Films at the Myrna Loy Center
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Whiplash - Rated R - 106 min - Digital


A = Auditorium
S = Screening Room

Fri. - December 19 - 6:45 pm S
Sat. - December 20 - 4:15 - 9:30 pmS
Sun. - December 21 - 2:15 - 7:30 pm S
Mon. - December 22 - 7:15 pm S
Tues. - December 23 - Not Showing
Wed. - December 24 - 7:15 pm S
Thurs. - December 25 - Closed

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SYNOPSIS: A talented young jazz drummer experiences a trial by fire when he's recruited by a ferocious instructor whose unyielding search for perfection may lead to his undoing. For as far back as Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) can remember, he's been watching his father fail. Determined to make a name for himself no matter what it takes, Andrew enrolls in a prestigious east coast music conservatory where his talent quickly catches the attention of Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) a esteemed music teacher who's notorious for his caustic approach in the classroom. The leader of the school's top jazz ensemble, Fletcher promptly transfers Neyman into his band, giving the ambitious young drummer a shot at true greatness. He may achieve it, too, if Neyman's methods don't drive him to madness first.

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"Whiplash" is cinematic adrenalin. In an era when so many films feel more refined by focus groups or marketing managers, it is a deeply personal and vibrantly alive drama. Damien Chazelle has taken a relatively staid subject like the relationship between a music student and his teacher and turned it into a thriller built on a brilliant undercurrent of social commentary about what it takes to make it in an increasingly competitive and cutthroat world. How far are you willing to push yourself to succeed? How far are you willing to push someone else to force them on the path to success? Carried by two electric performances, the tightest editing in a film this year and a daring screenplay that writes itself into a corner and then somehow finds an unexpected way out, "Whiplash" is as breathless as a drum solo, rising and falling just as the hopes and dreams of its protagonist climb and crash.

A young man named Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is practicing late at night at his New York music school, one of the best in the country, when his drumming catches the ear of the infamous Mr. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the most important teacher at the school and the conductor for its most important jazz band. Fletcher pauses, listens, barks a few orders at the young man, and moves on, seemingly dissatisfied with what he heard. Andrew had his chance, that one brief moment many of us have to impress the people who can change our lives, and he didn't cut it. He goes back to his routine class band, telling his dad (a wonderfully genuine Paul Reiser) that his opportunity to move up probably passed him by.

Of course, Fletcher's dismissal of Andrew in that first scene is just the first of many examples of what could politely be called his "teaching style." Fletcher likes to tell the apocryphal story of how Jo Jones threw a cymbal at Charlie Parker's head one night when he messed up, thereby pushing him to the breaking point at which he became Bird. Without that cymbal, would music history be the same? Would Charlie Parker have gone home, refined, practiced and driven himself without the threat of not just failure but physical violence? Fletcher uses that kind of barbarous technique on his students: throwing furniture, calling Andrew names, playing mind games and physically torturing him with repetitive drum solos until he bleeds on the kit. But that blood feeds his musical passion. And Andrew blossoms, asking out the cute girl he's been afraid to talk to before, and taking first chair in the most important band at the most important music school in the country.

Miles Teller, so great in breakthrough roles in “Rabbit Hole” and “The Spectacular Now,” does the best work of his young career here as Andrew, finding the perfect blend of insecurity and confidence that comes entangled in the core of a young talent. Andrew is naturally apprehensive, but he also knows he has a drive, a passion, a skill that is unique. Teller walks that line, never faltering by making Andrew too confident while also carefully letting viewers see the spark within that Fletcher fuels.

As for Simmons, Fletcher could have been such a caricature in the wrong actor’s hands. An over-the-top, abusive teacher is a part riddled with pitfalls. Simmons falls into none of them. He walks such a line that, even after the kind of inhumane mind games and physical abuse that should produce legal charges has unfolded on screen, we find ourselves drawn to Fletcher. He’s not 100% wrong when he says that the most dangerous two words in the English language are “good job.” Whether you think it's the right approach or not, we’re in an era of praise, where encouragement is the teaching tool and every kid gets a medal for participation. Have true talents been left to wither because they were over-watered? Simmons perfectly captures the drive of a man who believes his abusive degree of pressure is the only way to produce a diamond.

