Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Up next, Sam and Vig take a look at the Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu’s critically acclaimed black-comedy Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone, Birdman is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence.

Birdman follows washed up actor Riggan Thomas (Keaton), famously known for playing “Birdman”, as he attempts to re-invent himself as a director by putting on a classic Broadway drama. However, when opening night goes terribly, Riggan must scramble to find a replacement lead actor. Along with the actor, Riggan must juggle the set, his daughter, and a critic who threatens to shut down the show. Overwhelmed with the disaster, Riggan attempts to overcome his struggle to successfully put up aplay and shed his status as a washed up actor.

9.5 out of 10

Being a man of the theater and someone who hopes to go into the business later in life, I was enthralled by Birdman. Not only were the technical aspects spot on, but the themes were interesting and the overall execution was unique, yet perfect. 

Part of what makes Birdman so brilliant is the characters. Every character is original, spontaneous and highly entertaining, and each feature their own way of keeping us interested. Edward Norton was hilarious and even more so into it than his character (a method actor) was. It’s good to see him back at it after a stretch of meaningless performances. Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan were all great as well, and the way the movie gave every individual some sort of storyline raised the overall stakes and kept us interested. Keaton though, as Riggan Thomas, was the shining star. Essentially playing himself in some light (Batman was only three years before the fictional Birdman), Keaton’s struggle with finding a purpose, mixed with hearing the voice of fictional Birdman every corner he turned, acted as a perfect anchor for this film to move around. Riggan Thomas was funny, insane, and driven to revive his pitiful self, setting Keaton up to be one of the best actor candidates to watch this year.

birdman 6

The camera work, in my opinion, was stunning. The cinematography was worked in a way that the entire film appeared to be one continuous shot. It all looked very fluid, one scene moving directly to another. I was never able to take my eye off the film simply because it never gave me a chance. While this is not always necessarily a good thing, in this case, the strong dialogue and lack of action allowed the non-stop camera to be extremely effective. As a result, the slips between reality and fantasy were all the more convincing.

_AF_6405.CR2

The lighting was also manipulated very well to set the tone to however would fit what Riggan was thinking or feeling. For example, the first scene with Mike Shiner (Norton) uses lighting to make Shiner intimidating. The lighting is dim and eerie, and rarely illuminates Riggan. Instead it portrays Mike as a superior talent. Additionally, when Riggan is depressed, the lighting is dim. When he feels resurgent, like in the final scene, the lights are brighter and more hopeful. The lighting is subtle yet powerful in making the message so powerful.

And that message is what drives the film home. The film is a satire on the modern day blockbuster extravaganza and seriously questions the artistic integrity of the actors who star in these films. The decline of true art and the rise of mega action blockbusters is questioned throughout Birdman, specifically calling out Robert Downey Jr., Michael Fassbender, and Jeremy Renner. Don’t get me wrong, I love comic book movies, but the movie’s take on what true artistic talent is– passion-driven motivation– is a breath of fresh air.

birdman 1

There is no doubt Birdman is a weirdass movie. It can, at times, appear to be a load of pretentious, loopy, bull-crap. But all of this loopiness, presented in the form of Michael Keaton speaking to an imaginary superhero and flying around New York City, gives Keaton his character and the film an awe-inspiring touch. Despite its tendency to seem overly surreal at many points, Birdman is smartly written, curiously crafted, and a straight up entertaining piece of film-making.
~Vig

6.5 out of 10

There were a lot of identifiably “interesting” aspects of Birdman.

The lighting was interesting. The coloring of the film varied from intense, almost monochrome blues, greens, and reds in the theater to the sparkling neon and black of Broadway at night, all the while maintaining a surreal brightness that somehow reminded me of jell-o.

birdman 4

The camera choices were interesting. Many of the shots moved. In a typical scene, the camera would go from a side view of two people, and then spin to have only one person in the frame and then gradually go very close to the single subject, all in one motion. This rare, fluid type of filming had a strange, almost dizzying effect. The cinematographer also added to this disorienting feeling by occasionally filming characters in an way that resembled a fish eye lens.

