My initial Boyhood review, filed from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, appeared on 1.20.14…almost exactly 13 months ago. My first-gush Birdman review went up on 8.31.14 after catching it at Telluride’s Werner Herzog Cinema. I was sincerely, profoundly affected by Boyhood but I wasn’t knocked out. I felt quietly satisfied in a nodding, measured sort of way. I went apeshit for Birdman, of course, calling it “Mozartian” and “levitational.” Here, for the last time, are re-samplings…actually a blending of those fresh-out-of-the-gate reactions:
“Alejandro G. Inarritu‘s Birdman (Fox Searchlight, 10.17), an audacious, darkly hilarious serving of snap-crackle brilliance and psychological excavation par excellence, blew the roof off the Werner Herzog theatre last night. I was giddy, ecstatic, swooning as I half-stumbled into the night air…so was almost everyone I spoke to about it over the next two or three hours. Okay, not everyone but those who were hungry and adventurous and receptive enough to revel in a work of reaching, swirling genius…pig heaven!
“I’ve long admired the great Richard Linklater and treasured most of his films (the one negative standout being 1998’s The Newton Boys) And like everyone else I felt instantly engaged and intrigued, sight unseen, by the Boyhood concept — i.e., filming the life of a young Texas kid (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister (Lorelei Linklater) growing up with divorced parents (Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette) over 11 or 12 years (i.e., ’02 to ’13). Is Boyhood as rich and fertile as it sounds? I saw it last night at the Eccles, all 160 minutes worth, and I have to say ‘yeah, pretty much’ — it’s a remarkably novel, human-scale, life-passage stunt film. I can’t honestly call it staggering or mind-blowing but that’s not a putdown, given what it is.”
“Birdman is not just a visual groundbreaker — not actually a single seamless, roving Steadicam shot from start to finish but a wonderful illusion of this. It’s more profoundly a searcher, reacher and a mad leaper of a film with one live-wire, mad-rodent performance after another. Everyone sings and dances and somersaults in this tag-team circus but Keaton is the leader and the daddy. He opens himself up and slices in like a surgeon in an awesome, at times unsettling tour de force. Whether he wins the Best Actor Oscar or not, you can absolutely call him the Comeback Kid.
“Boyhood is a mild-mannered thing, and yet obviously a mature, perceptive, highly intelligent enterprise. It’s never less than intriguing or astute or resonant. It feels like a docudrama — acted and written but naturalistic in tone. It grows on you like anything or anyone else that you might gradually get to know over a long stretch, and yet the 160 minutes fly right by. The long-haul scheme of Boyhood naturally gets in the way of what most of us would call a riveting drama. A film of this type is not going to knock you down with some third-act punch. It drip-drip-drips its way into your movie-watching system. And yet anyone who asks, I’m going to tell them ‘definitely worth catching’ and ‘never seen anything quite like it before’ and so on.
“All the fears and anxieties that plague every artist or would-be artist who has ever tried to expand his/her repertoire are crawling all over Riggan Thomson like insects. Everyone is on him or in him — pushy costar Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), his angry daughter (Emma Stone), ex-wife (Amy Ryan), girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough). He peaked 20 years ago, is ‘over’ in 20th Century terms (unknown or marginal in the eyes of under-25s, no Twitter or Facebook accounts), is self-loathing and emotionally unstable in fits and starts, admitting to having been a lousy dad, panicking about the play being an embarassment or panned by the N.Y. Times or both…no comfort, stomach acid, teetering on the edge.
“Boyhood is steadily affecting and fascinating (simply watching these obviously smart, sensitive kids evolve and mature is worth the price alone), and you’re constantly aware of director-writer Linklater and his actor-collaborators making an effort to flesh out the narrative in a way that feels honest and observant and which keeps you interested and ‘rooting,’ in a sense, for the kids and their parents and respective mates to survive and work things out as best they can. Life happens, man. Look at those ten-year-old Mac computers! Thank God I’ll never have to deal with the Harry Potter phenomenon ever again — over and done with.”
“Birdman is one of the most antsy, emotionally exposed, drill-down big-city comedies I’ve ever experienced, and probably the most transcendent, spirit-lifting film I’ve seen this century with Children of Men running a close second. It’s actually more of a psychological angst-and-anxiety movie with an infusion of Ingmar Bergman enzymes and occasional hyena laughs. It’s not a laugh riot per se but when it connects it’s fall-on-the-floor.”
“It’s interesting to note that Patricia Arquette marries and divorces two dickhead conservative alcoholics over the course. It’s one thing to live with or marry a bullying asshole on your own but subjecting two kids to this shit is highly unattractive. Talk about tripping repetaedly over the same stone. They both seem nice enough at first but then you get to know them. The first guy, a tequila-swilling, gray-haired shit with a flabby stomach and appalling taste in clothes, is the worst of the two but the second guy, a military veteran who works as a prison guard, runs a close second. I had an alcoholic dad (nowhere near as bad as these two guys but still) so I know the territory.
“And yet Birdman is (and I love this aspect) fundamentally a New York-centric flick about the state of current creative aspirations and values, and a film that hates the fleeting, Twitter-propelled consciousness that defines almost everything today. It’s in love with the real-deal gleam and glimmer of the Broadway stage and the tough, anxious performers who put themselves on the line in front of discerning audiences…all that romantic All About Eve smell-of-the-crowd lore fast-forwarded 65 years. It follows that Birdman despises the Hollywood that has manifested over the last 20 or 25 years — a town of ADD, effects-driven, ComicCon-catering swill merchants. So don’t kid yourself — this is a nervy anti-Hollywood movie that the status-quo clingers and comfort-seekers are probably going to shy away from or regard from a certain distance.”