Blu-ray Review “Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Starring: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: February 17, 2015
Run Time: 120 minutes

Film: 5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

“Birdman” was easily one of my favorite films of 2015. Michael Keaton gave the performance of a lifetime. I am writing this review after the giant snug from the Academy denying Keaton the Best Actor award. This was a huge mistake because this was finally Keaton’s time. He really gave his all to this role and was not great but mesmerizing. What I loved about this film was that besides the performances, I loved the way it was shot with long and in what seems like unedited takes. This was a very unique and smart film. It may not be for everyone but it is certainly quite amazing.

Official Premise: “Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) – famous for portraying an iconic superhero – as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself.

Fox is releasing this as a combo pack with a Blu-ray and digital HD copy included. The 1080p transfer looks fantastic. Even though the film has that sort of handheld feel to it, it looks outstanding nonetheless. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who not only won the Oscar for “Gravity”, also just won for “Birdman” last week, really nails the shots in this film. As for the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, it works with the dialogue really well. I am still not 100% sold on Antonio Sanchez’s score. Random drumming doesn’t really work for me as an effective score.

The special features are decent but a bit of a letdown to be honest. I was really hoping for a jam-packed commentary track to discuss the deeper aspects of this film but no luck. There is a solid feature called “Birdman: All Access” which runs over 30 minutes and has some great behind the scenes footage. There is also a fun feature called “A Conversation with Michael Keaton and Alejandro G. Iñárritu”. Lastly there is a quick photo gallery included called Chivo’s On Set Photography.

“Birdman”, “Grand Budapest Hotel” Big Winners at 87th Oscars

“Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Innocence)” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” took home the lion’s share of Oscars this evening during the presentation of the 87th Annual Academy Awards.

“Birdman” took home three of the major awards, being named the evening’s Best Picture while Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu took home the award as Best Director. Innaritu also shared the award (with three others) for Best Original Screenplay. The film also received the award for Best Cinematography, the second win in a row for Emmanuel Lubezki, who won last year for “Gravity.”

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” also received four awards, recognized for it’s Makeup, Production Design, Costume Design and Best Original Score. It was the second year in a row that a past interviewee won the Oscar for Best Original Score, with Alexandre Desplat joining last year’s winner, Steven Price.

Eddie Redmayne was recognized as Best Actor for his portrayal of Steven Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” while Julianne Moore, nominated four times previously, was named Best Actress for “Still Alice.” In the supporting categories, J.K. Simmons won the Best Supporting Actor trophy for “Whiplash”, with Patricia Arquette receiving the Best Supporting Actress prize for her work in “Boyhood.” It was the only award the film won out of six nominations. Both Simmons and Arquette had swept the previous award programs so their wins weren’t that unexpected.

In addition to Simmon’s win, “Whiplash” took home Oscars for Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing. The Adapted Screenplay prize went to Graham Moore for “The Imitation Game.” Moore gave a well received acceptance speech recalling a suicide attempt as a youngster and the conviction to be yourself. Another emotional moment came when Common and John Legend performed their song, “Glory,” from the film “Selma.” A few moments later they received the Oscar for Best Song. Another highlight of the evening had Lady Gaga performing a musical tribute to the film “The Sound of Music,” which is celebrating it’s 50th Anniversary this year.

Host Neil Patrick Harris was not as well used as he has been in the past on other award programs, most notably the Tony Awards. Like Ellen Degeneres last year, he basically introduced presenters and bantered a little with the audience. Hopefully Billy Crystal’s schedule will be open next year!


BEST PICTURE – “Birdman”

BEST ACTOR – Eddie Redmayne – “The Theory of Everything”

BEST ACTRESS – Julianne Moore – “Still Alice”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – J.K. Simmons – “Whiplash”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Patricia Arquette – “Boyhood”

BEST DIRECTOR – Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu – “Birdman”





BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – “Glory” from the film “Selma”


BEST COSTUME DESIGN – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

BEST MAKEUP – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”


BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT – “Crisis Hotline: Veteran’s Press One




BEST SOUND EDITING – “American Sniper”


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – “Interstellar”

“Birdman” Dominates 2014 Media Mikes Awards

After two weeks of email and on-line submissions by the staff and readers of Media the winners of the 3rd Annual Media Mikes Awards have been announced.

