My Favorite Films (#6): Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)-A Critique of Modern Film

Introduction

How many films from the 2010’s do most people regard as masterpieces that may be cemented as classics for decades to come? The Social Network, Boyhood, Inside Out, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Her certainly come to mind first. The films stand out within their respective genres and still resonate with audiences to this day. All of these films are certainly excellent and I’m a quite a fan of all of them. However, the movie I personally consider the best of the 2010’s so far is a film that’s far too unique, original, and intelligent to not deserve an in-depth dissection. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a film that works as a critique of many different things. The film is composed as a black comedy, a satire, and surrealist drama all rolled into one masterful character study (of multiple characters). This essay will strive to explain & decode the multiple layers of a modern cinematic masterpiece. There will be no major spoilers in this essay, however it may be essential to understand the analysis/interpretation. Let’s delve into Birdman.

The Story

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed up actor who was once famous for his portrayal of superhero Birdman 20 years previous. Now, he’s struggling to regain relevance and fame within his industry. He wants to be taken seriously and not only be associated with a superhero flick. Thus, he decides to write, direct, produce, and star in his own Broadway play adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”.

Involved in the process are his best friend & lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis), recovering addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone), and hot-headed yet talented actor Mike (Edward Norton). Riggan’s ex-wife and current girlfriend are also by his side during the stressful project. Along the way, Riggan deals numerous obstacles. He and his daughter seem distant, and they struggle to repair their relationship after her recent stint in rehab. Also, Mike’s narcissistic, overbearing personality leads to clashes on how to go about the play. Notably, Riggan is often tormented by apparent visions of Birdman, often hearing Birdman’s voice in his head and suffering hallucinations. Riggan must find a way to alleviate these concerns and put on a successful production, achieving the relevant recognition he desires.

Analysis/Interpretation

Birdman is much more than the story that I’ve just described. It is quite unconventional and could even be described as art-house, films which are typically not multiple Oscar winners (it won 5, including Best Picture). The way it is presented and what exactly it is presenting is incredibly unique. For those unaware, Birdman is shot to appear as if it is one single take. The execution is absolutely fantastic and is quite relevant to what the film is attempting to accomplish. As mentioned before, the film is highly critical of many things. At the same time, it serves to highlight many themes, such as relationships and purpose. Each of these will be devoted to in this analytical essay. Without wasting any more time, here’s my analysis/interpretation.

Pretentiousness, Arrogance, & Film Criticism 

Birdman is a highly meta film about film itself, or the film industry. It seeks to highlight commonly seen issues with Hollywood and films themselves through portraying them. Mike is a hot-headed, full of himself actor who adds something to every project. It seems very difficult to work with him. Nonetheless, he is viewed as extremely talented and highly sought after. Riggan is one who seeks to remain relevant and famous, thus he takes on quite the ambitious project to do so.

There is a scene within the film involving an altercation between a popular critic and Riggan. The critic declares that she will “give the play a bad review even without seeing it”, causing Riggan to go on an angry tirade in which film criticism simply doesn’t matter and the ones criticizing have no more relevance than anyone else. The critic herself is portrayed as a pompous know-it-all. What is Innaritu saying here? Is he completely agreeing with Riggan here? Yes and no.

The fact that the critic will give the play a poor review even without seeing it directly reflects similar action in real life. In recent memory, many people decided to flood review sites with 10/10 ratings of films like Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad to make it appear it’s getting great reviews. Of course, this was before these films had even been released, and in my opinion, turned out pretty bad. These ratings simply reflect a desire to assert one’s predetermined love/hate for a particular property, in this case DC Extended Universe films. The film argues that this dishonest portrayal of a movie often taints the actual appeal and meaning of a film. It discourages people from thinking for themselves and is more concerned with personal satisfaction. However, it doesn’t mean that one’s opinion on film or art or on anything is less/more relevant than another. We shouldn’t disparage the critic for their opinion. What matters is how genuine it is. The late Roger Ebert would sometimes clash with general consensus over really good films, and vice versa with bad films. For this, Ebert should be respected. Every review was how he saw it and what he took from it. This is the goal I hope to accomplish on my personal website as well. Everything you read from me is what I took from it. All I can do is do my best to explain where I’m coming from.

Relevance, Purpose, & Identity

Let’s take a look at Riggan’s rise to fame, Birdman. The movie within a movie (adding to the meta quality) was a superhero film similar to Batman that was hugely popular back in the day. Ironically, Michael Keaton himself became famous for playing Batman in the original 1989 film, making this character even more meta. When people recognize him on the street, they recognize him as Birdman. Riggan is so affected by this reputation that he often hears and sees Birdman, who taunts him for his fall from grace and lack of modern relevance. Clearly, Riggan wants to move past this. Birdman has effectively replaced Riggan’s subconscious, berating him how he unknowingly berates himself for leaving the spotlight. Riggan’s is not as passionate about his passion project as most would imagine. He decides to tackle a serious drama and possess nearly every major role. You would think this is a passion project. Perhaps the film itself it lamenting these so-called “passion projects” we often see from directors that turn out not so good.

