Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)


Mike Shiner: Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.

Now imagine this: one film, one continuous take. Can it be done? Will it work/ Does it work? And if you can do it, can you follow it? Where does it lead you?

I read on some online trivial that director Mike Nichols when he was approached by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñaritu days before he would begin shooting this film, Nichols  cautioned and dvised that this would might very well possibly be a failure of a film. And yet, here we are, the award season of 2015 is upon us and 'Birdman' is soaring on the award boards. And not just cause of it's brilliant directiorial techniques, which are unfathomably and without a doubt skillful and masterful, but also because of the ingeniousness of what constitues 'Birdman'. 

The story in lamest terms follows a washed up actor, who once played an iconic superhero, who battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of a Broadway play. 

The film starts off with the character or Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) as the washed up actor, who makes one final attempt to regain stardom and tries to reinvent himself as a director by staging a new adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story called "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love". The events leading up to the Saturday night premiere prove to be one disaster after another as the original lead actor is injured while on set and Riggan scrambles to find a replacement, but the replacement proves to be exactly who he needs - a method actor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), who takes the job way too seriously. 

The plot thickens as Riggan is having a hard time juggling between the set, his replacement actor, his equally washed up daughter, and a host of other disasters that prevent a proper staging of the play. Meanwhile, a New York Times critic who Riggan has to woo threatens to shut down production of the play before it even starts with a scathing review of the opening night performance. Does Riggan have a hit on his hands or will he even make it past opening night?

What makes this film stand out is this: hard-core neurotic performances, a pink-point and all hands-on-deck direction that never lets you gasp for breath and a killer scenario that will not only have wider audiences's brains' hammered by the ludicrousness of human vanity, but also make every artist out there reel with identity crisis as they will see a clear depiction of themselves on screen. This is not just a film; this is a canvas of absurdism, and to say I but approve would be an understatement.

But let's speak about the actors first: Michael Keaton, who so brilliantly fits the role of Riggan Thomas, as he also in real life seems to have had a tough career after his 'Batman' days, not only single-handedly spreads sarcasm and terror through his performance but also demands you look him in the eyes and recognize pieces of your own vanity and soul through him. He is Birdman, he is driven by chaos and soul and passion and madness and genius. And he will astound you down to your every meaningless bone for not trusting his gut from the beginning. I honestly had no idea what Keaton was capable of as an actor up until this very fine moment. And oh boy, am I glad Iñaritu chose him. He saw the light of Birdman in Keaton and he made it shine as bright and as loud as he could. 

Coming to close this excellent endeavour come the unique talents of a Mr. Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. Norton, who's also known in real-life for his method acting techniques when preparing for a role, offers a sinister and yet brilliant portrayal as Keaton's nemesis. He is there to demand attention, to become the actor you love to hate or hate to love (depends on your vantage point) and he makes sure he delivers a gripping performance through his egotistical and mutli-faceted character. Just the likes of Watts as well, she is as always grounded in being the washed-up actress herself, that is anything but in real life, that has you squirming for her lack of confidence in her abilities and low self esteem of how far she will stoop to make her childhood dreams come true. 

The cast is completed finely by the once too often jokesters of actors Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis, who not only both of them prove that, man, they're capable of leaving you gasping with their foul mouths and their neurotic train of thought. Stone portray's Keaton's daughter, who's life is spiralling out of control going from one rehab centre to the other, whilst Galifianakis, is portraying Keaton's manager - and we all know that fury and angst along with a variety of foul language is a few of the traits of any well driven manager in the industry. It is rather a wonderful surprise to see fine comedic actors mish-mash their stereotypical acting skills with a dosage of sureal seriousness on screen, and Iñaritu let's them have it all the way. 

What a brilliance. Unlike all your straight up narratives linear plot lines that are in the Oscar race this year, this film does not flinch an inch when it tries to give you it's story as a one continuous take. The pacing and rhythym within allows the viewer to follow the actor of each scene with ease, due to a carefully choreographed staging - almost stage like - a precise technique of the use of cinematography and editing, making sure that any cutaways are not distractive enough from following the plot as it goes - and a pshychological emptahy to the charachers' inner journey. Do you follow?

Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Children of Men, Sleepy Hollow) carefully maintains an equal pacing of his camera's movements, following each central actor and acting according to their executed emotional state. The camera is a mirror for Lubezki that depicts the gloriousness of the inner self; the ego of the project itself. Clever enough also of Iñaritu to let his scenes breath with sky pans and various fades into time changing zones that guide you through a few days of how the scenario unfolds. 

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñaritu (Babel, Amores Perros, Biutiful) , who is not a first timer in the art of using the actor's psyche speak more than his words, is a glorified genius in this one; he allows the technical elements of his filmmaking have an effect on the unravelling of the emotional state of his characters. He controls the rhythym and keeps it at bay until he deems it high enough for the climatic ending. He actually plays magic tricks on screens, making you laugh with irony and cynicism, serving you a cold hard truth of what life on the other side feels like - the once almighty glitz of stardom and the insanity of grabbing onto it once more. What's it all about? This is the script that Iñaritu presents. How much is enough? How far will you go? And how far will your human ego and vanity let you fly..

Given opinions expressed through my reviews, the chances are for a Best Screenplay/Best Picture/Best Actor/Best Director/Best Original Score. If I could use but one word to describe this films is this: surreal. 

A worthy shout out to the incredibly insane and addictive original drumming score of Antonio Sanchez, who leaves you palpitating long after the film's ended. 

Make sure you catch this film on cinema while it's one. It is one of the good gems that don't come this often! 

(Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Monday, 26 January 2015

Big Hero 6


Baymax: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain?

"Big Hero 6" is based loosley on the Marvel comics of 'Man of Action' and it tells the story of a Robotics nerd, Hiro Hamada, who discovers an inflatable health care robot Baymax created in the past by his brother, Tedashi. After a terrible life-changing accident, Hiro and Baymax team up with four other nerds and save their hometown San Fransokyo from an evil super villain trying to take over with Hiro's invention.

Having seen a wide range of mediocre animation this year, viewing 'Big Hero 6' was a unique breath of air. Not so much that it's advanced CGI and special effects and astounding real-life-animated technology as for the fact that the story does not bore you even for a second. It is funny, it's got action kicking all over the place, it's got witty dialogues and above all it's got a lot of heart and soul in it. Because oddly enough, it's not everyday you come across a Marvel piece of filmmaking to make your heart go all "awwwwwws" and "aaaaaaaaahs". As this is Marvel's first animated film, it is an exceptional and promising beginning. 

"Big Hero 6" comes from the creators of "Wreck-It Ralph" and the Disney phenomenon "Frozen" Chris Williams and Don Hall, managed to create one of the most lovables, huggables and health care robots in animated history. Given the fact that this film is also partially owned by Pixar and Marvel comics, it is truly nice to see that there can be a combination of inventive robotics that are also used not only used for saving "the world" but also saving someone's world. 

Albeit the resemblance to eky features of lego robotics to partial elements of "The Lego Movie", which conveniently is out of this year's Oscar race, "Big Hero 6" comes on top because of its ability to intrigue younger ages through cool techie gadget equipments, hilarious caricatures and a lot of color splashing around through modernised super-hero suits, but also deliver to make any adult laugh by the cute and logically inflatable robot that even the most demanding austere audience would acknowledge that it's got the ability to spread comic relief moments throughout the film.

I won't badger anyone a lot with rumbling on and on about reasons of why anyone should watch this animation. Simply just that it's funny and smart and entertaining. Something which I did find lacking in the animated stratosphere this year. And if this is a first attempt for a Marvel animation, then by all means, keep it comin'! 

Notable to give a big credit to Scott Adsit, who voices Baymax, who manages to hilariously portray this inflatable heatlh care robot. Had me laughing and giggling and I'm feeling the love. 

Boyhood (2014)


Mason: So what's the point?
Dad: Of what?
Mason: I don't know, any of this. Everything.

Dad: Everything? What's the point? I mean, I sure as shit don't know. Neither does anybody else, okay? We're all just winging it, you know? The good news is you're feeling stuff. And you've got to hold on to that.

More than 12 years ago, filmmaker Richard Linklater had a brillitan cinematic idea: to shoot one film in the course of 12 years, with the same actors, portraying the life of a young boy (turned into a man) and how he copes with growing up. Thus came 'Boyhood'. 

