Tuesday, December 16, 2014

BIRDMAN -- my review

BIRDMAN is a cinematic triumph. Unfolding in seemingly one continuous shot, director Alejandro González Iñárritu proves to be a virtuoso in choreography.

I just wish I liked the movie better.

When you are constantly paying more attention to the technique instead
of the narrative that is problematic. The picture is over two hours long and twenty minutes of it is either watching people walking down theater hallways or just watching the hallways themselves.

Themes of art and pretense and commerce are explored, but the movie falls into the trap of the themes. For a supposed absurdest comedy it takes itself very seriously. Oh, the tortured artiste. At the end of the day, for me, it felt like the world’s most ambitious college film. There is even a section with quick cuts of random images just like you see in every student thesis project. Ooooh, the symbolism.

Michael Keaton has the kind of showy role that attracts Oscars, but in this case the praise is deserved. Edward Norton plays an impossible pretentious actor -- the role he’s been perfecting his entire career on and off camera. But for my money, Emma Stone stole the picture. The girl can play attitude without you wanting to smack her.  This is not easy to do. Everyone else was terrific as well. It’s hard to go wrong with Zach Galifanakis (who’s now so slim he could do Subway commercials), and Amy Ryan. And what a pleasure to see Naomi Watts not battling tsunamis or other natural disasters.

BIRDMAN is listed as a “comedy,” which is like listing WHIPLASH as a musical. It has received tremendous critical acclaim, and most people I know who have seen it either are blown away or are underwhelmed. You decide.

It’s worth seeing for the cinematography alone. But is it a satisfying story with an emotional message that really resonates or is it just an elaborate exercise? Again, you decide.

I just hope there’s no BIRDMAN 2 with Val Kilmer.

42 comments:

Hamid said...

I just hope there’s no BIRDMAN 2 with Val Kilmer.

LOL!

I can't wait to see Birdman. It opens in the UK next week. I've been waiting so long for my boy Michael Keaton to get the recognition he deserves. I am so happy that Birdman is wowing audiences and critics and that he's tipped for the Best Actor Oscar.

As well as being a brilliant actor, Keaton's also got that rare thing - integrity. He was offered a huge amount of money to do Batman Forever, but he hated the campy script and the direction Joel Schumacher wanted to take it in. And the finished movie proved he made the right decision. It was a monumentally stupid film with dialogue like "I'll get drive-thru" and "It's the car, right? Chicks love the car", lines which Keaton's Batman would never say.

The less said about the fourth film with George Clooney the better. Actually, I'm not sure I'd even call it a film. It's just a series of dayglo images and bad puns.

This is my favourite moment from Beetlejuice, where Keaton does his "I attended Juilliard" speech. Absolute gold.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiLKrDWgGYs

Jeannie said...

I always know when an actor has directed their first TV show or movie, because they invariably use some ridiculously show-offy shot, as if to say, "Look at me! I'm an auteur with an artistic vision!" I'm with Billy Wilder, who believed in shooting things in a more natural way -- he would never have someone enter a room from the point of view inside a fireplace looking through the flames as the door opens in the background. Just tell the damn story. Like you said, Ken, marveling at camera work distracts from the feeling of being immersed in the scenes and characters.

Mr. Hollywood said...

I could barely get through 30 minutes of this pretentious garbage!
A waste of my time ... how about tell me a good story and forget all of the camera moves. Style over substance, sadly it's the world we live in.

RJM said...

Loved everything about this film. If it wasn't for "Boyhood" this very well could be the Best Picture of 2014.

Scooter Schechtman said...

You've passed up an opportunity to see "Inherent Vice" which allegedly opened a couple days ago.

Pat Reeder said...

Haven't seen "Birdman" yet, but as the owner of 14 rescued parrots, I guess I'm obligated. However, if you think this is mislabeled as a comedy, try looking at the nominees for best TV "comedy" at this year's Golden Globes.

B.C. Christiansen said...

I wasn't distracted by the cinematography besides the occasional realization of "Wow, is this the same shot? No, they must have cut there. They definitely cut there!" And it's not purposeless in this case nor is it really overtly showy. The real simple reason is to make the film seem more like a play, but of course it's still full of all these really cinematic elements. Comedy or not aside, I thought it was incredible.

Michael said...

Friday question: NBC is giving up on scheduling comedies on Thursdays beginning early next year. Do you think it matters anymore when shows are scheduled? What percentage of non-sports shows do you watch in real-time vs time-shifted via dvr, on-demand, or streaming services?

Anonymous said...

I realize you wanted to compliment Emma Stone and were trying to be funny, but did you have to say "But for my money, Emma Stone stole the picture. The girl can play attitude without you wanting to smack her. That is not easy to do. "?

really, any insinuation of violence towards women, even gauged as a praise and humor is unnecessary.. And otherwise the implication is that if she hadn't played the part well, the impulse to smack her would have been appropriate. And I'm sure you don't mean that.

