Tagged Movie

The Deconstructed Life of BIRDMAN

Birdman. 2014. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Merritt Wever, and Edward Norton. New Regency Pictures. Rated 14A. 119 minutes.
Comedy/Drama

★★★★

2562232_bigBirdman tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who was once playing the superhero Birdman in big movies. Now, he’s doing the stage. He has adapted Raymond Carver, specifically. All this stems from when he was a young man and supposedly Carver attended one of his performances; afterwards, the famous author drunkenly scribbled a note to a young Thomson on a cocktail napkin. Unfortunately, his stage play is suffering under the weight of many things – his ego, a rough relationship with his daughter (Emma Stone), a new and cocky actor (Edward Norton playing a meta-version of himself), et cetera. All of these things threaten to tear him apart, so the question is – can he hold it all together?

Birdman1I’ve always enjoyed Keaton. I think he is generally under appreciated. While this movie is giving him a wave of high praise to ride on, I believe there are other performances before this which have solidified him as a wonderful actor – just a few are the Tim Burton Batman films, still my favourite BatmanNight ShiftBeetlejuice, and Jackie Brown. I do love his performance here in Birdman. I definitely would put this in his top roles of all-time, no doubt. I don’t take him to be much like his character in real life, though, I’m sure some of the character is a little relatable just in terms of how his career must have went initially after the fame of Batman slowly faded. Either way, Keaton puts a lot of effort into this movie. I thought it was a really full-hearted performance. He definitely put all he is worth into this character. It shows.
BirdmanThe other performances are really something, too. I enjoyed Norton, as I always do. He has a reputation for being somewhat difficult to work with, so I’m sure it was at least a little fun for him to fool around with this character. It’s like a meta-version of Norton himself almost.

Another person who I thought truly stood out was Emma Stone. She’s a really great young actress. Though, I’m not actually a huge fan of the movies she has done in the past, except for maybe Zombieland and her role in Superbad, I do think Stone has talent. In this film, she did a fantastic job with the character of Sam, Riggan’s daughter. There was something really vulnerable about the character, and yet also she came across as quite a strong woman. The relationship between Keaton and Stone worked real well, I thought. Both of them played great as a father-daughter duo who have seen hard times. A couple real great moments with them.
Birdman_teaserI am a big fan of Alejandro González Iñárritu. In fact, Amores Perros is the first non-english film I’d ever seen. I believe I was about sixteen years old. The film really moved me, so much so I had the title tattooed on my wrist. It’s a fascinating movie. Then later I saw 21 Grams, and then Babel, and Biutiful – I loved each of these. He is an interesting, unique filmmaker. I love the approach he has to subjects. This is one of the reasons Birdman is most definitely a real good film. Just the way Iñárritu shot everything here to look as if it were one long uninterrupted take is really innovative. Now, of course, you can find the meticulous little places where Iñárritu decided to hide his quick cuts, but you really do have to be paying full attention, as well as give a shit about such things. I really enjoyed this. It’s a wild way to make a movie, and it could have come off really terribly. That being said, I think Iñárritu pulls it off here in grand style.

All that aside, I don’t think Iñárritu’s film is a perfect and as amazing as the glorious reviews will have you believe. It’s ambitious, it has great performances, and a decent script. However, I do find at times the theme, or the message if you will, behind Birdman is a little too divisive. And not in a good sense, in the way of opinions. I think the message is really heavy handed. At one point, Birdman is telling Riggan how people want to “see action” and not this talk, talk, talk, philosophical stuff. It’s a great point to try and make, I just think it comes across really ham fisted. Like it’s saying if you enjoy action, you’re dumb. I’m on the side of the fence where I don’t care about Marvel – I don’t want any more superhero movies for awhile, even though I’m a huge Batman fan, in all forms of media, and have been for a long time – I just don’t want the market flooded with all this CGI-infested junk constantly. On the other hand, I also don’t want to be told that action, et cetera, is some sort of lower art form. I know there is black comedy in here, there are a lot of digs at the artists themselves, some of the material is no doubt pointed at artists in general – but still, I think this comes across as preachy to some. I love this movie. I just think some of these bits could have been toned down a little more, so as not to alienate people. Perhaps some might say “who cares about those people”, and that’s fine, but I think there was a way of achieving what Iñárritu wanted to do without being a bit snobbish. Just one man’s opinion. Or maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the point is that there is ego in all things, no matter if it’s an action-based superhero film or a stage play, or whatever – there is always an air of pretentiousness behind art, in whichever form it may come. Maybe that’s the point, I don’t know. I take it in the way I do, just as others will in their own way. I respect if others see the film in another light.
still-of-michael-keaton-in-birdman-2014-large-pictureThis is most definitely a 4 out of 5 star film for me. It is certainly a great movie, and I don’t doubt for a second this is on many Best Of lists from last year. Me – I didn’t love it as much as other movies. I really enjoyed it, a lot, and would watch it again. I will, absolutely. I just don’t think it’s as great as the hype will have you convinced. Definitely worth seeing. If not just for the fact Iñárritu does a fascinating job at weaving the camera in and around the locations of the film, from actor to actor, very naturally and beautifully. I’m in no way talking the film down, because if you don’t already know I have a few real unpopular opinions about some movies (I’m the kind who loves a few movies that are generally considered terrible – example: Exorcist II: The Heretic). This is merely my opinion. I still think it’s a fantastically honed piece of work. Destined to be a classic of cinema down the road, if not already with the praise it’s receiving. Keaton, especially, I really loved. Check this out – let me know what you thought about it in the comments!