Riggan’s main motivation is to be relevant again. More specifically, he wants to be taken seriously. Thus, he takes on a Broadway play adaptation based on a serious short story. Superhero films won’t get him the relevance he wants and feels he deserves. In reality, he could do more Birdman movies and achieve that recognition again. His ambitions go beyond this. His control freak nature of the play directly symbolizes his desire to completely control his life.

That being said, is this Riggan’s ultimate purpose? Certainly it’s one he has set for himself. But what’s the purpose of being relevant and respected in the industry? It has personal meaning for Riggan, but only for him, it seems. Jake and Sam both question his large ambition and ask him why it means so much to him? Being relevant, of course. But what’s the appeal in being relevant? We live in a culture where celebrities, film stars, and Hollywood denizens’ worth is based on their popularity. We celebrate uninteresting, trashy things and we ourselves increase their relevance and popularity. Think Kardashians or viral videos. It’s easy to parrot the usual, “we make stupid people famous” argument, and quite frankly, the argument itself is getting tired. It adds nothing to the discussion. There is more harm being done than good. The concept of going viral and glorifying trash is only growing, due a lot in part to the internet.

Most importantly, who cares? One’s relevance in society or their perceived popularity should bare little relevance to us. What’s more important is to ignore this culture and focus on your own life. That’s what Birdman is telling us through Riggan. It’s his relevance, and that’s all that matters. His reasoning, or even a lack thereof, is unimportant to everyone. Riggan feels he can find satisfaction in his project. Who is anybody else to take that away from him? When you discover what will make you personally satisfied, don’t let anybody get in your way. They should be worrying about their own satisfaction first. There really is unexpected virtue of ignorance, sometimes.

This directly ties into Riggan’s identity, a crisis many characters face in the film. Riggan wants to be identified as the talent behind his successful play. On a broader scope, he wants to be known as a talent in the film/theatre industry in general. Sam struggles to understand her role in her Dad’s and Mike’s life as well. Mike’s extreme self-confidence in his own identity presents an ironic picture of insecurity and self-doubt. Before the play, Birdman had always been Riggan’s identity. It was an identity he didn’t assign to himself, presenting the driving force of the film. Thus, we can conclude we should always be able to choose our own identity. They set us apart and define us, so why let somebody/something else control it? The entirety of the movie follows Riggan as he struggles to establish a new identity. He wants to spread his wings and fly away from the life he’s known.

Conclusion

The film’s decision to appear as entirely one shot is flawless. This makes the film feel like a play in itself. The pacing is constant and fast paced, never letting the viewer take a break and instructing them to maintain a constant focus. For me, this was quite effective as I often struggle to focus for long periods of time. We feel like we’re involved the play’s production itself, helping us relate and understand each of the characters. Each character is portrayed with immense depth and complexity. We learn so much about them in the span of a 2 hour film. We see Riggan’s inner turmoil, his inner thoughts spoken out loud the portrayal of his subconscious. We see Sam’s attempts to stay clean, Mike’s thought process and attitudes. Most importantly, we see their growths and arcs complete. Each main character’s ending I find quite satisfactory and appropriate.

The acting in this film is phenomenal all around the board. Michael Keaton is definitely the best he’s ever been and I firmly believe to this day he was robbed of the Best Actor Oscar. Edward Norton hasn’t been this good since American History X, and Emma Stone and surprisingly Zach Galifianakis are both excellent. The cinematography is amazing both in execution and visually. The screenplay is honestly one of the best screenplays I’ve ever read/seen for a film. Each conversation, each encounter, each moment establishes humor, irony, the depth, and satire combined like I’ve seen only a handful of times before. Birdman is a masterpiece of 21st century cinema and among the greatest films I’ve ever seen. I see Birdman being considered a film classic in the decades to come. It certainly already is for me.