T Harris said...

I haven't seen this yet though I plan to. I think Michael Keaton is a really good actor and underutilized.
Possible Friday question: Do you think the mood you are in influence your enjoyment of a film or TV show?Years back I saw The Royal Tenenbaums in the theatre and HATED it. A short while ago, I saw it on TV and enjoyed it. Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I saw it in the theatre.
In a similar vein, I hated The Middle when it premiered and didn't watch again until recently. Now I think it's rather well made with decent acting by all.

RG said...

I think the best thing when reading a blog meant to be humorous is to understand that everything written is for humor's sack, not advocacy. Writing "without making me want to smack her" is simply done for humor, and it is clearly not advocacy. We all have our thoughts and expressions. For example, if I say "If he says that one more time I'll kill him" am I advocating murder or violence against a person? Of course not. To parse every word and idea as if it someone is insensitive or a call to violence will ultimately result in writers writing absolutely nothing. Literally we will go online and our entire day will be staring at a blank page.


Tony said...

@Anonymous: Oh, sweet jesus, we're going to drown in a sea of political correctness, all of us stifled by a fear of saying or doing anything that might be offensive to someone somewhere.

I'm sure if we tried we could come up with a list of the ways CHEERS falls short of the mark of political correctness. I'll even start. Would it have killed them to have an employee at the bar who wasn't lily white? For that matter, would it have killed them to have customers who weren't white? Was there a "Whites Only" sign outside the bar's front door?

Texas Annie said...

Have to agree with RG and Tony. This over-sensitivity to every little word or phrase is ridiculous and childish.

Good lord, it was bad enough when I couldn't write a memo without worrying about PC garbage, now I can't talk to my friends, post on social media, enjoy a blog or listen to radio.

We might as well all walk around with "trigger warning" tattooed on our foreheads.

Texas Annie said...

You special snowflakes, get off my lawn!

Jean said...

I was just on a message board where posters were praising the acting on the ending of Sons of Anarchy (no spoilers). Several mentioned the acting over and over and it gave me the same feeling as you had about Birdman.

If you can see these guys "acting" that to me is a TOTAL FAIL. When I watch Big Bang Theory, I'm watching Amy Farrah Fowler and Sheldon. Not the Mayim Bialek and Jim Parsons -- acting.

I dive into a program or book and get transported to that time and place (which is probably why I love Doctor Who and Sleepy Hollow) and plot devices that remind me that I am NOT in that time or place pull me out of the story and ruin it for me, as do major inaccuracies or mistakes.

Jon B. said...

About 19 out of 20 critics (by ratio) liked Birdman, most of whom heaped praise, with many of those calling it one of the year's best. But there were 1 out of 20 critics who didn't understand all the fuss or otherwise did not enjoy it for various different reasons--and they are not necessarily wrong.

Commenter Mr Hollywood called it "pretentious garbage", which puts him with the 5% naysayers. I have two friends who reacted similarly.

I happened to enjoy Birdman quite a lot and look forward to seeing it again (and probably again after that). I have also enjoyed talking about it with others who have actually seen it. It's been fun to debate what we thought really happened, as well as to discuss many of the tiny details that are easy to miss on first viewing. Plus there's the provocative idea that many of us (perhaps all of us) have our own Birdman inside our head.

Some folks liked the acting performances, some liked the technical aspects, and some liked the story. Many liked all three.

Jon B. said...

I'd like to add one small correction. Ken mentioned that Birdman is "over two hours long". In fact, it is just under two hours in length. I'd hate for someone not to go see it because they mistook Ken's comment to mean it is one of those LOOONNGGG movies.

Anonymous said...

Tony Said:

"Was there a "Whites Only" sign outside the bar's front door?"

Hey, look everybody! Tony's never been to Boston!

Daniel said...

If Ken had said, "Rihanna's songs are so annoying you want to smack her," that would have been kind of offensive. But the Emma Stone comment didn't bother me. It's pretty commonplace to joke about smacking celebrities. After I saw Birdman, I wanted to smack the screenwriters for using so many stereotypes and clichés: Actors are egotists and fame whores; critics are mean-spirited and narrow-minded; super-hero movies are nothing but empty spectacle.

Tony said...

I have been to Boston. Many times, actually. I have family there. It's an ethnically-mixed city. What's your point?

Jason said...

"Hey, look everybody! Tony's never been to Boston!"

And apparently neither have you.

Anonymous said...

To add to the insanity, in my opinion "smacking" Rhianna would have been in bad taste because of the abuse she suffered. However, I don't think Ken was literally thinking of smacking Emma Stone. I think adults gets the figure of speech used. Just amazing.

Always liked Keaton. Seems like a good guy. He will always be Beetlejuice to me. Also liked Night Shift.
Janice B.

Dixon Steele said...

Loved the movie, which at least called itself out re its pretentiousness I think.

