BIRDMAN REVIEW

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It didn’t make me fly for the exit. Strange, bizarre, funny and different. A breath of fresh air.

A promising start for a new year in film. Hopefully.

A somewhat slow opening did leave me a little anxious after the endless hype. So much so that two people left within 15 minutes!

BUT it was merely adjusting you to Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s (Babel) style and setting up the pieces.

Preparation for what would lie in store. A darkly comical acting tour de force as one man descends into madness.

So what is it about? A washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

At first glance, the washed up actor shaking off his superhero status and Michael Keaton probably hit home a little too well. BUT what a resurgent return from the Dark Knight. It is not as if he really left. Come on, he was in The Other Guys and Need for Speed (The less we say about that one, the better).

When Keaton’s character was first introduced, I felt he was drowned out by the rather animated and incredibly talented supporting cast. His performance didn’t seem to justify the hype. BUT by the end, oh boy, was I wrong! He was remarkable. A powerhouse performance. Vulnerable in one shot, volatile and violent the next.

The Broadway play setting was a perfect platform to unearth personal problems, dig up rivalries and delve into fractious relationships and affairs. The rehearsals may seem a little repetitive but as we delve more into each character’s issues and flaws, it brings a different dimension and take on that same bit of dialogue and scene. Expertly captured and cleverly written.

This all helped make this simple dark comedy drama turn into something so much more. Riggan has to deal with the stress of the play as well as his inner demon. Taking the form of an avarian comic book superhero with the voicing style of Beetlejuice. Brilliant.

I loved how Innaritu incorporated the “super real” fictional theatre scene into the real world. The meta-textual references were brilliant and really added to the film. The digs at the Avengers franchise and celebrities brought a little grin. The open criticisms in how people don’t want to watch films with long drawn out philosophical talking and how they want big, dumb, action packed blockbusters was spot on!

The cinematography was superb. Emmanuel Lubezki manipulated the camera work and editing to make it appear like one continuous long take. It certainly kept things moving but the 119 minute length did feel a little long at the tooth in parts.

I wonder if Keaton incorporated some of his own troubles into the film. In one of Riggan’s arguments with his “Birdman” alter ego who at this point harassing him to do another Birdman sequel, Riggan yells out, “That was 1992! Get over it!”Coincidentally, the year Batman Returns was released. Hmmm . . .

The supporting cast were fantastic. Consisting of the likes of the flirtatious Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion), the insecure Naomi Watts (The Impossible) and the snidey film critic hell bent on ruining Riggan’s opening night, Lindsay Duncan (About Time).

Once Emma Stone (The Help) was given the screen time, she was (to be expected) very good as Riggan’s drug addict daughter.

Amy Ryan (The Wire) was wasted in her small role. Not enough of her. She had good chemistry with Keaton and I felt more could have been made of the broken family dynamic. She didn’t even interact with Stone’s character at all. Merely popping in lulls after Riggan’s meltdowns.

Zach Galifinakis (The Hangover) played a much more subdued role to what I was used to. He actually got to do a spot of acting as well as delivering the laughs.

BUT the main scene stealer that rivalled Keaton through out the film was Edward Norton (American History X). His portrayal of Mike was fantastic. Egotistical with a penchant for some improvised method acting. Constantly seeking attention and out to undo Riggan’s work, undermining and offering “suggestions”. I couldn’t stop watching him. Scene stealing in almost every turn.

Without spoiling too much, Birdman does get a little random and bizarre in parts as you don’t know how many of Riggan’s encounters and altercations are actually happening.

The ending may split people. But for me I liked it. It was one of those that was open for interpretation. Something that appeared cut and dry but was it?

I mean, this is most definitely a mood piece. If you’re in the mood for something a little different, then I recommend it. BUT if not, then maybe steer clear.

It’s not without it’s imperfections; a questionable pace and a slow opening, along with some irritating drum music did dampen things (BUT only a little). Seriously the drumming got on my nerves. It worked as Riggan reached breaking point, the drumming getting faster and faster as it drew to it’s climax. BUT throughout, it was just racket.