While “Whiplash” would be a notable film purely for Teller and Simmons’ performances, it reaches a different level when one considers the execution of its tempo. Editor Tom Cross and cinematographer Sharone Meir often put us right on stage with Andrew and Fletcher, cutting and panning in rhythm with the beat of the drum. It is captivating, to say the least, particularly in a climax that produces more tension than any action film or thriller this year. The title refers to a song played multiple times throughout Chazelle’s film. It could also refer to that sense of wowed exhaustion you’ll feel when it’s over.

The Theory of Everything - Rated PG-13 - 123 min - Digital


A = Auditorium
S = Screening Room

Thurs. - December 18 - 7:00 pm A
Fri. - December 19 - 6:30 - 9:00 pm A
Sat. - December 20 - 4:00 - 7:00 - 9:15 pmA
Sun. - December 21 - 2:00 - 4:30 - 7:00 pm A
Mon. - December 22 - Not Showing
Tues. - December 23 - 7:00 pm A
Wed. - December 24 - 7:00 pm A
Thurs. - December 25 - Closed

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SYNOPSIS: James Marsh's biopic of the celebrated scientist Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything, stars Eddie Redmayne as the famous figure. Enrolled as a graduate student at Cambridge, Hawking establishes himself as one of the leading minds of his generation, and begins to win the heart of Jane (Felicity Jones). After one of his earliest breakthroughs, Hawking is diagnosed with ALS, and he becomes less and less able to control his own body. With the loyal Jane at his side, he continues his work. However, as the years progress, Jane begins to feel more like a nurse than a wife, and Hawking begins to have feelings for a woman who is hired to care for him. The Theory of Everything screened at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.

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Blow past the notion that biopics about genius have to be stuffy, pious, by-the-book endurance tests. Not always. The Theory of Everything gives us the real, breathing, sweating, bleeding world that British theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking calls his own. Challenged by a progressive neurological disease that robs him of movement and speech, Hawking nonetheless carries on, his mind racing to solve the mysteries of the universe.

I expected director James Marsh to cue the violins and hard-sell the triumph over adversity. Instead, the emotionally charged, surprisingly cheeky Theory of Everything gazes unflinchingly at the untidy, ornery humanity of a thinking, feeling, sexual being caged by his own body. Hawking is a role that demands miracles of an actor. And Eddie Redmayne, in a landmark performance, delivers them. He's matched by Felicity Jones, who is simply sensational as Hawking's blunt, determined wife, Jane.

It's Jane's book Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen that serves as source material for the witty, well-observed script by Anthony McCarten. Director Marsh, whose 2008 documentary Man on Wire walked the tightrope with Philippe Petit, takes to the high wire again by refusing to reduce Hawking to a saint martyred by symptoms related to ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Since Hawking wasn't born with this affliction, Marsh and the skilled cinematographer Benoît Delhomme zap us back to 1963, with a whirling shot of Hawking – thick specs in place – biking around the Cambridge campus, his head perpetually in the clouds until meeting pretty student Jane Wilde, a poet and chorale singer with a belief in God that Hawking doesn't share. That sight alone will be a revelation to those stuck with the image of Hawking shackled to a motorized wheelchair, his head lolling, his muscles limp, his voice computer-generated.

For a start, The Theory of Everything is a Big Bang Theory-ish romance between two young geeks, bodies and minds colliding. And its exuberance is as bracing as it is unexpected. Hawking is just 21 when he's diagnosed and given two years to live. It's Jane who kicks him out of depression and into a marriage that will last 25 years and produce three children. When a friend asks Hawking how he gets it up for sex, he cracks, “That part is automatic.”

There is nothing automatic about the life Jane painstakingly builds for her husband as his condition deteriorates. Marsh is unsparing with the details. And Redmayne (Les Misérables) and Jones (Like Crazy) reach for the stars in two of the year's best and most fearless acting feats. It's irksome that the film treads too lightly on the couple's divorce, partly resulting from Jane's attraction (and later marriage) to her husband's caretaker Jonathan Hellyer Jones (the excellent Charlie Cox). Then there's Hawking's 1995 marriage and 2006 split from flinty nurse Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake). These are the few instances when the film feels reticent and removed. Otherwise, The Theory of Everything, referring to Hawking's dream of finding an equation to explain all existence, is riveting science, emotional provocation and one-of-a-kind love story all rolled into one triumphant film. Bravo.

