implode, it has to. But for now, I’m on board.

Tomorrowland
This film started life as a theme park ride and whether it turns out to be a franchise behemoth a la Pirates of the Caribbean remains to be seen. What we do know is that Clooney is attached, and he rarely joins doomed projects, so it could be a blast.

Crimson Peak
It’s high time Guillermo del Toro got back to what he does best… inhibiting a niche genre perhaps only rivalled by Tim Burton. But where Burton comes at his stories from more of an oddball outsider perspective, del Toro opts for horror and macabre fantasy.

Aloha
Ah, the sweet and observant writer-director Cameron Crowe, who doesn’t love his films? His last beautiful little story was We Bought a Zoo in 2011, so he’s been out the game a while. This looks like a good return to form with a cracking cast to boot.

Birdman: Keaton’s sad sack soars and swoops

In the last fifteen or twenty years, which actor do you go to for deranged and unhinged? Nic Cage? Jack Nicholson maybe? Actors who were wild in their youth tend to mellow with age, or grow old disgracefully. In the case of Michael Keaton it’s been quite some time since he last danced with the devil in the pale moonlight, so it was high time he returned to cinema. Here he’s channelled his talent into creating a character that has to be on a par – in terms of being washed up and on the last roll of the dice career wise – with Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler.

birdman-michael-keaton-emma-stone1-600x421

And whilst the aforementioned film was on the serious and dramatic end of the scale, Birdman comes at things from a quirky yet melancholy point of view. Dark? Yes. Supremely odd? Check. But still a drama, with comedy elements aplenty, taking the time to explore some interesting themes along the way.

In terms of setup we start with Keaton’s Riggan Thomson (great name), a faded movie star, one famous for playing a superhero called Birdman. He yearns for recognition again and, perhaps even more than that, credibility and critical acclaim. In short, he longs to be taken seriously as an actor. And in the theatre he might just achieve that. However this is his last roll of the dice, as his lawyer and friend Jake (Zach Galafianakis) regularly tells him.

Birdman5

To help his credibility he drafts in a proper theatre actor daaahling, in the form of Mike Shiner (Ed Norton), who then proceeds to steal his limelight on stage and seduce every nearby female he can. This begins to push his buttons – or at least twiddle Riggan’s sanity lever till the dial gets a bit loose.

As a result he is barely holding the play – and himself – together as they approach opening night, and to add to his woes he has: a daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), fresh out of rehab and with whom he is failing as a father; a highly strung actress girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) using her sexuality as a weapon; another highly strung actress, Lesley (Naomi Watts) who craves a similar level of artistic accomplishment; plus theatre critic (Lindsay Duncan) out for his blood and determined to ruin the play.

enterbirdman-movie-review3mct

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a most interesting director. And a most interesting choice for this film. In the past he’s gives us Amores perros, 21 Grams, Babel and Biutiful. All pretty weighty tales. He tends to get drawn to exploring death and grief and how we deal with it.

With Birdman, whilst this is the first time he has tackled comedy, these morbid elements still get thrown into the mix. And as we know comedy and tragedy are often close bedfellows at the best of times. One treads a fine line alongside the other.

On the evidence of this film perhaps he should stick to this approach for the foreseeable future, as he has a knack for it. He also gives us a great sense of the mad, chaotic world of backstage. Indeed, behind the scenes of the theatre are a claustrophobic place, all cramped tunnels and confusing corridors. His camera often right on the shoulders of his cast, twisting and turning and swirling around them as the fight, argue, flirt and despair.

cdn.indiewire.com

You particularly get a sense of this from Riggan. As he moves through the back corridors of the theatre accosted and confronted by his team, we follow him closely. At the same time we’re subjected to a musical score that matches the madness, namely a lunatic on a drumkit. It’s entirely possible this isn’t the film’s score, but the soundtrack to Riggan’s unravelling mind. (Actually, that’s still a score, even if it is internalised to one character. See… the madness is affecting me!)

