Birdman is an all-too-rare film actually worthy of the title “masterpiece.”

After you see the penultimate Hunger Games installment, whether because you want to or because society implores you to, go see Birdman. After you drop the kids off with grandma on a Big Hero 6 date, go see Birdman. Why are you even reading this review right now? Just GO SEE BIRDMAN.

This is a work of art. A genuinely surreal yet disturbingly realistic and compellingly rare film that takes every trope of modern film and spits in its face. Birdman is something that you should see once to experience, a second time to fully digest, and countless more times just to assure yourself that the 21st century can still output some incredible movies.

Birdman, written and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams) is a tale of relevance in the modern age, at a time when its themes couldn’t be more relevant. It is so shockingly in the NOW that you’d think it was made last week.

It seems like something that should have been novel that we should have read in high school. Its themes are mature ones, to be sure, but they are diligently and delicately molded into the very minutiae of the film. The subtle pop culture jabs and even subtler references to mythology. The gruff attitude of the film which, at least on the surface, seems to be so light-hearted and fun, only to scare us with its realism once the audience takes some time to dig deep into particular scenes and conversations. It all forms a perfect cycle of parity. You’d have to go back to 2011’s The Artist or 2007’s Juno to find such distinct thematic elements working together for the greater good of actually having something significant to say about society.

Birdman being stalked by Birdman.

Birdman being stalked by Birdman.

The majestic nature of Birdman is that it accomplishes so much with so little. So often movies are labeled as “rollercoasters”. Name any superhero property – whether it be the first, second, third, fourth, tenth installment – and you’ll find dozens of critics who are quick to call them “an absolute ride from start to finish!”

I’m not harping on big blockbusters. Some of them actually have substance, although that is an increasingly unique trait. But if that overused moniker of “rollercoaster” has truth to it with those films, then I can confidently say that experiencing Birdman is like injecting yourself with weaponized TNT and skydiving from Mars into the face of the Sun.

Yeah, it is that exhilarating.

There isn’t a single department Birdman doesn’t excel at. There just isn’t. The cinematography alone deserves several rounds of applause (as well as an Oscar). Virtually the entire movie is a single take, something that works to grandstanding effect and must be seen to be believed. There are two kinds of moviegoers: Those who notice the effect of cinematography, and those who are ignorant to it. Birdman converts the latter.

The score, seemingly made with nothing more than a single drum set, is captivating and engrossing.

The dialogue is Tarantino-meets-Aaron Sorkin. Wonderfully exaggerated yet so true to the situations and the film’s overarching themes of holding-your-ego-in-check-at-all-costs that the movie is almost self-aware of its own ridiculously wonderful irony.

Birdman is also one of the funniest films you’ll see this year, perhaps the funniest. In the vein of 2007’s There Will Be Blood or even The Wolf of Wall Street from yesteryear, Birdman uses humor so well to disguise its own masochistic themes, and arguably better than the two aforementioned films.

The acting is some of the best in any movie this year, too. The ensemble’s individual performances are what power the film. There’s nothing to say about Michael Keaton’s (RoboCop, Batman Returns) performance as washed-up movie star Riggan Thompson other than it will terrify you, suspend you, make you laugh, make you contemplate, make you wonder if this is the highlight of an otherwise colorful career. It is. And we should be grateful for it.

Keaton and Norton may or may not be arguing over who had better acting in Birdman.

Keaton and Norton may or may not be arguing over who had better acting in Birdman.

Name any other cast member and you have yourself a performance just as enthralling. Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Zack Galifianakis. They all deliver. On such multilayered levels that they make their characters seem so inherently real. That is the trademark of great acting in a film.

Pacing is another strength of the film. Birdman does so well what other films strive so so so hard to do, only to fall flat in the end. Birdman simply never stops. There is never a dull moment, from its high crescendos of fast paced cinematic scurrying to its slower, more human moments. You never know what’s going to happen in the next moment, but you can bet it’s going to be there before you know it.

It truly is a shame that, unlike the Tonys for theatre, the Oscars have recently become so preferential towards historical dramas with themes that have been delved into countless times. Although they are sure to recognize Keaton’s performance, as well as the stupidly incredible camera work, there is no doubt Birdman will be grossly overlooked by the Academy.

