Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Balboa Hat Trick

Without realizing it, I went through the first 11.5 months of 2014 without visiting the Balboa Theater.  I rectified that by going three consecutive days to see three film.

I originally intended to see Birdman but I got the showtimes mixed up.  When I showed up, it was The Babadook which was screening.  I went back the next day to see Birdman and followed that up the day after that with The Hunger Games sequel.

The Babadook starring Essie Davis & Noah Wiseman; directed by Jennifer Kent; (2014) - Official Website
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) starring Michael Keaton; with Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan, Andrea Riseborough & Zach Galifianakis; directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu; (2014) - Official Website
The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 1 starring Jennifer Lawrence, with  Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hensworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore & Philip Seymour Hoffman; directed by Francis Lawrence, (2014) - Official Website


I want to mention a few items.  I read that Century Cinema in Corte Madera was closing a couple of months ago.  I was informed recently that it is still in operation.  Apparently, a building moratorium has extended the life of the theater.

With The Interview in the news, I have new interest in seeing the film.  Frankly, I wasn't that interested but now that it has become a First Amendment issue and Sony pulling the film from distribution has been characterized as capitulation to terrorism, I may see the film more on principle than genuine interest.  The scandal may be a boom to independent cinemas since the major theater chains are refusing to screen the film.  The New Parkway and Camera 3 are showing the film starting on Christmas.


The Babadook, an Australian film, was a box-office flop domestically but has been a modest success internationally.  It's reputation was buoyed by a Sundance screening and widespread critical acclaim.  I typically don't like horror films but have to admit I greatly enjoyed The Babadook.  Essie Davis is Amelia, a harried single mother.  Technically, she is a widow as her husband died in a car crash while driving her to the hospital to deliver their children.  That child, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is now six or seven years old and quite a handful.  Samuel is hyperactive, clearly in need of a father figure & socially awkward but what bothers Amelia the most is his obsession with an imaginary monster named Mr. Babadook.

A mysterious pop-up book about Mr. Babadook makes Amelia think the problem is Samuel reading habits.  However, the book returns after Amelia throws it away and eventually burn it.  Samuel's behavior becomes more disturbing and irritating.  Unable to sleep, I thought Amelia was going to be the real monster (like The Shining).  Eventually, Mr. Babadook reveals himself to Amelia & the audience and he reminded me a little of a silent film monster (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari?).

My interest waned at the end when Amelia does battle with Mr. Babadook,  Up until that point, Essie Davis' performance as the exhausted Amelia whose patients and sanity are test was extraordinary.  Wiseman proved capable in his role.  He's the type of boy you want to slap across the face but yet, at some level, you feel sorry for this sad little boy who never knew his father.

The Babadook isn't a good horror film.  It is a good film period.


Birdman is one of the most critically acclaimed films on the year.  I heartily agree with the consensus reviews.  Michael Keaton and Emma Stone give noteworthy performances among a strong cast but it was Edward Norton who knocked it out of the park.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the film was the camera movements and blocking.  Mostly filmed backstage at a Broadway theater, the camera follows the constant movements of the actors.  The camera movement and a jazz score give Birdman a frenetic feel to match Keaton's anxious protagonist.  The older I get, the more I empathize with characters who suffer in not-so-quiet desperation such as Keaton's lead character.


I read all three novels in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games franchise.  I saw The Hunger Games (2012) and it's sequel The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire (2013).  Unlike the novels, I'm losing interest with each subsequent film in the series.  The filmmakers have split Collins' third novel into two films so this year is The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 1 and next will see the release of The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2...I may not see it when it comes out.

My opinion of Mockingjay may be due to the splitting of the novel into two films.  The film seemed flat at times.  Perhaps because I had read the novel & knew there would be two films, I was anticipating the breakpoint in the film.  The film required a fair bit of knowledge of the previous two films.  I would think that someone who hadn't seen the first two films or hadn't read the books would be utterly lost.  At times, I found myself trying to remember plot points from the previous films to make sense of a scene from Mockingjay.  I may have also turned up my nose at general release film.  The film also suffered in comparison to The Babadook & Birdman.

Whatever the reason, I was decidedly mild about Mockingjay.

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