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St. Vincent

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So this Irish guy knocks on this lady’s door and says, you know, “Have you got any, uh… Any, uh… work for me?” And she says, “Um, well, you now, as a matter of fact, you could paint the porch.” But two hours later, he comes back and says, “I’m finished, ma’am, but just for your information, it’s not a Porsche, it’s a BMW.”

Find that amusing? If so, then you will probably enjoy the film. If not, then you will need to hang in for about an hour and forty minutes until the film becomes sufficiently emotional to get you to like it on that level instead. With a name like “Saint Vincent”, judgment is immediately going to be in your mind, so Vincent, telling his joke in a smoky bar in Brooklyn, kind of sets you on the path of thinking the term “saint” is used ironically.

Vincent and Oliver (Murray and Lieberher) in the Weinstein Cos.' St. Vincent, © 2014.

Vincent and Oliver (Murray and Lieberher) in the Weinstein Cos.’ St. Vincent, © 2014.

After a rocky start, Bill Murray demonstrates that there is more to playing Vincent than typical grumpy-late-career-Bill-Murray. Perhaps it comes from Theodore Melfi’s screenplay. Or perhaps it comes from Theodore Melfi’s directing. Either way Theodore Melfi elicits Murray’s best performance since Lost in Translation. Moving next door to him is Maggie—Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids—a medical technician whose custody over her son Oliver–Jaeden Lieberher–comes into question as Maggie’s ex-husband fights for partial custody. Thus the unlikeliest of role models, drunken gambler Vincent, gets roped into watching over Oliver. Complicating things is Vincent’s “lady of the night”, Daka. Naomi Watts plays Daka, but in spite of Watts’ skill as an actress—she shone in this same year’s Birdman—Daka comes across as a character from a cheesy comedy. Her Russian accent is terrible. Her manner is humorously brusque. Ah well, one bad bite a bad meal does not make. ***½

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Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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Let’s read. Lacklustre… That’s just labels. Marginality… You kidding me? Sounds like you need penicillin to clear that up. That’s a label. That’s all labels. You just label everything. That’s so fuckin’ lazy… You just… You’re a lazy fucker. You know what this is? You even know what that is? You don’t, You know why? Because you can’t see this thing if you don’t have to label it. You mistake all those little noises in your head for true knowledge.

Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts, and Zach Galifianakis in Birdman.

Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts, and Zach Galifianakis in Birdman.

By the time I saw this film it had won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Alejandro González Iñárritu, the writer/director accepted three of those four, with the fourth Emmanuel Lubezki winning for cinematography. I would not have chosen this over The Grand Budapest Hotel for best picture. Based on that assessment I believe that I also would not have selected González Iñárritu for best director. As an original screenplay it stands up a little better against Grand Budapest, since the story was very well written and sculpted. The cinematography was as flashy as Grand Budapest’s, but in a different (less Wes Anderson-y) way. Perhaps this was the most deserving award that Birdman won.

In the acting categories three people were justifiably nominated as best actors: Michael Keaton—1989’s Batman, for those who do not know, Emma Stone and Edward Norton. Others receiving votes were Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan. I had never seen Riseborough, but she was very good as the actress unfortunate enough to be dating the star/director of the play-within-a-movie, Michael Keaton as alternate reality Michael Keaton. Galifianakis showed some more emotional range than in his typical roles.

Lindsay Duncan and Michael Keaton in Birdman, © 2015 Fox Searchlight.

Lindsay Duncan and Michael Keaton in Birdman, © 2015 Fox Searchlight.

This film also had a critic play a crucial role. For without her, who would have been the antagonist? Lindsay Duncan—Servilia of the Junii in “Rome”— steps to the plate as Tabitha, the drama critic for the New York Times. For how meta can a play within a film be without a critic?! Earlier this year Chef did the same thing. And for a second time we the audience got to root for the actor/director/writer yelling at the critic in a movie where an actor plays the critic, who says lines written by a screenwriter, under the direction of a director. What surprises me is how readily audience eat that up. It reminds me of fans who would rather have the mega rich owners keep money over paying good players to finish the season on losing teams. The New York Knicks have never mailed me a check when they saved some money, and my financial situation is much closer to a pro-athlete than to the owner of a professional sports team. Still, Michael Keaton and Lindsay Duncan do a good job of it. The above quotation comes from Keaton’s bitter critique of the critic’s unsporting review that she had already started sight unseen. But they were not as good as Jon Favreau and Oliver Platt—at least Favreau had the good taste to portray himself in an unflattering light. Both critics are crucial to the stories, but for their trouble they have to sit there silently while the artists yells at them.

Despite everything great about this movie, its ending left me unsatisfied. I suppose that somehow the movie felt novel and original, for reasons that I cannot rationally explain. The ending, which I can reveal without spoiling anything, is the same as Inception’s.  Unlike in that movie, this seems put upon. The goals of the characters failed to have a satisfying payoff, which detracted from the power the movie had accrued. Most endings of movies fail to live up to their setups, even very good ones. This was no exception.

****