“Birdman” led all films with four awards, including (2) for director and co-writer Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was chosen as the Best Film of the Year. Michael Keaton edged out Jake Gyllenhaal to win the Best Actor Award for his work in “Birdman” while Reese Witherspoon out-dueled Julianne Moore to take the Best Actress prize for “Wild.” Another tight battle saw “Big Hero 6” narrowly out-point “The Lego Movie” for the year’s Best Animated Feature.

In the supporting categories, the races were not even close, with Mark Ruffalo running away with the Best Supporting Actor prize for his work in “Foxcatcher” and Emma Stone doing the same in the Best Supporting Actress category for her role in “Birdman.”

In awards voted on by the staff, “Birdman” took home the Best Original Screenplay Award while “The Imitation Game” was honored as the year’s Best Adapted Screenplay. “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” was chosen the year’s Best Documentary Feature. Composer Alexandre Desplat won the Best Original Score Award for his work on “The Imitation Game.”


BEST FILM – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

BEST DIRECTOR – Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu – “Birdman”

BEST ACTOR – Michael Keaton – “Birdman”

BEST ACTRESS – Reese Witherspoon – “Wild”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Mark Ruffalo – “Foxcatcher”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Emma Stone – “Birdman”


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Armando Bo, Alexander Dinelaris, Nicolas Giocabone and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu – “Birdman”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Graham Moore – “The Imitation Game”

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me”

BEST ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SCORE- Alexandre Desplat – “The Imitation Game”

“Birdman”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Lead 87th Academy Award Nominations

“Birdman,” the film that triumphantly put Michael Keaton back on the map and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Wes Anderson’s fanciful comedy, led all films this morning when the nominations for the 87th Annual Academy Awards were announced, with each film garnering (9) nominations, including Best Picture.  Other films with multiple nominations include “The Imitation Game” (8), “American Sniper” and “Boyhood” (6) each, and “Interstellar,” “The Theory of Everything” and “Whiplash” with (5).  All of these films, with the exception of “Interstellar,” earned Best Picture nods.  The last film in the Best Picture race is “Selma,” which surprised many by only earning (2) nods.  Due to the revised voting system, only (8) films qualified for Best Picture nominations – a maximum of (10) are allowed.

In the race for Best Director, the nominees are Alejandro G. Inarritu (“Birdman”), Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”), Bennet Miller (“Foxcatcher”), Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”).

Bradley Cooper earned his third consecutive Oscar nomination, this one for Best Actor, for his role as real life soldier Chris Kyle in “American Sniper.”  Other nominees for Best Actor include Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”), Bennedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”), Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) and Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”).  Best Actress nominees are Marion Cotillard (“Two Days, One Night”), Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything”), Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”), Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”) and Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”)

In the Supporting Actor category, the nominees are Robert Duvall (“The Judge”) Ethan Hawke (“Boyhood”), Edward Norton (“Birdman”), Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”) and J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”).  Supporting Actress nods went to Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”), Laura Dern (“Wild”), Keira Knightley (“The Imitation Game”), Emma Stone (“Birdman”) and Meryl Streep (“Into the Woods”).  This is Meryl Streep’s NINETEENTH acting nomination, an incredible achievement.

Nods for Best Animated Film went to “Big Hero 6,” “The Boxtrolls,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “Song of the Sea” and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.”

The winners will be announced on February 22, 2015.  Mark you ballots now!


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Film Review “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Starring: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts
Directed By: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Rated: R
Running Time: 119 minutes
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I feel like thousands of future theses will be written about “Birdman”. It’s a movie that definitely necessitates multiple viewings because of how much is stuffed into its nearly two hour run time. Besides being a contemplative piece of filmmaking, it’s a true joy to watch something so self-conscious and fully aware of what it’s doing. “Birdman” is not the latest box office juggernaut, but more like a powerful awards force.

