My month in movies theatres

You’ve probably been noticing that I’ve been writing a lot more recently. I was inspired by Sarah Lyall’s piece in the New York Times last month — where she saw 12 movies in 12 different NYC theaters in a span of 48 hours — and decided to try my own version of the social experiment.

My own personal goal: See as many of the 2015 Academy Award-nominated films in different Western New York theaters while spending as little money as possible. With those paramenters in mind, I gave myself a month. Here are the results:

feb 17:10 p.m.: 2015 Oscar-nominated live action shorts at the DIPSON EASTERN HILLS CINEMA 3 (Williamsville, N.Y.)

I’ve always felt at home in indie theaters (Cinemapolis was one of my favorite haunts when I lived in Ithaca, N.Y.) and the Eastern Hills Dipson is one of my favorites. Just off the I-90 East and a few blocks from the Regal Transit Center Stadium 18 & IMAX, the Eastern Hills Dipson has always felt welcoming in its familiarity. Perhaps it’s the comforting pastel-green walls or their array of intelligent and intriguing films, which includes this year’s Oscar-nominated shorts. Or perhaps I enjoy how empty the Eastern Hills Mall usually is, giving me cover in the darkness. It certainly wasn’t empty Sunday night. The slush-filled parking lot was packed with cars and there was even a queue to buy tickets.

With my student ID, $7.50 granted me passage to five foreign films that may made me laugh, cry and think. “Parvaneh” made me feel contemplative; “Butter Lamp” made me feel reflective; “The Phone Call” was sad; “Aya” was perplexing; and “Boogaloo and Graham” made me feel happy and nostalgic. That’s the power of cinema, well-worth the cost.

feb 31:50 p.m.: “Boyhood” at the DIPSON MCKINLEY MALL 6 (Hamburg, N.Y.)

The McKinley Mall Dipson is a little hard to find if you don’t know exactly where to look. It’s located at the McKinley Mall plaza — right off the Mile Strip Road/Blasdell/Orchard Park exit off the I-90 West. That’s the easy part. The theatre isn’t connected to the mall, but located all the way in the back (yes, past the J.C. Penney’s and Sears). Its marquee sign is missing a couple of its letters and its selection is a little old, but this theatre does have a parking lot. It also happens to offer some of the cheapest prices in Western New York. $2 granted me access to Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated time capsule, “Boyhood,” a film that transported me to my childhood and made me re-examine things from an adult’s perspective. Oh, so, this is what parenting sort-of feels like.

feb 7 1:30 p.m.: “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” at the NORTH PARK ART CINEMA (Buffalo, N.Y.)

Photo Credit: Qina Liu

Photo Credit: Qina Liu

Located on Hertel Avenue just past North Park Street, the gorgeous North Park Art Cinema fits in well with the Buffalo revival. The 1920s-era theatre was just restored last year. The result: a work of art. A red, white, blue and yellow marquee protrudes in front of the building, reminding you of the streets of the theatre district in New York City. Across the street, sits a Spot Coffee and (if you’re lucky) the unmistakable bright green of a Lloyd’s Taco truck. The only downside is that it’s hard to find parking — especially on a Saturday afternoon. I ended up finding parking a block away on one of the side streets and had a lovely walk over the unshoveled sidewalks.

Inside, $5 transported me to Asia, where I learned “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” directed and co-written by Isao Takahata. The theatre itself was fit for a princess. It’s elegant with red walls, high ceilings, and heavy wooden doors. The centerpiece, though, is its celestial domed ceiling — beautifully painted with horses, carriages and angels. In my jeans, sweatshirt and winter coat, I felt underdressed.

feb 1012:35 p.m.: “Birdman” at the REGAL TRANSIT CENTER STADIUM & IMAX (Williamsville, N.Y.)

This is where I went for midnight premieres of “The Hobbit,” “Skyfall,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Ender’s Game,” and other big blockbusters. You can get lost in new dimensions when staring at the Regal Transit’s incredibly large IMAX screen. It’s so big that it’s hard to look at the full picture without sitting in the back rows.

Photo Credit: Qina Liu

Photo Credit: Qina Liu

The theatre itself is very modern, resembling a space ship. The 3D IMAX theatre towers over the red Regal marquee. It’s lobby is bathed in neon lines: red, yellow, purple. There’s even an air hockey table in the corner. This is the type of place I think of when I picture a stereotypical movie theatre.

