The new year is already almost a month into its term; already losing some of its shimmer and gloss as our planet realises it is just more of the same old, same old. There are the endlessly repeating headlines about mad jihadists and the climatic peculiarities of global warming. So let’s shut ourselves off in a bubble for a wee while and transport our imaginings to another place, courtesy of an enduring actor, then one who has endured before a ground-breaking and remarkable comeback. We all thought the latter was yesterday’s man.
This past week I journeyed to two morning sessions at my local art house for ‘St Vincent’ and ‘Birdman’. I like the sessions earlier in the day – generally a smaller, quieter audience – less distractions to being able to completely let oneself go off into the world being presented up there on the screen.
The common denominator in these two films, apart from both being quality product, were that they featured Australia’s own Naomi Watts in supporting roles. We know her quality through star turns in such offerings as ‘The Impossible’, ‘Mulholland Drive’ and 2013’s underachieving Aussie four-hander of mothers falling in love with sons, ‘Adore’. In ‘St Vincent’ her role was of a faded, jaded, very pregnant hooker; a weekly regular in ‘Saint’ Vincent’s bed. In ‘Birdman’ she is a fellow thespian of and ‘…shares a vagina…’ with Edward Norton’s edgy, manic character, Mike Shiner, in the film.
I didn’t quite know what to expect of the first movie as its reviews had been mixed. Sure enough, of the two, it is the more ‘writ by numbers’ production, complete with a cheesy, typically predictable Hollywood ending involving the saint bit. I might add it still managed to produce a tear from this hoary old cinema goer. Raising it way above the normal dross is the magnificently dishevelled Bill Murray. It’s just his usual shtick, but he has it so down pat one can’t help but be charmed. He can do this sort of role in his sleep – it’s no stretch as he meanders along, obliviously creating mayhem with every step. He is raffish, he is vulgar, he is crass but we love him for it nonetheless. The icing on the cake is his star turn as dancer – not quite up to the Walken standard you’d have to say though– and his duet with his Bobness on ‘Shelter from the Storm’ for the closing credits – stay in your seats for that. The gambling, low-life hedonist Vincent needs money and looking after young Oliver – Jaden Lieberher (at last a cute child actor who doesn’t set your teeth on edge) – for feisty neighbour Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) seems like an easy gig. Murray milks the situation for all he’s worth, in both senses of the phrase, but it all comes up smelling of roses. Kicking back in a filmhouse watching Bill M in anything is always money well spent and this is far from the worst effort he has ever been involved in.
But ‘Birdman’ is on another plane entirely – as one may suspect given director Alejandro González Iñárritu. The Mexican virtuoso is well known for his interweaving sagas such as ’21 Grams’ – also with our Naomi – and ‘Babel’ – with our Cate. But here he changes tack and with some seamless camera work from Emmanuel Lubezki, gives the audience the ride of a cinematographic lifetime. If you are not mesmerised by this, then there’s Norton’s erection, death by falling stage light, blood on the boards and levitation to contend with. But in the end it’s Michael Keaton you will be blown away by. This is Keaton’s comeback, just as the adaptation of one of Carver’s short stories into a piece for the stage is the resurrection of Keaton’s character, Riggan Thompson. It’s Michael K’s performance for a lifetime. Forget about his Batman roles – this is what he’ll be remembered for. Ironically Thompson is also an ex-comic hero on the big screen. He also wants a more meaningful legacy to leave behind than being the inspiration for plastic action toys. But of course, it doesn’t go smoothly. Riggan’s ex is unhappy with him, his current claims to be pregnant and his co-star is shagging his daughter Sam – a great turn from Emma Stone. There’s also a vicious critic who is going to sink his ship come hell or hight water – a great little role for Lindsay Duncan. This movie is full of magic moments – just wait to you see Keaton fly! He is well backed up by other off-siders in lesser roles such as Zac Galifinakis and the eminently watchable duo of Andrea Risborough and Amy Ryan – as well as our Naomi. Yep, I adored this movie – one of the few I’d happily watch again.
I can only repeat what I stated in my last set of reviews for ‘The Imitation Game’ and ‘Mr Turner’ – the year is off to a blinder, with several promising features on their way as well. Can’t wait.
Trailer for ‘St Vincent’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dP5lJnJHXg
Trailer for ‘Birdman’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJfLoE6hanc