Blu-ray Today: Birdman, Caveman, Doctor, Phantom…Fungus!


Birdman – Or, “That Movie With the Really Long and Extraneous Subtitle That Pedants Will Insist You Write out in Full Every Single Time, Even Though You Know Good and Well What I Mean When I Just Say ‘Birdman.'”

At the beginning of a review of Birdman that I was going to write but never did, I framed it as Bruce Wayne vs. Bruce Banner, which seemed fair in a movie about former superhero actors, starring Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. Then I realized that such a frame is increasingly silly – we’re getting to the point where every A-list actor there is is going to be in a superhero film at some point. Besides, the superhero hook is mainly there, it seems to me, to entice audience members who might not otherwise want to see a movie about Hollywood actors being overly, seriously pretentious as they try to get back to their perceived roots and put on a play. Yes, it’s Michael Keaton haunted by a superhero, but it could just as easily be Leonard Nimoy haunted by a sciencey alien, or even Jim Parsons stalked by the ghost of Sheldon Cooper.

I love bits of Birdman, and other parts bug the shit out of me, which is very conflict-inducing when it comes to the upcoming Oscars. The old high-school drama geek in me inherently loves almost anything about putting on a show, and the fantasist in me loves that the rules of reality are sometime broken to allow for things like levitation (though there’s a cop-out later in the film when one such moment is explained away by what “really” happened – I wish it were not there).

And yet the part of me with one last nerve wishes the goddamn jazz drumming on the soundtrack that never stops would just give it a rest; to those of us not automatically aligned with such rhythms, it sounds like a guy spending the whole movie warming up and practicing for something that will actually sound pleasant at some point – maybe by the time they do a Norton-centric sequel called Incredulous Bulk, or The Epitome of Fascination With the Former Location of One’s Umbilical Cord.

I’m also not a fan of the way the movie seems to me to glorify suicide at least twice, but I admit I may be misreading it, and am open to other interpretations. As for the way the movie is shot in a simulation of a single take – can I admit that I didn’t even notice that the first time, because I was focused on the story? Blu-ray extras include a conversation with Keaton and director Alejandro G. Inarritu, a behind-the-scenes documentary, and a collection of on-set photos my cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – About thirty minutes into this woodcut-inspired Ghibli fairy tale, I was ready to turn it off; thankfully, I endured and realized my error by the end of this moving epic about a small baby found in the forest who quickly grows into a young princess, faces the shallowness of courtly life, and somewhat creepily falls for the young man who first befriended her when she was a very young child. It’s a similar tale, in its way, to fellow Oscar-nominee Song of the Sea, as both involve magically born princesses who are part of another world, develop attachments in this one, and must choose between them; Kaguya is as specifically Japanese as Song is Irish. It’s a long haul, but worth the journey…even if The Lego Movie deserved a nomination more, goddamit.

Game of Thrones: Season 4 – Hodor. Hodor Hodor Hodor Hodor Hodor. Hodor! Hodor Hodor Hodor HodorHodorHodorHodor Hodor. Hodor.

The Theory of Everything – Utterly predictable, by-the-numbers Stephen Hawking biopic that any of you probably could have written even if you knew nothing about the man except his current condition. It will probably win the Best Actor Oscar anyway.

The Phantom of the Opera – Riding high on his Freddy Krueger success – and cashing in on a popular musical this film had to disclaim any connection to – Robert Englund made a movie about a similarly pizza-faced and evil Phantom, in a Menahem Golan production that also involves reincarnation and time travel. I remember it fondly from my days of taping it off late-night HBO, and look forward to hearing the commentary by Englund and director Dwight Little.

The Interview – Just in case you haven’t already used Netflix to stream the anti-North Korea satire Kim Jong-Un purportedly doesn’t want you to see, here comes a loaded Blu-ray full of alternate and deleted scenes, along with a Rogen/Goldberg commentary seemingly recorded before the film’s release that doesn’t even bring up the controversy. We’ve watched it three times now at my house, and it’s still funny.

Doctor Who: Last Christmas – In case you’ve missed the standard pattern, don’t buy this now. If you’re that much of a fan, wait till next season’s boxed set, which will surely include it.

Motivational Growth – Jeffrey Combs plays the voice of a talking fungus, and that is all I need to know.

V/H/S: Viral – More horror shorts by up-and-coming auteurs in the anthology series with an increasingly irrelevant name. Next time, maybe make sure you have 8 segments and call it “V/H/S: Super 8.” Or release a workprint version and call it “V/H/S: Beta.”

Life Itself – A documentary that combines compelling footage of film critic Roger Ebert in his last days with somewhat less interesting readings from his autobiography, which you could just get yourself and read at your own pace.

Caveman – Ringo Starr met wife Barbara Bach on the set of this campy Cro-Magnon comedy with stop-motion dinosaurs and fur bikinis.

Those are my top picks. What will you be watching?