Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Finally some more objective voices are poking through on the extremely overrated Birdman. Great review and I
agree.

Cinematic

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Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu must think he’s the Howard Beale of cinema, shouting out the fallacy of Hollywood today. His previous films like Babel and 21 Grams were loudmouthed and shallow pictures over-swept with critical praise about how modern they were, addressing issues of the contemporary world. But much like Paul Haggis, Iñárritu possesses little understanding of reality outside his constraints and can’t help but shout out messages to his audience at the top of his lungs.

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Oscar Reactions

“Cinema is far too rich and capable a medium to be merely left to the storytellers.”
―Peter Greenaway

So the Oscars came and went last night and for the most part I was really bummed out.  I did horribly on my picks so hopefully none of you went off my ballot…(I think I got 9 right). I know it is the Oscars and they usually screw it up.  It is just a stupid awards show but at the same time it feels good as a film lover when films you love get recognized.

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There were some highs of the extremely long telecast (honestly next time make it an hour and get this done more quickly!).

1. Lady Gaga singing Sound of Music and Julie Andrews coming in was the highlight of the night.  I didn’t realize it was the 50th anniversary of Sound and have now ordered the 50th anniversary bluray which comes out next month.  Sound of Music is my favorite musical and I was shocked to hear Gaga have such classical pipes.  Who knew?

2. All the musical numbers were ok and at least brought some energy to the show.  I particularly liked Everything is Awesome from Lego!

3. John Legend and Common were very good singing Glory from Selma but I thought it was strange they used their real names for the award.  They don’t do that for the Grammy’s or any other award or any other part of their music? Kind of odd.

4. I was happy with all the acting winners even though I haven’t seen Still Alice (I can only handle so many depressing movies at once guys!).  They all are deserving winners.  I was especially happy for Patricia Arquette as she will go down as my favorite Mother in the movies ever.

gal_oscar_winners-620x4145. I was also happy to see Grand Budapest Hotel win so much but it should have won best original screenplay.  Birdman’s script was nothing special.  I also didn’t think Imitation Game was the best adapted screenplay of the year but the winners speech was great. I think Wes Anderson deserved it for GBH’s script.

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6. We all knew Kaguya and Song of the Sea weren’t going to win and if Lego wasn’t going to be included than I am thrilled Big Hero 6 won.  I like How to Train Your Dragon 2.  I gave it an A. However, I think out of the 3 mainstream Big Hero 6 had more heart. I connected more with it emotionally and it is more creative with its cityscape and characters.  The fact is I’ve seen movies that look and feel like Dragon and Boxtrolls.  They are both great but I’m super happy Big Hero 6 won.

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Lows- oh boy there were a lot.

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1. Neal Patrick Harris can be so great.  I’m a huge fan of him on How I Met Your Mother and he’s great hosting the Tony Awards. But I think he may have gotten the HIMYM finale writers to write the jokes for the Oscars because they all fell just as flat.  Not one joke worked. In fact, most were really awkward like when he bothered seat fillers or appeared on stage in his underwear. Also the belabored unfunny bit with the predictions box was terrible.

Here’s what you do Oscars- have a 1 hour show where you give the awards for acting, best picture, animation, music, costumes, effects and screenplay.  Have a couple montages a combined number that showcases every song and your done. 3 and 1/2 hours was brutal.

sq_birdman2.  I sincerely don’t understand the Birdman love.  It is a well made movie and Keaton is good but for it to win director, script and picture is baffling to me.  I don’t get how nobody else seems to see how misogynistic and predictable it is?  Characters like the critic are so poorly written and completely unbelievable.  Honestly out of the 8 nominees it would have been my 7 out of 8.  People said Boyhood was overrated but I think Birdman is very overrated.

I guess it makes sense for Hollywood to love a movie about how hard it is to be in Hollywood, how tortured and difficult it is to be a star but why the rest of American moviegoers championed it is a mystery to me…Boo!

