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 Hangover Part III

THE HANGOVER PART III

DIR:  Todd Phillips WRI: Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin  PRO: Daniel Goldberg, Todd Phillips  DOP: Lawrence Sher   ED: Jeff Groth, Debra Neil-Fisher   DES: Maher Ahmad CAST: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, John Goodman, Ed Helms

It’s a general rule of thumb that a third entry into a franchise – a threequel, if you will – rarely trumps what came before. There are more than enough examples to highlight the point; Return of the Jedi, Men In Black 3, The Godfather, Part 3. That said, however, there are those entries that skirt the middle ground in terms of quality, neither topping what came before nor lowering that which spawned it. The Dark Knight Rises, Return of the King and The Last Crusade all are more than effective at rounding out the trilogy. The Hangover was an unexpected hit. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifinakis were all upcoming actors, brought under the direction of comedy veteran Todd Phillips. The formula wasn’t exactly inventive, but everyone was trying their best. Todd Phillips was recovering from the commercial / critical flop, School For Scoundrels, Bradley Cooper and co. were out to prove themselves in leading roles. Now, in the third instalment, it’s clear to all and sundry that everyone has moved on.

 

The manchild Alan (Zach Galifinakis) is spiralling out of control and is off his meds. In one particularly brutal scene involving a giraffe and a motorway sign, Alan is confronted by his father (Jeffrey Tambor) who suffers a heart attack mid-argument. The group agree that it’s better for Alan to stay at a mental institute. Enroute, they’re kidnapped by Las Vegas mobster Marshall (John Goodman) who tells them that Chow (Ken Jeong) has escaped prison in Thailand. Unsurprisingly, Doug (Justin Bartha) is held hostage while the others are ordered to find Chow and bring him back. It’s an interesting enough premise and it’s clear that Phillips is trying to break the mould with the third instalment. However, the reality is is that there shouldn’t have been a sequel or a threequel. The first Hangover worked perfectly on its own. It was neat and lean and had a wholly-contained story. There was no room from pushing it out beyond itself and yet, here we are.

 

It’s clear that Bradley Cooper has grown in stature and ability since the first Hangover. Anyone who’s seen Place Beyond The Pines and Silver Linings Playbook will know that Cooper is finally coming into his own. Galifinakis and Helms haven’t had the same luck, career-wise, but both are happily ploughing their own furrow. When brought together for this, it’s clear the chemistry is still there and it’s infectiously funny to watch them squabble and bicker amongst themselves. Nothing in their interactions is forced or unnatural, yet everything outside of it – the plot, the premise – is the exact opposite. Ken Jeong’s role is expanded to a greater degree in this instalment; something that could have saved the second film from its fate. As chaos personified, Jeong’s one-liners and general terrorising is funny in places, but it relies heavily on shock value. It can be tiresome in places, but the film has a brisk pace that means you can’t focus on it for too long. Goodman’s role is pretty much exposition and it’s a real shame. He’s proven time and again that he is a capable comedic actor that can do these smaller roles. Here, however, he’s criminally underused and the film is lesser for it.

 

Each of the posters and the official synopsis all underline the fact that this is the end of the trilogy. Going in, you’re looking forward to seeing them tie up the story and finally draw a line underneath it. There’s a sense of freedom in that, that they can go anywhere with it as there’ll be nothing beyond it. However, as the films wears on, it becomes clear that this isn’t the end. In fact, the final five minutes of the film state this in unequivocal terms and that feels like a cheat to the audience. Phillips’ attempt to move the comedy towards action comedy works for the most part, however it goes into some very dark territory that falls flat most of the time. Overall, The Hangover Part III is reasonably entertaining if you go in with lowered expectations.

 

Brian Lloyd

99 mins
The Hangover Part III is released on 17th May 2013

The Hangover Part III – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Campaign

The_Campaign

DIR: Jay Roachn • WRI: Tracy Letts • PRO: Ted Hope, Derrick Tseng • DOP: Andrij Parekh • ED: Kevin Messman • DES: Alex DiGerlando • Cast: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Dylan McDermott, Dan Ackroyd, John Lithgow 

Cam Brady (Ferrell) is the Republican (or Democrat? it never outright says) Congressman for the 14th district of a small North Carolina town, and despite his wicked ways – he has a portaloo encounter with a young blonde and leaves a sexy message for her (but on someone else’s answer phone) – he still expects that his ‘strong’ hair and speeches about ‘America, Jesus and Freedom’ will see him cruise to another lazy term in office.

Cigar-chomping, sweat-shop big business villains the Motch Brothers (Ackroyd and Lithgow) aren’t so sure, and to protect their big plans for the town they hand-pick Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), a pudgy, pug-loving, awful sweater-wearing eccentric with a lisping voice and a thankless job in the local Tourism Office, as his opponent.

Naïvely determined to make a difference – and to make his retired politician dad (Brian Cox) finally proud of him – Marty gladly takes the advice of devilish spin-doctor Tim (McDermott) and soon he’s got all the props: a house full of guns, stuffed eagles, two Labradors, great hair, snappy suits – and a family he never sees anymore.

Outraged that anyone would dare challenge him, Brady and his publicity genius Mitch (Jason Sudeikis) soon start the war of words – and secret videos – and outrageous adverts – and accidental punches – and cheerleaders – and fireworks – and outright mud-slinging lies. The race is on. Oh, it’s on.

