Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

October 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Biutiful”)
Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Biutiful”), Nicolás Giacobone (“Biutiful”), Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. (debut) & Armando Bo (“Biutiful”)

As an actor who has donned a mask and cape in a couple of “Batman” films, Michael Keaton knows all about the pitfalls of big franchises and having audiences expect a certain thing from a certain actor. It’s also no secret that as far as high-profile gigs, Keaton’s career has been relatively quiet over the past decade. Perhaps it’s the built-in winking irony of art imitating life that makes Keaton’s performance in “Birdman” so delightfully perfect. Or maybe he’s just that damn good.

After becoming synonymous with the superhero character Birdman that spawned an action movie franchise, actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is struggling to get people interested in his first foray into writing, directing and acting in a Broadway play. When an accident happens on stage injuring an actor, his producer suggests they bring aboard enigmatic actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). With just days until the play’s official opening, Riggan tries to handle Mike’s unique acting style, his daughter’s disdain for him and the pressures of the biggest night of his career all while trying to ignore the voice of Birdman inside his head telling him to go back to his blockbuster ways.

To call Keaton’s performance in “Birdman” a career resurgence is an understatement as this is a performance that would send even the most highly regarded actor into the stratosphere. Not only does Keaton get to flex his thespian muscles while performing pieces of the play inside the film (and playing them with different emotions at various times), but he nails Riggan’s off-kilter personality quirks, sinking his teeth into every scene while covering the emotional gamut and displaying impeccable comedic timing. Simply put, Keaton has thrown the Best Actor gauntlet for the upcoming Oscars. But it isn’t just Keaton that shines. Norton goes toe-to-toe in every scene they share, and his exaggerated and hilarious take on the uber serious method actor are among the films funniest moments.

A great thing about “Birdman” is that it exists in the Hollywood world that we live in. This allows for the commentary on film and superhero movie culture to hit a lot harder and have moments such as when a news story plays about Robert Downey Jr. playing Iron Man. When Keaton’s inner Birdman taunts him about how much better of an actor Riggan is than Downey, it makes a greater comedic impact as a result. The ideas of holding up a mirror to pop culture society go even further, poking fun at critics, the modern culture of celebrities and social media.

Beyond it’s talent on the screen and the fantastic screenplay, “Birdman” is a technical feat that is sure to catch the attention of the audiences senses. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu worked hard to create an entire cinematic atmosphere and the results are astonishing. The film features a score containing solo jazz drumming by Antonio Sanchez that allows the offbeat and kinetic parts of the film, and of Riggan’s personality to be heightened even further. Not to be outdone, Iñárritu employs acclaimed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to give the film the look of one continuous take. Though the film itself takes place over the span of a few days, Lubezki seamlessly connects his gorgeous swooping tracking shots creating a final product that might give him his second consecutive Academy Award.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about “Birdman” might be how funny it is. Norton is the highlight in this regard, though really, any time that Keaton and Norton share the screen together it is comedic and cinematic gold. Though the deeper and darker parts of Riggan and his inner Birdman might not be explored to their fullest potential, “Birdman” is still a complete blast, and a fantastic snapshot of a man who can’t get out of the shadow of a character bigger than himself. It’s whip-smart, humorous, well-acted, beautiful to look at and easily among the best films of 2014 thus far.

Biutiful

January 24, 2011 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Babel”)
Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu (debut), Armando Bo (debut), Nicolás Giacobone (debut)

While poetic and immaculately shot on a grey palate to make the city of Barcelona look like a place you wouldn’t want to send your enemy, “Biutiful,” the fourth feature-length film from Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (and the first without longtime screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga), is a structural mess. Doing what he does best, Iñárritu shows us human emotion at its weakest and does so with a searing performance by Academy Award winner Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men”). But the layers upon layers of narrative Iñárritu experiments with as a writer don’t come from the same fine-toothed brush as Arriaga. After two and a half hours, Iñárritu has muddled depressing idea after idea with what he believes to be craftiness. Instead, it ends up being one of those films you can admire, but not necessarily like very much.

Carlos Cuarón – Rudo y Cursi

May 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Five years passed after screenwriter Carlos Cuarón was nominated for an Academy Award for his 2001 film “Y tu mama tambien” before he began writing his next feature script. The rough idea he had for his movie was about “a soccer player from a humble background.” When he shared some of his thoughts with actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, he didn’t expect their response: they both wanted the part.
 
Instead of making a choice between the actors, Carlos, who is the younger brother of Y tu mama tambien director Alfonso Cuarón, decided to rework his story and write it about two brothers. The film, “Rudo y Cursi,” tells the story of Tato (Bernal) and Beto (Diego), siblings who are recruited onto rival professional soccer teams.

During an interview with me, Cuarón, 42, who along with penning “Rudo y Cursi” makes his directorial feature debut, talked about his personal passion for soccer and whether or not he used his own relationship with his brother to create his main characters.