Could there have been a better choice than Michael Keaton? He plays Riggan, an aged actor living off the memories of being the lead in the powerful superhero franchise, Birdman. He’s nearing the end of his life and reaching the last remains dollars of his checking account. The only thing he can do to recoup his financial, mental and acting losses, is directing, writing and starring in a play adaptation of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Keaton puts on the acting performance of his life by portraying Riggan, the man who hopes to put on the acting performance of his life. Do I even have to mention Keaton was the original movie Batman? Seriously, how meta can you get?

I’m barely clawing at the surface and that’s just by pointing out the most obvious symbol in this movie that’s full of literary devices. Working with Riggan on his comeback performance is one of the best method actors in the land, Mike (Norton). Mike is a philosophical mess who confuses his on-stage performances with his own personality. He’s able to dish out some harsh truths, but when it comes to his own personal life, he finds more relief and comfort in the people he portrays. Leading to a lot of moments where he’d much rather face an audience than face the music.

Along for the ride as well is Sam (Stone), Riggan’s daughter, a recovering addict that has a gloomy look at life and covers her emotional wounds with teenage sarcasm and put downs. She’s kind of like a personal assistant to Riggan although she spends most of her time reflecting and being mopey. Starring in the production itself is Lesley (Watts), who’s constantly saying the wrong thing and half the time on the verge of crying. She’s aspiring towards Broadway infamy. Laura (Andrea Riseborough) is Riggan’s girlfriend who’s not utilized as well as she should be considering she’s a psychotically clingy.

Then there’s Keaton…again…the voice inside Riggan’s head. It’s his Birdman persona constantly reminding him that he’s wasting his time, and needs to strap on the leather suit again and take flight. He gives Riggan an added layer of mystery and throws in some more commentary to the happenings around him and gives the audience a little jab about why we, the movie goer, are even in the theater watching this movie to begin with.

Everyone is outstanding in this. Even Zach Galifianakis gets to stretch out his acting legs. Keaton has been in a lot of movies, but it’s hard to think of one where he’s this amazing. His scenes with Edward Norton are some of the best in the movie and while I personally hold Norton in high regard in terms of acting, Keaton blows him out of the water. I’m hoping Keaton has more performances like this left in his tank.

The direction by Iñárritu is imaginative and genius. The entire movie is put together as one long tracking shot, giving it an on-stage production feel. Obviously there are some clever editing tricks to make this long shot effect real, but when you have characters talking at great lengths as the cameras spins around the room and follow them down the narrow halls of the theatre, it’s quite astounding to experience. Iñárritu employs a jazzy bass and drum soundtrack to match the tension of our characters and by the end starts mixing in some classical tones when it’s time to get a little more abstract.

“Birdman” is a movie that indie and Oscar voters are sure to remember come award season. It’s definitely not a movie for everyone as many, including the gentleman in front of me, were yawning or rotating their neck to prevent stiffness. Some of its more grand ideas may be lost and some of the rapid fire dialogue might not come across as witty without your full and undivided attention. So please, experience “Birdman” undistracted and bask in one of the cleverest movies of the year.

New York Film Fest “Birdman” Press Conference

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s reality-bending Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) closed the 52nd New York Film Fest this past Sunday. The film which opens on October 17th stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson an actor trying to distance himself from an iconic superhero film franchise by starring and directing his own broadway production. Keaton’s huge cast of co-stars includes Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, and Andrea Riseborough, all of whom joined the director at a press conference after the film at AMC Lincoln Center.

Much of the film revolves around Riggan’s struggle with his own identity versus his public image. Specifically he’s faced with a particularly vicious theatre critic whose sole objective is  to destroy Riggan’s show with her pen. Michael Keaton however maintained that he keeps himself in the dark when it comes to critics now. “This is where I’m really a dope” laughed Keaton who looked at reviews in his early days but not so much recently.  “I thought originally…you should be courageous and read everything and I did that a couple of times and I thought ‘well I’m not doing that anymore!’  Although he did add “Admittedly if someone says ‘hey you had a got nice review’ I’ll read it. I’m open to making myself feel better!” Addressing an entire auditorium of NYC critics he concluded “I think I’ve been treated basically fairly, I know I’m the wrong person to ask…There’s probably a lot of you out there going “Oh no you haven’t!”

