My takes on Birdman, Interstellar, and Mockingjay

My takes on Birdman, Interstellar, and Mockingjay

In a bit of a departure, I’m going to give you both my take (my opinion of it with no spoilers), and then, in a separate section afterwards, do a bit of analysis (which will contain spoilers).

Here is a look a three movies I’ve seen recently, in the order in which I saw them.

Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Official Site
at IMDb
at Rotten Tomatoes

No question, this is an ambitious movie. It’s not the same old same old: for those of you who complain about “cookie cutter blockbusters”, and argue that there is no originality in Hollywood, well, here’s your answer.

Everything is part of the effort: the jazz soundtrack; the innovative cinematography; and the actors, going full tilt with no breaks.

It’s also all a bit unreal and theatrical, and that won’t appeal to everyone. This is the kind of movie where audiences say, “If I don’t act like I like it, people will know I’m not cool enough to get it.”

That’s not to say you won’t legitimately like it: many of you will. Others may find it pretentious.

At Gold Derby Michael Keaton currently is the odds on favorite (at 23 to 10…2.3 to 1) to go home with the Best Actor Oscar. I don’t see that happening…I don’t think it’s a role that the still relatively conservative Academy is going to embrace (not that he won’t get a nomination), especially when you have Eddie Redmayne in a role that seems tailor made for Oscar, and several others in historical figure parts.

Edward Norton and Emma Stone are amazing in Birdman…but they are amazing actors. What they do is wonderful, every single time, but it isn’t something that makes this particular movie special.

I think there may be several Oscar nominations, and we could see wins in some technical categories in particular. I think it has a good shot at Special Effects: while the Academy has that category, they prefer to give it to more of a mainstream movie when they can.

For more commentary on this movie, see The Spoiler Zone below.

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Official Site
at IMDb
at Rotten Tomatoes

I’m surprised at the positive response this is getting: people are saying how scientific it is, how much heart it has, what a surprising plot it is.

I suspect Christopher Nolan may be serving here as somewhat of an ambassador of geekiness to the general population. I think it’s sort of like if you go to the Swedish Embassy, they may serve you Swedish meatballs. That doesn’t necessarily mean Swedish meatballs that natives would love, but they want to introduce you to them in a safe way.

In other words, I think the enthusiasm may be coming from people less familiar with science fiction.

For me, several things which I think were supposed to be big surprises just weren’t. My feeling is that the Nolans were aiming for the transcendent screenwriting of The Twilight Zone, and ended solidly in Outer Limits territory. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Outer Limits, but that show wasn’t usually about taking you places you never expected.

Similarly, the actors, while competent, just weren’t being challenged that much. It largely seemed like the performances each stuck to a pretty limited range.

I said to my Significant Other, “Well, it was pretty,” and it is that. There are some great shots, and a couple of robots I really liked and who join the pantheon of great movie robots (including Robby from Forbidden Planet, and Huey, Louie, and Dewey from Silent Running).

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Official Site
at IMDb
at Rotten Tomatoes

Perhaps surprisingly, this was my favorite of the three movies in this post. I did like the third Hunger Games book the best (which isn’t the case with all fans of the series), but I don’t think it had to with that.

This is clearly now the Katniss show, but that’s appropriate. Jennifer Lawrence brings us a range of emotions, and is really effective in some difficult scenes.

Most other people aren’t given that much to do…or at least, they aren’t given that many different things to do.

I’d say that they’ve improved how integrated Panem looks: it is becoming more believable as the movie series progresses. I think they want us to feel that this could be real, and I believe they succeed.

There may be some criticism that it isn’t as action packed as the previous two movies, and that there aren’t as many scenes about the relationships.

I don’t see those as negatives. This movie, like the book, is in part about coping with what has happened. The sorts of things that Katniss experienced can shake your foundations, and your focus may be on making sense of it all, rather than what happens next.


Note: this part is going to reveal things about these movies that will include plot details. If you have not yet seen them and prefer to have that pure feeling of discovery that comes from approaching a work of entertainment with no foreknowledge (which I understand), I’d skip this part until you have seen them.

The Spoiler Zone: Birdman

We see some things here that definitely push the movie into the land of geekiness, and I don’t mean the Birdman character. If all we were dealing with was an actor who had played a superhero (without a suggestion that the superhero had been real), one could argue this was a mainstream drama.

However, Keaton’s character, Riggan Thomson, exhibits supernatural powers.

We can’t be clear if what we are seeing is real, or if it is a fantasy of Thomson’s. Certainly, his abilities to levitate and to use telekinesis are presented to us a real, but no one else sees them or reacts to them. They do see the aftermath, but if it’s a delusion of Thomson’s that would fit as well.

There is also a short, amusing fantasy sequence of a “new movie” in the Birdman franchise. The monster in it may remind some geeks of The Giant Claw, a 1957 monster movie with a goofy-looking marionette bird monster.

The Spoiler Zone: Interstellar

I’m sorry, but as soon as the “ghost” thing came up, I had a good idea what would happen. Any geek knows that when an intelligent child (played by Mackenzie Foy, who has become quite the box office player in the past five years) says that they are experiencing ghosts, you listen…not that you expect it to actually be a ghost, necessarily.

I certainly wanted a whole more mystery out of what! I had heard people allude slyly to a surprising appearance at one point in the movie…and the only surprise was the actor. I wanted them to do  a whole more with the time paradox angle, and they could have done it within the movie’s reality. McConaughey’s character could have met up with adult versions of his daughter in other places, without at first realizing it. We’ve seen that in science fiction: the pioneers in interstellar travel are met with their descendants when they arrive, because the later generations have figured out how to get there faster.

Again, I did think the robots were great! The personalities were believable (Bill Irwin was particularly good), and the physical design was unlike what we’ve seen in the past, but appeared to be practical.

The Spoiler Zone: Mockingjay Part 1

In some ways, I think that Suzanne Collins’ adaptation (Peter Craig and Danny Strong are credited for the screenplay) improves upon her own book.

I liked it a lot better having Effie be a somewhat reluctant part of the rebellion. She, at least, brought a little humor to it, but not as a false note.

I thought President Snow was even more evil and better defined. I had some discussion with my adult kid about Snow’s thinking. I believe that Snow had excellent strategy in allowing a brainwashed Peeta to get to Katniss in the “rebel base”…not because he expected Peeta to kill Katniss (a martyred Mockingjay is worse than a live one), but because he expected it to break Katniss (which is how to break the rebellion). Imagine if Katniss had been forced to kill Peeta, or even if a rebel had killed him protecting her. Would she go forward in her role as Mockingjay with that guilt on her?

We have to believe she might…but Snow might not think she would.

I’ll grant you: it’s an incomplete story, but we knew that going into it. I think it would build anticipation for the next movie. Even though Part 1 may not have as good a Rotten Tomato average as The Hunger Games or Catching Fire, I still expect it to do very well…and for Part 2 to be a huge blockbuster.

Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.


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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them


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