Rating: 9.3/10

My Favorite Films (#11): 2001: A Space Odyssey-Going Beyond The Infinite

*SPOILER WARNING. PLOT POINTS AND SPOILERS REVEALED IN ARTICLE. READ AT OWN RISK*

Introduction

I, along with many critics and moviegoers, consider Stanley Kubrick to be a genius and likely the greatest movie director of all time. A lot of his films rank highly in my personal favorite list. It’s impossible to deny the man’s ambition, scope, and perfectionism when it came to his craft. As a result, he created many distinct films that are now considered classics in their respective genre. Film scholars, critics, and your average movie goer are almost unanimous in declaring Kubrick’s sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey his greatest work and among the greatest pieces of film in the history of cinema. Although I personally enjoy A Clockwork Orange and The Shining more, the consensus is understandable. 2001 is another Kubrick piece that I now recognize as an achievement in the fields of visual effects and a highly philosophical think piece that discusses humanity, evolution, and technology among others. It may come to a surprise, then, that I had a very difficult time getting through the film’s deliberately slow, tepid pace.

I required multiple viewing to get through the entirety of the movie. At this point I had already seen and admired A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket, so why was I having a hard time? Why was the film taking as much time as possible to move through its scenes? I was baffled that an entire dialogue-less 20 minute scene was placed at the start of the movie for the Dawn of Man scene. I wanted to turn it off so badly. I figured the rest of the movie would be the same way and I was not wrong. I forgot how long it eventually took me to finish, but it felt like a chore the entire time. Of course, had I maintained my original feeling about the film, I would not be writing this essay discussing its rightful status as a masterpiece. Gradually over time, I began to think more and more about the film. I wanted to like it so bad. I watched YouTube videos and perused forums to determine what I was missing. A whole lot, as it turned out. I failed to see Kubrick’s intentions with the film. I was generally used to conventional storytelling and character development. As I began to look into the themes and purpose of the film, I came to the realization that made me consider the film a personal favorite. The fact was, Kubrick didn’t have any particular interpretations or themes he wanted to get across. He wanted the viewer to come up with their own. Each unique interpretation is equally valid and logical.

So, that’s what I did. I re-watched it a couple of times for reference. I didn’t dissect the film frame by frame. I allowed it to take its time, as it should be allowed to. I eventually decided what 2001 meant to me as a film and as an experience. The focal point of this essay will be what I have come to interpret and dissect the various aspects of the film are. I won’t be discussing the technical achievements, the groundbreaking cinematography, or what I thought about the acting or character development.  This is an analytical essay designed to explain my personal interpretations of the film. However, I will be going into big plot points so if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t know what happens, I suggest you watch the film first or at least read the Wikipedia article. Both the store and analysis section contain plot points as references for my analysis.

The Story

2001: A Space Odyssey is among the most minimalist films I’ve ever seen. There is no dialogue in either the first 20 minutes and last 20 minutes. The opening scene depicts humanoid apes in an apparent war with another tribe of humanoid apes. They are driven away quickly. Out of nowhere, the apes awaken to a strange monolith. They are perplexed and frightened by it. Eventually, one of the apes touches the monolith. At first nothing happens, then we see this ape fiddling with bone. He seems to know how to use it. So do the other apes in his tribe. Utilizing this newfound knowledge, they drive away the enemy tribe and retake control. As the ape raises the bone in triumph, we cut to millions and millions of years later.

We are inside a spaceship in orbit. It is revealed to the characters that a similar monolith as seen with the apes has been detected on the moon. After investigating the monolith, we cut to 18 months later where another monolith has been spotted on Jupiter. A new crew is assembled to journey to the monolith and investigate its meaning and purpose. They are guided by their spaceship’s computer HAL9000. While on the journey, the crew become concerned with HAL’s behavior. HAL lips reads the crewmembers’ conversation and determines human beings are a threat to the mission he is programmed to accomplish. HAL begins to wreak havoc by severing one astronaut’s oxygen pod and severing the life support for many others suspended in orbit. The final remaining astronaut manually forces his way back in and proceeds to manually shut HAL down. HAL attempts to reason with the astronaut, eventually pleading and showing fear before he is finally shut down.

We learn from a video message that there is indeed a monolith on the moon, its purpose and origin completely unknown. The astronaut exits the spaceship in a pod and notices yet another monolith in orbit of Jupiter. He is sucked into a vortex of bizarre amalgamation of colored lights. He is thrown through space while observing strange cosmological phenomenon and unusually colored landscapes.

He ends up in a uniquely designed bedroom alone. There are multiple version of him: a middle-aged version, him dressed in a suit, and finally, him as a noticeably older man. Another monolith appears at the end of his bed, which he gingerly reaches out to touch. In his place is now a large, translucent fetus entombed within a glowing orb. The film ends with the fetus floating in space, silently gazing over the Earth.

Analysis/Interpretation

Many people, like myself originally, are confused by 2001. The limited plot, dialogue, and focus on character is perplexing for many traditional moviegoers. There’s nothing wrong with this in itself. Certain films need to be dissected to be made sense of. That’s what I’m going to attempt to do here. Through my interpretations of the film, hopefully others are able to gain a grasp on the complexity and intentional ambiguity of the film. I promise I’ll do my best.

The Monolith

A strange, black stoned monolith appears four times in the film. Originally with the ape-humanoids, then on the moon, then orbiting Jupiter, and finally at the end of the final astronaut’s bed. It’s purpose for being where it is and its usage remain unclear to the characters in the film, both ape-men and astronaut. When the ape-men tribe approach and touch the monolith, they seem to be growing in intelligence. After being driven away by a rival tribe, they are able to utilizes bones as tools and effectively as weapons to reclaim their territory. Near the end of the film, the final astronaut is launched into an apparent cosmological vortex filled with bizarre color patterns and strange structures. He ends up in a room where he rapidly grows in age, until the monolith appears for one last time. The astronaut is transformed into some sort of giant space baby floating within a glowing, protective orb. The entity appears at peace as the film ends.

The monolith is, quite simply, a tool of evolution. It’s reason for being there or how it works is not known and makes no difference regardless. We see the ape-men evolve into more intelligent being, and we infer that the next step in evolution for the modern human is represented by the floating space baby. What the next step exactly is serves no relevance to the context of the film. The ape-men are clearly shown to evolve into more intelligent being. With the monolith, humanity can now transcend into its more superior form of existence. 2001 is a film that does not focus on individual characters, or even groups of people. It focus on humanity as a whole. It’s scope is intended to be epic. Different groups of humanity are depicted in the film, separated by millions of years. Each of these facets of humanity are transcended into the next one by the monolith. I believe Kubrick had no intended message to spread to us viewers in this. He simple desired portraying the vast breadth in which we have existed, which we exist now, and where we will exist in a completely different way.

HAL9000

HAL9000 is the primary antagonist of 2001: A Space Odyssey. He is the ship’s supercomputer that controls its functions. He is programmed to complete the mission primarily. When he perceives the astronauts as detrimental to the mission, he begins to go haywire and turn on his crew.

2001 has been widely lauded for its accurate and revolutionary usage of technology and special effects used within the film. Kubrick meticulously ensured the science behind the space travel and related things were as accurate as possible. The models of the spaceships and other technology are considered way ahead of their time and inspired modern technologies such as tablets. HAL9000 is the most advanced piece of technology in the film, yet he is the only one to malfunction. At least, that’s how it appears on the surface.

HAL9000 never betrays his programming in the movie. His primary goal is to accomplish the mission. He perceives his crew as getting in the way of the mission, so he takes action. The way I see it, the .conflict between the human crew and robot HAL is a reflection on human vs technology relationship. However, I don’t believe Kubrick was intending to portray either as sinister. Rather, he wanted to show the role reversal of the two groups. HAL acts more human than any other human character in the film, even showing genuine emotions at the end of his life. Most of the astronaut crew appear stilted and robotic with each other. The meditative pace of the film and the particular focus on day-to-day activities that may seem unnecessary are better characterizations than any dialog could have accomplished.

Existence, Purpose, Realism

I’ve said it once but I’ll say it again. 2001 is an EXTREMELY slow film. It’s running time is roughly 2 hours 20 minutes, with the premiere having been 2 hours 40 minutes. Minutes of screen time are devoted to focus on the very tedious and monotonous process of docking a space ship. The little dialog works to enhance this tediousness. Of course, there is an excellent score playing in the background of most of these scenes. Certainly the mostly classical score of 2001 is one of my favorite aspects of the film. More on that later.

So why does the film take so fucking long to do simple things? Easy. Because that’s how it would be in actual space. AKA, in real life. Docking and walking through building are boring and repetitive. Kubrick wanted very strong realism in his film. Realism in a science fiction movie in space? But we hadn’t even gone to the moon yet? What’s the point of showing us?

That’s exactly the point, in my view. We had no idea was space travel and being on spaceships were like yet. Kubrick floored us with his representation of what it would be like to occupy space outside our planet. He did extensive research in ensuring the most accurate and realistic depiction of how space existence would be. Science fiction works had existed before that. Kubrick wanted to take us away from this typically outlandish tales and bring us back down to Earth (or away from Earth in this case). 2001 is a film that wants to make us think about existence. The film portrays existence as occurring away from our planet. The film characters exist in a universe where going beyond our planet is common and not out of the ordinary.  It really makes you consider your existence and the existence of everything else past what you can comprehend. In 1968, people couldn’t comprehend an existence beyond Earth. 2001 tells us that our existence will keep evolving and evolving until who knows when. Now that our views of existence have been increased in scope and reason, what could our new purpose be?

