Tag Archives: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Film Review: Birdman

Michael Keaton & Edward Norton in Birdman

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero. He must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

How do you review a film like Birdman? It’s virtually impossible to truly describe it and do it justice using only words on a page or a screen. I did consider writing this review in one continuous sentence or paragraph as a nod to the film’s camera work, but decided it would just make reading my stuff even more painful than usual!

So where do we start? Let’s go for Birdman himself, Michael Keaton. Getting Keaton to play the role in the first place is a stroke of genius considering his role as Batman in Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns. Like Riggan, Keaton has never been as popular since playing a superhero and you could argue that Birdman is Keaton’s version of the play Riggan is attempting to direct.

Keaton is fantastic as Riggan, constantly walking the lines between creative genius, enthusiastic try-hard and mental breakdown, all three personalities vying for centre stage. Due to the semi-autobiographical nature of the film, it does feel as if we’re seeing a window into Keaton’s own mindset and, as such, it feels like a very personal performance. A scene in which Riggan lays into a Broadway critic feels very much like he’s finally spewing forth an opinion he, and countless other actors, have been waiting a lifetime to express.

Emma Stone as Riggan’s daughter and Edward Norton as an arrogant Broadway star also put in excellent performances, both of whom also seem less than mentally stable themselves.

Michael Keaton in Birdman

Birdman’s cinematography is in the hands of Emmanuel Lubezki, who did such sterling work on Gravity, and here, along with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s direction, he’s created something quite breathtaking. Birdman is shot as if it’s one, continuous sweeping camera shot, swooping gracefully from one scene to the next and occasionally using timelapse to advance the narrative, all set in and around Broadway’s St. James Theatre.

Like Hitchcock’s Rope, edits are hidden very cleverly, although on first viewing the whole thing may be a little distracting as you could be forgiven for focusing more on the camera technique than anything else. It is, however, nothing short of a technical and creative marvel and should be applauded for helping to make Birdman something rather unique.

There’s a fair bit going on under Birdman’s hood, which is why a written review barely scratches the surface. It’s about fame, popularity, social media, mental health, the film industry and a million other things. It’s one of those films in which you get out what you put into it; there are metaphors and subtexts at every turn and you’re never really sure whether what you’re seeing is literal or metaphorical. For example, does Riggan really have the telekinetic powers he exhibits when no-one else is around or are they figments of his imagination? It’s a film that lets you make those kind of decisions for yourself.

You could even go as far to say that there’s actually a little too much going on. With the aforementioned camera work, the erratic drum soundtrack and myriad of ideas and themes criss-crossing here, there and everywhere, it can be a little difficult to take it all in, at least on first viewing. It’s all good stuff that’s being thrown at you but with so much of it, only some of it can actually grab your attention at any one time.

Birdman is one of those films that almost demands a second viewing (and perhaps a third and a fourth) but it’s such a whirlwind of an experience there’s every chance you’ll watch a different film each time. It’s difficult to say Birdman will appeal to everyone as it most likely won’t, but if you want a film that’s innovative, thought-provoking and unique then it’s an absolute must-watch.

Pros

  • Breathtaking camera work
  • Great performance from Michael Keaton and surrounding cast
  • Gives you plenty to think about

Cons

  • Sometimes a little too much going on for its own good

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Debuts Blogathon: Alejandro González Iñárritu – Amores Perros (2000)

DEBUTS COLLAGE 4

Next up on the Debuts Blogathon is Fernando from Committed To Celluloid and his take on Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros. I think Fernando’s is one of the first blogs I followed and it’s still a fantastic read; there’s some really great stuff on there. If you’re not familiar with his blog, then do yourself a favour and go check it out. Here we go…

ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ IÑÁRRITU

Amores Perros (2000)

Amores Perros is not only one of the best dramas that came in with the new millennium, but it’s also a motion picture of great relevance in its land of origin, Mexico.

Besides being the feature debut of the country’s most critically respected filmmaker, Alejandro González Iñárritu, it put writer Guillermo Arriaga on the map and signified the breakthrough of one of the world’s most successful Hispanic actors, Gael García Bernal.

Additionally, Amores Perros gave a breath of life to a national film industry on its deathbed, and kickstarted a new era of Mexican cinema: hard-hitting issues and relevant stories that made every nation look Mexico’s way. No small feat.

The Oscar-nominated debut of González Iñárritu is, like Magnolia before it and Crash after it (not to mention all of the director’s movies since) a web of interconnected stories.

Octavio’s (García Bernal) beloved dog Cofi has been shot. He’s racing towards some medical attention, all the while evading the crazy thugs who want Cofi, the unexpected champion in the dogfighting circuit, dead. In the heated pursuit, Octavio crashes against model Valeria’s (Goya Toledo) car, paralyzing her, thus ending her career. “El Chivo” (Emilio Echevarría) is a disgraced former family man and current hitman who witnesses the accident and rescues Cofi, who, in a strange way, ends up rescuing him.

While this opera prima is expertly written and acted, it also exhibits some issues that could be attributed to both González and Arriaga’s rookie status. As it gave us a look into some of the talent they’d both display in the years to come, it also reminds us these people were newbies at one point.

Octavio’s story takes up most of the runtime, and rightfully so. Chapter 1 of Amores Perros is mainly why the film is so respected, I think. It’s a thrilling, gritty mini-movie in itself.

Then two cars crash and we head into Valeria’s life. An abruptly finished modeling career and a possibly cheating boy friend can be tragic situations, but instead of rooting for her, you’ll find yourself annoyed by her obsessive, aggressive attitudes and waiting for her to just shut up already! (and maybe check your watch a little).

El Chivo’s tale of redemption and new beginnings is a step up from a weak midsection, but neither his or Valeria’s stories are as gripping as that powerful first chapter, which is the film’s biggest achievement.

Later collaborating on 21 Grams and Babel, Alejandro González and Guillermo Arriaga entered a bitter battle of egos. Arriaga (who went on to pen The Three Burials of Melquíades Estrada and direct The Burning Plain) claimed González Iñárritu took all the credit and received all recognition for everything they did together.

He’s got a point. But comparing Arriaga’s solid but unspectacular ‘Plain’ (oh, the irony) and González Iñárritu’s Biutiful, a harrowing modern masterpiece, makes you think maybe Alejandro’s the one with the real talent after all.

Amores Perros is not perfect: it looks like it was shot with a cell phone camera and has pace issues. Starts off with a bang, then loses its footing only to pick itself back up (not quite all the way, though). But it’s a film of undeniable power and grit and a fantastic way to get acquainted with one of the best cineastes in the biz, foreign or otherwise.

Over at Three Rows Back today, you can read an excellent look at Bong Joon Ho’s Barking Dogs Never Bite by Naomi from She Speaks Movies. Head over there right now and give it a read if you haven’t already.

Tomorrow you can check out KaramelKinema’s piece on Darren Aronofsky’s directorial debut Pi.

You can check out the rest of the entries in the blogathon here.

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