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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Nominated for Best Picture at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Director (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Actor (Michael Keaton) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Original Screenplay (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Sound Editing (Martin Hernandez and Aaron Glascock) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Sound Mixing (Frank A. Montano & Thomas Varga) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

So, here we are. The nominations are in, and Academy Awards Sunday arrives in just about 5 weeks. Surprises yesterday? Sure, always. Snubs? Absolutely. In fact, “The Lego Movie” fans have been quite vocal. But, as usual, the vast majority of it was extremely predictable. And there was never a doubt that “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” was going to score BIG. It did…with 9 nominations total (tied with “The Grand Budapest Hotel” for the most…talk about a surprise!). The critics absolutely adore “Birdman” for the most part, which is actually a bit perplexing to me–the film is not exactly kind to critics. A few have dissented (including the critic I read and trust the most), and the general audiences have been polarized. “Birdman” isn’t exactly mainstream, so that’s to be expected. Me? I’ve been somewhat on the fence, I confess. But I do like “Birdman”, I do. At certain junctures, very much so. In fact, I don’t know if I enjoyed a scene more this year, than the one of Riggan Thomson (an excellent, and now completely resurrected, Michael Keaton), walking through Times Square in his underwear. Obvious? Hell, yes! But the inspiration is in the visual–and Keaton’s demeanor owns it. “Birdman”, and its of-the-moment pop culture references, may not stand the test of time…but it certainly is fun for right now.

Michael Keaton is Riggan Thomson, once a renowned film superstar, for playing a superhero called Birdman two decades earlier, Thomson is now taking a stab at artistic respectability–by starring in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story! Riggan’s daughter Sam (a solid Emma Stone) serves as his personal assistant, as she struggles to find herself, while attempting to kick a drug dependency. Edward Norton (terrific…playing himself?) is Mike Shiner, a brilliant, yet pretentious and volatile Broadway performer, known for his method acting and scene-stealing. But Riggan risks bringing him on board anyway, to garner his production a higher credibility. Zach Galifianakis is Jake, Riggan’s lawyer, friend and benefactor. And Naomi Watts portrays Lesley, an actress making her Broadway debut–who also happens to be the current girlfriend to Mike. It’s this disparate “team”, that attempts to assist Riggan in resuscitating his flagging career, while Thomson himself is dogged by doubt, confusion, loss-of-control…and the incessant badgering by a man in a bird costume–that apparently only Riggan can hear and see. And the film is sharply shot by director Alejandro Inarritu, as if it’s one, long continuous take.

Mr. Keaton has long been an underrated dramatic actor (1988’s “Clean and Sober”, 1997’s “Jackie Brown”), but he’s wiped all that away with his lauded performance here. Hey…awesome for Keaton. He’s always been a delight to watch, and now from “Beetlejuice” to “Batman” to “Birdman”, he’s solidified that he can really do it all. Norton is a gas in “Birdman”, his Mike Shiner character is an upstaging prick…a reputation not far removed from some of the labeling Mr. Norton has received himself. Now, that’s a good sport. And did I catch the luscious Naomi Watts being given the opportunity to riff on her star-making “Mulholland Dr.” performance? Yes, I believe I did. Part of me wants to espouse that you’d have to have spent some time as a performer, to truly “get” “Birdman”. But that wouldn’t be totally fair…because its targets are rather simple and apparent. It’s always a joy to watch however, even when its script gets a tad wayward (there are four credited screenwriters). The film looks absolutely fantastic (via master Director of Photography, Emmanuel Lubezki, last year’s Oscar winner for “Gravity”), and the frenetic pace never lags. I do lament that many of the modern-day riffs won’t play as well a decade on, but Michael Keaton paying “homage” to the curse of embodying “Batman” should remain timeless. And by Oscar night, we just might get to see Keaton fly.

Grade:  B+

next review up:  “The Theory of Everything”

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2 comments on “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

  1. Cast is great here as they totally fall in line with the style and allow for their characters to practically pop-off the screen. Good review Mark.

  2. Thanks, Dan, I didn’t love this, but I did have a fun time watching it. ML

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