I think I am on a roll of bad movies this weekend. First, the long “Foxcatcher”, and now Birdman. I went in with high expectations – a movie who was reviewed as being a masterpiece, and “an experience you won’t soon forget” and having 8.7 IMDB ratings, I thought I was in for 2h of high-class entertainment.
I was so wrong. Within the first 5 minutes, I wanted to walk out. Within the first 10 (after deciding against my better judgement to stay and see it through), I got a headache. Within the first 30min, I was strongly wishing ill to the damn drummer who would not stop banging is jazz and to the director who thought that would be a cool thing to do. After the first hour, my hate got to a new high – motion -sickness with a pounding headache.
I thought all the action was building up to something, I thought all loose ends will tie up for a grand finale. I even perked up when they introduced the animated Birdman character and had some explosions and a “Transformers” -like robot attack. I wanted a superhero movie… A story about the struggle and about the rise.
‘Birdman’ is the latest overpraised and over-hyped ‘art’ film by the acclaimed director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Michael Keaton, who was known for playing Batman in the late 80s and early 90s, is cast here as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up Hollywood actor, once famous for playing a superhero Birdman character in the movies, now making a comeback on Broadway, acting in an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story.
The entire film is shot as if it’s one long take in a cinema verité style. Perhaps the best thing about the film is the behind-the-scenes peek at the technical aspects of a Broadway theater production. Initially, the narrative takes the form of a black comedy in which we’re asked to laugh at the denizens of the theatrical world, all of whom are depicted as deeply flawed.
You can see why critics like it – it’s not the pap that they are forced to view day in and day out because it’s their job to watch it. Professional critics, for their own sanity, grasp at any opportunity to promote something different or unusual. But just because it’s good for them doesn’t make it good for us, the casual movie goer.
When the lead actor in the play is mysteriously knocked out by a falling stage light, Riggan is desperate to find a replacement since previews are about to begin. At first the well known ‘method’ actor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), appears to be a godsend that will save the show; but soon it becomes apparent that Mike is exceptionally unstable. We’re supposed to laugh at a character who gets drunk during his first rehearsal and later attempts to rape one of the female actors while they’re on stage, lying on a bed, under the covers, before an audience who misinterprets the scene as comic.
Later, in a bar, Mike puts Riggan down further by pointing out that the napkin that was given to Riggan and signed by Raymond Carver, was given to him in a bar while he, Carver, was drunk. Mike tells Riggan that he’s too untalented for Broadway and introduces him to Tabitha, the vicious Times critic, who later tells Riggan that she’ll never give him a good review because anyone who sells out to Hollywood can never do anything good in the ‘legitimate’ theater. The negative Times critic is just another example of the exaggerated caricatures sprinkled throughout the film, which simply aren’t funny (a more realistic portrait of theater people should highlight both their positive and negative attributes!).
Also in the mix is Riggan’s daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), who has just been released from rehab for drug abuse. Riggan receives a double dose of humiliation when he first is locked out of the theater in his underwear and is forced to perform before the audience au naturel and later when we discover the slimy Mike, has had sex with his daughter.
By the time we experience the ‘twist’ of a ‘happy ending’ at the denouement, there’s nothing left for the audience to laugh at, since Mr. Iñárritu has smugly shot down all of his straw men caricatures. Riggan ‘triumphs’ first when he blows off his nose with a gun loaded with live ammunition and Tabitha then gives him a favorable review, dubbing the performance an exercise in ‘ultra-realism’. His new prosthetic nose appears to resemble Birdman’s, and Iñárritu has Riggan fly away, now self-actualized, having had a Broadway hit.
The whole idea that commercial success and ‘art’ is mutually exclusive is not borne out by reality. Even Riggan acknowledges that actors like Robert Downey Jr., can be successful in both worlds. So basically ‘Birdman’ becomes a silly, ‘one-joke’ idea, not based on reality nor worth hammering down our throats, ad infinitum.
