"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Spider-Man : Homecoming - A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 2.35 out of 5 stars.

My Recommendation : SKIP IT IN THE THEATRE. SEE IT ON CABLE OR NETFLIX.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts, is the coming of age story of Peter Parker and his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man. The film stars Tom Holland as Spider-Man, with supporting nods from Michael Keaton, Marissa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the first installment of the second re-boot of the third Spider-Man series of films. If that sounds confusing to you, you are not alone. The original cinematic Spiderman was Tobey Maguire who starred in three films produced by Sony from 2002, 2004 and 2007. Sony then re-booted the series in 2012, with Andrew Garfield as the new Spiderman and Emma Stone his love interest. Garfield lasted for two films, the second coming out in 2014, then he ran afoul of Sony's studio head and was summarily exiled from Spideydom. Now, just three years later, Spidey is back, this time with Disney/Marvel producing after the two mega-studios made a deal to bring Spider-Man back into the Marvel fold, adding one more branch to their gargantuan money tree. Tom Holland dons the signature blue and red tights this time for his first star turn in the Spider-Man franchise. Holland has played the character once before in a supporting role in Captain America : Civil War

I enjoyed the first two Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films, they were solid, well-made movies with a distinct aesthetic and style and that I enjoyed. The third Maguire Spider-Man was an abomination that was so atrocious it stopped the franchise in its tracks. I admit I have never seen the Andrew Garfield Spidey films because at the time they seemed to be a gratuitous money-grab being that they were re-booting the franchise just five years after the last series ended. This time around they are re-booting after only three years, but it is a true re-boot where Spider-Man is absorbed into the Avenger's universe, so that somehow seems a bit less artistically bankrupt as the Garfield versions.

I am a fan of the Spider-Man character, so I had high expectations going to the theatre, but sadly I must report that Spider-Man: Homecoming is a very mixed bag of a movie. It isn't awful, but it certainly isn't great either. There are good elements and bad elements. In keeping with my optimistic nature…*please stop laughing*...I will get to the good points first. 

First off, Tom Holland does excellent work as Spider-Man. In this re-boot, Spider-Man is fourteen and fifteen years old, in other words he is a really annoying teenager. Holland does an exceedingly good job of capturing teenage angst and ennui, as well as the frustrations, social fragility and mental chaos that encompass adolescence. His voice even has a subtle crack to it that lets you know this is a boy thrust into a man's world. Holland seems to have a very bright future, and I hope he can use the monstrous success of this Spider-Man movie to spread his artistic wings and do more than carry water for the Disney money machine.

Holland is not the only bright spot in terms of acting. Michael Keaton plays the villain, Vulture, and he gives a terrific performance. There is an underlying menacing quality to Keaton in this film that he wears very well. It is great to see Keaton back in the game and crushing diverse, quality roles after his years of exile from the big stage. In some ways, Keaton's Vulture character is like his fictional alter ego in the movie Birdman, which can make for an ironically enjoyable perspective on his work in Spider-Man. 

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his iconic Iron Man role in the movie. Downey is the quintessential Iron Man. He is the perfect mix of charisma, charm and emotional fragility to bring a superhero to life on screen and he is uniquely qualified to never be overshadowed by all the pyrotechnics surrounding his performance. 

The film also does something very smart which a lot of television shows have started to do as well, namely, that they use music from earlier eras in order to conjure a sense of nostalgia in older audience members. Make no mistake about it, Spider-Man is a movie for teenagers, but the music in it is the music of the 70's and 80's, in other words the music from the teenage years of late baby boomers and generation X. Television shows like 13 Reasons Why and Stranger Things have used this musical technique to great effect in the last year. This is a brilliant device to bring older audiences into the story without alienating younger viewers. 

Another wise move by the filmmakers is that they do not try and do too much right out of the gate. Too many superhero films are unbalanced between superhero and villain, and superhero and task. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-man and Vulture are a pretty evenly matched, and Spider-man is not entrusted with having to save the world, just his little corner of it.

And now for the bad news…as I stated earlier, Tom Holland is fantastic at portraying a teenage boy, in fact he does too good a job. Spending two and half hours with a teenager is not something anyone in their right mind would want to actually do…hell, not even a teenager would want to spend that much time with a teenager. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, we are stuck with an annoying, whiny teenage idiot who makes the same moronic decisions most every teenager would make. Teenagers will relate to him, but adults will want to slap him silly for being so continuously stupid.

