Film Review: Birdman

Birdman

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is an immensely satisfying black comedy which is skilfully crafted and finely executed.

Riggan, who hit the big time playing film superhero Birdman, is trying to make a comeback on Broadway. Directing and starring in a new play, Riggan must contend with family, co-actors, and his superhero past…

Director and co-writer Alejandro González Iñárritu has created a marvellous piece of cinema with Birdman. González Iñárritu controls the action with precision, but makes everything look endlessly natural and unrehearsed.

Birdman marries its different themes well. The film works on different layers; as a meta comedy, as surreal gameplay, and as tragic drama. Birdman is well paced, unfolding in a manner that is both engaging and unpredictable.

Comedy in González Iñárritu’s film is tight. There are lots of amusing asides to real actors and indeed the actors playing in the film. Part of the amusement arises from the film playing absurd situations straight; the comic effect here is most successful. Drama in the film works well also, thanks to the strength of performances. The script at times has an almost old-fashioned, rapid-fire quality to it, which is very welcome.

Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is a marvel. Lubezki captures both the claustrophobic freneticism of backstage, and the wonderfully abstract visuals of the more surreal sequences. The lack of obvious editing gives the film an energetic feel.

In this film about a former superhero star making a comeback, Michael Keaton is fantastic. The protagonist delivers a tour de force performance, serving as a timely reminder of what a great performer Keaton is. Acting is faultless across the board, with Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis delivering strong performances.

Birdman has hitherto received significant critical attention for good reason. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film is essential viewing. 

Film Review: Gravity

Gravity

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is part awe-inspiring, part terrifying, and wholly absorbing cinema.

Dr Ryan Stone is a medical engineer on her first mission in space. When an accident occurs, Ryan and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski are left adrift in space…

Gravity is completely captivating. The film progresses at a good pace. It has peaks of action as well as periods to absorb the protagonist’s reaction to said events.

To a certain extent, Gravity takes on the mantel of Alien’s ‘In space no one can hear you scream’. Instead of otherworldly activity, the premise is a realistic one. Cuarón proposes a horrifying incident, then explores a personal reaction to such an event.

Gravity works because it is about emotions and response. The vast majority of viewers cannot relate to the actual situation presented, but will fully empathise with the response to being in such a life-threatening incident. Despite the setting, Gravity is about human experience.

Despite the premise of the film and the tension that this creates, Gravity provides wonderment in its setting. There is much to admire visually. It is easy to see the attraction of space exploration. In spite of the danger, the film retains this sense of awe.

The special effects in Gravity are flawless. There is not one shot that dies not look completely authentic. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography  is marvellous. The 3D is one of the best uses of the format in live action film.

Sandra Bullock is believable as Ryan; her sense of apprehension is palpable. George Clooney provides good support as Matt.

Gravity offers spectacle, but also delivers in terms of tension, emotion and entertainment. A must see film.

Gravity is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2013.

Film Review: To The Wonder

Beautifully photographed, those who become immersed in Terrence Malick’s vision will find To The Wonder thought provoking. Those that do not may find the film a chore.

After embarking on a romance with Marina in Paris, American Neil asks her to move back to Oklahoma with him. Marina meets a priest who his struggling with his faith, while Neil connects with Jane, a friend from his childhood…

Director and writer Terence Malick tells his story through narration and visuals. Dialogue is present, but it is kept to a minimum. Even the voiceover is used sparingly, with Malick preferring to rely on images to move the story along.

The themes in To The Wonder are more potent than the narrative. The film concerns itself with love and faith. The theme of love is dealt with through Marina’s character, while faith is conveyed through Father Quintana. It is no coincidence that these characters dominate the narration. Likewise they are the most interesting of the four main characters.

To The Wonder explores these themes, without offering any firm judgement or opinion on them. Instead, the audience are left with their own thoughts. To an extent, Malick’s film lacks real substance. It is not imbued with concrete ideas, or an unambiguous narrative. The imagery and sometimes poetic narration allow viewers a form of escapism, even time alone with their thoughts on the themes. Those not engaged by To The Wonder may find this dull however.

Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is as beautiful as ever. He really makes the most of the natural light and the landscapes. There is some familiar imagery in To The Wonder; those who have seen Malick’s previous films should recognise this. Performances are good overall, particularly Olga Kurylenko’s Marina.

To The Wonder is not Malick’s best work, but it is an interesting forage into love.

Enter the To The Wonder competition to win a DVD bundle.

Film Review: The Tree of Life

Some will be utterly captivated by The Tree of Life. For others, it will be the longest 2 hours 18 minutes of their lives. But most will probably fall somewhere in between these two polemics.

Living with his parents and two younger brothers in 1950s Texas, Jack is on the cusp of adolescence. He has a sometimes difficult relationship with his father, which continues into his adult years. Over the course of time, Jack’s interactions with his parents and his siblings change…

To fully engage with The Tree of Life, an emotional reaction is really required. Without this, it is difficult to become involved with the film. Moreover, Terrence Malick’s film may feel overlong or meandering for those who do not feel an emotional response to it. Nevertheless, Tree of Life has many admirable qualities, which are enough to compensate viewers who do not feel a resonance with the picture.

Malick’s direction is sublime. He appears not to have overlooked a single detail. Every shot is carefully crafted; the care that went into making the film is palpable. Furthermore, with Tree of Life, Malick has extracted great performances from his cast, getting the best out of his actors.

There is something incredibly natural about the family at the centre of the film. Their behaviour, personalities and interactions with one another are completely convincing. The story seems incidental, but only because that is the way it has been fashioned. There is some nice contrasts between the central narrative and the more abstract elements of the film.

Tree of Life is comparable to an exercise in photography. Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki capture some absolutely beautiful imagery. There is a definite sense of awe with the shots of the planet and space. However, the cinematography is just as great in the intimacy with that it creates. Particularly in the scenes of Jack as a toddler and small child, the film produces some wonderful and authentic-looking shots.

Jessica Chastain is fantastic as Jack’s mother. She conveys the warmth of the character well, as well as her ethereal nature. Brad Pitt is also great as Mr O’Brien. His interaction with the boys is wholly believable. Hunter McCracken is excellent as the child Jack, offering an accomplished performance.

The Tree of Life should be seen on the big screen to truly appreciate the magnificent visuals. Those who find resonance in the film will likely be moved. Those who do not may be put off by the glacial pace. Even without a connection to the themes, Malick’s film is a worthwhile endeavour.