Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Movie Man Jackson

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“People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bull****.”

No, this isn’t a movie about the rapper  or the basketball player nicknamed as such. Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is about Riggan Thomas, a once larger-than-life movie-star whose claim to fame was starring as “The Birdman,” a superhero character in a blockbuster film franchise. Now down on his luck and considered to be washed up by most in the business, Riggan seeks what everybody in showbiz or even everyday life desires: Relevance.

Riggan decides to undergo a reinvention by going to Broadway, where he will star, write, and direct a play titled What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. If successful, this has the potential for people to see Tom in a whole new light, one that doesn’t involve a bird suit. As he soon finds, the Broadway acting isn’t the issue, it is dealing with the many people he comes in contact with. From his estranged daughter Sam (Emma Stone), to his co-stars and producer (Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough), everyone is seeking something. And no matter if he surprises people with this thespian work, he may always be The Birdman whether he likes it or not.

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It takes a delicate hand to to be able to say so many things in a film and still make a coherent and consistent piece. It isn’t easy to pull off, but in Birdman, it is something that director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu achieves, and not just at a fringe level. Inarritu manages to make something sharp, comical, meta, and inward-looking into, but not limited to, Hollywood, Broadway, dramaturgy, and individual desire. If originality is craved, Birdman delivers.

I am sure Broadway and stage performances can be very riveting, but at this point in my young life I have no desire to see any. As the movie began, I really was unsure of whether I would enjoy or not, and by this admission it was a little of a slow start for yours truly, even a small bit of bore. And yet, this dissipated quite quickly, because Innaritu drew me in with the gorgeous cinematography. By utilizing a continuous (or at least very skilled editing) shot throughout, the characters and their situations felt so organic. There are no true scenes really, everything runs together as one complete take. so smooth and effortless, like a good actor getting into and out of character with no hitch. Spontaneous is a perfect way to describe, just like the outstanding, drum-heavy score that appears ever so often here.

Making use of this tracking technique allows a stronger, introspective look into these character’s lives. All are masters of a sociological theory known as dramaturgy, essentially how people interact with others based upon time, place, and audience. Really talented people can blur, perhaps unknowingly, what occurs in the backstage setting with what is supposed to be seen in the frontstage. Inarritu’s technique embodies this, in the sense that there often is no clear distinction when the acting ends and the real life begins for these characters.

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As described earlier, nothing is left off the table here. It is just as much of a film about internal self worth as it is about the superhero genre or even love. The real treat though is the meta aspect that is present within this. Immediately, the parallels between the characters played by Michael Keaton and Edward Norton and their actual personas/career arcs in real life is abundantly clear.

Much like Riggan, Keaton once was a big star in the biz who hit peak popularity with portraying a well-known crimefighter, only to fall down a few rungs after his time in the Batmobile. Riggan’s co-star in Mike Shiner appears to be eerily similar to Edward Norton and all of his real life difficulties on set. Like Norton, Mike is extremely talented, immersing himself in his craft so much that he can be kind of a jerk in the process, fusing real life with whatever character he is portraying. For all of Birdman’s soaring surrealism, this real life allusion  grounds it in a necessary and needed way.

As time goes on, this may very well be regarded as Michael Keaton’s best role. Keaton is front and center here, playing the semi-broken, dejected, but “f**k you, I will do this and at a high level” type of guy. Every emotion seems to be covered here, and then some. Was it really just this year that Keaton was in Robocop and Need for Speed? Not to be overlooked is Norton, who is so douchey, gratingly perfect, and particular as his character, while still able to give him some soul and feeling.

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Honestly, everyone here comes together to deliver extremely memorable work, like Emma Stone and Amy Ryan as Riggan’s troubled daughter and former wife, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough as Mike and Riggan’s co-stars, and even Zach Galifianakis in a subdued and serious role as the producer just trying to keep it together. Everyone in this film is intriguing, which makes it disappointing that at a certain point in the runtime, many seemingly get pushed to the wayside with hardly any revisiting to their personal plights. Just some additional resolution would have been appreciated.

The journeys are still worth experiencing though, just like Birdman is. Wholly original, superbly acted, and impressively directed, it glides to pretty sizable heights. The only ignorance would be failing to check this out.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to miaminewtimes.com, amazonaws.com, movpins.com, contactmusic.com, and apnatimepass.com.

Follow the MovieMan @MovieManJackson.

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Jaws: Movie Man Jackson

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“Well, this is not a boat accident! And it wasn’t any propeller; and it wasn’t any coral reef; and it wasn’t Jack the Ripper! It was a shark.”

Beaches are still feeling the lessened revenue of the summer of 1975 after this one. Amity Island is the setting in Jaws, a place where only the summer brings increased population and increased revenue from tourists. The beautiful beachfront is the hotspot, especially during the Fourth of July period.