However, once you get past that, it’s a cleverly written multi-layered dark comedy drama that is fantastically acted by an incredible cast. A good piece of film-making that for a moment restored my faith in films.

3.5/5

BUT the more I think about that ending. This may change to a 4. So watch this space.

 

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THE BABADOOK REVIEW

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The Baba-boo-k!

A well-acted low budget horror that fails to live up to the hype. The wait for a decent horror movie goes on . . .

After all the buzz and promise, I came out of the cinema not in tears from fear and anxiety but tears of laughter.

After enduring a slow burning 40-odd minute build up, the moment arrives. The moment in which the dreaded Babadook finally makes its appearance and boy, oh, boy . . .

His cry sounded like a demented sheep. Baaa Baaa Dook. His appearance? *POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT* Nothingy more than Noel Fielding in his Hitcher get up from The Mighty Boosh. Minus the polo mint for an eye. And too much black lipstick. Oh! And of course, not forgetting those rubbery gloves that the Penguin wore in Batman Returns to complete the look.

To be honest, The Babadook felt like it was going through the motions. Or more importantly, through the checklist. Creaky floorboard here. Closing door there. Predictable. It doesn’t help that when the creature finally makes its appearance, it disappoints on every level.

It’s always a risk. I mean, look at Signs! After all the little teasers, the shadows in the night, the fast moving shapes and then we get that dreadful CGI thing. I was more freaked out by the demented pop up characters in the Babadook book (Totally rhymed there) than the actual demon. Thanks to the brilliant stop motion animation of Michael Cusack.

A little harsh you might say. Now, there are some plaudits to be had here and it’s not all bad just a little disappointing. Writer/director Jennifer Kent actually tried to tell a story. One that deals with grief and overcoming fears. Commendable in this day of shaky handcam and found footage horror movies that are in need of some serious exorcisms from the cinema.

And more importantly with two characters that you actually cared about. On first impressions, I was afraid that Daniel Henshall would annoy the hell out of me as Robbie. His initial monster hunter spiel was a little OTT but it did make for some comical moments as an exhausted Amelia (Essie Davis) must check every cupboard and nook and cranny.

However, as his character continued acting out and we learn more about his behaviour, I applaud the young lad’s performance and by the end I was routing for him. Essie Davis (The Matrix Revolutions – I know? I’m still trying to work out who?) was fantastic and played the grief stricken mother. She works well with Henshall and they make a great and believable pairing.

The film does deal with depression and paranoia quite well. And to be honest, there was a reasonable story beneath the surface. Amelia and Prue’s (Cathy Adamek) fractious sibling relationship was interesting and made for some heated drama with Prue prying into Robbie’s wellbeing. To be honest there were parts where I thought that maybe Tim Purcell’s Babadook wasn’t needed at all.

Don’t get me wrong, the bumps in the night, the Babadook popping up in books, neighbour’s homes and televisions was eery and the strange noises did create good moments of suspense but the big pay off wasn’t worth the wait. The scuttling and the door knocking was creepy enough but you kept wanting more. Oh . . . And the finale!

I could feel the burning eyes of my fellow cinema goers as I struggled to fight back the snorting. It actually made me snort with laughter.

Without saying too much. It felt like something out of Home Alone with little ‘ol Robbie doing everything to protect his family. With his little arsenal of weaponry in tow, he fired cricket balls, set up trip wire on the stairs. Comical.

The ending wasn’t bad but it was a little flat after a frenetic and tense few minutes. In fact it was a little weird and a little predictable. It had good moments, a couple of jumpy bits and tried to be a little more than your bog standard horror but it just didn’t polish off as well as you hoped.

Certainly not the worst. In fact, the best one (So far) and it’s great to see a low budget Australian horror film prove what the big dumb commercialized American hybrids are failing to deliver. But at the same time, I am comparing it to the likes of As Above So Below, Oculus, Ouija and Annabelle, which doesn’t say a lot. And with the Pyramid approaching, I fear the wait for a decent horror film will continue.

3/5