So it was interesting to experience theatre at the movies. “Birdman,” after all, is a movie about a play, and director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu transcends definitions. While movies can be pricey these days (it’s close to $20 bucks for an IMAX screening), they’re still much cheaper than a Broadway ticket. Yet Michael Keaton’s phenomenal in “Birdman,” displaying himself nakedly (both literally and figuratively) on the stage. My cost to see his performance: $5.

feb167:40 p.m.: “Still Alice” at the DIPSON AMHERST THEATRE (Buffalo, N.Y.)

Photo Credit Qina Liu

Photo Credit Qina Liu

The Amherst Dipson sits across from UB South campus next to a McDonald’s (here, student tickets cost $7.50). It’s a cozy theatre that has a selection of Tazo tea at their snack stand. You can just sink into their plushy lounge seats in their lobby, staring at the beautiful painted mural on their wall. James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando and Charlie Chaplain greet you when you walk in. Their likeness emerge from a painted film strip and projector. Meanwhile, their portraits hang in the bathrooms. Marlon Brando leans against a tree. A motorcycle is about a foot away. James Dean is staring off into space with the collar of his peacoat flipped up. “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today,” the quote reads below him.  That’s how Julianne Moore’s character in “Still Alice” lived. She desperately tried to hold onto her dreams as her memories were disappearing to Alzheimers:

“I am not suffering,” she says in the film. “I am struggling. Struggling to be part of things, to stay connected to whom I was once. So, ‘live in the moment’ I tell myself. It’s really all I can do, live in the moment. And not beat myself up too much… and not beat myself up too much for mastering the art of losing.”

feb1711:55 p.m.: “Selma” at the REGAL ELMWOOD CENTER 16 (Buffalo, N.Y.)

The Elmwood Regal looks exactly the same as the Transit Regal. The only thing they’re missing is the Transit’s big IMAX tower (but they do offer 3D screenings). Of course, there’s nothing like Oscar season to drive up box office movie sales. “Selma” ticket sales rose 200 percent after they got the Oscar nomination. There was a line when I went to buy my ticket ($5). The people in front of me braved the cold Buffalo weather to go see “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” But the spacious theatre for “Selma” was also packed. I wondered what they thought as they watched the on-screen battle between David Oyelowo’s MLK and Tom Wilkinson’s LJB. Was this how they remembered this part of history? How many of them lived through the the march from Selma to Washington and saw the massacre on their black and white TV screens firsthand? While “Selma” ended with the inevitable signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the fight felt unfinished.

feb194 p.m.: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” at the FOUR SEASONS CINEMA (Niagara Falls, N.Y.)

Although the Four Seasons Cinema in Niagara Falls, N.Y., sounds like a hotel, it is a museum, filled with the history of classic Hollywood. A Big Lots and other factory stores hide it from view, but you can see remnants of its former glory. Housing six theaters, the cinema’s halls are like Hollywood’s walk of stars. The oak walls are adorned with iconic posters of old-time movies and its stars: Orson Welles “Citizen Kane,” “The Wizard of Oz,” the Marx brothers in “Duck Soup,” Humphrey Bogart in “Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca”; Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable in “Gone with the Wind”; and Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird and the Tasmanian Devil. Next to them rest black and white portraits of Shirley Temple, Aubrey Hepburn as well as a shrine dedicated to Marilyn Monroe. This is part of its charm. The theatre may look a little old and its floor tiles may yellow with age, but these stars will be stay forever young on the silver screen. Perhaps someday, Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games” franchise will join them.

Four Seasons Cinema

Photo Credit Qina Liu

9 p.m.: “Whiplash” at the AURORA THEATRE (East Aurora, N.Y.)

Aurora Theatre

Photo Credit Qina Liu

Against the -6°F Buffalo temperatures (which froze Niagara Falls), the Aurora Theatre’s marquee sign was a bright blinking beacon — like a lighthouse calling all who were lost. Tickets here cost $8 (they’re slightly cheaper for seniors) and with one, you can enter this 1925-era theatre.

The theatre’s gorgeous, with heavy mahogany doors and two indoor concession stands. There’s one stage with a theatre that can seat 650 people.

What we got was a concert, conducted by director Damien Chazelle. J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller were the main artists, performing an 107-minute duet called “Whiplash.” There were no intermissions within this concert, but when the music finally stopped, they got a standing ovation.

feb26

4 p.m.: “McFarland, USA” at the AMC MAPLE RIDGE 8 (Amherst, N.Y.)

