So, Birdman. A visual ouroboros, an infinity loop through the muertos colours, infernal passages and moments of surreal exultation that is the neurotic middle aged mind and its buckshot-tattered ego. There is so much muscular excellence to recognise and ponder. Stunningly ambulatory direction and a welter of technical superlatives? Check. Chowder-chunky script? Passive-aggressive obscurity and incisive performance? Yep. Interesting fuzzy demarcation and a shitload of surgical-grade intergenerational metacritique? Super grown-up admissions about the shabby unspoken pointlessness and delusionality of it all? In spades. But also- heavy overworking, glutinous staginess, rubber band fatigue from all that visual flow and, for me personally, a certain verbose chewiness largely centred around Keaton's part because his acting has always rubbed me wrong.
Nevertheless, as a writer I bend the knee to any script that can make helpless, squirming subjects of such a self-regarding cast. It is a fucking beast of a thing, applied with the kind of gobsmacking assurance that makes everything else you've seen lately look fragile and equivocal and christ, I love to see that. Last night as the credits popped I felt a little assaulted and decided I was impressed but unmoved; on mature reflection, there is so much multifactorial accomplishment in Birdman that it doesn't matter if you're unresponsive to its inhabitants. It probably works best as a commentary even if that's not all that was intended. It is a spectacular achievement and we need a lot more of this shit. See it, support it.
Oh Christian Bale. I love thee well but you done fucked up by taking that cheque. Everything you heard about this gigantic pendulous fupa of a thing is true; the monolithic multilateral offensiveness, new and exotic forms of hammery (intentional and unintentional) inexplicable miscasting (quite apart from the blatant racism of their selections, also- Joel Edgerton: ha ha); I could go on until you begged me to stop. Bad design and art direction always bunch my undies and Exodus is a comprehensive craft fail on top of all that conceptual scatology, heaving with anachronistic props, ridiculous wardrobe, horrific makeup, cheesy, uneven effects, and the wrong horses, dammit. In short, a complete disregard for the incredible cultural and aesthetic achievements of Egyptian civilisation.
Which fits right in with its next level-embarrassing spirit of tastelessness and appropriation, running the spectrum from generalised brownface to lifting sequences wholesale from 300 (there are some breathtaking moments of plagiarism). Scott’s frankly inexplicable doting on his own material (who the fuck quotes Gladiator with a straight face?) is also in evidence, underscoring precisely what sort of blithe narcissism is at work here. That someone with their head stuffed so firmly up their arse could miss the ineffable brown coating their own output is a mystery for the ages. Go home, Ridley- you're drunk.
I should have resisted the urge to spectate this bollocks. I loathe christianity. It's all just a good crop of potatoes waiting to happen as far as I'm concerned, and I'm reminded by toxic tripe like Exodus that the obsessive cruelty and gloating relativism of organised religion is never more succinctly limned than in the very legends that it treasures. So if you're looking to wean yourself off that shit, brave the genital-numbing boredom and treat yourself to this hot, stinky slice of no-star Mosaic realness. If you're still religious, call me at home.
A Most Violent Year reminded me that both Issac and Chastain probably went to very expensive performing arts schools. Like, constantly. Their slightly malfeasant NYC fuel oil distributors circa 1981 were so thickly redolent of their credentials that I had difficulty distinguishing this thing from some sort of advanced performance module, and from that observation you can possibly guess the trifling nature of my response. The film is fascinatingly academic to the point of perversity, eschewing lowbrow hooks like its fucking life depended on it. We should indulge this kind of wilfulness when it is serving up the good shit (see Birdman), but AMVY didn’t feed me much more than highly polished collegiate exposition; it swung and missed.
That’s the danger of staging a piece with such narrow, parochial specificity. A premise that offers so few intrinsic attractions can only ever be what you make of it, and in this case that is: not enough. The characters are not adequately delineated. There is a puzzling blindness to successful, organic emphasis, something I've seen so often lately and in a bunch of really disparate films. I know they’re trying to be all angular and challenging but it just feels like a string of missed marks. And so wilfully difficult becomes charmless, murky, period off-noir, pulling focus onto the mechanics of performance in lieu of the sleight and glamour of successful characterisation. Both leads go the distance with the kind of sheer force of will and projection that should have sold me their characters a hundred times over. Still no dice.
There are moments of masterful framing and diggable flow. I appreciated the even handed spread of authentic sleaze. But (and I've complained about this before) can we please give the nicotine stain filters a big fucking rest? Why, when we sit down to something 20th C, do we have to look at it through fucking yellow cellophane? A Most Violent Year isn't unreconstructed shite by any means; just don't expect to be enthralled or transported.