From The Vault

Birdman (2014)

Note: This review was originally posted on my film criticism Patreon, I Don’t Spoil The Movie, in December of 2014. I’m not editing the piece itself, even though my opinions on the film may have changed in the years since this was written.

I want to thank all of my patrons and fans again- not just for your financial support but also for your advice and encouragement. I’m still so proud of the work that I wrote for IDSTM for one reason: I wrote reviews for people I cared about to read. Thank you.

Birdman or The Unexpected Value of Metatext

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, is a drama starring Michael Keaton as himself, poised to debut on Broadway after a disappointing string of films post-Batman

Wait, no, fuck

Birdman, or The Unambiguous Veiled Commentary on Celebrity Culture, is a comedy starring Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, acting opposite A Bunch of Other Actors Playing Exaggerated Caricatures of Themselves. Birdman is more of a gratuitous emotional live-tweet than a feature film, and it works.

Birdman is a lot of genres and a lot of things, and some people will love it and other people will, inevitably, feel it was a waste of their time. Michael Keaton is the center of the film, but he isn’t the star- it’s a movie without a central focus, because it operates in a universe where everyone considers themselves the main character. The film is intercut with a subconscious tongue-in-cheek commentary of itself through music and atmosphere. It’s a heady, immersive trip through a bizarre universe of sensory overload.

Without Michael Keaton (playing a version of himself), however, the movie wouldn’t work. Birdman is a layer cake of metatext, slyly commenting on everything from superhero culture to “theater as the highest art”, and Keaton’s character is at once villainous yet sympathetic. You’re able to both love and hate him simultaneously as he fucks up everyone’s life, including his own.

Because that’s the biggest secret of Birdman, the virtuous ignorance of the parable: it isn’t about superheroes, careers, Hollywood. It’s about mental illness.
If you’ve ever felt unnerved by the voice in the back of your head, your “critic”, Birdman will probably scare the shit out of you. The dialogue is spot-on as Keaton argues with his own inner critic, “Birdman”, and wrestles with the physical manifestation of his demons. He knows he has an audience, because he’s always performing. It’s a sick, stream-of-consciousness lapse into insanity, and he plays with the film’s nonexistent fourth wall to no end: dictating the flow of diagetic versus non-diagetic music, changing plot elements to suit his whims. He’s the Director of his own Life, and he is unwilling to relinquish control of that, to anyone.

Ed Norton plays well opposite Keaton as a parody of himself (Norton is rumored to be hard to work with and demanding). Emma Stone is Keaton’s daughter, fresh out of rehab with a Manic Pixie Dream Girl perspective on life. Both actors embrace the stereotypes in their roles, creating some interesting (yet a little too) predictable encounters.

Birdman is a film that works to capture the realism of art, the truth behind the curtain of a documentary. It exists in one nearly-seamless take (shot in thirty days), moving at a frenetic pace to skim the surface of a handful of days in a few people’s lives. It is both charming and incredibly unnerving in the way that all black comedies are. It uses gimmicks and a twist that’s almost too predictable, but three other twists that catch you out of left field. While you sit, thinking to yourself that you’ve figured out the ending, the film is always a few steps ahead of you, waiting around for you to catch up.

Black Swan captured some of these themes of realism in performance more elegantly and effortlessly, but Birdman seeks to prove something else entirely. It takes your perception of art and twists it around insanity, until the two are almost indistinguishable. And, in doing so, it illuminates your very understanding of it all.

You’ll like this film if

You think that the uncut book ending of Fight Club was better than the film adaptation (trust me), you have a deep love for psychological mind-fuck film, or if you count Perfect Blue as one of the most innovative and thrilling movies you’ve ever seen. Also if you enjoy other things Ed Norton has been in, because wow he has quite the knack for picking these sorts of projects.

You will not like this film if

You have a strong attachment to superhero culture or the idea of high art and cannot stand to see it made fun of. The film delves into problematic themes a lot (rape, suicide), so if you have trouble with that and aren’t sure how you’ll react, I’d suggest watching it at home where you can pause. Point is: none of the people in this film are very great human beings. Keep that in mind.

