Here are the movie reviews I wrote for the April issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo last week.
The karmic nature of Birdman‘s Best Picture Oscar win is inescapable. Ever since his breakout Mexican epic, Amores Perros, brought him to America, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu has been making earnest movies with large casts of Hollywood A-listers in bummer roles that have invariably garnered lots of nominations along the way without actually winning anything. His latest curiosity jettisons the existential suffering that made movies like Babel and Biutiful so trying to sit through, and those who have championed Inarritu’s ambitions finally have something to get behind, but in fact Birdman is just as wonky as the earlier films, which were problematic not so much because of their depressive themes, but due to their formalist cliches. Michael Keaton gets what used to be called “the role of a lifetime” as Riggan Thomson, a Hollywood actor best known for playing the titular superhero in a series of blockbusters, and now, years later, is trying to redeem himself as a serious artist by staging an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” on Broadway, starring himself. The movie’s time frame takes in the hours prior to the opening, and Inarritu devises a production design that incorporates long, moblie takes that all blend into one. As far as cliches go, the backstage comedy has been done to death, and all of the tropes are here: the technical gaffes, the snooty actor who refuses to take direction (Edward Norton), the last minute changes in strategy, the insufferable critic (Lindsay Duncan) overstepping her boundary. In the midst of all this calculated chaos, Riggan has to deal with a flighty, resentful daughter (Emma Stone), a calm, sensible lover (Andrea Riseborough), and a surprisingly sympathetic ex-wife (Amy Ryan). The mood is constant confusion, but the dialogue is so pointed and precise that no one really comes across as harried as they’re trying to let on. The only character who breaks through in that regard is Naomi Watts, playing an inexperienced actor who sees the play as her big break and is afraid of blowing it. Otherwise, the performances are all showcases in the Inarritu style, especially Stone’s and Norton’s, which isn’t to say they aren’t entertaining, but every dramatic element in the film sticks out like a rusty nail, every gesture designed to deliver more meaning that it has the capacity to contain. Inarritu is incapable of getting through a scene without finding something to make it monumental, and the result is exhaustion without the payback of meaning. Had Birdman simply been a comedy about a washed up Hollywood star trying to put on a serious play that was beyond his capabilities, it might have been funny and poignant, but that’s not enough for Inarritu. He wants epiphanies. (photo: Twentieth Century Fox) Continue reading