This astonishing piece of filmmaking was created to remind audiences and film lovers/enthusiasts all around the world that cinema can be just as much about imagination as it can be about real life too. Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight, School of Rock),  a self-made writer, producer and director, managed to shoot a film in the scope of 12 years – in all literal sense – and gift the world of this filmmaking masterpiece. The result was a 3-hour long family social teenagy/coming of age drama – along with many comical and down to earth moments – that offered not only a pleasurable screening but also it give amounts of food for thought. 

However much Linklater tried to keep it real, the reason this project truly worked, it’s the fact that he had an incredible cast to work with and share this passion for this film. “Keeping it real, keeping it simple.” This phrase was emblazing in my mind throughout the film. He made it believable. Even when things get rough, even when there were moments of uncertainty or a simple dialogue between teenagers, he kept it real. 

Starring as the boy growing up, is Ellar Coltrane, who we view his 12 years on film through his eyes and how he experiences things and goes through some hard situations – divorced parents, moving away, mother getting re-married, alcoholic stepfather etc. These are but a few things that we are able to view through Coltrane’s eyes. 

In this cinematic experiment Linklater added the likes of Oscar Nominee and Golden Globe Winner Patricia Arquette and Oscar and Golden Globe Nominee Ethan Hawke, to carry through the story of Mason (Coltrane). Both Hawke and Arquette manage to deliver profound and grounded performances throughout, acknowledging the rawness of reality that this film is depicting. Their awareness of what being a parent means, the struggles and sacrifices of keeping a family alive takes can be wonderfully discerned through simple family moments they seem to share separately on screen with one or both their film children. A simple dialogue of what and where life leads you is more than enough to make you appreciate the familiarity of what Linklater depicts. This story is about a family, it’s course, it’s let downs, it’s choices, it’s about the arguments and the hugs and the moments where you feel proud or alive. It’s about love and life. 

When the film opens we see Mason, a 5 year old boy, gathering his toys about to move in another town with his mom and his sister. On the film’s epilogue, Mason, an 18-year-old man now, is sitting with new friends from College gazing into the horizon, into this wondrous unknown of where life will take him. The ups and the downs. 

Linklater so eloquently manages to encompass the reality of events in Mason’s life, that it almost seems effortless on film. As if viewing these awakward or off beat moments on screen are a direct depiction of any family’s reality out there. This is what makes this film such a unique undertaking; it’s ability to connect to what’s real. 

Going around with a buzz in the award season this is one of the major contenders for a Best Picture/Best Director and Best Supporting Actress/Actor award. The first 3, in my honest opinion are more likely to be had from the looks of things, as the Critics as much as the wider public seems to be in favor of Linklater’s film. 

Will definitely recommend and commend this film for anyone who appreciates cinematic landmarks. This will definitely be your cup of tea. Just remember that the film might feel a lot more familiar than what you imagine them to be. 

The Buzz: 

  • Linklater's daughter, Lorelai Linklater, as Mason's sister. A star on the rise, perhaps?!?
  • This song, which will be echoed throughout this film's running time...

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Film Awards Season 2015

Right. So. Welcome back everyone who's everyone and who likes a good flick here and there. This year's award season kicked off with the Golden Globes awards which broadcasted on the 12th January 2015. Soon afterwards, all of the major yearly award shows started slowly giving out awards to this year's mainstream film contestants. And I'm saying mainstream, cause it is a rather universal truth that films that are Oscar/Award contenders are but the icing on the a very LARGE and hefty cake of the films being produced globaly every year.

So, for this year my up-coming reviews for the award season will follow these top-notch films (bear in mind I won't be reviewing them according to the list below):

If all goes well, I will manage within a months time to review all of these. If not, the above are the major films that seemed to have made a distinct impression to The Academy, and we all know what an esteem The Academy has. Personally, I find The Academy flawed, since so many great filmmaking achievements are being produced yearly that it is only the privilaged or the handsomely marketed few that get to "taste" the spoils. But still, let's give some credit to the films above, as some of them are indeed of an excellent quality. 

Can't wait to get this season rollin'....

See y' all soon with the first review coming up: 

"Boyhood" (2012-2014) Dir. Richard Linklater

Billy Boyd - The Last Goodbye