Tag Archives: michael keaton

BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – The Dream Team (1989)

Hit the road, 3.5 readers.

This flick was on all the time when I was a kid and now, as an adult, it mostly holds up.

When a psychiatrist decides to spring four of his group therapy patients from an asylum for the mentally ill to go to a baseball game in New York City, what could possibly go wrong?

Turns out, a lot. I mean, holy shit. In retrospect, Dr. Weitzman (Dennis Boutsikaris) was really bad at his job. Maybe this is why asylums don’t have field trips.

Billy (Michael Keaton) is a pathological liar with violent tendencies. Henry (Christopher Lloyd) is an obsessive-compulsive. He cannot stand disarray of any kind and if something is slightly amiss, he lets the perpetrator have it.  So addicted to order is he that he actually dons a lab coat and deputizes himself as an unofficial psychiatrist, taking notes on all the infractions committed by his fellow inmates and submitting reports to the facility’s actual shrinks.

Jack (Peter Boyle) is an ex advertising executive who had it all, but walked away from it one day when he began believing that he was Jesus Christ, reborn again in human form.

And finally, Albert (Stephen Furst) is mostly catatonic, unable to communicate unless he speaks in the manner of baseball commentator Phil Rizzuto.

The plot thickens when, on the way to the game, the good doctor is jumped in an alley upon witnessing a murder.  After he is rushed to the hospital in an unconscious state, the four mental patients become the obvious prime suspects, and from thereon, it is a mad dash for them to nab the real culprits, clear their names, and save the doc’s life, as they learn the killers (including a young James Remar who you may know as Dexter’s dad) plan to visit the doc in the hospital to rub him out so as to make sure that no witnesses to their crime are left.

This is a movie that probably wouldn’t fly today as it makes fun of the mentally ill, though ironically, even today, horror films abound where the villain is someone with a mental illness they couldn’t have avoided.

Meanwhile, once you get past all the jokes that goof on this quartet and their mental challenges, the film actually becomes somewhat of a touching cautionary tale.  Often in flicks, there’s a backstory, a chilling tale behind how someone flipped their lid. Here, these are just men who, for whatever reason, were just living normal lives when they just up and lost it one day. Billy had a girlfriend that he reconnects with (a young Lorraine Bracco before she began treating Tony Soprano).  Harry had a wife and kid before he became difficult to live with.  We never learn why Albert can’t speak, but Jack had a life too.

And sure while there often is a single moment that someone can point to as the creation of all their problems, just as often, there isn’t. Sometimes people just have mental breakdowns.  The mind breaks down, just as a vital organ breaks down.

None of these men are quote unquote “bad,” they’re just sick.  (Although, to be honest, Billy is probably one massive freakout away from committing an actual crime). A tender hearted moment where Henry stops by his old house to ask his wife for help and realizes he could one day move back home if he could just learn to control his OCD is touching.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  Oh and there’s a sad reference where Billy points to the twin towers and lies about being the head architect on the project, and that it was his idea to built a second tower. Damn you, Al Qaeda!

 

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BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – Night Shift (1982)

Jumpin Jack Flash, 3.5 readers.

BQB here and my corona movie marathon continues, taking the time to watch movies I otherwise probably would have never seen again.

This time it’s the 1982 comedy “Night Shift” starring Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton.

Winkler plays chuck, a financial genius who gave up his job as a stock broker because he couldn’t handle the stressful, fast pace of Wall Street.  He trades his shot at big money for a job working the night shift at the city morgue.  For a wimpy, wishy washy man who won’t stand up for himself, it’s the perfect gig.  No supervisors, very little to do and the customers, well, they’re dead so they can’t complain.

You’d think he’d be happy to live a quiet life but still, there’s something burning inside him.  His mother nagged his father into an early grave, and he fears he will meet the same fate at the hands of his bossy fiance, Charlotte.

All this changes when Chuck’s new morgue coworker, Billy Blaze (Michael Keaton) comes on the scene.  While Chuck worries about everything, Billy worries about nothing.  Billy is a schmuck, but he fancies himself a fast talking con man.  He quickly sees that when there’s no bosses around at the morgue, this is his chance to run scams out of the office.

Many of those scams fall flat until Billy learns that Chuck’s neighbor, Belinda (Shelley Long) is a prostitute.  She and her fellow ladies of the evening are out of luck, as their rare benevolent pimp, Franklin, who watched their backs, has been put on ice by the local mob.

Scared that he’ll end up like his old man, Chuck takes a risk for once in his life and joins Billy in running a prostitution ring out of the morgue.  Billy drives the ladies and arranges the “meetings” while Chuck handles all the money, managing the moolah so well that the ladies become rich beyond their wildest dreams.

