Welcome Back, Everyone!
I trust that you all enjoyed a nice Christmas, and a Happy New Year,
As I am currently dealing with publicity for my Cinema City Extreme All-Nighter Horrorthon, this is only going to be a short update for you all. Although the film in question is neither a horror film, nor an “extreme” film, it’s certainly a jaw-dropping piece of cinema that you should all seek-out immediately.
Michael Keaton, famous for his role in Tim Burton’s BATMAN (1989) and BATMAN RETURNS (1992) stars as Riggan Thomson, in the superb BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (2014, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu), and considering this film came out on New Year’s Day here in the UK, this is almost certain to be my favourite film of 2015.
Thomson is a middle-aged wreck of an out-of-work Hollywood actor, having starred in the titular Birdman franchise. Sick of starring in blockbusting drivel, and having been cast aside by the very industry that made him a household name, he decides to take on Broadway, and cast and direct a (genuine) Raymond Carver short story, called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love“.
Determined to restore his career to its former glories, he finds his psyche is hellbent on destroying him, from within, as the titular Birdman refuses to let him go – constantly provocating and harassing him, like a demented alter-ego.
Struggling to get the Carver play up-and-running, he reluctantly but deliberately sets another lead cast member up for a fall, and when they are forced out of the play, Thomson brings in fugacious Hollywood A-Lister Mike, played by Edward Norton, in one of his most charismatic and interesting roles ever. Mike delivers an amazing performance for Riggan, and Riggan reluctantly hires him, after ticket sales double overnight, due to Mike’s “status”. But Mike is not what he seems, and nor is Riggan, and as the Birdman gradually erodes Riggan’s psyche, strange, wonderful and horrific things began to occur – some of which are distinctly out-of-this-world in more ways than one.
BIRDMAN is one of the most wonderful, wondrous, jaw-dropping and incredible pieces of film I’ve ever enjoyed. It not only works as a great film on its own, but it’s a spectacular piece of meta-cinema – that is film that talks about itself and its own creation. Whilst you can easily look at the parallels between Keaton and Riggan, this is not where the film excels. Where it excels best, is as a scathing critique of Hollywood, of big-name, big-value actors who star in brain-mushing, patronising, blockbuster films where millions of dollars are spent on the CGI, but almost nothing is spent on the script. Keaton and Norton are mere cyphers through which Inaritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Armando Bo, and Alexander Dinelaris create one of the cinematically literate pieces of movie-making for the intelligentsia. This is a thinking-person’s film, and it doesn’t give you a single second to digest much of the electric, daring, provocative and often hilariously profane dialogue, that turns this film into a real whip-crack piece of near-documentary-like cinema.
When Riggan (as Birdman) exclaims: “People: they love blood! They love action! Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit.” part of you realises, he’s not actually kidding. You only need to look at the number of mind-numbingly dumb blockbusters that frequently make it into your local multiplex to see that this is as prophetic as you can get. Does Michael Bay need to make a TRANSFORMERS 4, when the first one was already dumb-enough for the masses? Clearly, Bay thinks he does. The fact that TRANSFORMERS 5 will almost certainly be made within the next couple of years, just saddens me even more!
As we watch Riggan’s own seeming self-destruction, we also – simultaneously – marvel at his own rebirth. Seeing him levitate and discard objects, with the flick of an angelic hand, as if he has become both Birdman and at one with Birdman, is mesmerising. You are never sure whether Riggan is controlling Birdman, or Birdman is controlling him, and thus constantly changing fluidity is ultimately what makes this film work so amazingly well.
Alongside Keaton and Norton, we have Emma Stone as Riggan’s teenage daughter Sam, who Norton exclaims has “a nice ass” early-on in the film, puts in one of her best performances, and demonstrates she can truly act when given the right material to get her teeth into. Her co-stars include Zach Galifianikis as Jake, Riggan’s lawyer and best-friend struggling to deal with Riggan’s mental breakdown; Naomi Watts as Lesley, one of the other cast member’s in the play Riggan is staging, and one of Mike’s ex-flames; Andrea Riseborough as Laura, another actress from the play, (and Riggan’s current beau), and Lindsay Duncan as Tabitha Dickinson, a deliciously vicious New York theatre critic, who is determined to see Riggan laughed off of Broadway, and permanently exiled as an actor, forever!
The cast universally put in some of their best work ever, and Norton is certainly one of the film’s revelations for me personally. He has an early revelation, when he and Sam enter the theatre’s changing room, and Mike proceeds to view himself in the mirror. It really is a great performance, and a very funny moment, in a film full of laugh-out-loud and stand-out moments! Emma Stone, as Sam, has some of the zingiest dialogue, including one of the finest put-downs I’ve ever heard, when she scorches her father for not being “hip”! (I’ll leave you to find out what that is, when you go see the film.)
On top of all of this, there is the editing! Wow! What we have here is a film so meticulously staged and edited, that the entire two-hour film feels like one, uninterrupted and continuous shot! If you look hard, you will see where the edits are, but it’s still an incredible piece to witness on the big-screen, alongside all the other amazing moments that Inarritu and the cast deliver for us. It’s almost meticulous in the way it has been set-up, to the point that the entire film had to be filmed in order – something that isn’t the norm for many films or TV shows these days – with cast and crew having to run-into or hide-out of shots, as and when they were needed.
And how can I neglect to mention the heavy and intense Percussion Score from Antonio Sanchez? A vast, throbbing constant driving beat, that pounds itself into every fibre of your being, as the film flows from one moment to the next. This is riveting and fervent stuff! Admittedly, when listened to as a separate entity, it doesn’t quite work. But within the context of the movie, it’s an astounding and binding force, that will keep you hooked and your brain on fire! Mr Sanchez also cameos, a few times, which makes for much merriment!
This really is an absolute knockout film! Considering we’re barely a week into 2015, I have to say that my money is on this being the film that will be the surprise hit at most film awards ceremonies around the globe. If Keaton doesn’t win at least one award for Best Actor In A Leading Role; and if Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione don’t win for editing, AND if Inarittu doesn’t win a Best Director or Best Script, then there will genuinely be no justice in this world.
See BIRDMAN, and be prepared to see one of the finest pieces of cinema, ever committed to celluloid! The film is showing worldwide, so go see it! And remember: “Shave off that pathetic goatee. Get some surgery. Sixty’s the new Thirty, motherfucker“!
ADDENDUM: The film is now out on US Blu-Ray, but should you wish to purchase it, you’ll be pleased to hear it is Region Free or A-B-C encoded, meaning it will play on any Blu-Ray player, regardless of the code-locking on your Blu-Ray player! I’d heartily recommend it, as it comes with a great 30 minute documentary, a 15-minute interview with Michael Keaton and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and a nice gate-fold packaging too, as shown in the image below.