Good for Fox and Co. for greenlighting what is a surrealistic dark comedy about the Theater and Life Itself.

And most of the time, it got there for me.

Great work from Keaton and Stone. They both deserve and will get Oscar noms.

Sharon J said...

Count me in the camp of the underwhelmed. Yes, the performances were very good overall. Yes, the camera technique were impressive. But as a film that's supposed to tell a story, it didn't really work for me. I can't in good conscience recommend that anyone see it because the good didn't outweigh the not-so-good.

B.C. Christiansen said...

There's a fair argument to be made whether or not Birdman even has a real story. It's more a character study of a bunch of stuff that happens. It's no real lofty narrative, but it was a pretty interesting couple of hours that made me think a lot, which is a pretty decent strike for any movie

Pat Reeder said...

Ken, always remember to "check your privilege." You don't want to run out of it on the freeway.

Anonymous said...

Tony Said:

"It's ethnically mixed."

Yeah, try being black and walking at night in certain white areas of Boston back in the day. Even now white working class areas of Boston aren't too enthusiastic about black neighbors. Having a token black at the Cheers bar would have been asinine. Now go back to sleep, spanky. And dream about ethnically mixed Boston.

Shawn Rech said...

I loved "Birdman." I guess the common complaints are valid, but for some reason it just worked for me.

--A Guy Who Actually Lives There said...

Boston was, historically, a very, very white city. Over 95%. The racial makeup of the city has changed a great deal, though, in recent decades. Whites now make up only about half of the city's population. The rest is mostly African American, Hispanic and Asian American. Many whites have moved out of the city proper.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mmryan314 said...

Oh WOW- Just WOW anonymous. I guess no one will ever again mistakenly accuse you of being "pc".Other names may apply to you however.

Anonymous said...

mmryan314 said...
"Oh WOW- Just WOW anonymous."

That last anonymous post was someone trying to make it seem they were me.

I don't agree with the "shoving blacks in our faces" business. I don't think Cheers producers gave it that much thought, and if they did, they wouldn't be thinking that.

I was just pointing out that Boston wasn't very diverse back in the Cheers days, and even less so before.

Besides, did average black people even watch Cheers back then? I couldn't imagine why. It was chock full of "white people's problems." How many average black person would give a rat's behind if Sam got together with Diane?

I'm willing to bet it was not many.

-Anonymous 1

Anonymous said...

--A Guy Who Actually Lives There said...

"Boston was, historically, a very, very white city. Over 95%. The racial makeup of the city has changed a great deal, though, in recent decades. Whites now make up only about half of the city's population."

Thanks for a bit of validation. I visited there a few times, back in the days of Cheers, and I rarely saw a black person, aside from college students. I didn't visit every area of Boston, but I noticed it was one of the whiter towns I'd ever visited.

btw, how many black folks were in "Good Will Hunting"? I don't seem to remember any black characters with lines to say, but I don't think it was because Mat and Ben were secret racists.

-Anonymous 1

Barry Traylor said...

I always get a dubious about a movie whenever the critics get all weak in the knees about a movie.

Texas Annie said...

And this begs a column from the inestimable Mr. Levine.

How do you create decent comedy in these days of political correctness, trigger warnings, advancing narratives and backlash?

mmryan314 said...

Thank you for clarifying original anonymous.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

comedy does not have to be PC.
Obviously animation shows (South Park, Family Guy, Simpsons) still get away with it today.

The Big Bang Theory often have humorous slaps at Jews, Hindus, women, evangelists and of course Nerds.

In life and on TV certain characters can say things that others can't. Carla on Cheers could get away with saying something that Diane or Woody couldn't.

Lou DiPalma could say anything and it would be funny and you wouldn't be offended.

Diane D. said...

My knowledge of film, TV, and stage production is probably less sophisticated than most people on this blog, so on behalf of the great unwashed, let me say this: If I hadn't read a lot about this movie before I saw it, I would only have thought that there was something very strange and different about the filming--I wouldn't have been sure what, but I would have loved it anyway. Nothing is more delicious than seeing something strange and new in a movie that is also superb in every way.

I have no idea if things are sometimes as chaotic back stage as this movie implies, but it reminded me of that much maligned movie, "Shakespeare in Love" where the producer is telling everyone during each earth shattering crisis that "it will be ok" and when he is asked how, he replies, each and every time, "I don't know, it's a mystery." He's always right.

I loved this movie.

Roger Owen Green said...

I admired it, but don't think I liked it.

Alan Orloff said...

Underwhelmed.

Mark Fearing said...

Amazing film. The best I've seen all year. It was original and challenging and I was involved from the first moment. Great original work.

Judy Hughes said...

Oh Ken, every day you make me laugh. Today it was Zach and the Subway commercial. Thank you for this. Not an aspiring writer, model or waiter, I'm just a Ken Levine fan-girl who has read your blog every day since Time recommended you. Happy Hanukkah from Canada xx