Birdman

birdman

DIR: Alejandro González Iñárritu • WRI: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo • PRO: Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan, James W. Skotchdopole • DOP: Emmanuel Lubezki • ED: Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione • DES: Kevin Thompson • MUS: Antonio Sanchez • CAST: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton

 

The French New Wave erupted in France during the 1950s, chucking all the formal rules of filmmaking out the window. A postmodern and critical cult began with the likes of Godard, Truffaut and Rohmer, who soon paved the way for American filmmakers such as Scorsese, Spielberg and De Palma. After the collapse of the studio system in Hollywood, young directors were left to their own devices and audiences were given a breath of fresh air.

 

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman is an American movie with European sensibilities, focusing more on mood and style rather than narrative. Birdman unfolds like a French New Wave film with its idiosyncrasies and philosophical dialogue. Even the title sequence is reminiscent of Godard’s Pierrot le Fou. Birdman doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the table, but it is bursting with so much energy that it can’t help but win audiences over and create the sense that they are watching something entirely fresh and original.

 

The sense of the movie being shot entirely in one take with its complex tracking shots, fused with its rapid-fire dialogue keeps the audience alert and excited. It possesses a vibrant pace that challenges viewers to keep up as it races before our eyes on the screen.

 

And even though the movie is highly eccentric – whether it’s the cinematography, acting or fantasy sequences –  it never leads us astray. In fact, because of its technical tracking shots we feel part of the entire process. The film’s characters are preparing for a Broadway play and as the camera follows them through the hallways, dressing rooms, stage and streets of Manhattan, we feel like we are right there with them. It’s a voyeuristic wet dream. Hitchcock must be jizzing in his grave.

 

From a technical standpoint, Birdman is clearly a tremendous achievement, but we must not forget the actors, who had to stick out the gruelling shoot and not only make it work, but actually enhance it to the next level. Wonderfully cast, Birdman is a commentary on various subjects and one of those is acting itself. In this movie the actors are playing actors and at times it nearly becomes a game trying to figure out if they are in character for the play or not.

 

The acting method and process is superbly demonstrated in a sequence involving Riggan (Keaton) and Mike (Norton), who attempt to get into character during a rehearsal, which is so perfectly timed and natural I just sat there smiling like an idiot.

 

Throughout the film there is a struggle between reality and fantasy, whether it’s Riggan and his Birdman persona, Mike wanting the performance to be so real that he must actually drink real gin or really fuck on stage to succeed, or a strict critic trying to separate (real) high art from Hollywood.

 

Birdman had all the potential and possibility of being a pretentious art-house flick, but because of its sheer vigor and humor it has become a crossover hit and serious Oscar contender. Much like the struggle in the film’s subtext, I’m racking my brains trying to decide if it’s a great fantastical Hollywood picture or a real original film. Can’t win them all I guess.

Cormac O’Meara

15A (See IFCO for details)
119 minutes.
Birdman
is released 2nd January 2015.

Birdman   – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

the-grand-budapest-hotel-owen-wilson-636-380

DIR: Wes Anderson • WRI: Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness • PRO: Steven M. Rales, Scott Rudin, Jeremy Dawson, Wes Anderson • DOP: Robert D. Yeoman • ED: Barney Pilling • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Adam Stockhausen • CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton

 

It’s safe to say that ever since his third feature, the irresistibly charming and endearing The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson has managed to establish himself as one of the most distinguishable and idiosyncratic directors in contemporary American cinema. In the past decade, Anderson has taken us from on board an eccentric oceanographer’s submarine while he seeks revenge on a glow-in-the-dark shark, to a luxury train travelling across India whilst three brothers seek spiritual enlightenment, to the tale of an anthropomorphic fox as he outsmarts three dim-witted farmers, and then to a fictional island off the coast of New England where two love-struck teenagers decide to elope after meeting at an amateur performance of Noye’s Fludde. As a result of this exceptionally offbeat aesthetic, his trademark dry wit, Anderson has won critical acclaim from both sides of the Atlantic, and there are certainly not many modern directors whose films can create such an air of anticipation amongst the more cine-literate of regular cinema attendees.

His eighth feature, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is certainly no exception and on this occasion, Anderson delves into the fantastical world of Mittel-Europa and takes inspiration from Stefan Zweig, the late Austrian writer who rose to prominence in the 1920s and 1930s before fleeing the continent as a result of the Second World War. The film however, is not a direct adaptation of anything in particular from Zweig’s body of work; instead, Anderson has seemingly infused his latest feature with several techniques and principles that are rooted in Zweig’s oeuvre. As a result, Anderson has created a film that will not only please his legions of followers; it might also have the power to sway even the most cynical of Anderson’s detractors.

