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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - Blu-ray Review

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Birdman - Movie Review

5 stars

Michael Keaton is Birdman.

The actor who, in my opinion, played the best cinematic version of Batman turns the role on its head (or is that on its wings??!) in Birdman, the latest art house flick from writer-director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel).  Michael Keaton’s latest role has him haunted by his own past superhero performance.  This relative straight-forward black comedy, a first for its director, about a washed-up Hollywood actor trying to prove himself by helming a Broadway version of Raymond Carver’s short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" skewers both Hollywood and critics and does so with aplomb. 

Keaton - who famously uttered the phrase “I am Batman” when asked “What are you?” - plays Riggan Thompson, an aging actor at odds with the stigma of being the super popular Birdman, a superhero not unlike the caped crusader.  Thompson, as an actor, has little identity outside of him.  Birdman is everywhere and Thompson still can’t psychologically shake him.  Hell, he even sounds like him as he taunts Thompson with that same raspy voice that brought Batman to life in 1989’s Batman and again in 1992’s Batman Returns

Every doubt the actor has as he attempts to put together a Broadway play is made worse by his former alter ego.  The press isn’t good either.  The Times theatre critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan) assumes that the former star is headed for a big spill in the Atlantic because, outside of Birdman, Thompson is a desperate nobody.  Even Birdman himself can’t help but bust Thompson’s chops as the actor works up the strength to step out from beneath his tall, telekinetic shadow and do something different as a director on Broadway. 

His adaptation of the Carver story is wrought with problems.  The actors stink.  The staging is a mess.  Thompson is clearly in over his head.  But when a lighting rig collapses and injures the lead actor, Thompson's manager and long-suffering friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis) has an idea: turn the dial up to 11.  Eleven.  Exactly.  One louder.  Things are about to get intense.  There are few stars to fill the vacant spot as they are all doing superhero movies.  Heh.  Heh.  Enter Edward Norton who formally played The Inredible Hulk.  Heh.  Heh.

Thompson is doing all he can to hold sane and keep Birdman from pecking out his eyes as acclaimed thespian and Broadway star Mike Shiner (Norton) takes center stage in his play and increases the intensity – with his insane method acting – of the production.  He pushes bad ideas forward like actually having sex on stage and getting drunk during drinking scenes.  His on-stage acting partner, Lesley (Naomi Watts), argues with him and rails against his horrible ideas. 

Thompson argues too but that doesn’t stop Shiner.  He even befriends Riggan's daughter Sam (Emma Stone), who finds magnetic appeal in his rawness, after he compliments her ass.  Still, opening night looms and Birdman will not go gentle into that good night. 

As far as the performances in Birdman go, Keaton and Norton both manage career-defining accomplishments here.  They are essential to the movie; without them Birdman crashes into the sea.  They are intelligent and passionate and their performances are certainly real as they connect both the actor and the actor’s own personal experiences with their fictional counterparts. 

Iñárritu is also to be praised for throwing a healthy dose of magical realism in the mix by making the film appear to be one continuous shot.   It’s not.  Each take or “edit” is from carefully choreographed 10 – 15 minute shots and assembled to make them look continuous.  You won’t spot them, though.  I did because I was looking for them.  Birdman is presented seamlessly without any noticeable edits. 

Both technically and acting-wise, Birdman is an achievement that is certain to earn respect in the art house circuit.  It goes nation-wide this weekend.  We will see if the masses eat it up.  The film feels and looks and acts very, very real.  Hollywood is certain to notice.  After all, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s previous features have received major Oscar nominations along with numerous additional accolades so why wouldn’t Birdman.

Inventive and thought provoking, Birdman is not to be missed.

Birdman - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Runtime:
119 mins
Director
: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writer:
Alejandro González Iñárritu; Nicolás Giacobone
Cast:
Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton
Genre
: Drama | Comedy
Tagline:
(The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Memorable Movie Quote: "Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige."
Distributor:
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Official Site: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/birdman/
Release Date:
October 17, 2014 (limited)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
February 17, 2015
Synopsis: A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

Birdman - Movie Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - February 17, 2015
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Polish, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Turkish
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: DTS 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1; Czech: Dolby Digital 5.1; Hungarian: Dolby Digital 5.1; Polish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Turkish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); UV digital copy; iTunes digital copy; Google Play digital copy
Region Encoding: Region-free playback

The picture quality of this blu-ray release from 20th Century Fox is great. Nice and crisp 1080p, widescreen format make the film a very pleasant one to watch, very easy on the eyes, especially on a nice flat screen HDTV. Black levels are solid and shadows are strong. Colors and hues are rich, deep and authentic without embellishment. It is transferred in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This Blu-ray has captured the theatrical feel well. It is very artistic, bold and ambitious. The transfer is totally flawless - representing the film as perfectly as this medium can. Mix that with the HD master 5.1 audio and you've got yourself a solid viewing experience with excellent sound quality.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

The bonus features of this release is where I feel like they missed some opportunity, there simply is not a whole lot there. However, the bonus features they do have are pretty solid. You've got a really great documentary called Birdman: All Access that explores the process of making the film and the preparation that Iñárritu and the cast went through and shows just how complicated and precise everything had to be in order to pull this film off the way they did. It also has a gallery of set photos that are nice to see. There is also a new bonus feature that is exclusively on the blu-ray that shows star Michael Keaton and Iñárritu as they discuss the film and their experience making the movie as well as their experience working with each other and the rest of the cast.

  • Birdman: All Access (33 min)
  • A Conversation with Michael Keaton and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (14 min)
  • Gallery: Chivo's On Set Photography (3 min)

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