December 17th, 2014

BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (2014) ***

Michael Keaton plays a washed-up actor known for his superhero roles who tries to reinvent himself by writing, directing, and starring in a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. When one of the leads has to leave the play unexpectedly, a hotshot, temperamental actor (Edward Norton) steps into the role. This, along with all the various drama going on in Keaton’s life (like hearing the voice of his superhero alter ego constantly in his head), pushes him to the brink of madness.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a ballsy, flashy, exhilarating motion picture experience for about 2/3 of its running time. In the end, it embellishes too many of the goofier aspects of the story (like Keaton’s ability to fly… don’t ask) and sort of loses its way. However, for about the first 90 minutes, it’s dynamite stuff.

This is a film about art, or perhaps more to the point, the passion that drives artists. It mostly takes place in the small theater where Keaton and his company are putting on the play. More time is spent on what’s going on behind the scenes than on the play itself though. This is a movie mostly set in hallways, staircases, and dressing rooms. Even when the characters aren’t on stage, their actions and dialogue still have a very theatrical verve to them.

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s camerawork is constantly moving throughout and done in such a way that the whole film feels like it was filmed in one take (kind of like Rope). This adds to the overall theatricality of the film immensely. This could’ve been a showy device, but the camerawork is so good that it becomes an organic part of the movie. Heck, just seeing some of Inarritu’s transition scenes is fun.

The camerawork is inventive and impressive from a technical standpoint, but it’s crucial to the narrative. Because the camera in often following the characters in close quarters, it gives the audience the impression of being under their skin. If they have a fight with someone and the other person storms out of the room, the camera is still in there with them so we can really see the pain, rejection, and anguish they walk around with. Most movies would cut away to the next scene. Here, we get to hang around a little bit longer with the characters before the camera finds someone else to follow, which is pretty damn cool.

The cast is great. Keaton is terrific (and perfectly cast given his Batman experience), but it is Edward Norton who steals the movie. He’s simply awesome as the needy, selfish prima donna co-star. Naomi Watts is also very good as Norton’s girlfriend (and co-star), as is Emma Stone, who plays Keaton’s daughter.

Birdman is quite a lot of fun most of the time. It’s only when it takes its main character flights of fancy literally that it stumbles. The ambiguous ending doesn’t do it any favors either, but there is still enough energy and electric performances here for two movies.

AKA: Birdman.

TEKKEN 2: KAZUYA’S REVENGE (2014) *

“K” (Kane Kosugi) wakes up with amnesia. That makes us even because I pretty much forgot everything that happened in the first Tekken movie. Anyway, K becomes a brainwashed fighter in the employ of “The Minister” (Rade Serbedzija). He trains K to become an assassin and sends him to kill Bryan Fury (Gary Daniels), a former member of The Minister’s team. K soon learns that he’s been playing for the wrong team and goes after The Minister.

Tekken 2: Kayuza’s Revenge was directed by Wych (Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever) Kaos, and his directorial style certainly lives up his name. It’s hard to tell what’s going on in this movie. The editing is horrible and the fight choreography is pathetic. Just from a storytelling standpoint alone, it’s hard to even tell what’s going on in some scenes. It’s one thing when the lead character can’t keep track of the plot, but it’s another story when the audience can’t.

This is supposed to be a prequel to the first film. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Gary Daniels are the flick’s only tether to its predecessor. Sadly, both actors’ roles are nothing more than extended cameos. Most disappointing is the fact that Daniels’ fight with Kosugi is all-too brief.

The original Tekken wasn’t very memorable, but at least it was borderline competent. The same can’t be said for Part 2. At least there is one semi-clever chopstick-in-the-head death scene.

You know, for a movie based on a video game about fighting, there isn’t very much hand-to-hand combat in the film. The ending is some kind of joke too and it’s completely anticlimactic. The rest of the flick is dull and slow moving. In fact, a lot of it is literally slow moving since Kaos gives us about a dozen or so scenes of Kosugi walking in slow motion for no good reason whatsoever.

I liked seeing Kane Kosugi in a leading role for a change. He proves he might have what it takes to be a leading man. Getting handed scripts like this one isn’t going to help his career though.

AKA: Tekken: A Man Called X.

Speaking of Gary Daniels, have you all picked up my new book, The Video Vacuum's Unexpendable Guide to Action Movie Icons? There's an entire chapter devoted to him. Plus, there's chapters on Arnold, Bruce, Sly, and many others.

The book is available directly from the publisher here: https://www.createspace.com/4971853

Or you can get it through Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Video-Vacuums-Unexpendable-Guide-Action/dp/1500978957/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1418526614&sr=1-3&keywords=mitch+lovell

It’s also available in a Kindle version: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00QXYFP16#_