The way Riggan’s alter ego (or subconscious) is personified and harangues him throughout the film slightly puts you in mind of Tyler Durden in Fight Club. Yet here it’s more of a peripheral presence, as Riggan wrestles with the inviting notion of celebrity and recognition versus the tough and uncompromising road of critical acclaim.

1410721997_Norton

Whilst this is Keaton’s movie by some distance, the supporting cast steal every scene they get. Simply put, they all looked just plain up for it. Considering Inarritu’s past work it seems he’s been storing a world of mischief up his directorial sleeve. Ed Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone… They all get to shine in a scene or two and are all an utter delight. It seems Inarritu has been supping from the cup of quirk formerly held by Wes Anderson. So in that respect it’s refreshing to see another director flourish and take up the mantle. (After Grand Budapest Hotel I feel Anderson may have got a little too quirky for his own good.)

I went into this film with no expectation or knowledge of the plot. I’d not seen the trailer. I knew the cast, but not the fact it was this director. Going by the title you might expect some sort of comedy featuring a shabby superhero. You could call it that. You could. But it wouldn’t be accurate.

Birdman-02

You could say this film flies the flag for character driven pieces, whether that’s cinema or theatre, it favours people and emotions over spectacle and explosions. It takes a thinly veiled dig at blockbusters, but also against the rather ridiculous and overblown world of theatre. And it’s all the better for it.

This film is clearly one that critics will love (for those that haven’t reviewed it already) but, without going out on too much of a limb, it should also be one that audiences will love. And it will most likely be a slow burner as word of mouth spreads. This one will last, people will say. And, in that, Riggan (and Keaton) will be remembered.

Emma Stone – rising star of Hollywood

wichita zombielandThere’s something about Emma Stone, only I cannot pinpoint her appeal. Maybe that’s part of her appeal? The other night I watched The Amazing Spider-Man – the latest franchise reboot – and Stone is great in it. Strong chemistry with Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker, as you’d expect now they’re dating in real life.

There’s not many young actresses out there that have sublime, comic timing combined with dramatic talent. Stone does in abundance.

Hollywood – an industry always looking for the next bankable star – picked up on this quickly, casting her in a variety of roles; from comedy to action, indie to blockbuster spectacles – make no mistake, Miss Stone’s star is on the rise.

We have take-off
Ever since she broke into the A-list in 2007 as Jules in Superbad, she’s gone from strength to strength. So, too, have the three young, male actors: Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Michael Cera and Jonah Hill – each having starred in some brilliant films in the last few years.

After Superbad, for me, her next effortlessly cool character was Wichita in Ruben Fleischer’s 2009 film, Zombieland. Perfectly cast opposite another actor good at mixing intelligent delivery with sharp, witty, comic lines, Jessie Eisenberg. Admittedly she didn’t have too much to do in this film, but played her part well.

easy_a_emma_stoneMoving into the stratosphere
In 2010, she made a significant step up playing fantastically-named lead character, Olive Penderghast, in comedy Easy A. A super-smart, teen comedy with a killer script. With so many witty, excellent lines, the film seemed tailored with Stone in mind. Indeed, she gained a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.

2011 was also a strong year, she starred in 1960s drama, The Help – a critical and commercial success. She also played opposite Ryan Gosling in another smart rom-com, Crazy, Stupid Love.

No matter what roles she’s cast in or what male actor she’s opposite, Stone just seems to come across so relaxed and natural. Smart, sassy, easygoing, but gives as good as she gets – dare I say it, perfect girlfriend material? Perhaps that’s another part of her appeal, both guys and girls want to hang out with her. She seems fun, likeable and accessible.

emma stone gangster squad ryan goslingGoing supernova
So what’s next? Well, we can look forward to Stone in next year’s crime flick, Gangster Squad. With a really strong cast, this film reunites Stone with Zombieland Director Ruben Fleischer and her Crazy, Stupid Love co-star Ryan Gosling – so expect sparks, drama and Tommy guns!

Also, she’ll most likely have some other films up her sleeve for next year. Furthermore, with the latest Spider-man reboot seen largely as a success, she’ll reprise her role as Gwen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, scheduled for 2014. So, all in all, things are looking good for Hollywood’s golden girl!