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Michael Keaton and Edward Norton...exploring artistic differences

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton…exploring artistic differences

“BIRDMAN”  My rating: B+ (Opens Oct. 31 at  the Glenwood Arts, Cinemark Palace and Studio 30)

119 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Birdman” is a tour de force, a heady mix of dark comedy and psychic meltdown with energy vibrating from every frame.

Writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel”), star Michael Keaton (in a bravura performance) and a terrific supporting cast deliver a movie unlike anything we’ve seen before.

If the film, full name: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” isn’t as deep as it thinks it is, there’s no arguing with the jaw-dropping creativity on display — technical, dramatic and thespian.

The setup: One-time movie box office champ Riggan Thomson (Keaton) — who earned worldwide fame portraying a feathered superhero called Birdman — has come to Broadway to write, direct and star in a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

Riggan has personally financed the production in hopes of restarting his moribund career (“I’m the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question”) and affirming his artistic credentials.

Turns out his sanity is on the line as well.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article3449803.html

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Jake Gyllenhaal...on the prowl

Jake Gyllenhaal…on the prowl

“NIGHTCRAWLER” My rating: B (Opens wide on Oct. 31)

117 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There are no fanged vampires, voracious aliens or whispy ghosts populating “Nightcrawler,” but this is a horror movie nevertheless.

In this skin-crawling drama from first-time director Dan Gilroy (whose screenwriting credits include “The Fall” and “The Bourne Legacy”), the ever-changeable Jake Gyllenhaal gives what may be the year’s most disturbing performance as Louis Bloom, a dead-eyed loner/loser who discovers his calling capturing news footage of big-city mayhem.

You may want to bring your own hand sanitizer.

When we first see Louis he’s driving a crappy old Toyota and stealing copper tubing, chain link fences and manhole covers to sell to a metal recycler.  It’s apparent from the beginning that he’s a b.s. artist who employs empty loquaciousness and a disarming smile to get out of tough spots.  Then he stumbles across a late-night car accident and a pack of freelance cameramen recording the gruesome goings-on, and decides on a career change.

Soon Louis is the proud owner of a police scanner and a cheap video cam. A quick learner, he spends his nights bouncing from crime scene to highway carnage to house fire. Fearlessly barging in on horrible situations,  he grabs if-it-bleeds-it-leads footage that impresses even seen-it-all Nina Romino (Rene Russo), news director of a struggling local TV station.

Nina has her own ideas about ideal news footage: “A screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

In short order Louis has a flashy new car and a low-paid assistant, the homeless/hapless Rick (Rick Garcia), who serves as his navigator and second cameraman as the pair zap around Los Angeles, trying to beat the other news crews — and even the cops — to the crime scenes.

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Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Kristen Dunst

Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Kristen Dunst

“THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY”  My rating: B- (Opens Oct. 31 at the Tivoli)

96 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

In a cinema world filled with Bourne-ish violence and spectacular chases, there’s something quietly satisfying to be found in the work of Patricia Highsmith.  Her novels — especially those centering on the vaguely sinister Tom Ripley — were about character and motivation, not overt violence.

“The Two Faces of January” — the directing debut of acclaimed screenwriter Hossein Amini (“The Wings of the Dove,” “Drive,” “47 Ronin”) — is a minor work but a solid one, a tale of corruption and escape set against the spectacular Greek countryside.

It’s 1962 and the American couple, Chester and Collette (Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Dunst) are enjoying the pleasures of Athens.  He’s a money manager, the much younger Collette is rather obviously a trophy wife.

They hook up with another American, the young Rydal (Oscar Isaac, late of the Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis”), an American “poet” who sells his services as a tour guide. And because he speaks fluent Greek and can conspire with local merchants and vendors, Rydal is usually able to double-charge his clients for a bit of extra profit.

 

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Bill Murray

Bill Murray

“ST. VINCENT”   My rating: B (Opens wide on Oct. 24)    

102 minutes   | MPAA rating: PG-13

Moviegoers may be forgiven for approaching “St. Vincent” with caution.