All seems to go well until Shelly and Chuck fall in love and well, Chuck will have to figure out whether it’s easier to stand up, be a man, and take more risks, or if he’ll sit back and let others push him around.

This movie was always on when I was younger and obviously, I didn’t understand the plot other than it was just two guys acting silly.  Prostitution and crime aside, there is a message buried somewhere in there about standing up for yourself, not letting yourself be bullied, being willing to take the risks.  Maybe you’ll get what you wanted but if you don’t, you tried, so accept the consequences and move on.

Sounds dumb, but I recall this movie being the first example where I realized what actors can do.  I had always known Winkler as “The Fonz” on Happy Days, the low voiced cool guy with the leather jacket who always gets all the chicks.  Yet in this movie, he’s a mousy, mealy mouthed man who is afraid of his own shadow.

Amazing transformation, but I hate to say it, unless I’m forgetting a role somewhere, Winkler pretty much stuck with playing wimpy dudes, with The Fonz being his once chance to play an awesome dude, and this movie being the one chance to be a wimpy guy that we all felt for, maybe even saw a little bit of ourselves in.  You may think you’re not a wimp, but how many slights do you put up with a day, just to avoid causing trouble?  Probably more than you realize.

Keaton is great too, playing a dopey slime ball.  He’s got that long hair where he’s going bald up front in this one and as I watched it, I thought, huh, the 1980s was the last decade where a man with a receding hairline could be recruited to play Batman.  Not knocking Keaton’s looks, it’s just, there was a time period in Hollywood where people didn’t get knocked for being human.  Bad hair is something many of us suffer from.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  Directed by Ron Howard, Winkler’s buddy Ritchie Cunningham.  Shelley Long seems too intelligent to be a prostitute, though the underlying premise is that life is hard and a lot of people have to do a lot of things they don’t want to do just to get by.  Bonus points for Rolling Stones music as Billy is a fan and plays their tunes throughout.

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Movie Review – Birdman (Or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) 2014

Or, Hollywood is Sorry for Pushing Crap on You, But It’s Kind of Your Fault.

In 1989, Michael Keaton starred as the first Batman to not suck.  That role made his career.  I’d argue that it didn’t really define him though.  He’s been in zany comedies and serious dramas, performing expertly in both.

Yet, as a former Batman who’s ditched the cowl to seek out more serious roles, one is left to wonder how much of Birdman is semi-autobiographical.  Does Keaton identify with Riggan?  Only Keaton could truly answer that.

Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a big time actor who, twenty years ago, played a feathery comic book super hero in a series of Birdman films.  They were special effects extravaganzas that made him a lot of money and were big at the box office.

Movieclips Trailers

Today, Riggan is trying to leave his past behind him and gain recognition as a serious actor.  He’s broke, having sunk a fortune into a Broadway play adaptation of a work by author Raymond Carver.  And true to the style of a play, the cameras follow the actors on and off stage, with very few cut scenes throughout the film.

Actors aren’t as happy as you’d think, there’s intense pressure, you can’t please everyone, and whatever you do, someone is criticizing you.  You try to produce art (i.e. Raymond Carver) but alas, people just want fluff (i.e. Birdman).  Even worse, once you “sell-out” and take a role like “Birdman,” the “true artist” community will shun you and refuse to consider your attempts at artistry, even if they are worthy of notoriety.

As consumers of entertainment, should we push for real, serious, dramatic art?  Plays and movies where there’s all kinds of gut wrenching dialog to make you think?  Or should we just have fun and watch Birdman fight bad guys?

Are purveyors of comic book movies making us all stupid?  Are creators of heady dramas just too full of themselves?

These questions are asked, and never really answered, though the movie serves as a chronicle of one actor’s attempt to produce serious art only to be stymied at every turn.

Riggan’s foil, played by Ed Norton, is veteran broadway thespian Mike Shiner.  Recruited for Riggan’s play, Shiner is a pretentious limelight hog and though he claims to be all about the art, he’s ultimately just as obnoxious as any movie star.

Meanwhile, Riggan has to deal with a snooty play review critic, who vows to shut Riggan’s play down before even seeing it, simply because she does not believe someone who stooped low enough to play a cartoon superhero is deserving of praise for attempting real art.

In other words, if the entertainment world is at war, then it’s a battle between the big blockbuster fluff eaters and the holier than thou tweed jacket wearers.  Both think they’re the smartest people in the room.  Neither is willing to meet the other half way.

Emma Stone, who plays Riggan’s daughter, Sam, earns her Oscar nomination with this speech:

TEXT OF SAM/EMMA STONE’S “RELEVANT SPEECH” FROM BIRDMAN

RIGGAN:  It’s important to me! Alright? Maybe not to you, or your cynical friends whose only ambition is to go viral. But to me . . . To me . . this is — God. This is my career, this is my chance to do some work that actually means something.

