The Sound and the Fury of Birdman

Birdman

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman (from an a script inexplicable penned by the director and three others) might be a film about a washed-up action star writing and directing a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s classic short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” but it’s that old Shakespeare quote about life being, “…a tale.  Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.  Signifying nothing.” which inspired the title of William Faulkner’s alleged magnum opus (I’m not going to go off on a side-rant here about how Light in August is really his magnum opus and not The Sound and the Fury, which to me was always so…well…kinda like this Birdman here…self-indulgent) that runs through a viewer’s mind while watching Michael Keaton ACT!

Birdman is the super hero Riggan Thomson (Keaton) played twenty years ago and made him a mega-celebrity.  The Carver play is the intimate character-driven art piece he so desperately wants to restore his street cred and remake him into an Actor rather than a celebrity.  Inarritu’s film, in which the Birdman, the man who played him, and the play he creates exist, is exactly the type of film that people who watch only movies like Birdman (as in the explosion filled super hero movie within the film Birdman, not the actual film Birdman) think people who go to watch films like Birdman (the film, not the movie within the film) go to watch.  I can tell you now, Birdman, at times, is the worst type of those types of films that I like to watch.   It’s also, at times, maddeningly brilliant.

Inarritu’s central conceit is all so very meta and insular, appealing to those who believe in the myth of the tortured artist (“What do you risk?” Keaton blusteringly asks a brusk Broadway critic, “I RISK EVERYTHING ON THE STAGE!”) and those who live it.  It’s been dissected many times before.  It brought to mind the lines from a classic episode of Seinfeld where Jerry is forced to wear a fur coat and man-purse and the building super Silvio mocks him saying, “No, he’s very fancy! Want me, love me! Shower me with kisses!”  So then, how does a Director and a Cast make this often mocked mindset seem fresh and meaningful?  Surround it with sound and fury. Continue reading

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A Review of John Curran’s “The Painted Veil”

 Exquisitely Layered, Haunting, and Clever Period Romance, 14 January 2007
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

John Curran’s nearly pitch perfect film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Painted Veil” begins slowly and patiently, with leisurely flashbacks that elliptically bring us to a singularly absurd predicament: circa 1925, a British doctor (Edward Norton in his second romantic lead following “The Illusionist”) has brought his lovely young wife (an entrancing Naomi Watts) into the middle of a Chinese cholera epidemic purely out of spite. It’s a wickedly clever little set-up that becomes increasingly more complex and absorbing.

The note-perfect and delicately layered performances of Watts and Norton, two thespians typically acclaimed for their edgy and independent work and playing against type, are anchored with the literary genius of Maugham and Curran’s keen eye and steady hand behind the camera. It’s all perfectly accentuated by the brilliantly subversive music score by Alexandre Desplat (doing his best work since “Birth”). These cleverly designed elements coalesce deliciously into a fully fleshed-out whole, and allow “The Painted Veil” to grow in your mind organically and slowly slip under your skin like an infectious disease.

Ron Nyswaner does a great job of translating Maugham’s writing to the screen. Virtually nothing is lost. That keen British wit, the dramatic sense of irony, and the sincere exploration of many heady themes including loveless marriages, adultery, imperialism, charity, religion, and redemption are all captured beautifully by director Curran and screenwriter Nyswaner. Watts and Norton are given plenty to chew on, not only great lines, but great scenes full of lush scenery, and beautiful and textured visual details that serve as perfect backdrops for their complex and unpredictable relationship.

Back in the heyday of Merchant-Ivory, it seemed like this type of literary minded period-piece was a dime a dozen. There hasn’t been a hugely successful film of this type since 1996’s “The English Patient.” We haven’t seen a worthwhile film in this genre since Neil Jordon’s underrated “The End of the Affair” in 1999, which not coincidentally was an adaptation of one of the great novels from Maugham’s fellow Brit and contemporary, Graham Greene, and addressed many of the same themes.

What “The Painted Veil” lacks in epic sweep it makes up for in scores with its nuanced performances and subversive outlook on romance and true love. Its finely landscaped images of China are transfixing, but it’s the look on Norton’s face when he realizes the woman his wife has become, and the glimmer of a tear forming in Watts’ eye when she realizes what she’s done that will haunt you.

Originally published on the Internet Movie Database.

http://imdb.com/title/tt0446755/usercomments-36