Another issue is that the portions of the story that deal with Peter Parker's high school life and friends are pretty unbearable. All of the teenage characters are painfully one-dimensional and are numbingly predictable and corny as hell. Peter Parker and friends are a drag on the entire film.

The story also suffers from a lack of clarity because the film makes large jumps in time and doesn't fill in the gaps properly in order to flesh out the characters and drama. For instance, the movie open with crews cleaning up in the wake of the destruction created by the Avengers in their New York City brawl with aliens in the first Avengers film. Then the movie jumps eight years ahead and we never get to see the critical moments in the development of Keaton's Vulture character, which to me would have been the most interesting part of the film, and we never got see it. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming also suffers from two things that afflict the Marvel films in general, namely that they are visually flat and stale, and also that they are thematically much too paltry and light-hearted. In terms of the visuals of the film, director Jon Watts, whose resume isn't exactly inspiring, is in way over his head. This movie is aesthetically more akin to a made for television movie than it is a cinematic enterprise. To be fair to Watts, Disney/Marvel run a very tight ship and are not interested in artistic vision, only franchise conformity and box-office returns.

As for the light-hearted nature that permeates all of the Marvel films, Spider-Man: Homecoming is definitely no exception. Like all of the Marvel movies, there is a tsunami of zippy one-liners and a flippancy that seeps out of its every pore. I understand that "entertainment' is the goal with these movies, but that doesn't mean they have to be so shallow and frivolous. Christopher Nolan proved with his Dark Knight trilogy that superhero movies can be entertaining and also artistically and archetypally illuminating at the same time. Even Sam Raimi with the original two Spider-Man films was able to pull that off, as was Ang Lee with his much maligned, Jungian inspired, Hulk. Just this year we have seen the superhero game elevated to a much higher level with James Mangold's superior Logan and Patty Jenkin's well-crafted Wonder Woman. Spider-Man fails to live up to the standards set by these quality films, but the truth is the same can be said of all of the Marvel films and Disney doesn't care as long as the money train keeps rolling. 

The final issue I had with Spider-Man: Homecoming was that the rules of the cinematic universe were never clearly defined. What I mean by that is that superhero movies are pretty incredible to begin with, so you have to have a set of rules for the film that the movie sticks to or else the story loses much needed credibility. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, for instance, Spider-Man is knocked out by bumping his head on a roof, but when he gets punched by a super-arm or is in a car crash, he comes out entirely unscathed. It is a little thing, but sometimes the little things add up to a big thing. 

There was one thing that was both good and bad about the film. There is a B-story sub-text about class in the film that is pretty fascinating, which is the good thing, the bad thing is it is so minor as to be quickly forgotten. Spider-man is a local, working class hero, or as Iron Man tells him, he has a whole "Springsteen vibe" going on. I think if the film had fleshed out this idea it would have been a very rich topic to explore. Keaton's Vulture is the same as Spider-man, a blue collar local guy, whereas Iron Man and the Avengers are a globalist bunch of elitists trying to impose their values on the locals. Politically, this is a potent narrative that we have seen play out across the globe and even in our last election. A superhero movie can sometimes be the best place to hash out archetypal and mythic conflicts so that viewers can find nuance, or clarity, whichever they most need. Sadly, Spider-Man: Homecoming spent more time with adolescent pursuits and mostly turned a blind eye to the class struggle that was taking place at the heart of the story, and the film is lesser for it. 

The bottom line is this, Spider - Man: Homecoming is just…ok. It is an admittedly fun but basically mindless movie that will no doubt entertain millions and make billions. If you are a superhero fan you will see the film regardless of what I say, but if you are lukewarm on these types of films, I think you can skip it in the theatre and see it when it's on cable of Netflix. 

In conclusion I will share this, that over the years many readers have emailed me to tell me that they think I am a vicious misogynist, racist and xenophobe, and with my tepid review of Spider-Man: Homecoming, they will no doubt add "incorrigible arachnophobe" to the list of evils that afflict me. I will simply say this in my defense…I am not an arachnophobe (some of my best friends are spiders!!), I am just a cinephile who yearns for a bit more from the standard summertime popcorn movies that Hollywood continuously uses to separate fools like me from their hard earned money. My spidey-senses are telling me I'm going to need to lower my standards. 

