Birdman – Experience
Let’s not get it confused; “Birdman” is not a superhero film in the traditional sense. Strike that, in barely any sense. If anything it’s a study in our so-called worship of superheroes and superhero films. Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself. “Birdman” is a film experience that will either excite or confound, will awe or confuse; in short, it’s not a film for the masses, but it just might be one of the most technical and well acted films in all of 2014.
“Birdman” stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, the former star of the superhero series “The Birdman.” After having fallen on hard times after declining to star in a fourth installment of the franchise, Thompson hopes to reinvent himself on Broadway by directing and starring in a revival of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” After an accident with one of his stars during rehearsal, Riggan is forced to hire method actor, Mike, played by Edward Norton, to fill in, which leads to Mike and Riggan clashing. If that wasn’t enough, Riggan is also dealing with his new girlfriend possibly being pregnant, a daughter fresh out of rehab, and a Broadway critic looking to destroy his show with a bad review. And the cherry on top; Riggan is haunted by a voice tempting him into fate; the voice of his Birdman past.
At the surface, “Birdman” can be summed up very easily. It’s the story of a man searching for something more, something that people don’t see on the surface. Searching for a purpose beyond what has been expected of him for so many years, in essence, it’s pretty much the true story of Michael Keaton. Look at Keaton’s career post-Batman, outside of maybe “Jackie Brown” there really isn’t much to write home about. “Batman” made his career, and after that ride was over, there wasn’t much left. The fact that Keaton recognizes that “Birdman” is almost autobiographical.
The other thing that most people will notice about this film, are the extremely long takes that have become a staple for director Alejandro González Iñárritu. From “Amores Perros” to “Bitful” Iñárritu, much his his fellow Mexican filmmaker, Alfonso Cuarón, has made a living on the long take. While it’s a risky decision, especially with the subject of “Birdman” which is essentially a play, the editing is perfect and gives the illusion that you are actually watching a one-take film. If you are a smart observer, you’ll see the cuts and where the edits are made, but they are done extremely well and “Birdman” will definitely be in Oscar contention on it’s technical merits alone.
Aside from being a technical film, “Birdman” is also able to be a film that is thought provoking, but also a little confusing for a lament. One of the biggest mistakes that someone might make going into this film is believing that it’s a superhero film…..its not, in the traditional sense. What I do find the most interesting is that there are a lot of hints that Riggan Thompson might actually be a superhero, and it’s all in how you interpret what you see. Without giving out spoilers, there are tons of ways to interpret “Birdman,” and that could be a turn off to some people who were expecting something a little different.
All in all, “Birdman” is a film worthy of your attention. It has fantastic acting, wonderful directing, and it’s just quirky and weird enough to demand more than one viewing. It’s likely that both Keaton and Norton will be nominated for Oscars in addition to several technical nominations, notably direction, editing, and cinematography. “Birdman” certainly does fly, but it will make your brain work.
Fun Fact: Alfred Hithcock’s 1948 “Rope” is an early example of the perceived “unbroken shot” technique.
Nightcrawler – Turn
Coming off of the heels of my review of “Zodiac” I liken that review to more of a catchup and brush up on Jake Gyllenhaal and where he is as an actor. The more I see, or re-watch of his career I wonder why he isn’t as popular as most other actors of his ilk. I really don’t think there is an actor working right now that takes as many chances and transforms himself as often outside of maybe Christan Bale. He takes on difficult roles, owns them, and is still able to play someone that we the audience slightly relate to. This brings me to his latest role, another turn in his career that you could also call a career-defining role. That film is “Nightcrawler” a gritty neo-noir in the vein of “Drive” “Network” and a dash of “Collateral.”
“Nightcrawler” takes the classic trope of following the American Dream to extreme, but somehow, necessary lengths. Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a small-time crook looking for a chance to prove himself. Fate knocks at his door one evening when he witnesses a woman being rescued from a burning car by two police officers. It’s not the women’s distress that catches his attention however, it’s the cameramen who capture the harrowing rescue which appears on the news the next day. Being the go-getter that he is, Bloom procures funds to buy a camera and decides his calling is to “nightcrawl.”
Finally capturing some useable footage, Bloom delivers the goods to late-night news director, Nina Romina (Rene Russo) and the two begin a working relationship much to the chagrin of Nina’s co-worker Frank Kruse who finds the “if it bleeds, it leads” method of news broadcasting lacking. Bloom continues to thrive in his new calling and teams up with Rick, a homeless Angelino looking for a shot, just like Bloom.
The stakes reach their apex after Bloom and Rick witness a deadly home invasion which leaves three people dead. Sensing a breakthrough, Bloom puts all the pieces together in order to not only get the best news story, but to create the news himself.
There is a lot that could be given away in my synopsis, so I’ll stop right here because all the fun of “Nightcrawler” is to actually go on this twisted journey that features some of the best acting to date from Gyllenhaal. His take on Lou Bloom, starting from a scab who is stealing manhole covers and reselling them to a scraper, to a video camera-wielding scab making real money and becoming his own boss. One scene which stands out is Lou and Nina’s discussion about compensation for footage which Lou is trying to sell. While Nina tries to stonewall him, Lou knows everything he needs to say in order to shut her down and not only gets what he wants, but turns the tables in favor of his eventual endgame.