Just make sure you aren’t overlooking it. You’d be skipping out on a masterpiece of modern cinema. And once you see the film, you’ll understand why that is the greatest irony of all.

 

In a Nutshell

Mr. Iñárritu has given us something special, something that deserves the mature moviegoer’s admiration. A wholly original piece of art that seemingly is long overdue, but actually arrived just at the right moment. Other movies can utilize their technological standard-raising methods and budget-busting capabilities to create something memorable. But Birdman aims to be something more. It aims to be as devilishly charming as anything released in recent decades.

 

10 / 10 or The Best Picture of 2014. If the Academy doesn’t coronate it as such, I sure as hell will.

 

 

Birdman is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence

Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu 

2014

 

 

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Christopher Nolan Once Again Awes With Interstellar’s Emotional And Visual Heights

Ambition in terms of plot and aesthetic is something that is far too rare a quality in movies these days.

In fact, it is usually for the benefit of jaw-dropping visuals and technical prowess that such qualities like plot are sacrificed. 2013’s Gravity, for example, reached a new tier of excellence with Alfonso Cuaron’s out of this world (ha) cinematography, but it was devoid of substance. For some reason people, and the Academy, was fine with that (this reviewer not included).

Thankfully we have Christopher Nolan, one of the most dependable directors of our time, the genius behind The Prestige, Inception, and the modern Dark Knight trilogy. Not only does he set out to create a visually stunning picture, but, like he does so well, he infuses that spectacle with his ability to create leverage in the form of pathos. Actual stakes. Emotion.

It is that quality, which is more obvious and ominous in Interstellar than in any of Nolan’s previous pictures, that will make it a polarizing picture with audiences.

Wormhole, engage.

Wormhole, engage.

 

Sweet emotion

Interstellar stars Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, a one-time astronaut and engineer who could never utilize his skills because of the world he lives in.

And that world, and the race that inhabits it, is barren. Running on crops, primarily corn, the ominous threat of extinction hanging over everyone’s heads. Farmers are sustaining humanity, and NASA is gone.

Or so we think, until Cooper is chosen to lead mankind’s last, best chance of survival. By exploring the final frontier.

Scope is never something one has to worry about with a Nolan film. The man is as ambitious as Lucas and Spielberg and Interstellar is no different.

The element people need to worry about is how much they will be disgruntled by the mechanics at play in Interstellar. As with The Prestige and Inception, it will take multiple viewings of the film to sometimes understand how the heck the plot sometimes got from A to B. In a primary viewing they will have to be satisfied with 1 + 2 = B.

But that’s okay, because Nolan’s films have always had a mystical air about them. Interstellar is more sci-fi than anything he’s done, so leaving some things to the imagination will do.

And that is absolutely what one will have to do to fully appreciate what Nolan has crafted. At the center of Interstellar, a story about essentially the looming apocalypse, is the relationship Cooper maintains with his daughter, Murph. Even as Interstellar voyages beyond where no man (and few filmmakers) has gone before, with planets and black holes and wormholes seemingly taking center stage, the stakes of that relationship are always at large.

The payoff, unfortunately, depends on how much the viewer cares about those stakes. Some will be left awed by the way Nolan uses the father-daughter relationship dynamic, and the ways he uses emotion at the core of Interstellar.

Others still will see the movie as leaving something to be desired. That’s okay because the movie is still as close to a roller coaster ride as any coming out in 2014.

Nolan has used emotional appeal before, usually as subplots or mechanics in his previous films. Never before has it become so much a part of what drives the work as Interstellar. It’s a subjective technique, and subjectivity will ultimately determine how the viewer handles it.

 

Parts that make up the whole

Interstellar features one of the best ensemble casts of the year, especially given its blockbuster status. McConaughey
(Dallas Buyers Club, True Detective) continues his McConaissance as a formidable, Oscar-winning drama actor. Whether he is down to Earth (literarily and figuratively) or fighting for the survival of the human race, he is captivating and you can’t root against him.

