Tag Archives: Michael Keaton

BAFTA night: Boyhood and Theory of Everything triumph

8 Feb
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Boyhood, winner of Best Film at the BAFTAs

The curtain has just closed on a night of glitz, hits and wits at the Royal Opera House, and this year’s BAFTA winners are in.

No real upsets: The Theory of Everything wins Outstanding British Film, Best Adapted Screenplay and – duh – Best Actor in Eddie Redmayne (or “Ready Edmayne”, as host Stephen Fry called him). Boyhood wins Best Director, Best Supporting Actress and Best Film (Patricia Arquette). Julianne Moore got best Actress. I was sad not to see Mr Turner recognised for cinematography, especially after the BATAs’ snub for Mike Leigh in the director category (though they compensatedby giving him a Fellowship), but the one-take achievement of Birdman carried the day.

My own predictions have come true, for once: JK Simmons is Best Supporting Actor for Whiplash, a film I have written about a lot in the past; and Jack O’Connell, about whom I wrote “a star is born” when Starred Up was released, wins the Rising Star award from quite a strong crop this year.

The BAFTAs always seem more relaxed, less rehearsed than the Oscars. Eddie Redmayne in particular has not yet learned to be dull and reserved. Asked on the red carpet what the first film he ever saw was, he replied, “Willow – terrifying. I was so scared I kept pretending I needed the loo. My friend thought I had some sort of weird bladder issue.” Even in his acceptance speech, he began by recalling a previous BAFTA night on which he had decorated the wallpaper in an unusual way due to a bout of food poisoning.

Cuba Gooding Jr took exception at Stephen Fry asking for a kiss from Michael Keaton and not from him, and planted a big smacker on his mouth. Gooding Jr seemed genuinely a little dazed after. “You have very soft lips,” he interrupted himself to reminisce a minute later. The presenter of the Best Film award was announced as “Tom Fucking Cruise!” And Ralph Fiennes was funny throughout. “We love seeing you doing comedy” he was told of Grand Hotel Budapest, on the red carpet. “Thank you very much. I took it very seriously.” With only the merest hint of a wry smile to signpost the joke.

Oh, and I was glad to see the excellent Pride recognised for Outstanding British Debut. Writer Stephen Beresford said, “It took my 20 years to get anyone to agree with me that gay and lesbian activists and a mining dispute were the ingredients for a sure-fire comedy smash…” But he was right.

10 Ways Hollywood Looks After Loved Ones — From The Afterlife

7 Feb

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At last! I’ve been asked to write a sequel. Not of one of my film scripts, admittedly, but of an article. Hot on the heels of The 11 Best Films About Life Insurance comes 10 Ways Hollywood Provides For Loved Ones From The Afterlife.

You wouldn’t have thought there was a whole sub-genre of Hollywood films that feature dead people belatedly caring for their families, but from Always to Ghost via PS I Love You there were way more than ten – I had to leave some out (many thanks to my friends in the Facebook hive mind for suggestions). It even includes Oscar nominee Michael Keaton in a film he must be hoping Academy members have forgotten – have you?

Click here to read the top ten.

Why Birdman soars: the art of the 90-minute single take

14 Jan
Michael Keaton, former superhero actor, plays Riggan Thompson, former superhero actor, in Birdman's deft exploration of truth through artifice

Michael Keaton, former superhero actor, plays Riggan Thompson, former superhero actor, in Birdman’s deft exploration of truth through artifice

Saw Birdman with my son Sam last night, and it really is as extraordinary as they say. Every character, however small, is well delineated and has at least one great scene; Emma Stone is particularly brilliant, as so often.

But from a film buff’s point of view, the most exciting and head-scratching element is that it appears to be shot in one continuous 90-minute take, without a single cut. Ever since Orson Welles pulled off a wonderfully complex 3 min 20 sec tracking shot as the opening to Touch of Evil, directors have vied to outdo him. Gravity raised the bar last year, with Cuarón’s 17-minute opening shot made possible by digital technology. His fellow Mexican Iñárritu has now forever smashed that record with an entire film’s length. (Admittedly Russian Ark got there first, in 2002, but Birdman is filmed in a far more fluid and dynamic style.)

Fiendishly complex as it was to pull off, it is of course a digital trick, with the cuts hidden in digitally blended scenes when the camera pans to one side without a person in view. But beyond a “look ma, no hands!” desire to show off what can be done, why did Iñárritu decide to do this?

My son, who is perceptive when it comes to films, pointed out that Iñárritu’s trademark is the interlocking multiple narrative which was first displayed in Amores Perros, was developed in 21 Grams, and reached its apotheosis in Babel, which is set in four different countries in four different languages. Birdman’s single continuous take goes to the opposite extreme. Perhaps Iñárritu just wanted to do something different. He told Variety, ““It was like I was on a ladder, and I was getting a little too comfortable.”

But what is the technique’s impact on the film, its effect on the viewer? I noticed a weird thing. We are so used to the grammar of film, the cuts between characters and the sudden shifts in time and location, that they are no longer intrusive. In fact, to me, the definition of a great film is one where I lose myself within it completely, where I am no longer aware that I am watching a film but inhabit it completely, and 15 minutes or more can pass before I blink and remember that I am in a cinema at all. That’s why I always sit up close, in the third row, so I cannot see the edges of the screen.

So the long take in Birdman, which you would expect to feel more naturalistic than constant cuts, to me has the opposite effect. It is stylised, it reminds you continually of the artifice of film. The performances, as befits a comedy that is not quite a comedy, are somewhat stylised, too.

And this perfectly suits the theme of the film. On one level it is the story of a mid-life crisis, of a man who is famous for doing something he does not value (grossing billions of dollars 20 years previously in a superhero franchise) trying to achieve self-worth through putting on a “serious” play based on a story by Raymond Carver.

But it is also about the power of dreams, and the nature of truth, and the thin line between reality and fantasy, and how each can inform the other. That the superhero its protagonist used to play is Birdman, whose superpower is flight, is no accident. Nor is it that Iñárritu has cast in this role an actor, Michael Keaton, who himself is burdened with the fame of playing a superhero – Batman – in a blockbuster franchise. That Keaton is putting on a play within the film allows Iñárritu to explore notions of truth and artifice: Edward Norton’s character is a charming and manipulative bastard who can only “be real” when he is acting, on stage. He even tries to have sex with his girlfriend for real in the play’s bed scene, because it is only on stage, in character, that he has managed to get it up in the last six months.

When Keaton stands on a roof ledge, increasingly drawn into his schizophrenic fantasy that he really is Birdman, a woman shouts out: “Is this for real, or are you shooting a film?” “A film!” he says. “You people are full of shit,” she shouts back. His Birdman alter-ego, who whispers in his ear, tells him to make another blockbuster: “People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit.” Which, of course, is the kind of film Iñárritu has just made, though smuggled into the multiplexes under the guise of a film about a superannuated superhero, including a gigantic fantasy scene three quarters of the way through of SWAT teams and exploding helicopters and a giant robot bird-villain so it can have its cake and eat it: criticising blockbusters while at the same time benefiting from the action scene’s trailer value.

The result is an intensively artificial film which, through artifice, gets closer to exploring truth and the nature of reality than perhaps any this year. Birdman is also funny, and touching, and something of a masterpiece. Go see.