Birdman trailer (10.17.14 release)

I’m posting a pair of trailers for the upcoming Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu film Birdman.  The first one is a teaser, and it’s brilliant and arty, but it leaves the viewer wondering what the hell is going on beyond the central conceit.  The international trailer reveals more of the plot and supporting performances, and while it might not be as succinct a nugget of brilliance, it demonstrates more of the film’s reach while continuing to promise an awful lot.

At surface level, Birdman is about a washed-up Hollywood comic book movie franchise star (not unlike Keaton post-Batman) trying to prove something to himself with a self-produced vanity Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story.  The film has been killing at festivals, partly because of the meta aspect, but also based on the strength of the performances.  It’s also uncertain from the trailers how surreal the plot is– i.e. how much of this is in Riggan Thomson’s (Keaton’s) mind and how much may not be. Keaton’s role is said to require several different sides of the actor, and that on all levels he’s pulled it off to an incredible degree.  The film is already being touted for Oscar nominations, particularly for Keaton, and it may put him back on the A-list in a big way.  It’s not so much a discovery, but a re-discovery– reminding us of the many things he can do, and do exceedingly well, and putting them all in one package at a time when we may be wondering why Keaton’s profile has receded in the last 10-20 years as much as it has.  Beyond that, the supporting performances are being talked about across the board as very strong to career bests; it’s also the first comedy director Inarritu has worked on, and the first shoot he’s described as enjoyable.  He previously directed Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, and Biutiful.  The first three are all brilliant films with strong ensembles, but also dark and bleak and often unrelentingly hard to watch.

After Babel, Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga parted ways, and as a result both of their careers stumbled.  Biutiful had a lot of potential behind its story concept and boasted a stellar central performance from Javier Bardem, but the film had a tighter, more personal focus with only one storyline that was a departure for Inarritu.  And as if it were possible, Biutiful was perhaps Inarritu’s darkest, bleakest film, while also not really delivering.  It felt as though Inarritu were using it to ask some questions as an artist, questions that he didn’t yet have an answer to, and as a result the film felt meandering and a bit lost.  It appears that with Birdman, Inarritu has answered those questions and found a confident direction forward.  To add to the immersion, Birdman is comprised of very long takes that required the actors to approach it more as a stage play, with most of the cuts hidden so that the film generally feels seamless.  It’s one of my most anticipated films of the year, and I’m equally excited to see where Inarritu goes next.

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Mid-2014 Re-Launch

It’s been two and a half years since I posted a blog, and I disappeared in mid-Top Ten list.  There were a variety of personal reasons, from the break-up of a seven-year relationship that I’d poured my heart and soul into, to the diagnosis of my sister with a terminal illness.  It all just got to be too much, and I found myself without the desire to write about movies.  In fact, for a time, I really stopped going to the movies.  Which if you know me, is saying quite a lot.  I’m the person who was called “the movie guy” by friends in high school, and ran the organization that programmed my college’s film schedule.  I don’t think I have the kind of following at the moment to warrant going into an expansive detailing of my personal problems, but a brief explanation does seem necessary for whoever might have been waiting for, or curious about, those last two write-ups in my Top Ten of 2011.

At this point, I don’t really feel like going back and writing full reviews of those last two films from 2011.  Also, the films aren’t as fresh in my mind anymore.  If there were requests, as is always the case, I’d be happy to do it.  But for now, I think the mention of the titles should suffice.  So… drum roll, please… the titles of my top two of 2011 were The Help (#2) and The Artist (#1).  The Help was pretty much everything I want from a Hollywood drama, and the kind we rarely seem to get any more.  Great writing, great performances, with an important subject matter.  It definitely saddens me that super-hero films have taken over the landscape to the point where indie movies need to have A-list names to get wide theatrical distribution, and solid, meaningful dramas are few and far between.  I was excited to see The Artist from the first time I saw a trailer, perhaps six months prior to release, when I thought I’d probably be the only one who’d enjoy it.  As a huge cinephile, I loved the way it charted a course though some of the history of film, and commented on the shift from the silent era to talkies while also telling a very specific fable-like love story of its own.  It was a perfect gem of a film, and I was really elated to see it find a larger audience and win the Academy Award.

