Ann Hornaday/Washington Post
In “Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” Michael Keaton plays an actor named Riggan Thomson, who first appears hovering several inches above his dressing room floor, deep in meditation. He’s trying to ignore the voice of the title character, his alter ego, who takes the form of the comic book character he once played and whose superpowers he now seems able to conjure at the drop of a black leather cowl.
“How did we end up here?” Birdman growls in a sotto-voce whisper. “This place is horrible.” After a few more profane put-downs, “this place” is revealed to be backstage at New York’s St. James Theatre, where Thomson is directing and starring in an ambitious — and no doubt profoundly ill-advised — adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story. As if that bid for artistic legitimacy isn’t freighted enough, Thomson also is trying to grapple with the personal life he neglected for years while pursuing fame in Hollywood, including his fractured relationship with his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), a new girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough) and his ex-wife, Sylvia (Amy Ryan), who pops in and out of his preparations for opening night like an even-tempered, clear-thinking visitor from another, far more self-aware planet.
From this setup alone, “Birdman” has all the trappings of a deliciously tawdry backstage satire on a par with “All About Eve” and “Sweet Smell of Success,” but writer-director Alejandro González Iñárritu throws in a delightfully wacky monkey wrench in the form of a pretentious actor named Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), who’s cast in the play at the last minute when a member of the ensemble is injured (with or without the help of Thomson’s Birdman-esque psychic gifts). The moment Shiner appears on the scene, the strutting and fretting are kicked up a notch, with Norton gleefully, even courageously, throwing himself into a performance that showcases the subtleties of acting nuance but also makes him look utterly ridiculous as a performer of surpassing arrogance and overweening vanity.
Narcissism, ambition, insecurity and the wages of celebrity are addressed in one fell swoop in “Birdman,” which Iñárritu and his longtime cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, have filmed to resemble one long, unbroken take — a stunt that results in a film of delicate, even balletic, grace and one that poetically captures Thomson’s own state of mind. Tuned in, hyper-aware, Thomson moves through the world on a different frequency than his peers, or so he thinks: Through just a few casual gestures — and in one eyepopping set piece — the complicated, contradictory headspace Thomson occupies becomes palpable and real. Once a superstar, now human scale, he walks the boards and Broadway streets like a hungry ghost, searching for the potency his cartoonish persona once conferred, while simultaneously trying to escape the culture of pandering and cynicism he helped to create.
As much fun as “Birdman” is to watch from a sheer technical and aesthetic standpoint, it gains untold layers of meaning from the presence of Keaton, whose own career as the big-screen Batman that launched a never-ending franchise is clearly one of Iñárritu’s inspirations. As critical as “Birdman” is of the idea of the carefully calculated Hollywood comeback, the film manages to be just that. Keaton’s performance, both as Thomson and the éminence grise hovering over his shoulder, is nothing short of a triumph — a quiet, un-showy one-man master class in humor, pathos, physical vulnerability and dimly dawning wisdom that seems always to be disappearing around one of the St. James’s labyrinthine corners.
Keaton is given ample support from a limber, alert ensemble, including the scene-stealing Norton, the impressively feisty Stone, Naomi Watts as an idealistic ingenue and Zach Galifianakis, here almost unrecognizable as the closest thing to a straight man, Thomson’s best friend and producer. Urged along by a musical score that consists mostly of percussive drumming and snatches of classical pieces, the actors gamely hit their marks in a meticulously choreographed dance that swoops and swirls with brash, contagious brio. Then there’s the supporting character of Manhattan itself, portrayed as a seductive and indifferent bitch-goddess who may tantalize from afar but who can swallow a man whole in less than a New York minute.
At another time, the preoccupations of “Birdman” — with relevance, artifice and the meaning of mass acclaim — might have been considered merely those of the rich and famous. But as Stone’s character makes forcefully clear, technology and social media have made them germane to anyone with an iPhone and a Twitter account. With grandeur, giddiness and a humanistic nod toward transcendence, “Birdman” vividly evokes a time of equal parts possibility and terrifying uncertainty, and makes a persuasive case that, when the ground is shifting beneath your feet, the best thing to do is to take flight.
