Michael Keaton is the real deal. For decades he’s proven it: Whether In a full tilt farce like Johnny Dangerously (1984), an odd ball dramedy like The Paper (1994), taking on the flat-out dramatic in Clean And Sober (1988)- Hell, even One Good Cop (1991) comes to mind. Throw the guy the right material and he flat out shines. And such it is with art film director Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s [Amores Perros (2000), Babel (2006), Biutiful (2010)] latest film, whose full mind boggling title is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), where Keaton plays a nearly washed up actor named Riggan Thomson who’s desperate to show the world he isn’t just a tent pole superhero thesp, but a serious, important artist. This movie plays like an X-Ray of cinema itself, peeling the layers away until you’re sick to your stomach, exposing us to the madness underneath it all. Inarritu uses a ‘single take’ technique (a clever budgetary cheat) to force us to witness it all without release, as Keaton becomes increasingly unhinged and scenes descend to mania. The film opens on him in his underwear floating off of the ground Swami-like a’la Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen (2009), and it only gets crazier from there. It’s a joy to behold. Obviously Keaton is a bit of stunt casting, reminding us of those glorious Donner and Burton days, when the bedrock for cinematic superdom was first being laid and Marvel Phase 3 was just a twinkle in a fanboy’s eye. But his presence turns Birdman into a remarkably personal journey, adding layers of meaning to the whole affair. His creepy “inside voice” drives the narrative, forcing Batman, er, Birdman towards more dizzying heights of self-reflexivity. And the rest of the cast is to be commended as well, especially Edward Norton, a notoriously difficult actor to work with who taps into that meta-text here as well. If there’s one grievance with the film it’s that the material gets thin where Emma Stone and Naomi Watts (who worked with Alejandro on 21 Grams) are concerned, giving the impression these characters were afterthoughts. Tiny nitpicks really, because Birdman delivers the goods in hallucinatory doses, its surreal imagery of a New York as seen from a deteriorating mind accompanied by a jazzy drum score courtesy of Antonio Sanchez. Venture down this dark tunnel with Birdman, and you’ll find that by the time you reach the other side, Keaton’ll be your dark knight yet again.
November 3, 2014 No Comments
Here’s a quick set-up and pay-off scene from one of Woody Allen’s most underrated flicks, Broadway Danny Rose (1984), impeccably shot in black and white by the late great Gordon Willis, who passed away earlier this year. We love this film’s wraparound device of a bunch of wise guys sitting around talking about some poor shlub talent agent named Danny Rose and how he came to be entangled in a love triangle involving a lounge singer (Nick Apollo Forte), his mistress (Mia Farrow), and a jealous gangster. Here you see a great example of Allen’s narrative strategy, who made a career of subverting story via fundamentally changing one essential element (most times casting himself as the unlikely lead in a story that would otherwise play “straight”). Here he flips the script by changing the setting in which a contrived situation occurs and turning a standard chase/shoot-out scene on its ear by adding one small (literal) element: Helium.
June 18, 2014 No Comments
Last week’s Game of Thrones episode, The Mountain and the Viper, featuring Prince Oberyn [Pedro Pascal]’s pre-climactic proficiency with the blood spear during combat with “the Mountain” Gregor Clegane [Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson] vaguely reminded me of IOC favorite Lau Kar Leung‘s Legendary Weapons of China (1982), which features a similar weapon. And since everyone knows that here at the isle we love us some good kung fu, and everyone should know that kung fu doen’t get any gooder than in LKL’s Shaw Brothers films, we thought we’d revisit a scene from said movie. A pioneer of action filmmaking who got his start choreographing under director Chang Cheh and worked his way up to creating some of the most vibrant and perennial films of the genre [incl. Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Dirty Ho, Heroes of the East, Shaolin Mantis and everything that’s ever influenced anything], LKL’s plots spring from a core belief in the peaceful way of the warrior, espouse respect for one’s enemy and convey the martial artist’s goal of attaining spiritual excellence through personal mastery. Having said all that, let us not forget that his flicks are also a feast of first rate acro-combatic pyrotechnics, especially when the director steps in front of the camera, as he does here with brother Lau Kar Wing, a fine director and choreographer in his own right. Watch the pair face off using the 18 weapons and muse on the fate of Oberyn: Think Lau would ever taunt an opponent when he’s down? That’s not the Martial Artist’s way – which is what this legendary filmmaker, the embodiment of Kung Fu, spent his life trying to teach: humility in victory. Which incidentally will also help keep your eyes where they belong – inside your head.
June 7, 2014 No Comments
Now here’s a few somethings you don’t see every day: 1.) giant monsters working together in a complicated tactical formation, 2.) the same tail-skating you see in common lizards in nature, but this time on a grand scale, and 3.) gleeful fist-pumping enthusiasm from a legendary kaiju. Unquestionably one of the lowlights from the entire franchise, the above scene comes from Jun Fukuda‘s 1973 Gojira tai Megaro. Notice the subtle way robot Jet Jaguar invites Godzilla to take another flying drop kick at Megalon. And notice that for some reason the kaiju are battling atop the World Trade Center in the US release poster, no doubt to tap into the popularity of producer Dino De Laurentiis‘ King Kong (1976).
Excited yet? Check out the poster and feast your eyes on the increase in creature scale:
March 17, 2014 No Comments