Bruce Bennett Short Bio

Bruce Bennett

Bruce Bennett has been the primary contributor to Mad About Movies since it began in 2003. He is an award winning film and theater critic who, since 2000, has been writing a weekly column in The Spectrum daily newspaper in southern Utah as well as serving as a contributing editor of “The Independent,” a monthly entertainment magazine. He is also the co-host of “Film Fanatics” a movie review show which earned a Telly in 2009. Bruce is also a featured contributor at: RottenTomatoes.com

His motto: "I see bad movies so you don't have to."

Birdman

Keaton soars to new heights
Whatever the film “Birdman” is, an unsettling black comedy about showbiz self-indulgence a surrealistic satire about one man’s attempt at self-preservation or perhaps something even weirder, this much is for sure: Michael Keaton’s performance about a former superhero movie star trying to get back on top might be the greatest comeback by an actor in film history.
That’s right, “Birdman” is a caustic, unflinching look at a fallen celebrity who is trying to resuscitate his career and in real life provides for its lead actor exactly that. Be forewarned however that “Birdman” is both profane and poignant in its revelations about stardom and society and while the film offers moments of intense clarity, it is a provocative approach that doesn’t enrich the soul as much poke, punch and slap your senses like a figuratively steroidal Moe on Curly. You may find yourself wincing, laughing, moved, shocked and frustrated but, thankfully, never bored.
Much of “Birdman’s” relentless energy comes not only from its stellar cast that includes Zach Galifanakis, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough who all get to have their own individual powder keg scenes but from Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s decision to shoot the film as if in one long take. Minimal editing demands long tracking shots that follow the actors – whose first take must work or the whole scene must be re-filmed—wherever they go. This rarely used technique is particularly effective given the film’s only location – the St. James Theatre in New York City. (Though some backstage scenes were shot elsewhere).
Keaton is fictional actor Riggan Thomson who in a desperate attempt to resurrect his professional credibility is producing a stage drama of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” in which he also acts and directs. Inarritu and Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki use continuous, uninterrupted shots to heighten the backstage drama following the actors down hallways, to the streets outside (to great effect in one uproarious scene) and cramped dressing rooms lending “Birdman” a spontaneously combustible and claustrophobic feeling of “Noises Off” meets “Magnolia.”
The combination of actor’s exorcising their inner demons, live performance anxieties (and eccentricities) and the tightrope financial pressures of a Broadway show may simply be too pretentious for the average movie fan but will speak to anyone familiar with such territory.
The script (by Inarritu and several others) often achieves moments of searing honesty while including some artsy touches that remind us we are witnessing a hyper reality; incredibly entertaining at times, no doubt, but confusing too (the symbolic ending demands post-film discussion).
But make no mistake, the centerpiece of “Birdman” is Keaton’s triumphant, fearless, and career defining performance which will likely earn him a Best Actor Oscar next year. And that is a very real likelihood for a gifted actor who has been flying too low for too long.
Rated “R” for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence.
Grade: “B+”

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3 Responses to Birdman

  1. Todd Wessling says:

    While I appreciate the above-and-beyond efforts that went into producing Birdman, I must say that I was somehow underwhelmed, disappointed, and even frustrated by the final product.

    Not having full access to the producers’ minds, and being of only limited intelligence, my reflections may be off base. Moreover, in fairness, perhaps so dense a film deserves a SECOND viewing before one weighs in? These realities not withstanding, I can only offer the results of my highly-fallible grappling with this effort.

    I grew weary of the “sound and fury” of many of the interactions. Only a few scenes really crackled with true believability and tension. Although the character of the reviewer in the pub may have been written rather anachronistically and one-dimensionally, I found THAT confrontation to be very powerful (and, truly tragic, as Riggan leaves behind his handwritten inspiration on the bar counter, like just so much refuse). Likewise, when Riggan and Mike first rehearse utilizing Mike’s free-wheeling approach to the “I did not know the man” dialog, the scene’s pace and overlap and energy were captivating. Nonetheless, I became worn down by the frequency and loudness of so many of the conflicts. Reliance upon sheer volume, as a dramatic tool, begins to pay fewer dividends over time.

    The callousness with which the film seems to deal with such soul-wrenching topics as miscarriage, and suicide, is unsettling.

    Michael Keaton (whom I’ve long felt could play anything effectively–witness Pacific Heights; Multiplicity; Beetlejuice; Jackie Brown) does a nice job with the material he is provided. Perhaps most mercurially effective is Keaton’s (supposed) revelation, to Norton, of the horrors perpetrated upon him and his sister, by their alcoholic father. Wow, what a seamless portrayal. Likewise, I found Zach Galifianakis’ work, and appearance, to be a revelation. I think that most of the acting was fine. (Perhaps the weakest, and most unappealing results, come from Emma Stone?)

    Pivotally, there are too many inconsistencies to allow someone to highly recommend this film.

    +++++++

    SPOILER ALERT:

    Most havoc-wreaking of the illogicalities is the aftermath of the shooting. For example: If someone “shot their nose off”, how is it that the proboscis not only remains, but is somehow larger than before?!? And if Riggan had been serious about his attempt on his own life, how could he miss his head so badly? Performance anxiety? Unlikely.

    +++++++

    Lastly, if I may, one small quibble. I found that the captioning for the movie was often and distractingly in error. It appears that the lazy captioning was based upon the initial script, not upon the (improvised) final rendering.

    Birdman is a thought-provoking, often-innovative, off-putting, sporadically-moving film. I feel here that I am going against the grain, but I am not inclined to give it more than 7.5 out of 10.

    • admin says:

      Well stated and insightful, Todd. BB

    • Joey says:

      I agree with everything you said up til the spoiler alert. I too was wondering how he just managed to shoot his nose off, but if you look at how far he was holding the gun from his head, combined with the recoil from the gun holding it at such an awkward angle, it is entirely believable that the bullet went astray from his head and hit him in the nose instead… As for the replacement, they obviously had to use a prosthetic nose. You just have to let that one slide

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