©2017

Spotlight : A Review

****THIS REVIEW CONATINS ZERO SPOILERS!!! THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!****

MY RATING : SEE IT IN THE THEATRE!!

Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy and written by McCarthy and Josh Singer, is the true story of a team of reporters from the Boston Globe's Spotlight team, who investigate and report on child sex abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston Diocese. The film stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Liev Schrieber.

Spotlight is one of the very best films of the year. It is a tense drama, exquisitely acted by a sterling cast, deftly directed and intricately edited. Spotlight is the type of film that seems like it could have been made during cinema's golden age in the 1970's. It feels like a distant cousin of that decades All the President's Men, another story of journalism and hard-driving reporters investigating a scandal deep at the heart of a thought to be untouchable power. Interestingly enough, in Spotlight, John Slattery plays Boston Globe journalist and editor Ben Bradlee Jr., the son of famed Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, one of the key players at the Post during their Watergate reporting, who was played by Jason Robards in All the President's Men.

Even though Spotlight is set in the late 1990's and early 2000's, it is really an insightful period piece about the last days of the relevancy of newspapers, and of the dying craft of investigative journalism. The film pays homage to the last generation of journalists who will have had the opportunity to work full-time doing investigative reporting for a newspaper. Corporatism and the internet have devastated the newspaper industry, and Spotlight shows us that industry's last gasp, and what we are missing now that it is, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Spotlight is also about the scourge of institutional blindness and the insidiousness of silence in the face of that blindness. The willful institutional blindness of the church, the press, the courts and law enforcement, and of the people of the city of Boston is on full display in the film. At its heart, Spotlight is really an indictment of the city and the people of Boston. Boston is one of the most parochial places you could ever imagine. For a place filled with legendary institutions of higher learning, it is remarkably narrow-minded and short-sighted. As the film shows us, the suffocating claustrophobia, knee-jerk myopia and the vicious parochialism of Boston created a toxic brew of dysfunction, arrogance and deference in which predatory priests and the Church hierarchy thrived. Only an outsider could break the spell of Boston's willful blindness, and in Spotlight that role is played by Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, a Jewish editor from Miami who is new to the city and the Globe, and not beholden to the Church. Baron is the one who instigates the Spotlight team into investigating the church and pushes them to dig deeper and reach higher up the hierarchy in their work.

When the story of Spotlight ends, and the indictment of Boston is complete, a very long list of other cities and town scrolls across the screen. These cities and towns are places where other Catholic sex abuse scandals have been uncovered, and the viewer gets the dawning realization that Spotlight isn't an indictment against the city and people of Boston, it is an indictment against all of us, no matter where we live. We are all guilty of the same blindness and cowardice, to one degree or another, on display in Spotlight.

Director Tom McCarthy and his editors do a spectacular job deftly maneuvering the viewer through the morass of the allegations and the cover up at the heart of the film. He keeps a solid and steady dramatic pace, never letting the story lose steam or the viewer lose interest. McCarthy shows a great skill in pacing and tempo throughout the film. Spotlight is littered with detailed little gems which frame and shape each scene and propel the story through the entirety of the film. McCarthy is an actor himself, and his understanding of acting is on full display in Spotlight. He keeps the scenes tight and the actors loose. McCarthy directs the drama to be  vibrant, but never pushes the pace too hard that we lose the subtlety, specificity and humanity at the heart of each of the performances.

The acting on display in the film is exquisite across the board. Even the small, local hires, playing abuse victims and local residents, hit it out of the park. This is a top-notch, professionally acted film from top to bottom. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian D'arcy James play the Spotlight reporters perfectly. They bring a tangible sense of purpose and vivd detail to their work that drives each scene and ultimately the narrative of the entire film.

It is great to see Michael Keaton follow up his great artistic success in last years Birdman, with his solid work in Spotlight. Keaton is pitch-perfect as Walter "Robby" Robertson, a native son of Boston and well-respected journalist. I hope Keaton continues to make these kinds of choices in the projects that he chooses as he is such an asset to any film where he can bring his skill and experience to bear.