Once again, 2001 is not a film that concerns itself with human beings. It doesn’t concern itself with any particular subset of existing beings. It’s ambition extends past us, never even touching us. We shouldn’t ask ourselves what our new purpose is. We should ask what the purpose of humanity really is. What’s the purpose of constantly evolving beyond our current perception of existence? Kubrick designed 2001 as nearly completely ambiguous on purpose. Here’s what I mean.

No explanations are given for who the ape-men are or any indication to their inner thoughts. They encounter the monolith, they ascend to a higher level of existence, and they are now superior and triumphant over the other tribe. We know this will repeat itself for the rest of eternity (monoliths or not). The astronauts’ journey to Jupiter is met with heavy resistance. HAL does not attempt to sabotage them because he understands the monolith. It just happens. What’s their mission again? To investigate and attempt to discover the purpose and origin of the monolith? Of course they are resisted. We shouldn’t be finding purpose in these monoliths. We are just there to accept them, utilize them, and enjoy them. The monolith (evolution) isn’t concerned with who you are. You are part of humanity. You will be ascending beyond what you currently comprehend. The monolith has no desire to necessarily stop you nor help you. Its origins and purpose remain ambiguous. Humanity is simply meant to ascend up the evolutionary ladder. Again, it is irrelevant why. There is no why. That’s evolution.

2001 is a movie that uses mostly visuals and music to tell its story. Most of the dialog in the film is exposition and/or bears little relevance to the overarching ideas of the film. The main plot involving the Jupiter mission and HAL9000 going haywire is merely a vessel to get us where we need to go. The technology featured in the film is quite impressive and very advanced. I feel that 2001 makes the argument that technology is part of humanity. The bones in the Dawn of Man sequence are utilized as tools after the ape-men touch the monolith. Thus, they evolve from mere bones to useful tools and weapons, their own version of technology. HAL9000 is a piece of technology that seems to be far advanced than the other technology. His ability to read lips, draw his own conclusions, and most importantly, experience emotions are certainly unheard of, even in this film. HAL did not come into contact with any monolith or anything like that. How could he have been in an evolved state?

Think back to the ape-men and their “tools”. The bones themselves were upgraded and utilized only when the ape-men realized they could. In present day, the astronauts have come into contact with the monolith on the moon before the Jupiter mission. Perhaps while not evolving themselves, HAL9000 subsequently evolved past his original programming. Remember how I noted that HAL seemed more humans than the actual humans? Perhaps HAL’s next step on the evolutionary ladder was something a lot more human.

I want to clear up any misconceptions that might arise over my argument in this section. I’m certainly not saying our existences don’t have purpose or that our existence is inherently irrelevant. 2001 is, in my opinion, more concerned with presenting us a broader scope compared with our current existence rather than telling us to philosophically ponder our existence and purpose on a deeper level. Kubrick suggests that humanity will continue to evolve beyond any existence we can comprehend, and that’s how it is supposed to be. More importantly, it is more beneficial. The ape-men thrive with their newfound knowledge. The final astronaut seems content and at peace in his new space baby existence. Kubrick knew he needed to visually show us these themes and ideas rather than some dialog heavy, philosophical discussion. 2001 is a philosophical movie, but not for us to think about ourselves, but more for us to think about everything as a whole. Humanity isn’t necessarily a group of people or a race or multiple races. It’s perception and existence of the universe as we know it.

The film’s slow, deliberate attention to detail and realism shows us a reality in which we should be perceiving. Slow things down, embrace the vastness of what’s around you, both physically and philosophically. We are not insignificant, but we must accept that we must change. To continue growing and succeeding as humanity, we must embrace the unknown and trust it will lead us into an existence on a higher plane than the one we currently embody. Then, just like the film ends, we can peacefully gaze with our new enlightened perception and purpose.

Conclusion

2001: A Space Odyssey is a remarkable achievement in both the science fiction genre and for cinema in general. While I do believe the visual effects, scientific accuracy, and attention to detail are nothing short of revolutionary, I limited mentioning these in my essay for a reason. For me, 2001 is a bold, daring philosophical meditation that came out way ahead of its time. Kubrick had so much to say when either nobody was willing to listen  or they weren’t able to understand. Humanity, purpose, and existence will never stop, to put it frankly. Kubrick has inspired me to broaden my scope of perception towards everything around in. I’m not arguing that I believe humanity will all ascend into giant space babies and reach true enlightenment. The film works as a metaphor through its visual story telling and epic grandeur it presents. Embrace the random. Embrace change. Embrace the big picture. Evolve into enlightenment and purpose.

