Birdman (2014): A Surreal Exploration of Meaning and Ego

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      I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of good and okay movies over Thanksgiving Week. Out of all those movies, “Birdman” wins hands down. It will probably be in my end of year Top 5 list, but we’ll see. December still lies ahead and there were some films that I saw before reviewing the blog that will be major competitors.

   “Birdman” or “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu who also was one of the producers and writers. The other writers were Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo and the other producers were John Lesher, Arnon Milchan and James W. Skotchdopole.

      The premise is Riggan (Michael Keaton) is an aging actor famous only for being Birdman trying to make it big on Broadway and be relevant again. From here the story unfolds as he wrestles with situations, his ego and characters and his possible magic powers as well as the character of Birdman who pressures him into actions. From here the story unfolds as things become undone. From here the story unfolds.

The review does contain SPOILERS.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Soundtrack –  The music for this movie has a life of it’s own. There is a snare drum (and you see the drummer) at different points during the film and it does a good job of giving New York City life and creating tension. It makes everything organic and tense and draws you into the scene at hand.

Lesley – Naomi Watts plays Lesley, a character who has been working all her life to get on Broadway and is roommates with the selfish method actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), when he attempts to rape her on stage she fights back and has her dreams come crashing down as the one who had helped her get to where she was betrayed her and didn’t own up to it. After she connects with Laura (Riggin’s girlfriend) and they share a kiss and appreciate each other as Laura reaches out on how Riggin had never showed the appreciation for her performances the way he did for Lesley. After she sets the boundaries with Mike she is a rock throughout the rest of the film and is able to comfort Riggin when he loses it after another bad Preview before opening night.

Jake – This is the best role I have seen Zach Galifianakis play. His character is driven and does all he can to pull the play together…from hiring Mike and doing what Mike wants no matter how outrageous and finding the money for different things the play needs…no matter how tight it gets. He comes through and his darker side is only revealed when he lies to Riggan to keep him afloat telling him they were sold out and that famous people showed up tonight to cast for movies and when he is celebrating the show’s success even though his best friend just shot off his nose and he hasn’t checked into his friend’s mental state. He was compelling to watch though.

Sylvia – Amy Ryan plays Sylvia…Riggan’s ex-Wife who he cheated on. Post divorce she is the only person he is honest with and opens up about Birdman being in his head pressuring him to do certain things. She listens to him but keeps him grounded and it looks like they are able to resolve things as he shows he cares and has learned and it happens organically too as she’s the adult in the room and he’s the one growing past his ego.

Sam – Sam is Riggan’ daughter and is played by Emma Stone. She plays a young woman out of rehab and she plays the part well. From the apathy and skeletalness, to using what she learned there (marking a napkin with dashes to represent time) she is there for her dad and admits he wasn’t a bad father after she talks to Mike about he was never there and realizes he wasn’t bad. She makes him relevant again and uses the popularity he receives on youtube after he gets caught outside the theatre in his underwear to boost him to relevant again as at the end she’s the one running his social media sites. They are friends at the end and she knows he found freedom as when she goes into the empty room and looks outside, she smiles.

Mike – Edward Norton plays a prick who is only real when he’s on stage and being someone else. We see this in how he plays a critic talking poetry and meaning…but than bashes everyone and during Truth or Dare has Sam spit on a bald guy’s head…as well as when he tries to rape his friend. I didn’t like this character. He was complex but he doesn’t even compare to Riggan in regards to how good he is. He is driven by ego, jealousy and want above all else. He only really cares about people after Riggan calls him out and fights him and after he loses Lesley. That is when he begins to learn and see beyond himself. He is devoted to the craft and that is part of what makes him interesting. If the script says his character is drunk, he was real liquor on stage, etc. I’m glad he grows but because of the scene with Lesley I could never like the guy.