McAdams does the best work of her career as reporter Sacha Pfieffer.  McAdams is as grounded and genuine as she has ever been on screen. She displays a humanity and a compelling internal life that is both steady and captivating.

Mark Ruffalo follows up his terrific work in last years otherwise disappointing Foxcatcher, with a dynamic performance as reporter Michael Rezendes. Ruffalo brings a magnetic power and a tangible wound to the role that is mesmerizing. Ruffalo has been on a roll lately with great work and Spotlight is some of his best.

Both Liev Schreiber and Stanley Tucci have smaller roles but they do spectacular work. Both men are actors of extraordinary craft and talent, and they both bring all of their skills to bear in Spotlight. Without Schrieber and Tucci's multi-dimensional portrayals, the film would have suffered greatly.

Spotlight is the type of superbly crafted film of which I wish Hollywood would make more. Spotlight, The Big Short, which is another great film from this year, and 12 Years a Slave from 2013, all had minuscule budgets around $20 million and all of them at least more than doubled their budgets in profits. Instead of spending $100 or $200 million to make a monstrosity like The Avengers or some action piece of crap, why not take that money and make five or ten Spotlights, or The BIg Shorts or 12 Years a Slave? Those three films combined cost $60 million to make and have grossed $363 million. With moderate budgets like that, there is less risk and higher reward, as opposed to a $200 million film, which will nearly double its budget on marketing and then need to make a billion dollars just to be considered a success. Spotlight shows that good and great films can be made relatively inexpensively using just the skill, craft and talent of the people involved. I wish for all of our sakes that Hollywood would learn that lesson, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they won't. Regardless of the state of the film industry, Spotlight is proof that there are still artists out there capable of making high quality, smart films. 

In conclusion, Spotlight is one of my favorite films of the year. It teaches us hard lessons about our own cultural blindness and the price that the most vulnerable among us pay for it. It also shows us a time not long ago, when the press could, on its better days, hold those in power accountable. Those days are long gone, and Spotlight reveals to us that our culture is lesser for the loss of true investigative journalism. Spotlight is well worth your time, money and effort to go see it in the theaters. I strongly encourage you to do so. 

©2016

 

****WARNING, THIS FOLLOWING SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS!! THIS IS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT****

FROM THE KONSPIRACY KORNER!!

(This section is written by my lifelong friend and our resident conspiracist, Prof. Rev. Dr. Steve Keithans a.k.a The Mayor of Westfield. The good Professor Reverend Doctor Keithans views may or may not be the same as my own, but regardless, I am happy to share them here with you now.)

The strangest thing…when speaking with my good brother Michael McCaffrey about the film Spotlight, one of the great elements that we both noticed about the film was how fantastically well paced it is. But to my eyes there was one small hiccup which stuck out to me like a sore thumb. Films have a visual style, rhythm and pace to them. Shots are consistently framed and lit in a certain style and held for a certain length creating an unconscious rhythm for the viewer of a film. Each shot informs the shot that follows it and is informed by the one that preceded it. Spotlight quickly establishes its visual rhythm and sticks with it through the entire film…except for one…single...shot.

The shot in question takes place at exactly 1 hour 23 minutes and 22 seconds of the film. The shot is of the Boston Globe parking lot as editor Mark Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives to the office. It is a wide shot, one which we have not seen yet, nor will we see it again. We have seen this same parking lot before but only in close ups and two shots of the actors in their cars. In this shot, from a high angle wide shot, we see Baron pull his car in to the parking lot. Looming over the parking lot, and dominating the shot, is a big "AOL Anywhere" billboard and the background is the skyline of Boston. Here is a screen capture of the shot.

It is an odd shot in the context of the visual style and rhythm of the film and it is jarring to the unconscious of the viewer because it breaks that rhythm. It is pretty striking that the one shot that is out of rhythm with the entire film is that of an AOL Anywhere billboard which happens to have a giant pyramid with an all seeing eye in it. What makes the shot all the more jarring is the context of where it shows up in the film. The scene directly following this shot shows Mark Baron entering the Boston Globe office, in the foreground a group of people are gathered around a television watching breaking news. The breaking news is the 9-11 attack. Baron stops in front of the television long enough to see a jumbo jet crash into the World Trade Center. 

