Better Bring Your A-Game!

Birdman (2014)
A Review By Ben Hunter
5 Out Of 5 Stars


The first film of the Oscar season that has actually made me feel like it’s Oscar season.  The rest better bring their A-Game! 
“How did we end up here?  This place is horrible.  Smells like balls.  We had it all.  You were a movie star remember?  Now you’re about to destroy what’s left of your career. You’re Birdman, let’s go back one more time and show them what we’re capable of.  How did we end up here in this dump?” 
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is trying to hold onto the little bit of dignity he feels he has left in his life and put on a work of art in a Broadway production he’s written, directed, and soon to be starring in throughout the classic New York theater circuit.  Hopefully, this will solidify his stamp of approval to himself as well as from society as a legit actor, and not a celebrity who’s just famous from his or her 15 minutes.  In this case a superhero action film series from 20 years ago, Birdman. 

Funny how ironic that Keaton went from Batman to Birdman 20 years in real life, though the aura of “out of touch” or a “come back” wouldn't solely deem fit for director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest endeavor, enriched with Academy Award occupancy.

The film’s title is also parenthesized with “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”.  Actress Emma Stone relays this as Riggan’s daughter recently out of rehab created by the ripple effects of the pool Riggan feels he’s drowning within.  She intensely invokes the feeling of reality and that this is how it is.  We all feel like we need to prove something of ourselves to ourselves as well as to others to feel that sense of dignity and pride within our lives.  How the need for power and control can very much control us.  But that it relays ignorance in the path we take to accomplish it and feeling like we’re alone on the journey towards revolution.  I love this movie primarily because of this scene.  I didn’t think the day would come when I’d tell myself that “I think I finally just might be on board the Emma Stone fan wagon … Ha!  Go figure.” 

Sam (Emma Stone) realizing her father Riggan (Michael Keaton) has found true peace in his quest for self worth.
This is what I sought in my controversial take on the beloved Oscar film Gravity from last season.  Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who filmed Gravity) worked well with Iñárritu who together revealed a marvelous story, brilliantly relayed with the cinematography just like with Gravity.  However, in my opinion, unlike Gravity, there was an amazing story of substance as the backbone of the film with the special effects as the cherry on top.  It didn’t come off as cliché and I could definitely relate to our hero, Riggan, as he fought for his career and for his family.  His character objectives were clear and more importantly I could connect with those objectives and root for him, even experience them myself and correlate with this cinematic experience as a whole (unlike Gravity).  I remember smiling, clapping, and engaging all throughout this film.  Subconsciously, my body approved.  That’s the true and definitive approach to critiquing art.  Just ask yourself “how did I feel?” 

As I was experiencing the brilliant cinematography, I couldn’t help but think of how well the blocking, acting, and directing of all of this played their part.  This choice of shooting style was indeed a perfect one as it felt like we were in an actual theater production with actors waiting for their cues to enter the scenes, when to commence and “curtain”, and the like.  The camera was another character in the story and the “captured all in one shot” effect was achieved ever so radiantly!  Usually this is what snaps me out of the dream sequence as my body disapproves with multiple story issues revolving around the camera (Cloverfield, Project X, Chronicle).  Here, everything paned out and I finally found a film that blazingly uses this technique!  It all flowed so smoothly to where I never, not once, thought about a continuity issue because of this style of cinematography.  Brilliantly accomplished!  

I loved the casting selections.  This was a radiant cast as I could attach myself to and relate with each of their objectives.  Which means the writing was just cleverly scintillating!  I loved the “brilliant” Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) and how his character was the wrench thrown in the plans, but a much-needed wrench at the same time.  Or how Lesley (Naomi Watts) just wanted to open on Broadway for once in her career.  How Sam (Emma Stone) just wanted to be loved by her father.  How Riggan wanted to be that father but a successful artist at the same time yet still not loose his family in the process.  How Sylvia (Amy Ryan) could feel the distance in her marriage with Riggan but still has love in her heart for the man in her life. This is what people relate with in stories.  No amount of special effects or "smoke & mirrors" could ever make up for this.  Heck, even Zach Galifianakis, yes the one and only, was cleverly utilized and executed his scenes to the level of the other names on this play card that you wouldn’t normally compare him to.  A step in that direction to becoming another one of those names if this hasn’t put him there already. 

This film has finally made me feel that Oscar season has truly begun.  That feeling of excitement for other Oscar hopefuls is in my spirit and I can’t wait to see what’s next!

This is a tough act to follow!  The AMAZING drum music score might be a “symbol” of good things to come!

The rest better bring their A-Game!

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Dramedy, 119 Minutes, R
Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, 
Armando Bo
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifiankis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan

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