Birdman – Birdman is Riggan’s ego and desire to matter. He is core Id and at one point during Birdman’s monologue near the end that gets Riggan to imagine he’s flying he’s describing that people want action, special affects and most of all him as Birdman taking the screen and soaring. He describes how they’ll make billions and outdo to “The Avengers.” It’s a messed up scene and you see just how twisted that part of Riggan is as it is the part where he believes he can move objects with his mind and where the show is just about him…not all those apart of it. Birdman is defeated though after Riggan faces death on the stage and shoots off his own nose leaving him in a Birdman mask of bandages that he takes off to reveal is bedraggled face but who is finally free of Birdman’s voice as Birdman sits silently on the toilet.

Riggan – Riggan drives the plot as he wrestling with his own self worth which gets shot down multiple times as the press only wants to talk about a possible “Birdman 4” or shoot him down for entering into their world (the critic who hates him for bringing Hollywood to Broadway). He is a flawed character and we see how his ego drives him as he dismisses those who try and help him like his girlfriend and how he isn’t able to connect to his daughter and ex-wife until he is at the bottom. Everything is about his popularity and power until he loses it all. It’s only after getting through losing it that he comes out flying and free from the voice of his ego and the outside pressures around him. It’s a powerful arc.

Messages – Riggan’s arc is growing past his ego and realizing it doesn’t matter. That he can be free if he chooses to be and what everyone wants to see is himself not the character as when he is truly himself on stage (he describes the play as a twisted version of himself but in the end accepts that darkness into himself) that he is able to survive and grow from it. He dies and is reborn without the beard and without Birdman’s voice in his head. We also see that art transcends all mediums as this film is a film and not a play so the critic’s point about Hollywood not being art is countered as the film represents the use of both mediums. Mike is also revealed to be a selfish hypocrite who can talk deep things but can’t live it in any meaningful way until the ones who have been through Hell (Sam and Riggan) pull him out of it. There are more as well, but these were the major ones.

Symbolism – Birdman is a dark bird representing the darker side of the ego I got from the film and the flight is only true flight when he lets go of that part of himself and is free. We also see the symbolism of the city which is loud, large and confining. Riggan and other character care trapped unless they are above it all from Sam, Mike to Riggan himself. These were some of major symbolic moments I caught.

Okay: Ambiguous Ending – The Ending is pretty ambiguous so I have mixed feelings about it. It implies he flies or is free after he blows off his nose based on his daughter’s reaction and the fact that Birdman is present but is not longer pressuring him to become Birdman again…but I would have liked it to be a little clearer. I get the symbolism of freedom and rebirth but when he had an imagination sequence where he was flying it was just that as the taxi driver is angry at not getting paid when he returns after getting drunk for opening night. This is my only issue, but it isn’t a con. It’s just not a pro.

     This film gets so much right that I can’t help but recommend it. It explores the ego, meaning and the different identity of individuals and groups and how they relate to each other…as well as that in relation to the art of the stage and life as a whole. It is powerful and one of the best movies of the year I’ve seen. If you have the chance to watch it, check it out. It is worth the money and time as it tells a story with a point and with amazingly compelling characters.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. The only thing keeping it from a perfect score is that ambiguous ending. I would have liked to get what Riggin was thinking but his silence may have lended for good acting…but no answers on what actually happened.

Gargoyles – Season 1, Episode 13 – “Reawakening” – The Purpose of a Gargoyle

coldstone

We end Season 1 of Gargoyles with the 13th and Final Episode of the season, “Reawakening.” This is a great episode for many reasons, as it brings together the loose threads from a few of the stories, gives a hint of things to come and establishes a higher purpose and point. Suffice to say it is amazing and a favorite. Also, Michael Dorn (Worf from “Star Trek”) guest stars in this as Coldstone.

“Reawakening” was written by Brynne Chandler Reaves and directed by Saburo Hashimoto and Kazuo Terada.