I’m not used to being asked if I have a preference for where I want to sit when buying my movie ticket ($5.99), but that’s what makes the local AMC unique. This theatre also contains red plushy recliner loveseats, which makes you feel like you’re at home. Of course, I was far from home. “McFarland, USA” director Niki Caro takes you to the poor mostly-Hispanic California town of McFarland, daring us to dream bigger.

7:30 p.m.: “Wild” at the MOVIELAND 8 THEATRES (Cheektowaga, N.Y.)

The projectors at the Movieland 8 theatre don’t always work. (Full disclosure, I tried to see “The Wolf of Wall Street” here last year and the film quit without getting past the first 20 minutes. “Unbroken” also wasn’t working when I stopped here to see it earlier this month.) But despite that and the older movie selection, the movie prices here are cheap (ranging from $2-$4). It’s one of the reasons I come here. Thursday night, I got lost in the deserts and woods with Reese Witherspoon, who starred as author Cheryl Strayed in the memoir-to-movie “Wild.” She reminded me of how empowering it can be to be out on your own — whether it’s to hike the Pacific Crest Trail or to see 14 movies in theatres within a month.

‘Birdman’ soars

Editor’s Note: This review was intentionally written with long winding sentences to mirror cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s oner. 

“Birdman’s” director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki give new meaning to “theatre in the round.” In one scene in Iñárritu and Lubezki’s Oscar-winning picture, the camera circles around a group of actors on stage, rehearsing a scene from the impending off-Broadway Raymond Carver production, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

The camera circles several times, bringing us up close and personal to the faces of Naomi Watts, Jeremy Shamos, Andrea Riseborough and Michael Keaton — actors who play actors in a movie about theatre. The film’s ironically subtitled “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” but writers Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo are not ignorant to art. Iñárritu, Giacobone and Bo were also on the writing team of Iñárritu’s last Oscar-nominated picture, “Biutiful” (2010).

Their film is beautifully precise — taking the viewer from dressing rooms through winding corridors and down stairs to the stage. The camera moves through open windows giving us aerial views and low angle time-lapses of sunrises over towering buildings. In one scene, the camera even moves through time — from a shot of Keaton looking at a mirror to a dream sequence to a memory of what could have been weeks or months ago.

Scenes begin where others ends — making the entire film feel as if it were shot in one long continuous take. In reality, there are 16 visible cuts in the film and “Birdman” was edited in two weeks after a two month filming process.

While Lubezki’s dizzying cinematography and Iñárritu’s exacting direction makes this film soar, “Birdman” satirical script gives us another layer of “super realism.” Keaton’s cast as Riggan Thomson, an actor famous for his portrayal of Birdman in the superhero movie franchise. Keaton himself starred as Batman once upon a time.

Meanwhile, Edward Norton, a serious method actor who plays a well-known theatre personality named Mike Shiner, also stars as a parody of himself. Norton’s notorious for being difficult to work with, even “shadow directing” films he’s starred in. In one scene of “Birdman’s” self-aware script, Shiner’s seen directing actor/director Thomson’s character. Ironically, Norton gave Iñárritu his own two cents about the scene with Keaton.

This play’s both personal and intimate (it’s about love, after all). And as the show goes on, Keaton gets naked — both figuratively and literally — lending more and more of himself to his characters. The division between reality and imagination blend until you don’t know what’s real anymore.

That’s the blessing about the play, writes theatre-critic-at-large Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan):

“Thompson has unwittingly given birth to a new form, which can only be described as super-realism… The blood that has been sorely missing from the veins of American theatre.”

One thing’s for sure: you’ve never seen theatre like this before.

“Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and written by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo. The film won four Academy Awards including for Best Directing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. 

Conducting ‘Whiplash’

When you think of the jazz greats, there’s Buddy Rich, Charlie Parker and Andrew Neiman. You probably haven’t heard of the latter, though, unless you’ve seen Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-nominated film, “Whiplash.”

In the 107-minute drama, Miles Teller stars at 19-year-old Neiman, an aspiring jazz drummer attending the prestigious and cutthroat Shaffer Music Conservatory in New York City. He could be one of the kids from “Fame.” His dream is to become a household jazz icon and to do so means earning the respect of Shaffer’s studio jazz band conductor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons).