birdman 2

The melting of reality and fiction was interesting. The film starts with the main character, Riggan (Michael Keaton), hovering, cross-legged, in his tighty whities, a couple feet off the floor. As the film progresses Riggan reveals his ability to perform more and more spectacular feats, be it getting a light to fall in a theater, or flying over New York City. The film makers leave it up to the audience members to decided what is real and what is fake, although towards the end it definitely appears as if most of these powers are figments of Riggan’s imagination.
A main theme of the film is that people have an unsatisfied desire to be valued and important, and Riggan’s imagined super powers were a childish way to make him feel special and above everyone else (literally). Although the idea of self worth is an pertinent one that many of us can relate to, Riggan’s battle for importance quite honestly bored me. From an intellectual standpoint I feel I should care, but a self absorbed man throwing chairs around his dressing room is simply bland. I found the interactions between Sam (Emma Stone) and Mike (Edward Norton) infinitely more interesting, because it was an exciting situation between two original characters, which kept your interest while making you mildly think, rather than simply forcing an idea about the human condition down your throat. And yet, Sam and Mike’s story was a side plot at best, and was forgotten about when it was time for Riggan’s explosive inner struggle to take the full stage.

birdman 5

The exploration of the eternal struggle for truth in acting was another redeeming factor of the movie. The battles the actors of the play went through to make their performances real were poignant and interesting. However, ironically, the film itself overall didn’t feel particularly truthful. [Spoiler] There were many plot points where the audience thought Riggan was going to die and then he was miraculously saved, which just seemed like the screenwriters toying with my emotions. All of the “interesting” aspects of the movie, from the lighting to the camera movement to the blending of fiction and reality, didn’t feel as if they were a natural part of the movie. It was done in such a way that all I could think of was some camera man meticulously planning his shots out just to be different. It didn’t feel organic, but rather an added bonus to give more pazzaz. It’s difficult to branch into the more “artistic” side of movie making, and I’m glad Birdman tried, but somehow the jigsaw didn’t fall quite into place, and the film ended up feeling a bit like a middle schooler trying to be avant garde.
~Sam

Like Birdman? Hate it? Let us know in the comment section below

Advertisements

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

This week we’ll take a look at the latest superhero flick to come swinging into theaters, The Amazing Spiderman 2. Directed by Marc Webb, and starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and Jamie Foxx, it is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 continues the events of its prequel, following the life of Peter Parker (Garfield) in his adventures as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Peterdeals with the struggle of being the masked hero, while also attempting to keep the love of his life, Gwen Stacy (Stone), safe. As the movie progresses, the mystery revolving Peter’s parents resurfaces, leading him to discover things about Oscorp that in turn, sends a number of super-villains against him, including the emergence of Electro (Jamie Foxx) and the return of Peter’s long time friend, Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan).

6 out of 10

I recently re-watched the original Spider-Man, with Tobey Maguire, and it has this certain feel to it that makes it so good. It’s very comic booky and though the special effects don’t really hold up, it’s still a really fun time. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 tries to get that same feel, but a number of things don’t allow it to get to that stage, though it’s still a respectable film.

CGI took over the film. The whole thing was way too video gamey, a surplus of excessive graphics and visual effects that made me feel overwhelmed. It lacked the genuinity that Maguire’s Spider-Man had. I guess that’s the price we pay for advanced technology. It works really well in some situations (as I hope it will in Godzilla), but this is one of those circumstances where there’s got to be a limit on it. It’s nauseating. It’s an impressive use of technology, there’s no doubt about that. But the way they were utilized was not. It was too much.

spiderman

The dialogue was way too cheesy. It just got to be ridiculous. I was convinced that Peter Parker was a California stoner throughout the movie. Garfield’s giving it his best shot at appearing nerdy, but it doesn’t come off that way. The result is silly dialogue that sounds like he’s trying way too hard to be funny. And going back and watching the original Spider-Man, the dialogue is super cheesy in that too, but the whole tone of the film allows it to work. The newer version isn’t as light on the tone. It’s slightly more mysterious, and the cheesy dialogue doesn’t fit nearly as well.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of some of the characters either. I’m not too fond of this version’s Peter Parker. He doesn’t really embody everything that Peter Parker is about. He’s supposed to be a relatable little nerd, but Garfield is a handsome, slick jock. Meanwhile, Electro’s character was just… dumb. He was annoying, to be honest. I didn’t really care for him all too much, and I felt like his motivation for attacking Spider-Man was forced. Harry Osborne was pretty disappointing a character as well. He was too one dimensional and just boring. Dane DeHaan was not a very good choice for the role. I prefer James Franco much more. And Paul Giamatti appearing for like two seconds??? What the hell.