The story is that Demona uses magic and Xanatos uses technology to ressurect Coldstone into a cyborg gargoyle body. From here they use him as Demona blames Goliath for the extinction of the Wyvern Clan from the vikings. Ashamed of his form and feeling hatred Coldstone joins with them as they target Goliath and the Manhattan Clan in a final showdown. From here the story unfolds.

Gargoyles Reawakening

Here is the assessment of the Season 1 Finale:

The Pros: Coldstone – Michael Dorn is an amazing actor and voice actor and he has the chance to play a complex gargoyle who was once Goliath’s Rookery Brother. You see how conflicted he is after Demona gives him the half-truth of the Vikings killing of him being Goliath’s doing and we see him choose to live rather than survive when he finds that all Demona is offering him is survival, which is no way for a gargoyle to be. We understand his distrust of humans too as the Sorcerer runs in fear of them from the castle tower in the flashback.

Demona – We see that hatred once again dominates her feelings as she shoots to kill at all times, even when Xanatos tells her he wants the Gargoyles alive. We also see her influence as she easily makes Coldstone their pawn when the episode begins. She would have killed more people too if Xanatos hadn’t used the rocket pack in the Red Steel Clan suit to run off with her after the battle. She shoots Coldstone and feels nothing, showing just how far gone she’s become.

Brooklyn – We see his hatred for Demona here for being used as a incapacitates her at the beginning of the fight, but still sees the bigger picture as he and Lexington save Broadway from the Steel Clan.

Lexington – Manages to take out two Steel Clan members through his wits and teams up to save Broadway from Xanatos. He is finding his confidence and how to use his small size to his advantage.

Elisa Maza – Grabs Hudson and Bronx and turns the tied against Demona and Xanatos, forcing them to run away. She also helps Goliath and the Gargoyles find their purpose once more as defenders once more.

Xanatos – Xanatos changes in this episode as he sees that he is working with someone he shouldn’t be as she doesn’t listen and is only after retribution where he is thinking long term. It’s powerful when he surrenders and reveals himself beneath the Red Steel Clan helmet as the Gargoyles didn’t know he’d been fighting with his robots and when he makes the escape rather than standing and fighting you see in his eyes him rethinking the whole of the situation. He also has a comedic laughing moment where he says “It’s alive! It’s alive!” When they ressurect Coldstone, which was something he always wanted to say.

Goliath – Goliath expresses the purpose for the Gargoyles as he is the one who reminds Coldstone of his, that there are things more important than survival or only caring for your own. He learns from from Elisa Maza and he and the Gargoyles swear to protect Manhattan, which in a way is when they officially become the Manhattan Clan. Manhattan is now their castle. It is powerful and we see how much Goliath has grown versus the lack of growth from Demona. Also a cute romantic moment at the end when he tells Elisa Maza. “All I need is a Detective.”

The Message – Look beyond yourself and look out for other people, do not hate those who are different but strive always for good. Protect. This the gargoyle way and is expressed fully in this episode.

Okay: Broadway and Hudson – They are there in the final battle, but Broadway needs to be saved and Hudson tells us what we already learned from Detective Maza. They aren’t bad, just redundant as all needed rescuing at one time or another and Detective Maza already gave us the message much better than Hudson.

This is an amazing episode, the only thing that is left in the air is if Coldstone is now undead so cannot die, what do Xanatos and Demona plan to do now? Where is Macbeth? These questions leave so much open for Season 2, which I remember Season 2 exploring quite well. Will see first hand when I get to it, for now we’re taking a break from “Gargoyles” and ending on a high note, as this season did. What compelling villains and characters and what great stories and messages…These are the things that made this show memorable beyond the premise, art and voice actors. This is a season I plan to watch again, as these stories are timeless. Timeless, as Gargoyles made of stone.

Final Score for the Finale: 10 / 10. I just wish it had been longer and been a two-parter to give us more time with Coldstone and more development for Broadway and Hudson.