Fletcher is not the encouraging chorus instructor in Ryan Murphy’s TV comedy “Glee”; instead, Fletcher resembles the abrasive cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester or a male version of Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada.” He’s the type of virtuoso that you both love and despise; you secretly hate him while constantly seeking his approval. Meanwhile, Fletcher spews cruel, racial, homophobic and religious slurs at you. He sounds like a football coach rather than a conductor, punctuating his speeches with curse words. But he can also be deceptively sweet.

In one scene Fletcher is reassuring Neiman: “The key is to relax,” Fletcher says. “Don’t worry about the other guys. You’re here for a reason. Have fun.” In the next scene, Fletcher humiliates Neiman in front of the band, hurling a chair at his head while enacting his favorite didactic story:

“Imagine if [Jo] Jones had just said: ‘Well, that’s okay, Charlie. That was all right. Good job,'” Fletcher says. “And then Charlie thinks to himself, ‘Well, shit, I did do a pretty good job.’ End of story. No Bird. That, to me, is an absolute tragedy.”

Simmons is absolutely captivating as Fletcher, abruptly changing his voice and moods like a finely tuned fiddle. One minute, he’s calm, melodic and inviting. The next, he’s loud, harsh and grating, instilling fear among his students. He dismissed his fourth chair trombone player, Metz (C.J. Vana), because the musician couldn’t answer if he was playing out of tune. He wasn’t, Fletcher later discloses, but that’s even worse.

Simmons and Teller jerk you back and forth from sympathy to disgust. Teller’s Neiman is driven, passionate and ambitious — literally drenching his drum sets with blood and sweat. But he can also be self-centered and high strung. At times, Neiman reminds you of Jesse Eisenberg’s antisocial portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s 2010 drama “The Social Network.”

When he prematurely breaks up with his love interest, Nicole (Melissa Benoist), you expect her to slap him. His reasoning seems distorted and he drowns a guarantee for normalcy with a slim chance for greatness. Drumming becomes his obsession; Fletcher, his role model. But this relationship is an abusive one.

The antagonistic relationship between a mentor and his young protégé isn’t new. We’ve seen this in dozens of films from “The Devil Wears Prada” to “Varsity Blues.” But director and screenwriter Chazelle (both literally and figuratively) drums up new momentum with the soundtrack (composed by Justin Hurwitz). Trumpets provide the sexy backdrop to young love while the breakneck double-time drumming provides the pulse in an adrenaline-driven frenzy. It’s uneven and all over the place —  just enough to give you whiplash.

Of course, the title of the film works on multiple levels. It’s the song that Neiman is learning to play when he joins Fletcher’s band. It’s also the visceral feeling you get when you watch some of the performances. (Chazelle’s even incorporates a car crash into his script, putting triple entendres to use.) It’s almost packaged too neatly, undermining the film’s playful and improvisational subject matter. That’s doesn’t mean this concert isn’t worth listening to.

Although “Whiplash” is only Chazelle’s second feature-length film, he’s a master conductor — cuing exacting cuts and powerful performances. It’s predictable and the story ends much like it begins — with a coda to Fletcher and Neiman’s perfect duet.

“Whiplash” was written and directed by Damien Chazelle. J.K. Simmons won a Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actor for his role. “Whiplash” was nominated in the 87th Academy Awards for Best Film, Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing.  

From ‘Selma’ to Ferguson

Although the march from Selma to Washington that inspired the movie “Selma” occurred more than 50 years ago, Ava DuVernay’s Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated film feels very modern. Early on in the film, Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) is petitioning President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) in the Oval Office — asking him to expand voting rights for southern states.

King understood that voting was fundamental to change. There were murders and lynchings; the KKK blew up four girls in a Birmingham Baptist church. Everyone knew who the murderers were, but the terrorists were never punished. That’s because the scales of justice are weighted. “You can’t serve on a jury unless you can vote,” King tells Johnson. So white murderers were tried in white courts by white juries.

Oyelowo speaks like a Baptist preacher preaching the gospel of injustice. Scripted by Paul Webb and directed by DuVernay, Oyelowo’s speeches are very eloquent — full of metaphors and repetition. His words aren’t the ones King actually used — those words are copyrighted to DreamWorks and Warner Bros. for Steven Spielberg’s pending MLK biopic — but they wash over us like poetry. In one scene, Oyelowo compares the black suffrage movement to trying to get a seat at any lunch table. Unfortunately, blacks and whites are given different opportunities and blacks can’t even read from the menu.