However, there is something lurking underneath the waters. Something that may have claimed the life of a young boy and a young lady. Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is the only one to believe these deaths are not a result of common accidents, but of a killer shark. Despite the signs pointing to the latter, there is too much income involved to shut down the island.

After more unfortunate events occur, there is no doubting that a Great White is the cause of all of this mayhem. Knowing he can’t take down “Jaws” alone, Brody teams with marine scientist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and crazed shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw), to eradicate the terror. Only certainty? They’ll need a bigger boat to take this bad guy down.

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There are some films that are very good but not much of an experience, and there are films that are a great experience but leave a little something to be desired on a substance level. On the rarest of fronts, there are films that offer an amazing watching experience with solid substance, and the ability to transform cinema history and even impact pop culture. Under the guidance of director Steven Spielberg, Jaws is one of those films, really redefining what a spectacle is in the world of motion pictures.

Jaws takes its inspiration from the 1974 novel by the same name. While the novel apparently has many subplots that have nothing to do with the man-eater, the movie itself is purely focused on the shark and the all-in hunt for it. It is definitely straightforward, with a collision course all but set between the protagonists and antagonist. That doesn’t mean it is any less engrossing though. There is a focus that the script has and it really never wavers from it. It may be a simplistic one (though it has sparked some intriguing analysis thematically), but it has direction. Really, the only slight to be had pertains to the fact that it may be just a tad too long. Certain scenes really could have been shortened in my belief, but it is a very, very minor complaint.

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Part of the reason the basic script works so well is due to what Spielberg and company are able to do with the protagonists. Usually, big-budget movies are derided for the lack of strong characters. Brody, Hooper, and Quint are all distinct personalities who may not have been able to carry this on their own, but as a collaborative effort, their performances meld efficiently. As Brody, Scheider is the common man, the one that audiences relate to most, more grounded in reality than the others. For what it is, Scheider is very adequate.

It is Dreyfuss and Shaw, however, who give the movie some edge. Dreyfuss’ character gives scientific knowledge to the movie mixed with eccentricity, while the man Shaw plays is wrapped in mystery and a distinct drawl. While all three do a pretty wonderful job, kudos again goes to Spielberg for making us care about all three. There is just enough backstory given to each that fleshes out the characters, especially during a superb scene right before the final third of the movie. This attention pays off when the three heroes find themselves in harrowing situations. Their survival is something we want to see.

In only his second full length film, Spielberg hits on all of the right notes. From the initial shot on the sea, I knew this was going to be a unforgettable experience (this was my first viewing, shockingly!). With a multitude of the key scenes being at or near water, Spielberg almost gives it an ethereal and mystical kind of feeling. This simply augments the tension when it is feeding time. Partly due to the troubles of the animatronic shark, and partly due to Steven just not wanting to show the true star right away, the big reveal is held off for a very long time. But, the intensity doesn’t suffer, and in fact it benefits from this decision. Showing the world in the eyes of the great white is an extremely well-done, horror-like POV shot. Even almost 40 years later, the fact that there are still moments that are truly jaw dropping with practical effects is a testament to Spielberg and his skill.

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Even with the stellar cinematography, fleshed-out characters, and man vs. beast story, for many, Jaws is known as the movie with the recognizable orchestral piece featuring the steady crescendo and fury of  an impending shark attack. In many ways, that piece is more famous now than the movie itself, being parodied and utilized so much to represent danger in any facet. While it it one of the best themes ever, the whole score itself is wonderfully done by John Williams. Whenever music is found here, it never feels out of place and only further aids whatever is happening in that particular moment.

Again, not many films can claim to be a game-changer, but Jaws is one of the few that can stake claim to that distinction. How a studio promotes a feature, when it comes out on the calendar, and what defines a blockbuster are all things that Jaws either directly or indirectly contributed to. It is not only a wonderful film, but an important one in pop culture history.

Grade: A

Photo credits go to totalfilm.com, impawards.com, and filmfreakcentral.net

Follow the MovieMan @MovieManJackson

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Movie Man Jackson

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“Apes do not want war!”

The ape uprising is over, and their dawn is fully upon us. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes occurs 10 years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and it is now a whole new world. The ALZ-113 virus, otherwise known as the Simian Flu, has spread to every corner in the world and consequently has wiped out a substantial part of the human race. Though a small part of the human population is immune, there is no indication as to how large this pool of survivors is.

Meanwhile, the ape nation is experiencing an era of prosperity, led by their unquestioned leader Caesar (Andy Serkis). He has built a civilization in the Redwoods that is rooted on family concepts and the unbreakable bond these apes share. It has been a while since Caesar and others have seen humans, so they rightfully assume that the entire race has perished.