The film begins with a young girl silently paying her respects to a memorial stone bust of an author famous for his book, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. From there, Anderson takes us back in time to the author’s experiences whilst staying at the hotel, located in an alpine resort in the fictional European principality of Zubrowka, and his relationship with one of the hotel’s most frequent guests, Zero Moustafa (played with gravitas by F. Murray Abraham). The aging Zero recounts to the author (Jude Law) his days working as a lobby boy in the hotel in the 1930s; back when the Grand Budapest was a lavish and opulent palace, full of decadent ornamentations and rich, vibrant decors, and back when it attracted only the most esteemed and refined individuals. It is here where we are introduced to the human embodiment of the sophisticated and flamboyant surroundings, one Gustave H (an extraordinary turn by Ralph Fiennes who showcases his little-known talent for comedy), the loquacious concierge who has a penchant for seducing the more senior female guests, and who takes the young, pencil-moustachio’d Zero under his wing. After one of Gustave’s former flings bequeaths a valuable Renaissance painting to him in her will, her discontented family, headed by Adrien Brody, do everything in their power to deprive Gustave of the prized, ‘Boy with Apple’.

With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson seems to be not so concerned with history, but with the history of cinema; we can see references to Kubrick and F.W. Murnau, and the plot descends into an elaborate caper full of bizarre character studies, wondrous sequences (including a superb cat-and-mouse chase where Gustave and Zero zoom down a precarious mountain atop a toboggan in pursuit of Willem Dafoe on skis), and meticulously-designed, glamorous sets that are reminiscent of the traits of classical Hollywood films and murder-mysteries.  Anderson retains many of the unique characteristics and oddities that have come to epitomise his aesthetic, with added bursts of black humour, and moments of subtle melancholy and poignancy.

Such is the power of the fantastical images that they seem to possess an almost-ethereal quality, and by the time the film enters its final third, you find yourself daydreaming, completely lost in Anderson’s whimsical universe. While the tone remains relatively light-hearted throughout, the film’s more melancholic moments catch you off guard, but that’s not to say they are contrived or overly-sentimental; it’s a testament to Anderson’s skill  and ability that he can create moments of intense sadness in a film such as this without drowning them in affect.

With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson has proven that he is undoubtedly a master of his craft and that he is currently at the peak of his powers. While many critics have found his films fastidious and favouring style over substance, the same can simply not be said about his latest. He has created a film that is utterly captivating, endlessly enjoyable, and so awe-inspiring, that it invites viewers to return again and again; if not for the gloriously detailed compositions, then for the magnificent performances from the ensemble cast, the rich characterisation, and the strangely moving ending that will linger long in the mind.

Gearóid Gilmore

15A (See IFCO for details)
109  mins

The Grand Budapest Hotel is released on 7th March 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: The Bourne Legacy

DIR: Tony Gilroy WRI: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy PRO: Patrick Crowley,
Frank Marshall, Ben Smith, Jeffrey M. Weiner DOP: Robert Elswit ED:
John Gilroy DES: Kevin Thompson Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz,
Edward Norton, Oscar Isaacs, Albert Finney

Five years on from the award-laden third entry in the franchise (The
Bourne Ultimatum), Robert Ludlum’s spy novels are given a fresh
big-screen spin in the form of The Bourne Legacy. With Paul Greengrass
currently taking a break from the series, helming duties for Legacy
have fallen the way of Tony Gilroy, who worked as a screenwriter on
the previous Bourne films, and made his directorial debut with the
excellent Michael Clayton in 2007.

From the outset, the loss of Greengrass as director should have a
detrimental effect on the overall quality of this film, but this isn’t
the main obstacle facing Legacy, as they have a very capable auteur in
the form of Gilroy, and it should be remembered that the franchise was
kick-started by Doug Liman some ten years ago.

The problem with The Bourne Legacy is the fact that, despite the title
(taken from one Ludlum’s books), Jason Bourne is absent from the
story. Taking over the action man reins from Matt Damon’s amnesiac
protagonist is Avengers star Jeremy Renner, whose profile continues to
rise with each passing film.

Here Renner plays Aaron Cross, a member of Operation Outcome, a black
ops program which is being driven into the ground by the CIA, with the
all agents within the program being picked off one by one. However,
Cross manages to evade his would-be assassination, and joins forces
with Rachel Weisz’s lab technician in an effort to get hold of the
pills that will stop his internal system from shutting down.