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Gargoyles – Season 1, Episode 10 – “The Edge” – A Matter of Pride

Gargoyles The Edge

 

We continue our review of “Gargoyles” with the 10th episode in Season 1, “The Edge.” “The Edge” was written by Michael Reaves and directed by Saburo Hashimoto and Kazuo Terada.

The story involves Xantatos being free from prison and is plot as he gives a Jewel to the city called the “Eye of Odin,” but later has it stolen by members of the Steel Clan (his robot gargoyles) to frame the gargoyles and turn the city against them. From here the story unfolds as the Steel Clan targets Goliath and his Clan when they are investigating the robbery and returning home.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Goliath – Goliath is great in this episode, as we see his anger issues but how in the end he does see the big picture…whether it is staying to fight the Steel Clan so they won’t find their new home or not killing Xanatos, knowing it would turn the city against them for good and they’d have no way to clear their names. We see that alone the Red Steel Clan member is overpowering him and it is only when he figures out that Broadway, Brooklyn, Lexington all work together they can defeat the Steel Clan.

Brooklyn, Lexington, Broadway – These three show team work in this episode as they outmatch the Steel Clan as far as numbers go, but individually the Steel Clan are more powerful. This is where we see Broadway think to use one of the arms from a dead Steel Clan member to stab through another while Brooklyn distracts it. It’s a pretty cool fight.

Xanatos – Xanatos’s pride is the theme of this episode as it begins with Owen defeating him in a fight and him being glad he was since if he was given victory he wouldn’t have to earn it. We see how this affects his pride though as when he’s insulted at the giving of the “Eye of Odin” he steals it back out of spite and to test the Gargoyles and himself. We see that he is the Red Steel Clan leader and went out to fight to prove to himself he was still a great threat as he was defeating Goliath through most of the battle and only ran away when the other two Steel Clan members were defeated and he was outnumbered. He learned that the gargoyles were getting smarter and learning to work together, and that he could still defeat Goliath on his own if it came to that. This episode shows his pride as an asset as it strives to make him better.

Okay: The Steel Clan – The fact that Xanatos was leading them is cool, but the fact that they were once again identical didn’t make them interesting. Xanatos was the only one that was unique which missed out that the Gargoyles succeed because of their diversity and skills. I hope Xanatos realizes that after this episode.

This was a good episode, though in my opinion, most Xanatos centered episodes tend to be. He is an intriguing villain and in this episode we see how pride defines him. Pride makes him spiteful and wanting to improve himself. He is an antagonist who learns from his mistakes and is willing to get in the thick of things to learn first hand, which I have to respect.

Final Score: 9 / 10. It was great.

Gargoyles – Season 1, Episode 9 – “Enter Macbeth” – A New Threat, Great Villain and New Beginning

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“Enter Macbeth” is a great episode for a lot of reasons. Most of which I’ll get into in the assessment. One thing that does make it amazing though, is how it took a Shakespeare character and did something amazing with him, making him a character that fits and contributes to the lore of this Universe.

The episode was written by Steve Perry and directed by Kazuo Terada and Saburo Hashimoto. It is the 8th episode of the 1st season.

The story involves Macbeth approaching Xanatos and prison and letting him and Owen know that he knows about the gargoyle threat and that he can defeat them as he’s defeated them before. While this is going on a recovering Detective Maza is trying to convince Goliath they have to leave which he is resisting as the Castle is the home he’s known all his life and out of all of them, he’s the most resistant to change. Things come to a head though when Lexington, Brooklyn and Bronx are captured by Macbeth and Goliath must rescue them. The story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Goliath – Goliath is tradition and the base for the gargoyles, it is why he’s the leader, as he isn’t the oldest…Hudson is. We see that he leaves no one behind though as he fights and defeats Macbeth in his own home and mocks Macbeth when he learns Macbeth captured them so he could get revenge on Demona. On the reveal that Demona doesn’t care about them, he loses it. In the fight Macbeth’s home is burned to the ground but he Goliath is forced to admit when Broadway and Maza convince him that the Castle is no longer their’s as Xanatos is free from prison and Macbeth is still out there. He does promise Owen that they’ll be back though.

