Feathering the Oscar Nest
Review by Ken Burke Birdman
or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
(Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu)
A former superhero movie star is trying to reinvent himself as a Broadway
playwright and actor but faces opposition from his lead actor, his daughter, and his alter-ego.
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While I can’t say that I understand the grammatical construction of putting the subtitle of Birdman in parentheses without also putting the “or” there (while admitting that I’m prone to some fast-and-loose-grammar of my own just to add a little individualizing artistic license to my reviews), that’s a very minor point of concern (although I have a few others of slightly more substance that I'll get to in just a little while) about a very powerful, engaging, effective film, one that I think will be in serious consideration come awards-nomination-time for Best Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, and Cinematography among others, although it may be a bit too-out-there to make it into the final corral for Best Picture—at least among more-traditional Oscar voters. (I doubt this poster will win many accolades either, what with its resemblance to Johnny Depp’s version of Tonto in The Lone Ranger [Gore Verbinski, 2013; review in our July 11, 2013 posting where I still stand by my 4 of 5 star rating for what was generally sent off to the glue factory by other critics, but I enjoyed its constant audacity—much more so that what I found in the current Daniel Radcliffe vehicle, Horns [see comments far below].) With all of those vital considerations in mind, let’s move on to the official review of the week.
What Happens: Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) once had a fabulous superhero-movie-future as Birdman (not the same as 3 different minor characters named that in the Marvel Comics universe) but walked away from the franchise after the 3rd installment, looking for more significance in his roles, although his career went almost nowhere (an impossible-to-overlook parallel with Keaton’s real-life-decision to move on from the financial success of Tim Burton’s Batman  and Batman Returns , after which Keaton’s notable screen appearances were few and far between); hoping to reinvent himself he sets out to adapt Raymond Carter’s short story “What We Talk When We Talk About Love” for a big Broadway production (I’ve never read this story [contained in a 1981 Carter anthology of the same name], but you can get extensive summaries of its plot, characters, and implications, in which you find that Ed, a guy who committed suicide but is discussed only in retrospect, seems to have been merged with one of the intended on-stage-characters in Riggan’s version because the play ends with his dramatic death although the short story goes in quite a different direction even though such extreme artistic license isn’t noted in the film, at least as I was aware of it). However, Riggan’s also able to manipulate his environment (we first see him from behind, in his underwear, floating in a meditation pose a few feet above the floor in his cluttered apartment; later, he causes a spotlight to fall on his lead actor when rehearsals aren’t going right) as well as carry on conversations with his Birdman character (he appears later, also Keaton, in a costume that looks like it should be in a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade) who’s determined that Riggan should return to Hollywood instead of trying to make himself into an ersatz dramatic persona. The 2 women in his adaptation are his current-but-somewhat-estranged lover, Laura (Andrea Riseborough)—who thinks she’s pregnant (not so though; I warned you about Spoilers, so read on at your own peril)—and Lesley (Naomi Watts)—terribly nervous, making her Broadway debut. Lesley’s also semi-involved with the 4th member of the cast (Riggan plays the suicide guy), Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), brought in at her suggestion to replace the weaker option beaned by the spotlight (he shows up much later trying to sue Riggan, but that’s mostly for comic effect as the more important action of the film rushes right by him).
