Tag Archives: Michael Keaton

Spotlight (2015)

One appreciates how difficult it is to make a successful film like Spotlight. Yes, you have an A-list cast at your disposal, and yes, it’s Oscar season. They’re going for it. You have a true story that is quite literally already recorded for the public eye, plain as day, and besides the revelatory Spotlight newspaper clippings you have a vast backlog of coverage on the coverage, stories about the story. Yes, most of the real people who took part in that story are still alive and willing to participate in making a film about their achievements. And yes, the crucial win is already firmly in place: this is a highly relevant story, stranger than fiction but all the more urgent for being the truth.

Granted, there’s one massive pressure point in the expectations set by the aftermath of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Director Tom McCarthy (“you” from the first paragraph) must have felt what Adam McKay felt in directing The Big Short, what David O. Russell felt in directing Joy, what Danny Boyle felt with Steve Jobs, what Don Cheadle felt with Miles Ahead. Any director dealing with the poster tagline Based On a True Story must ask “am I getting this right?”

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Batman (1943)

It can be pretty hard to compare one Batman to another Batman. The points of similarity between the super-campy Adam West iteration, the super-rubber Michael Keaton iteration, and the super-dark Christian Bale iteration essentially begin and end with the pointy ears. Val Kilmer and George Clooney are both sleepwalking through their outings, so there’s that. Ben Affleck’s latest incarnation in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice looks to change it up yet again, providing a more world-weary Dark Knight Rises spin on the superhero. Surely the longevity of the character is the major contributing factor to the gradual shifts in tone, as with goofy/serious Bond and goofy/serious Sherlock, and it’s true of the Caped Crusader in the comics as well.

We talked about all of that in our review of Batman Returns, but it’s far more obvious when we go all the way back to the 1943 serial Batman. “Batman and Robin” wasn’t at all a part of the cultural lexicon at this point. The character had only just appeared in 1939, largely as a response to the popularity of counterpart Superman, and so the 1943 theater release of the 3.5-hour marathon serial was for many the very first encounter with Batman. More importantly, 1943 was arguably the height of World War II, meaning that a solid 85% of theatrically-released serials felt compelled to include a strong commentary on nationalistic duty and American pride. Batman was no different. Watch it today and you might find yourself using different descriptors, those being really really racist.

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White God (2014)

One of the most egregious snubs in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences concerns last year’s Best Actor trophy, and no, it has nothing to do with Leonardo DiCaprio. Eddie Redmayne walked away with the Oscar for his turn as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and indeed his performance was groundbreaking and heartfelt. But it pales in comparison to the tour de force delivered by Body, the Hungarian star of Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, in his role as the tortured, tragic, life-loving, revenge-seeking, slobber-mouthed Hagen. Due respect to Redmayne, but Body’s performance is simply one of the most emotional and drool-covered performances in years.

As a young actor Body was met with obstacle after obstacle as he tried to make ends meet while pursuing his craft. He auditioned for some of the most iconic roles of our time and even received a callback for The Beast from The Sandlot, but the dude who played Mr. Mertle claimed Body was “impossible to work with” and cited the Hungarian-English language barrier as a primary qualm. He was an extra in Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch but soon disowned the film and distanced himself from the creative vision of the entire Air Bud series. Body struggled to be taken seriously as an actor, forced to take work in Iams commercials and as a busboy of sorts in the alley behind an L.A. hotspot.

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Gung Ho (1986)

So…is Gung Ho racist, or what? To be sure, far less sympathetic portraits of the Japanese have cropped up in American cinema over the years. This certainly isn’t the not-so-subtle Neimoidian race of The Phantom Menace or the not-even-attempting-to-be-subtle Mr. Yunioshi of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. At the very least Gung Ho is free of that kind of blatant disregard for cultural sensitivity that makes one wonder, with no shortage of slaps to one’s forehead, how the hell some things get greenlighted at all.

But there is a sneaking suspicion that there’s a cultural illiteracy afoot in Gung Ho, if not a straight-up cultural disregard, and that might be just as bad. Director Ron Howard cast Michael Keaton as the actor rose to fame following Johnny Dangerously and Howard’s own Night Shift, and there’s little blame to place on Keaton here. He’s the lovable doofus that he usually is. Gung Ho sees Keaton’s everyman Hunt Stevenson fighting to save his little Rust Belt town after a Japanese automobile company takes over the local factory. An army of managerial types swoops in from Tokyo and sets about “correcting” the carefree business practices of the American worker. Culture clash certainly ensues — we’re just not sure it’s the kind of clash that Howard and Co. intended.

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Primal Fear (1996)

Edward Norton wowed audiences this past year with his supporting role in Birdman, one that earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and, at times in the movie, stole the show, even from lead actor nominee Michael Keaton. It was an impressive, but not necessarily unexpected, performance from Norton. He has established himself over the past two decades as a great actor. But how did he get to this point? Where did he start? Two words: Primal Fear.

Truth be told, Norton’s start and end points in his journey have had identical impacts on audiences. On both ends of his career—in his first movie and his most recent one—he has absolutely captivated audiences with his performance. It is his first performance that seems more impressive, though, for the sheer fact that no one saw it coming. Continue reading Primal Fear (1996)

JCVD (2008)

All of the Oscar hubbub surrounding Birdman got me thinking about JCVD, a movie built on a somewhat similar concept. You might superficially call this “a comeback movie”, if you think of Michael Keaton’s Birdman role in the same way most think of Mickey Rourke’s revitalization in The Wrestler. This might be the comeback of Jean-Claude Van Damme, action hero of the ’90s, star of movies with such vague titles that his name is printed in larger font on the posters, one-time king of both the roundhouse kick and the action flick box office.