There are certainly criticisms to be made of either film: I’ve seen some say that The Artist is overly simple and not complex enough, and I’ve also read comments about how The Help essentially whitewashed its story by the narrator, and supposed hero, being a young, white woman.  I’d argue both points.  I don’t think a film like The Artist needs to be complex; in fact, the whole point of it was to tell a very specific, simple fairy tale-like story.  In my mind, it stands next to the best of Chaplin and Keaton, while not trying to compete with the kind of physical comedy that made those films great.  As for The Help, the narrator being Emma Stone’s Skeeter Phelan simply read to me as an honest depiction of the times and a necessary convention.  Viola Davis’ Aibileen Clark and Octavia Spencer’s Minnie Jackson were not weakened for me because of Skeeter’s inclusion, and I can’t think of a way that their story would have otherwise gotten to the upper-class whites and created a similar change.  But Skeeter was never the hero of the film to me, and I don’t think there was an agenda of the film to make her into one.  She was a catalyst character.  When I think of The Help, I think of Davis and Spencer and their strength and the racist, weak-minded whites that were so slow to change and required dissenting voices from within.  If the film had simply followed the black maids and not had a Skeeter Phelan in it, it would be a much different film.  We’d see the day-to-day of the their lives, and perhaps that story would be even bleaker and more naturalistic.  But there wouldn’t be a way for those lives to change. If you wanted to see a documentary about those times, obviously any big Hollywood movie isn’t going to scratch that itch, and this movie is not that film.  Often, real change takes generations and a slow erosion of prejudices over a long period of time; and that’s not always the stuff of a two-hour Hollywood movie.  What The Help did do was give us powerful performances across the board and put it all into the public consciousness, starting a larger conversation at a time when prejudice of all kinds, including racism, is still rampant in many parts of the country and the world.  The film jettisoned working actor Viola Davis onto the much-deserved A-list and proved that Tate Taylor could handle a large cast and direct an ensemble to career-best work.

Changing the topic and looking forward, I’m planning to start writing on this site again.  I’m hoping to do at least a few entries a week, and the posts will likely also include television, books, and video games as well as films.  Right now I’m really enjoying The Leftovers and The Bridge, reading A Game of Thrones (the first book in the A Song of Fire and Ice series) and Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, and playing Far Cry 2 and the point and click adventure A New Beginning.  I’d like to do smaller reviews for something I have an opinion on, like the fact that I’m enjoying Far Cry 2 now several years after the fact even though it has improvements that could be made, and likely have been, in the sequels.  But my video game list is long, and I’m spending some time now trying to catch back up with old stuff.  I also plan on soon playing the first two Medal of Honor games that were released for the original Playstation.  And I’d like to do longer reviews for something like Halt and Catch Fire, something that I’m experiencing along with the zeitgeist, at a time when opinions about it are very fractured.

I’ve also put up a Paypal button on the sidebar to the right.  I’d love to be able to work on this site and do several entries a day, but for that to happen I’d need to be making my primary income here. I don’t expect that to happen, but if it does take off over time as I’m able to write when I can, perhaps I’ll eventually be able to increase the amount of time I spend here.  For the time being, I’m also venturing into the world of self-publishing, and that may need to receive the lion’s share of my time, at least for now, for purely financial reasons.  But I do expect to be posting here again more regularly, and I hope you’ll join the mailing list and add your voices to the comments sections.

Oh, and finally, it looks like I’ll be attending TIFF for a few days in September.  Unfortunately, I’m only going to be able to catch 2/7 of the films I really want to see, since I’ll be there during the week and I don’t have any premium tickets.  So I won’t be seeing The Drop, Manglehorn, Nightcrawler, Top Five, or While We’re Young.  And because of simultaneous showings, I also probably won’t be able to make Wild or 99 Homes.  I’m also disappointed that Birdman won’t be playing the festival.  And since I’m attending with my mother and we’re attending screenings together, the midnight showing of REC 4 is probably also out.

But I am hoping to see Foxcatcher, Whiplash, and The Imitation Game.  I may also be seeing The Equalizer and The Keeping Room, or we may opt for Red Amnesia or A Second Chance.  I’ll post a final list once I’ve made my selections in a week or two, and you can expect to see write-ups for most of those in September.

 

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