Movie Review: Birdman


Normally I wouldn’t be first in line to see an under-the-radar black comedy about a washed-up Hollywood star who’s battling demons—real and imagined—while trying to write, direct and star in a Broadway play just to announce to the world that he’s still relevant.

Normally I wouldn’t be the second in line, the 12th, the 100th or even the 10 millionth for a movie like that. But over the past couple weeks, everywhere I turned, I kept hearing the whispers about this incredible little film starring Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, the main character trying to restart his career (or put on his final act…it’s definitely ambiguous as to what his ultimate goal is with opening a Broadway play).

We’re into November now, which means movies with Oscar aspirations are finally being released in theaters. The buzz over Keaton’s performance is what got me into a theater this past week, and that buzz is 100% deserved.

Birdman is the name of the movie because it’s the name of the fictitious Superhero that Keaton’s Thomson played in three hugely successful movies 20 years earlier. Then he walked away from that career-making & fortune-making role, and presumably he vanished from the A-list for the next two decades.

It isn’t too big of a leap for people to think about Michael Keaton’s career as a parallel to this storyline. He starred as Batman in the late 80s/early 90s, but walked away from the franchise after two films. We all know subsequent Batman films have gone on to make a ton of money over the last 20 years, and Keaton hasn’t really been relevant for a long time now.

Even though Keaton says in this interview that the main character’s backstory in Birdman couldn’t be any less similar to his real life, you can’t help but make the comparison while watching the onscreen Riggan Thomson in action.

This movie is so much more than “struggling actor tries to save his career by performing on Broadway.” It has many layers. Thomson and his best friend/co-producer Jake are nearly out of money before the play’s opening night even arrives. (Finally! Zach Galifianakis plays a character that doesn’t just feel like a regurgitated version of his role in The Hangover films.)

When they need to find a last-minute actor to fill a major role in the play, they’re ecstatic to land Broadway veteran Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), but that ultimately comes with problems. First, in order to pay Shiner’s ridiculous salary, Thomson has to refinance his Malibu home that was supposed to be given to his daughter one day (she’s a recovering drug addict played by Emma Stone). Then Shiner starts to steal the spotlight and go rogue on the script.

The revolving love triangles among the cast and crew are minor conflicts compared to Thomson’s internal demon. He can’t get the voice of Birdman out of his head. It’s the voice that’s repeatedly telling him he doesn’t need this Broadway play or the hassle it brings. He’s a star. He grossed more than $1 Billion worldwide.

All the pressures and issues facing Thomson come to a head when the play is running its final preview, a showing attended by the New York Times theater critic Tabitha, who has the reputation of either making or breaking your success on Broadway.

What happens in the movie’s final 30 minutes will make you laugh, cry and walk away extremely satisfied.

You should see this movie if: You love artsy indie movies; you like black comedies; you want to see a movie that’s totally unique and original compared to a lot of the repetitive junk that the studios usually put out there; you’re OK with laughing and crying at the same time; you’re a big Michael Keaton and/or Edward Norton fan; you’re into Broadway and want to see a somewhat fictitious take of what goes on behind the curtain; you want to see what will most likely be an Oscar-nominated performance (Keaton’s for sure).

You should not see this movie if: You only like films that have lots of action and a ton of special effects; you couldn’t possibly picture liking an artsy movie; you only like comedies that are pure laughs and don’t have any drama; you hate Michael Keaton and/or Edward Norton; just thinking about plays and Broadway makes you start yawning.

On the Ross Watchability Scale, I’m giving Birdman a 7.5 out of 10. The acting is incredible throughout and the plot actually held my attention a lot better than I was initially expecting. I’m very glad to have heard that buzz that got me into the theater for this one.

One final note: If you’re considering a few different movie options for this weekend, you can compare my thoughts on Birdman with two other movies that should still be in the theaters: Gone Girl and Fury. Of course, there’s a very strong chance that you’re seeing Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar on its opening weekend, but if you want to avoid those crowds, check out one of the three movies above.


Movie Review: Fury


Wasn’t there a time when every film starring Brad Pitt would be released with a lot of fanfare and media coverage? Nowadays it seems like only one out of every handful of his movies gets any type of publicity.

In fact, his perfect appearance on Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns” earlier this week got a lot more buzz than anything else he’s done recently (And I highly recommend watching that five-minute skit. You won’t be disappointed).

I almost forgot there was a new movie featuring Mr. Jolie out in the theaters when I stumbled upon Fury the other day.

And good thing I found it. What a cool little World War II flick this is!

It’s simple, focused, uncomplicated and limited to just a few main characters. I suppose most WWII movies have a pretty narrow scope. You can’t really tackle the entire war in a two-hour film.

Fury focuses on the end of the war, when the Americans are marching on Germany. The story follows a tank and its crew, led by Pitt’s Staff Sergeant “Wardaddy”, as they try to hold off the Germans at a critical crossing where the Allies are moving their supplies.

More important than the step-by-step plot is the men inside the tank. Five soldiers with differing levels of experience, four of whom have been together in this tank (named “Fury” by the way) since the war began.

The fifth guy? That’s where all the drama comes from. His name is Norman Ellison, and he’s the baby-faced war virgin (and possibly sexual virgin) who recently enrolled in the army to be a typist, not a driver of a tank, and certainly not a combat soldier. But he’s thrust into this situation, and as you’d expect, he’s immediately in over his head. He’s never been in combat, never killed a man, and doesn’t seem like he belongs in any way.

His “orientation” happens as Fury leaves an Ally base and moves into hostile territory. Bonds among men are formed, lives are lost and very cool war battles are fought. This is not a war movie that has the typical slowness to it. These guys are in danger the entire time, and the movie makes sure we feel that suspense and anxiousness throughout.

You should see this movie if: You love war movies, especially WWII stories; you worship Brad Pitt and all that he does; you like watching two hours of film where there’s a ton of action and only a little character development; you like cool battle scenes; you like your movies as gritty and grim as possible.

You should not see this movie if: Graphic images, specifically dead bodies and severely injured body parts, make you sick; you’re simply not a fan of war movies; you like your films to have female actresses with significant roles; you require the happiest of happy endings; you like those movies that have tons of character development and backstory; you only like comedies.

On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), I’m giving Fury a solid 6.5 out of 10. I’m not the world’s biggest war movie fan so it would be tough for me to put anything in this genre much higher than a 7 or 8 anyway. If you read my review from earlier this week on Gone Girl, then you know which of these two films I’d recommend you see in the theater this weekend.