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Now showing at ArtHouse Crouch End 159A,Tottenham Lane,London N8 9BT 020 8245 3099

  • Birdman
  • Foxcatcher
  • Royal Opera Live: Andrea Chenier
  • The Theory Of Everything
  • The Way He Looks
  • Whiplash

Birdman 5 stars

movie title

Riggan Thomson rose to fame playing a superhero called Birdman in three blockbuster films in the 1990s. Twenty years later, his career is stagnant and he is determined to establish himself as a serious artist by directing, writing and starring in a Broadway staging of Raymond Carver's short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. As opening night approaches, petty squabbles between Riggan and his cast - including Broadway star Mike Shiner - threaten to derail the vanity project.

  • GenreComedy, Drama, Indie, Romance
  • CastMichael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough.
  • DirectorAlejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
  • WriterAlejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration119 mins
  • Official sitewww.birdmanthemovie.com
  • Release26/12/2014 (selected London cinemas); 01/01/2015 (nationwide)

According to Konstantin Stanislavski and Lee Strasberg, two founding fathers of method acting, the best performers possess the rare ability to channel deeply personal recollections and emotions through their characters. These actors don't just play a role as written, they share every breath and straining sinew with their alter ego.

In Birdman, Michael Keaton inhabits the role of a middle-aged Hollywood star, whose glory days as a big screen superhero are long behind him. It's the role of a lifetime for Keaton - the role of his lifetime, no less, nodding and winking to his two stints behind Batman's cowl under director Tim Burton in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Art and real life playfully blur in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's technically dazzling comedy, which was shot on location in New York. In one of the film's bravura handheld sequences, Keaton strides purposefully through crowded, neon-lit Times Square in just his underpants as tourists clamour with their mobile devices. Literally and figuratively, he bares his soul.

Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who deservedly won an Oscar for sci-fi thriller Gravity, meticulously splice together each interlude to resemble a single, unbroken 119-minute shot.

If you look closely, you can see the joins but, as a feat of split-second timing, balletic choreography and directorial brio, Birdman is jaw-dropping - right down to the moment the camera casually pans to a drummer on the street playing the same beats and rolls of Antonio Sanchez's improvised jazz score.

Riggan Thomson (Keaton) rose to fame playing a superhero called Birdman in three blockbuster films. Twenty years later, he masterminds a comeback with nervy producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) by directing, writing and starring in a Broadway production of Raymond Carver's short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

As opening night approaches and revered critics including Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan) prepare to deliver their waspish verdict, petty squabbles between Riggan and his cast - popular Broadway star Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), leading lady Lesley (Naomi Watts) and current squeeze Laura (Andrea Riseborough) - threaten to derail the vanity project.

The leading man struggles to keep personal demons at bay, exacerbated by fractious exchanges with his spirited daughter Sam (Emma Stone).

Accompanied by a rambling voiceover from Riggan that reflects the character's mental unravelling, Birdman is a wickedly funny satire of a world of overinflated egos and barely concealed vices.

Performances are uniformly excellent, from Keaton's career-revitalising turn to Stone's fearless portrayal of a recovering drug addict and Norton's hilarious embodiment of an artist, who believes that, "popularity is just the slutty little cousin of prestige".

Peppered with affectionate verbal barbs aimed at Hollywood's current glitterati, Inarritu's picture is crammed to bursting with self-referential treats that demand a second and third viewing. Birdman is the post-Christmas gift that keep on giving.

Foxcatcher 4 stars

movie title

Philanthropist John du Pont is desperate to win the love and respect of his mother, Jean, a well respected horse trainer. So he establishes a wrestling facility at his Foxcatcher Farm and recruits Olympic champion Mark Schultz to spearhead his stable of talented athletes. At first, the relationship between du Pont and Schultz is strong, like a surrogate father and son, but when fissures eventually appear, the millionaire hires Schultz's brother, fellow Olympic champion Dave to restore the Foxcatcher name.

