Comeback weekend: Thoughts from Birdman and John Wick

Yeah, I’d say I’m back. — John Wick

This weekend, I went to see two very different films, Birdman and John Wick.

John Wick

I feel the film wasn't sure if it was about John Wick or Keanu Reeves
I feel the film wasn’t sure if it was about John Wick or Keanu Reeves

First, I saw the bombastic John Wick. I would say that spoilers are to come, but there wasn’t enough plot to really spoil. The impetus to the action was revealed in the trailer: John’s car was stolen by the mafia boss’s son, and then he murders the entire Russian mafia because of it. There was a dog, too, but that might be closer to being a spoiler. I knew all of that going in, though. I fully realized as I bought my ticket that John Wick would win and that there would be lots of explosions, gun fighting, and pure adrenaline-porn. I thought it was ridiculous, but I enjoyed it. I will always support Reeve’s special brand of wooden yet animate acting. Early in the film he says with little emotion that he questioned why his wife died every day, but later stared down a mobster as he slowly sucked the life out of his dying eyes. Scary.

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The sequel to “Must Love Dogs” was really dark.

One of my favorite parts of the film was Willem Dafoe’s character. He played an equally badass assassin, but when the action was threatened by the situation, he came in to save Wick in a sense of duty. It’s never really explained why they’re friends or why Dafoe risks his life to save John, but the character is just Dafoe Ex Machina.

One of my least favorite characters was the female assassin who apparently knew John, but cared so little about him and the rules of the hotel that she was willing to try to kill him. She had a very cool feather collar in her first scene, and always has a heavy smokey eye, but in the end her character was meaningless. She wasn’t present enough to really matter, but she was around too much to just be one of the many foes Wick/Reeves must battle.

I laughed at parts that were just too silly, I enjoyed the fight scenes, I smiled at the end. This movie was pure escapism and made me want to be a super hero, or at least do more yoga.

 Bird Man: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit. — Birdman

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What’s more important: escapism cherished by all or critically acclaimed art that only moves a few

Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, on the other hand, questioned the value of such fluffy films that don’t provide any emotional or intellectual ambiguity.

Wow. This film was truly amazing. First, the camera movement was incredible, it moved with the actors through the labyrinthine, claustrophobic halls of the small Broadway theatre. This one-take form added to the delusion and the raw grit of the film. I was dizzy watching Michael Keaton twist his way through the theatre as his twisted mind lead to imagined voices and telekinesis. The drumming that often played as characters moved had a very New York feel and made the action of walking from one room to another into a little adventure, though anxiety-ridden. I appreciated the nod to Scorsese towards the end of the film, the man who invented the device to produce the hallway-shot.

The acting, too, was amazing. Emma Stone and her impossibly large, sweet eyes really stole the show as a disaffected youth. Michael Keaton himself showed a great deal of humility to play a character who bears so  many similarities with him, the ex-batman. Edward Norton plays a self-obsessed actor whose search for the “truth” can be construed as pretentious posturing and naval gazing. Zach Galifianakis was understated yet hilarious, in a way I had not seen him since he played his over-the-top character in the Hangover series.

The real key to this film is the dialogue. All of the characters’ every line, every exchange is dripping with meaning and dilemmas. One of the main questions is concerning high brow versus low brow culture. The New York theatre scene seems to despise Keaton’s character as much as he wants their validation. They crave his celebrity, too, but pretend to despise it. Is Birdman still relevant? Are super hero movies important? I would say so, but not more than the obscure and esoteric. Both have a place, and one of the greatest successes of this film is how it can consecutively present each side and remain neutral. It considers both sides and realizes there in no easy answer. A tweet is just as limiting as a haiku, after all.

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The movie has a sort of realist mysticism about it

The other question the film asks its audiences is what is delusion and what is reality to a man who has crippling doubts and insecurities about his place in the world. How can one judge one’s life? What does relevance mean or matter? All of these plague Keaton’s character.

I adored this movie and highly reccomend everyone go see it. It will move you and entertain you, realizing the height of both the arthouse play and the big blockbuster, simultaneously.

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