Oscar hopeful Michael Keaton is brilliant in the black comedy “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”
Birdman is the superhero Riggan played three times on screen and the actor’s alter ego and superego. Now, he’s at St. James Theater in New York trying to revive his career in a play based on Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”
The project is fraught with peril, from the last-minute addition of talented bad boy actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) — at the suggestion of the lead actress, Lesley (Naomi Watts) — to some unexpected news from the production’s other actress, Laura (Andrea Riseborough).
For good measure, throw in Sam (Emma Stone), Riggan’s daughter and assistant who is fresh from rehab, and a visit from his former wife, Sylvia (Amy Ryan). Trying to lend a steadying hand is Riggan’s best friend and the play’s producer, Jake (Zach Galifianakis), who views much of what happens through the lens of ticket sales.
“Birdman” ends on a surreal note that may have moviegoers scratching their heads or marveling in appreciation, but it’s pretty astonishing all along the way.
Rated R for some sexual content and brief violence. Extras include rare on-set photos from cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Also, on Blu-ray: interviews with director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Mr. Keaton, and a backstage peek at the cast and crew.
‘The Theory of Everything’
Stephen Hawking’s theories and work as an astrophysicist are addressed, but this Oscar-nominated film is about his marriage to his first wife, Jane, who knew he had been diagnosed with motor neuron disease (which is related to ALS).
Time and universes, vast and minuscule, are at the center of this story of the couple and their three children, their overwhelming physical and emotional challenges and thorny complications that eventually drove them apart.
The movie is moving, enlightening and beautifully acted, with Eddie Redmayne deserving of all the Oscar buzz.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material. Extras include commentary with director James Marsh, deleted scenes and a “Becoming the Hawking” featurette.
The film takes place during the Franklin Pierce administration (1855) in the painful Plains of the Nebraska Territory.
That’s where strong-minded Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), a middle-aged spinster — string-bean skinny — is plowing her land in the opening shot, outside the tiny godforsaken town of Loup City.
It’s been a harsh winter for all. Hardships, isolation and depression have driven three young local women mad: One (Grace Gummer) lost all her kids to diphtheria, another (Miranda Otto) killed her own baby, the third (Sonja Richter) was repeatedly raped and brutalized by her husband. The local preacher (John Lithgow) solicits a “homesman” to take the ill-fated immigrants back where they came from — to an Iowa church that will shelter them. Mary Bee volunteers, but she needs help.
Enter lowlife claim-jumper George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), freshly caught and left sadistically (on horseback, in noose beneath a tree) to lynch himself. Mary Bee stumbles on him, pathetically whimpering for help, and rescues him in exchange for his promise to accompany her and her trio of madwomen on their long, treacherous trek east.
This mercilessly harsh take on settlers’ life features memorable monologues in Mr. Jones’ patented low-key, offhand rapid delivery. But the director-writer-producer-star is to be commended for largely deferring focus from himself to Ms. Swank, giving her yet another tough, resilient woman to render beautifully against gender conventions.
Rated R for nudity, troubling scenes, sexual situations and violence. Extras include behind-the-scenes looks at “Shooting the Film” and “Story to Script,” and a featurette on the life of women in the 19th century.
Bill Murray is variously playful, peevish and poignant as a retired curmudgeon who becomes the caretaker for a new neighbor, a 12-year-old boy.
Pairing a child-phobic adult with a 12-year-old boy is nothing new, as “About a Boy” on the big and small screens proved. In fact, there is little that is novel about “St. Vincent,” given the cranky retiree, the beleaguered single mom (Melissa McCarthy), the likable kid and, oh yes, the pregnant Russian stripper (Naomi Watts). But writer-director Ted Melfi, making his feature debut, hits the bull’s-eye with his cast, especially young Jaeden Lieberher as the boy.
Rated PG-13 for profanity and mature thematic material, including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use. Extras include deleted scenes and a Q&A with Mr. Murray.
‘Dumb and Dumber To’ HH
Lloyd (Jim Carrey) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) embark on a mission to locate the daughter Harry just learned about — and who might be a match for a kidney he needs.
That leads them to the young woman’s birth mother (Kathleen Turner), the girl’s brilliant adoptive father, his scheming second wife and a nefarious employee.
Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the movie loses momentum about an hour into the 110-minute comedy and lurches toward the end with sight gags, chases and guns drawn. Even the most stony-faced won’t be able to resist everything although you might wish Mr. Carrey could use his quick wit for good rather than tomfoolery.
This genial, occasionally incisive, generally lackadaisical comedy about a dunderheaded journalist tasked with assassinating Kim Jong Un is aimed squarely at fans of the low-brow humor perfected by Seth Rogen and frequent collaborator James Franco. That “The Interview” landed amid the brouhaha of a hacking scandal, geopolitical crisis and First Amendment case study is as improbable as one of Mr. Rogen and Mr. Franco’s absurd plots. As it turns out, the satire isn’t nearly as sharp or politically pointed as the kerfuffle suggested.
Rated R for pervasive profanity, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use, and bloody violence.
Extras include commentary and a Discovery Channel special featuring Mr. Rogen and Mr. Franco. Also, on Blu-ray: gag reel; deleted, extended and alternate scenes; eight featurettes, including “Puppy Power” on the King Charles Spaniel puppy; Mr. Rogen on working with a real tiger; the process of creating jokes on set and a Line-o-Rama of alternate jokes; cast members discussing their experience on the film; “Dating a Dictator” dating profile video; and Randall Park’s audition video and a look at his transformation into the dictator role.
— The Washington Post