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) and Mackenzie Foy (The Conjuring) both excel as Murph, and Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables, The Dark Knights Rises) gives one of her more jarring performances excluding Les Mis.

Their supporting cast is just as dynamic. The always-reliable Michael Caine (the Dark Knight trilogy, The PrestigeInception) is still the grandfather we always wanted, and Casey Affleck (I’m Still Here, Good Will Hunting) and John Lithgow (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Love Is Strange) put in commendable turns.

Houston, we may have a problem.

Houston, we may have a problem.

In all honesty, each member of the cast who has substantial dialogue deserves a kudos for having to reach deep into their emotional ranges at some point or another. They all succeed, and the film even more so because of them.

There’s nothing more to say about the visual aesthetic other than this is absolutely Christopher Nolan at work. The visuals are jaw-dropping, more arresting that Gravity, while at the same time conveying that there is so much more at stake.

Inception’s famous BRAAAAAAHHHHHMMMMMSSS have been replaced by organs that sound like they’re being played by gods, and it results in a score that is just as chilling. The ambience accompanying the crew’s voyage is nothing short of majestic at some points.

As far as directing, Nolan once again reminds us why his style is so instantly recognizable. His combination of practical and visual effects, as well as the aforementioned use of emotional appeal and cinematography, makes this a Nolan work of grand proportions.

It’s a sci-fi tale to be sure, and a beautifully terrifying one. The things Cooper and company go through make Sandra Bullock’s romp in Gravity look like a vacation. And it’s all due to Nolan’s attention to detail. He knows how to get under the skin of the audience – and here he does it by isolating them as far away as anyone has ever been.

 

In a Nutshell

In the same way as Interstellar’s protagonists must cope with multiple dimensions of space and time to accomplish their mission, the audience also needs to find the perfect way to synergize film’s many dimensions: plot, emotional appeal, visual aesthetic.

Either way, it’s a ride to be experienced, and in IMAX if possible.

 

9.0 / 10 or You thought Gravity was good? Pshhhhhhhhh.

Newly Opened Bonefish Grill Aims – And Succeeds – To Please

Bonefish Grill is a place where it would be slightly wrong to visit in less than jeans and a nice shirt, and the experience they give their customers reflects that attitude.

 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – At Bonefish Grill, a very comfortable, relaxed setting with dim lighting and inconspicuous music only readies a guest for the edible pieces of paradise they will receive.

The first of which is the succulent Bang Bang Shrimp, simply one of the best ways one can spend $10.40. Showered, but not drenched, in an orange, tangy sauce of mayo, basil and sriracha, the Bang Bang Shrimp at Bonefish is one of the most appealing appetizers offered in the restaurant world. 

That is, however, just a setup for what’s to come. There isn’t a Pandora’s Box of entrees on the menu, but that is actually a welcome sight as guests will already have a tough time picking what to try.

The options include one meal a bit out of the ordinary. The Lobster Grilled Cheese exemplifies what makes Bonefish Grill so unique. The meal is prepared exactly hoit sounds – no tricks here. It works to mesmerizing effect.

The highlight of the plate, however, is the bowl of lobster bisque – a creamy, orange soup that is infused with zesty flavor.

Creme Brule is a must to end any meal, and Bonefish delivers on all fronts with their version of the treat. The coffee flavored surface holds all the crunch needed need to welcome the taste buds to the creamy, addictive custard that lies in waiting beneath.

 

A individualized experience 

The attention their servers give are worthy of a nice tip. In the first fifteen minutes alone one might get upward of three visitors with a cocktail menu and firsthand expertise about their offerings, as well as their own recommendations when asked. They’re persistent, but never annoying.

Bonefish goes the extra mile to write on their takeout boxes the meal and date.

Bonefish goes the extra mile to write on their takeout boxes the meal and date.

 

A special trait of Bonefish Grill is that they invite all kinds of gatherings and will give every hungry visitor a personable experience. That’s what Bonefish Grill prides itself on, and their accommodations fit couples on their third dates as equally as a group of college kids willing to spend a few extra bucks for Bang Bang Shrimp.