SAM: Means something to who? You had a career before the third comic book movie, before people began to forget who was inside the bird costume. You’re doing a play based on a book that was written 60 years ago, for a thousand rich old white people whose only real concern is gonna be where they go to have their cake and coffee when it’s over. And let’s face it, Dad, it’s not for the sake of art. It’s because you want to feel relevant again. Well, there’s a whole world out there where people fight to be relevant every day. And you act like it doesn’t even exist! Things are happening in a place that you willfully ignore, a place that has already forgotten you. I mean, who are you? You hate bloggers. You make fun of Twitter. You don’t even have a Facebook page. You’re the one who doesn’t exist. You’re doing this because you’re scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter. And you know what? You’re right. You don’t. It’s not important. You’re not important. Get used to it.

I don’t know about you, but after I listened to Emma rant away on that one, I came close to shutting down this blog. (Obviously I didn’t, because, you know, nothing can stop me from my one a day post challenge.

Still, Sam’s right.   We’re all just shouting in the wind, trying to be relevant, trying to matter.  And at the end of the day, after movie goers walk out of the theater, after play watchers go out for cake, after novel readers put a book down, and after my 3.5 regular readers go on to read another blog…how relevant are we?  As it turns out…not very.

Fame is fleeting and celebrities just aren’t as happy as we think.

Throughout the film, Riggan is taunted by Birdman himself – a gravelly voice that sounds more like Christian Bale’s version of Batman than Keaton’s.  Birdman is the voice of commercialism, urging Riggan to abandon his efforts at serious drama and sell-out – do a reality TV show, make a Birdman comeback movie.  Forget the hoity toy stuff and just rake in the dough.

And honestly, whether Birdman is right or wrong is left up to the viewer’s interpretation.

Big surprise of the film – Zach Galifianakis can actually act.  He plays Riggan’s agent and rather than be that same old obliviously rude cartoon character he plays in every movie, he actually comes across as a competent, reliable professional, someone you’d actually want to represent you if you were an actor.

At one point, Shakepeare’s “Life is a Tale Told by an Idiot” speech from MacBeth is prominently featured.  If you want to know more about that, you can read expert commentary from world renowned literary expert Bookshelf Q. Battler.

It’s a film that starts a dialog about what we, the entertainment consuming public, want from Hollywood.  Because, as it turns out, if enough of us want it, they’ll give it to us.  If we show them that high-falutin, chin-stroking, navel gazing, thought provoking dramas will make money, then Tinseltown will send them our way.  Yet, if we keep buying tickets for Birdman-esque blockbusters, then we’ll get more comic book movies.  It really is up to us.

And it’s also up to us to determine whether or not we should feel guilty about choosing comic book-esque movies over drama.  Personally, I don’t.  I’m a nerd.  I love comic book movies.  I love hoity toity stuff too.  There’s room in the world for both.  One need not cancel the other out.

And sure, the public often complains that Hollywood isn’t trying that hard, but then we pay more attention to viral videos, tweets, and gossipy nonsense than serious efforts at art.  At one point in the film, Riggan’s stroll through Times Square in his underpants gets more attention through social media than his play ever does.

We all want to be relevant.  We’re all clawing over each other to grab our piece of the public’s limited attention span.  We’re all idiots.  Can’t we all just calm down, take a deep breathe, stop crawling over each other for a few fleeting minutes of fame, and take a moment to enjoy friends, family, and the things that actually matter?  At the end of the film, Riggan frets more about not spending enough time with his daughter than he does about his fizzling acting career.

Heck, had I not promised my 3.5 regular readers a year’s worth of posts, I might seriously consider packing it in myself.

Because if a guy who was paid buckets of money to dress up like a cartoon bird hero can’t be happy, then what luck do any of us have?

I predict this film will win best picture.  Keaton’s had a long career and has yet to be graced with an academy award, so he’s overdue.  Ironically, it’s a movie about a man trying to get past commercialism and make some serious art made by a man who’s trying to get past commercialism and make some serious art.

The Academy will no doubt love its message – “Hey, we actors aren’t as happy as you’d think, we really struggle to make you all happy!”

And finally, I’d just like to say, I think Michael Keaton is awesome.  He made me laugh in movies like The Dream Team and Beetlejuice.  And I remember seeing him in the first Batman and I thought, “Wow, Hollywood picked a guy that isn’t all buff and muscle-bound to play a super hero and he did an awesome job.  Maybe there’s hope for us nerds.”  So I hope tomorrow night is his night to walk home with a little gold man.  (I mean an Oscar, not an actual little gold man).

Did you see it?  What did you think?  Flap your bird wings to the comment section and let me know.

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