Rounding out the cast are Riggan’s ex-wife, Sylvia (Amy Ryan), not that supportive of his all-in-decision to mortgage everything he owns to fund this theatrical experiment; his caustic daughter, Sam (Emma Stone)—recovering from drug addiction, serving as Dad’s assistant, challenging him on just about everything, including his relevancy to the world (he’s just as useless as the rest of us she spits out in anger; he doesn’t matter, so he should “get used to it”) when she’s not seeming too bored to care, and finding herself attracted to egomaniacal Mike—and the constantly-one-minute-from-a-stroke-best-friend-and-producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis). Once Mike’s brought in, though, his necessary-talent-but-constant-demands butted up against Riggan’s sense of loss of his own project (as Mike immediately starts editing the dialogue, then steals Riggan’s Carter backstory about inspiration to be an actor for a big newspaper interview) becomes the heart of the narrative, giving us every reason to believe that opening night is headed for disaster. As if Riggan needed any other problems, he also encounters famed critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan), who’s determined to give the play her most scathing review ever without even having seen a preview because she detests “celebrities” who try to pass themselves off as legitimate theatre people (Mike’s got the same attitude, seeing himself as a passionate artist, with Riggan as just a cheap entertainer; however, Riggan counters to Tabitha by accusing her of being “lazy,” as she constantly reuses review structures that barely acknowledge the actual content of what she’s writing about and he consistently pushes back against Mike in an attempt to regain control). After using his psychokinesis powers to trash various environments in frustration, Riggan then further astounds us by flying from a rooftop to his theatre for opening night, then goes on stage with a loaded revolver for that climatic scene before shooting himself in the head. We next find him recovering in a hospital (he missed his skull, simply shooting his nose off instead which has now been replaced by plastic surgery with a schnozz that looks almost like Jimmy Durante's [← explained in this link for the benefit of any millennials who’ve never heard of him]—I guess that new nose’ll make for an easier target in subsequent performances) where Jake is ecstatic about Tabitha’s raving review, in which she praises the new style of “Super-Realism.” Others leave the room for a few minutes, so Riggan stands on the window ledge high above the streets, then jumps. Sam returns, sees the empty bed, looks out the window in horrific anticipation, then smiles as she gazes into the sky.
So What? Birdman offers appeals in a variety of forms: (1) satirical critiques of the pompous/emotional folk that popular many aspects of the theatre, with their self-centered-understanding of the world around them, their nerves on edge about their pubic and private lives, their self-aggrandizing-focus on the “art,” which they feel deemed by fate to protect and preserve; (2) jabs at more well-known-mass-media-celebrities and their theatrical-corresponding-insecurities about finding “significance” in their work rather than just public acclaim and piles of money (at one point, Riggan makes a very-slightly-veiled-snide-reference to Robert Downey Jr. and his ongoing Iron Man success, as if Downey’s the one who’s made the wrong career choice by embracing the appeal and substantial remuneration associated with that comic-book-superhero while Riggan’s loftier ambitions allowed him to set aside his avian-alter-ego—we also get the sense that he so embodied the character that no one else was able to replace him, possibly a meta-snide-reference to how Keaton was followed by Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christopher Bale, and the upcoming debut of Ben Affleck as Batman, with Bale especially triumphing in the role), with such success holding them in the public’s heart long after they deserve it (in one scene during the play’s previews RIggan hasn’t gotten in costume yet for the finale, wearing only a robe and those same white undies as he steps into the rainy alley behind the theatre for a quick smoke only to catch his robe in the locked door as it blows shut behind him, forcing him to walk quickly in only his briefs through the crowds out on the street to get back in the front door and do his part on stage; although it’s been years apparently since Birdman 3 he’s instantly recognized by the tourists, warmly received even as he hustles by, and gains a viral fame on social media as smartphone videos of his trot are quickly posted); and (3) the magnificent choreography of the actors in conjunction with the fluid cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki that uses a number of very long, fluid takes to give the illusion of this being a single-shot-film, as was the actual case with the experimental Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov, 2002), although here we have clever edits, as with Alfred Hitchcock’s seeming-single-shot Rope (1948). Hitch managed to structure his 80:00 drama so that there were only about 10 cuts in the entire film, with most of them arranged to be “invisible” via the screen going to a natural black as the camera comes in for a closeup on a character’s back or the notorious chest’s (hiding a dead body; see, even previous films aren't spared the Spoiler approach) lid being opened to block out the smooth transition.