DuVernay slams us with imagery, appealing to our pathos. Edited by Spencer Averick, each bomb and gun shot is slowed down and personified. The four black girls from Birmingham look like broken porcelain dolls as debris flies everywhere. Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) is taken down by Selma police officers like a big black gorilla. Time freezes when Jimmie Lee Jackson (Keith Stanfield) is shot. These scenes are as violent and as controversial as when Hammond police smashed a car door window to tase the African-American passenger in the car. When we eventually watch the violent and historic showdown at Edmund Pettus Bridge, it feels as if a dam broke, and we can’t stop the waterworks as we cringe with each beating.

We know how this story ends. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on August 6.

But even as “Selma” presents us with a form of closure, we know that years later, the white police officers responsible for Oscar Grant, Travyon Martin and Mike Brown’s deaths were also tried by courts. BART officer Johannes Mehserle was sentenced to two years in prison; he got out in less than a year. George Zimmerman was acquitted for charges of manslaughter and second-degree murder. Ferguson’s former police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted.

And we still march crying, “No justice, no peace.”

“Selma” was directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb. The film’s song “Glory” won a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Song. “Selma” was also nominated for Best Picture in the 87th Academy Awards. 

The je ne sais quoi of ‘Still Alice’

Early on in the film “Still Alice,” Julianne Moore is running. She’s not chasing after someone like she was in sci-fi thriller “The Forgotten.” She’s truly lost. And the monsters she’s running from are invisible — like the Silence from “Doctor Who.”

Moore plays Alice Howland, the type of woman you’d aspire to be. She’s poised and articulate. Intelligent and accomplished. And very, very loved. This is evident in the first scene of directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s film, “Still Alice,” starring Julianne Moore as the loving and successful Columbia University linguistics professor.

When we first meet her, Alice is surrounded by her impressive family. Her husband John (Alec Baldwin) is a doctor at Columbia University. Her eldest daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth) graduated from law school and is an expecting mother-to-be. Her son, Tom (Hunter Parrish), is going through medical school. Her youngest girl, Lydia (Kristen Stewart), is pursuing a career in acting in Los Angeles.

Yet, if you’ve read Lisa Genova’s bestselling novel which the film’s based off of, you know how this story goes. Here’s a woman who has everything. Watch as she tragically loses it all.

Alice is running from something more far frightening than the aliens who kidnapped her kid. She’s running from Mother Nature, who gifted her with the inherited disease which also crippled her late father. At age 50, she’s been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer and she’s slowly losing her mind.

We watch Moore transform from the charismatic and self-assured professor and mother to someone who loses her bearings. She pulls out a bottle of Dove body wash from the fridge. She repeats questions and sentences over and over and over. She soils herself while looking for the bathroom in her own house. She doesn’t recognize her house-keeper or daughter. “I wish I had cancer,” she tells her husband. “I wouldn’t be so ashamed. People put on pink ribbons if you have cancer.”

As Alice loses more and more of herself to the disease, the camera blurs. Cinematographer Denis Lenoir focuses his lens on Moore’s forlorn expressions and vivid red hair. In one scene, Alice is the only one in focus. Her husband and children are blurry in the background, discussing her treatment as if she’s not there.

Glatzer, who’s been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, might know what it’s like to feel invisible. ALS has taken his words, but not his mind. The film treats disease with sensitivity, but also forces us to confront the frightening effects of aging. We might also lose our minds someday — our ability to see, hear and think. Whether it’s at 50 or 100, our years are all numbered.

If it was Glatzer and Westmoreland’s intention to make us empathize with the sick and elderly, they’ve succeeded. The camera focuses on a series of text — Words with Friends, plays, lecture notes — all the building blocks of human communication. When we lose our words, we lose our ability to think as well as our ability to express our desires. We become invisible. A husk of our former selves. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have thoughts or feelings. We just might not know how to express them.

Through Glatzer and Westmoreland lens, Alice is never invisible. Moore shines. Instead, words, people, faces and settings blur around her. She’s still Alice — even as she loses her sense of time and place, her words and memories. She says so in a tear-jerking speech given at an Alzheimer fundraiser: “I am struggling. Struggling to be part of things, to stay connected to whom I was once…. It means so much to be talking here, today, like my old ambitious self who was so fascinated by communication.”

“Still Alice” was written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland based on Lisa Genova’s novel. The film is nominated in the 87th Academy Award for Best Actress. Moore won the 2015 Golden Globe award for Best Actress for her performance as Alice Howland. 