Or so they thought. One day, a band of human survivors looking for a critical piece that is the key to their survival stumble upon this new civilization. Immediately there is uneasiness, but understanding as well. Both sides coexist tenuously but appear to get what they want until all hell breaks loose. At this point, the rubber will meet the road as humans and apes will collide with the future in tow.

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On all fronts, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a spectacular film. It isn’t easy to improve upon things that were so well done in Rise of Apes, but the heights achieved here surpass anything done in its predecessor. If 2011’s film has yet to be seen for whatever reason, please, see that before this. Not only is it a great work in its own right, it will give that much more appreciation to this film.

Back to today’s feature presentation though. Part of why the movie is so enthralling is the attention it gives to character depth, both apes and yes, even humans. Caesar is once again the focus, brilliantly acted by Andy Serkis. In this, he has become even more fleshed out than before. He is not just a father to his kids (one newborn), but also serves as a father, leader, and general to his entire nation. You can tell that the stress of it all really gets to him, as he knows that one slight misstep on his part sets his civilization back to a figurative place they never want to return to.

Serkis is simply outstanding, and his performance is jaw-dropping. When he speaks, he does so with conviction, but he is even more impressive when he does not. Everything that Caesar is contemplating, feeling, and internalizing is clearly visible facially, especially in the eyes. When I see Caesar on screen, I do not see an actor playing a chimp, I see a chimp. It is a testament to the stellar CGI and motion capture but also the commitment by Serkis to mastering little animalistic details that make the investment in his character so much stronger for the audience.

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While definitely the biggest star, Caesar isn’t the only star. Maurice, Rocket, and others return as key cogs to round out the ape faction, but it is Koba who firmly plants his presence in the franchise. As a result of the inhumane testing done upon him in the first installment, this guy harbors a lot of disdain for humans, and it is understandable. His pain, both physical and emotional, help to create a character with many layers and grey shades.

The human characters are even interesting. Even if not on the intrigue level of their opposition, their plight is one I found myself caring about. Jason Clarke portrays Malcolm, the man who finds himself most often in contact with Caesar, and the film does a great job at making parallels between the two. At the core, they are the same. Malcolm, like Caesar, is doing everything in his power to protect his family (Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee) and make for a better future for the ones they love. There is a bit of skepticism, but also a healthy respect that the two give each other. Gary Oldman also is of note, and while he doesn’t appear a ton here, it is pretty clear on how his character mimics another. It is this sort of parallelism that shows that the two groups have way more in common than they realize.

Additionally, Dawn of Apes has some important messages to say. One main message is this idea that we cannot let our singular, initial experiences shape our entire idea of what those “other” people are like. It may be a simplistic message, but how it is executed in the movie is flawless. There is one moment that I am not going to spoil in particular that made me think of American History X, and if you remember the dinner table scene from that movie, you may find what I am hinting at here. So much in the movie hits emotionally, and it never feels forced.

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Production-wise, they do not get much better than this. It has already been a great year for technical blockbuster brilliance, and count this as part of the highlights. San Francisco and the resulting area returns as the backdrop for the movie, and everything is fully realized in amazing detail, from the sprawling redwoods to reduced rubble. Director Matt Reeves really knows to encompass scale; there is nothing like seeing Caesar’s army of apes follow diligently behind whether on foot or by horse. Action sequences and sound mixing are a thing of beauty, and every clash and shot fired is captured in full. The score, sort of a bland existence from the previous movie, adds immensely to the scope of everything.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a film that cannot be missed. Featuring complex characters, an emotional script, and superb effects, it is unlikely to disappoint. It is not just an amazing summer flick, it is just an amazing flick, blockbuster season or not.

Grade: A

Photo credits go to ign.com, hypable.com, & collider.com

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.

Godzilla: Movie Man Jackson

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“Nature has an order…a power to restore balance.” 

The King of the Monsters is back, and of course it is none other than Gojira himself, known to us Westerners as Godzilla. This 2014 iteration starts by giving immediate backstory through opening credits to the impending situation at hand. The year is 1954, and as par for the course, no one ever knows what the military and government are up to. In this case, they are actively testing and detonating weapons of immense nuclear power. As one can expect, these fools know not of what they have created/awakened.

Fast forward to the party of 1999 (Prince reference), and a couple of scientists are asked to investigate an oddity in a quarry. Something looks to have hatched, and it looks pretty massive. Shortly after, seismic activity is recorded outside of Tokyo, and mayhem ensues. This is the type of stuff engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) deals with daily, but nothing can prepare him for this. Unfortunate happenings arise for everyone involved.

15 years later, Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is making a life with a family in San Francisco as a Naval officer. His father, still in Japan, is hell bent on finding whatever truly happened those years ago. Whatever did happen, it will force the pair to come together, for it is still out there and just a small indication of what is to come.