The Good Reviews
About the movie
“Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has given us some new age classic films such as Babel, Biutiful, and 21 Grams. Birdman is no exception and, to be honest, this very well may be his masterpiece. He directs his actors with grace and never lets them miss a beat and with some extreme long takes throughout the film, it shows just how good of a director he is and just how good his actors can be, especially Michael Keaton. Overall, I could go on and on about this film and just how great it is but nothing of what I say here can really do Birdman justice. It is a film that you need to experience for yourself. With that being said, Birdman features amazing performances including a jaw dropping turn from Michael Keaton, along with some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in years. If there is one film to see during the Awards season, it is Birdman.”
“Birdman’s dialogue is great too and it matches the fast-paced score of “Birdman”. Both reflect how unique “Birdman” is and that is where its brilliance lies. Just like how when you are in a production and the curtains come down on closing night you come to think that you really did not want that to end, and I had the same feeling when “Birdman” did. Its cast, score and direction are all what will be directly nominated come the Oscars, but there is no specific award for the questions “Birdman” made me think about, the way “Birdman” made me feel and the lessons “Birdman” taught me.”
“The acting is superb an intimate, created by his almost perfect planning of each scene.”
About the Drums
“This seems to be the year of the drums because Antonio Sanchez composes “Birdman” with a drum score that lays deep in my ear canals. Tapping your feet and bobbing your head, Sanchez elevates the film to new heights. Editors Douglas Prise and Stephen Mirrione may be the unsung heroes because in the film, we are nearly in one continuous take, which hardly ever gives up (at least to the untrained eye). In no way do I call myself someone who can spot a digital edit, but I spotted no more than a dozen cuts throughout. That is amazing. I’m sure there were dozens more, but you couldn’t catch them.”
About the continuous shot
“The brilliant choice of always having the camera rolling lets the viewer see what happens before and after any given event. This added information creates a realism unknown to nearly every other movie ever made.”
“All in all Birdman is astounding to watch and a movie that MUST be seen in cinema if only to appreciate the art of its film-making even more.”
The Bad Reviews
About the movie
“The dance sequence after the ultimate ending scene in the play in the movie pokes fun at Spiderman on Broadway, Marvel comic book movies, Michael Bay via his Transformers series, etc. That along with the earlier speeches with the critic, one feels that this movie is nothing more than a giant middle finger from the director and writer to the viewer.”
“”Birdman” feels like an inside joke, and it never escapes that categorization for it constantly repeats its wink wink attitude. It keeps calling attention to how much it knows about the world of theater and its actors, so full of insecurity, mental trauma, every possible mental instability you can think of, and most importantly inmeasurable amounts of egocentric devotion. It is always, not so subtly calling attention to how hard it is to be a real actor, how much drama there is, and how special those beings are.”
About the drums
“Fans of the theater will find it amusing for the first hour until it begins to feel like Ground Hog Day meets All That Jazz, orchestrated by Paul Thomas Anderson’s nails on a chalkboard.”
“The score for this film (if you can call it that!) was basically someone banging a drumkit what seemed every few minutes! Crash bang wallop!! I was starting to get a headache within about twenty minutes….”
About the continuous shot
“Finally, don’t get me going on those long hand-held shots… There was once a film about some criminals that was praised to heaven for something similar, and that certainly didn’t make it a better film. In this case, it’s supposed to be intimate; instead it’s annoying, intrusive, disturbing and just another example that along with the interminable number of close ups, it only makes us feel extremely nauseous.”
“The continuous fluid shoot was unnecessary and a bit distracting as if the director or maybe his cinematographer was eager to show off a technicality that adds little to the story telling.”
My opinion? I would rather have my eyes clawed out by a hungry vulture than sit through this “art” abomination once more. I praise the technique but the plot & effect of the movie were mediocre. And this is what movie making should be about! I’m not going to the cinema to feel like I’ve stepped in a poo by the time I walk out.. I am going to be entertained. And the entertainment value of Birdman is just Birdpoo.