But JCVD is set up like Birdman in another way, and after a certain point it’s not really a comeback film at all. The Muscles from Brussels stars as himself, or at the very least a tired and nearly washed-up version of himself, broke and embroiled in a custody battle for his young daughter. He’s still acting in the same films he’s always been acting in, but nowadays the passion seems sucked out of the entire process. The first long shot of JCVD follows Van Damme as he does an action sequence from his latest film, directed by a kid who doesn’t give a shit about Van Damme, and that opening shot tells two stories at once. It tells the story of the film-in-the-film, in which Van Damme’s hero saves a hostage from an army of faceless henchmen. But it also tells the actor’s story, Van Damme visibly going through the motions to get the film done instead of actually living through the thrill of the action. Every punch and jab and dive is perfect, exactly where it should be, and because of that it’s the most unexciting action sequence ever filmed.

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Birdman (2014): Riggan the Supernova

Our Take Two column offers second opinions and alternative angles on films and TV series reviewed elsewhere on Motion State. Head here for our original review of Birdman.

There’s a story about these guys, Jack and Murray, who head out to the countryside to visit The Most Photographed Barn in America. They follow the signs and arrive at the barn site, finding a visitor center, an observation deck, droves of people with cameras, the actual barn up on a little rise. “No one sees the barn,” Murray notes. “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.” Jack says nothing as more tourists arrive, snap pictures, buy postcards. Murray continues. “We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one,” he says. “Every photograph reinforces the aura.”

That story is from White Noise by Don DeLillo, an author who largely concerns himself with the same exploration of modern celebrity at the heart of Iñárritu’s Best Picture-winning Birdman. And that aura, so built up around the little red barn that the mass awareness begins to eclipse the individual identity, is not at all unlike the celebrity in which Michael Keaton’s actor Riggan Thomson finds himself trapped. The “public Riggan” — an image maintained in tabloids and represented by the superhuman Birdman — is so overwhelming that it obscures the real Riggan, the artist beneath the public persona, threatening to further that obscurity by tempting Riggan with Birdman 4. Plenty of films address Hollywood and modern celebrity in this way, and we’ll mention a few more from this past year in a moment. It’s Riggan, though, who most fully and tragically shows how impossible it is for an artist to escape the machinery of fame.

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Night Shift (1982)

The upgrade in quality from Ron Howard’s directorial debut Grand Theft Auto to his sophomore effort Night Shift is pretty remarkable. Howard did direct a string of TV movies in the interim (Cotton Candy, Skyward, and Through the Magic Pyramid) and had directed a few shorts prior to Auto, so it wasn’t like Night Shift was only the second time he touched a camera. He was also doing this really weird thing called “acting” on occasion.

Regardless of where it falls, Night Shift is a surprisingly hilarious addition to Howard’s early canon. Auto relied heavily on Happy Days cast members and members of the Howard Family to round out the cast and crew, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but could be a bit distracting at times. Speaking of distracting, Auto also had a funk-bass-porno soundtrack that served to bolster the overall feel of the thing as hastily-made. And most importantly, the character motives in Auto just didn’t make a whole lot of sense across the board.

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Birdman (2014)

Birdman is not your typical Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu film. Correction: Birdman is not your typical anyone film — which is part of what makes it so good. Iñárritu’s inventive cinematography combined with exceptional dialogue between intriguing, fantastically-acted characters make Birdman a masterpiece, and one that deserves all of the praise it is receiving in terms of Academy Award nominations.

The film follows Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thomson, a past-his-prime actor who was once famous for playing the titular superhero Birdman (Keaton himself knows a thing or two about formerly playing a superhero). Riggan’s past character haunts him throughout the film as he tries to become relevant as an actor outside of just the superhero role. He attempts to shake loose of Birdman by directing and starring in Raymond Carver’s play “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Carver’s play provides an appropriate backdrop for Riggan’s attempt at a career revival. Carver, himself, is quoted to start the movie in what reveals a central theme of the movie: “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth”.

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Batman Returns (1992)

‘Tis the season! ‘Tis a time for merriment, gaiety, festivity, and a bunch of other synonyms! ‘Tis also a time in which box-office turnouts for fifth and sixth installments of Saw or Fast and Furious vastly outweigh those for fresh, original film — a time in which the popularity of one kind of movie seems almost contingent on the failure of the other. ‘Tis a good time for cynicism, evidently.

Batman Returns is a superhero sequel, obviously, but it’s not the kind of assembly-line movie that phrase conjures up today (it’s also a Christmas movie, hence my yuletide cheer). This isn’t an instantly forgettable Marvel sequel like Iron Man 2 or Thor: The Dark World, seemingly intent only on filling the space between Avengers team-ups. Returns, like Burton’s first Batman film, takes pride in originality even in the face of decades of established Bat-lore, flipping things upside down and ignoring long character histories and comic book arcs in favor of new things, for better or worse. So in Batman we discover that the Joker is the one who killed Thomas and Martha Wayne, not some nobody named Joe Chill; here in Returns, Penguin isn’t a respected sophisticate but instead a literal man-bird. Returns basically says f*ck you to so much of the Batman canon that it’s difficult to imagine it being released today without causing fanboydom to implode.

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