Trip To Italy
If you haven’t seen Michael Winterbottom’s 2010 “The Trip,” stop everything right this second and watch it. Initiated as a BBC television show, UK viewers have already been put in stitches by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s antics therein. Playing fictionalized versions of themselves, not unlike John Malkovich in “Being John Malkovich,” while traveling the English countryside reviewing restaurants for UK’s The Observer, the pair's carrying on is similar to a fond memory of two instinctively funny acquaintances you’re not sure you’ll ever meet again. Luckily, Steve and Rob reunite for “The Trip To Italy,”and the effect amounts to déjà-vu, with the added bonus of seeing the resplendent Italian coast.
After the surprising success of his first restaurant reviews for The Observer, Steve is now asked to visit six restaurants in six different Italian coastal cities, starting in Liguria and ending in Capri. He asks his friend Rob to join him, and the latter jumps at the opportunity to take a vacation from his life of family and relative fame. The two rent a Mini and start the road trip, with musical accompaniment provided by Alanis Morisette’s 1995 classic Jagged Little Pill. It’s not long before the Michael Caine impersonations set in, updated to reference “The Dark Knight Rises,” followed by a discussion on the hardships of understanding Tom Hardy’s Bane.
Along the way, they meet their guide Lucy (Rosie Fellner), who helps them sail for part of their trip and who falls for Rob’s colloquial charm and spot-on Hugh Grant impression. This only complicates matters for Rob, who is increasingly confronted by the distance he feels from his wife and a desire to detach from fatherhood. Meanwhile, Steve takes a more settled approach to his personal tribulations; his primary concern is reconnecting with the son he never gets to see. But don’t be fooled into thinking “The Trip To Italy” veers too far into dramatic territory; nothing could be further from the truth. These private moments end up augmenting the laughs, making the whole experience feel that much more organic.
If there was ever any doubt that Coogan and Brydon reside somewhere in the upper echelons of British comedy, “The Trip To Italy” should put that debate to rest forever. You haven’t seen on-screen chemistry until you’ve seen these two compete, constantly busting each other’s balls on fame, fortune, family life and their own looks. The fictionalized Coogan and Brydon are equally vain and insecure peas in a pod whether they’d ever admit it or not, and the biggest reason why “The Trip To Italy” works so effortlessly (much like its predecessor). Their exchanges will immerse you quicker than any flying 3D projectiles from semi-brainless blockbusters. Look out for Rob explaining how affable he is, the peculiarity of pronouncing the word kumquat, and Steve’s barely disguised jealousy over Rob’s offer to star in the new Michael Mann film. Needless to say, we’d pay a fortune to see that movie.
This must have been the easiest directing job Michael Winterbottom ever had, with the first series probably a close second. Not only can he just let the camera roll on Coogan and Brydon (two actors he’s worked with plenty of times previously), but this time around he’s traveling along the Italian coastline, so it’s easy to make the exterior shots gorgeous. Still, props must go to his regular DP James Clarke who does fantastic work, whether it’s in the busy Italian kitchens or on the gently ebbing coastline. In lesser hands, this picture could have easily been over-cooked or under-boiled, but with Winterbottom’s screenplay anchoring the humor with real-life tribulations, “The Trip To Italy” is as balanced as its meals are delicious. And the meals look positively scrumptious, and will be a real treat for foodies.
It’s quite simple, really. If you enjoyed the first trip, there is no reason you won’t enjoy the second. It’s familiar enough with its brand of improvisational humor, but just different enough (apart from the location) to stretch out the expiry date. For example, Steve’s newfound maturity is tested when an old flame appears from 'The Trip,' and Rob’s conundrum over Lucy isn’t just swept under the rug of movie magic. On top of this carefully balanced tone, it feels like the cultural and literary references come even thicker and faster the second time around. By the time the curtains draw to a bittersweet close, you’ll walk out feeling rejuvenated, satisfied, well replenished in humor and culture, and already planning your own trip to Italy. Nikola Grozdanovic/The Playlist
FOX THEATRE introduces alcohol service!