Along the way, we hear numerous references to events in the previous
films, much of it filtered through fleeting cameo appearances by
former MVPs like Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Albert Finney.
Ultimately though, Gilroy’s film strives to make Cross the centre of
attention, and in the form of Jeremy Renner, they have a very reliable
presence filling the void that has been left by the impressive Damon.

He convinces in the action set-pieces (particularly in an extended
motorbike chase through Manilla), which are well-executed by second
unit director Dan Bradley and Oscar®-winning cinematographer Robert
Elswit (There Will Be Blood), and generally delivers a nuanced
portrayal of a complexed character.

Yet, despite his best efforts, and despite the fact that the film does
maintain the spirit of what has gone before it, this particular Bourne
film struggles without the presence of its eponymous hero.

Of course, it is not the first time (and presumably won’t be the last
time) that a franchise has carried on without its returning star,
Predator 2 (where Arnold Schwarzenegger was replaced by Danny Glover)
being one obvious example.

However, what helped to make Jason Bourne such a memorable character
was not just the fact that he was such an expert in hand-to-hand
combat, or that he could outwit his enemies at every turn, but the
fact that he was a suffering a very real identity crisis, and would
stop at nothing to discover who he really is.

Through the ever-reliable Damon, he was also a hero who registered on
an emotional level, personified by his teary-eyed confessions to
Oksana Akinshina at the end of The Bourne Supremacy and to Daniel
Bruhl at the beginning of The Bourne Ultimatum.

This is the kind of resonance that is sorely lacking in Legacy, and is
something that needs to be addressed if the series is going to
progress further from here. Though the largely uncontrollable absence
of Bourne doesn’t help them in this matter, it is really a surprise
that this key ingredient is missing, as it is something that Gilroy
has been quite adept at conveying in the past, and Renner also has
form in this department, in film such as the aforementioned Marvel
Avengers Assemble, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Hurt
Locker.

Overall, it is only right to state that The Bourne Legacy is by no
means a bad film, and though many have dismissed it as a ‘cash-grab’
exercise, there is still enough evidence on screen to suggest that
they are looking beyond purely the monetary potential that comes with
expanding the universe of Bourne.

Indeed, as an action-adventure film it does offer enough thrills to
keep audiences interested, and in Edward Norton it has an antagonist
with the potential to become a real threat to Cross/Bourne in future
films, much like Brian Cox in Supremacy.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite come together in the way that fans of
Bourne would like, and though they will be interested in seeing where
Gilroy has brought a story that was first developed by Liman, they
will probably by yearning for the return of Messrs. Greengrass and
Damon.

Daire Walsh

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
134 mins
The Bourne Legacy is released on 10th August 2012

The Bourne Legacy – Official Website

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Pride and Glory

Pride and Glory
Pride and Glory

DIR: Gavin O’Connor WRI: Gavin O’Connor & Joe Carnahan PRO: Greg O’Connor
DOP: Declan Quinn ED: Lisa Zeno Churgin & John Gilroy DES: Dan Leigh CAST: Colin Farrell, Edward Norton, Jon Voight, Noah Emmerich, Jennifer Ehle.

A movie about cops: bad cops, good cops, and morally ambiguous cops. Shot in a gritty, handheld HBO style, the film focuses on an Irish American family of cops and the scandal that engulfs them all. We get dad cop (John Voight), brother cops (Edward Norton and Noah Emmerich) and brother-in-law cop (Collin Farrell). This cozy cop family is torn apart when a shoot-out at a drug-dealer’s leaves four of their comrades dead. Returning from cop limbo to investigate, Ray Tierney (Norton) discovers police corruption involving his brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Collin Farrell). Ray’s incessant thread pulling starts to unravel the lives of his family and of his NYPD comrades.

Pride and Glory has a strong cast, with a great performance from Farrell in particular. Norton, however, is miscast; he always seems too smart and aloof to be a cop, especially compared to his dad and brother. At times he seems more like a sneering college lecturer than anything else. Voight is good, but it feels at times that he is phoning his performance in. The movie is fairly violent in places and moves at a steady pace and O’Connor does a good job of keeping it all together and keeping us interested. However, it falls apart in the last half hour or so, veering off with a contrived ending that tries to tie everything up in a nice neat package where the bad guys get what’s coming to them and the good guys retain their slightly tarnished halos. Failing to sustain its grit all the way to the end, it’s good but not great.

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