Tag Archives: celebrity

Elvis & Nixon – Review

3 May

Of all the historic photographs held in the National Archives, you might be surprised that the most requested picture of all time is of Elvis Presley shaking Richard Nixon’s hand in the Oval Office. The King of Rock n Roll and one of the most notorious presidents in American history sure make quite the duo. What’s even stranger is that there are no records to give the reason why these two American icons met in the first place. That brings us to Liza Johnson’s Elvis & Nixon, a pretty absurd comedy that offers a pretty hilarious fictionalized account and possibly reason behind the whole meeting. What I really love about this movie is that it knows what it is, and it also gives leaves some time between the absurdity to offer some interesting themes surrounding celebrity and a person’s real identity.

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In 1970, Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) still has his status as one of the biggest superstars in the world, even though his impact on the entertainment industry has declined since his earlier days. Meanwhile, President Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey) has held the presidential office for a little over a year and has his sights set on re-election. After seeing the troubles plaguing the youth of the nation, Elvis decides that he hasn’t been doing enough to make the next generations of Americans safe and prosperous. This line of thinking leads to his decision that it’s time for him to be given a federal badge and be appointed a “federal agent at large.” Armed with his golden pistols and trusty entourage (Jerry Schilling and Johnny Knoxville), Presley makes his way to Washington D.C. for what he believes will be a monumental meeting with the president of the United States.

I’ve explained this movie to some people who haven’t heard of it, and the looks on their faces as I’m talking makes me feel like I have three heads. Elvis & Nixon is, without a doubt, completely absurd. That being said, however, a lot of the events surrounding these two cultural icons are even more absurd than most of the things in this movie. There’s a part of me that believes their secret meeting might have gone a little something like it does in the movie because we all live in such a crazy world anyway. This is where I give a lot of credit to the screenwriters (one of whom happens to be the Dread Pirate Roberts, himself, Cary Elwes). The story that they’ve constructed is very silly, but there is a lot of really snappy dialogue and an understated, yet very present, grounding in reality.

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When Elvis & Nixon takes a break from the over the top scenarios and barrage of witty banter, there is time to look at the characters for who they truly are. That, I believe, is the real point to this movie. What we have are two people that couldn’t have been different from each other, and having never met one another have their own judgmental opinions of the other. It’s interesting to see the interaction when they finally do meet and the real people behind what the media has created for them is revealed. There’s one excellent scene in the movie where Elvis says when regular people walk into a room they are recognized for who they are, but when he walks into a room he is only recognized by the preconceived notions and memories that his fame created. This idea of separating a celebrity from their works to see them as a person is a pretty timeless theme and it’s handled surprisingly intelligently in this film.

Besides the premise, the two main actors were the big reason why I was excited about this movie and they did not disappoint. Michael Shannon may not look a lot like Elvis, but he seems to have mastered all of the movements and swagger of the King, and even sounds a lot like him at times. The best part of Shannon’s performance is that he never makes it over the top. He brings a subtlety to the performance that feels real, and it reminds me why he is one of my favorite actors. Speaking of my favorite actors, Kevin Spacey is hilarious as Richard Nixon. He has all the same subtlety as Shannon, and never turns Nixon into a caricature. I was concerned that Spacey would just come across as Frank Underwood from House of Cards, but he really does step away from that president and become Nixon.

What’s great about Elvis & Nixon is that it never tries to come across as more than it is. What this film is is a sometimes over the top satire of a time period, celebrity, and even politics, but done so in the most unpretentious of ways. There’s some real humanity amongst all of the jokes and absurdity, and the actors play their roles with real skill. Elvis & Nixon won’t go down as a classic or even a movie that’s going to be really remembered and discussed, but that’s ok. This is still a really good and fun movie that is well worth anyone’s time.

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Maps to the Stars – Review

24 Mar

Over the years, the glamor of Tinsel Town has kind of lost its luster. Starting with Sunset Blvd., critiques of Hollywood have kept on coming throughout the years, and each one has a unique approach to the nightmare that is celebrity. For this particular review, I’m going to be looking at David Cronenberg’s 2014 film, Maps to the Stars. Cronenberg has made a name for himself over the years as one of the most intense and challenging directors, be it in the horror genre or otherwise. Maps to the Stars fits in perfectly with his filmography as it is a horror movie, but also a darkly hilarious and penetrating satire.

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Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is an aging actress who is determined to play her deceased mother in a remake of a movie that she starred in many years ago. To do that she hires Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a famous new age psychologist, to help her face the demons her mother made her endure during childhood. While he’s not with Havana, Stafford works to keep his son Benjie’s (Evan Bird) acting career together. Benjie has suffered from drug addiction and has been to rehab at the age of 12. Now it’s a struggle to stay clean and keep his acting career from dying. As all of these people deal with their lives in their own strange ways, a mysterious girl named Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in town, and her past threatens the stability of all these people have worked to build.