This year marks the Fox Theatre’s centenary! One hundred years of projecting the finest movies independently on Toronto’s East Side. Time to bust out the champagne and celebrate! Starting this June, in addition to our current concessions offerings audience members will be able to enjoy a glass of wine, or beer at the cinema. Up until now The Fox has offered a wide variety of juice and soda, but these are not ideal for all tastes, and we know that many of you would be happy to enjoy a glass of wine while taking in a screening. While it has become the norm for cinemas to charge extra for this opportunity, at the Fox theatre the VIP treatment will not cost you anything extra! Ticket prices will stay the same, and drinks will be reasonably priced.
The Fox theatre has always strived to offer our loyal and supportive audience something special. Be it the movies that we program, the environment in the cinema, the friendly interaction between staff and audience member or the concessions stand offerings. From real butter on your popcorn, to British style black licorice, our offerings may not be what works for the crowds at the multiplex, but it is clear that something unique, and sophisticated is what people want when they watch a film at The Fox. In the same way that we have many bottles of juice to choose from, audience members will now have several alcohol based beverages to choose from. A pilsner fan should be able to order a pilsner. If someone would like to enjoy a pale ale, then pale ale they shall have! We will have multiple reds and white wines to choose from. We also intend to feature rotating monthly specials and seasonal offerings. It may take time for us to shape our options to best suit the beverages you prefer, but what you drink will dictate what stays in our cooler, and suggestions you have will be welcomed, so please do not hesitate to offer them.
The addition of a liquor license opens The Fox up to a variety of new possibilities that we plan to explore, from wine or scotch tastings, to sporting event presentations. This also makes the venue an interesting option for birthday party rentals, business seminars, or receptions. We are very excited about moving forward with this, and hope you share our enthusiasm. If you have suggestions, concerns or questions please do not hesitate to email. Daniel@foxtheatre.ca. And speaking of birthday parties, keep your eyes open for our upcoming 100th birthday celebration to occur in July!
Q: Does this mean that The Fox will suddenly be overrun by drunken teenaged trouble makers, escalating to the point at which it becomes a post apocalyptic Thunderdome?
A: Our audience falls in the 35+ category, and while we do have quite a bit of faith that our audience is mature and quite refined, Fox staff have been trained in the Smart Serve program to ensure that audience members are not over-served, and that service is limited to those 19 and over.
Q: With texting and talking in cinemas already a problem, won’t the presence of alcohol just increase the potential for in theatre distractions?
A: Though it has never been an issue at The Fox, texting and general audience etiquette has been an issue at many big box cinemas. One of the reasons people come to The Fox is that our audience respects the presentation. We take this very seriously and want to assure anyone concerned that while we don’t expect these new offerings will negatively affect The Fox dynamic, we will as always, be monitoring the auditorium very closely.
Q: Doesn’t red wine make some people sleepy?
A: Some people. But we will have other options, and maybe don’t drink red wine during a more demanding movie if this is an issue for you. Also, we don’t currently have plans for selling Turkey, so a post Thanksgiving dinner style red wine/turkey coma occurring during a screening is unlikely.
Q: Sometimes beer bubbles tickle my nose.
A: That’s not a question.
Today, Sun, December 21, 2014
Dir: Michael Curtiz Starring: Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, Vera Ellen, Mary Wickes
Dir: David Dobkin Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Vera Farmiga, Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton
Dir: Ruben Östlund Starring: Sean William Scott, Clara Wettergren, Johannes Kuhnke, Kristofer Hivju, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Vincent Wettergren
Tomorrow, Mon, December 22, 2014
Dir: David Dobkin Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Vera Farmiga, Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton