Quick Review: Birdman (dir. by Alejandro González Iñárritu)


birdman-clickTo help you understand how little I knew going into this film, there was a time where I seriously thought Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was a film adaptation of the old Hanna Barbarra cartoon character. I later found out it wasn’t (to my disappointment), but that it was a Michael Keaton movie helped to keep my interest. If Harvey Birdman is what you’re expecting, stop right there. You’re looking for the wrong film.

Here’s the short of it:

If you enjoy the Theatre, Birdman may be right up your alley. With a focus on a play, it takes the view through the nuances of getting the play into action. There are terrific, funny performances throughout (particularly from Keaton and Edward Norton) and it just flows so incredibly well. Birdman explores what it means to be into your craft (in this case, acting), the nature of what Fame actually is these days, and how much a person is willing to get/keep it. You could basically watch this back to back with Black Swan.

From a script by Iñárritu, along with 3 others, Birdman is the tale of a once famous actor dancing a fine line between total irrelevance and greatness. Hoping to reclaim that fame, he attempts to produce, direct and star in a Broadway play, but not everything is going to plan.

Forget any promos and just see it. I skipped a lot of the advertising for this and after watching the movie last night, I saw a commercial for the film that already feels like it gives too much of the film away. If you’ve followed them all, you’ve seen most of Birdman. Had I not already watched Richard Linkater’s “Boyhood”, I might consider Birdman one of the best films I’ve seen this year, especially in terms of the way it was made.

The Long Haul:

Let’s start with the Cinematography, but this will the element that stands out more than anything with this film. Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Children of Men) is at the top of his game here with the use of a seemingly single tracking shot that lasts almost the entire movie. The camera moves from scene with such fluidity that I wonder if it’s entirely CGI. Most of those shots have to be.

Remember that part in Goodfellas where the camera stayed with Karen and Henry Hill on their first date, moving with them through the back of a restaurant all the way to when they took their seats? Or more recently, True Detective’s fantastic shot of an escape/arrest that had McConaghey moving behind houses and over fences? Or the opening “unpacking” tour of the haunted house in The Conjuring? Those are tracking shots. It’s one long take from Point A to Z, instead of cuts at B, C, and so on. If anyone makes a mistake during filming, the crew has to move back to the start of the take and try again if they want the entire shot to be seamless. I have no idea how it was pulled off in Birdman, but it’s beautiful to behold. If the movie gets nothing else come Awards season, Cinematography should be theirs, right now. One could argue it moves like a found footage film sans the shakiness, but you’d have a hard time selling me on that one.

My only nitpick about Birdman, the only problem I had with it was the representation of Critics. Not that what’s said about them is entirely incorrect, but I kind of hunkered down in my seat at some of the commentary. While I wouldn’t consider myself a Critic, I do share my opinions on films. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re all out to gut the next release on Friday.

It seems almost too appropriate that Michael Keaton – once a Dark Knight himself – has this role. He’s had his ups (Batman, Beetlejuice, and my personal favorite, Johnny Dangerously), his downs (That horrid Robocop remake, blech) and his in-betweens with Need for Speed earlier this year. He carries the character with a depth that rivals Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in The Master. It’s strange, but it works.

At one time, Riggin Thompson (Keaton) was famous in Hollywood as the superhero Birdman, but after passing on a second sequel (much like Keaton leaving Batman behind and passing the baton to Kilmer and Schumacher), he hasn’t found much fame since then. The story starts with Riggin hoping to reclaim his former glories with a revival of “The Things We Talk About When We Talk About Love” on Broadway. When one of his theatre cast members are injured on set, they recruit a popular actor (played with a slightly over the top Edward Norton) that may prove too much to handle. Add to this Riggin’s shaky relationship with his daughter Sam (Emma Stone), an off again / on again love interest (Oblivion’s Andrea Riseborough) a lawyer trying to keep him afloat (Zack Galifinakis), and a voice in his head reminding him of the problems he faces…well, he’s just a mess. Then again, everyone here is a mess in their own way and maybe because of it, they all kind this good sense of chemistry.

The film is backed by a percussion score from Antonio Sanchez, which doesn’t get in the way at all. I’m not sure I’d call it a soundtrack, though. The music sounds great outside of the scope of the film, but you probably won’t recall the music afterward in the way you would for a soundtrack with a full on orchestra.

Birdman is the first film I’ve watched by Alejandro González Iñárritu. I remember that he was nominated for an Oscar with either Babel or 21 Grams. I feel like I’ve missed out on something grand because Birdman is good. Not that “good” you say when when someone puts a broken bone back into place (“Yeah, I’m good.”, he cried), but that “good” that comes from your first taste of creamy Tiramisu. (“Omigod, that is goood!”, he purred). It’s definitely one I can consider catching one more time before it ends it’s run in the cinema.

 

Song of the Day: Stars from Les Miserables (Alain Boubil & Claude-Michel Schönberg)


Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of the stage musical Les Misérables is now out in the theaters and people seem to really be enjoying the production. Even site co-founder Lisa Marie wrote a review of the film which she really enjoyed despite it’s flaws. Even those who love the film version will have to admit that some of the actors cast in the film were not up to the task vocally once it was time for them to sing their signature songs. One such person who seem to have gotten the brunt of this would be Russell Crowe in the role of Inspector Javert. To say his rendition of Javert’s first major song as being somewhat lacking would be an understatement. This is why I chose what I think is the best rendition of the song “Stars” as the latest Song of the Day.