‘Boyhood’: Linklater’s ethereal portrait of childhood

“Can’t believe they’re so big,” says Mason Sr., the fictitious father in Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated coming-of-age film, “Boyhood.”

But with some movie magic, we watch as a real boy and girl age. Twelve years go by in 165 minutes. And we’re left with a time capsule circa 2002 to 2014.

The stars are Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and his older sister, Samantha (Lorelai Linklater). We watch as they trade Oregon Trail for Nintendos and Harry Potter for Wiis. Music serves as cultural bookmarks, allowing us to place the year. Samantha antagonizes her younger brother in their bedroom with her a cappella version of Britney Spears’ “Oops… I Did It Again.” Years later, the siblings share a game of pool with their romantic partners over Gotye’s “Somebody I Used To Know.”

Even as “Boyhood” invokes our feelings of nostalgia, the film deals with some pretty tough stuff — especially for kids.

Mason and Sam are forced to pack up and move after their mother and father split. Mason worries that his father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), won’t be able find him after they move. His mother, Olivia (Patrica Arquette), reassures him.

These poignant moments make up much of the film. Mason asks his father if elves exist. Mason Sr. responds that elves don’t really exist, but magic does.

That’s what “Boyhood” is. Magical.

The passage of time is seamless, but the portraits keep changing. Facial hair spurts and voices crack. Wrinkles emerge and laughter lines become more prominent.

Linklater takes you on a journey, using Coltrane as his vehicle. One minute he’s catching butterflies with his dad. The next, he’s graduating high school and driving alone to college. Figures move in and out of focus and you realize that your childhood heroes are just as confused as you are. As Sam and Mason age, their parents grow up along with them.

“Boyhood” isn’t everyone’s story, but it’s universal enough. There’s bullying, peer pressure, alcohol and breakup as well as divorce, domestic violence, aging and and self-realization. Linklater delves into our psyche, echoing our fears as we ponder the meaning of life.

Meanwhile, nothing and everything happens at once.

“Boyhood” was written and directed by Richard Linklater and filmed over the course of 12 consecutive years. “Boyhood” was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Picture. “Boyhood” won the 2015 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress, Best Director and Best Motion Picture. 

Imperfections by Chance: Paul Feeley Retrospective, 1954-1966

At first glance, the “Imperfections By Chance: Paul Feeley Retrospective, 1954 – 1966” exhibit at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery looks like child’s play. Large geometrical figures hang on bright pastel canvases spread across five rooms in the South Galleries of the 1905 Albright building.

Curated by Albright-Knox Chief Curator Emeritus Douglas Dreishpoon; Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director Janne Sirén; and Tyler Cann, associate curator of contemporary art at the Columbus Museum of Art; “Imperfections By Chance” is a delightful dip into some of Feeley’s (1910-1966) later works.

"The Other Side" (1957) by Paul Feeley

“The Other Side” (1957)

Some, like a 1958 untitled piece, resemble a thought bubble. Others are more scientific or earthy. “Cassius” (1957) looks like pink fleshy gums within a dark navy lava lamp. “The Other Side” (1957) shows two connected aqueous planets competing for the warm navel-orange embers of a neighboring sun. “Red Blotch” (1954) features an fiery-red blob surrounded by its complement: a rich pine green.

As simplistic as this looks, the complementary colors in Feeley’s paintings hold your attention. Like a Rorschach test, shapes and textures begin to emerge within the inkblot. “Red Blotch” could be a red bow or the aerial view of a Christmas tree in infrared. The white canvas bleeds through in some spots, giving tiny veins within the red. It looks unfinished, but these little imperfections give this blotch its layers and form.

That’s what makes Feeley’s abstract expressionism fascinating. “Kilroy” (1957) — a 101.5 by 92 in. oil-based enamel painting on canvas — resembles a giant red tear drop against a bright yellow background. The red and yellow blend — looking opaque and translucent in different spots. But the most interesting part is where the spots fray — resembling blood splatters speckling pristine yellow wallpaper. It’s a work of art — and one that Showtime’s “Dexter” would appreciate. 

“Imperfections by Chance” allows the viewer to experience the world through another lens. It’s as if the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s handed you a microscope to map Feeley’s evolution. In “Red Blotch” (one of the earliest paintings in this gallery), Feeley’s signature’s is printed in big black block letters, almost blending into its green backdrop. His watercolors (circa 1958 – 1959) features big loopy cursive scribbles, mirroring the bulbous figures of his paintings.