  • GenreBiography, Drama, Romance, Thriller
  • CastSteve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Michael Hall, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave.
  • DirectorBennett Miller.
  • WriterDan Futterman, E Max Frye.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration134 mins
  • Official sitewww.sonyclassics.com/foxcatcher
  • Release09/01/2015

Vast wealth can buy you freedom from the shackles of debt, luxury goods, an aura of power, begrudging respect and thinly veiled jealousy from the people around you. However, it cannot buy you undying love, unerring loyalty or mastery of Lady Luck and your mortality.

In the 1980s, philanthropist John Eleuthere du Pont attempted to buy sporting glory for America by using his vast fortune to establish a world class wrestling facility at his sprawling Foxcatcher Farm on the outskirts of Philadelphia. He recruited Olympic champion David Schultz to his stable, which included David's younger brother and fellow Olympic gold medallist Mark, who lived on the estate to ensure the focus was always on the wrestling.

Team Foxcatcher won numerous competitions. On January 26, 1996, du Pont shot and killed David and was subsequently convicted of third degree murder. He died behind bars, 14 years into his sentence.

Bennett Miller, who was deservedly Oscar nominated for Capote, directs this dramatisation of du Pont's fraught relationship with the Schultz brothers and his steady descent into murderous madness. The film is distinguished by a superb ensemble cast including a creepily dramatic performance from Steve Carell, replete with facial prosthetics, as the eccentric millionaire who lost everything with the pull of a trigger.

He's heavily tipped for an Oscar nomination as Best Actor because this marks such a striking departure from lovable, goofball roles in Anchorman, The 40 Year Old Virgin and Evan Almighty.

Wrestling enthusiast John du Pont (Carell) is desperate to win the love and respect of his elderly mother, Jean (Vanessa Redgrave), a successful horse trainer. So he establishes the training facility and recruits Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to spearhead his stable of talented athletes.

At first, the relationship between du Pont and Schultz is strong, like a surrogate father and son, but fissures eventually appear. "You ungrateful ape!" barks du Pont to his brooding protege. The millionaire hires Schultz's brother, fellow Olympic champion Dave (Mark Ruffalo), to restore the lustre of the Foxcatcher brand.

Dave moves onto the estate with his wife Nancy (Sienna Miller) and family. Jealousy, paranoia and sibling rivalry poison personal ties, culminating in a senseless act of violence.

Foxcatcher is a dark and unsettling character study, in which the American dream turns rancid and a mentally unstable man with money becomes a wrecking ball in the lives of unsuspecting bystanders. Carell is impressive but arguably the more compelling performances come from Tatum and Ruffalo as the siblings corrupted by a millionaire's insidious influence.

The homoerotic undertow of Du Pont's fascination with Mark is subtly addressed in a script that doesn't quite make sense of the complex emotions churning beneath the surface. Too much is left unsaid and with a running time of 134 minutes, Bennett leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions.

Royal Opera Live: Andrea Chenier 3 stars

David McVicar directs Umberto Giordano's passionate drama of liberty and love during the French Revolution, based loosely on the life of the eponymous French poet. Jonas Kaufmann sings the title role opposite Eva-Maria Westbroek as the Countess' daughter Maddalena de Coigny and Zeljko Lucic as servant Carlo Gerard under the baton of conductor Antonio Pappano, broadcast live from the Royal Opera House in London.

  • GenreDrama, Musical, Romance, Special
  • CastZeljko Lucic, Jonas Kaufmann, Denyce Graves, Eva-Maria Westbroek.
  • DirectorDavid McVicar.
  • WriterUmberto Giordano.
  • CountryUK
  • Official sitewww.roh.org.uk/cinemas
  • Release29/01/2015 (selected cinemas)

David McVicar directs Umberto Giordano's passionate drama of liberty and love during the French Revolution, based loosely on the life of the eponymous French poet. Jonas Kaufmann sings the title role opposite Eva-Maria Westbroek as the Countess' daughter Maddalena de Coigny and Zeljko Lucic as servant Carlo Gerard under the baton of conductor Antonio Pappano, broadcast live from the Royal Opera House in London.

