Review Roundup - Flight of fancy

BIRDMAN (2014)

Gimmicks get old real fast, so the whole 'single take' thing didn't strike me as something particularly interesting (or unique - see Rope and other films). Still, I gave this a shot because of the rest of the pieces in place. Especially having Michael Keaton in the cast as a lead to do something interesting, because let's be honest after working on the Robocop remake he needed it. When's the last time he got a lead role like this? Voice work for Porco Rosso? (Though actually it's a pretty good dub) Thankfully the film on the whole goes beyond camera tricks and visual effects to provide something which is engaging and dramatic throughout - it's much more than a one trick pony. Beyond the silly title and the idea of an actor playing on his own career as a past superhero, there's a lot more to get invested in with a story about ambition, mental anguish and backstage drama.


At first Birdman is mildly difficult to watch, with a lot of sweeping camera work which gets into the face of the cast and doesn't allow much room for respite. But this is a big strength for a story about a stage production where character is central, allowing for seamless movement through corridors and dressing rooms as egos clash and rehearsal planning goes awry. There are obvious breaks in the footage, but it doesn't try to hide this when time moves forward and characters appear from directions that break the illusion intentionally. A lot of the film is done with dark and dingy locations and high contrast lighting that emphasises the setting, this is not a glam Hollywood set but a run down theatre. The whole things keeps everything on edge, a feeling that is also maintained by the music playing through most of the film - while there are moments of traditional orchestra there is a lot of one-man percussion; at times the drummer himself passes by. It's a dream like illusion at times. There are a few digital fantasy effects but it's left up to the audience to decide if these moments are reality or not.

The story itself gives Keaton as Riggan Thompson a lot of great stuff to work with as a washed up celebrity who wants to have a pivotal career moment that means something. However he is wrestling with his own demons (by way of the titular superhero) along the way trying to figure out if this is all pointless ego reaching for new fame, or something of genuine worth and artistry. The casting clearly alludes to his real life past as Batman but it's not a direct allegory in a plot that could have been about an action star or any of potentially vapid movie franchise. He also seems to be imagining (or is he) that his super powers are becoming real, and the thought of him losing his grip on reality is a great idea, particularly when things spiral out of his control in the final sequences. The rest of the cast is all great with Emma Stone as his unhappy daughter and Edward Norton as his brash stage co-star, each causing Riggan grief for a variety of reasons along the way; something which he has invited in both cases. While his failures as a father hurt it seems the idea of another actor taking shots at his script is more of a sore point, particularly one that does it for the love of the work and has ideas of their own on the direction of the adaptation he's chosen to direct and star in. Their other co-stars on the screen and in the play itself get a bit sidelined without a lot of meaningful moments, but this three way conflict is the driving element so it's a small complaint. It's not a wacky comedy or an effects movie like some of the marketing may have set up, but it manages to be a lot of fun while being visually interesting and packed with character.

4/5

BONUS REVIEW
WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD


The zombie train shambles ever on, this time with a shlock fest being touted as a mix of the undead and "Mad Max". Which apparently amounts to a few Australian accents and a total of one souped up rocket car. Hardly the big wasteland apocalypse crossover you might be expecting. But poster taglines aside this is generally fun, although it tries to do some serious drama early on that just doesn't work and jars badly with the silly quips and low budget splatter effects in the rest of the movie. This is a story about psychic powers and zombies which produce high octane gas after all. Once things really get moving the b-movie thrills start to build up as the main survivors come across evil scientists and plenty of rotting ghouls. There's little new here beyond the few crackpot ideas they've thrown in the plot, but the pacing is fine past the initial mis-steps and you can enjoy some over acting and makeup effects for your money.

3/5