Birdman - Rated R - 119 min - Digital


A = Auditorium
S = Screening Room

Thurs. - December 18 - Not Showing
Fri. - December 19 - 9:15 pm S
Sat. - December 20 - 7:15 pmS
Sun. - December 21 - 5:00 pm S
Mon. - December 22 - Not Showing
Tues. - December 23 - 7:15 pm S
Wed. - December 24 - Not Showing
Thurs. - December 25 - Not Showing

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SYNOPSIS: A fading actor (Michael Keaton) best known for his portrayal of a popular superhero attempts to mount a comeback by appearing in a Broadway play. As opening night approaches, his attempts to become more altruistic, rebuilt his career, and reconnect with friends and family proves more difficult than expected. Lindsay Duncan, Zach Galifianakis, and Edward Norton co-star in this black comedy from Biutiful director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

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The first time we see Michael Keaton in his tighty-whities in “Birdman,” it’s from behind. His character, a formerly high-flying movie star, is sitting in the lotus position in his dressing room of a historic Broadway theatre, only he’s levitating above the ground. Bathed in sunlight streaming in from an open window, he looks peaceful. But a voice inside his head is growling, grumbling, gnawing at him grotesquely about matters both large and small.

The next time we see Keaton in his tighty-whities in “Birdman,” he’s dashing frantically through Times Square at night, having accidentally locked himself out of that same theatre in the middle of a performance of a Raymond Carver production that he stars in, wrote and directed. He’s swimming upstream through a river of gawking tourists, autograph seekers, food carts and street performers. But despite the chaos that surrounds him, he seems purposeful, driven and–for the first time–oddly content.

These are the extremes that director Alejandro G. Inarritu navigates with audacious ambition and spectacular skill in “Birdman”–the full title of which is “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).” He’s made a film that’s both technically astounding yet emotionally rich, intimate yet enormous, biting yet warm, satirical yet sweet. It’s also the first time that Inarritu, the director of ponderous downers like “Babel” and “Biutiful,” actually seems to be having some fun.

Make that a ton of fun. “Birdman” is a complete blast from start to finish. The gimmick here–and it’s a doozy, and it works beautifully–is that Inarritu has created the sensation that you are watching a two-hour film shot all in one take. Working with the brilliant and inventive cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who won an Oscar this year for shooting “Gravity” for Inarritu’s close friend and fellow Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron), Inarritu has constructed the most delicate and dazzling high-wire act. And indeed, before shooting began, the director sent his cast a photo of Philippe Petit walking a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers as inspiration.

Through impossibly long, intricately choreographed tracking shots, the camera swoops through narrow corridors, up and down tight stairways and into crowded streets. It comes in close for quiet conversations and soars between skyscrapers for magical-realism flights of fancy. A percussive and propulsive score from Antonio Sanchez, heavy on drums and cymbals, maintains a jazzy, edgy vibe throughout. Sure, you can look closely to find where the cuts probably happened, but that takes much of the enjoyment out of it. Succumbing to the thrill of the experience is the whole point.

Just as thrilling is the tour-de-force performance from Keaton in the role of a lifetime as Riggan Thompson, a washed-up actor trying to regain the former glory he achieved as the winged action hero Birdman. The film follows the fraught early going of his Broadway debut which is also his last shot at greatness–although his on-screen alter ego doesn’t help much by voicing his fears and making him doubt himself incessantly. Yes, it’s knowingly amusing that Keaton, who peaked 20-plus years ago as a superhero, is playing an actor who peaked 20-plus years ago as a superhero. Although I’d happily argue that Keaton’s Batman for Tim Burton in 1989 is THE definitive performance of the iconic character–but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation for another time.

Or is it? While “Birdman” exists in its own meticulously realized world, it’s very much of this time and place from a pop-culture perspective, with references to other real-life actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Fassbender who’ve enjoyed enormous success when they’ve donned the superhero duds. The script from Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo is cleverly meta without being too cutesy and self-satisfied.

