Friday, July 3, 2015

Birdman (Best Picture 2014)

Birdman starts in the dressing room of actor Riggan Thomson, who is meditating before going out on stage. However, what makes this unique is that he is meditating while levitating himself three feet off the ground. He is also engaged in an internal dialogue with a deep, raspy voice. This turns out to be the voice of Birdman, the super-hero character Thomson played in two money-making Hollywood block-busters. This looks interesting.

However....although the film starts off in an interesting way, it quickly degenerates into something less interesting and just....weird. When Thomson goes on-stage to rehearse, he thinks about how bad his co-actor is. Then suddenly, that actor is knocked out by a falling object. They end up having to replace him....with the mega-star boy-friend of another of the co-stars. They suddenly sell thousands of dollars worth of advance tickets. "Birdman" is claiming credit for the injury, but did Thomson really cause the actor to be injured? Or is he something close to crazy?

What follows is two hours spent in the company of unpleasant people who don't really like themselves very much, doing self-centered and immature things. Having done community theatre, I am already familiar with the back-stage types: the Prima Dona, the stressed-out Producer, the Actors who want to be Artist(e)s, the Actresses who don't know how good they are.... and I am not really entertained by this stuff.

Here's the plot in a nutshell: Thomson has sunk all of his savings and reputation into the Broadway show, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" by Raymond Carver which is about to open. Everyone he talks to thinks this is a vanity project doomed to fail. No one seems to realize that he is a serious actor, and not just "Birdman." Fellow actors are stressed out about whether the show will come together in time for Opening Night. Thomson is having difficulties in his relationship with his daughter and his ex-wife; he loves them but has trouble showing affection. Finally, he decides to kill himself in the last scene of Opening Night. However, he only manages to shoot his nose off. All the newspapers think the show is brilliant, and he is assured of a successful run.

So that is the plot. The film itself...well, I admit that I never noticed that the film was a series of "one-shots." This is a technique where the scene starts and you don't cut (edit) it between location changes. So the first scene starts in Thomson's dressing room, then the camera follows behind him as he travels from his dressing room until he gets on stage. Therefore there were a lot of scenes of people walking in the hallways of the theatre, walking away from the camera! What is the point of that? It seems oddly wasteful, and it distracted me out of the story when I noticed  it....which was often.

Besides that, the film seems pretty pedestrian. The story is not all that interesting, and the location is mostly the theatre and its hallways. And the music! Instead of being an integrated part of the film, it is obvious and, worst, intrusive. In one of the more dramatic moments, the drumming gets faster and more dynamic....and then Thomson walks by a drummer, who is obviously playing. the sound-track actually happening? This music isn't in OUR heads, it's in the background?

The theme of the film seems to be whether actors can really "show" or "tell" us anything we don't already know. Thomson, a great Michael Keaton, is supposedly not a real "actor" because he did big-budget Hollywood films. Conversely, an equally good Edward Norton is supposedly a "great" actor because he only does Broadway, so therefore *everything* he does is good. The most important critic in New York City promises to destroy Thomson and praise Norton's character, because Thomson is a "celebrity," not an actor. And of course, the stunt-casting of Michael Keaton as an actor in a film about a film actor in a Broadway play makes the whole thing weirdly complex. In the end, however, the film is about Hollywood vs Broadway, and if I ever see another piece of work (either play OR movie) about this theme it will be too soon. Naomi Watts is good as the actress who is making her Broadway debut, so is a one big wrapped up nerve. She is good, but really has nothing to do except re-act to Keaton or Norton, who plays her boy-friend.

I guess I just don't know what this film wants to be. It tries very hard to convince us that Thomson is crazy; he is shown flying through NYC from his hotel to the theatre, then there is a taxi driver complaining that his fare wasn't paid. All the other telekinesis occurs when he is alone, so we are being led to believe that he is imagining it all. At the very end, however, the story seems to imply that Thomson really is flying. So....what? I'm not a big fan of obscure, hard-to-understand films.

As for the actors, Keaton plays himself? I have read that when he was sent this script, his first thought was that the writer/director was making fun of him and his career in Tim Burton's two Batman films. So, obviously, he knows this material. He does a great job in every scene he is in, even if I don't quite understand the point of every scene. Keaton was nominated for Best Actor for this role, but he lost to Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything.

Birdman was nominated for 9 categories and won four: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. If peeking behind the curtain of a Broadway show and watching actors yell and re-act with one another interests you, this film might be interesting to you. If not, then my suggestion is to watch one of the other nominees instead.

or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
*Academy Award Best Picture of 2014*
Produced by Alejando G. Inarritu &
John Lesher, Arnon Milchan, and James W. Skotchdopole
Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu
Written by Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone,
Alexander Denelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo

This is the international trailer, so you'll hear curse words.

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

There was a lot of politics in this year's group of nominees. Selma and American Sniper were on opposite sides of the argument, but both are good films. Whiplash features J.K. Simmons as a sadistic drum teacher; he won Best Supporting Actor. Boyhood is the movie that was filmed in real-time over 12 years, tracing one boy's actual life. Patricia Arquette won Best Supporting Actress as the mother. The Imitation Game stars Benedict Cumberbatch as code-breaker Alan Turing. He was nominated for Best Actor, but lost out to another biopic about a famous Brit, Stephen Hawking, in The Theory of Everything. And The Grand Budapest Hotel is not The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which means I can't remember which is which.

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