When I first saw the film I felt uneasy with the parking lot shot, but didn't really give it much thought. The sensation was one of slight discomfort, something just seemed off, nothing more. It was more subconscious than anything and it barely registered in my conscious mind except to say…"hmmm…that feels…off".

Upon my second viewing of the film, I was more consciously jarred by the visual anomaly, and I wondered if this was just a very unsubtle case of AOL product placement.  

Then I thought, well, maybe the director is trying to symbolically say that newspapers in general, and the Boston Globe in particular, don't know what is coming at them, the black swan theory if you will…that they are blind to their own on-coming demise in the form of AOL (the internet), much like the U.S. was blind to the 9-11 attacks. 

Then I wondered if maybe this shot has a deeper meaning that the director was not even conscious of, or maybe he was…who knows, right? Maybe the all seeing eye highlighted in that shot is symbolic of one of the shadowy "secret societies" that are known to use child sex abuse rituals when they practice their dark art. Or maybe it is symbolic of the all seeing eye of "the powers that be" in the military-intelligence-surveillance industrial complex who were either complicit or entirely behind the 9-11 attacks in order to increase their power and control by creating a "new Pearl Harbor". Or maybe those two groups, the child sex abuse ritual people, and the military-intelligence-surveillience industrial complex people are cross pollinated and are actually one in the same and this shot shows us a brief glimpse of their vast power and control…the billboard does say "AOL Everywhere" after all.

Then I wondered if maybe this shot was a secret warning from an insider of one of these groups, alerting anyone with the eyes to see that this nefarious, shadowy group was behind both the sex abuse in the Catholic church, and 9-11 and most everything we see in the media (once again…"Everywhere"). And then I wondered if this shot was indicating that another 9-11 was coming, this time aimed at Boston.

And then I wondered why my head hurt so much, and then I realized that my tinfoil hat was on way too tight. Sadly, after I removed the tinfoil hat from my head, the aching still remained…and even more unsettlingly, so did the anomaly of that shot and the all seeing eye in the pyramid looming over the city of Boston, and glaring right at me…and seeing right through me…knowing and controlling…"EVERYTHING".

©2016

BIRDMAN or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): A Review

"The two hardest things in life to deal with are failure and success" - author unknown

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WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a former star of the fictitious superhero "Birdman" franchise films, who is on the downside of his career and tries to reignite it by adapting, directing and starring in a stage version of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The film follows the trials and tribulations of the staging of the play, of Riggan's life and his descent (or further descent) into madness.

Besides Michael Keaton in the lead, the film boasts a stellar cast of supporting actors including Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan and Zach Galifianakis. All of them turn in solid and sometimes spectacular performances. Norton in particular is really great as Mike Shiner, a stage actor intensely committed to his craft and work. 

Keaton is the best he has ever been in the lead role of Riggan Thomson. He effortlessly captures Riggan's desperation, emptiness and regrets, both professional and personal. Keaton emanates Riggan's frantic need to be famous, important, respected and loved (both by others and himself), and that reeking stink of desperation seeps through his every pour and envelops and follows him wherever he goes.  Keaton as Riggan is both charismatic and repulsive at the same time, no easy feat, and he carries the film with the power of his performance as a man running out of performance power.

"Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige" - Mike Shiner

The symbolism of having Keaton play the lead is undeniable. Keaton has been identified for decades by his portrayal of Batman in the first few Tim Burton Batman movies of the 80's. In many ways, Keaton's once promising career never fully recovered from being Batman. His wallet certainly never suffered from playing the Caped Crusader, but his artistic soul, instincts, reputation and career most assuredly did. Keaton, just like Riggan Thomson, had not only lost his artistic soul, but he had also lost the thing most precious in the entertainment industry…cultural relevance. Riggan's staging of a 'comeback' play is on one level, an attempt to save his artistic soul by returning to the birthplace of acting…the theatre, and doing a work by Carver, a writer who once encouraged a young Riggan to really pursue being an actor. But as the ice cold theatre critic Tabitha Dickinson (brilliantly played by Lindsay Duncan) tells Riggan, "You aren't a real actor, you're a celebrity". Ouch…the truth hurts, as they say, because on another level Riggan proves Tabitha right, by using his return to the theatre as just a way for him to get some temporary artistic credibility (Mike Shiner's aforementioned 'prestige') in order to return to cultural relevance, and thus fame ('popularity'). Of course, the same could be said of Keaton, who in returning to a smaller, independent, art-house type film, is trying to re-ignite not only his long lost acting credibility (prestige), but also his fame and cultural relevance (popularity). Keaton has gotten nominated for a Golden Globe and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he gets an Oscar nomination, which brings with it prestige. So this film may work for him on both the prestige and popularity counts. Time will only tell how things play out, I certainly hope he doesn't fling himself out of a high-rise window.

