We all have predisposed notions about the infamous “romantic comedy.” …
The cast and crew, fly high in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), directed by visionary Alejandro González Iñárritu. Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up actor who never bounced back from his peak stardom days as part of a 1990s superhero franchise, and who is desperate to gain back some spark for his faded career. Riggan attempts to jolt himself back into the limelight through the triple threat of writing, directing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
His use of natural lighting, the gorgeous compositions he creates often on the fly, those long takes. This is what we talk about when we talk about Emmanuel Lubezki, the Mexican cinematographer responsible for such arresting imagery in the films of Terrence Malick (The New World, The Tree of Life, To the Wonder), Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Y tu mamá también, Gravity), the Brothers Coen (Burn After Reading), and Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Anna”, a short in the anthology To Each His Own Cinema). He is the only cinematographer in recent memory, possibly next to Roger Deakins, that pushes the form to its limits and has name recognition for such. The naturalistic beauty of The Tree of Life was nothing compared to the – wait for it – physics-defying work in Gravity. And here he is again, using a simulated long take for Iñárritu’s Birdman. “But isn’t it just a gimmick?”, you might ask. Well, yes. And that’s probably the point.
Birdman is highly reminiscent of Noises Off, a play by Michael Frayn, about the insanity of actors as they weave in and out of doing scenes live in front of an audience on-stage. The unpredictable actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) throws Riggan Thomson’s life even more into chaos by his refusal to bend to his wishes. Emma Stone plays Sam, Riggan’s recovering addict daughter who has long been put on the back-burner by her dad. Stone and Norton’s challenging forces irritate but eventually bring Riggan face to face with some hard truths about himself.
The procedural crime thriller, tales of murder investigation and corruption, a hallmark of hard boiled fiction from the 1970’s onwards, has tailed off. This is particularly frustrating when such a film emerges that should really have been a shot in the arm but was instead a bullet in the head. Step forward the hugely promising and ultimately disappointing Pride and Glory, a true Jekyll and Hyde.
More than perhaps any other director, the work of Ernst Lubitsch has been the most noticeable influence on Wes Anderson’s style. Though the great German-American writer-director, most prolific in the 1930s and 1940s, was never quite so aesthetically bold in the look of his sets, he too was preoccupied with meticulous staging for comedy within his chosen locales, be they the titular Shop Around the Corner or the Parisian hotel of Ninotchka; The Grand Budapest Hotel is set in a fictional European country, the Republic of Zubrowka, another Lubitsch trait from works like The Merry Widow and The Love Parade, though The Shop Around the Corner happens to be set in the city Anderson’s mountaintop lodging house takes its name from. He garnered the descriptor of ‘the Lubitsch touch’ thanks to the moving sincerity that always made itself evident within even his more broad comedic premises, and Anderson’s own best work is that in which a recognisable humanism always makes itself known and potent even within the stylised stiltedness through which most of his characters are written and performed.
Various directors take very differing stances when it comes to the ongoing threat of executive meddling. This, of course, is when the studio moneymen stop what you’re doing and tell you that what you’ve made will simply not cut it at the box office, that key demographics that their marketing department has been stringently working on (usually in the form of charts) will dislike your movie.