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catching up: Birdman and Whiplash

Posted by martinteller on March 28, 2015

Birdman is one of those movies I felt like I should see, even though — despite praise from many corners — I wasn’t terribly interested.  Iñárritu has been on a steady decline since his powerful debut Amores Perros, and besides that, I generally don’t get too excited for movies about acting and actors (although I guess my #1, Fanny and Alexander, is about actors, but only to a small degree).  The director has previously toyed with parallel narrative threads, now he goes for a continuous take thing which didn’t do a whole lot for me but it was interesting how he used it to present a non-real-time chronology.  There are a couple of clever things but then a lot of stuff that was glaringly not clever, or original (Riggan’s casual displays of telekinesis were so reminiscent of Time of the Gypsies I had to wonder if it was an influence).  The script has a lot of overly writer-ish stuff in it.  And just plain lazy writing too.  Why do screenwriters love the “Why did we break up?” bit so much?  No one ever actually has a conversation like that.  Couples tend to remember why they broke up.  It’s a cheap shortcut to fill the audience in on some backstory.  And then the whole thing just reeks of Hollywood congratulating itself (Oscar or no Oscar) for being so self-aware.  I dunno, there was a lot that bugged me about this movie but I recognize some virtue (ugh virtue… don’t get started on the movie’s pompous subtitle).  I always like seeing Keaton and yeah, he’s pretty good here.  I liked Norton too, perhaps even because one wonders how close this character is to his true personality.  Overall, though, the movie doesn’t live up to its ambitions and doesn’t really say anything new.  Rating: Fair (68)

Whiplash, on the other hand, was both a breath of fresh air and a shot in the arm.  It’s a movie that sometimes goes big, but remains unassuming.  The relationship between Miles Teller (no relation that I’m aware of) and J.K. Simmons is maybe something we’ve seen before, but has an edgy energy to it, an unpredictability that kept me transfixed.  It’s a captivating rollercoaster of pride, ego, ambition, drive and power.  It leads you down a path where this mesmerizing dynamic develops and doesn’t try to tell you what it’s saying about these people (unlike Birdman, which is often way too on-the-nose).  It’s not all great… the family dinner scene feels too easy, and I’m not convinced that the climax gets to the truest honesty.  But I was transfixed by the movie’s bare vitality, its rawness.  Rating: Very Good (88)

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