We should have seen it coming. Following Scott Tobias’ now-legendary takedown of Birdman, a work that reached and quite possibly surpassed Ebert-on-North levels of scorn and righteous fury, Alejandro González Iñárritu retreated to a secret compound and arranged, via three separate strategies linked by improbable coincidence (or perhaps–destiny!), to salvage the reputation that had been devastated by the critical juggernaut that was The Dissolve. Somehow he managed to convince enough Academy voters to score Birdman the 2014 Oscar for Best Picture–remarkably, the only 2014 film to receive this award. Still, González Iñárritu’s thirst for vengeance was not slaked (you know, I’ve always like that word–“slaked.” So rarely have an opportunity to use it in a sentence) and a few months later–well, do the math, people.
González Iñárritu creates the appearance of single-take film about one night in the life of former action star Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), trying to come back as a theater actor and confronting a whole mess o’ problems including a repeated maybe-hallucination of his former Birdmanic self. This devastating attack on the “cultural genocide” (González Iñárritu’s words) conducted by superhero films brings together Batman, the Incredible Hulk (Edward Norton), Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Jet Girl (Naomi Watts), and a full fourth of the Wolfpack (Zach Galifianakis) (I suspect ol’ Alejandro isn’t a fan of the Hangover franchise). Emmanuel Lubezki (aka Chivo, aka the Chivster, aka Metal Chivs on Wood Pushed Through Our Backs, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) pushes his long-take skills about as far as they can go and scored an Oscar for cinematography. (Pretty sure I heard “fuck you, Russian Ark!” at some point in the background.) Oh, and there’s something in there about critics. (He’s not a fan of them either.) It’s subtle, so if you miss it, please contact The Solute, where operators are standing by ready to explain things in clear, easy-to-understand language.
Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Placement of Parentheses) has its cable debut on HBO tonight at 8 Eastern and Pacific. And before you get all snarky, just remember: “a man becomes a critic when he cannot be an artist, just as a man becomes a pastry chef when he cannot grout his bathroom.” (Gustave Flaubert said it, but my French is a little iffy.)