This version was from the Original Broadway Cast production and had singer and actor Terrence Mann in the role of the dogged and zealous inspector. This was the very first version I ever heard and was fortunate enough to see live and continues to be my favorite version. Mann’s baritone voice is not so deep and overwhelming that we lose much of the emotions in the song as they’re sung. There’s still a strong sense of duty and zealous tone in Mann’s voice but also a hint of the character’s religious conviction by way of awe for having been given the opportunity to chase down one who has sinned.

While some prefer Phillip Quast from the London production of the musical I will always believe that Mann’s version of “Stars” is the best version out there.

 

Stars

There, out in the darkness
A fugitive running
Fallen from Grace
Fallen from grace
God be my witness
I never shall yield
Till we come face to face
Till we come face to face

He knows his way in the dark
But mine is the way of the Lord
And those who follow the path of the righteous
Shall have their reward
And if they fall
As Lucifer fell
The flame
The sword!

Stars
In your multitudes
Scarce to be counted
Filling the darkness
With order and light
You are the sentinels
Silent and sure
Keeping watch in the night
Keeping watch in the night

You know your place in the sky
You hold your course and your aim
And each in your season
Returns and returns
And is always the same
And if you fall as Lucifer fell
You fall in vain!

And so it must be
And so it is written
On the doorway to paradise
That those who falter and those who fall
Must pay the price!

Lord let me find him
That I may see him
Safe behind bars
I will never rest
Till then, this I swear
This I swear by the stars!

Song of the Day: One Day More (by Claude-Michel Schönberg & Alain Boublil)


This coming December 2012 will see another stage musical make it onto the big screen. It was in 2004 that Joel Schumacher first brought The Phantom of the Opera to the big-screen as a musical. For 2012, it will be Academy Award-winner Tom Hooper who will be bringing the musical Les Misérables to the big-screen with a star-studded cast that includes Hugh Jackman in the role of Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as his arch-nemesis Inspector Javert. It’s also from this musical that I chose the latest “Song of the Day” with the ensemble piece that ends Act 1: “One Day More”.

It was Les Misérables the musical that first introduced me to the world of musicals. Prior to having seen the touring production which stopped over in San Francisco during the late 80’s and early 90’s I always thought of musicals as just not my thing even though I never truly witnessed one. All that changed when I saw Les Misérables and I have been hooked since.

One of my favorite songs from the musical was the ensemble piece that ends Act 1 and brings together all the players introduced in the first act. It wasn’t just the whole cast singing but how they sang as each character were given voice and as the song reaches an epic crescendo to curtains closing everyone joins in a rousing chorus with overlapping lyrics from different main players that at first sounded confusing to follow, but was still understandable.

Most musical nowadays rarely go for such grand closing before intermissions. Listening to “One Day More” shows me that its a lost art but when done well it comes off as amazing.

One Day More

VALJEAN
One day more!
Another day, another destiny.
This never-ending road to Calvary;
These men who seem to know my crime
Will surely come a second time.
One day more!

MARIUS
I did not live until today.
How can I live when we are parted?

VALJEAN
One day more.

MARIUS & COSETTE
Tomorrow you’ll be worlds away
And yet with you, my world has started!

EPONINE
One more day all on my own.

MARIUS & COSETTE
Will we ever meet again?

EPONINE
One more day with him not caring.

MARIUS & COSETTE
I was born to be with you.

EPONINE
What a life I might have known.

MARIUS & COSETTE
And I swear I will be true!

EPONINE
But he never saw me there!

ENJOLRAS
One more day before the storm!

MARIUS
Do I follow where she goes?

ENJOLRAS
At the barricades of freedom.

MARIUS
Shall I join my brothers there?

ENJOLRAS
When our ranks begin to form

MARIUS
Do I stay; and do I dare?

ENJOLRAS
Will you take your place with me?

ALL
The time is now, the day is here!

VALJEAN
One day more!

JAVERT
One more day to revolution,
We will nip it in the bud!
We’ll be ready for these schoolboys
They will wet themselves with blood!

VALJEAN
One day more!

M. & MME. THENARDIER
Watch ’em run amuck,
Catch ’em as they fall,
Never know your luck
When there’s a free for all,
Here a little `dip’
There a little `touch’
Most of them are goners
So they won’t miss much!

Students (2 Groups)
1: One day to a new beginning

2: Raise the flag of freedom high!

1: Every man will be a king

2: Every man will be a king

1: There’s a new world for the winning

2: There’s a new world to be won

ALL
Do you hear the people sing?

MARIUS
My place is here, I fight with you!

VALJEAN
One day more!

MARIUS & COSETTE
I did not live until today.

EPONINE
One more day all on my own!

MARIUS & COSETTE
How can I live when we are parted?

JAVERT(overlapping)
I will join these people’s heros
I will follow where they go
I will learn their little Secrets,
I will know the things they know.

VALJEAN
One day more!

MARIUS & COSETTE
Tomorrow you’ll be worlds away

EPONINE
What a life I might have known!

MARIUS & COSETTE
And yet with you my world has started

JAVERT (overlapping)
One more day to revolution
We will nip it in the bud
We’ll be ready for these

Schoolboys

THENARDIERS (overlapping)
Watch ’em run amok
Catch ’em as they fall
Never know your luck
When there’s a free-for-all!

VALJEAN
Tomorrow we’ll be far away,
Tomorrow is the judgement day

ALL
Tomorrow we’ll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store!
One more dawn
One more day
One day more!