Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
Birdman

Title: Birdman

Is This A Sequel To Condorman? Yes, in the sense it's about a guy who played a bird-themed superhero in the movies. No, in the sense that -- unlike Condorman -- the movies in question grossed more than a buck-fifty,

Rating Using Random Objects Related To The Film: Three-and-a-half Judge Mentok the Mind-Takers out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Former superhero actor seeks validation (and an end to the voices in his head) on Broadway.

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Tagline: [actually subtitle] "The Unexpected Value of Ignorance"

Better Tagline: "Batman vs. The Hulk! Sort of."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Riggan Thomson's (Michael Keaton) blockbuster days starring as the superhero "Birdman" are long behind him, which is one of the reasons he's making a grab for renewed relevance by directing his Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Efforts are complicated by the presence of his troubled daughter Sam (Emma Stone) and his co-stars: famed stage actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), Shiner's insecure girlfriend, Lesley (Naomi Watts), and Laura (Andrea Riseborough), whom Thomson also happens to be sleeping with. And let's not forget the voice of "Birdman" himself, constantly urging Thomson to embrace his inner badass.

"Critical" Analysis: It gives me no pleasure to say I wanted to like Birdman a lot more than I did. The prospect of a new film from director Alejandro Iñárritu (loved Amores Perros, liked 21 Grams, "meh" on Babel) with cinematography by the inestimable Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, The Tree of Life, Gravity) and starring the likes of Keaton, Norton and Watts should have been a slam dunk, or whatever the talky cinematic equivalent of that sports metaphor is.

And it's not like Birdman is a bad movie. Thanks to Iñárritu's manic direction and Lubezki's claustrophobic photography, we're treated to a New York Theater District that almost looks like a sound stage, further emphasizing the film's "play within a play" construction. It's quite unlike anything else I've seen this year.

Likewise, the cast does a fine job. Each of the principals gives a masterful performance, emphasized by the long takes and Iñárritu's tactic of shooting up to 15 pages of dialogue without a break (Lubezki deliberately shot the film to look like one extended take). Watts impresses more and more with every role, while Norton -- playing what I suspect is an exaggerated version of himself -- flips the switch between "arrogant" and "vulnerable" with frightening ease. Zach Galifianakis gets to play the straight man for once, and even Stone, who hasn't been asked to stretch throughout a series of rom-coms and superhero movies, demonstrates decent range.

It goes without saying this is Keaton's tour-de-force, however. Never considered a "bad" actor, his career has for whatever reason largely been lacking in critical accolades. Expect that to change, because Thomson is Keaton's best role since 1988's Clean and Sober, and possibly ever. He's mostly fearless, spending extended periods in unfortunate tighty whities and mentally jousting with an increasingly aggressive alter ego that sounds like a particularly well-hung Beetlejuice.

Unfortunately, your ultimate takeaway is how you wish all these great portrayals were in the service of a better movie and not a retread of Noises Off without the sardine jokes. Thomson's comeback arc is somewhat engaging, but at two hours it feels stretched.

And the auxiliary commentary (about social media and media criticism) is surprisingly shallow. Thomson's biggest [flesh and blood] nemesis is the New York Times theater critic (Lindsay Duncan), who guarantees him a negative review because "screen actors don't belong on the stage." This kind of vitriol -- complete with the requisite Flaubert quote about critics -- would be more at home in a Kevin Smith or Rob Schneider film.

That's assuming, of course, that Schneider realizes a "Flaubert" is not one of those hair vacuum things.

Birdman is in theaters today. Less angsty, more fantasy next time.


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