Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Movie Review: "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" (2014)

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Movie"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance"
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up Hollywood actor who was primarily famous for playing a superhero named Birdman. He left the west coast for New York in order to produce a Broadway play, a new take on the classic "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," which he has written, is directing, and in which he stars. All the while, he struggles with his past fame as Birdman, as well as all the things that went wrong in his personal life with his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) and his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) that seem to eventually manifest themselves in his on-stage performance. 

"Birdman" is one of those films that you will still be thinking about days after you see it. It's even something I could envision myself watching again and again because of how brilliant it was, and not just because of the story, but from a technical aspect as well. The way in which the entire movie is filmed is seamless, as each scene is transformed into a few long, continuous shots with no cuts. This in and of itself is ambitious, but for director Alejandro González Iñárritu to pull it off so flawlessly is another kind of miracle. At first, when we heard the movie was shot this way, I wondered if it was going to be distracting, having not really known movies any other way than the way they are now, spliced to hell, but it was not at all. In fact, Iñárritu managed to make the cinematography look smooth, coherent and spectacular all at the same time. Alone, the technicality of the film would make it a fine piece of art, but when coupled with its commanding and compelling story, it becomes a real contender for movie of the year.

There are a lot of moving parts to the film's story itself as it delves into the differences between how east coast stage actors and Hollywood film actors view both themselves and others. The stage actor, like the character of Mike, played by Edward Norton, is viewed as the true artist. Mike puts on meaningful performances that appeal to upper-crust theater-goers, critics, and those who appreciate artistic integrity. He mentions several times throughout the film that the only place he is honest is on stage. On the flip side, Riggan is said to simply be a celebrity that does trite work to feed the masses. While they both take themselves seriously, only Riggan is "forced" to prove himself after being considered a washed-up actor after years out of the spotlight. It is clear that the stress of directing, producing, and acting in this play are a strain on Riggan as he is putting everything on the line and is willing to risk it all for one more chance in the spotlight. There are times when we as the audience get to see the lines of reality and fantasy blurred as Riggan is shown to have superpowers, though he actually doesn't...or does he? This balance between what is real and what may or may not be in Riggan's mind also lends itself to a balance between outlandish comedy and serious drama, which was much needed in a film that is so enthralling, yet about a rather niche subject.

The actors put on magnificent performances all around. Maybe this is because the actors, at least Keaton and Norton, play characters that are close to home, or maybe it is what they did with Iñárritu's marvelous writing, but either way, they both shine as high as Birdman can fly. Riggan, like Keaton, is an actor famous for playing a superhero in one of the first wildly successful comic book adaptations, Birdman (read: Batman), which was a forebearer for all today's blockbuster comic franchises. Upon turning down a fourth Birdman sequel, he just kind of faded out of the limelight and into obscurity, shunning social media and all it brought along with it, while being forced to try and reinvent himself years later. No matter what he does or how good of an actor he is, Riggan is always haunted by that role, and that is how people see him even today. Mike, like Norton, is a guy who is an excellent actor and always delivers in his performances with the utmost artistic integrity, but has a reputation for being notoriously hard to work with and often has creative differences with directors. Emma Stone is very good as Riggan's jaded former drug-addicted daughter who grew up privileged but was upset that her dad was always working and wasn't around while she was a child. She serves as Riggan's assistant and modern-day voice of reason, all while battling her own demons. Naomi Watts plays the high-strung actress Lesley who has searched for validation her entire career and has finally made it to Broadway, only to be upstaged by both Riggan and Mike in the end. Zach Galifianakis plays Jake, Riggan's manager, producer/friend, and wants Riggan to succeed, but also worries that he is doomed to fail. He has a couple of outstanding scenes in this film. All in all, the acting is stellar.

Though the overwhelming majority of reviews about this film have been positive, there are a few negative ones, too. and we can't help but wonder if that's because of what this film says about critics. We as movie reviewers couldn't help but feel a little slighted as there are many jabs at critics throughout the movie. These slights didn't last long because of how accurate and hilarious they were. As shown with Broadway critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan) in the movie, some reviewers are bent on destroying movies and plays without even seeing them. Tabitha has it out for Riggan because of who he is and who he has been, and yet has never even been to a preview of his play. Many critics have a grudge against certain actors or directors, or even certain styles of films and bash them sometimes without just cause because of these "grievances." Moviegoers, not just critics, even chime in on chugging down bottles and buckets of haterade before a film even starts principle shooting. Don't believe us? In keeping with the theme of this particular film, note that Ben Affleck is playing Batman and all of the criticism that has come with it. Another example is The Cage. Look, we're not Nicolas Cage fans by any stretch of the imagination, but I'll be damned it we don't give him a fair shot every time we get a chance.

After that tangent, the bottom line is "Birdman" is fantastic and well worth the price of a movie ticket for the impressive technicality of the film alone, but is aided by great performance, excellent writing, and sterling directing. Well done!

My Rating: 10/10
BigJ's Rating: 10/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 94%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!
One year ago, we were watching: "The Fifth Estate"

1 comment:

  1. Dying to see this movie to begin with and now y'all's review has quadrupled that WANT. Oh man. Now I need to read about this Ben Affleck batman. Hmmm.