Wednesday, April 01, 2015

APRIL ARKIN


April. Taxes. Rain. Easter bunnies. Peeps. Impending Allergies. Rain. A seventh Fast and Furious movie. The end of Mad Men. Rain. Taxes. Allergies. Rain.

Ugh, somebody wake up me when the month is over.

In the meantime, let's watch some old Alan Arkin movies. OK?


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

BIRDMAN (2014) - Alejandro González Iñárritu

Eleven Michael Keaton flicks and one month later, I still can't believe Birdman won Best Picture and the man himself came up bupkis for Best Actor. It's such a career defining performance. Forget the career aspect...it's just a legendary performance. As for movie itself, seen a second time, what an oddball choice for Best Picture. Birdman at its core is so anti everything that Hollywood is about (raging egos) while being all about old school Hollywood razzle dazzle (those long takes and tracking shots). Except for the ending. I'm still not crazy about the ending. But then what do I know?

More to the point, what do any critics know? Or awards show voters? I'd hoped to end MK month on a calmer, less tantrum-infused "Vine," but I have to admit this moment below is my favorite Birdman Keaton moment. And screw the Oscar...it's just a label, it's lazy, the Academy are all "lazy fuckers," and they risk nothing, nothing, nothing. And Mr. Keaton, well, he is a "fucking actor" thank you very much.



And here's a bonus "Super Vine" I put together of all the clips from March. I call it Enter Billy Blaze, Exit Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Re-watching 11 Michael Keaton Films in One Month. Forgive the shoddy sound and video. In trying to emulate that Keaton Oscar Vine a month ago, I kinda lapsed on the production values, recorded most things off my TV. That tinkling soundtrack you hear ever so slightly beneath the clips? Why, yes, it's Quarterflash's "Night Shift"!

GAME 6 (2006) - Michael Hoffman

This teeny tiny indie from eight years ago is practically a dress rehearsal for Birdman (or, to use the latter film's terminology, "a preview"). The similarities are so pronounced as to be eerie or incite allegations of plagiarism. They both take place in Manhattan and concern the Theatre. Both films pivot around a Michael Keaton meltdown (here a washed-up playwright instead of a washed-up actor). His young, jaded daughter follows him around the city (Ari Graynor instead of Emma Stone), judging him for past wrongs. He's having an affair with a slightly younger woman (Bebe Neuwirth) and is obsessed with a critic's upcoming review (Robert Downey, Jr. in an Andy Warhol wig). He's haunted not so much by superhero voices in his head or past career choices but by the continual losing streak of the Boston Red Sox. It makes you wonder: Is Game 6 some kind of Birdman prequel? Or is Birdman (like many a Batman before it) a sort of bizarro indie world Game 6 reboot?

You might think so, but the similarities mostly end there in the setup. Game 6's director (the man who brought us, er, Soapdish and Gambit) is not quite so adept or flashy a craftsman as Iñárritu. But the script by Don DeLillo may be leaner, better beast than that of Birdman. It's basically an economical 1.5 hour amalgam of his more accessible novels. Obsession with classic baseball games as metaphor for life (Underworld). Reclusive writer disconnected to his own work (Mao II). People constantly switching vehicles and seeing people they know in traffic jams (Cosmopolis). There's even an "airborne toxic event" (White Noise), here represented by an asbestos cloud.

Game 6 is one of those little indies that came and went in the early aughts without making much of a blip. Which is a shame because it's good little film and a fine Keaton pre-"comeback" comeback performance. I must admit I saw it only for the DeLillo cache at the time. But perhaps now with Birdman it too will have a second life.

Friday, March 27, 2015

MULTIPLICITY (1996) - Harold Ramis

Michael Keaton x 4 = need I say more?

In this "Vine," multi-tasking construction foreman and prime cloning candidate Doug Kinney (Keaton) first meets his third clone, Doug #4, a regrettably dim-witted "copy of a copy" with a fondness for pizza and wallets and calling him "Steve." Multiplicity isn't a comedy gem by any stretch, but at least it's wall-to-wall Keaton by nature of its premise. The inclusion of Doug #4 is key, allowing him the opportunity to take his physical comedy skills to Jerry Lewis heights (or depths, depending on your tastes) in a few choice scenes.

THE PAPER (1994) - Ron Howard

I missed this Keaton starrer when it came out in the theaters, never caught it on video until now. Such a time capsule of the '90s. Forget the fact that it's a newspaper movie about a New York Post style print rag as yet untouched by the internet, the 24 hour news cycle. This movie takes place in a time when GREENPOINT WAS A STILL DANGEROUS PLACE and, you know, not the standing set of Girls. That said, the Rodney King era, wrongfully accused black youth story everyone's chasing in this film could easily be swapped out for today's Ferguson/Eric Garner climate, a depressing reminder that in 20-plus years (plus a black president) some things HAVEN'T changed.

