The Morning After: Dec. 1, 2014

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:


Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu strikes out in a bold new direction that expands beyond the simple multi-character dramas he’s used to telling. Here, he takes us backstage to a washed-up actor’s Broadway debut as star, writer and director of a Raymond Carver novel.

Michael Keaton plays a depressive version of himself, a popular actor whose superhero franchise made him rich, but whose subsequent career fell into the shadow of his mass audience achievement. Having destroyed his marriage and been a crappy father to his daughter, he’s now attempting to repair the damage he’s caused and legitimize his choice of careers.

Keaton is a tour de force, an acting legend given the chance to show a side that few have seen and appreciated. He’s surrounded by a superb cast including Emma Stone in top form as his rehab-graduated daughter; Naomi Watts, fine as always, as his play’s leading lady; Andrea Riseborough finding sure footing as his paramour and supporting actress; Zach Galifianakis giving his best performance to date as Keaton’s lawyer and stage manager; and Edward Norton performing back at the peak of his ability as the egotistical new co-star.

Filmed as if it were one long take, Birdman is a fascinating character study examining the gulf between populism and craft with plenty of directorial flare and an admittedly new tone for Inarritu whose films were never revelatory departures of traditional form.

Gone Girl

If there’s one director who uses familiar techniques to tell fascinating stories, it’s David Fincher. Gone Girl takes us behind closed doors as man becomes the central focus of a criminal investigation when his wife mysteriously vanishes.

Ben Affleck plays the husband and Rosamund Pike plays the wife in this fascianting portrait of a young couple whose marriage had begun crumbling and the after math of her diappearance. It’s nearly impossible to discuss the plot without giving away crucial details. The first third of the film plays out like a murder mytery with the remainder is a mixture of psychological thriller and psychosexual drama.

Affleck continues to showcase a late-career resurgence of talent while Pike’s performance will one day be the stuff of legend. Not to be unfairly forgotten, Carrie Coon is superb as Affleck’s sister; Kim Dickens is equally impressive as the police detective investigating the crime; and Tyler Perry shows us a heretofore unseen side of his talent as the high profile lawyer who takes on Affleck’s case.

Fincher doesn’t have to create bold, effusive techniques to tell his stories. Sticking with simplistic structures and construction, Fincher crafts one of his most compelling mysteries to date, a story that is equal parts predictable and shocking. Gillian Flynn’s adaptation of her own novel fits perfectly in Fincher’s stylistic wheelhouse, a pseudo-extension of his fascinating work on films like Zodiac and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Whether I’m finally warming up to Wes Anderson or he’s improving with experience, The Grand Budapest Hotel quickly became one of my favorite Anderson films.

Set at a remote German hotel, a legendary concierge (Ralph Fiennes) becomes the central focus of a murder investigation when he surprisingly inherits an incredibly valuable painting upon the mysterious death of an aged woman whom he had spent many hours romancing within the confines of The Grand Budapest Hotel.

A terrific ensemble surrounds Fiennes as he guides us on a ludicrous mystery involving sex, murder and art, with a side of cursing and intrigue. Fiennes hasn’t been this good in years with a performance enhanced by Anderson’s masterful touch. Knowing how to create characters that the best actors can dig into and bring to larger-than-life, Anderson’s films have an otherworldly quality that make them feel a part of several cinematic eras simultaneously.

The film is lushly appointed with some of the finest sets seen on film in recent years, easily surpassing any that he’s previously created. Add in the droll and witty humor and you have an incredibly fun, entirely entertaining feature.

The Boxtrolls

Laika has produced two of the very best stop-motion film ever made. Coraline and ParaNorman are richly detailed in both design and story. The Boxtrolls tries hard to make it three-for-three and mostly succeeds.

The story, a bit less serpentine than the previous outings, is just as inventive in terms of setting and characters. The film features short, gray creatures who live and hide in boxes, taking on the name of the images depicted on the boxes. After a young child is “stolen” by the Boxtrolls, an underhanded crook weaves a horrendous tale of the creatures that live beneath the city and promises the city’s leadership to rid the town of these creatures in exchange for a place of honor among the White Hats, a group of rich men whose passion for cheese trumps nearly everything else.

The animation is astounding, but the story seems to struggle at times. Its main thrust is built on a shaky premise that doesn’t have the emotional resonance of the studio’s prior two outings. It’s still a fun, engaging tale, it just doesn’t have the excellence we’ve come to expect from this company.

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