Rating: 9.2/10

 

Logan (2017) Movie Review

Introduction

Well, this is it. It’s been quite the 17 year run with you, Mr. Jackman. For every great X-Men movie, and for every not so great X-Men movie, you’ve embodied Wolverine better than anybody could have asked for. Nobody had faith in the little known Australian actor to play the ferocious, animalistic superhero portrayed in the comics. Oh, how the times have changed. Now nobody wants anybody else to play Logan, including me. I figured your final appearance as Wolverine had to go out with a bang. At the very least, I hoped for a fitting eulogy for your character or maybe a movie that eschews traditional character and story in place of a bloody, violent mess. I’ve loved the X-Men films for many years and things seemed promising that we’d at least be getting one final Wolverine performance. I am very proud to announce that we received a film that’s the perfect amalgamation of all three of those things, plus surprising but welcome emotional depth that only serves to pack an extra punch on top of an already crazy thrill ride. This is Logan. 

The Story

I will spend as little time on the story as possible. The year is 2029. There are barely any mutants left, with the last being born more than 15 years ago. Logan is old. He’s broken down. He doesn’t heal as quickly or efficiently. On top of that, he looks after a very old Charles Xavier, who’s having health problems on his own. These two and others and struggling to get by and live in a world without mutants. Their main goal is to live our the remainder of their lives for as long as possible.

Their pathetic existence takes a complete 180 after they encounter a young girl with very special powers. There are dangerous people after her and Charles, and the movie becomes a cat and mouse game as the three hunted go on the run from their hunters. This unexpected journey will serve as a period of growth for everyone involved, growth which they never believed they would experience again.

That’s the basic gist of the film. No spoilers or reveals at all. I would highly encourage everyone to go out and see this film because it is quite fantastic. Director James Mangold has successfully ended the Wolverine saga on a strong and potent note. Let’s discuss what makes this film so incredible.

Subjective Praises/Analysis

Logan  is an unconventional superhero movie in the sense that it is a character study. Not just of Logan himself, but all of the parties involved. We see that Logan and Charles are broken down and despondent.  We aren’t used to seeing these powerful, badass mutants so frail and helpless. As painful as it was to watch, I strongly respected the film’s decision to portray them as such. We were able to get a glimpse into the flip side of superheros. What would they be doing if they couldn’t be hero anymore? Who would be their hero?

Well, to answer that question, nobody. Only themselves, really. Mutants are virtually extinct at this point. Logan works as a limo driver and pawns drugs for Charles. Then the duo are forced to help another one like them in need. Logan is skeptic. Of course, Logan has always been characterized as the gruff, anti-social mutant who would usually prefer to stay out of things. Now, he’s too broken to do much. His portrayal in this film is very human (aside from the superhero stuff still in him). The emotional depth he exudes, both verbally and non, were a warm welcome into the Wolverine saga. By the end of the film, I felt myself almost moved to tears. NEVER before had any Marvel or DC film brought me to tears. With that, I can praise this film for its grasp of tone and character development. Everyone’s character arc felt emotionally satisfying and nuanced.

Before I move onto another point, I really need to talk about the R rating. I knew going into the movie that it would be R and that it would be gritty. I certainly was not expecting Saw levels of gore and violence. Even for a standalone Wolverine movie, I felt that they would have gone easy with the violence in fear of alienating potential audience members. NOPE. This movie is relentless. Blood spurts out of people like a fountain. The action scenes do not hold back whatsoever. Decapitated body parts, horrifying wounds, you name it. One scene in particular literally made me jump in my seat like a horror film due to its unexpected gore. I could not be happier with the way the action scenes were filmed and executed. The decision to be relentless was the best possible decision they could have made. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not obsessed or fascinated by extreme violence. Violence in film is detrimental to the context of the film, and vice versa. With Logan, it was a necessary evil, if anything. It’s the level of action Wolverine has deserved since the very first X-Men. Action scenes were well choreographed and filmed. I was on the edge of my seat as the action set pieces unfolded in front of me. Even the young actress playing the mutant girl was excellent with her fight scenes. She embraces the role like any other adult would. Her and Hugh Jackman made an excellent team. Even as he nears age 50, he’s still got it.

You may have heard through the grapevine how different Logan is compared to other Marvel films in terms of tone. The trailers depict a sort of rugged, desert setting. Most of you would be fairly accurate. There is a huge influence on this film by the Western genre, and though I’m not the biggest fan of the Western, in the case of Logan, the gritty feeling really gave the film a big boost. The violence was brutal and uncompromising, similar to some Westerns. Characters spent long periods of time traveling through harsh desert terrains in order to reach their destination.

Setting aside Western parallels, I would compare the tone of Logan being similar to Watchmen (another superhero film I love and will talk about one day). Both films I would describe as bleak and hopeless. Superheros are no more and are forced into hiding to avoid capture. Both films are focused on discovering the characters and following them on their reluctant paths to become heroes again.