Caesar (played in a performance-capture suit by Andy Serkis) is the leader of the ape nation in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”  Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes got the shut out last night which was easy to do because it was only nominated once for visual effects.  I loved Interstellar.  It’s one of the best sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen.  But come on, as great as Interstellar looked we’ve seen visuals like that before.  Just last year we had even better space visuals in Gravity.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes created whole characters that were not there and made them come alive.  They were flawless visual effects. Andy Serkis should have been nominated and I thought Gary Oldman was terrific in that movie (I will never forget the scene where he finally loads the battery in the ipad and can see photos of his dead family. So powerful).  Sigh…

4. Citzenfour wins- It disgusts me anyone would award a film even mildly praising Edward Snowden (and then she did in her speech too).  He has hurt our national security and put people’s lives at risk. America is a weaker less secure place because he thinks he knows what is best and he twists his recklessness and ego into supposed honesty.

I rarely agree with President Obama but even he said about Snowden:

“If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy.”

Boyhood-poster-quad4. The Boyhood snubs really bummed me out.  And it’s not just because it took 12 years to make.  It is a movie about LIFE and all the small things that make up a person.  It’s about the journey of adolescence and how you  become who you are.  I honestly think we will look back and wonder what the heck were they thinking?  Kind of like when Saving Private Ryan lost or the way we see American Beauty as a bunch of pretentious nonsense now.  I think Birdman will not hold up like Boyhood will.

I can see film students for years studying Boyhood and the small moments of authentic conversation.  Scenes like when Mason is in the photography lab with his teacher.  That is so authentic to life. I think if we all could be a fly on the wall we would realize how many small voices are championing us along the way. Again I quote…

“Cinema is far too rich and capable a medium to be merely left to the storytellers.”
―Peter Greenaway

It makes me sad so many people missed what was special about Boyhood.  Why does every movie have to be the same? Not every book tells a story.  Some are random, some teach us, others are poetry and others are art. I think movies should be granted the same license to take on differing forms and purposes.

People look at every movie as having to entertain you when it doesn’t need too.  People make the same criticism of Fantasia.  That it is boring and has no story.  Ridiculous.  Fantasia is trying to inspire you with art and music.  It’s not trying to tell you a story but give you something beautiful to contemplate. Boyhood is trying to get you to think about your life and that has value.

I just think people need to go into different movies with different glasses.  I don’t watch Schindler’s List and Star Wars with the same mindset, looking for the same things.  I don’t watch Tree of Life and Monty Python with the same perspective.

If you only like movies for entertainment sake than you miss out on so much.  It makes me sad.

I found myself thinking yesterday of the amazing documentary Hoop Dreams.  This follows 2 inner city boys for 5 years as they dream of basketball stardom.  It is a movie about LIFE and how our dreams can both haunt and inspire us.  Movies like Hoop Dreams and Boyhood have high value but they require some effort on our part.

Most of the sublime movie going experiences of my life require effort.  Last night the academy had a chance to recognize a film that took on life but required some effort on the part of the moviegoer and went instead for the story of how hard it is to be a star…It makes no sense to me.

I guess it’s appropriate because in 1994 Hoop Dreams wasn’t even nominated for Best Documentary.  It’s so silly.

I think Roger Ebert’s thoughts on Hoop Dreams apply to Boyhood:

“A film like “Hoop Dreams” is what the movies are for. It takes us, shakes us, and make us think in new ways about the world around us. It gives us the impression of having touched life itself…

Many filmgoers are reluctant to see documentaries, for reasons I’ve never understood; the good ones are frequently more absorbing and entertaining than fiction. “Hoop Dreams,” however, is not only a documentary. It is also poetry and prose, muckraking and expose, journalism and polemic. It is one of the great moviegoing experiences of my lifetime

I’d say the same thing about Boyhood and just like Hoop Dreams holds up 31 years later because it is about life and human experience so will Boyhood because even if the trappings change, growing up is never really that different.

I wish I could talk to Richard Linklater and tell him how much his movies have ment to me. If you are out there Richard thank you!  My life is better from watching your movies. How many people can say that about watching Birdman?…

I guess at the very least the Oscars got me to see a lot of movies I probably would not have otherwise seen, so there’s that. Thanks for the great year of films 2014 (Btw I am going to post an updated best and worst list now that I have seen more of the 2014 movies) .

What did you guys think of the Oscars?

