Reel Quick: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)


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Birdman (2014)

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Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone

Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Synopsis: Sadly it’s not the big-budget film adaptation of the old Hanna-Barbera superhero.

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A has-been actor, who was famous for playing a widely popular cinematic superhero, struggles to redeem his career with a Broadway play. 

What work(s): The acting, the pacing, the editing, the cinematography. This is the Michael Keaton I’ve been missing for all these years. He is outstanding as Riggan Thomson, the faded washed-up actor who’s just trying to get back in the swing of things by truly acting and trying to strip away his old career as a superhero actor. Of course, being this is Keaton who famously played Batman twice in the early 90s for Tim Burton this isn’t that far from a stretch for him personally. But Keaton isn’t as washed up as Thomson is in reality so Keaton has something more to project into his character—which he does fantastically. By the trailers and clips I thought the film was more of how Thomson was going crazy by the struggles of the broadway play as well as the shedding of the Birdman persona (which is tongue-in-cheekly a personified alter-ego helping Thomson out with advice and actual superpowers!) but Thomson acts pretty sane and normal for most of the running time. He’s just trying to be a true actor in a serious theatre but everyone from Edward Norton’s cocky and crazy method actor to his drama-queen daughter played by Stone are not helping his situation. Norton nearly sabotages the production when he literally gets drunk on stage during a preview and then tries to have actual sex with Naomi Watts on stage. And Stone just acts like a brat and being a constant reminder to Thomson what a failed father and actor he is. All in all, Keaton does a fine job with balancing out the crazy, the despair and the attempts to hold it all together for the sake of his artistic vision. There are scenes of craziness and with humor, so it’s not all doom and gloom. 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you may have not really known about the ingenious editing and cinematography job with making the film have the impression of having no visible cuts. Couple that with the fast-paced acting and you have a very unique film watching experience—like you’re actually watching a stage production. It’s not too hokey or obvious either. I, myself was only marveling at this feat for maybe the first half-hour or so and wasn’t really distracted by it. 

Another thing to point out is the percussion-only soundtrack. I’m on the fence about it truth be told. At times it works for a particular scene—especially when it’s a frantic or high paced scene but other times I was finding it irritating and maybe with a second viewing I’ll better realize that it’s probably designed to be irritating and that it completely works for that purpose.

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What fail(s): It wasn’t the BEST movie I ever saw and certainly wasn’t the one I would’ve chosen as Best Picture winner. Although anything beating that piece of boring garbage Boyhood is fine by me. It was very quirky, almost Spike Jonzesque in style and a very odd choice for best winner. It veers close to over-the-top theatrics and pretentiousness in my opinion. It wasn’t very relatable by any stretch of my imagination. But then again I never acted or have worked with actors. There was a great theatre critic character played by Lindsay Duncan, who was hell-bent on already hating Thomson’s play just for the cynical fact that he was a movie star trying to be a stage actor now. I related more to her than anyone since as an amateur film critic myself, I too am cynical and easy to put down the artsy-fartsy pretentiousness of actors. But half of the time I was a little bored at watching people whine and complain and be selfish and downtrodden. In contrast to Whiplash or The Theory of Everything where there was more triumph over adversity, Birdman was more in a realm of First-World problems over everything else. We watch Stephen Hawking basically fall apart physically before our eyes (Eddie Redmayne totally deserved that Oscar by the way), Riggan Thomson is an actor who is upset that 99.99% of the population still sees him as the superhero Birdman who made him millions of dollars. Hate to sound cynical or bleeding-heart but that didn’t appeal to me as much.

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Overall: But I give the Academy credit for giving the statues to Iñárritu for director, writer and producer of such a unique and nicely made film. I’m not sure of its legacy for the future in how it will be remembered or revered. I see most best picture winners falling out of favor with the general populous. How many times have you revisited The Artist, Argo, Crash, A Beautiful Mind, The King’s Speech or The Hurt Locker? Has anyone even ever seen The Last Emperor or Out of Africa? It’s almost like a kiss of death for a movie. Whereas, Gravity is a film I’ve already seen a few times. I liked Birdman; I really did and really enjoyed the performances. I may want to see it again but I don’t know what mood I’d have to be in for it. I was rooting for Keaton to win the Oscar until I saw The Theory of Everything and knew who had the better shot at winning. I say I don’t care for the Oscars but I do like to give credit where it’s due. I just hope Keaton doesn’t crawl back into that hole he’s been hiding in all these years and that this jump starts his high-profile career again. 

Score: 8 Super-Realisms (out of 10)

8 thoughts on “Reel Quick: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

  1. Great review. I’d say we feel pretty much exactly the same way about this one (you maybe liked it slightly more). I was very surprised Keaton didn’t win but I have yet to see The Theory Of Everything. I like Keaton and he was good in this so I’m glad he got recognition. However, I did like Boyhood much more than Birdman… 😉 Glad you watched the Oscars! I can’t help it – I have a love/hate relationship with the Oscars. I rarely love most the nominees. Think the last one I truly loved was The Artist.

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  2. I totally agree except with the rating. The music got so old and grating that I wanted to turn it off and the “one shot” filming really worked me nerves after bout 30 minutes. I didn’t hate it but….

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  3. Excellent review, Brad. I really, really dug this movie–pretentiousness and first-world problems and all. Haha. I was totally rooting for Keaton to win that Oscar, but, to be fair, I haven’t seen The Theory of Everything, and I really feel like I need to now. BUT I feel that surely Keaton won’t go hiding away after this. As a matter of fact, IMDb tells me he’s signed up for 4 other projects, so yay! 🙂

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