Movie Meter: Michael Keaton Makes a Comeback, John Wick Is Surprisingly Good

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Birdman: Despite the brilliant devastation of his film Biutiful, Alejandro González Iñárritu has not received quite the same level of fame as other Mexican directors of his generation, like Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro. That likely ends now. His new film is a complex allegory concerning the nature of art, fame, and soulful pursuit, but it’s also just a hell of a lot of fun. Michael Keaton plays a former big-star superhero actor who, many years past his prime, yearns to produce something of significance on the Broadway stage. Edward Norton plays the actor just talented and/or uncontrollable enough to ensure his success or failure. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

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5 Questions With Whiplash Director Damien Chazelle

Damien Chazelle (center) with the cast of "Whiplash." | Photo: Shutterstock

Damien Chazelle (center) with the cast of “Whiplash.” | Photo: Shutterstock

Twenty-nine-year-old writer/director Damien Chazelle has found himself in career overdrive. He made quite a splash at this year’s Sundance festival with Whiplash, his latest work about a maniacally hard-driving jazz teacher and his equally obsessed drum student. (The film took home both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize.) The film, which offers star-making turns for both leads J.K. Simmons and Downingtown native Miles Teller, is an uncompromising exploration of true artistic attainment, and the heavy price of achieving it. It is also a brilliantly executed and savage back-and-forth between pupil and student that leaves the film’s audience shifting allegiances and sympathies—not unlike so many time-signature changes in a Thelonious Monk composition.

Ticket spoke with Chazelle over the phone the evening before his film finally opened outside the festival circuit.

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Movie Meter: Brad Pitt Kills More Nazis, Channing Tatum and Zoe Saldana Get Animated

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Fury: Somehow, when Brad Pitt stars in a film it takes on a larger, more-important caste. It’s a good thing that David Ayer’s thoughtful WWII picture doesn’t shy away from its own gravitas. Moody, overcast and intense, the film—which follows Pitt as the commanding officer of a tank brigade making its way through bomb-blasted Germany in the last throes of the war—more than earns its stripes. Just a warning, though: It doesn’t spare much on the bloody, gruesome carnage of men killing each other. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%

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10 Must-See Films at the Philadelphia Film Festival 2014

Ticket Film critic Piers Marchant calls "Two Days, One Night" the best film he's seen all year. You can catch it during the 2014 Philadelphia Film Festival.

Ticket film critic Piers Marchant calls “Two Days, One Night” the best film he’s seen all year. You can catch it during the 2014 Philadelphia Film Festival.

Ticket film critic Piers Marchant combed through the around-100 films playing at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival to come up with 10 that you absolutely must get a ticket for. His choices comprise flicks he saw at the Toronto International Film Festival, and ones that have generated buzz on the year’s film festival circuit. 

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Movie Meter: True Stories Win the Weekend with Nas’ Illmatic Doc and a Britain’s Got Talent Underdog

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Pride: Yet another uplifting, true story. This film is based on the mid-’80s United Mineworkers strike in England. The Mineworkers were joined in their efforts by unlikely comrades: a London-based group of gay and lesbian activists who saw an opportunity for solidarity in the oppressed, beleaguered miners. United by an opposition to ultra-conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the two parties eventually learn to stand together and support one another in their respective struggles. Pride stars Bill Nighy, Dominic West, and the redoubtable Imelda Staunton. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

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Movie Meter: Ben Affleck Gets Weird in Gone Girl, Nicolas Cage Gets Left Behind

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Gone Girl: My shaky endorsement for David Fincher’s hotly anticipated new thriller—based on the bestseller by Gillian Flynn—comes with a veritable wheelbarrow full of caveats. As good as Fincher is as a director and stylist—and visually, dude is in pretty rarefied air in my book—he can’t do much with essentially silly material like this. Gone Girl has an odd tonal register. Half the film plays as a twisty thriller and the rest pokes fun at itself, soaking in its plot-induced miasma. Those expecting something as all-out creepy (and enthralling) as Fincher’s The Game are in for more than a little disappointment. The result is functional, but generally pretty idiotic, and Ben Affleck really does seem like a weirdo. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

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5 Best New Films to Stream on Netflix in October: Hoop Dreams, Tombstone, Meryl’s Breakout Role, and More

new netflix streaming october

Even for a company whose business model involves catering to the widest possible range of viewer, Netflix has outdone itself this month with a crazy-quilt panoply of choices, from faulty-but-beloved TV shows (Gilmore Girls) to crappy ’80s comedies (Three Fugitives) to an early film from one of this country’s greatest auteurs, they have you covered. It’s an insanely schizophrenic lineup, but here are some of our choices for the best of the lot.

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Movie Meter: Kristen Wiig & Bill Hader Delight as Siblings in The Skeleton Twins

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The Skeleton Twins: You might miss them on Saturday nights, but there’s a lot more to this film than a welcome reunion of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. The former Saturday Night Live mainstays play estranged siblings in Craig Johnson’s insightful dark comedy. Though a decade has passed since they last met, the brother and sister reunite when they discover they both attempted suicide on the same day. Hader and Wiig’s chemistry is flawless and a joy to behold. The film actually has a lot to say about our ability to lie to ourselves as adults in ways that kids never need to do. The ending is a tad conventional, but there’s still plenty to admire here. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

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Movie Meter: Tina Fey’s This is Where I Leave You is a Tremendous Waste of Comic Firepower

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1. The Conformist: A most welcome re-release of Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 classic about a cowardly Italian man in 1930’s Italy, who agrees to perform an assassination for the Fascist cause, even though the intended victim is his own former college professor. The film is known for its fiery political commentary—not for nothing does the film’s title suggest a complete weakness of moral character in the face of fashionable political movements—but also for its stunning production values, from the costumes and set design to the extraordinary cinematography by Vittorio Storaro. A chance to see the fully-restored version (the original U.S. print was cut by five crucial minutes) on the big screen is a huge treat for cinephiles everywhere. Playing at Ritz at the Bourse. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

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Overheard at the Toronto International Film Festival

I just returned from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, which wrapped up this weekend with an awards ceremony awards and a host of final screenings. Instead of offering up individual reviews, I’ve collected a bevy of quotes I overheard at the festival that both capture the vibe of this year’s TIFF and offer a glimpse of what to keep an eye out for in theaters over the coming months.

The Reach

1. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, I KEEEL YOU!” —Actor Michael Douglas, in Jean-Baptiste Léonetti’s imbecilic film The Reach, playing—get this—a rich, smug douchebag who goes big-game hunting with a young guide (Jeremy Irvine) who, after a bloody accident, winds up becomes the target of the hunting spree. This particular line, spoken as Douglas’ character is gleefully throwing lit sticks of dynamite at his quarry from the safety of his Mercedes Benz Batmobile-like supercruiser, is definitely not played for comedy, but it led the packed house of critics into howls of disbelieving laughter.

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