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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Birdman

March 1st, 2015

Birdman - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Birdman was the big winner at the Oscars this year. It won four times, sharing top spot with The Grand Budapest Hotel; however, it won more prestigious awards, including Best Picture. Did it deserve to win? Or was it carried by hype?

The Movie

We first meet Riggan as he is levitating in his room. At least he thinks he is levitating. We also hear his inner monologue, which sounds like Birdman, the comic book movie character he became famous for playing decades ago. Birdman is taunting Riggan. Clearly he has some mental issues, but it could be from the stress. Riggan was a big movie star, but his career has faltered recently, to be generous. He's trying to turn things around by adapting, directing, and starring in a play based on a short story by Raymond Carver. That's a lot of work to take on and even under the best of circumstances it will result in a lot of stress. He's not dealing with the best of circumstances.

However, things are not going so well. There are minor things. His assistant is Sam, his daughter. The pair have a dysfunctional relationship and she is coming out of a stint in rehab. Additionally, two of his co-stars are Lesley and Laura, the latter of whom is his current girlfriend. That's not the main problem. The main problem is Ralph, who is clearly the weak link in the cast. While rehearsing, something happens. A stage light falls on Ralph knocking him out. Jake, Riggan's best friend / lawyer, freaks out over this. Not only does he assume Ralph will sue them, but he knows without a replacement, they won't be able to do their press showing, which means the play will likely lose a ton of money. Fortunately, Lesley has a suggestion: her current boyfriend, Mike. Mike in an ... intense actor. This is probably why he just got fired and is available at short notice. At first this seems like the perfect solution. He's talented, the press love him, he sells tickets, and he's dedicated to making the play as good as it can be. It's a win-win situation. ... At least for a little while.

Here's the thing. ... We are barely 15 minutes into the movie and we are already hitting unacceptable spoilers. This is because the essence of the plot is not that complicated. Birdman is about a man, Riggan, trying to to forge a comeback, but having the most stressful day of his life. Right away we see the effects the stress is having on him, but the details of how the stress builds and how the stress manifests itself is too far into spoiler territory to discuss.

Fortunately, there are a number of other areas of the film that we can talk about. For instance, the acting. I'm annoyed that Michael Keaton didn't win the Oscar for his performance in the film, but he's far from the only actor in this movie that put in amazing performances. Emma Stone and Edward Norton also earned Oscar nominations, and deservedly so. Even the rest of the lead ensemble actors, who were passed over for major nominations, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, and Naomi Watts, were impressive. There's a good reason this film won the SAG for Best Performance by a Cast. There are really no weak points in the acting.

Then again, the actors were given a lot to work with. Birdman has an Oscar-worthy script combined with Oscar-worthy directing. A lot of the dialogue has real power to it and allows the actors to really show their stuff. The look of this film is simply fantastic. The film was made too look like one continuous take with the flow of the camera movement. The cinematography is a character unto itself.

One final note... I just bought the Soundtrack. The score is that good.

The Extras

There are only two extras on the DVD and Blu-ray. The first is a 33-minute long behind-the-scenes featurette, which goes into quite a lot of detail on the production. The second is an interview with lead actor, Michael Keaton, as well as the co-writer / director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. I would have loved more, like an audio commentary track, but the quality here is high.

The technical presentation is excellent, especially given its budget. The film only cost $18 million to make, which is a fraction of the average wide release, so it doesn't look as showy as a big-budget film would. But the digital cinematography still shines on high definition. Likewise, the audio also isn't very showy. It is a dialogue driven film, so having clear dialogue is absolutely the most important element, and it has that done perfectly. The surround sound speakers are active, but mostly with the score. There's not a lot of dynamics or bass, but that's not really a knock against it.

The Blu-ray costs just $18, which is just $3 or 20% more than the DVD. That's a great deal for this type of release.

The Verdict

Birdman is one of the best films of 2014 and no one should be really surprised that it won four Oscars. The DVD and Blu-ray are not loaded with extras, but they have enough to be worth picking up.


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Filed under: Video Review, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Zach Galifianakis, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Raymond Carver, Jeremy Shamos