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What is fascinating about Birdman is that it plays with the multiple ways in which reality is perceived from an artists (or at least an actor's) point of view, and lets all of those various realities mix together to help the viewer try and understand why Riggan is so out of and off balance. His world and his perception of the world never settles down enough for him to stand firmly upon it and claim one reality as his own, so he stumbles from one perception of reality to the next, never fully understanding any one that he inhabits.

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Riggan has a sign up on his dressing room mirror which reads, "A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing". This is a bit of wisdom that Riggan is never fully able to integrate into his psyche. Riggan, like most famous people, or formerly famous people, is stuck between being an actual human being and being a human creation. Is he defined by what people are saying about him on Facebook, or how many twitter followers he has? Is he defined by what the critics say of him? Or of what studio heads think of him? Or of what films roles he is offered, or how many awards he has won, or how much money he makes? Or is he defined by his past success as Birdman, or has his past success as Birdman actually become a failure and does that define him? All confusing stuff but it can be boiled down to this…there are two questions that famous people, whether they be actors, reality stars, cable news talking heads, politicians or general wannabes wrestle with on an everyday basis…1. what do people think of me? and 2. what do the really important people think of me?….and not always in that exact order.

The artist is not spared in the distorted perception of reality discussion either. Edward Norton's Mike Shiner is a successful broadway actor, the quintessential stage actor. He is so lost in his art that he is unable to actually be a real, live person anywhere except on stage in front of an audience. He is so committed to his art in fact, that the only time he has been able to get an erection in the last six months is on stage in front of a live audience during a performance of Riggan's 'comeback play'. He is self aware enough to know that he is a disaster area of a human being, but is so cocksure as an actor that he is willing to overlook the 95% of his life off-stage in order to 'shine' for that 5% of the time he is on stage. The artist, along with the fame hungry star, can lose their balance in the search for their validation of choice. As Mike Shiner puts it, "popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige". Shiner is the artistic shadow of Riggan, and in turn, Riggan is the shadow of Shiner, both distorted by their quest, one for popularity, one for prestige. Flip sides of the same coin.

"I do not like the man who squanders life for fame; give me the man who living makes a name" - Emily Dickinson

The lesson to take from Birdman, (and a life in the acting business) is that fame is a disease. The pursuit of it is an act of the insane. With fame comes a deep moral and ethical decay and rot. The world of the famous is filled with corruption, depravity, self-loathing and paranoia. When a person attains fame, they cease to be a human being, and morph into a soul-less product. Just like any large corporation, be it Exxon, Time-Warner or Goldman Sachs, the famous may have legal 'personhood' but they are not actual human beings.  This is the sickness of fame. It strips those who have it of their human being-ness, and that is why it strips those of us looking upon them of our humaneness. We project all of our hopes and fears upon them, often all at the same time. When a person is so inundated with all of these projections, they can't help but be overwhelmed by them as if by being struck by a tsunami. Their true selves get obliterated, and the person they were, for good or for ill, vanishes, and is replaced with a new self, that is false and manufactured. The only antidote to the disease and addiction of fame is to actively work against it and to cultivate a grounded life and a sense of true self. Fame as an off-shoot of being genuinely talented, is difficult enough, even when it is vigorously shunned, but fame that is a result of  sheer ambition and force of will that is pursued to fill a desperate psychological need or satiate a malignant narcissism, is an act of madness that will most assuredly result in self immolation. Birdman lays that hard truth bare for all to see, and it is a lesson that America would be wise to learn in this age of the reality television star and the celebration of the minimally talented.