Imitation Game: A Review

imitation game7As I said in my American Sniper review I saw it and Imitation Game on the same day and they are more similar than you might at first think.  They are both about unusual men who saved lives in time of war.

The Imitation Game is about the mathematician Alan Turing who invented an early computer that helped the British to solve the enigma coding machine the Germans used.

At the end of the movie they say Christopher (Turing’s machine) saved 14 million lives and helped end the war 2 years sooner.  That is pretty amazing especially for someone I’ve never heard of before this year.

THE IMITATION GAMEThe reason why we haven’t heard of Alan Turing is his untimely death in 1954 and the fact the entire code breaking enterprise was kept secret for 50 years.

In a lot of ways The Imitation Game is a lot like The Theory of Everything.  Both about geniuses who aren’t appreciated at first but end up making great contributions.  Both have personal struggles that make it even harder for them to be accepted- Stephen Hawking his disability and Alan Turing being gay at a time where it was illegal to do so.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing with Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke in The Imitation Game.Both are good movies but I would say The Imitation Game is better although it falls into some of the same standard biopic formulas we’ve seen before.

Of the 4 biopics nominated for best picture I’d rate them- Selma, American Sniper, Imitation Game and Theory of Everything. And they are all good movies just Game and Everything are a little predictable and formulaic.

Benedict Cumberbatch is very good as Alan Turing and I thought Keira Knightley was pretty good as his fiance and friend.  The rest of the cast is good with the exception of Charles Dance playing the obligatory stick in the mud boss who doesn’t recognize genius we’ve seen in a million other movies. I could have also done without the cop interviewing Turing narration throughout that felt extremely phony. I don’t think anyone had to tell a gay man in 40’s England to keep quiet about their homosexuality. This is a genius we are talking about.

imitation game4Matthew Goode and Allen Leach (from Downton Abbey) take small parts as members of the code breakers and all the sets and costuming is very well done. Alexandre Desplat’s music is also very moving and not over the top like so many biopics.

imitation game10The movie ends on a very sad note that is necessary as it is the real events but I couldn’t help but wish the movie had been a little less formulaic to help absorb that sadness- it kind of came out of left field.  But it was tragic for sure.

Cumberbatch is great as Turing.  He is basically playing the same role as he is in Sherlock so if you like him there you will like him here. He is vulnerable and awkward yet still likable in a way few actors could pull off.  The parts with the codebreaking were new and I learned something.  And like I said the rest of the performances are great.  Overall a very entertaining enlightening film.

It is also nice that it tells the story of a gay man without an agenda or vulgarity being shoved at the screen.  It’s just his story.  I love that and think it is perhaps more impactful than some films that are more blatant and heavy-handed in their messaging.  I certainly was moved by it.

As far as content it is pretty clean.  There is a little bit of PG-13 level profanity and one sexually explicit joke I’m surprised they could slip by with but other than that a film appropriate for middle school and up and a worthwhile message and story to learn about.

Overall Grade- B+, Content Grade- A

American Sniper Review

american sniperSo I just saw American Sniper and Imitation Game so will post both reviews in the next little bit.  It was quite the downer of a double header I must admit but they actually have more in common than you might think.  Both movies are about men in times of war who’s unusual excellence saved soldiers lives.

american sniper2American Sniper is the story of Chris Kyle played by Bradley Cooper, the greatest sniper in Navy Seals history who was referred to as ‘The Legend’ by other seals.  There is lots of controversy over the wars overseas,  Chris Kyle, his book, and some of his statements.  I’m really not going to get into all of that.  I am just judging the movie. It is God’s place to judge Chris Kyle and any others who had the guts to do something I could never do for a cause they believed in.

To those that feel American Sniper is a propaganda piece for a war that is a mistake,  I would make this counter argument. Imagine if you had a movie about a German WWII soldier.  The soldier may do great and admirable things for what most believe is a wrong cause but that doesn’t make the actions themselves and the way HE see’s them any different than any other soldier.  Chris Kyle is a man who did what he was told to do and saved many of his Navy Seal brethren lives and far be it for me or anybody else to put the condemnation of a cause on the shoulders of one man.

