peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2014 10 24 Birdman

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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6pm, AMC River East 21, $12.31 (= $11.00 + $1.32 in tax), three rows from the front. The projector in cinema 9 has a third of a row of busted pixels, about 20% up on the left-hand side. It was distracting during the abysmal pre-show. The short has been omnipresent for the past few months.

I've had a soft spot for Michael Keaton since the first Batmans. Perhaps I cut him slack as he had Nicholson, Basinger and Pfeifer to rub up against; he didn't have to carry the whole movie in the way Bale seems to need to. The premise is transparently in the has-been mould that I identify with Shatner, of a one-time flying man having a last-gasp go at being taken for a serious artist. For everyone there must be an opportune time to sell out, and perhaps Liam Neeson figured that better than anyone. The cinematography and editing are truly excellent, as one would expect from Emmanuel Lubezki (cf Gravity and Tree of Life), putting me in mind of Altman and Casino. Ed Norton is far superior to the grab in the trailer; I thought I was in for yet another bland tough-guy effort, but instead we get a mildly artificial self-knowing acting-like-an-actor performance which is near pitch-perfect. He observes that he's only real on the stage, fake everywhere else, and we see this reflected by one of the extra girls in the bar, eyes bugged: she looks like she makes her real life faker so the acted one becomes more real, or at least relatable. He can only say "let me tell you something" in one mode, however, which came as a bit of a clanger while he was massaging the expectations of manga-eyed emo goddess Emma Stone. Naomi Watts is solid in dead-pan mode, never funnier than in and after an on-stage scene where Norton gets randy for the first time in six months. The scene in the dressing room may even have been transgressive if we didn't know her so well. "How do you know [Ed Norton]?" she's asked, early on. "We share a vagina."

The play-in-the-movie (a take on Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love) gets the usual repetitious treatment but less tediously than in the vaudeville I saw a while back. There is also something of Season on the Line here, given the central conceit of this being one final attempt to produce art. Sticking the drums in the set evoked Jarmusch for me, but I couldn't say why. Thematically we're clearly in Ishiguro territory, particularly Never Let Me Go, with fatherhood and being a serious artist possibly beyond Keaton's ability to make good on. Zach Galifianakis leaves me cold.

I read Dana Stevens's take afterwards. It's more fun that she implies. Anthony Lane. Manohla Dargis. She's wrong, they do say Icarus. Francine Prose was late to the party.