BLUE RUIN’s Honest Amateur Revenge

Blue Ruin. 2014. Directed & Written by Jeremy Saulnier.
Starring Macon Blair, Tyler Byrne, Richard Peete, Vincent Savino, Alex Orr, and Anish Savjani.
Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Rated 18A. 90 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★★
blueruin-poster02 Personally, I love revenge thrillers just because they satisfy the real life need at times to dive into something similar to our daily lives. Many people can relate to the emotions of people who have family members, friends, loved ones killed or hurt in horrible ways. This is something we see in the news all the time. Even in our own hometowns. However, many revenge thrillers often push our limits of what’s believable. For instance, a lot of the lead characters in films of this sub-genre are often made out to be the perfect killing machine – even if they’re some mild mannered type before the events which change their lives, afterwards they become relentless, near superhuman people who can withstand any and all pain, as well as seem to automatically know their way around guns (including how to load them & et cetera) and have a plethora of unique ideas about how to modify simple everyday items into weapons. While I can get into some of those films just because they’re often good fun, when done appropriately and well-enough, I really respect a film that goes for a revenge thriller story but subverts what we’ve come to expect from other films of this sub-genre. This is one of those movies, which takes everything you thought you knew about the revenge thriller genre and turns everything on its head.

Blue Ruin is the story of a man who has nearly lost everything. Dwight lives out of his rundown old blue car (the titular Blue Ruin). He eats out of dumpsters, rifling through them to find whatever food he can that still smells edible. He takes a nice bath when he can – until the people who own the home he’s taking one in return. One morning he’s picked up by the police, however, they aren’t arresting him. An officer tells Dwight that Wade Cleland is about to be released; he is the man who murdered Dwight’s parents. After this, Dwight goes back to his home in Virginia. When Wade is released, Dwight follows him and proceeds to, messily, kill him in a bathroom stall. While escaping, Dwight drops his own keys in the bathroom, and ends up having to steal a limousine Wade was brought home in. The car itself is registered still under information leading back to his sister’s home. Dwight finds his sister, reveals what he has done, and begs them to leave in case the Cleland family decides to take their own revenge. Of course, this is what eventually happens. These events spark a brutal, raw war between Dwight and the rest of the Clelands, who will seemingly stop at nothing to avenge the death of Wade.
blue-ruin01The most excellent part about Blue Ruin, aside from Macon Blair’s absolutely phenomenal and subtle performance as Dwight, is the fact they didn’t try to make the lead character into some kind of ultimate assassin who has suddenly come into his own after deciding to take revenge. I mean, it’s awesome to see action, a bit of blood and guts, all that, but it’s nice to also see Jeremy Saulnier write a character who is very real and lifelike. Dwight only knows he wants revenge. He proves, time and time again, he does not know how to go about actually taking it – but still it drives him. Like any of us if our parents were murdered, Dwight is consumed by the thought of revenge. When we first see him try to kill Wade it is an absolutely astonishing mess. It really works because most of us would have no idea how to grab hold of somebody and cut their throat, other than to grab on and try, which is exactly how Dwight goes about the kill. This doesn’t go as planned, and things get really sloppy. I think immediately this shows us Saulnier’s revenge thriller is unlike most in the sub-genre. That’s a-okay by me. I think this is a really fresh film because it doesn’t fall prey to the same slips and traps as others in the sub-genre do. The market nowadays is flooded with tons of revenge thrillers, especially after Liam Neeson and Luc Besson’s Taken became a runaway hit.
blue-ruin04The acting in Blue Ruin is absolutely spectacular. Macon Blair has gotten a lot of praise for this role. Rightfully so. It is a real subdued performance, and you can feel the pain of Dwight coming through, radiating out of Blair at almost every moment. There are also times where you can just tell he is not equipped to deal with the murder coming along with his revenge – one scene, after watching a man get his face blown off, shows him on the side of the road by his car puking out his guts. In general, though, he really plays a broken down man here for the most of this film, and it is some of the finest acting in the last decade. Some of the best really in the entire revenge thriller sub-genre. Period – ever. I loved it so much solely because of Blair. It doesn’t hurt there are a few good supporting roles. Always awesome to see Devin Ratray – best known as Buzz from Home Alone. There is mostly focus on Blair, as he’s alone a lot of the time, or preparing himself for the revenge. However, there are small roles worth checking out here, and they fully round out the cast instead of just having Blair acting up a beautiful storm while no one else does anything. It’s nice to see even the smallest roles performed well.
blue-ruin05The cinematography in Blue Ruin is gorgeous. It really looks great. Especially when juxtaposed with all the grim scenes. Some of the effects are just as great. Right off the bat when Dwight tries to kill Wade there is a nice bit of savage practical blood work, and you know right from then there will be more and more of this to come. The brutality in this movie really fits because it’s very real. There are not a ton of situations where you just marvel solely at how impossible it would’ve been for one person to setup such a scenario. Instead, Dwight rolls through this movie very unprepared, and the gruesome, bloody scenes usually reflect this raw and real nature. I really loved a particular headshot that comes just after the last half hour begins – it looks amazing, and the sound design is incredible, as Saulnier easily and briefly represents how far away the bullet comes from. Very cool effect.
blue-ruin02Overall, this is a perfect film to me. Saulnier has created a very brutal, raw image of the revenge thriller. He takes it out of the ridiculousness of Hollywood and how big budget films treat the sub-genre. This is a spectacularly written, directed, and acted film. There’s nothing wrong here. I think this could’ve easily become generic fodder, like many of the Taken rip-offs (and also the awful Taken sequels themselves). Saulnier opted not to do anything like this. Blue Ruin is probably the best crowd funded film out there. He really put the money to great use. The cinematography makes the bleak & grim story come to life, and Macon Blair puts on a performance that should be nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Check this out. You will not be disappointed by this amazing modern revenge thriller.