The Paper isn't quite Broadcast News (the movie it seems to emulate most), but it does cruise along at a enjoyably frenetic pace. Keaton does his controlled mania thing here, playing his stock-in-trade overworked everyman, a harried news editor with a baby on the way who every once in a while...snaps! The fact that he snaps in such a New York-centric manner is but a bonus. (Also a bonus: Robert Duvall, who's the best thing going in this flick). Ron Howard may not be the greatest director in the world, but he may the director who knows how to use Michael Keaton the best.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

PACIFIC HEIGHTS (1990) - John Schlesinger

In between Batman gigs, Keaton switched gears and played the villain in this mostly forgettable psychological thriller in the Fatal Attraction/Single White Female mode. As numerous "Vines" have already demonstrated, the man is a whiz at playing manic in all of its various forms (restrained mania, barely restrained mania, comic mania, full manic overload). But coolly menacing, mysterious? Not quite so much. It's going to take more than an Armani suit, a sports car and a fixer-upper rowhouse full of cockroaches to make me run a serious background check on Carter Hayes, "the tenant from hell."

I think I dug this movie when it first came out. What was I thinking? Someone should have run a background check on me. By-the-numbers script, lame character motivations. Even the normally reliable Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffith are struggling. As for Keaton, yep, he's back in jail once again. He barely escapes movie career prison...


BATMAN (1989) & BATMAN RETURNS (1992) - Tim Burton

Though highly sought after, the Batman role is a mostly thankless affair for the serious actor. You end up doing much of your work under a rubber mask (or satiny cloth, if you're Adam West), sometimes rubber nipples (if you're George Clooney). You're forced to affect an absurd gravelly voice (Christian Bale) or have your performance lost in the mix with a bad script/bad director (Kilmer/Schumacher) and a surplus of colorful villain characters. If you're Ben Affleck, well, the Internet pretty much hates you before they've seen frame one of your performance.

Tim Burton's Batman may not be the best of the many Dark Knight iterations (maybe the most fun), and Keaton's performance in it is certainly not my favorite thing he's done. But of all the modern Batmen I think Keaton ably survived the rubber cape and codpiece better than the rest and not just once but twice. How? For the most part, he just kinda breeeezes through it. Not making fun of the character exactly but not taking him deathly serious either (ahem, Mr. Bale).

Still, sweating it out under all that angst and latex is going to make a man throw at least one temper tantrum, no matter how breezy his take on the classic comic book hero. And, yes of course, my favorite Keaton moment from Batman is said temper tantrum...



As for the sequel, juicy Keaton pickins' are slim. To be honest, Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman really steals the show. The one moment of his that stuck was when she asked Bruce Wayne if he had a problem with his "duality." Given the unaffected way Keaton answers, you might think he's not even in character but actually questioning whether it was a smart career choice to  give Gotham's caped crusader a second go. Either that, or answering his own query from the clip above ("You wanna get nuts?!!?")


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

CLEAN AND SOBER (1988) - Glenn Gordon Caron

Keaton's first truly serious role and, perhaps, his first snub in terms of Oscar gold (though he did win a National Film Critics Circle Award for this one). As one of thousands of filmed drug recovery/redemption stories, Clean and Sober is solid though its arc familiar. MK's willingness to go "full douchebag" helps lifts it above the pack.

Take a look a the "Vine" below (just in time for post-St. Patty's Day hangovers!), as Keaton's Daryl Pointer takes a drug test under the watchful eye of Morgan Freeman's Counselor Craig. He assures him he'll find "nothing but milkshake" in his sample, but me-thinks there's a little leftover "Beetlejuice" (same year) in there too...


Saturday, March 14, 2015

BEETLEJUICE (1988) - Tim Burton

What I realized re-watching Beetlejuice many years later: Beetlejuice doesn't show up in earnest until halfway (45 mins into a 90 min film). Before that, there are only quick profile glimpses, one brief TV commercial spoof. That's a long stretch to go without your title character. I didn't remember the movie being so "juiceless" for so long. Until the moment Keaton bursts from the grave in a life-size train set model, Beetlejuice is kinda goth-cute, like a toddler in a Robert Smith Halloween costume. But when he finally shows his moss-covered face, it's pure anarchy, the manic motor the movie could have used 30 minutes earlier. Let's hope Beetlejuice 2 (yes, it's happening) starts with Keaton from the very first frames, possibly a redux of the "Vine" below but with Jonah Hill standing in for the now deceased Glenn Shadix...


Thursday, March 12, 2015

JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY (1984) - Amy Heckerling

Though Keaton takes the first class seat in this Airplane! of mob comedies, I realized this time, my umpteenth viewing, that he really operates as more of a straight man here, the reliably smirking fulcrum about which a dozen hilarious cameos spin. The side players get all the funniest bits: DeVito, Joe Piscopo, Richard Dimitri as Roman Moronie. And Maureen Stapleton, of course, who absolutely knocks every off-color non-sequitur right out of the park. Whoever said MK wasn't a generous actor probably-- wait, has anyone ever said that?

Anyway...Hey, how 'bout a Johnny Dangerously vine?