Iñárritu goes Hitchcock one better, though, by running for almost 2 hours with the appearance of there never having been any cuts at all (except for the cutaway from an opening shot of what appears to be a rocket rushing through the atmosphere [about to crash? hard to tell] and a brief montage toward the film's end of seemingly-unrelated-shots, including some very odd ones of Spider-Man with a marching band [if this is in reference to the long-awaited-but-not-well-received 2011 Broadway play, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, it’s beyond me as I’ve, thankfully, never paid for that debacle]), although the story progresses through many days of previews leading up to opening night, with marvelous transitions that bridge time-gaps, as standard cinematic editing does, but through devices such as a character backstage walking out the door of a dressing room, looking down the hallway, seeing lights on the stage, then the camera flows into the on-stage-action with no attempt at explanation of how the movement looks continuous but the activities are removed from each other across a day or more (there are also more conventional transitions as with a camera panning up onto a building at night, then daylight occurs as the shot remains static, but that’s a type of computer-graphics-match that’s much easier to understand than the time-jumps that often catch us by surprise, requiring more interpretation on our part as to what’s going on—one of the best of this second variety is an early scene in Riggan’s apartment where the camera simply pans over to a flashback discussion with potential financial backers then brings us back to the present with no sense whatsoever of how that gracefully-difficult-blocking was achieved). Some of the other ongoing-shot-virtuosity is simply real-time-hand-held-movement, such as with Riggan and Mike in an animated discussion as they walk down a busy street with the camera at various times behind, parallel, or in front of them with no sense whatsoever that the apparently-casual-in-sync-dollying has been masterfully designed and carried out in spectacular fashion for our amazement, as was the case with the astounding single-take-opening-scene that moves through a vast amount of space presenting the full range of closeups to wide overhead shots in Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958). Despite all this technical showmanship, though, I do have to note a conceptual question about the closing scenes: If what made Riggan’s play so fabulous in the minds of sophisticated theatre-goers and the ice-queen of critics was to blow his nose off at the end of it, will he be expected to do that every night (seems like that would cause a lot of trauma for the nasal cavities) or will they have to come up with other equally-provocative-stunts to maintain the new-found-Super-Realism-style (they had a few in the previews—which Tabitha refused to see, so she might remain impressed if they tried them again—such as Mike having an erection in his shorts when the final scene begins with Riggan finding him in a motel with Lesley [this brought on by the actual attraction of actor to actress off-stage, even as she’s trying to resist his advances] or that night when Riggan came storming in from the back of the house in his underwear to play out that confrontation)? This is a logical consideration, but I’ll admit that Birdman isn’t constructed to adhere tightly to logic so it may be just a moot question, depending on where Riggan’s flown off to and what happens next as our final credits roll.
Bottom Line Final Comments: Among the aspects of Birdman that make it so effective for me is the mix of the surreal with the plausible. We can understand a bit of schizophrenia in Riggan’s troubled, career-salvation-obsessed-mind that would cause him to have conversions with his Birdman persona, but when that alter-ego-character actually follows behind him on the street (a clue that not everything we see on screen is shot in evolving-real-time as it seems to be, given that Keaton’s obviously playing both parts, using a more guttural voice for Birdman just as many actors have done to distinguish Batman from Bruce Wayne [another visual clue that these long takes aren’t quite as seamless as they appear comes in a scene where Mike and Sam banter on the roof of the theatre, then move on to have sex on a catwalk even as the camera flows past them to pick up on the action of the play in which Mike is an active participant]—or when we see Riggan flying through the canyons of Manhattan to his long-awaited-opening-night-performance), we have to wonder if we’re truly in the realm of the surreal here (as in the marvelously-unexplainable Barton Fink [Joel and Ethan Coen, 1991], a masterpiece of surrealistic satire on the extremes of artistic egos) or whether we’re just seeing Riggan’s delusions visualized (as with the giant bird that screeches down at him from a Manhattan building, surely more of a mind-memory from his movie days rather than a real existence in our story). However, when Riggan appears to fly away at the end while seemingly seen by Sam we’re left with a marvelously-ambiguous-understanding of how little the normal laws of physics need to be invoked in this film, which is underscored by the constantly moving camera we’ve been witnessing throughout that compresses time and space in a manner that’s not rationally plausible as well. This reminds me of another marvelous exploration of overwrought trauma in the arts with its accompanying impact on the chief character, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), the haunted ballerina in Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010; still the best film of that year in my mind [sorry, The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper), noble as you are, but I don’t think there’s any contest here]), who seems to not actually have sex with nor kill her colleague, Lily (Mila Kunis), as we assumed we saw on screen, throwing into ambiguity whether Nina is actually bleeding to death as we see in the last scene or if this is also visualized-hallucination for the film audience’s benefit. Similarly, in Birdman we can never know when to believe what our eyes experience.
