Tag Archives: Edward Norton


Birdman film posterSynopsis

Director Iñárritu‘s film starring Michael Keaton (Riggan Thomson) as an actor who was once a star in a ’90s Birdman franchise.  Now he’s on Broadway acting Raymomd Carver’s What we Talk about when we Talk about Love with Edward Norton as Mike Shiner.  It’s about the frantic egotism of putting on this play.  Emma Stone is his ex-druggie daughter.  The hallucinatory appearance of Birdman speaks terse truths to Riggan.  He walks through Broadway in his underpants inadvertently starting a new kind of realistic theatre.  He has Birdman visions.


The camera follows Riggan around, so you feel as if you’ve asked to take part in the hectically claustrophobic self absorption of the characters.  The similarity of Birdman to Keaton’s own Birdman is of course entirely intentional.  The seeming real time ducking and weaving of the camera parodies the hand held breathlessness pioneered by the Blair Witch Project, but here it gets us into dark places as Riggan learns some hard truths about himself both as a neglectful and selfish parent of Sam and as an actor from the aptly named Shiner.  Edward Norton’s Shiner is a perfect mickey take of all those tediously obvious method actors that we first saw playing themselves in beatnik sets in the ’50s, the Lee Strasberg school of actorly self consciousness.  The rapid fire incestuous in-jokes about actors recall the similar smug self regard in Betty Davis All about Eve.  In Birdman the actors are expected to be predatory, vain, arrogant, and abrasive and they don’t disappoint.  In Birdman it’s often difficult to draw the line between parody of theatrical vanity and the transparent celebration of that very vanity.   Keaton’s facial gurning draws on his recent performance in Other Guys, like electrified facetiousness.  Are we supposed to congratulate Keaton on his candid self exposure, or his acting at being self revealing?  For all the actors the film looks like an exercise in self therapy helped by energetic jazz music that gives the whole film an unrehearsed feel.  The camera is as energetic and confrontational as the dialogue, as it expressionistically pans over the theatre, streets, and roof tops. Is being punch drunk from the camera and dialogue the same as any exhausting insight into one’s self or others?  What ever the answer might be, it’s occasionally fun.

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Posted by on February 20, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel film posterSynopsis

Jude Law reveals his past.  Hotel manager Gustave H  played by Ralph Fiennes in a sort of First World War Austro-Hungarian world.  He’s made love with elderly women and is suspected of murdering Madame D (Tilda Swinton) who has left a painting in her will to Gustave and this sets up a partnership with the lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori). Gustave is in jail and is pursued by villainous Willem Defoe.  Other Hollywood stars e.g.Owen Wilson and Tom Wilkinson have walk on parts in this chase comedy which goes through many snowy landscapes and weird hotels.


Fiennes’ attempts at humour are reduced to tedious expressions of the “fuck” word as if we take his usual actorly fastidiousness at face value.  He’s a socially climbing controller and chancer and I’m sure Fiennes models his role on the Pink Panther. I managed to laugh a few times.  There are some embarrassingly stilted attempts at humour that you get in those 60’s caper movies especially Casino Royale (1967) and It’s a Mad Mad World.  We’re supposed to be amused when a well known actor turns up to do his routine until the next star vies for our attention by putting the current star back in his box.  Jerky actorly puppetry and idiosyncratic gurning are made to compensate for a decent story and sympathetic characters as we veer off on one smugly irrelevant tangent after another.  Willem Dafoe is simply a cartoonish thug looking like he’d strayed out of the set of Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.  The hotel and other film scenes are like folding boxes in some stylized performance.  The hotel itself is served up like a First World War cardboard theatre. The chase scenes are so derivative that I kept expecting the director to arrive on set and shout “cut”, but then again that’s what he effectively does.  This is not so much a film as a scissors and cutting its way through any attempt at an amusing and coherent story.  The scenes in the film are certainly vivid to the point where colours seem to drench the set.  This is the Europe of Freud and Kafka but we wait in vain for any kind of wit or literary reference in ths failed nightmare.  A would be jolly romp that flogs to death its one joke of Ralph Fiennes trying to keep up appearances.


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The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil film posterSynopsis

Based on Somerset Maugham’s 1925 novel.  Naomi Watts plays Kitty who marries Edward Norton’s Walter who is a bacteriologist.  It’s the early 1920s and they go off to China.  Watts has a brief affair with Liev Schreiber then goes off to her posting where Toby Jones plays Waddington, the British consul.  The Norton-Watt’s relationship is divorce material but they learn love and respect through life and work.  She gets into voluntary work and Norton tries to eliminate cholera, winning over an initially sceptical army officer.  It ends tragically.


This is a familiar story featuring Victorian morality against the forces of love, sex, and work.  Norton at least has a purpose in his Chinese posting, whereas Watts is required to be decorative and bored.  She finds redemptive purpose in voluntary work (helping the nuns in the local school).  Norton is righteously unforgiving towards Watts for ‘betraying’ him but eventually respects Watts’ striving for authenticity and purpose.  The characters are familiar from ‘colonial’ dramas, there is comical disparity between the emotional repression expected of Brits abroad and their real sexual and psychological needs.  Toby Jones seems to be the precursor of Graham Greene exiles in British imperial ennui, world weary as they are a sympathetic source of wise advice and emotional counsel.  Their faces are mask-poised over the anticipated emotional revelations.

The Chinese themselves are from familiar casting: the no-nonsense grandmother, the cooperative orphans, the resentful officer contemptuous of imperialist foreigners, the stoical death scenes, the competing values of British noblesse oblige and Chinese endurance in the ‘bitter sea’ of China, the suspicious questioning of the foreign’s motives.

The rural scenes invite lyricism: the vivid green grass, the beehive mountains, the shot of dense colour through silk, the contemplative lingering over the portentous juxtaposed with the unexpectedly beautiful.  The acting always holds the attention. Quite absorbing.

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Posted by on October 28, 2012 in Film Reviews, Out on DVD


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