Lexington – We see his brains at work again as he is able to sap the power from the cages to have Bronx break out of his cage and get Goliath to save them.

Brooklyn – Is comedic relief and good in this episode as he keeps annoying Lexington by electrocuting his finger on the cage until Lexington can come up with a plan.

Broadway – Sees the big picture and plays a part in convincing Goliath they need to leave the Castle, which makes sense since he is the gargoyle most of the current time period.

Detective Maza – Sees the big picture, fights Macbeth briefly when injured and is largely the reason Goliath gives in to them finding a new home. She also finds them a new home in the Clocktower.

Macbeth – Voiced by John Rhys-Davies of “Lord of the Rings” and “Indiana Jones” fame he owns this role. He is a compelling antagonist who is immortal though we don’t know why…and extremely intelligent as he uses technology and his strength to defeat the gargoyles. He also manages to escape from Goliath’s wrath.

The Ending – Things have changed…Xanatos is free, the gargoyles have changed homes, Detective Maza is still injured and recovering from being shot, and Macbeth is on the scene and a new player in the game against the gargoyles.

Okay – What we Know about Macbeth – We know he knows Demona and gave her her name, but we don’t know why he hates the gargoyles or how he is still alive after all these years. It’s not a bad thing, but a little more about him would have served the story better.

I recommend this episode for sure, and it is a favorite, even though it isn’t perfect. Macbeth is a great antagonist, and with Xanatos free and the gargoyles changing homes…we see that actions from prior episodes have consequences. It’s nice seeing that the gargoyles came from Ancient Scotland put to good use and have Macbeth be from that time period and their world.

Final Score for this episode: 9.5 / 10. Definitely a favorite.

Gargoyles – Season 1, Episode 8 – “Deadly Force” – A Thoughtful Episode on Gun Violence

Gargoyles Deadly Force

We continue our review of our “Gargoyles” with Episode 8 in Season 1, “Deadly Force.” The episode was written by Michael Reaves and directed by Saburo Hashimoto and Kazuo Terada.

The story revolves around Broadway who accidentally shoots Detective Maza when she is in the middle of investigating Dracon and his thugs who stole Xantatos’s high tech. weapons to sell. Not knowing that Broadway was the one responsible Goliath goes on a rampage to bring Dracon to justice.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Broadway – This is Broadway’s episode and him learning to be careful as he is the gargoyle who acts mostly from instinct, whether with jokes or eating. He experiences the consequences of not being careful and thinking when he shoots Maza but out of guilt begins targeting thieves who are using the weapons Dracon and his thugs stole from Xanatos. This leads him to the area where the selling is happening and ends with him confessing that he shot Maza by accident. Goliath and Maza later forgive him and you get how much his mistake has eaten at him throughout the episode.

Detective Maza – We see her idealism here (threatening to take out Dracon and his goons), kindness (cooking a steak for Broadway and forgiving him) and this is the one time where she makes mistakes too as she left her gun out. She is great in this episode, even if it isn’t for that long.

Goliath – The avenging Angel, we see him destroy Dracon and later destroy Xanatos’s weapons as he wants to keep dangerous weapons off the street. We also see his hard side as it is difficult for him to forgive Broadway initially.

The Message – Only responsible people should use guns, and gun safety is important as you can’t predict who may use it (Broadway) and cause something bad to happen. It’s a clear and good message that is pretty apolitical.

Okay: Dracon – He’s a confident thug who knows he’s untouchable…until he’s not. He’s not bad but he isn’t super memorable either.

This was a good episode, I wouldn’t call it great, but the fact that it showed gun violence in a kid’s show…originally they edited out Detective Maza in her own blood, but I’m glad it is back as it shows just how serious and dangerous guns can be. I recommend this episode for sure, it is good even if it isn’t a favorite.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10. Good message, not so memorable baddie.