The surreality of Birdman is even given a bit of a joking internal acknowledgement when Riggan walks on stage for that final suicide-based-scene, passing the incongruous presence of a backstage drummer, in that throughout the film we’ve been hearing constant percussion on the soundtrack (almost as much as we get in the superb, currently-playing Whiplash [Damien Chazelle; review in our October 16, 2014 posting]; I highly encourage attendance at both of these sure-Oscar-nominees) so the presence of an actual musician suddenly brings the non-diegetic-drumming into conjunction with the on-camera-aspects of the film (a bit I first saw in Blazing Saddles [Mel Brooks, 1974] as Sheriff Bart [Cleavon Little] is riding across the western plains to jazzy background music, then saunters past Count Basie’s orchestra right there with him, livening up the desert atmosphere). Yet, some of what works best about this film is just the simple absurd irony of some of its premises, such as Riggan admitting to his ex-wife that at their last anniversary party he had clandestine sex with one of their friends, then in remorse drove to the beach at Malibu where he tried to commit suicide (shades of Norman Maine [James Mason] in A Star Is Born [George Cukor, 1954]) but couldn’t complete it because of being distracted by the pain of a jellyfish attack. The simple but compelling delivery of this odd reminiscence is indicative of how all of the performances in Birdman are outstanding, with Keaton and Norton strong possibilities for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominations respectively; further, the script is wonderfully complex and engaging, the cinematography is dynamic, the editing is smooth where it needs to be then magically subtle beyond perception in other places. The premise may be too esoteric—or downright weird—for some tastes, but for now it’s one of the best of the year for me, based on both originality of concept and impactful delivery of all that unpredictable-oddity. I’ll wrap up the formal review portion of this posting with my usual Musical Metaphor closure, where I’ll follow the attitude of the film in extending the ideas a bit by offering you 2 cuts from one of my favorite albums, The Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd, 1973), “Time” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-OytmtYoOI (a 2006 performance from the Royal Albert Hall, London; lyrics below the YouTube screen if you need them), to reflect on the despair facing Riggan throughout most of Birdman (as well as noting the visual similarities between guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour and Michael Keaton as he appears in this film, especially when he takes his wig off) and “Brain Damage/Eclipse” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiYv1dIR4js (concert at Earls Court, London 1994) to reflect the unusual resolution found by Riggan at the end of this story. Now, if you have some further time and are like me in being mesmerized by this aural masterwork I’ll offer you the following full versions of it: (1) an audio-only live performance of the whole album, from Live at the BBC (55:11, 1974, when Roger Waters was still with the band); (2) another live version of the whole work, from the 1994 Earls Court concert noted above (47:07), this one with accompanying video; and (3) for the audio purists among you, here’s the full original album (42:59, no visuals).
11/10/2014 Before you go any further, I ask you to scroll down far below to the concluding Comments from 11/9 and 11/10/2014 to be aware of a link my frequent collaborator, Richard Parker, has provided about interpretations of Birdman that contend that Riggan is dead by the end of the film, with clues to justify this assertion; I countered that with the recollection of a disagreement I had with one of my high school teachers about a well-respected poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which she contended had to be interpreted symbolically while I saw the possibility of it presenting events from an artistic perspective that don't have to mesh with our rational world of physics; all of this is quite relevant to how we understand—or at least debate—the events shown to us in Birdman, so I encourage you to explore the link below. However, calling into question the "exalted view" of what's presented to us in the film encourages me to offer you one more Musical Metaphor about Birdman, one that's a bit more literal in its statements than what you get with Pink Floyd but could still be very appropriate to the mindset that's driving Riggan and Mike (even if for different understandings of their similar stances on artistic integrity), The Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing" (from the 1966 Revolver album in the U.K., Yesterday And Today in the U.S.), presented to you here in 2 options, first a visual-enhanced version of the recording at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXBW-nCmwQo (just in case you want to see the lads in full Beatlemania mode again, but with footage taken from other performances so that you'll notice the mismatch of what's on the soundtrack and the lip-sync of whatever they're actually singing [this seems to be from A Hard Day's Night (Richard Lester, 1964) but I'll leave it to someone with more energy than I've got right now to verify that], a weird collage but one somewhat keeping in concept with the engaging strangeness of Birdman), then just a straight audio recording at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bptpRRx OSOk so that you can focus on the relevance of the lyrics to this "flighty"-yet-weighty-film without any image-based-distractions. (Despite others you see here as Blogspot decided to alter the spacing of this paragraph—and the one above—when I inserted it, but we all know by now that I'm not really in control of this operation, am I?) OK, after that, back to the posting as intended.
While any of the next 3 that I’m about to comment on could support longer analyses—especially Nightcrawler—I made a pledge to myself to not let this week’s blog posting become as all-consuming of my time and energy as the last few have been so I’m arbitrarily limiting them to briefer comments that you can then enhance on your own if you wish with the provided links.
Short Takes (well, this is as close as I seem to get to a version of “short”)
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy) would likely get 4 of 5 stars from me if this were an actual review because it does such an effective job of spotlighting the crass manner in which “news” is presented to us in broadcast and cable media, as well as drawing a chilling portrait of the types of successful sociopaths that provide such interpretations of what constitutes “information” in our content-rich/context-poor-high-tech-society (audiences who eagerly digest this crap aren’t much higher, in my opinion, in the “brain-chain,” but I’ll just have to give them the benefit of the doubt that all they know is what they watch while their content-providers understand quite well what else they could show as well as how they could frame it in a less-sensationalistic-manner). While I’ve found driving around Los Angeles in the late hours of a warm summer night to be exhilarating because the low-volume-freeways are suddenly quick transports to the wide variety of urban, suburban, hill, ocean, and desert locations that make up this (ironically-named) “angelic” complex of metropolitan Southern California, L.A.’s landscape has a different appeal for Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal—doing a Christopher Bale-like-act [from The Machinist (Brad Anderson, 2004)] by dropping 30 pounds to achieve the proper “lean and hungry look” of a guy who’s a “celebrity vampire” in the sense that he’s the one who wants to be the celebrity, seen in equal importance to the well-known-on-screen-faces who telecast the news of the day, and willingly feeds off the blood of those whose ruined lives—physically and emotionally—provide the shell-shock and intrigue that caters so well to audiences who lap up as much scandal and violence as can be dished out to them). The name “nightcrawlers” (some might say “sewercrawlers”) refers to freelancers who scan police radio bands, dash to the scenes of traffic accidents and crimes, quickly shoot disturbing video footage, then rush to sell it to local TV stations in bitter fights to maintain/improve their ratings. Lou quickly becomes adept at this “career,” develops a strong professional relationship (along with a quickly-implied-personal-one, although we never see any of that, just hear his complaints about it) with KWLA news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo; great to see her again in something more than a minor role in the Thor franchise), then strikes gold when he beats the cops to a break-in site, captures clandestine images of the killers leaving followed by gory shots of dead bodies in the upscale home (Nina wants to see White victims, as they enhance audience interest—and fear) which allows him to locate and tail the killers, call in their location to the police, then document the whole violent scene of their takedown, all the while with a plausible alibi as to why he’s not guilty of various crimes himself, including withholding evidence and provoking a situation that led to the deaths of several people (including Lou’s assistant, Rick [Riz Ahmed], who was becoming too demanding in sharing in Lou’s newfound-bounty, so he was conveniently eliminated).
We conclude with amoral Lou in a thriving business, passing on his soulless credo to a cluster of young interns, all of whom are willingly supportive of Nina’s philosophy: “Think of our newscast as a screaming woman, running down the street with her throat cut.” What we’re presented with in Nightcrawler is disgusting in content but enthralling in presentation—not to mention relevant to our shell-shocked-society— with terrific performances from all concerned, especially creepy, rail-thin, wide-eyed Gyllenhaal (all of which enhances the vampire allusion, especially with so many nighttime settings in this story), playing an initially-obsequious-emerging-manipulative-guy who talks like he’s ingested a volume of motivational-speaker-phrases, topped off with a huge helping from a “smooth running workplace” HR manual. I highly recommend this film as a modern-life-lesson; you can learn more about it at its website (be forewarned, this may take some time to fully download), its trailer (as R-rated as the film, so here’s another one with less-graphic-language, if you prefer, and a bit more footage, summarizing the film quite well in a mere 2:28), as well as at Rotten Tomatoes (a stunning 94% positive response) and Metacritic (76%).
Dear White People (Justin Simien) is packed with great satire that’s certain to offend just about every segment of a potential viewing audience at some point in its concise 100 min. running time, a more sophisticated challenge to racial tensions in contemporary society than Spike Lee was hurling at us a few decades ago but hard to not somewhat conflate with what Lee presented in School Daze (1998, although it was just infighting within the Black student community in his fictional college rather than Simien’s depiction of that in addition to conflicts with White students in this film’s fictional Ivy League’s Winchester University [a great name for a place where everybody’s taking pot-shots at each other all the time]) and Do the Right Thing (1989, with similar pent-up-anger-exploding-into-property-trashing-violence in both films, although no one dies during the fighting in the more current tale). The underlying conflict here is that Winchester’s administration wants to institute a random-selection-process for assigning students to their dwellings, which would negate the historic all-Black-intentions of Armstrong Parker House. House head Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P Bell), a polished leader and son of the school’s Dean (Dennis Haysbert), is replaced in his leadership role (through a rigged election) by radical-voiced-biracial Samantha “Sam” White (Tessa Thompson), whose caustic radio show (which gives the film its name) about the lack of racial harmony at well-heeled-Winchester gives her “street cred” but she wavers in her fierce approach when confronted by her White boyfriend who challenges her about being as Black-oriented as she claims to be (although she does throw obnoxious White guy Kurt Fletcher [Kyle Gallner] out of Armstrong’s dining hall for not being a resident, despite his prestige as the college President’s [Peter Syvertsen] son and leader of a powerful house of satirical-TV-skit-type-writers). Another student, Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams), also doubts his sufficient Blackness (he’d probably enjoy watching the new ABC comedy, Black-ish, where a father is concerned that his children have completely forgotten their roots [and Roots]) given all of the hostilities swirling around but tries to forge his way as a respectable journalist (when his life’s not being made miserable simply because he’s gay, assigned to what’s apparently homophobe-haven at Kurt’s house—post-racial-challenges may be the main target here but there’s no conception of post-homophobe, even with all of those recent court decisions condoning same-sex-marriage in the real world beyond Winchester), especially when the hot topic to be covered is the party at Kurt’s where the theme is to dress and act as Black stereotypes (a horrible reflection of real events such as those noted in the closing credits). Physical confrontations and the cops shut down the party, but the film ends on a calculatedly-caustic-note with Helmut West (Malcolm Barrett) as a Black reality-TV-producer who offers the Winchester honchos a sweet deal to make a mini-series of the party fiasco, with re-enactments of what led up to it, all for a fat paycheck, which the administrators show strong interest in.
The total impact of Dear White People is hampered by being a bit pedantically preachy in its tone at times, as well as somewhat flat in its delivery, but it does hit the mark of challenging any false conception of a present-day-post-racial-society in the U.S., no matter who the deniers, culture-vultures, or self-proclaimed-victims may be, with no one being given time off for good behavior (of which there is little). If you don’t see yourself as being fundamentally offended by such an approach, I think you’ll find a lot of well-intentioned-humor here. You can explore more at the website, the trailer, and the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes (91%) and at Metacritic (79%), although if this were an actual review I’d be more inclined to give it a lower rating of 3 ½ stars of 5.
I’ve saved Horns (Alexandre Aja, 2013 but just now getting released) for last because that’s where it belongs. Based on a book by Joe Hill (Steven King’s son), which must be a better experience in print (in that it was nominated for the 2010 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel) than how it was adapted for the screen by Keith Bunin and/or directed by Aja because, in my view, it’s a ludicrous mess on screen that offers a positive vibe only in its audacious willingness to keep upping the absurdity-ante (although Joe’s Dad doesn’t have a great track record in getting his work reasonably adapted for movies either, with only a few such as the original Carrie [Brian De Palma, 1976], The Shining [Stanley Kubrick, 1980], and Christine [John Carpenter, 1983] really hitting the mark for me in the horror area, while some others, like Stand by Me [Rob Reiner, 1982], Misery [Reiner, 1990], and The Shawshank Redemption [Frank Darabont, 1994], likewise work quite well as straight dramas—although I admit with the many dozens of King adaptations in movies, TV, and theatre I could easily have missed something of impactful quality, such as the current Under the Dome TV-mini-series which I’ve heard great things about). In Horns, young lovers Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe, moving about as far away from Harry Potter as possible, short of those on-stage nude scenes in Equus) and Merrin Williams (Juno Temple) have their lives upended when she’s brutally murdered, with him as the prime suspect although he denies even the possibility of harming her. The whole community turns against him—except old-friend-new-lawyer Lee Tourneau (Max Minghella)—based largely on some false testimony from a scheming diner waitress (Heather Graham) who’s hoping to build a reality-TV-career (she should check out the opportunities in the 2 comment-clusters immediately above) seeing him as demonic, which seems to inspire a plot-twist straight out of Birdman when Ig suddenly sprouts horns after drunkenly bedding eager-barmaid Glenna Shepherd (Kelli Garner). No one pays much attention to the horns but Ig pays plenty of attention to the weird, sometimes cruel or violent id-based-behavior of everyone he comes in contact with (except Lee), including his parents and the local priest. To make a non-official-review of a too-long-movie (even at a standard 2 hrs.) shorter, here’s a summary of the rest of the plot: we eventually find that Lee is the killer (you’ve been warned about Spoilers from me, so hush; besides, I just saved you $10 better invested somewhere else) because Merrin wouldn’t succumb to his self-assured-charms after she broke up with Ig in a nasty scene at the diner (turns out she had soon-to-be-terminal-cancer so she didn’t want to burden Ig with it), Lee was protected from the horns’ truthful-testimony-spell (so they’re actually a sort of instrument of justice, in a very anti-social-manner) because he was wearing a little crucifix he ripped off of pure-at-heart Merrin, after Ig survives an attempt by Lee to kill him Ig turns into a powerful demon that allows him to roar his wrathful-rage on Lee, then they both die from inflicted wounds (Lee’s from the swarm of snakes who now follow Ig around) but that just allows Ig to be reunited in some form of picnic-in-the-woods-happily-ever-after-paradise with Merrin (this brief synopsis doesn’t even address the gay-sex-scene between the cops who are harassing Ig and the drug-ingestion-overdose-scene when Ig’s angry at his older brother, Terry [Joe Anderson], but you shouldn’t complain, I promise you).
If you’re a fan of occult-oddities, you may find Horns enjoyable (some critics have, although it’s reached only 43% positive at Rotten Tomatoes, 46% at Metacritic), but for me I’d be generous to say 1½ stars of 5 in an official review. If you really must know more, there’s a trailer you can watch but no official website that I can find (maybe no one wants to take credit for it), although you can go here for a site that at least offers a lot of information on this unique (at best) presentation.
If you want to know more about Birdman here are some suggested links:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZ_NooaSn6Q (this is an “international trailer,” hence the use of some graphic language straight from the film’s dialogue)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEf3i6U7Txo (44:26 interview with director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and actors Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Zack Galifianakis, Amy Ryan, and Andrea Riseborough from the 2014 New York Film Festival)
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P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.