There is a lot of talk about “Nightcrawler” also being the “Network” for this generation. Well, having seen “Network” I say that is a pretty easy comparison being that this film is namely about the sensationalism of violence in our society and the apathy that news directors have in order to keep showing up the worst of humanity. Russo’s turn as Nina Romina is very similar to Faye Dunaway’s turn as Diana Christensen. Both are cutthroat newswomen, but unlike Christensen, Romina, while she thinks she is in control, is overtaken by Bloom who knows much more than she thinks he does. This also brings up a good point; how we obtain information in this day and age. Unlike 1976, there really wasn’t a precedent for the Internet and the sharing of information at a massive scale. Lou is able to position himself where he knows more about Nina than Nina almost does which gives him all the advantage he needs in an situation, which leads to some of the film’s best, and intense, scenes.
The Gilroy trio of Dan, Tony, and John, who direct, produce, and edit, respectively, create a vision of Los Angeles that is lively, dreamlike, and something out of a horror film all at the same time. However, my one minor gripe is the score of James Newton Howard. The score simply doesn’t seem to fit the setting of this seedy underbelly of LA. It’s a little too…..chipper? And this isn’t even to say that the score is bad, it just doesn’t fit.
Overall, “Nightcrawler” is everything it sets out to be; a social commentary with top-notch acting, solid action sequences, that looks great to boot. As it stands now, Gyllenhaal’s performance is by far my favorite of the year, and it will be a shame if he’s not one of the five nominees for an Oscar this year.
Fun Fact: Gyllenhaal lost over 20 pounds in order to obtain the gaunt look of Lou Bloom.
Zodiac – Pacing
There are certain films you see once, and they quickly dissolve from your mind. Not because they are bad by any means, its usually, at least for me, that they are so massive, engrossing, or emotionally investing that my body’s automatic response is to forget about them. The best example I can think of at this time is “Inception.” While visually stunning, the film as a whole is still very hard to wrap my head around and I’ve avoided watching it ever since seeing it in the theater. Again, it’s not because I don’t like it, and hell, who knows, maybe if I saw the film again, I wouldn’t like it, especially since it doesn’t have an end credit sequence……anyway. This brings me to “Zodiac” probably one of the most slept films in David Fincher’s filmography. It’s taut, gritty, and paced to perfection with the addition of great acting performances and a truly engrossing story that you nearly forget it based on an actual unsolved case.
“Zodiac” tells the true story of the Zodiac murders that took place across Northern, and possibly South California between 1966 and 1972. Shortly after a unsolved murder in 1969 in Vallejo, CA, a letter is sent to the San Francisco Chronicle which details the crime and claims that another murder was also committed nearly a year prior by someone calling themselves “Zodiac.” Spanning the course of nearly 25 years, “Zodiac” recounts the effort of journalist Paul Avery, cartoonist Robert Graysmith, and SFPD Inspector, Dave Toschi, as their lives intersect closely with possible suspects, and the obsession to catch Zodiac that nearly destroys their lives.
Throughout high school and college, I had an obsession with true crime and serial killers. I wanted to know the stories behind the crimes and what really made people tick. Some of the most infamous murderers of all time seem like something out of a movie, which makes the most sense why some of the most unnerving horror and suspense films have been based on serial killers like Ed Gein, Albert Fish, and Dennis Lynn Rader, the BTK Killer. However, if you look at the glut of direct-to-DVD and made-for-TV films about serial killers most of them are, for lack of a better term, lackluster, to say the least. At first glance, you might almost think that “Zodiac” might have the same fate, but there is pedigree to spare.
It’s easy to forget that this is even a David Fincher film. Taking into account how diversified his filmography is, “Zodiac” seems like the start of a new Fincher direction. Moving away from dark, gritty horror/suspense films such as “Se7ev” and “The Game,” “Zodiac” was at the time his most mature effort to date, not mention his longest film up to that point, clocking in at 157 minutes (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” would top it the following year with a run-time of 166 minutes). While some might see the long run-time as a negative, I thought it gave Fincher enough time to introduce characters, detail the crimes, and get the point across that obsession; either good or bad, corrupts and destroys nearly everything.
While “Zodiac” could be considered the beginning of a new Fincher era, this film was also a breeding ground for what we could expect from Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo. And of course the renaissance of Robert Downey, Jr., who only a year later would become Tony Stark. While the film is called “Zodiac” the infamous murderer is pretty much a plot point or a foil to the actors. We are witness to his murder spree, but it’s the emotion and the portrayals by Downey, Jr., Gyllenhaal, and Ruffalo that drive the film from beginning to end. Fincher is also able to create a giant puzzle where it’s the job of the audience of what to believe and reach their own conclusion. Unlike other killers throughout history, the Zodiac Killer was never caught, which creates a true mystery film where there is no right or wrong answer as to who is the true culprit in the crimes.
While “Zodiac” didn’t really get it’s due in the theater, if you are a fan of true crime, or simply great direction by a master who is dedicated to all of the little details that make a film special, than this film is for you. It features an engrossing story, fine performances, and it delivers where other films about serial killers fall short.
