Kam on Film: ‘Birdman,’ ‘Little Hope Was Arson’ and What’s New In Theaters

—by , December 3, 2014

Birdman

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Rated R for sexuality, brief violence and pervasive profanity

Fading Star Mounts Comeback On Broadway In Midlife Crisis Dramedy

A couple of decades ago, actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) was sitting atop the showbiz food chain. However, the former box-office star’s stock has been in sharp decline since he stopped playing Birdman after a trio of outings as the popular, blockbuster superhero. And today, he’s so closely associated with the iconic character that nobody’s eager to hire him.

With his career fading fast and no roles on the horizon, Riggan decides to take it upon himself to orchestrate his own comeback. The plan is to mount a Broadway production, with what’s left of his dwindling savings, of the Raymond Carver short story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

First, he adapts the short story to the stage, with the idea of not only starring but directing. Then, he enlists the assistance of his skeptical attorney/agent Jake (Zach Galifianakis) and his drug-addicted daughter Sam (Emma Stone), while rounding out the cast with his girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), fellow film industry refugee, Lesley (Naomi Watts), and her matinee idol beau, Mike (Edward Norton).

Will the washed-up thespian manage to make himself over with the help of this motley crew? Unfortunately, Riggan is a troubled soul with more on his plate than the already intimidating challenge of putting on the play.

For, he happens to be haunted by a discouraging voice in his head telling him he’s going to fail, too. That would be his alter ego, Birdman, a nasty, one-note, blithering birdbrain of balderdash.

Written and directed by Oscar nominee Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (for Babel), Birdman is a bittersweet portrait of a Hollywood has-been desperate for a second go-round in the limelight. The sublimely scripted dramedy simultaneously paints a perfectly plausible picture of life on the Great White Way courtesy of pithy background banter.

The movie features a plethora of praiseworthy performances, starting with Michael Keaton (Batman) who will likely earn an Oscar nomination in a thinly-veiled case of art imitating life. Also impressive are Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and an unusually-sedate Zach Galifianakis, if only for his acting against type.

The theater world’s eloquent answer to Black Swan equally-surrealistic exploration of ballet.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 119 minutes

 

 

Little Hope Was Arson

The Orchard / Submarine Deluxe

Unrated

Bible Belt Documentary Chronicles Atheistic Arsonists’ 2010 Reign Of Terror Across East Texas

In little over a month, starting in January of 2010, 10 churches located within a 40-mile radius of a rural section of East Texas were all burned to the ground. Was this the work of devil worshipping atheists, arsonists in search of a spectacle, or someone else?

The crimes confounded the criminal investigators who mounted the largest manhunt in the history of the region. Eventually, the authorities did crack the case, arresting a couple of troubled young men, Jason Bourque, 19, and Daniel McAllister, 21.

Daniel soon started to sing, confessing after waiving his right to remain silent. He also implicated his pal Jason in return for word from his interrogator that he’d receive half the sentence of his co-conspirator. But that handshake wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, and both defendants landed life sentences when they got their day in court.

After all, this was not only the heart of the Bible Belt, but Texas, a state notorious for its lack of patience for felonious behavior. And when you factor in the ire of unforgiving church members who’d lost their place of worship, all bets were off in terms of any promised plea deal.

Little Hope Was Arson marks the noteworthy directorial debut of Theo Love. The picture is less sensational than understated as it relates an engaging tale in matter-of-fact style. Along the way, we learn about the family dysfunction in each of the boy’s childhood which ostensibly contributed to their lives spiraling out of control.

Personally, I only felt empathy toward the two upon learning how long they’ll have to spend behind bars, since nobody died during their month-long reign of terror. But maybe I was surprised to see a couple of white kids have the Good Book thrown at them.

Nevertheless, I’m sure that they were taught right from wrong as little boys, and somewhere along the way they simply opted for the dark side. So, now they must pay their debt to society.

The moral? Like the ghetto gangstas say: If you can’t do the time, don’t commit the crime. I can only pray that Daniel and Jason’s momentary thrill of setting those buildings ablaze was worth flushing their futures down the drain.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 73 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening December 5, 2014

 

The Pyramid (R for violence and gruesome images) Subterranean horror flick about a team of archaeologists who find themselves hunted by an evil creature after getting lost while exploring a labyrinth inside a lost pyramid discovered in Egypt beneath the Sahara Desert. Co-starring Garsha Arristos, Joseph Beddelem, Omar Benbrahim and James Buckley.