So to be honest, Logan is not a completely bleak and hopeless film. There are actually quite a few moments of humor and levity in the film. Not in the laugh out loud kind of way, but more quips and tongue in cheek kind of way. Think something like The Dark Knight. That’s a very serious, dark & gritty film. There are still moments where characters drop sarcastic or chuckle worthy lines. The same can be said for Logan. I found this especially prevalent with Charles. Aside from getting used to him dropping F-bombs and S-bombs, Charles seems to have a pretty good sense of humor considered everything going on around him. The film isn’t afraid to provide you with a little bit of levity as a reminder of the humanity still present.

Objective Praises/Criticisms

Now that I’m done explaining what I enjoyed about the movie on a deeper than surface level, let’s get into what the movie did right and what the movie didn’t do as well. First things first, the acting. Hugh Jackman AND Patrick Steward are both equally excellent, in my opinion. Jackman’s years of playing the character certainly played a role in portrayed Logan at an old, grizzled age. Patrick Stewart definitely surprised me with his balance of sadness, humor, and caring attitude towards Logan and the girl. Speaking of which, you have to admit it takes a lot of talent to portray a young girl who rarely speaks but still has to convey emotion. Props to Dafne Keen as Laura for her impressive work. Although I mentioned it earlier, her performance during action scenes were definitely one of the best parts of the film.

I do have some complaints about the film. The first 15 minutes or so kind of dragged on for me. Luckily things get started quickly so I put it out of my head. There are certain scenes of lazy exposition that I can’t help but feel could have been done in a better way. There were a few ex-machine moments that seemed more unrealistic as the film progressed. I realize superhero movies tend to follow that formula, so I won’t be too harsh on it.

Conclusion

Some people are calling this the best X-Men movie to date. For me, it comes in at a  pretty close second. Days of Future Past still holds the top spot for sure. I would have to keep thinking about this though. For a movie to pump me up with its action, make me think with its characters, and make me cry with its relationships, I won’t deny this film will hold a special place in my heart as far as superhero movies go. Hats off to you, James Mangold. This is one of Marvel’s best outings to date. You had a good run, Wolverine. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the X-Men universe has in store.

Rating: 8.8/10

Paterson (2016) Review/Analysis: The Beauty of Monotony

*This Review Is Spoiler Free!!!*

“I’d rather watch paint dry”, exclaims the sarcastic individual commenting on how BORING a movie is or how slow a class is going. How much time do we have left? It’s been 5 minutes but it feels like an hour. I’m as hard-pressed as the average person when it comes to watching a film described as slow or plotless. At least I don’t have to pay to watch paint dry. Nonetheless, there are a few select films with little focus on story and excitement and more on themes and spectacle (2001: A Space Odyssey). Nonetheless, this past year I heard stir about a particular little indie film called Paterson. Adam Driver, best known as the emotionally unstable Star Wars villain Kylo Ren, stars as the titular main character. Reviews were universally raving and I figured eventually I would get around to watching it. Well, after deciding to watch randomly it one early morning around 3, I can proudly say that the decision to watch Paterson is the third best decision I’ve ever made at 3 AM. Let’s talk about the quiet, introspective modern masterpiece that is Paterson.

Adam Driver stars as the titular Paterson, a bus driver in the city of Paterson. The film is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Paterson enjoys writing poetry and spending time with his wife Laura, who enjoy his poetry more than Paterson does himself. Every day, Paterson gets up and does the exact same thing. He drives his bus around town while listening to his passengers’ conversations. In between rides, he scribbles more poetry onto a notebook he always carries with him. He walks his wife’s dog and then heads over to his bar of choice to enjoy a single beer, repeating his process from the bus and silently observing and listening in on other patrons. This is as much as I can write to describe the story. Not in risk of revealing spoilers, but there’s really nothing else to describe. That is essentially everything that happens. Rinse, wash, repeat. Paterson goes through an almost identical routine every day. For 118 minutes, Paterson wakes up, talks to his girlfriend, drives the bus, writes poetry in between stops, listens to his passengers’ conversations, walks his wife’s dog, goes to the bar and listens to conversations there, goes home. Repeat as necessary.

Paterson is a man of quiet resolve. Adam Driver’s quiet, brooding performance is the fuel that launches the film off the ground. The man who had previously portrayed an emotionally unstable Star Wars antagonist turns down the emotion and resolves himself a man not just resigned to a boring existence, but as one who revels in it. We only see a week in his life, but I feel this has been his daily routine for quite some time. One of his defining trademarks is his love for writing poetry. His poetry is spontaneous yet inspired. The conversations & interactions he encounters throughout the day are certainly a source of inspiration for his writings. He frequently carries a notebook around to jot his poetry down should he be inspired throughout the day.