The Theory Of Everything 4 stars

movie title

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking falls head over heels in love with English literature student Jane Wilde at 1960s Cambridge University. Their fledgling romance is tested by his diagnosis with motor neurone disease. Stephen's parents Frank and Isobel try to warn Jane off their son, fearful of emotional devastation that will be wrought if he dies within the two years predicted by doctors. However, she defies everyone, determined to love Stephen for as long as they are together.

  • GenreAdaptation, Biography, Drama, Romance
  • CastEddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis.
  • DirectorJames Marsh.
  • WriterAnthony McCarten.
  • CountryUK
  • Duration123 mins
  • Official site
  • Release01/01/2015

In Scottish novelist JM Barrie's most beloved work, Peter Pan famously contemplates his mortality on Marooner's Rock and observes, "To die will be an awfully big adventure". For more than half a century since he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has - happily - pushed aside his awfully big adventure and astounded the medical community.

Defying the short life expectancy associated with the rare condition, he has married twice, raised a family and altered our narrow perception of the universe including the publication of his worldwide bestseller, A Brief History Of Time.

As Hawking remarked at a press conference in 2006, "However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there's life, there is hope." Those inspirational words are repeated verbatim in The Theory Of Everything.

Based on the memoir Travelling To Infinity by Jane Wilde Hawking, James Marsh's deeply moving drama charts the romance of Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) and first wife Jane (Felicity Jones) from fleeting glances at a party at mid-1960s Cambridge University through their subsequent battle against MND.

Stephen's parents Frank (Simon McBurney) and Isobel (Abigail Cruttenden) initially warn Jane off their son, fearful of the emotional devastation that will be wrought if he dies within the two years predicted by doctors. "It's not going to be a fight, Jane. It's going to be a very heavy defeat, for all of us," laments Frank.

Love must find a way and Jane defies everyone, even a pessimistic Stephen, to stand beside her soul mate. "I want us to be together, for as long as we've got," she tells him. "If that's not very long then - well, that's just how it is."

Her resolve inspires Stephen to continue his search for "one single elegant equation to explain everything". Aided by choirmaster Jonathan Jones (Charlie Cox) and carer Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake), Jane raises the couple's three children and holds their marriage together.

The Theory Of Everything is anchored by two of the year's best performances. Redmayne is simply astounding, affecting a mesmerising physical transformation that surely warrants an Oscar. He brilliantly conveys every raw emotion or flash of impish humour with his eyes or the twitch of a facial muscle.

Jones is equally compelling as his soul mate, who sacrifices everything in the name of love. The scene in which she finally acknowledges hard-fought defeat to save the relationship and tearfully tells Stephen, "I have loved you... I did my best," is heartbreaking.

Director Marsh uses simple visual motifs to illuminate the complex cosmology, such as a swirl of cream in a cup of coffee to represent a spiral galaxy in Stephen's mind. With its delicate balance of tear-stained drama, deeply felt romance and comedy, The Theory Of Everything hits upon a winning formula.

The Way He Looks 3 stars

Leonardo and his best friend Giovana live two streets apart and attend the same high school. Neither of them has been kissed and Leo, who is blind, is convinced that no one will want to share that moment of intimacy with him. New boy Gabriel sends Giovana into an emotional whirl and she makes clear her romantic interest. Hormones rage but it is Leo who forges a lasting bond with Gabriel when they team up for a school project. As the boys spend more time together, their feelings for each other intensify.

