Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Movie Review: Birdman

We got a chance to get to see an early screening of Birdman. It is one of the most talked about movies of the year so far and I was very excited to get to see it. And it delivered everything that was promised.

Birdman is about Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who after playing the superhero Birdman in three massively successful movies turned down the chance to play it a fourth time. Now years later he sees himself as a washed up actor and is trying to reinvent himself on Broadway. Haunted by his past he wrote and is directing and staring in a play based on a Raymond Carver short story. He is out of his element and has to deal with first time Broadway actress Lesley (Naomi Watts) and her difficult actor boyfriend Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). Besides the troubled production he has a troubled personal life. His daughter Sam (Emma Stone) is a recovering drug addict, his new younger girlfriend is pregnant, and his lawyer and best friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis) is worried because all their money is invested in the production and it looks like it might be a disaster.

The movie just blew me away. It is complex, kind of dark but also pretty funny. It has a bunch of pop culture references like Iron Man, The Hunger Games, and Transformers so it does feel firmly rooted in the present. It openly makes fun of Hollywood's love of over the top action and of Broadway's stuffy attitude to movie stars. It also criticizes critics who can make or break a show on their whim. But the whole thing feels very real. No one is perfect in the movie everyone has their own flaws. They are all just trying to do their best and figure out their life. I think that's one of the reasons the movie work so well. It's not that you can relate to any of the characters but you can understand their psychology. There isn't one character in the movie that feels fake. That is till the ending which is kind of odd and hard to tell what really happens.

There are a lot of moving parts to the movie but the whole thing centers around Michael Keaton's character. And Keaton delivers one of his best performances in years. It's hard not to see some similarities between Keaton and Riggan. Keaton played Batman twice then turned down the chance to do a third one. Since then he has been in very few movies. I don't want to say he is washed up but it is easy to find the similarities. Also, Edward Norton's character shares some traits to himself. Mike is a difficult actor always in the part and giving his opinions on how a scene should be done or writing his own lines. This kind of fits the persona that Edward Norton has had on previous films. Many directors have said he is difficult to work with. But Keaton and Norton both turn in excellent performances in this movie. While Keaton and Norton have stand out performances (and both potential Oscar nominees) the entire cast is pretty amazing. There is a lot of dialogue and each of them nails it and they play so well of each other. Zach Galifinakis is probably the most surprising actor in this movie and while he does add some comic relief to the movie it is way toned down from the over the top performances we are use to seeing from him. While Emma Stone and Naomi Watts are more minor characters they still leave an impression.

What really makes this movie stand out is the movie feels like one long take. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu uses of long takes and they are edited seamlessly to make the movie flow as if it was all done in one shot. The camera moves around the set and follows characters as they walk. We sometimes jump ahead in time as the camera just pans around a room. It gives the movie a kinetic feel although sometimes it was a bit dizzying like watching a found footage movie. I have not always loved Alejandro González Iñárritu's work. His 2000 Mexican film Amores Perros was a great but Babel and 21 Grams were just ok. With this movie he takes a completely different approach. While those movies dealt with different individuals whose lives interconnect in someway this movie follows just one person who has many different interactions. It's much more simplified and is easily his best work.

I can't say enough about the screenplay for this movie. Like I said there is a lot of dialogue in this movie but it all flows really well. Each character feels fully developed even if we don't spend a whole lot of time with them. I usually get worried when I see more then 2 writers on one movie but González Iñárritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr, and Armando Bo somehow worked together to make it a memorable script. I can't wait to read the script and see how they wrote it. Keeping the energy alive and writing to make it seem like one giant take must have been a huge undertaking.

The score was for the most part was just a jazz drum solo which did give the movie energy and a little bit of a different feel. And I did like what they did when there were certain fantasy sequences the music changed to a more Hollywood style score. But maybe it's just my personal music taste but the jazz score didn't entirely work for me.

Overall: 5/5 This is currently in my top spot of movies I have seen this year. I loved almost everything about. It was so well written and even though the "one take" feeling was kind of dizzying at points it was very well done. This is a must see movie.

Everyone is talking Oscars for this movie so might as well make my predictions now. It will be nominated for lots of Oscars. Best Picture, Best Actor (Michael Keaton), Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton), Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Director, and Best Screenplay are almost guaranteed.

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