Outrageous and often very funny, this slapsticky spoof/parody wisely stays away from outright satire – current politics is so corrupt and scandalous that it’s already a big joke (you wonder how often the scriptwriters were tearing their hair out when one of their fake scenarios actually turned up in the news) – yet it barely stops from subtly/not so subtly referencing other political events and people, and as such it keeps an OTT feel all the way through. It’s very US politics-centric in that regard, but many of the standard political clichés on display here work no matter where you are from.

Mercifully, director Roach seems to have kept any improvisation to a minimum (good work, since both stars are producers too), and though some of the more emotional moments seem forced, the sheer pace of this racy and rude ride through what many (especially outside the US) would probably think isn’t far from the truth – well, it wins my vote. Finally, for a film that supposedly takes place in North Carolina (and references it all the time), it was actually shot in New Orleans: better tax breaks no doubt. Ironic?

James Bartlett

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
85 mins

The Campaign is released on 28th September 2012

The Campaign– Official Website

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Cinema Review: Puss in Boots

puss-in-boots

DIR: Chris Miller • WRI: Tom Wheeler • PRO: Joe M. Aguilar, Latifa Ouaou • ED: Eric Dapkewicz • DES: Guillaume Aretos• CAST: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis

Swiping the series out from under the noses of Shrek and Donkey, Puss In Boots was a charming, adorable secondary character in the waning (yet still box-office record breaking) series, but is putting him front-and-centre a terrible, Evan Almighty-esque idea? For the most part, no. But as with all things in life, too much of a good thing…

The best thing about Puss In Boots, besides Antonio Banderas’ perfect, breathy voice work, was that he just was. There was no explanation necessary, but this spin-off is working as something of an origin story, giving the furry one an unnecessary backstory. But with the entire thing coming in at under 90 minutes, the boring parts never stick around for long, and it’s not long before Puss in tied up in a scheme to steal some magic beans from Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris) with the help of love interest/larceny rival Kitty SoftPaws (Salma Hayek) and ex-best friend Humpty Alexander Dumpty (Zack Galifiankis).

Despite coming from the writers and director of Shrek The Third (by far the worst in the series), executive producer Guillermo Del Toro has his prints all over the movie, from the genuine latin flavour to the genuinely scary scenes involving The Great Terror at the top of the beanstalk. Even though they shared no actual scenes together, Banderas and Hayek’s cinematic history and natural chemistry bring real spark to the screen, and Galifiankis has a blast as the is-he-isn’t-he-the-villain role.

There are enough jokes in here to keep accompanying adults entertained, and the young ‘uns will gasp and squeal at the rare occasion of well used 3D, but putting Puss in the lead has left the gap for a scene-stealing secondary character, which this movie is sorely lacking. Aside from that one cat who goes ‘Oooooooooohhhh…..’ He’s awesome. Give that cat a movie!

Rory Cashin

Rated G (see IFCO website for details)
Puss in Boots is released on 9th December 2011

Puss in Boots – Official Website

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The Hangover Part II

The-hangover-part-II-

DIR: Todd Phillips • WRI: Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong, Todd Phillips • PRO: Daniel Goldberg • DOP: Lawrence Sher • ED: Debra Neil-Fisher, Michael L. Sale • DES: Bill Brzeski • Cast: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms

The problem with sequels is the weight of expectation; people have seen and loved the first one, so any follow-up is going to be compared under the harsh light of comparison. The problem with sequels to comedies is that there has never been a really good sequel to a comedy. Sure, there have been one or two exceptions to the rule (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Wayne’s World 2) but almost every follow up to a great comedy has been a great let-down. And the problem with a sequel to The Hangover is not only did the original break box-office records ($467 million worldwide), but it also managed to win Best Comedy Picture at the Golden Globes. The original was a big deal. So does the sequel break the trend of comedy sequels and live up to its predecessor’s standards? In a word – no.

All of the original Wolfpack are back, with Ed Helms inviting Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha and Zack Galifianakis to his wedding on a secluded beach in Thailand. Two nights before the wedding, the guys are enjoying a quiet drink on the beach with Helms’ wife’s little brother. Cut to the next morning, and the guys wake up with no recollection of the night before. Also they are now smack bang in the middle of Bangkok. Also, the little brother is missing. Also, there’s a monkey, somebody’s finger in ice, Helm’s face is tattooed, all of Galifianakis’ hair is gone, etc, etc.

Anyone who has seen the original will know the drill, as the sequel repeats the comedic beats of the original almost to the point of it being a remake rather than a sequel. Except this time the comedy is much, MUCH darker. Without ruining any of the surprises, tonally the film has more in common with dark comedy/thriller Very Bad Things, especially once the dead bodies, brothels, drug cartels and human trafficking references start rearing their heads.

The relative safety of Vegas is replaced by a constant foreboding threat of the unknown (‘Bangkok has you now’ is spouted more than once, giving a sense that the city is alive and capable of consuming people at will). Much of the laugh-out-loud comedy of the original is now replaced with shocked-into-stunned silence, the cameos range from ‘Why exactly are YOU here?’ to ‘Who exactly are YOU?’, and the whole endeavour smacks of trying too hard to out-do the original without actually trying too hard to make anything different. Perhaps if the original never existed, The Hangover Part II could be an acceptable summer comedy. But as it stands, its level of mediocrity can be viewed as nothing more than an unsurprising disappointment.

Rory Cashin

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
The Hangover Part II is released on 26th May 2011

The Hangover Part II – Official Website

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