British theatre actress Andrea Riseborough, who plays Riggan’s co-star also avoids critical reviews “because [she finds] them debilitating, not because [she doesn’t] respect them” Riseborough added that there’s a certain element of fear when it comes to actors encountering critics, rather than hostility, especially in the world of theatre. “You know, they saw Gambon doing his bit back in the day and now they’re going to come and see me. It makes me just want to shit myself!”
 Zach Galifianakis confidently chimed in “I’ve never had a bad review, so I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about. It sounds familiar. I’ve heard people talk about it. But I’ve never had one” cracking up his cast and the audience.

Naomi Watts compared some of her theatre experience to the unorthodox way Birdman was shot: “I can say, I haven’t done a huge amount of theatre, but just from back in the days when I was studying and you know, doing plays then, a lot of my nightmares revolve around being on the stage; And forgetting my lines, or having the wrong clothes on or no clothes at all. So it is that classic recurring nightmare. A lot in the way this film was shot, with this speed and the high stakes and the technicalities and the dependency on each other and the, also the effects, you know the props and things, the cameras, the lighting and the removing of tables and putting them back, you know all those things sort of created this high level intensity and pressure that felt sort of emblematic sort of how it feels on the stage.”

Soon to be joining Watts in stage experience is Emma Stone, who in November will replace Michelle Williams in the current broadway revival of Cabaret. I asked her how she felt between making this film about a movie star entering Broadway and now actually facing that in reality.
“Well, you know, I did write the character of Sally Bowles and I’m directing the production”  the Amazing Spider-man star laughed, then added  “No, I you know, of course this movie brings up a lot of horrible fears of coming into the broadway community and having a Tabitha [the film’s villainous critic]…it feels very different. But I will say that making this  movie and kind of what we had to contend with, as actors, in making something like this, all of the pieces that Naomi was talking about had to–you know, having the table moving out and needing to rely on each other  the way the company does, I think is incredibly helpful now going into theatre in that way and realizing that you’re you know you operate very much as a unit. We all operate as a unit. And in a lot of films it’s not that way at all. It’s a very separate experience. So yeah, I’m nervous as hell. I’m shitting myself!”

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu elaborated on the challenge he and DP Emmanuel Lubezki faced in shooting Birdman in mainly long contiunous shots. “Basically all the camerawork, all the blocking and all the lighting was pre-assigned in advance, months in advance. So there was no improvisation everything was precise, meticulously…Without the editing everything has to happen in the flow and then so you have to really get everything together…So the difficulty was the point of view–where this camera would be located to tell the story right. Who has to be in frame or not. Who has to be the listener…The challenge of that was that there was no lights, shooting film lights. Everything was practical lights and sometimes it was 360 degrees in tiny cooridors with guys with microphones. So all that thing that they’re talking about–the things moving and the ‘you have to be behind him’ and then you go under the legs of somebody and then crawl over the other side. It was kind of the kids playing a theatre play and the camera going around with this 17mm lens which is a wideshot. So every bit, every line, every open door has to be performed exactly the same…it has to be right.”

Actress Amy Ryan described this process as causing a “happy accident” whereby Keaton’s character had to be laying on a dressing room counter top in order to accommodate the camera manuevers “That was the only place really that worked best for every moving part in the scene, boom operator and [Lubezki], myself, Michael. And now I can’t think of a better choice for that, that’s exactly where he should be in that moment.”

Of course with a past Hulk, a Gwen Stacy and an iconic Batman in the room, the idea of the Superhero Film had to be raised with the cast and although the film is definitely not that, it doesn’t entirely shy away from some CGI effects. Keaton was pleased with this “When the special effects come in, I mean it’s just outta nowehere! And I totally dig it. I go yeah, there’s a little treat…A little megaplex action superhero movie dose for you right there…”
He and Edward Norton previewed some footage at New York Comic Con the evening before.  “Michael and I went over to New York Comic Con last night to do a little panel there,” said Norton, “and in the dark right before we went on I looked at Michael and said ‘do think this is the ultimate bait and switch?’ Can you imagine if you go to this actually thinking it’s a superhero movie?”

Birdman is now in limited theatrical release.


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