Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Review

I may be late to the party, but hot damn is this movie phenomenal.

Here's a little insight about what movies I decide to review and which ones I leave at the wayside. For the past couple of months, I've been situated in a small little town that only has one movie theatre in it. That little theatre only has four screens and will get a new movie every single week. The stars essentially have to align for a movie to release there that I desperately want to see, and even then I have to find time in my schedule to see it. Not only that, but because I didn't have a car, that theatre essentially became my go to method for viewing movies. So when Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) came out, I pretty much had no way to see it. Two months later and I finally have access to see the movie that people have been raving about for months, and I can see why people were going nuts over it.

Riggan Thomson is an actor that's hit some hard times. He's trying to stay relevant in today's modern culture, and he may or may not be suffering from depression. He gets a new wing however when he decides to write, direct, and star in an adaptation of a novel that's being debuted on Broadway. It's only a few days until the show opens, and Riggan is dealing with everything that could potentially go wrong with his play as well as his sanity. Not only that, but Riggan hears the voice of one of his former characters, Birdman, in the back of his head. Birdman was the character that made him into a star and propelled him into the pop culture zeitgeist, but now Birdman is the devil on Riggan's shoulder, telling him what to do and to have him strike out to return to Hollywood. Oh, and Riggan may or may not have superpowers. There's that.

I'm not going to try and describe every thing that the movie does right. I wish I could just say that Birdman is a phenomenal film and leave it at that, but I feel like that would be a disservice to the movie. This in an actor's movie. This is a movie that every aspiring actor, actress, producer, or director should see. I know that everyone's really busy this holiday season, but if you haven't seen this movie yet and you are interested in acting, then it is a mandatory requirement to see this movie. Why you may ask? Three simple reason; this movie is done in one shot, it discussed the nature of acting, and Michael Keaton' performance.

Yes you heard me, this entire movie is done in one single take. Or at least, that's how the movie is presented to us. In actuality, there are cuts inside of the movie, but you'd never be able to tell. Everything is so seamless that this movie takes cinematography to a whole new level. I have a friend that will always go nuts for editing in a movie, and if she were to see this movie, I'm sure her head would explode. To take a two hour movie and edit the shots so they all seem to take place in one continuous take, even if the movie takes place over several days, is unbelievable.

But enough about the technical aspects. While it's great to admire and love the technical aspects of this film, at its heart, this is a movie about acting and the nature of the profession. Riggan is constantly harassed by people for only being an  actor just because he wore the Birdman suit. Is Riggan an actual actor when all he did was wear a suit and stand in front of explosions? That seems to be the opinion of Mike Shiner, who's a very successful actor on Broadway. Mike performs for crowds every night and call that true acting, even though he is a detestable person. He is so dedicated to his craft that he destroys the set of Riggan's show because it's not "real", and if something's not real, he can't have a connection with it. That makes some sense, but he steals from Riggan and attempts  have sex with his own sister in the name of being real (his sister is in show), and is generally seen as an asshole.

The argument essentially is "What is acting? Is acting being real and honest, or is it becoming a different person? If you become a different person, isn't that real? Not only that, but how real can you get while acting?" It's a can of worms to be sure and every single actor watching this movie will come out of it with a different opinion of the character's and what the movie's vision of acting is. To me, Riggan technically is an actor, but he's more human than anything else. While he does perform on stage several times throughout the movie, we never see the character. We just see Riggan dealing with his own personal baggage. However, with Riggan just being Riggan, he's able to act better than the professional Broadway actor. Mike Shiner though is a traditional theatrical actor, but he becomes so absorbed in wanting to be honest and truthful that it in turn makes him fake. Riggan is able to act by not acting at all, while Mike is not acting by trying to act. These are complicated issues for actors to deal with, but I implore every actor to watch and judge this for themselves.

And then you have Michael Keaton. The man deserves an Oscar for this performance. Hell, he's already a front runner for the award! He's absolutely dynamite as Riggan Thomson, showing every facet of the man. We can see his ego, his joy, the struggles he has with the Birdman persona, and the depression that he suffers from. When he gives a speech to his ex-wife about how he tried to kill himself, you can sense that he's baring his entire soul to her. Immediately afterwards follows one of the most intense, heart pounding finales I've seen this year not just because of the great soundtrack, but because he know the Riggan is in complete control and that even though he's on stage, he isn't acting. Riggan is being Riggan and his last speech is the realization of all of his life's work as well as his final confrontation with the Birdman persona.

You know, a very close friend of mine in California recommended this movie to me back in October. She said that it was absolutely outstanding and was the best film of the year for her (she is an actress mind you). I said that I would see it, but I scoffed at it being that revolutionary. As I sit here writing this review, I can safely say that I agree with her. I don't know if I would say that this is my movie of the year (wait a week or two for that list ;)), but it's up there. For a while, I've wanted Snowpiercer to be my underdog at the Oscars. I've wanted that movie to take a surprising amount of awards and shock everyone. Now, while I still want Snowpiercer to be my underdog, I want Birdman as my front runner. I want this movie to beat Foxcatcher, Selma, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and especially Unbroken at the Oscars. This is my horse, and I'm sticking with him until he very end.

If you haven't seen this movie yet, hunt down a theatre showing it. I don't know when it'll be released to DVD, but everyone needs to see this movie in some way, shape, or form. If you've already seen it, then you know exactly why it lives up to the hype. Birdman is a stunning movie in every way, shape, or form. The only that about this movie that I could nitpick are the use of Riggan's powers in the movie (Does he have them or are they just a figment of his imagination?). Still, see this movie and see exactly what everyone's been talking about.


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