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It is best to go into Godzilla with as little knowledge as possible. My knowledge was limited to what I had seen in TV spots, and as a result I was a bit uncertain on where this film would be going. After viewing, my reservations were largely alleviated, and this latest update to the legendary monster is all in all an extremely enjoyable ride. At the very least, this is miles better than the 1998 effort.

With that said, some will simply enjoy the 2014 effort more so than others. This statement really can apply to any movie, but it fits perfectly here. Divisive may be too strong of a descriptor in my opinion, but the way the movie is carried out will most likely diminish the enjoyment for a substantial populace.

For a blockbuster, this is a pretty methodical take. Like a point guard with high basketball IQ, Godzilla knows when to pick its spots. Sometimes, that means going at a breakneck yet still controlled clip, and other times that means slowing the game (movie) down. In totality, I enjoyed this unexpected progression, but there was a short period in the middle where it could have benefited by a quicker pace.

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Though the movie’s name is Godzilla, the focus is not squarely on the creature. He (she?) is left off the screen in a physical sense for a sizable amount of the runtime, but the presence and aura of the beast is always prevalent. So even when we don’t see Godzilla, we still feel it. Undoubtedly, some people will dislike this aspect, but it really wasn’t an issue. When it finally arises from obscurity, it makes it all the more memorable, since the anticipation was climbing.

As alluded to earlier, the pace is slower than anticipated, due to the attention it spends on its main characters, who are not monsters. Before something even remotely big occurs, we as an audience get a long look into the lives of a few of them, namely Cranston’s and Johnson’s. It is a thorough build, and one that makes you care about them and what they become subject to, even if they are not inherently interesting characters, if that makes sense.

Out of the two, Joe Brody has more depth, and Cranston works his magic like one would expect. His screentime is reduced however, but he seizes every minute of it. As for Ford Brody, portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, he is a bit more predictable and unimpressive. I am a fan of ATJ, and feel that he has a lot of potential, but here his performance is average. Part of that may just be due to the character itself, which is your standard persevere-and-show-little-emotion type of solider, but still there were moments that ATJ could have injected more oomph to Ford, but it never really happens. It is a serviceable performance, but on a lesser note from his Kick-Ass and Savages roles.

Other important characters include Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife Elle, and Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa. The former, similar to Johnson, is serviceable but not given much to do. The latter serves as the sage of sorts who is there to inform the characters and the audience what they are dealing with, and why. The early goings pointed to a larger role, but ultimately lead to a side supporter. But, he does have a very funny moment when serving up the origins of “Gojira.”

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From a visual and technical standpoint, not many this summer are going to look better than this. Cinematography alone makes this worth a view. The design of the title character is wonderfully on point, and looks highly detailed from head to tail. A true testament to how far CGI has come. Luckily, director Gareth Edwards is able to harness a real sense of scale with the impressive creature design and attention to detail. All of the desolation and devastation is captured to its full extent, and he seems to know when to pull out, pan, linger, etc. through various shots. The sound and score adds to the sense of scale as well, and it is recommended to see this in the best theater possible.

Godzilla in many ways truly signals the arrival of summer movie viewing. Grand, bold, and full of mayhem, even with some slight missteps. A true monstrous start to the blockbuster season.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to businessinsider.com, filmjabber.com, and godzilla-movies.com.

Follow at @MovieManJackson.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (trailer): Movie Man Jackson Analysis

One of the upcoming forgotten movies of the summer seems to be Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. With Godzilla, 22 Jump Street, Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow, and others coming before it, there is a feeling of this flying under the radar. From the looks of this new trailer coming out today, this may just be the viewing event of the blockbuster season.

This sequel to 2011’s surprise of Rise of the Planet of the Apes appears to take place a few years after (maybe a decade?) the simian plague has made apes basically counterparts to humans. This ape nation is led by Caesar, and from the looks of it, the human population is declining at a fast rate. The remaining population appears to be split as to go to war with this evolved species. Some appear to sympathize with them, while others feel that a war is imminent. Judging by the trailer, I would say the latter is a correct assumption…

This trailer will do what it needs to do in generating hype for the upcoming film. There are some nice seconds of Caesar speaking and of the camera semi-panning to his ape nation behind him in presumably the Redwood forest, and this effectively captures the feeling that the scale of this film will be epic. The CGI/motion capture looks even more polished than Rise, and that is saying something as Rise’s was quite good!

As most movies that employ him have shown, you cannot go wrong with Gary Oldman. His name alone brings credence to the movie, but don’t sleep on Keri Russell either. It also appears that this will be told from a both a human and simian standpoint, which is a good decision. Still, the best thing about this trailer is that while there seems to be more build than previous ones, nothing feels like a huge reveal or potential plot spoiler. I still am a bit hazy on details, but that is OK. When it comes to trailers, I am not looking to get full. I am just looking to whet my appetite.

Everyone has their most anticipated blockbuster, and this is it for the Movie Man. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will be in theaters July 11th.