Famous for playing the role of the superhero Birdman (15A), aging actor Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) tries to reinvent himself as a serious artist by directing and starring in a Broadway production of an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short stories.
Creative differences with his co-stars Mike (Edward Norton) and Lesley (Naomi Watts) complicate matters, however, as does his difficult relationship with his daughter and personal assistant, Sam (Emma Stone). And then there’s the disembodied voice, which sounds a lot like Riggan’s Birdman alter-ego, telling Riggan to forget the artsy-fartsy stuff and go back to doing what the world wants him to be: a superhero.
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman offers a fascinating performance from Keaton, an excellent character actor who became a superstar whilst playing Batman. It’s a beautifully nuanced portrait of existential angst, as Riggan desperately searches for meaning in his professional and personal lives, adopting various personas in a poignant series of attempts to be what people expect him to be.
Indeed, it’s a very strong cast: Norton, Watts and Stone are joined by Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Ryan, the mesmerising whirl of their interactions with Riggan captured in a series of hypnotically long and sinuous takes from cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. It’s an intriguing thesis on the clash of art, life, reality and illusion, and it’s all very cleverly put together, but be warned that Iñárritu, who co-wrote the script, is far more interested in posing the big questions than delivering answers.
Eddie Redmayne stars as a young Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything (12A), a fun-loving student with a brilliant mind for physics but already, in the mid-1960s, beginning to display the physical tics of the motor neuron disease that would eventually destroy him physically.
James Marsh’s film offers much more than a straightforward biopic of the great man, however; the story is adapted from the book ‘Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen’ by Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones), Stephen Hawking’s wife for 25 years, and is more concerned with the couple’s personal life than it is with Hawking’s achievements as he strives to provide an elegant, unified theory of everything – ie, bring together the (apparently) mutually exclusive worlds of macro and micro physics.
Redmayne puts in a superb physical performance as Hawking’s physical capacity rapidly degenerates, a haunting and poignant turn that fully conveys the man’s heartbreaking desperation at being unable to perform the most basic and fundamental of tasks, such as hug his children. Felicity Jones is equally impressive, playing a woman who puts her own academic career— and much else besides — on hold as she finds herself swept up in the maelstrom of an extraordinary life. Benoit Delhomme’s cinematography superbly captures the period detail (the ‘home movies’ are excellently done), while Marsh’s direction never confuses sentiment with sentimentality – the seismic arrival of Jonathan (Charlie Cox) into the Hawkings’ lives, for example, is handled with the kind of subtlety and intelligence that characterises the entire film.
Overall, it’s a fabulous testament to the power of the human heart and mind.
The Theory of Everything 5/5
Set 40 years on from the first haunting at Eel Marsh House depicted in Woman in Black, The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (15A) opens with a group of schoolchildren being evacuated from London in the early years of WWII.
In charge of the group is Eve (Phoebe Fox), who grows concerned when one of the young boys, the recently orphaned Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), begins to act rather strangely in the creepy old mansion where they’re all billeted. Can Edward, who has been intimately touched by death, see something that no one else can? Directed by Tom Harper, The Woman in Black 2 offers a very effective set-up: the derelict old house at the end of a causeway in the midst of the marshes is a wonderfully gothic setting, the vulnerable children are particularly poignant waifs, and Eve’s personal history – she is haunted by a sense of guilt – puts a doubt in the viewers’ minds: is she psychic, and able to sense the presence of the old woman in black who flits around the grounds, or is she being overwhelmed by her own tragedy, and ‘seeing’ evil where none exists?
Having worked so hard on conjuring up a genuinely spooky scenario, however, the filmmakers rather waste the opportunity by introducing conventional and facile scares courtesy of loud bangs, half-glimpsed shadows and intrusive mood music. Fox puts in a spirited turn as Eve, but for the most part The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death is a standard horror flick with few surprises up its sleeve.
The Woman in Black: Angel of Death 3/5
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