Friday, October 17, 2014

Michael Keaton as BIRDMAN

I just saw Birdman this afternoon.  In a word -- wow.  If Michael Keaton does not get an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, if the film does not get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, Hollywood heads need to be examined.  Keaton is absolutely fascinating and surprising.  He really takes you on a journey in this performance.  I'd give Michael Keaton an Oscar nomination right now for Birdman.  He did some thrilling dramatic work.  As thrilling as a superhero story with life as the special effects.
  Yes, this is the same guy who was Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice.  And Batman.
Does the world know what you're capable of?  Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has given us a masterful, highly original cinematic jazz composition about respect and validation.  Keaton plays a movie star, famous for having been a box office champion as a superhero.  His Hollywood glory days are over and he's now older.  He seeks to do something new and artistically relevant.  He takes a risk.  He's producing and acting in a play based on work by Raymond Carver.  He takes a risk and he's willing to do the hard work.  The play is in troubled, unpredictable previews before its Broadway opening.
He's had a sexual fling with one fellow cast member and punches the crap out of another.  His daughter is out of rehab, she's there with him in New York City and some rehabilitation needs to be done on their relationship.  There, too, he's willing to do the work.  He displays some magical super powers of his own.  This actor seems to be in a stage of madness, in more ways than one.  This movie is surreal and wonderful.

To a little degree, it's like an action hero version of All About Eve for guys.  Edward Norton co-stars as the annoying, talented fellow cast member.  I think Norton was doing a vocal and slight physical riff on William Hurt.  He had some Hurt mannerisms.  Norton is one of the most versatile film actors we've got.  Look at him as skinhead racist in American History X, watch him in Fight Club, see his musical comedy performance in Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You, watch his brilliance as the British doctor punishing his adulterous wife in the excellent and greatly overlooked remake of The Painted Veil, see his scout master role in the loopy Moonrise Kingdom, and then catch him as the pain-in-the-ass egotistical actor in Birdman.  Norton nails this new role.

I did not expect to connect to Keaton's actor as deeply as I did.  But we had a few things in common.  In the first ten minutes of the movie, when the aging performer is alone and listening to his winged alter ego, I knew exactly how Keaton's Riggan Thomson felt.  As a former VH1 celebrity talk show host and veteran network entertainment reporter, I've felt the same way when I've watched the rich Billy Bush host his show biz news programs.  Thomas was a hit in 1992.  I was a hit in 1992.  (He was on the big screen.  I was on TV screens).  He wants to be respected and validated and do some relevant new work today.  So do I.  We're both in the same age category.

I got my first taste of Keaton's quirky comic acting skills when I saw him just about steal 1982's Night Shift away from its star, Henry Winkler.  I became an immediate Michael Keaton fan.   We moviegoers liked his comedy so much that we didn't think he could pull off the darkness and emotional dissonance of 1989's Batman.  But he did.  And it was a box office blockbuster.  Now the former action hero movie star is playing a former action hero movie star.
Who knew that Keaton was capable of the more complex rawness he shows in this new black comedy?  I loved his performance as a guy trying to reconnect to family members, his career and his self-respect.  I plan to see Birdman again.  This is the best and brightest work of Michael Keaton's film career to date.  Wow.


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