Movies

'Birdman'

A washed-up actor tries to overcome the superhero character that made him famous in Birdman. Read More

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'Pelican Dreams'

Judy Irving, the Bay Area-based director of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, continues her observations of the bird kingdom in Pelican Dreams. She follows the rehabilitation of a 3- to 4-month-old pelican rescued after it wandered into traffic on the Golden Gate bridge. Irving names it "GG," for the bridge. Monte Merrick, the wild animal rescuer who nurses this pelican, doesn't believe in names for wild animals, and calls it "P193." By Merrick's lights, you don't even initiate eye contact with the pelicans, though he talks to the birds in his care: "You should eat!" » Read More

'Whiplash'

As the old expression goes, "You can sure tell what it's been next to in the refrigerator." That's true about Damien Chazelle's Whiplash, mostly a good-looking reprise of the opening 20 minutes of Full Metal Jacket. The ordeal of the drummer Andrew (Miles Teller) is similar to the anguish of Geoffrey Rush's music student in Shine as he was tortured through Rachmaninoff. In one shot, Martin Scorsese will speculate on the life of inanimate objects, like the full-screen smoldering cigarette butt in New York Stories. » Read More

'Dear White People'

It's a very good thing Justin Simien's Dear White People was made-it gets in there where the dirt is. Among the talented newcomer cast are three standouts. Tessa Thompson is Samantha, a film studies firebrand with severe internal doubts. Lionel (Tyler James Williams) is a wary underdog with a sky-high afro. Samantha's opposite, Coco (Teyonah Parris), is a vlogger (neologism shudder) who seeks popularity at all costs even if it means acting girly, self-deprecating and YouTube friendly. » Read More

'The Book of Life'

It's as big a disappointment as 2014's cinema can offer, particularly considering the acclaim it's getting. The Guillermo del Toro-produced/Jorge Gutierrez-directed The Book of Life collides a lot of styles. Gutierrez, a Nickelodeon vet, brings in that channel's hectic style of animation, with jumbo funny noses, nostrils that look like the twin bores of the Caldecott tunnel, figures that are bulbous yet flat. The only rest in a restless movie, promising romance, but generating endless tiresome spatting, are the scenes in which the characters stand and deliver their tired gags. » Read More

'Awake: The Life of Yogananda'

Of the ever-growing subset of indie films that might be described as "woo-woo New Age documentaries," Awake: The Life of Yogananda by Paola di Florio and Lisa Leeman is one of the most valuable. Naturally, there is woo-woo in it—the close-up into the iris of a subject's eye, revealing the galaxies of the universe, Phillip Glass thumping on the soundtrack, and some quotes from (groan) Deepak Chopra. » Read More

'The Judge'

Embittered high-end attorney Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) returns to his practically perfect small town in Indiana for his mother's funeral. Palmer intends to leave, but that's when his father Joseph (Robert Duvall)-a judge of some 42 years standing-is arrested for a hit-and-run automobile accident. Evidence suggests Joseph had a personal motive for the accident, and he needs the best lawyer he can get. » Read More

San Jose International Short Film Festival

The dozens of entries in the 6th Annual San Jose International Short Film Festival (Oct. 9-12) seem to have two things in common: a high grade of technical proficiency and the presence of a marquee name in a small role. I think the fest's great purpose is as education: networking, budding local film students can see how professional-level filmmaking is done on a miniscule budget, and they can meet the people who did it. » Read More

'Tracks'

In an extremely good adaptation of Robyn Davidson's 1976 memoir Tracks, director John Curran (The Painted Veil) flaws his work by trying to settle a question: why would a woman set out on a 1700-mile walk, over some of the harshest terrain on earth? ("Who did she think she was, a man?") Davidson's 1975 trek took more than half a year; she, her dog and four camels crossed the center of Australia, from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean. » Read More

'Gone Girl'

David Fincher's bitter, would-be decadent mystery, taken from a too-schematic script by author Gillian Flynn, almost seems like it's going to be about the schism in Middle-America between indebted haves and the wraith-like homeless have-nots. It's most interesting when it gets closest to that cliff-steep divide; the poor folk are photographed as if they were zombs, haunting the boarded-up downtown and the busted empty mall in Carthage, Missouri (the film was shot in Cape Girardeau). » Read More

'Last Days of Vietnam'

The saga of ruin and futility is painful enough for Americans to remember. The finale is even more humiliating, and that explains the sometimes tiptoe approach documentary maker Rory Kennedy (RFK's daughter) takes in Last Days in Vietnam. The primarily American interviewees here include the ever-exculpatory Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State during the end of the war in 1975, former CIA agent Frank Snepp (the sharpest character among these analysts) and Juan Valdez and Mike Sullivan, two of the last 11 Marines airlifted off the roof of the American embassy in Saigon. » Read More

'The Boxtrolls'

There's a myth that keeps the city of Cheesebridge obedient. The Boxtrolls takes place in Cheesebridge. It's a strange crooked city on a hill, and it looks like someone pulled Mont Saint-Michel straight up out of Prague. It's a gaslit pile with looming streets, crooked drainpipes and deep gutters. Here, once upon a time, "the Trubshaw Baby" was kidnapped and taken by the trolls who live under the streets. Lord Portley-Rind (voiced by Jared Harris), a proud non-entity with a chest full of medals, has accepted the offer of a freelance exterminator to rid the city of these unseen monsters. » Read More

'David Bowie Is'

If David Bowie had died yesterday, my response would be something like the one Frederick Exley proposed in A Fan's Notes for what he'd say about football great Frank Gifford: "I owe more tears to this dead man than you shall see me pay" Bowie is still around, thank God, so you can watch the one-night-only film David Bowie Is with a little amusement for the extremity of the personality cult. » Read More

'Wetlands'

Essentially benign and yet one of the grossest movies ever made, David Wnendt's Wetlands adapts a scandalous (and apparently very episodic) German semi-autobiographical coming of age novel. YA lit means a whole different thing over there, God bless them. It's a series of daydreamy anecdotes in the life of Helen (Carla Juri). She's spending some down time in the hospital; prone to the piles already, Helen gave herself a rectal injury from shaving herself too fast. » Read More