APphoto_Film Review American SniperI happen to believe there was value in the cause and what we did over there but that is a conversation for another day on another blog.  American Sniper does not really turn Chris Kyle into a hero.  It is clear he is very uncomfortable with such recognition.  He is a man who did his job and that job was saving Navy Seals and Marines.

The movie is brutal. It’s a tough sit through, and I had many a moment where I had to look away or close my eyes because it was too intense.  That’s not a mark against it.  War and its horrors are the one type of violence that I think is important and worth seeing.  Director Clint Eastwood does a great job helping you feel like you are there with Chris Kyle and the other soldiers in Chris’ four tours of duty. For a man famous for being a sniper you feel on the ground with the troops a lot.

mufastaAl-qaeda has their own sniper called Mustafa which kind of puts both sides on equal playing field (if you can call it that) in the  movie.  It is clear the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq is one of individual houses and skirmishes with neighborhoods.  Not the  rows of cavalry or the mass of soldiers we see in other war movies.  It makes sense why a sniper would be needed because it’s such an individual version of warfare.

The only other movie I can think of which has shown this type of conflict was the Hurt Locker and I personally think American Sniper is much better.  I certainly felt way more invested in Chris Kyle’s story than anyone in that movie.

american sniper7I thought that Clint Eastwood does a good job keeping a narrative throughout each tour and Chris’ time at home.  At each intense period of fighting there will be a call to his wife played by Sienna Miller, thus bringing the family into the action and then at home he will have flashbacks bringing the action to the home.  I thought it was interesting how both times seemed equally intense but in different ways. In war Chris seemed to wish he could save more men and at home Chris wished he could save more men.

Like I said it is a brutal movie.  It is graphic, violent and disturbing but it is war people.  I would have been more bothered if it wasn’t all of those things.  Again it felt like you were there with Chris on the ground and Clint Eastwood does a great job of building a comradery with Chris and his men quickly so that way when things happen you as a viewer feel the loss or fear along with Chris.  It’s pretty remarkable the way he does that sometimes in just one conversation or smile you feel bonded to a soldier.

The movie doesn’t really make Chris Kyle into a hero.  If it was a Stephen Spielberg movie there would have been soaring music and dramatic speeches.  There isn’t any of that.  Just a man who did what he had to do in his worldview.

american sniper6The language is very bad but what you might expect out of a bunch of soldiers risking their life everyday.  American Sniper is the kind of movie I won’t ever want to watch again but I am very glad I saw once.  I feel I got a tiny bit of insight into what our brave men and women do over there.  I know it is still a movie but it’s at least more insight than I had this morning before seeing it.

The ending when you’ve just seen Chris Kyle growing and changing is devastating.  It just doesn’t seem right with all he went through for it to have come to that.

american sniper9Again it is not our place to judge a man like Chris Kyle.  He did what he had to do and he saved many lives.  That is the story of American Sniper and it tells that story well.  The rest of Chris Kyle or the value of the war itself is for another movie, another discussion.  I was very moved by American Sniper and I’m glad I saw it.  It’s brutal but I’m glad I saw it.

Bradley Cooper is terrific as Kyle.  He’s proud, stoic, vulnerable.

Overall Grade- A  Content Grade- F  (although I don’t think it is Adults only.  It’s war! Teens should be able to appreciate that).

Birdman: A Review

sq_birdmanRecently I had the chance to watch the Oscar nominated film Birdman: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance and I’m afraid, like with Gone Girl ,my opinion is not as positive as the public at large….It has many strengths but some problems I have a hard time ignoring.

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Let’s start with the positives. Birdman is about a man named Riggan Thomson played my Michael Keaton who used to be a superhero action star for a franchise called ‘Birdman’.  Evidently at one point he could have done Birdman 3 but stepped away from the franchise out of artistic integrity and his career never recovered.  Now years later he is trying to make a comeback in a broadway play based on a Raymond Carver short story.

Edward Norton also stars as a young, high strung method actor who thinks he’s better than Riggan and condescends to be in the show because of his friendship with a first time actress Lesley played by Naomi Watts.  Emma Stone plays Riggan’s daughter who is recently out of rehab, Andrea Risenborough is his girlfriend and Zach Galifianakis is his lawyer and best friend.

