Arguably the first true ‘film’ of the super hero genre, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman looks at the triumph, tragedy and awkward redemption of a man who would be hero.
ARTH VADER (AV): In today’s world, the term hero seems to take many meanings. Hollywood continues to look for new angles to our beloved super-hero genre. In Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtues of Ignorance) [full title], Riggan, a has-been actor who once played an iconic superhero onscreen works to overcome his own inner voices fueled by an emotionally unstable ego while side-stepping dysfunctional family turmoil as he angles to make a big theatrical comeback with a critically acclaimed Broadway play in hopes to reclaim the past fame and notoriety he sorely misses. The film boasts an original screenplay that spins a super-charged original screenplay.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Birdman is an original and offbeat story of a superhero actor trying to gain relevance by making it on Broadway. His journey to discover his place in the world of acting, after being a celebrity, is dogged by his troubled relationship with his daughter, rocky interactions with the other actors, and resistance to the ever present voice within himself screaming to be a hero once again… for real (or not).
CASTING, DIRECTING & ACTING
AV: Pontificator, I can’t think of a better actor to portray the trails of a used-to-be super hero film great than Michael (“I’m Batman”) Keaton. The beauty of this film is the plethora of acting talent that reads like a who’s who of superhero film acting talent. Talent like, Naomi (King Kong) Watts, Emma (Mary Jane) Watson, and of course Ed (Hulk) Norton. Damian (Unbreakable) young with Zack (Hangover) Galafinakis. The director’s vision was potent, so unique so incredible, it is I would argue, the most important storytelling component of Birdman, wouldn’t you say Pontificator?
TP: The tone of this film being one long gigantic take was refreshing and kept the story rolling along at a steady pace Vader. The acting was tremendous with stellar performances by the lead Michael Keaton, and supporting cast, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis and Emma Stone. Actors playing actors is always fun (especially when it’s Ed Norton playing the kind of actor he is known for being like in real life), but the delusion of Keaton (or not) is superb… as is the dysfunction of Stone (while recovering from, but getting, stoned).
AV: The real ‘hero’ of Birdman is no actor though, Ponty. It is–by far–the visual direction and cinematography of the film. As the entire film presents itself as one continuous moving shot, I can honestly say I have not seen a movie like this before. The camera work is so flawless, there were times I actually caught myself looking for scene transitions where the editor’s could make cuts form one shot to the next. This is some the most inspired filmmaking I’ve ever witnessed. While this movie came in–reportedly–at a modest $22 million budget, it feels like it cost so much more. The end sequence features some stunning CGI and flying effects that are so seamlessly integrated, the viewer is immersed without knowing it. A real triumph of modern moviemaking, would you agree P-Man?
TP: I’ll tell you Vader, this wasn’t a big budget special effects summer blockbuster film…but the little bit of effects it did have were absolutely awesome! The brief scene of Birdman and the giant bird destroying the city easily stands with other summer film effects and although the story was great with superb acting, I could’t help wishing there were more Birdman scenes in the film…purely from an effects point of view.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: It was a stroke of genius to have Michael Keaton in the starring role of Birdman. For the obvious reasons of his status in Batman and Beetlejuice, but also because he is an amazing actor. His comedy typecasting and family-movie roles from the 1990’s may have shrouded his real acting chops from the majority of movie-goers but Keaton’s portrayal of the lost Riggan cuts to the core of Keaton’s iconic standing. In truth, this movie–if we’re lucky–is the beginning of a whole new take on where movies take audiences in the super-hero arena.
TP: From the very beginning this film has you questioning what is real and what is not. Riggan (Keaton) starts the film off levitating in is dressing room and continues with small and private displays of telekinetic power. This was fantastic.… except if you really pay attention, there are a plethora of clues to suggest he really doesn’t have any power at all, except the power to see and experience things and events that are not there or going on. This makes the story that much more interesting as Riggan’s struggle for relevance and self actuation through the desire to put on a broadway play, is really a struggle with his ego and coming to terms with how he has been defined by Birdman. The demise of Riggan has led to many theories, specifically at what point did he actually pass (assuming you are of the opinion that he did, and really didn’t suddenly gain real powers) and I have yet to settle on what exactly I believe… giving this film even more value as it continues to tantalize long after the screen goes dark.
AV: To put it bluntly, this movie would be destroyed by a sequel though I for one do hope it is the beginning of a deeper exploration of the super-hero genre as a serious, viable realm of more serious super storytelling. Kick Ass, Watchmen and Sin City have all been (solidly successful) franchises that go there–with an honorable mention to Chronicle. We can have stories of super powered people that aren’t simply re-visited comic book content but tales that offer fresh new perspective on the modern vision of the hero’s journey.
TP: I can’t see a sequel to this film… simply because the film doesn’t really leave any room to continue the story, just loads of room to ponder what was already given.
ARTH VADER rates Birdman: A surprisingly charming film with a spot-on cast that would make any geek proud, Birdman will delight every movie goer. With some of the best original cinematography I’ve seen since District 9, this movie is an instant favorite of yours truly as it shares a very human perspective on the effects of stardom, fame, the fallibility of man and the road to redemption, no matter how awkward or unorthodox that everyone of us can relate to. Gripping, gritty and unpretentious, Birdman with delight anyone with half a brain and full love of experiencing the human condition. For that, Birdman hatches a solid nine (9) Busted Blocks and I cross my fingers at the hopes of more films like this in the near future.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Birdman: A great film with superb acting and plenty of material to have you discussing it into the wee hours of the night, this film is profound as it is entertaining and delivers seven (7) feathery delusional blocks to take us soaring.
Birdman: 8 / 10 Busted Blocks