The playfulness is evident in Feeley’s works.”Gomelza” (1965) resemble a game of pick up jacks; “Minoa” (1962) looks like bowling pins orbiting a helix; and “Alioth” (1964) repeats a pattern of kidney beans over a light blue background.

Meanwhile, the precise orange, white and blue figures in “Asellus” (1964) — a 101 by 101 in. oil-based enamel painting on canvas — seem like the overlooked organisms that one might see under a microscope. These repeating figures of little significance are prominently displayed like the famous subjects of Andy Warhol’s pop art. Later, Feeley reprises the figure of “Asellus” in “Electra” (1965) and “El Rakis” (1965) — three-dimensional oil-based enamel on wood sculptures.

As abstract as some of these works are, some are more recognizable. A watercolor of “Pelikes, Greece,” — dated June 28, 1961 — looks like a cubist version of El Greco’s “View of Toledo.” “Pelikes, Greece” is displayed next to another cubist watercolor landscape. This one, an untitled piece painted in 1962, shows the washed-out blue of a nondescript body of water next to a sandy coastline and it’s bubbly green vegetation.

It’s flat and other-worldly, yet oh-so familiar — like those misshapen heads on stick-figure bodies that your mother used to frame on the fridge a lifetime ago. Feeley reminds us that these “imperfections by chance” could be beautiful and worth staring at.

“Imperfections By Chance: Paul Feeley Retrospective, 1954 – 1966” was initiated by Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director Janne Sirén and organized by Albright-Knox Chief Curator Emeritus Douglas Dreishpoon and Tyler Cann, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Columbus Museum of Art. The exhibit was displayed from Nov. 9, 2014 to Feb. 15, 2015 at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. 

Solving ‘A Study in Scarlet’ for children

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” has gone through many modern adaptations, saturating our media.  He’s revived in the animated 1999 to 2001 TV series “Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century“; David Shore’s 2004 FOX drama “House, M.D.” (starring Hugh Laurie as the antisocial know-it-all doctor); Guy Ritchie’s action movies (starring Robert Downey Jr.); Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s 2010 BBC TV series “Sherlock” (starring Benedict Cumberbatch); and the 2012 CBS series “Elementary” (starring Johnny Lee Miller).

The latest of the Sherlock Holmes reboots is a reprinting of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1887 detective novel, “A Study in Scarlet” — this time illustrated by Gris Grimly and reprinted by Balzer and Bray, a children’s book division of Harper Collins Publishers. 

"A Study in Scarlet"  By Arthur Conan Doyle Illustrated by Gris Grimly  228 pp. Balzer & Bray. $17.99 U.S. Feb. 17, 2015.

“A Study in Scarlet”
By Arthur Conan Doyle
Illustrated by Gris Grimly
228 pp. Balzer & Bray.
$17.99 U.S.
Feb. 17, 2015.

This 288-page hardcover novel, which will be released on February 17 this month, attempts to make the great British detective accessible to children.

The pages are filled with Grimly’s gothic cartoons. Dr. John H. Watson is a short and stout fellow with a square face and portly body (he looks like a chubbier version of Nick Offerman, sporting Count Olaf’s pinstripe pants) while Grimly’s Holmes is all pointy angles, sporting wispy hair and a tattered brown frock. Holmes isn’t wearing that infamous deerstalker cap Sidney Paget invented in early Sherlock Holmes illustrations, but a pipe is close to his hand.

The two make quite a pair when lounging in their shared 221B Baker Street apartment.

Sherlock’s elongated shadow fills the page, making him seem larger than life. And he is in Dr. Watson’s eyes.

“The reader may set me down as a hopeless busybody, when I confess how much this man stimulated my curiosity, and how often I endeavored to break through the reticence which he showed on all that concerned himself,” Doyle writes.

Watson’s charmed by Sherlock’s incredible power of deductions that his “journal” becomes a public record of Sherlock’s adventures. This tale takes the pair all over London as they solve a case that’s baffled Scotland Yard’s finest, Inspector Lestrade and Tobias Gregson.

The case in question is dubbed “A Study in Scarlet” after something Sherlock said after he examines an American murder victim in a suburban London apartment.

“There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colorless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, to isolate it, and expose every inch of it,” Sherlock says.

On a wall near the body, the word “rache” (German for “revenge”) is scrawled in blood red letters.

Told in two parts, first half is told in first person through Watson’s perspective; the second half of the novel delves into the backstory behind the mystery.