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Birdman has very good performances especially from Keaton.  He is great, vulnerable, believable, authentic and tragic.  The whole rest of the cast is great and nuanced in their roles (although actors playing actors may not be that much of a stretch…).

Birdman’s cinematography is also a huge accomplishment.  It is edited to look like the whole film is done in one take so there are very few cuts from one person shot, to 2 person shot like in a normal movie.  The camera just moves fluidly from a scene to another scene as if someone was walking from one area of the hallway to another hearing different gossip along the way.

Here’s my issue with the film.  It really bothered me the way women are treated.  Now before you roll your eyes at another feminist movie review hear me out.  I don’t care if a movie has weak, shallow women.  That’s fine and certainly the strong empowered woman can be equally clichéd.  However, I do have a problem when every female in a picture is weak, shallow, mean, petty and shrill.

Let’s go over quickly the women we get in Birdman.

birdman andrea1. Andrea Risenborough as Riggan’s girlfriend Laura who pretends to be pregnant in order to manipulate him into committing to their relationship.  She is shrill and judgmental and a real jerk

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2. Next we get Lesley played by Naomi Watts who has always dreamed of being on Broadway.  The movie seems to judge her for this dream as if Riggan’s is the realist and Lesley is the naive simpleton.  We see so little of her acting that it is hard to say one way or another.  What really upset me is in an early scene Edward Norton tries to force himself on Lesley in an attempted rape on stage so that he can be “in the moment” and then the movie forgets about this far too quickly.  It was extremely distasteful.  I’m not saying the movie endorses Norton’s choice but it doesn’t take it seriously enough.

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3.  There is a lesbian kiss between Lesley and Laura which I felt was only there to titillate men not for any plot device or importance.  To be clear I am not offended by the kiss but haven’t we moved on from when gay/lesbian kisses and relationships were included to sensationalize or for comic relief? Apparently not.  There is no relationship between them and it means nothing.  I saw no reason to include it and it was never discussed again.

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4.  Emma Stone playing Sam, Riggan’s daughter, is probably the best female character in the movie but she is still very judgmental and preachy to her father.   Can’t she see that he is trying to do something important and good?  You would think she would appreciate that but instead she lectures him about how he is worthless and nobody cares.

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5.  Amy Ryan has a few scenes with Riggans as his ex-wife who hates Riggan but is still attracted to him.  She’s very shrill with a couple softer moments. (not in the movie much).

birdman theater critic5. The worst of it all is a woman named Tabitha Dickinson who is a famous theater critic from the New York Times.  She knows she can make or break a Broadway show by her review and she tells Riggan she is going to destroy him and his play before even seeing it.  She feels this way because she resents celebrities infringing on the Broadway scene.  This was outrageous.  Maybe I’m naive but I don’t think there is a critic worth their ticket stub who would decide on a review before seeing the play.  And if they did they certainly wouldn’t admit it to the show creator and star.  That sounds like a good way to lose your job. There is a little redemption for her character but still she was unbelievable from the start.  And why did she have to be a woman?  Couldn’t the movie have made one judgmental jerk a man?

Again, it’s just another example of the shrill, judgmental, mean-spirited women the movie seems to think are the rule.

The men on the other hand are more positively portrayed.  Zach Galifianakis is the good friend who still believes in Riggans despite all the junk he does.  Edward Norton is a pig but has softer moments with Emma Stone.  Riggans is a sympathetic character surrounded by all these maniacs.  He is depressed and mentally ill, hallucinating and running around in his underwear in Times Square but is still likable.

I don’t know.  I just couldn’t get passed these depictions of women throughout the film- especially Lesley’s near rape and Tabitha’s condescending review threats.  It made the movie  unpleasant and frustrating.

It also has lots of profanity, some nudity, and mature content.  Adults only.  It took me two go-arounds to watch the whole thing because I wasn’t invested in it.

I know many love it and it may win Best Picture (a travesty if it does IMO) but I didn’t care for it.  Sorry!

Overall Grade- C- (only because of the strong performances and cinematography). Content Grade- F