Keaton gets to toy with his persona a bit–as well as acknowledge how comparatively quiet his career has been in recent years–but seeing him in seasoned form provides its own joy. He’s still hyper-verbal and playful and he can still be amusing and lacerating in his delivery, but there’s a wry wistfulness and even a desperation in the mix now that’s achingly poignant.

Also confronting his real-life reputation is Edward Norton as Mike Shiner, the brilliant but infamously capricious actor who steps in as Riggan’s co-star just as previews are about to begin on his labor-of-love production of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Norton, who’s come with the baggage of being difficult and demanding over the years, finds just the right balance between arrogance and sincerity.

Besides, they need each other, as they find in the days leading up to opening night. They all need each other. Inarritu has amassed a tremendous supporting cast and made ridiculous technical demands of them, yet they’ve all more than risen to the occasion and relished the chance to shine.

Zach Galifianakis plays strongly against type as Riggan’s manager and the rare voice of reason in the middle of all this madness. Emma Stone is adorable as Riggan’s world-weary, wise-ass daughter who also serves as his assistant. (She and Norton have crackling chemistry in a couple of crucial scenes.) Amy Ryan does wonders with her brief screen time as Riggan’s ex-wife; she fleshes him out and allows us to see both the selfish and the good in him. And Naomi Watts, who starred in Inarritu’s wrenching “21 Grams,” gets to play both light and heavy moments as a neurotic fellow cast member.

It’s powerfully clear that they all worked their asses of to make this complicated thrill ride look effortless. The result is one of the best times you’ll have at the movies this year–which might even be the best movie this year.

Rosewater - Rated R - 103 min - Digital


A = Auditorium
S = Screening Room

Thurs. - December 18 - 7:15 pm S

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SYNOPSIS: Jon Stewart makes his directorial debut with Rosewater, a drama based on a memoir by the Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari. As the film opens, Bahari returns to his home country in order to report on the 2009 presidential elections there. When the results lead to large public protests, Bahari (Gael Garci­a Bernal) videotapes the civil unrest. This brings him to the attention of authorities, who apprehend him and keep him in solitary confinement in hopes of getting him to confess to crimes against Iran. However, his international celebrity leads to help from powerful and unexpected places. Rosewater screened at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.

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In 1997, on the first of several visits to Iran to investigate its cinema, I met a smart, genial young Iranian-Canadian filmmaker and journalist named Maziar Bahari. We kept in occasional touch thereafter and I followed his reporting on Iran in Newsweek, and was also impressed by his filmmaking, especially a chilling documentary called “Along Came a Spider,” about an unapologetic Iranian serial killer who preyed on prostitutes.

In 2009, after the learning the disturbing news that Bahari had been arrested while covering the massive unrest that followed Iran’s contested presidential election, I was shocked to see footage of him on television confessing to being a foreign spy and participating in a nefarious plot to destabilize Iran by the West. Maziar’s tense, drawn expression as well as his absurd words made it clear that this was a coerced statement, but what, I wondered, could have brought him to this point?

The answer to that is provided in “Rosewater,” the gripping, intelligent directorial debut of TV personality Jon Stewart, who also wrote the screenplay, based on Bahari’s post-prison memoir, “Then They Came For Me.”

The connection between Bahari’s story and Stewart’s "The Daily Show" is made plain early in “Rosewater.” While he’s covering the election before being arrested, Bahari (expertly played by Gael Garcia Bernal) gives an interview to one of Stewart’s colleagues in which he jokes about being a spy. Later, in prison, he will try to explain to his brutal interrogator (excellent Kim Bodnia), a man he nicknames Rosewater for the cologne he wears, that this was all a joke and "The Daily Show" is satire, not news.

The concept of spy talk being offered up for laughs, though, is obviously one that Rosewater can’t grasp. And no wonder: it’s entirely outside the frame of reference of a pious torturer whose life is dedicated to the defense of Iran’s theocracy and its Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. In one sense, the two mindsets we see colliding in that interrogation room–one medieval, one modern–form the crux not only of “Rosewater”s drama, but also of Iran’s ongoing struggle over its identity and place in the world.

