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November 13, 2014

Birdman (***) R

I don’t have to tell you that Riggan Thomson is the role that actor Michael Keaton was born to play. I’m sure you’ve already heard that in the massive pre release hype that’s been leading up to the release of director Alejandro Inarritu’s new film, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

Still, it bears repeating that it’s great to see an actor like Keaton, who for whatever reason seemingly lost his way during the last two decades, sink his teeth into a role that seems tailor made for him.

Regardless of whether the role was written with Keaton in mind or not, Inarritu and his band of screenwriting co-conspirators must be commended for conjuring up the character of Riggan Thomson and after having seen the film, it is inconceivable that anyone else could even begin to play the character other than Keaton who more than makes it his own.

Of course the parallels to Keaton’s own life, at least the professional ones, are all over the film’s core story. Keaton was the unlikely choice for the lead in Tim Burton’s 1989 version of Batman and its 1992 sequel.

Michael Keaton & Edward Norton in Birdman

Thomson, the character in Inarritu’s film, was the star of Birdman, a similar superhero franchise, but opted not to continue playing the character after three films. Now he’s weary of having lost his creative way and is mounting and bankrolling a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story.  Of course, I don’t recall Keaton ever having appeared on Broadway so I suppose that’s where art and real life diverge.

Thomson’s personal life is a shambles. In years past he disregarded the love of his devoted wife (Amy Ryan) and his daughter (Emma Stone) is now a recovering addict attempting to get her life back on track. Now in the midst of his Broadway experiment he’s also dealing with the ego of a method actor (Edward Norton) in his cast who’s causing friction with his leading lady (Naomi Watts) and the financial realities of attempting to mount such a production, which his best friend and manager, (Zach Galifianakis) is also overseeing. It’s all beautifully lensed by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who should win an Oscar this year or at the very least a nomination.

It’s interesting how many statements that Inarritu manages to pack into his film if one only looks at what he’s attempting to say. There are swipes at the current crop of superhero films, the Twitter generation and annoying method actors. I can’t recall any of Inarritu’s earlier films (21 Grams, Biutiful) having so much anger as this one does, but it’s a good thing.

Birdman is a very good film and certainly one of the year’s most interesting but it does have a few things that, for me, kept it from being a sold home run. For one the film keeps going on long after it should end and then there’s the strangeness of the film’s conclusion, which left me a bit unsatisfied. Still, all in all, Birdman is an experience of which I would recommend I all serious film lovers take note. It’s hard to imagine a more daring or original film this year. 

Birdman is playing in Charlotte and Winston-Salem.

Interstellar (** 1/2) PG-13

Director Christopher Nolan’s first post Dark Knight project, Interstellar, is the sumptuous visual feast one would expect to see from the acclaimed British director when one takes into account his sizable talent and flair for that sort of thing over the course of his career. It’s only when one gets past the sensual overload of the film and begins to more closely scrutinize the story that the film’s problems become evident.  Nolan’s film is an uneasy and overstuffed blend of elements of some of the most influential sci fi films of the modern era (2001, Solaris), some elements of which work but too many that simply fall flat.

One of the fatal flaws of Interstellar, and for that matter so many of Nolan’s films, is that he has a penchant of creating rules and then breaking them throughout the unspooling of his cinematic stories. Interstellar is no different in that the film will present theories and ideas and disregard them along the way for the sake of convenience.

McConaughey & Hathaway, Interstellar

There are too many instances to mention here but the astute viewer will certainly spot them right away.

The basic premise of Interstellar concerns a former NASA scientist turned farmer named Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) who’s clearly patterned after the everyman character of Roy Neary in the 1977 classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Cooper stumbles upon a NASA operation that has been set up in order to find out if there truly are other habitable planets in the universe since it’s pretty clear from the beginning of the film that Earth’s days are numbered.

Previous missions have been sent with this objective and now Cooper finds himself recruited to head the latest mission which, hopefully, will give mankind a definitive answer. He’s joined on his trip by several other seasoned NASA pros, a couple of robots and a female astronaut (Anne Hathaway), whom Cooper seems to grow closer to throughout their mission.

Cooper, unfortunately, finds himself in the crosshairs of a moral dilemma as he’s warned that time will pass more slowly for him on his mission and that his children may age and die before he returns. Cooper’s problem is whether to save mankind or stay for the sake of his children. Ultimately, he decides to take the challenge but the cost may prove to be greater than he had imagined.

There are some great moments in Interstellar to be sure but, from a storytelling standpoint, the film ultimately has an uneven feeling, as if Nolan and his screenwriting brother, Jonathan, just couldn’t find a way to make a cohesive whole of the story elements they were juggling. For this reason, Interstellar didn’t quite come together for me but it’s hardly what I would consider an abysmal failure. It’s certainly one of the most interesting cinematic misses I’ve seen this year.

Interstellar is playing everywhere in North Carolina.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at






The Judge

Annabelle & Gone Girl

The Equalizer & Happy 75th, GWTW!

The Drop • A Walk Among & The Tombstones

No Good Deed

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