By Front Row Features Staff
“Birdman,” is now available on Blu-ray and DVD as well as Digital HD. The fantasy drama has been hailed as one of the most exciting and talked about films of 2014. It is up for nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Michael Keaton).
Directed and edited to look as if the entire movie is a single extended shot, the technically dazzling “Birdman” is a bitter black comedy that soars when it’s satirical but sinks when it’s soapy. Cleverly scripted barbs about self-absorbed actors, agenda-biased critics and Hollywood’s obsession with costumed superheroes do a satisfying job of pricking easy targets, but some soul-bearing moments about the madman behind the mask are so mawkish they nearly clip the movie’s wings.
Keaton is insecure actor Riggan Thomson, the former star of three blockbuster Birdman movies who is seeking thespian legitimacy by writing, directing and appearing in a Broadway version of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Mentally, however, Thomson never left his most famous and lucrative role behind. Haunted by Birdman’s gruffly insulting voice in his head whenever he’s alone, he seethes with self-loathing and doubt while fantasizing that he has destructive paranormal abilities.
What’s odd about watching Keaton in this role is that he seems miscast despite a real-life résumé that includes playing Batman twice in movies that made a ton of money before he gave up the cape. In a reality-folding-back-on-itself paradox, however, he’s not very convincing as a former superhero precisely because he seemed to be a bizarrely inappropriate “what was Tim Burton thinking?” choice to play one in our own world. For all of its insider references and in-jokes, “Birdman” misses an opportunity to address the issue of whether Thomson (like Keaton) ever made sense as a superhero in the first place, which would have added an extra layer of complexity to the character.
In fact, it’s hard not to wonder how much more interesting “Birdman” would have been if Thomson had been played by someone who not only looked comic-book superheroic but possessed more impressive acting chops. Picture square-jawed Jon Hamm angsting and agonizing in the role while enduring Thomson’s various embarrassing humiliations, for example, to imagine how much more believably “Birdman” could have hovered between tragedy and farce.
Keaton plays Thomson as a tightly wound ball of frustration and anxieties, barely keeping it together during play rehearsals and previews. His onstage castmates include Ed Norton doing a terrific and sometimes hilarious job as Mike Shiner, an obnoxiously brilliant theater actor whose performances are more real to him than his actual life; the excellent Naomi Watts as an insecure actress (and Shiner’s live-in) who will be making her Broadway debut; and Andrea Riseborough as Thomson’s unappreciated co-star and taken-for-granted girlfriend. Emma Stone is Thomson’s resentful and disrespectful fresh-out-of-rehab daughter, and Zach Galifianakis is his harried manager who also serves as the play’s very put-upon producer.
Lindsay Duncan has a small role as a viciously petty New York Times theater critic determined to give Thomson’s play a fatally negative review even before seeing it, because she regards film stars as spoiled children “handing each other awards for cartoons and pornography.” When Thomson insists that he is a real actor, she corrects him by noting, “You’re a celebrity.”
Director/co-writer Alejandro González Iñárritu and director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki do a stunning job of making the entire movie play as if it were filmed as a single uninterrupted take, often pulling off camera moves that appear magical even in today’s CGI-can-do-anything world. Nearly all of the action takes place inside, in front of and on top of the St. James Theater. Aside from a few going-through-doors shots, possible edit points are impressively hard to spot. Overcoming the lighting challenges of this endeavor alone should be an award-worthy achievement, because the movie looks great throughout. “Birdman” also has an unusual but effective score (by Antonio Sanchez) that mostly consists of agitatedly jazzy drum solos.
Things run on a little long for what basically is a one-joke plot, and some melodramatic final moments that follow what could have been a more interesting earlier ending feel unnecessary and unfortunate. Still, there’s so much else to like about this intriguing and sharply written flight of fantasy that it easily overcomes a bumpy landing.
Special features on the DVD and Blu-ray include: “Birdman: All-Access” and a gallery of director of photography Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki’s on-set photos. Additionally, the Blu-ray offers “A Conversation with Michael Keaton and Alejandro G. Inarritu” as a special feature. [private]
“St Vincent,” the debut feature of Ted Melfi, will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand Tuesday, Feb. 17. Special features include deleted scenes from the film and a Q&A with star Bill Murray.
The highly praised and popular film has garnered numerous accolades including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy—alongside a nomination for Murray, Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy. Naomi Watts was recognized with a Screen Actors Guild Awards nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role.
Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), a single mother, moves into a new home in Brooklyn with her 12-year old son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Forced to work long hours, she has no choice but to leave Oliver in the care of their new neighbor, Vincent (Murray), a retired curmudgeon with a desire for alcohol and gambling.
An odd friendship soon blossoms between the improbable pair. Together with a pregnant stripper named Daka (Watts), Vincent brings Oliver along on all the stops that make up his daily routine—the racetrack, a strip club, and the local dive bar. Vincent helps Oliver grow to become a man, while Oliver begins to see in Vincent something that no one else is able to: a misunderstood man with a good heart. The comedy is available also as a digital download.
Also available on DVD Tuesday, is the John Lyde sci-fi adventure “Survivor,” starring Kevin Sorbo (“Hercules”) and “The Bold and the Beautiful’s” Danielle Churchran.
Just as young Kate Mitra (Churchran) discovers a habitable planet for what’s left of humankind, a meteor strike destroys their spacecraft, crash-landing them on a mysterious barren world. As Kate, Captain Hunter (Sorbo), and the other survivors gather, they are ambushed by a band of post-apocalyptic warriors and mutated savages.
Kate awakens bound in a cave, trapped by flesh-eating cave creatures and separated from her friends, and must learn to trust the planet’s mysterious humanoids in order to outrun, outsmart and outfight hordes of bloodthirsty aliens and an enormous mutated wolf creature, and rescue her friends and her captain before they are all eaten alive.[/private]