Sunday, December 28, 2014

Birdman Unbroken: A Film and A Book Review

Today La Bloga welcomes two guest bloggers, Maritza Álvarez and Sandra C. Muñoz. Here are their reviews on the film Birdman and the novel Unbroken. Enjoy!

Review of Birdman by Maritza Álvarez

"If you don't do something that does not terrify you,
why do it?"
-Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Prior to Alejandro G. Iñárritu's recent film Birdman, it had been too long since I watched a worthwhile film. También la lluvia or Even The Rain, directed by Spanish actress Iciar Bollain, was the last film that left me with a deep respect for storytelling on the silver screen. También la lluvia is about a Spanish film crew's attempt to shoot a historical period piece about the colonization of the Americas. Concurrently as the film is being shot, the indigenous population is organizing to protect their local water sources from neo-colonial government policies and corporate privatization. The film crew's producer and director are confronted with the challenging decision to either “do whatever it takes to get the shot” or to re-evaluate their principals as humans and do what they must to support the current indigenous uprising to protect the water. It's a highly charged political piece told with courageous directing and creative spirit. Right as my fix for film creativity was running low, here comes Birdman with a refreshing dose of cinema storytelling.

Birdman, co-written and directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, is a film about surrendering, trusting, and letting go. Its cast has an array of hard-hitters, like Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, and Emma Stone. But the grand slam lead is none other than the Birdman himself, Michael Keaton. His performance is impeccable and has Oscar nomination written all over it. Since Amores Perros, my respect for Mexican director Iñárritu was born. His sensibilities for me were always on target. His characters portrayed the gamut of human complexities and emotions. In a world where rationality, emotional distance, and coldness are so ingrained at every level, Iñárritu's films (21 Grams, Babel, Beutiful) are reminders that validate our vulnerability as humans. His characters and stories portray issues of class, global migration, and alienation. In contrast, Birdman soars on a distinct and introspective level. It is primarily about the struggle between an artist and his alter ego. Despite the exclusiveness of the film's focus (upper class white privileged actors), the voice that haunts Keaton throughout the film is representative of that internal voice that most of us struggle with when we doubt, seek validation, or simply wish to escape. Iñárritu is unafraid in developing Keaton's character. We witness the character's borderline delusional self as he is pushed to the edge of his artistry as an actor and director. Keaton's anxiety-ridden character is often hanging on the ledge, yet fear does not hold him back. As viewers, we are on an emotional roller coaster, riding through the dim lit hallways and dressing rooms of Broadway's St. James theater. True, all the characters are white in this film (except for one anonymous black Jazz drummer), but the range of complex human emotions portrayed in each of the characters are well worth the two-hour ride. Perhaps Iñárritu's artistic choice of long shots that appear un-cut also help the audience not feel removed from the story. At one point I thought, “What the hell do I care about this white dude who is complaining about his midlife crisis and trying to prove to himself and others that he is worthy?” But that moment was brief. I was immediately drawn back into the story when Birdman's daughter (played by Emma Stone) poses that same question to Keaton. In reality, who does not struggle with issues of self worth? The difference is that some of us hide it better. For me, “Birdman” is an honest, courageous, and creative story about the redemption of the human spirit in the arts. Once again, Iñárritu's creation has fearlessly taken flight into new and daring realms.

Review of Unbroken by Sandra C. Muñoz



I have always been intrigued by the subject of World War II, mainly because my father fought in the war when he was a part of the U.S. Army. My father's death when I was 10 years old deprived me of the opportunity to learn the details of his own personal battles during that time. He was a recovering alcoholic throughout the short time that I knew him and I suspect the demons resulting from his time in Germany were the root cause of his addiction. Even without this backstory, Unbroken is a magnificent story but, for me, Unbroken also connected me to my father. This is the story of Louis Zamperini who, to say the absolute least, lead the most remarkable of lives. From the streets of Torrance, California to the 1936 Berlin Olympics to the brutality of various prisoner of war camps in Japan in the 1940s, his life is a testament to sheer human perseverance, strength, and will. Just when I'm sure he (and I as a reader) imagined things could not possibly get worse, they always did. There were moments when I had to put the book aside because the severe adversity to which Zamperini was subjected was utterly overwhelming and I could not keep reading.

Laura Hillenbrand is an astounding storyteller. Her ability to weave necessary data and facts into these human stories is remarkable. In so doing, she provides historical context without ever muddling the intimacy and the humanity of the stories she has clearly thoroughly researched. This is the kind of book that never leaves you and that makes you feel that, in the face of all that is bad in this world, everything will be ok.

1 comment:

Philosophy said...

Thanks for these insightful posts. I'm going through a bit of a difficult time right now, but these heartfelt reviews refocused my mind towards hope. I'll be sure to check out these works of art. Take care! - Sharin