dane dehaan

 

I will say that the chemistry between Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker is phenomenal. It’s really the best thing about the movie. It makes it enjoyable, unlike a certain romance in Thor… not to name names. It definitely helps that Garfield and Stone are dating. They have a real connection and they are so believable as a couple. If we got a Thor-type chemistry, it’s would just be so boring, especially since the movie doesn’t have much else going for it. Gwen and Peter are not boring, thank god, which makes the ending all the better.

I’ll quickly mention the last scene, which was very well executed. It was well-choreographed from the intense beginning versus Electro till the surprising conclusion against the Green Goblin. It was an exciting conclusion to an overall okay film.

Overall, I can’t say I was pleased, but I can’t I say I was super disappointed either. In the end, it did accomplish one thing better than the original, arguably the most important goal for the future; it established potential villains and plotlines, setting up a franchise that can be extremely successful.
~Vig

7 out of 10

Unnecessary would be my choice word for describing the Spiderman movies of the past seven years or so.

The Raimi films were timeless in their own right. We’ll get that out of the way here. I’m obviously biased since I can still vividly imagine me at the age of four and six showing up to both one and two with my rip-off of a web-slinger glove-thingies on hand (Remember those? If you don’t, don’t worry, they shot silly string about four feet before running out)

But, all kidding and cheesy moments aside, I do really like Spiderman one and two from before. In fact, two was the bell cow of the superhero genre before Dark Knight showed up. Three was three. And there’s a lot of commentary you can certainly find out there on three that express disappointment in a much better way than I ever could even if I felt it even worse.

So then the first one of the reboot series came along. It was superfluous but it was good, not enough to justify its existence to me though . It was weighed down and suffocated by its early Peter Parker antics rather than focusing on some of the hero dilemmas that make Spiderman so juicy. I remember seeing it with Mr. Namasivayam two years ago, leaning in about halfway through and saying “I forgot this was a Spiderman movie.” when we finally saw the suit.

This one was the opposite. I walked into the theatre with the film’s gradual descent into a “55%” fresh in mind ready for it to dazzle me and…it did. For a while that is. Let’s go over the factors that I really liked/didn’t, in fact, since there’s a lot to weigh:
Performances: Far and away, the best part of the whole shabang. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone work off each other brilliantly. Jamie Foxx builds up just enough sympathy that a villain needs. And Dane DeHaan really kept me interested. DeHaan came extremely close to what Harry Osborn is: superficially charming and intelligent but also constantly playing a gruelling game of catch-up with his father (No matter how alive or dead he is).

dane dehaan

Multitasking (First Half and Climax): I had absolutely no issue with the way multiple villains were being introduced in the beginning. Just enough ease and exposition kept it afloat. Meanwhile, the climax was actually fairly harrowing (Much more than I thought it’d be).

Special Effects: Duh.

Problems (These are pretty big):
Multitasking (Middle and some End): I’m a cheater, I know. There are some storylines that were so crammed, I just honestly forgot about them. Important things too like Peter’s past with the Osborn family and his parents. And that closing. It. Just. Wouldn’t. END.

Countin’ its Eggs: Before they hatch. There were parts that were practically a commercial for the next few Spiderman films. Just finish this one, guys.

I’d go into more length about those two issues that take up a way bigger chunk of the movie than they do this review but I do have a word limit. I can only say right now that they are very distracting. What matters, however, is if the good factors can distract you just enough from the bad. For me, the performances moved this show along just enough. Just enough for me to recommend seeing this. Am I interested in the next few? Eh, we’ll see.
~Zach

IMDB: 6.9
Metacritic: 53
Rotten Tomatoes: 53%