"Whatever begins, also ends" - Seneca

As much as I enjoyed Birdman, and I genuinely did, there is one major flaw, and in some ways it undermines the entirety of the film. The ending is terribly bungled, so much so that it leaves me scratching my head because they actually had the chance to end it perfectly twice and let those endings pass and instead settled for a muddled and bewildering ending that scuttles the interest and brilliance that leads up to it. The film ends with Riggan jumping out a hospital window, and his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) entering the empty hospital room and not finding her father and seeing the window open she goes to it and looks out. First she looks down, as if to find his body splattered on the sidewalk, when she doesn't, she then looks up…and sees something and smiles. We don't see what she sees, but I would assume that Riggan has become The Birdman, or a legend and now resides among the stars or something along those lines. He has become immortal at last. That ending is fine in and of itself, but it doesn't work because in the context of the film, there were not one but two different endings leading up to it, thus altering and undermining the final beat of the movie. The first aborted ending is when Riggan is on stage with a real gun and not the prop gun of the play, and holds it to his head and pulls the trigger in front of a packed house on stage. The screen goes black. The film could have ended there and people would have left talking about it. How people will literally (and figuratively) kill themselves for fame and stardom. This is a major theme running through the American psyche at the moment and numerous films are exploring the subject, from Whiplash to Foxcatcher to Birdman. The 'shooting yourself on stage' ending leaves us talking about those type of issues and our celebrity and fame infected and obsessed culture as we leave the movie theatre and for days and weeks after. 

The second ending comes right after the first, we come back from a black screen following the shooting to find Riggan in the hospital, he survived, but he shot his nose off. He has literally (and figuratively) cut, or in this case shot, his nose off to spite his face. On the other hand, he is on the cover of all the newspapers and the hot topic on television, everyone is talking about him, and even giving him great reviews. He is back to relevance, both artistic and fame-wise, prestige and popularity. He sits in bed thinking about it all, the madness of it, the hell that was fame when he once knew it, the road that lies ahead of being back in-the-mix of the decadent, vicious, vapid and vacant world of hollywood and pop culture. Keaton is brilliant in this scene, he captures Riggan's conflicted feelings and fear perfectly. It would have been an absolutely fantastic way to end the film, with just a close up of Keaton as he hears that he IS BACK ON TOP, and seeing what that really means to someone who has lived through it before and knows he won't live through it again this time, and how empty and toxic the prize he has just won really is. Cut to black…prepare Oscar speech. But again, they didn't do that, they instead have a few more minutes of the film which just aren't necessary and which undercut the brilliance that preceded it and disrupt and alter the rhythm of the film. I have been trying to figure out why the decision to end the film where they did was made, it is baffling. It isn't a more 'hollywood' ending, in fact it is still an 'art house' ending, just a more muddled and less coherent one. And of the three artistic endings it could have used, it is without question the weakest. 

As a result of the unskillful ending of the film, I had the experience of finding the film to be…well...forgettable. That is not to say that I didn't enjoy the experience of watching it in the theatre, and it is also not to say that it isn't a good film, it is to say that by faltering at the end the film does not end up staying with you for very long. You don't walk out of the theatre and talk about it for hours. You don't think about it and mull it over for the following days and weeks. The film had the chance to be a sumptuous feast if it had gotten its ending right, but instead it lurches from one false ending to the next, which ultimately, like chinese food, leaves you hungry twenty minutes later.

In conclusion, Birdman is a very good film that I really enjoyed watching, with solid and sometimes spectacular performances by the entire cast, but it misses out on being a great film by not getting the oh-so-critical ending right, and that is a terrible shame. As I said, I did enjoy the film, but I do wonder if 'normal' people, in other words, 'non-actors' or 'non-entertainment industry' people will enjoy it quite as much as I did. But with all that said I recommend you go see it, if for no other reason than to get a glimpse into the madness of the life of being an actor, or even worse...a successful actor.

© 2014

FOR REVIEWS OF OTHER FILMS RELEASED DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON, PLEASE CLICK ON THESE LINKS TO THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING , WHIPLASH , FOXCATCHER , WILD , AMERICAN SNIPER , THE IMITATION GAME , A MOST VIOLENT YEAR , NIGHTCRAWLER , STILL ALICE , INHERENT VICE , SELMA , MR. TURNER , CAKE .