After all, it features Bill Murray in full-curmudgeon mode as a coot who becomes the reluctant caregiver to the son of a single mother (Melissa McCarthy).

Sounds like a gig Murray could do in his sleep, and plenty of us already have maxed out on McCarthy’s brand of overkill comedy. Moreover, the whole thing reeks of “About A Boy: Geezer Division.”

Except that it works.

With his feature debut, writer/director Theodore Melfi can be accused of dishing Hollywood cliches, but his cast’s sheer good humor and professionalism lift this yarn. And the pile of improbabilities is offset by real heart and solid laughs.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT   http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article3257681.html

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Anton Yelchin, Billy Crudup

Anton Yelchin, Billy Crudup

“RUDDERLESS” My rating: C (Opens Oct. 24 at the Tivoli)

105 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Rudderless,” actor William H. Macy’s feature writing/directing debut, is a pretty good movie — until suddenly it isn’t.

I will not spoil the experience  (the movie does that all by itself) by giving away the late-second-act revelation that turns the picture inside out , making you indignantly realize that the filmmakers (Macy wrote the script with Jeff Robinson and Casey Twenter) have been less than forthright.

It’ll leave you feeling you’ve been had…and not in a enjoyable “Sixth Sense”/gotcha way.

It’s a grief movie.  Early on advertising exec Sam Manning discovers that his son Josh (we see the kid early on…he’s played by “Parenthood’s” Miles Heizer) was one of seven fatalities in a college campus shooting rampage.

Sam hits the skids: heavy drinking, beard growing, dropping out, moving permanently onto his sailboat (he’s already divorced from Josh’s mother, played by Felicity Huffman, aka Mrs. William H. Macy), and in general behaving like a seedy boor.

Then he gets a box of his late son’s belongings, among which are demo CDs and handwritten lyrics of Josh’s songs. The father is deeply moved and begins performing them on his acoustic guitar at a local bar’s open-mic night (Macy portrays the saloon owner).

 

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Blake Robbins

Blake Robbins

“THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL” My rating: B (Opening Oct. 24 at the Screenland Crown Center)

91 minutes | No MPAA rating

The Lawrence-lensed “The Sublime and Beautiful” is a home-grown art film, funded through Kickstarter and exuding the sort of downbeat but classy aura that wows ‘em on the festival circuit (where the film has picked up several awards) if not at the multiplex.

This first writing/directing effort from veteran actor Blake Robbins (TV’s “The Office”), who also stars, is what you might call a transcendent tragedy.

The film’s first 20 minutes depict an average day in the lives of Dave (Robbins) and Kelly  (Laura Kirk) and their three kids, who range in age from toddler to tweener.

In a scene of lively chaos the kids are bundled off to school. There’s talk of Christmas wish lists.

At the university where he teaches, Dave — burly, balding, bearded — grades semester finals and gently rejects the offer of a pretty student willing to trade sex for a passing grade.

It’s pretty much a study in normalcy with Dave as our smart, likable, decent protagonist.

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**** (left foreground)

Tessa Thompson (left foreground)…campus troublemaker

“DEAR WHITE PEOPLE” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Oct. 24)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A post-racial America?

Not according to “Dear White People,” writer/director Justin Simien’s savage satire in which all the swirling crosscurrents of black/white interaction reach critical mass on a posh Ivy League campus.

The film begins with news reports about the furor created by a party at Winchester University. Revelers were invited to “free your inner Negro” by costuming themselves as black stereotypes and dining on friend chicken.

The story proper begins some months earlier and divides its time among several characters, most (but not all) of them African American.

Sam (Tessa Thompson) has a show called “Dear White People” on the campus radio station where she dishes humorous observations on race relations. One wag describes her as “like Spike Lee and Oprah had a pissed-off baby.”

Though she’s more performance artist than true activist, Sam finds herself running for president of one of Winchester’s “houses,” as the various dormitories are known.

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