November 21 — December 04
|Sat - Sun||2:00||5:00||7:30|
|Sat., November 29||2:00||5:00||8:00|
Unless otherwise noted, films begin on Friday and run through the next Thursday.
Birdman is a decidedly Batman-like action movie hero played in two blockbusters by Riggan Thompson, who resists the lure of making a lucrative but creatively bankrupt third installment by flexing his tenuous acting chops on the Great White Way. Stinging from hostile criticism (amusingly typified by a biting diatribe he receives from a film critic played by Lindsay Duncan), Thompson stakes his wealth, reputation, personal relationships, and maybe his sanity, on a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” with Thompson as both director and star. As played by one-time Batman Michael Keaton, Thompson is amusingly unparalleled in his self-regard, desperately trying to soothe his bruised ego, bolster his confidence, lay claim to literary smarts he probably doesn’t have, prove himself a “real” actor; also probably not a good idea and resuscitate his moribund career in the most pretentious, ill-advised way possible. All of the comic ingredients are laid out for a deliciously dark satiric recipe for opening night disaster, and Birdman delivers: we have an energetic, wonderfully self-aware performance from Keaton,a fine actor (in both comedy and drama), whose career has languished unfairly for a couple decades, and a great ensemble cast that includes Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, and Naomi Watts. Keaton has fun playing a former megastar foolishly obsessed with recapturing his former glory, but the twist is that Keaton really is a fine actor, not the pompous washout he plays, and he effectively blends over-the-top comedy and more subtle, reflective moments that actually make us sympathize with Thompson’s plight. The movie isn’t just Keaton’s meta-commentary on his own status in pop culture; it also lets director Alejandro González Iñárritu poke fun at the weighty, depressing fare he’s better known for: heavy-hitters like 21 Grams, Babel, Amores Perros, and Biutiful. The parenthetical subtitle after Birdman is a wink at European Art cinema’s tendency toward sweeping proclamations. Iñárritu co-wrote the script with Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo, and he clearly relishes the opportunity to lighten up (though much of Birdman’s humor is of the dark variety). Iñárritu’s satire isn’t limited to self-important movie actors with theatrical pretensions: he’s also razor-sharp in his critique of the mindless Hollywood fare that puffs up minor talents like Thompson and feeding cinematic pabulum to undiscerning audiences. “Birdman” himself appears (talking in a gravelly, Christian Bale-like voice) as Thompson’s hallucinatory alter ego, imploring the stressed-out Thompson to make that third Birdman movie. In one scene, Birdman decimates part of New York with a flying robot to prove how exciting his brand of mindless action movie junk is, and it is an exciting, dazzling sequence, Iñárritu gives the devil his due; he understands the allure of fast-moving, visceral eye candy. But Iñárritu’s capable of some visual pyrotechnics, too: the movie is shot in what seems like one continuous, unbroken take. (It’s actually stitched together to look that way but then again, Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary experiment, Rope, did have seamless edits, too). Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki won an Oscar for his work last year on Gravity and he’s fully deserving of a second one for what he accomplishes here: his camera follows Thompson like the titular Birdman itself, hovering and exploring and swooping in and outside the elegant St. James Theater, where most of the film’s action takes place. Not just a stunt, the camerawork adds to the dreamlike feel of the movie, where much of what we see is probably a figment of Thompson’s feverish imagination—but everything seems just enough “off” that we can’t be sure what is real and what isn’t. Even while Iñárritu exploits this uncertainty for all the layers of meaning it affords, he winks at the audience to let us know that he knows this kind of ambiguity is a popular art film trope. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily frivolous, either. Birdman is an intriguing mixture of subtle wit and low comedy, suitable for a film about a conflicted hero with one foot in the world of dumb Hollywood blockbusters and the other in the arty arena of Raymond Carver. (Of course, we know that there’s no way Thompson is going to nail the famously pared-down, insightful prose of Carver in translating it to the stage). Keaton owns the movie, but everybody contributes to the hilarity: Norton sends up his own reputation for being difficult to work with as Mike Shiner, a Method Actor prima donna who butts heads with Thompson, and takes an interest in Thompson’s daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), who’s just finished a stint in rehab. Naomi Watts plays Lesley, an insecure actress who, in a nod to her eye-opening role in Mulholland Dr., has genuine chemistry with fellow actress Laura (Riseborough), who may be pregnant with Thompson’s child. Amy Ryan provides some nice, grounded moments as Thompson’s concerned ex-wife; and Galifianakis, as a producer-manager, is terrific at conveying frustration and annoyance when Thompson’s vanity project starts spinning out of control. Audaciously conceived and masterfully executed, Birdman is a madcap psychological epic that’s both hilarious and heartfelt. It’s also a triumphant showcase for Michael Keaton, whose Riggan Thompson is a complex figure: thoughtless, egotistical, pathetic, insecure, but somehow majestic in his self-delusion, like a comic King Lear. An art film that’s also a witty commentary on “art films” (and cinema’s compulsive need to segregate Art and Entertainment), Birdman is a smart, intoxicating, and thoroughly enjoyable foray into Hollywood satire by way of magic realism.
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