Did you use your relationship with Alfonso in any part of the script?

The only thing that is sort of the same between Rudo and Cursi and Alfonso and me is that we are all sometimes a bunch of dumbasses. The story is more about my observation of other sibling relationships.

Was there ever any sibling rivalry between you and Alfonso since you both work in the same industry?

I guess there was some sibling rivalry, but the way we work together is more of a partnership. I would write scripts with him of projects that I liked and I would say no to the ones I didn’t like. I didn’t think it was necessary to have to show off my relationship with my brother in this film.

Because of the success of “Y tu mama tambien” back in 2001 do you find it easier or more challenging to write today? Is there more or less pressure?

Well, this script was really difficult for me. It really took a lot of time. I wrote and rewrote for two whole years before I felt it was ready to shoot. This project is different from “Y tu mama tambien” because I was finding the story and the characters as I was writing. In other projects, I know more about the story and the characters before I start writing.

Were you already familiar with the world of soccer before you started to write?

I am a soccer freak. I love soccer, so I knew a lot. But I also did research. I have a few friends that used to play soccer professionally. I would go have lunch with them and talk. I would talk to players and referees. I also went to some soccer training and went to games and to dressing rooms during halftime to see how everything operated.

Did you ever worry about choosing to highlight soccer in this film? I mean, the sport isn’t very popular in the U.S.

Yeah, I was very worried about this, but not only in the states. The truth is all soccer movies that have come out have all flopped. They have been box-office disasters historically. I was worried about that but at the same time I felt like I wasn’t making a sporting movie or a soccer movie. I wanted to make a movie about brotherhood. That is the reason why we don’t see much soccer. Much of it is off camera. There is a reason I didn’t show much of the game. At the end of the day the only thing I really wanted to dramatize on the field was the only thing you can really dramatize in soccer, which is the penalty kick. It’s like a duel; two men facing each other and in front of them is destiny or death.

Is there anything else in the sports world you would say is the equivalent to the drama of the penalty kick?

I think it’s exciting when a pitcher is pitching to a batter with two outs, two strikes, and three balls with the game tied and the bases loaded. I think every sport has their own “penalty kick.”

But not every sport has the type of fans that come out to soccer games. We see a bit of that in the film where a fan can be your best friend if you’re playing well and wants to kill you if you are not. Does it ever surprise you how intense and sometimes dangerous these fans can become?

Yeah, I’m really surprised every time something like that happens especially in Mexico. In Mexico soccer is still a family sport so you go to the stadium with your family. Families can’t go to the games anymore in Brazil or Argentina or other parts of South America because the fans are really violent. I don’t understand it. I think people should understand that soccer is just a game.

Have you ever experienced what Gael’s character Tato is going through in the film where he is passionate about something, but just really isn’t good at it despite his sincere efforts?

Well, I hope not with directing. (Laughs). I have a passion for soccer, but I’m an average player. I know I’m never going to play professionally. I knew that all my life. I never even thought of it when I was a kid.

Do you think someone can truly be happy doing something they’re good at but don’t necessarily like?

No, I don’t think so. I do what I like to do. I understand Tato in that sense. He’s good at soccer but he wants to sing even though he’s a lousy singer. I think you have to be very intelligent and go with your passion but at the same time have enough self-criticism to see your talent is in another place.

Why did you choose Cheap Trick’s song “I Want You to Want Me” to be the film’s theme song and why did you decide to translate it into Spanish?

One day I was driving my kid to school and I was listening to this CD and suddenly the song started to play. I started to sing along with it, but I sang it in Spanish. It’s very stupid and I felt stupid but I discovered that was the song the character needed. Someone that sings, “I want you to want me,” needs attention and has a problem. I knew for the music video I wanted it to be something between a homage and a spoof of the Norteño videos we have in Mexico. To me it was a very basic concept. I hired a choreographer. We shot it against a green screen. People kept asking me what I was going to do with the green screen. I told them I wanted it for kitschy backgrounds.

You touch on the idea of celebrity in the film when Tato becomes famous and starts doing things he wouldn’t normally do. Are there any differences between the idea of celebrity in Mexico and the U.S.?

I think it’s the same, not only in Mexico and the U.S. but worldwide. You are a reporter and I am a filmmaker so if we meet a star it’s normal to us. But normal people get star-struck. I’ve experienced that with Diego and Gael everywhere both in Mexico, the states, in Spain, in South America. I’ve also experienced it with other actors in L.A. like Clive Owen.

What did it mean to you to get your brother and directors Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Babel”) and Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) to step in as producers for your first feature film?

To me it was a privilege to have them produce my movie. What was great is they produced this movie the way they would want to be produce. They gave me complete creative freedom and weren’t demanding. They very rarely went to the set. Alejandro went one day. Guillermo never went because he was shooting “Hellboy 2.” Our communication was mostly through internet and phone calls. These guys are three of the best filmmakers in the world so all of their feedback was always appreciated.