  • GenreDrama, Gay, Romance, World
  • CastGhilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi, Tess Amorim.
  • DirectorDaniel Ribeiro.
  • WriterDaniel Ribeiro.
  • CountryBra
  • Duration96 mins
  • Official site
  • Release24/10/2014 (selected cinemas)

Love is blind in Daniel Ribeiro's tender and beautifully observed coming of age story, which collected two coveted awards at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) and his best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim) live two streets apart and attend the same high school. Neither of them has been kissed and Leo, who is blind, is convinced that no one will want to share that moment of intimacy with him. Classmates tend to give Leo a wide berth because they know that they will be obliged to help him if they sit at an adjacent desk during lessons. Thankfully, new boy Gabriel (Fabio Audi) has no such qualms and his tenderness sends Giovana into an emotional whirl. She makes clear her romantic interest in the new boy, hoping that Gabriel might earn her first kiss. Hormones rage but it is Leo who forges a lasting bond with Gabriel when they team up for a school project. As the boys spend more time together, their feelings for each other intensify and Leo nervously acknowledges who he wants to steal his first kiss.

Showtimes (Click time to book tickets)

Thursday 29th January 2015

Whiplash 5 stars

movie title

Nineteen-year-old Andrew Neiman is determined to be the top drummer at his music conservatory. So he practices night and day and catches the eye of the school's most revered and feared teacher, Terence Fletcher, who is well known for terrorising students that don't meet his idea of perfection. Soon after, Fletcher requests that Andrew transfers into his class and he becomes the alternate drummer. When the opportunity arises for Andrew to prove himself, he rises to the occasion.

  • GenreDrama, Film, Musical, Romance
  • CastMelissa Benoist, Miles Teller, Paul Reiser, JK Simmons, Austin Stowell.
  • DirectorDamien Chazelle.
  • WriterDamien Chazelle.
  • CountryUS
  • Duration106 mins
  • Official sitewww.sonyclassics.com/whiplash/
  • Release16/01/2015

The fresh paint of 2015 has barely dried and already we have a strong contender for the film of the year. Inspired by writer-director Damien Chazelle's experiences in a fiercely competitive high school jazz band, Whiplash is an electrifying tale of a 19-year-old drummer's bruising battle of wits with his monstrous college tutor.

As the title intimates, pain is acute in Chazelle's lean script that pulls no punches in its depiction of the pursuit of musical excellence, which propels the self-destructive student to the brink of a mental and physical breakdown.

Drumming sequences are edited at a frenetic pace, spattered with the real sweat of lead actor Miles Teller, who performs all of the energy-sapping solos as if his life depended on it. It's a bravura performance complemented by JK Simmons' jaw-dropping portrayal of the foul-mouthed, bullying conductor, who verbally abuses students that fall short of his impossible demands for metronomic and percussive perfection.

Staring at his terrified charges, Simmons' musician-turned-mentor preys upon teenage fears and insecurities, kindling intense rivalry between band members for his own sadistic pleasure. Early in the film, he picks on one nervous trombonist's weight and snarls, "I will not let you cost us a competition because your mind's on a Happy Meal and not on pitch." He's just getting warmed up.

Nineteen-year-old Andrew Neiman (Teller) is determined to excel at his Manhattan music conservatory and avoid the regrets which haunt his writer father (Paul Reiser). So he practises night and day and catches the eye of the school's most revered teacher, Terence Fletcher (Simmons).

Soon after, Andrew transfers to Fletcher's class and becomes the alternate drummer in the band behind lead player Carl (Nate Lang). When the opportunity arises for Andrew to impress, he rises to the occasion but alienates himself from the rest of the band.

A fledgling romance with Nicole (Melissa Benoist), who works at Andrew's local cinema, is sacrificed in a cold, cruel fashion that would have Fletcher smacking his lips with glee. The game of one-upmanship between teacher and pupil spirals out of control as Andrew struggles to meet the lofty expectations of his maniacal mentor and earn the right to play at a concert in the rarefied surroundings of Carnegie Hall.

Whiplash delivers one emotional wallop after another as Andrew practises until his hands bleed and Simmons belittles those herculean efforts by growling, "Is that the fastest you can go? It is no wonder Mommy ran out on you!"

We root for the beleaguered 19-year-old with every display of frenzied stick-work, urging Andrew to wipe the smug grin off Fletcher's face. Our investment in the characters is immense and Chazelle rewards us with an astounding denouement that saps every ounce of energy from our bodies. We're delirious, euphoric and physically spent.

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