Watson’s fascination with the world’s only consulting detective is evident from both the text and images. Grimly even illustrates a list of Sherlock’s attributes which includes a profound skill in chemistry; immense knowledge in sensational literature; expertise in boxing, sword fighting, violin and singlestick; and no knowledge of politics, literature, philosophy and astronomy.

“You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin,” Watson says. “I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories.”

Perhaps they don’t. The adventures of Sherlock Holmes are just stories. But Doyle’s stories have evoked the curiosity and imagination of many — from Shore to Moffat. Nowadays, we see remnants of Holmes in every forensics  drama as crime scene investigators make modern deductions.

While our popular culture is saturated with modern Sherlock Holmeses, Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet” is where the mysteries began. Grimly — who’s known for illustrating a graphic novel based on Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” — reanimates Doyle’s centuries-old text by adding caricatures of bulbous young Arab children and rat-nosed detectives. One scene looks like it could have emerged from a “Scooby Doo” cartoon. 

This empowers young readers. Grimly knows that classics aren’t as accessible to children as television and films.

I wanted to change that for the young generations to come — to give them a way to read the words and interpret the words and get all the way from page one to page 200 … and not have to rely on the movies,” Grimly tells NPR’s Arun Rath. 

One thing’s for sure: Doyle and Grimly are an elementary combination.

“A Study in Scarlet” was originally written by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1886 and published in 1887. The reprinting, illustrated by Gris Grimly, will be released February 17, 2015. 

‘Aya’ explores the mystery in moments

You think you’ve heard this one before: A woman drives a man in a car….

And then she’s raped or injured or (if you’re Flannery O’Connor) murdered.  

That’s not what happens in Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis’ Oscar-nominated live action short, “Aya,” though.

You do expect something to happen — some sort of lesson or epiphany. Instead, the 39-minute French/Israeli short is filled with stretches of silence as a mysterious Israeli woman drives a complete stranger to a far-off destination.

Perhaps that’s the punchline. “Aya” certainly starts off like a comedy of errors. “Aya’s” opening scene resembles the British rom-com “Love Actually.” Instead of Heathrow Airport though, we’re greeted at Ben-Gurion — watching hugs and kisses and “I love you” balloons float to the ceiling.

Aya (that’s the Israeli woman played by Sarah Adler) looks sort of gloomy, talking on her cell phone, watching and waiting. Perhaps that’s why the cab driver feels comfortable approaching her when his passenger arrives. He hands Aya his colleague’s sign and after a series of mix-ups, Aya finds herself driving Mr. Overby (Ulrich Thomsen) to the Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Jerusalem. (See, there’s promise of comedy, right? Or perhaps one of those nasty Uber encounters you’ve heard about in the news?)

Written by Binnun, Brezis and Tom Shoval, this short feels like a puzzle you’ve given up on. Aya’s full of fun little contradictions: the kind of gal who feels more comfortable in a crowd.  The mysteries of this chance encounter are strangely intimate and will leave you perplexed.

“Aya” was directed by Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis and written by Binnun, Brezis and Tom Shoval. “Aya” was nominated in the 2015 Academy Awards for Best Live Action Short. 

Answering ‘The Phone Call’

Heavy breathing. A disjointed male’s voice. Crying.

“I’m scared,” the voice on the line finally says.

Mat Kirkby’s 21-minute Oscar-nominated Live Action Short“The Phone Call,” takes you through an emotional journey — evoking curiosity, wonder, helplessness, empathy and understanding.

The short stars the wonderfully expressive Sally Hawkins as Heather, a British Crisis Center worker. Hawkins carries the story, acting as your detective/journalist. With a pleasant, caring voice and a compassionate bedside manner, Hawkins reassures the reluctant man (voiced by Jim Broadbent) on the line, luring him to confide in her.

“We don’t trace calls, ever,” Heather says.

With those words, she navigates a mine field into one man’s past.

Kirkby and James Lucas’s poignant and engaging script has you hanging on to every word. Like NoMore.org’s Super Bowl spot about domestic violence, “The Phone Call” appeals to your pathos.

While we never see the person on the other line, “The Phone Call” reminds us that the invisible also have voices and stories to tell. They’re just waiting for someone to listen and share them.

“The Phone Call” was written and James Lucas and Mat Kirkby and directed by Kirkby. The 21-minute short from the UK was nominated for Best Live Action Short in the 2015 Academy Awards.