What To Watch

What To Watch: April 13

Welcome to the first entry of my semi-regular column, What to Watch, where I go on and on about the weird things I’m watching and how all of you might like to watch them too.

Here’s what’s been stuck in my brain for the week of Monday, April 13th:

Lucy, The Daughter Of The Devil (Adult Swim)

Lucy is, in fact, the daughter of the devil. The product of a one night stand between the aforementioned devil and her poor, normal human mother. She’s the Antichrist but also forced to work at her Dad’s chain restaurant and wants to date this DJ her Dad doesn’t like. It’s a whole thing.

I used to DVR this as a kid, way back in the day, but I’ve never had a chance to watch the entire show. I’ve found it so funny and easy to watch in short bursts, and I love Loren Bouchard’s style of humor. Bouchard is the iconic dude who made Home Movies and Bob’s Burgers. Also, yes, you’ve got your H. Jon Benjamin here in full form as the devil, and I am not sure how well this show would work with anyone else’s voice.

Lucy, Daughter of the Devil is available to watch on the Adult Swim app via Roku TV, with a participating cable provider subscription.

Bar Rescue (Paramount Network)

I kind of can’t believe this show exists. I was skipping channels and kept seeing the promos, and I absolutely love crap, so I decided to watch it. This guy, Jon Taffer, shows up at somebody’s bar “randomly”, screams at them and tells them they can’t run a business, and then brings in weird experts to make the bar over?

This hits every mark for me, but especially since I quit my service work job in March. You ever just get into the mood where you want to watch some reality TV awful nonsense? This is for you.

Bar Rescue airs on Paramount Network, check your local listings for details.

Poyopoyo (Crunchyroll)

Poyopoyo is a slice of life anime about a rural girl, Moe, who gets drunk in Kabukicho (Shinjuku) and wakes up on top of a cat. She decides to keep the cat and brings it home to her family’s farm… except no one knows Poyo is a cat because he’s so incredibly large and round. It’s so sweet.

The show is composed of 4 minute episodes, each with a small central plot and lots of character development. It’s great background for playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons or just spending time with your own pets at home right now. The show also has a lot of clearly presented information about life in Japan and rural customs, if that’s something you find personally interesting.

Poyopoyo is available to watch for free, with advertisements, on Crunchyroll.


Moving Forward

“Context is everything in a fable, because every story has already been told. So the only variations I find are the voice of the storyteller and the context in which it’s told.” – Guillermo Del Toro [source]

Everything is bad, and it sucks, and I’m sorry.

If, by some wild, beautiful chance, you’re reading this post in the year 2025 and have no idea what I’m talking about, let me be a little clearer.

Everything is bad and it sucks and I don’t have a single good thing to say about it.

So, with that out of the way, I have some other things to say. Most of these things revolve around a single, central, selfish theme: I miss seeing movies in a movie theater.

I miss leaving my house for two hours, turning my phone off, and existing somewhere else. I also miss having an excuse to postulate on here in an utterly self-indulgent way about nothing.

And I have decided to get up off my butt and do something about it.

Starting tomorrow, on Monday April 12th, I will be posting on 1080MM at least twice a week. Given my low productivity level right now, this seems like a naive and silly thing to say. I am saying it anyway. I live without fear, just with endless regret.

Every Monday morning (central time zone), my new weekly column will go up. Each post will have news on what’s been added to streaming services, recommendations from me on what to watch, and a potpourri of things I’ve been digging into on my own end.

Additionally, I’m starting a new series every Friday called I Didn’t Finish This. I have been blessed with the profound attention span of a dizzy goldfish, and there are more than a few things I haven’t finished watching. Sometimes it’s for a good reason. I think.

I said at least two posts a week, and I meant it, because I’m also working on long-form exploratory pieces to share on here. These have a much higher word count, along with requiring a ton of research and outlining. So, yes, irregular posting. I am also a college student, and I enjoy having time to sprawl out and do nothing sometimes. Balance.

I will be sharing posts on my Twitter, @careykirijo, and I would also encourage you to subscribe to email updates for 1080MM using the list tool at the bottom of the homepage.

I hope all of you are able to stay healthy, get rest, and take care of your families and loved ones right now. See you tomorrow!

– Carey