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Birdman

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.

Review

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 Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man posterSynopsis

Goes back to the original story after the Toby McGuire films.  Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker plays a science student who has lost his father (Richard Parker), a colleague of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who is a leading herpetologist who dreams of growing back his arm like lizards can regenerate limbs.  Peter is in love with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) whose father is the police chief.  Parker lives with Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field).  Parker gets bitten by lots of spiders in a science lab and he tries out his powers on the class bully and then tries to find the robber who has killed Uncle Ben.  He is seen as a vigilante, and the police are after him.  He duels with Curt Connors who has become a giant lizard after falling foul of his corporate bosses…

Criticism

This Spiderman is less of a nerd who has to prove himself and more the victim of a self contempt liberated by his new found powers.  He becomes an unaccountable bully seeking revenge, but conceals this to himself by thinking that he pursues justice for the weak.  He simply repays the victim in his own coin, to the bully he is a bully, and to the greedy or cynical he is a cynic with superpowers.  Garfield’s Parker is much more smitten with his girlfriend than Toby McGuire was with Kirsten Dunst, indeed Garfield’s character goes on being himself with the distraction of arachnid aerobatics.

Like Molina’s multi-armed baddie in the McGuire Spiderman film, Curt Connors starts out by wanting to do good but the obsessive Faustian pact with techno power always ends badly.  The conception is total, but then there is eleventh hour repentance.  Garfield’s Parker also has to learn self knowledge through the use of his powers.  I wonder if the writers of these comic books were trying to teach simple lessons about the abuse of American military power in the mid 20th century.  Garfield’s Peter Parker is no nerd glancing over his shoulder at comic book purists, he doesn’t do a Clark Kent (the civilian identity of Superman) and pretend to be a decent wimp in order to enhance by contrast the spell of his superpowers.  This time the powers are acquired quickly as a fun jaunt that might end any time.  The spun webs keep Spiderman from the airy nothing of just flying about, his powers depend on the use of buildings.  In Spiderman gravity is aestheticized so it makes his use of space more like a techno circus stunt.  He’s a sort of glorified base jumper who recognizess the limits of his powers as enmeshed with the city, it’s almost a sort of CGI performance art in a daft spandex outfit.  Good fun.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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The Help

The Help posterSynopsis

Set in Mississippi in 1961 during the black struggle for civil rights, it stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as maids.  Viola tells the story of her life working for whites.  Emma Stone plays Skeeter who is an aspiring writer who wants to tell the maids’ stories. Skeeter’s mother has a secret about the black maid she employed, she did not defend her against white guests.  Skeeter has white friends who are society ladies and seem to be squeaky clean housewives like in Revolutionary Road.  When Skeeter’s book ‘The Help’ is published the white women get angry about the exposure of their racism.  Octavia Spencer works for a white woman, Janice Chastain, who doesn’t want her husband to know she relies on a maid.  He finds out, Skeeter has a promising career.  There’s civil rights on the TV.

Criticism

This is a big let down.  It’s as if the last fifty years had never happened.  This is like nostalgia for Gone with the Wind and the simplicity and ease (for whites) of a world where black people are subjected to many forms of racist abuse.  If you want to defend the film by saying that it only shows the culture the races lived in, then why isn’t more prominence given to the Civil Rights Movement and how it could impinge on their lives?  The film wallows in sentimental familiarities which work well as a shallowly kitsch story but which are unacceptable to black people.  The star of this film is a white woman (Skeeter, the writer).  The best that black people can hope for in this film is to be well treated by whites!  It’s all ‘Uncle Tom’ and I’m surprised it hasn’t been picketed.  Jessica Chastain learns about cooking and the wisdom of life from her black maid who is then expected to be grateful that she can continue to work for them!  The Help takes the face value of inanities of condescension and turns them into matters for gentle comedy.  Some of the audience I watched this with, really missed the point in so far as they appeared to want the black maids to be nice and happy in their domestic slavery.  It’s crass enough to make Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner look sophisticated.  At least that film was sincere and had the merit of well intentioned naivety.  That final speech by Spencer Tracey was heartrending in it’s clumsy innocence.  The Help takes that world and endorses it’s sentimental confusion about race. One of the tragedies of racism is how it distorts perception between races.  The inherent disadvantages for one race diminish the prospects for disinterested interaction.  The film Mississippi Burning looked at the same world and although it starred whites and went to patronizingly painstakingly lengths to involve blacks, it at least faced the struggle for social justice full on.  This film trivialises and caricatures race relations on white terms.  It’s up to the whites to see their moral shortcomings, sometimes achieved through black agency but in a way that sentimentally sanctions the very inequalities it should be attacking.  By that, I mean that it takes as rosy a view about what it thinks should be the relations between employer and maid as in Gone with the Wind.

The racist snobs are predictable whites of the southern states:  needy, infantile, narcissistic and neurotic.  Naturally they will get their comeuppance but only at the level of personal revenge, they are satirised in the book ‘The Help’ which Skeeter ‘writes’.  This simply endorses the whites’ morally repentant approach and plays down the need for a political response.  We get Medgar Evers on TV and we hear a bit of Martin Luther King.  There is one incident in a bus and a maid is arrested, but we do not get the full on vindictiveness of the racist whites.  This film simply escapes its full malevolence.  The only scene where this film scores a hit is in the Christmas party raising money for African children, the hilarious irony of white racists playing Mrs Jellyby in helping Africans is nicely observed.  Mostly this is an offensive disaster.

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2011 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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