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Short Takes on Film
Ben Nyce | Via Latina


the “sacred monster,” the image breaker   a roller coaster ride full of surprises and depths   a tasty depiction of cooking for the president of France
Click on images to enlarge.

“Birdman” is a trip. Made by the Mexican director Alejandro Inarritu the film is a roller coaster ride full of surprises and depths. Michael Keaton plays Riggan, a washed-up actor who once played the birdman (read Batman) in blockbuster films. Those roles were larger than life, heroic fantasies which he ultimately rejected. Since then he’s been trying to find roles with a human scale but with little success. We find him putting together a stage adaptation of a story by Raymond Carver. It’s his final despairing attempt to do “something decent.” The camera follows him in a series of connected, flowing shots as he frantically works to direct a key scene the day before opening night. The rapid continuous shots capture the pressure he’s under. There’s no let up. He’s full of doubt, half suicidal – still influenced by fantasies of flying, of escaping. Everything seems designed to frustrate him. He’s confronted by rebellious actors, his hypercritical daughter, his own self-destructiveness. Only his former wife offers understanding. In the final scene of the play he blows part of his nose off with a loaded pistol (an accident?) and the play is a triumph, a scandal. At the end he jumps out the dressing room window. Does he fall or fly away? The film is full of angst, anger, self-laceration and lots of humor. Riggan’s walk through Times Square in his underpants is only one of the highlights. Go see it.

Fans of Mike Leigh (“Vera Drake,” “Happy Go Lucky,” “High Hopes”) might doubt that he made “Mr. Turner,” the fine study of the last years of the British painter J. M. W. Turner. It’s a full length bio-pic, replete with carefully staged set pieces – very unlike Leigh’s small scale, loosely structured studies of Britain’s lower classes. Timothy Spall, a Leigh regular, evokes Turner the artist rebel, the “sacred monster,” the image breaker. He disdains other artists, rejects his daughter, forces himself upon his compliant housekeeper. He’s fighting to break away from the convention of maritime painting into the new unmoored area of the effect of light in watery air and smoke. He ties himself to a ship’s mast in a storm in order to experience the effect of slashing wind and rain. He then tries to capture the visual effect on canvas. He’s England’s first Impressionist. He apparently doesn’t know of his contemporaries working in France. The film shows the social world he lives in with remarkable clarity and it also, most important, gives us the images which engross his eye. “Mr. Turner” ranks with “Lust for Life” “Van Gogh’ “Renoir” and “The Horses Mouth.”

For home viewing by you foodies out there: “Haute Cuisine,” a very entertaining, tasty depiction of cooking for the president of France. We see the politics of the kitchen and the preparation of certain dishes – all done with a firm, light touch a la Francaise.

Nyce taught literature and film at USD. He wrote “Satyajit Ray” and “ Scorcese Up Close.”


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