While this does definitely feel like a David Cronenberg movie, it also has elements of Bret Easton Ellis’ writings and a sort of David Lynch vibe that was felt in movies like Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. I really love movies like this because it implements something similar to nightmare logic, if that’s even a thing. What I mean by that is Maps to the Stars feels like a very bad dream. There were many times throughout the movie where I felt like I was watching reality, but it was something different and more sinister. Kind of like in a dream when you’re in your house, but it isn’t actually your house. That’s probably a weird way of putting it, but what I’m really trying to say is that this movie had a really creepy and off putting atmosphere that really hooked me.

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Screenwriter Bruce Wagner has written a very strange movie, but the way people interact with each other in Maps to the Stars might be the strangest thing of all. Some of the things they say and do is so outlandish that you really wish it was a joke just written for the movie. Unfortunately, the media has given us plenty examples of celebrities, like the ones in this movie, saying and doing some ridiculous things that would fit right into this film. Kudos to all the actors in this movie for delivering these lines with complete seriousness. If it wasn’t for their belief in their characters, much of what they say would not have been nearly as funny or hard hitting.

While I do really like this movie, there was one big problem with it that I can’t shake. For the entire movie I was sucked in and really could not wait to see how it ended. When the ending finally came, I didn’t really buy it. First of all, the ending just wasn’t particularly a good one, but that’s not really my main complaint. My main complaint is that they didn’t take enough time to really build up to the ending. It pretty much just sprang up out of nowhere without any real tension happening. There’s tension in the movie, but nothing with any real finality to show that this is the climax of the movie.

Maps to the Stars is a movie that I knew would be right up my alley and I was exactly right. It’s a darkly hilarious look at celebrity life and what it can do to you if you aren’t careful. There’s a lot of disturbing content in the movie that’s meant to make you feel uncomfortable, and the whole atmosphere of the movie is relatively unsettling. While it seems Cronenberg might have been kind of a weird choice for this kind of movie, he was actually a perfect choice. I definitely liked this one a lot.

Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Review

10 Nov

Every so often, a movie comes around that makes me really appreciate all the creative work that film makers put into it. When I first saw the trailer to Birdman, I was set and ready to see it. When I saw that Alejandro González Iñárritu was in the director’s chair and also wrote the film, I was more than ready to see it. This is a film like no other that I’ve seen in a very long time, with a story that hits you where you really feel it and cinematography that will make you rethink how the medium can be utilized. This is an amazing film, and very well may be the best movie of the year.

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Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is an aging movie star best known for his portrayal of the comic book hero, Birdman, in the early ’90s. Now, he considers himself to be washed up and only remembered as the man behind the mask, so he decides to reinvigorate his career by adapting a Raymond Carver short story into a full length Broadway play. A number of things begin to go really wrong including replacing one of the actors with the belligerent, but well known, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), getting into multiple confrontations with his recovering drug addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone), and just plain bad luck. At this rate, it would be a miracle if they made it through the few previews they have before opening night.

Where do I even begin? When I left the theater, I was completely wound up and trying to sort through all of my thoughts on the movie. It was just so exciting to see a movie that seemed to hit everything perfectly. I don’t have a single complaint about Birdman. First off, the cast in this movie are excellent. Michael Keaton completely owns the show and I’d say deserves some recognition when the time comes for Best Actor nominations to be announced. The other person that matches Keaton’s level of performance is Edward Norton, who I think deserves his own bit of recognition when the time comes. Everyone else is also note perfect.Zach Galifinakis, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts are all memorable in their own ways, which brings me to my next point.

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I was really surprised at the layers the characters had. It’s great when characters are fleshed out, but the ones in Birdman were strangely real. There aren’t any good people or bad people, but only people who have troubles that affect how they live their day to day lives. Each day that passes presents each character with their own set of problems, and the most entertaining part of this movie is watching each person deal with the issue, but also change a little bit because of it. The arcs that start in the beginning and get wrapped up as the movie progresses come so naturally and I believed everything I was watching, even though there were moments of fantasy strewn throughout the film. This is one of those movies that I think is just perfectly written. Every joke made me at least chuckle and the drama was enough to completely floor my emotions.

In my opinion though, the most impressive part of Birdman was the cinematography and the editing. The audience literally follows these characters around as they prepare for the show’s opening night. By that I mean that the camera doesn’t cut until a few minutes before the end of the movie. Now, I know that would be ridiculous to say, because it is ridiculous. It’s not like this movie is one continuous take, but it is cleverly edited to make it seem like it’s one take. Think of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, except the cuts are much more subtle. Does the film have to be edited like this in order to work? Certainly not. The movie would have been just fine if it was edited normally, but it did add a new dimension of appreciation and skill that wouldn’t have been there.

Birdman is a movie that is sure to blow you away, just like it did with me. I went in expecting a lot and left feeling like I was given a lot more than I could’ve ever wanted. This is a comedy with an sort of depressing edge to it, but one that seems very understood by everyone working on the film. The bottom line is that every part of this movie came together so perfectly that it surprised me. If you haven’t gone out to see Birdman yet, consider it your duty as a human being to get to the theater as soon as possible!