 

Top Five (R for sexuality, nudity, crude humor, pervasive profanity and drug use) Chris Rock wrote, directed and stars in this star vehicle about a standup comic trying to become a serious actor. With Gabrielle Union, Tracy Morgan and Rosario Dawson.

 

The Barefoot Artist (Unrated) Poignant portrait of 73-year-old Lily Yeh, the Chinese artist-turned-global humanitarian who, based on a belief that access to art is a fundamental human right, created a foundation which transformed abandoned lots and buildings into parks, gardens, theaters, studios and educational facilities for poor kids in Philadelphia, Rwanda, Kenya, Ecuador and elsewhere around the world.

 

By The Gun (R for sexuality, nudity, graphic violence, pervasive profanity and drug use) Mafia drama, set in Boston, about an ambitious mobster’s (Ben Barnes) effort to become a made man. With Harvey Keitel, Toby Jones and Leighton Meester.

 

Comet (R for profanity, sexual references and drug use) Time-travel adventure set in a parallel universe and chronicling a star-crossed couple’s (Emmy Rossum and Justin Long) tempestuous relationship. With Eric Winter, Lou Beatty, Jr. and Kayla Servi.

 

Concerning Violence (Unrated) Liberation retrospective, narrated by Lauryn Hill and inspired by Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth,” recounting nine African nations’ fights for freedom from European colonial rulers in the ’60s and ’70s. (In English, Swedish, French and Portuguese with subtitles)

 

Dying Of The Light (R for profanity and violence) Revenge thriller about a CIA agent (Nicolas Cage) who goes rogue, rather than retiring as ordered, in order to track down the terrorist (Alexander Karim) who tortured him years earlier. With Anton Yelchin, Irene Jacob and Adetomiwa Edun.

 

The Foxy Merkins (Unrated) Unlikely-buddies comedy about a cash-strapped, asthmatic, lesbian, wannabe whore (Lisa Haas) who learns the ropes of the business from a straight, wealthy, seasoned streetwalker (Jackie Monahan) well-versed in picking up and satisfying women. With Frances Bodomo, Diane Ciesla and Claudia Cogan.

 

Lap Dance (Unrated) Greg Carter wrote and directed this semi-autobiographical drama about an aspiring actress (Ali Cobrin) who gets permission from her fiancé (Robert Hoffman) to moonlight as a stripper to pay her cancer-stricken father’s (James Remar) medical bills. Co-starring Stacey Dash, Mariel Hemingway, Carmen Electra and Nia Peeples.

 

Life Partners (R for profanity and sexuality) Romantic comedy revolving around a couple of BFFs, one gay (Leighton Meester), one straight (Gillian Jacobs), whose long-term friendship is tested when the latter starts dating a doctor (Adam Brody). Support cast includes Gabourey Sidibe, Abby Elliott, Greer Grammer and Kate McKinnon.

 

Pioneer (R for profanity) Fact-based political thriller, set in the ’70s, about a grieving diver’s (Aksel Hennie) attempt to expose a corporate and government conspiracy to cover up the truth about how his brother (Andre Eriksen) died during the installation of a gas pipeline in the North Sea. With Wes Bentley, Stephanie Sigman and Jonathan LaPaglia. (In Norwegian and English with subtitles)

 

Poverty, Inc. (Unrated) “The more things change, the more they stay the same” documentary questioning whether Western nation’s anti-poverty industrial complex has been at all effective in alleviating the suffering ofThird World peoples.

 

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (Unrated) Female Empowerment documentary recounting the rise of the women’s movement in the ’60s. Featuring appearances by Muriel Fox, Ellen Willis, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Kate Millett, Susan Brownmiller and Linda Burnham.

 

Wild (R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and drug use) Reese Witherspoon stars in this adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, an Oprah Book Club selection recounting her transformational, 1,100-mile solo trek across the Mojave Desert at the age of 26 to heal herself in the wake of a divorce, heroin addiction and the death of her mother. Cast includes Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michael Huisman and Gaby Hoffmann.


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