Jim Erickson

Movie reviewer

Jim Erickson has been KMUW's film reviewer since 1974. He came to Wichita State University in 1964 from the University of Texas in Austin. He taught narrative in literature and film from 1966 until his retirement in 1997. His favorite film is Citizen Kane.

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It is a hard thing to have to review Part Three of a four-part series without having seen Parts One and Two. There is bound to be a certain unclarity as to what has happened before and how the characters relate to each other, because the beginning setups are not there, and since the movie ends when it is only three-quarters done, there can be no satisfactory closure. Even those who thought The Empire Strikes Back was the best of the Star Wars trilogy had to admit that.

Whiplash is one of the strangest and most gripping movies about showbusiness I've ever seen, in its exclusive concentration on two psychological studies-- one of character actor J.K. Simmons as a drill-instructor-type jazz trainer, and the other Miles Teller as a 19-year-old who is maniacally obsessed with becoming the greatest jazz drummer in the world.

    

Birdman is a lot of things besides a story, with a variety of elements and genres-- comedy, drama, psychological study, internal action, external action, possible action, parody, maybe even touches of theatre history. The bit about the actor who goes through the wrong door and locks himself out of the performance teases my memory as something I read about many years ago, in real life.

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Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler is almost an example of an old-fashioned American ideal.

He is certainly starting at the bottom of his chosen field, as Horatio Alger heroes are supposed to do. And he has absorbed the accepted rules to the extent that he is almost comical in his performance as a job candidate and, later, as a potential employer. There is hardly a cliché of self-help manuals that he doesn’t recite, with no apparent effort at parody.

St. Vincent is a rather quiet little movie made remarkable mostly, but not exclusively, by Bill Murray's performance in a basically non-comic role, as a man scraping by on the fringes of society who is suddenly confronted with situations requiring him to do the right thing, whether he feels like it or not.

I'm a little embarrassed to be giving such a rave review to a movie about which I have so little to say.

But The Book of Life fascinated me so much with its style that I took almost no notes on it and can't say much about its themes or even its plot. Its style is beyond my powers of description and I can think of only one movie I can compare it to-- and I'm not sure that one ever went into wide release, though it is available on DVD.

Kill the Messenger is a pretty good political movie about what happened to a reporter who revealed illicit dealings of the CIA in Los Angeles, especially the bitter revenged imposed on him with--at the very minimum--the full acquiescence of the U.S. government. Its biggest flaw is that it's so utterly one-sided, but the facts it is based on are apparently undeniable now.

Ben Affleck's new movie, Gone Girl, is two-and-a-half hours long, but has plot enough for two-and-a-half miniseries. And wonder of Hollywood wonders, it all hangs together, albeit in a rather incredible series of stories. It relies on coincidences and does not obsess about believability, but it's certainly not boring or predictable. The two people I discussed it with and I all rated it three-and-a-half stars or a maximum four, and I shared with one of them a desire to read the book.

The Skeleton Twins resembles The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby in being about a pair of people who simply cannot adjust to problems a lot of people face. Except that the Skeleton twins (I'm not going to explain that title), Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, are positively, literally suicidal from the very start, and there is a clear, though unsatisfactory, suggestion as to how their problems could be faced.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, in the version currently circulating, is a cut down two-hour combination of a three-hour double feature that will go into limited release next year, and which I hope we get to see, because the present version left me rather unsatisfied.

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