Film Reviews

BIRDMAN or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

By • Nov 2nd, 2014 •

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There should be nominations and awards for all involved – Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Screenplay and Cinematography.

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) was a mega-movie star twenty years ago playing a costumed superhero, similar to the early Batman movies. Only the lower part of his character’s (or a stuntman’s) face was visible in his winged suit as Birdman. After three hit movies, Thomson said enough! “I’m an actor, God damn it!” Like Sean Connery before him – who left the role of 007 that paid for the Spanish villa by the sea. In Thomson’s case, the movie industry and audiences saw him as a cartoon character and nothing else.

They had to pull Roger Moore kicking and screaming from James Bond. He got too old, paunchy and played the titular spy as a buffoon. Moore ended up looking like a Monaco sleazy entrepreneur in a tux who couldn’t run to save his life.

Now, actors in a costumed, comic book role demand the mask come off. Spider Man quickly pulled his mask off and Bruce Wayne hobbled in a bathrobe in THE DARK KNIGHT – how much screen time did Batman actually get?

Tony Stark announced he was Iron Man and then upped his game to stand alongside alien strongmen by flying. We all know how stupid humans are – all Superman has to do is put on glasses and no one recognizes him. In the revitalized SUPERMAN RETURNS, Superman’s charade is quickly dumped and his true identity revealed.

Ben Affleck vows that his turn as Batman in BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE won’t suck. He told NPR: “Look, if I thought we were remaking DAREDEVIL I’d be out there picketing myself…” I know how Affleck will pull it off. He will play Bruce Wayne and his shadow will be Batman.

So, missing the divine adoration by the peasantry and the entitlements due celebrities, Thomson decides to write a play (based on a short story by Raymond Chandler), star and even direct it. He mounts the play on Broadway.

BIRDMAN opens as previews are set to begin. Thomson’s first appearance to us is with his back turned away – he is sitting in a proper lotus position. He is several feet off the ground. He’s levitating without ever taking the TM-Siddhi program (that supposedly brings supernormal powers like levitation while in the lotus position).

He’s also under the constant watch and nagging of a demon – his Birdman alter-ego. When Birdman forcibly inhabits Thomson’s body, he has true telekinetic powers. Birdman thinks the idea of a play is ridiculous and that it stinks. He wants back. He wants Birdman 4! Instead, Thomson is crying on stage!

The rehearsals are awful. One of Thomson’s co-stars is terrible and he wants him replaced. But, as his best friend and lawyer, Jake (Zach Galifianakis) tells him, they only have a day before previews begin. So, a magical accident fells the actor. Co-star Lesley (Naomi Watts) suggests her live-in boyfriend, enfant terrible of off-Broadway, Mike (Edward Norton).

Mike knows the entire play – all the characters parts – and he is quickly added to the cast after playing a terrific scene with Thomson. He ignites Thomson’s performance. Then his “method acting” emerges on the first night of previews.

Thomson has other personal problems cramping the labyrinth of the St. James Theater. His daughter Sam (Emma Stone) is just out of rehab and functioning as his personal assistant – doing those demeaning chores only a star would expect – the right kind of flower, the rare Burmese tea from a virgin forest, etc.

Thomson’s ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) is, of course, still in love with Thomson. His current girlfriend and co-star, Laura (Andrea Riseborough) is treated rather poorly by him – but hell, she’s opening off Broadway.

There’s one challenging opposition facing Thomson and that is the New York Times theater critic, Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan), who can close a play on opening night. She’s that powerful and she knows it. She hates the movie stars who think they can act on the hallowed boards of Broadway.

Consider the preview reviews for Lindsay Lohan on the London stage in Speed-the-Plow.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who also co-wrote the screenplay for BIRDMAN with Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, has designed, with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, the film as one continuous take as the camera follows the actors backstage.

Iñárritu brings a sharp, brutal eye to today’s lust for celebrity. He and his co-screenwriters have markedly put our culture front and center. It is a dazzling achievement. There should be nominations and awards for all involved – Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Screenplay and Cinematography.

Michael Keaton is terrific. It is an unself-conscious performance. It is the kind of role that older actors do after only being offered coach and kindly father parts. Keaton is this year’s Mickey Rourke (THE WRESTLER) who followed beauty goddess Charlize Theron with an authentic, startling transformation (MONSTER). I never liked Keaton’s pursed-lipped performances. He is a very controlled, camera-conscious actor. That is why Iñárritu is such a brilliant director – he got Keaton to transform himself and his arch acting style is nowhere to be seen. He got fantastic performances out of Stone and Galifianakis – who knew they had it in them? Watts and Norton are always reliable and perfect.

Emma Stone has just one scene that entitles her for supporting actress nomination, and finally, Edward Norton is brilliant. If Norton is not in a scene you are wondering what his character is doing.

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