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Recent Movies: Birdman; Nightcrawler; Foxcatcher; Books: “A Life at Work” by Thomas Moore

January 11, 2015

Recent Movies

Birdman

A former Hollywood superstar (Michael Keaton) was famous as a film superhero over twenty years ago.  He attempts a comeback to fame by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway play.

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, shows the same adept work in “Birdman” as he did in his best works “Amores Perros” and “Babel”.  There is almost a playful way the camera moves through the thin zigzag halls of the backstage of the theatre, giving the viewers the experience of the cast and crew in their daily work.

Overall, there is a welcome liveliness in “Birdman”, not only in the directing, but also in the acting.  Keaton heads a solid cast that also includes Edward Norton (a standout), Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, and Zach Galifianakis.

The story is good but might have been better considering the other achievements in this film.  It seems to be trying to grasp something that is profound but only partly hits the mark.  Also, a few cheap and old tricks lower the overall effect.  A sitcom gag of being “locked out” in a very inconvenient way is decades old.  Also, the cheap thrill of a spontaneous “girl-on-girl” kissing scene may not be as old but it’s just as stale.

“Birdman” is still an enjoyable experience especially considering that Keaton (who was a superstar in two “Batman” movies over twenty years ago) might possibly be playing himself.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *

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Nightcrawler

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a loner thief in Los Angeles.  He changes direction and turns to filming intrusive close-up scenes of violent crimes and sells the footage to a local TV station with the assistance of a young man Rick (Riz Ahmed) who is desperately unemployed.

Director/screenwriter Dan Gilroy does a fine job in keeping the film filled with excitement and suspense.  The script is praiseworthy as there is never a predictable moment.  It’s a tense ride throughout with only rare scenes of violence but many scenes of violence’s aftermath.

In “Nightcrawler”, Gyllenhaal gives one of his best performances as someone who is morally vacant with no humanity at all while being very adept and skillful at the creepy work that he does.  It’s a chilling experience to watch him go through the motions.  His performance is well matched by Ahmed as well as René Russo as an equally amoral news director at the TV station.

A subtle backdrop to this film is a cruel economy that sometimes encourages some people to grovel at the bottom of the barrel to get any kind of paid work.  Lou is an obvious example.  Rick could easily represent the many in his generation who are forced into unpaid/underpaid internships or something equally as horrible.

The ending is satisfying though there seems to be perhaps a feeling of too much soullessness.  However, if Gilroy’s intention was to use this to show the hyper-sleaze of tabloid TV news and the bleakness of our modern culture, he succeeds hands-down.

RATING:   * * *

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Foxcatcher

The film is based on the true story of brothers Mark and Dave Schultz (played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo), American wrestlers who won gold medals in the 1984 Olympics.  The film begins after their wins as they are pursued to to live and train in a sports community owned by eccentric mega-millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell).

It is easy to distinguish this as an independent film as opposed to a typical Hollywood film.  A Hollywood film would likely have ended with the Olympic glory with the final victory in slow motion (including the audience jumping to its feet) with a blaring orchestra.  Instead, “Foxcathcher” shows a very deglamourized life (especially Mark’s) post-Olympics, bravely showing the flip-side of the Olympic dream.

Director Bennett Miller uses a story-telling style that is deliberately bleak and emotionally distant.  This mood is best shown in Carell’s performance which is subtle and repressed as he portrays someone who, most of his life, was given too much money and not enough love.  The only warmth in the film comes from Ruffalo whose character has found happiness with his young family.

The bleak style is fine but up to a point as the movie feels too long a 2.25 hours.  Also, despite the length, there still seems to too little background of some characters.  It’s still praiseworthy, though, for its unique approach to sports biographies.

RATING:   * * *

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Books

“A Life at Work” by Thomas Moore

This non-fiction spiritual novel provides an insightful path on applying a soulful attitude in choosing our life’s vocation including work which might be considered “mundane” by society at large.

As Moore did with “Care of the Soul” and “Dark Nights of the Soul”, this novel was a pleasure to read while being educational on so many levels – and not “educational” in the traditional ways of academia and religion.  He has a way of writing in a way that leaves the reader in a serene state of mind while acknowledging (rather than separating from) the parts of life that many of us would rather avoid.

The book covers such topics as a deep inner sense of “calling”, a powerful strength that accompanies this spirit while sometimes clashing with the world at large, accepting one’s past difficulties and embracing them as something to help on our current endeavours, the acceptance of chaos and failure as a natural part of the life/work process, “life in a tower” i.e. how soul and happiness can still be absent while being externally successful, and loving what you do in any work situation even if it does not feel like a calling.

The last point includes the term ‘avocation’ i.e. a work situation that is fulfilling even if we are not paid for it.  For me, one of my avocations is writing this blog.  ☺

I received much personal fulfillment from reading this book.  It advanced my level of forgiveness to myself and others for past failures, roadblocks, and bad deeds.  It was also a great pleasure to read, placing me in a balanced state where I could feel the depths of spirituality and worldliness simultaneously.

Thank God Moore has written many more books.  Another of my avocations is to read as many of his works as possible.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

 

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