His relationship with his wife Laura is almost too sweet and perfect for a film. She views his poetry in high regard and often encourages him to publish it or at least make copies. However, he is reluctant. It doesn’t seem apparent why at first, but I’ll go into my reasoning a bit later. Meanwhile, I could describe Paterson and Laura’s relationship as gentle and playful. She is bubbly and outgoing, while he is broody and contemplative. If opposites attract, then these two would be the proof. I’m certain the chemistry between the actors helped establish legitimacy and realism. Paterson often encourages Laura and her varying passions, such as learning how to play guitar. His support and love are genuine. This is not a film that needs to instigate a huge fight that will quickly be fixed out of nowhere at the end of the film. Paterson, if you can’t tell already, is a feel good film. There is little conflict and when it arises, it is minor and overall inconsequential. You might argue that the constant monotony and repetition is the biggest conflict. You fear that things will go sour fast after Paterson snaps. This is thankfully not the case.

There’s good reason why our main character and the city he’s located in share the same name. Paterson’s life essentially revolves around the city of Paterson. His job is there, his apartment is there, his bar of choice is there, you get the idea. So why are they the same? In my opinion, Paterson the man’s relationship with Paterson the city is very reflective of Paterson’s relationship with his passengers and everyone he interacts with. For Paterson the man, Paterson the city is all he knows as home. He feels comfortable and content there. He revels in his minimalist life, which he owes solely to his city. Taking a look at the people/stories that inspire his poetry, we see similar parallels. These people are usually strangers and don’t know Paterson personally. Yet, he learns many things about them. They hardly notice their bus driver listening in on their stories, but it’s not in an nosy way. Paterson feels at home when hearing stories, when writing poetry, when enjoying a simple beer with the same people. His poetry serves as a home for what he has obtained from his day to day life. Rather than simply writing what he hears word for word, he translate it into something a bit more meaningful to him. He is reluctant to share his poetry to a larger public because he fears it will diminish the value of the stories given to him. He never asked for them, and yet he still receives them thanks to his propensity as a good listener. Paterson has become a sort of home for these strangers and their experiences. It doesn’t matter how repetitive his life may seems. For him, his life is enriched and fulfilling.

Thus, Paterson truly derives joy from the repetition and mundaneness of his life. The stories he hears every day provide material for his poetry, but therein lies something deeper.  To me, Paterson is not being selfish here. Official recognition/fame is not his goal for as a poet. His goal is to preserve the uniqueness and creativity of the city that became his home. Paterson isn’t depressed or constantly pondering the meaning of line. The film has no desire to explore philosophical themes or make grand statements about human existence. It is meant to celebrate monotony.

Jim Jarmusch’s films are usually classified as minimalistic and meditative. Admittedly, this is my first Jim Jarmusch film. I had to wikipedia the director to determine how his style was classified. Apparently, the majority of his films are similar to Paterson. Slow, minimalistic, little important placed on plot. His films are all about character, a personal favorite film genre of mine. Paterson is a unique character study that is reinforced through minimal plot and dialogue. Character traits and motivations are revealed to how characters act towards one another. The way they look and how they react to the limited dialogue that does appear fill in relationships between characters.

I believe the most important thing the film wanted us to take away is that any of us can be Paterson. Often times we feel our lives fall into a slump, a repetitive journey wherein we circle the same track every day. Even though the gate is open, we remain on the track. Paterson goes as far as to glorify and celebrate this lifestyle. We are seeing the upsides of a boring existence. Even in this monotonous routine, we have our purpose. We can comfortably remain on this circular path without too much discomfort or apathy. The movie isn’t encouraging people to stay in the same rut they’re in. However, it’s not focused on inspiring you to make drastic changes and climb out of your rut. Paterson is bold and confident enough to tell us that it’s ok to be caught in a loop, and that things can still be fine. What we make of what we have is what matters most. We can find meaning and happiness in a repetitive life by effectively creating something out of nothing. It’s the little things that matter. Perhaps one day things won’t be as monotonous as they are now. It’s certainly something to work towards. Nonetheless, enjoy the quiet serenity of your repetitive life. What matters most now is that you keep going and going, trudging through the repetition. Even if things are going slow, they’re still going. Never let things come to a complete stop.

Paterson is quite the unconventional for doing so, but it achieves its goals and then some. I wish more people had gone to see this in 2016, but of course it’s never too late to watch a fantastic, under the radar film. I foresee many “hidden gem” movies on my watchlist in the near future. If they’re anything like Paterson, I’ll be hoping for a boost in popularity of slow, minimalist films.

Rating: 8.9/10