After a prologue showing Bahari’s arrest, the film’s first 40 minutes detail what led to it. In London, Bahari leaves his partner Paola (Claire Foy), who’s pregnant with their first child, for what both assume will be a brief trip to Iran to cover its elections. In Tehran, people are in a fever-pitch of excitement over a contest that pits hard-line sitting president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against his popular reformist challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

As Bahari sees, Mousavi has strong support among young, educated and urban Iranians, while Ahmadinejad, in addition to appealing more to the poor and unlettered, has bolstered his support with massive government hand-outs. Though Mousavi has been leading in the polls, there are ominous signs on several fronts. Supreme Leader Khamenei, who should remain neutral, has titled toward Ahmadinejad, and in the campaign’s one debate, Ahmadinejad adopts gutter tactics by smearing Mousavi’s wife.

On election day, Ahmadinejad’s forces announce the results even before the polls close: their man has won in a landslide. Mousavi’s supporters naturally suspect a massive fraud and begin protesting immediately. Using a mix of documentary and dramatized footage, Stewart and editor Jay Rabinowitz (abetted by ace cinematographer Bobby Bukowski) construct a riveting chronicle of the following days, when, as the world watches via TV news and social media, more than a million Mousavi supporters–wearing green, a color associated with Islam–march in the streets claiming their votes have been stolen. It’s an uprising that shakes the Islamic Republic’s foundations.

In his book, Bahari says he later gained information that, a year before these events, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards devised a plot in which he and a few others would be designated as agents of the West attempting to stage a “color revolution” in Iran. The film doesn’t indicate this. Rather, it hints that he was targeted due to filming and disseminating images of protestors being gunned down as they attacked the pro-government Basij militia HQ. (This turn from peaceful to violent protest was crucial, and it’s unclear whether it was sparked by the government’s thugs or agents provocateurs from the MEK, an Iraq-based Marxist cult that allegedly has worked with the Mossad.)

Once he’s in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, and under the harsh control of Rosewater, it’s obvious that Bahari is in for an ordeal. His interrogator has been given marching orders: he must gain the reporter’s admission of having worked for foreign intelligence services and incriminate others for doing the same.

Although in Bahari’s account he was beaten continuously (his face was spared because his captors knew they wanted him on camera), Stewart downplays the physical violence and concentrates instead on the psychological pressure that, even during the Shah’s time, Iranian interrogators knew was more effective in breaking down their victims.

In solitary confinement for days that turn into weeks and then months, Bahari has no other human contact besides Rosewater, who taunts him that everyone he knows outside has abandoned him. So he devises mental games to shore up his sanity, and has imaginary conversations with Paola as well as his late father (Haluk Bilginer) and sister (Golshifteh Farahani), both of whom endured torture and long prison sentences under the Shah.

There are a few lighter moments along the way, as when Bahari, sensing how much of Rosewater’s cruelty owes to sexual repression, tantalizes him with made-up stories of erotic massages he’s received in New Jersey (which Rosewater envisions as sin central). Yet most of Bahari’s experience is torturous both literally and figuratively, and eventually he decides to give the regime’s cameras the fantasy conspiracy stories they want, in hopes that they’ll let him go home to see his child born.

My one real gripe with Stewart’s script is that it doesn’t make clear that Bahari (according to his own account), though admitting to “media espionage,” did not name names, i.e. implicate reformist leaders, fellow journalists or others, as his captors wanted him to. This is a very important point in his decision to cooperate with their televised “confession” of fabricated malefactions.

On the other hand, Stewart’s script offers some very smart additions to Bahari’s account. In one scene, he provides a recollection (as Ben Affleck did in the prologue of “Argo”) of the C.I.A.-backed coup that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected leader in 1953–a canny reminder that Iran’s suspicions regarding the West are not all paranoid fantasies. In another scene, he reveals that Bahari’s father was imprisoned for being a Communist and allows Maziar to challenge his self-righteous dad with the observation that he devoted his life to the Stalinist system that produced the gulag, a model for Iran’s torture mills.

In a sense, it’s when Maziar can free himself from his father’s heroic image that he is really free to go home, notwithstanding the huge international outcry that helped secure his release. Unlike his father, he’s not prepared to sacrifice everything for an abstract ideal. His victory will lie in making it back to his wife and daughter–and living to tell the tale.

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