Along with its other wicked attractions, The Favourite serves as a corrective to all those fluffy period movies where pretty costumes and set design function as the cinematic equivalent of a bubble bath. The art direction is plenty handsome here, too, and the film will likely collect a few Oscars for its physical production. But The Favourite uses its lavish backdrops in order to show off the nastiest sides of human behavior—this is a beautiful dinner spread with a rat as its centerpiece.
It aspires to gossamer and moonbeams, to bygone eras of jazz and black-and-white movies, to Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. It has scenes of people breaking into song and dance in the middle of dialogue. They used to call these musicals.
How can any movie lover, or any civilized person really, be against La La Land?? Let me try to explain. The idea is swell, and the spirited efforts of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone—neither known primarily for song-and-dance prowess, though both have experience in those departments—are, for sure, spirited. There are even moments where the musical-drama format (this isn’t exactly musical-comedy) slips into blissful gear, especially when a rambling nighttime conversation above the lights of Los Angeles morphs into a dance duet that feels truly earned, playing out in a single unbroken take that carries us into the old-fashioned movie paradise that the film is aiming at.
Even if it doesn’t live up to its festival reviews or its crazy possibilities, Birdman serves so many heady moments it qualifies as a bona fide happening. The movie begins quietly enough—an actor meditates in his dressing room before a stage rehearsal—but there’s a curveball. The actor is floating in mid-air.
No mention is made of this, nor of the other apparently telekinetic powers that belong to Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton). A movie star in a career skid since he stopped playing a masked superhero named Birdman back in the ’90s, Thomson is preparing his big comeback. Unless it kills him first.
The new Woody Allen movie has the flaws that have become familiar in the latter part of his career: slack pacing, too much exposition, and a big age discrepancy between leading man and lady. I must be worn down by all that, because I truly enjoyed Magic in the Moonlight. The exposition’s still a problem — Allen’s script must explain the premise a dozen times — but here the languid pacing is just the right rhythm for this sunny dream of a film.
The setting is 1920s France, where a famous magician, Stanley (Colin Firth), takes on a challenge. Along with making elephants disappear on stage, he’s known offstage as a great debunker of frauds and charlatans.