Fun Fact: Over the past 100 years, there have been nearly 20 reported serial killers in the state of California.
On this Spooktacular Halloween edition of The Simplistic Reviews Podcast, the boys welcome back JD Duran from Insession Film. Other than further corrupting this classy professional podcaster…the boys talk about Marvel’s HUGE announcements, DC’s HUGE announcements, gush over The Flash, bitch more about Gotham, comment on the Boardwalk Empire finale, Walking Dead premiere, and consider NBC’s Constantine. JD also gets to moderate our second ever draft, which this time involves the boys trying to make their best monster squad. It’s a razor ‘blade in the apple’ sort of show that you don’t want to miss.
The Monster Squad
Marvel Film Slate
DC Film Slate
Age Of Ultron Teaser
Age Of Ultron Extended
Ever See Chinatown Motherf@%ker?!
Skinny Zach Galafanakis
Jason Biggs pissing on Chelsea Handler
The Stuff: Tasty
87mins – Comedy/Horror – 1985
Looking for a unique film for Halloween?
Here you go! Ladies and Gentlemen, The Stuff!
One of the best satires that’s really a horror film at heart. Michael Moriarty leads this delicious film of mysterious goo that is pouring out of the earth. For some odd reason an old man takes a taste right away to see what it is. This white thing pouring from the earth taste amazing. Corporate America takes a taste as well and what we get is this new craze sweeping the nation.
America buys it by the ton, replacing all other foods with this new food called… The Stuff!
“It’s smooth and creamy. It’s low calorie and delicious. And it kills. It’s The Stuff!”
Everyone becomes addicted to The Stuff that turns them all into zombie like creatures. Everyone must eat The Stuff! If you don’t soon they will make sure you do!
One night, a kid named Jason notices the new food, The Stuff moving in his fridge. He tells his parents and they don’t believe him. They have already been taken over by The Stuff. He runs to the grocery store to warn the people but no one believes him. This creates a story that runs in the paper, which an ex-FBI agent, David Rutherford notices. Rutherford is played by the amazing and extremely tall (6’4”) Michael Moriarty. Rutherford during this time is investigating The Stuff when the news about the boy comes his way. Along with Nicole (Mad Men like promoter), these three are the world’s last hope to pull them from this controlling goo.
Will they stop it or is the nation over as we know it?!
The story works and it works well. It feels like the body snatchers, the blob and a comedy about America’s consumerism all rolled up into one. It’s a very unique film that is just a flat out great film. Yes acting is rough and the effects are of their time. But there is so much more here then a horror film, but a satire about this country and its need to consume the latest greatest fad. It feels like it could happen and honestly isn’t that far fetched of an idea, even thou it might seem extremely absurd. I could see this working today maybe with food or medication. An evil corporation finds something that they want to make a ton of money on, so they bribe the FDA and get their product into everyone’s hands even if it has deadly side effects. As I watch this I see a commercial for a pill that can kill you. The side effects out weigh the job of the pill, so why is this available then?
Please watch this film. It’s an intriguing film that balances comedy in the right way. Yes its funny that a food could take people over but I find it even more funny that the need for consumerism is sadly the realest part of the film.
On Netflix as of now, no reason to not watch this!
Garrett Morris (SNL) pops up and he is fantastic onscreen. Originally Arsenio Hall was considered.
To create The Stuff, a lot of Häagen Däzs ice-cream and yogurt was used.
Okay so I’m going to try something a little different here. In the late 80’s, Steven Spielberg came out with a TV show called Amazing Stories that seems to ether grab a ton of flack or a ton of love. I never really watched the show, maybe a totally of two episodes of which I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about. I do remember the show and that opening but not a bit of memory regarding the episodes. So since Amazing Stories is on Netflix, I’m going to pick a couple of episodes out of order strictly do to the crew and actors that appear in that episode.
Mirror, Mirror: Entertaining
Season 1, Episode 19 (March 9, 1986)
The reason why I picked, Mirror Mirror was because of the involvement of Sam Waterston (The Lead), Dick Cavett (plays Himself) and Tim Robbins (The Phantom).
Also believe it or not…
This episode is Directed by Martin Scorsese…Yes that Martin Scorsese!
It’s not a bad story for a 24 minute show. I found the 24 minutes to be very entertaining, might not be the strongest story ever but so far it’s my favorite out of the four that I’ve watched. Keep in mind this show is called Amazing Stories yet so far I haven’t really seen an amazing story. They’re mostly okay stories with a good twist. Maybe this is mostly why I’ve seen Amazing Stories get more flack online then love.
Scorsese does a good job. He keeps the 24 minutes fast and fun. Believe it or not that wasn’t the main attraction for me, that honor was given to the great Sam Waterston as Jordan Manmouth. Every time he is acting he just steals the scene if its Law & Order or The Newsroom, he just steals it with his presence. He plays a guy who just losses it and you can believe it. He really does steal that scene and even more made this episode flat out entertaining.
Defiantly give this episode a check out.
Dick Cavett plays Dick Cavett and I enjoyed the little addition of him to the story.