BIRDMAN OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE (2013)

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Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson a former cinema super-hero who is directing, producing and acting in an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story: ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ that is in preview on Broadway.

Here we have an important subject, how the ego manipulates and confuses the individual to create a reality for the character that is both confronting and confounding. The mind is an incredibly complex machine that many psychotherapists and psychologists have been trying to decipher for years and this film allows an insight into the thoughts of an individual whose experience has brought him to this place we see him in.

The journey we see Riggan go on is one of self-discovery albeit in a confused maze of ego and personal desires.

Alejandro González Iñárritu potentially makes his masterpiece here with his fifth feature film. A director of incredible gifts, he makes this film intimate yet sprawling, no mean feat. He just won a couple of awards at the Golden Globes, which may be a premonition of the Oscars results. All awards heading its way are well deserved.

The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is exquisite, weaving in and out of the theatre both on and backstage, the camera playing the role of the observer but not being afraid to get up close and personal. The long shots are a joy to watch and it’s fun to spot the cuts.

The all star, all talented cast have a ball with the fantastic material and each comes through with shining colours. Keaton is superlative in this role and will firmly cement him back on the upper tier as far as film roles go. He delivers a performance of such rawness and depth, the studios will be forced to remember what an incredible talent he is and scripts will come flying in, especially after his Golden Globe win for best actor.

Zach Galifianakis tones down the usual crazy to create the role of Jake, Riggan’s attorney/manager and is a joy to watch. British actor, Andrea Riseborough smoulders on the screen as Riggan’s co-star/lover. Naomi Watts plays the part of Lesley, an actress who is getting her big break on Broadway. She is an actress with skill but for some unfathomable reason doesn’t quite gel with me. The irrepressible Emma Stone is brilliant playing Riggan’s daughter, an ex junkie who just wants her father’s love. Edward Norton is a delight as Michael Shinner, a renowned theatre actor who can only be truly truthful on stage, brought in to replace an actor at the last minute and challenges and tests Riggan, which ultimately leads to a redemption of sorts for our protagonist.

The most interesting part is the unraveling of the Riggan and his interaction with people in his world. We get to hear his inner voice, which is that of Birdman, the character who shares not too dissimilar vocal tones to Batman.

This is a story of a man who once had incredible commercial success but wishes to gain critical acclaim in his later years, a washed up Hollywood star and although Keaton is by no means washed up, it has been a while since he has been at this level of success. There will be awards. Obviously, his playing of Batman in Tim Burton’s efforts adds to the proceedings and his casting is genius.

The film is transcendent, allowing the viewers into the psyche of a man who was once hugely successful and is chasing the high of being on top, trying to recreate that energy on your own terms doesn’t always work out especially in the world of showbiz. Well, rarely the way you want it to.

Antonio Sanchez deserves an award or seven for his amazing use of the jazz drums on the soundtrack that really allows you inside the chaotic head of this complicated character and is totally inspired, unlike any soundtrack of late.

The incredibly talented, Iñárritu makes his most accessible film to date, whilst not being a film the Transformers posse would normally go to see, the award buzz that surrounds it means that the multiplex crowd will take a chance and have a punt.

Go see it. You won’t be disappointed.

4/5

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COHERENCE (2013)

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A comet passes overhead whilst a group of friends have a dinner party and strange events ensue.

I knew NOTHING with a capital ‘NOTHING’ about this film. A friend recommended it to me and it’s always exciting when I come across a film I haven’t heard. It’s like a wrapped present that you have no clue as to what it contains. This enhanced the experience for me. The story literally unfolding itself as it plays out. The premise is so huge that it would be a crime for me to repeat it here. Far better for you to go through it yourselves.

I shall give you the option of pausing this email until you have seen the film in order for you to have a similar experience to me, but if you don’t have the patience or the inclination to wait, read on.

It reminded me of a cross between Another Earth and Cube, low budget, high ambitions. I have yet to see Primer but have a feeling that these films share the same DNA. There was a touch of the Dogme 95’s in its low budget sensibilities. The seeming use of natural light and improvised dialogue adds a realism and intimacy to the proceedings. There is also an element of Festen here with the revealing of various past events that have big consequences for the characters involved.

Shot over five nights utilizing a bare bones crew this film achieves what most sci-fi films dream about. The chance to tell a tale that will puzzle and delight viewers taking them down alleys and paths that surprise and entertain. No big special effects here, purely big ideas, well realized. The actors were given notes each day that the others didn’t know about ensuring immediate and real reactions. Each actor didn’t really know each other before filming and managed to create three dimensional characters that felt real. The relationships between the characters are complicated, full of secrets and rife with a history.

Emily Baldoni plays Em, a beautiful ballet dancer with her own insecurities and questions. Maury Sterling is Kevin, Em’s boyfriend who wants to take the relationship to the next level. Nicholas Brendon (Buffy) plays Mike, one of the hosts and gets a peachy role exploring a character that is filled with his own personal demons. Lorene Scafaria is Lee, Mike’s partner. Hugo Armstrong is Hugh and Alex Manugian is Amir who get their own little story. Elizabeth Gracen is Beth and Lauren Maher is Laurie who both have secrets that will no doubt out. All the actors here show commitment and, for the most part give truthful non-showy performances.

The acting is improvised for the most part and works most of the time, each actor playing their position in the team and veering away from “look at me” student film type acting.

James Ward Byrkit makes his feature film debut directing and writing the screenplay and manages to create a brilliant, mind-bending science fiction film that asks big questions about quantum physics and alternate realities. He is a director to look out for. I wonder if he will be a director for hire or become a really interesting auteur. I hope it’s the latter.

This is one of those little gems that you’ll only hear about via a friend. I am that friend.

For a slice of Twilight Zone filmed in a Dogme style you could do yourself a favour and look it up.

BUY THE FILM ON DVD HERE

DOWNLOAD THE FILM ON iTUNES HERE

4/5