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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Opposing Sectors of Cinema: An Academic Paper

Greetings one and all. I am here tonight to acknowledge my absence once again, only without the theatrically long intro. The purpose of this post is merely to share a movie-related paper that I had to write for my English class. In case you cannot already imagine, this assignment was an absolute thrill to receive. Seriously, I do not recall enjoying a school assignment this much, and when I finished I felt genuinely happy. I felt myself glowing as if I went under some sort of detox. I never went through detox personally, but I think you would feel pure or amazing or whatever. I wouldn't even consider detox. I like drinking way too much. Anyway, the topic of this paper was to contrast two movies. My choices? Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman. Refer to An Unimpressive Year for the Oscars where I discuss both films. Spoiler: Birdman sucked. As you read the paper, just remember that this had to be turned in to an English professor, so it's written as a formal essay. Enjoy!


The Opposing Sectors of Cinema
Entertainment is usually considered to be the primary purpose of cinema. Ideally, every film should fulfill this purpose in some aspect. Whether it involves an interesting plot or a meticulous detail in cinematography, the viewer should be captivated by what they perceive on the screen. The films Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman differ in various ways. For starters, the actors’ portrayals of their respective characters are remarkably real in Grand Budapest Hotel and clumsy and artificial in Birdman. As the plot in Grand Budapest Hotel moves forward gracefully, the plot in Birdman experiences disturbing halts that ruin its overall flow. Lastly, the director of Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson, orchestrates a symphony on the screen, while the director of Birdman, Alejandro G. Iñárrito, stumbles in the procession of his flawed creation.
         While the casts of Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman are full of talent, the performances given in each film were vastly different from one another. Beyond filling the roles of quirky characters, the actors in Grand Budapest Hotel gave praiseworthy and realistic performances. Like most directors, Wes Anderson has a specific posse of actors he utilizes in each film. This specialization works in the film’s benefit, for it enhances the quality of the film and its characters while allowing the actors to exert their utmost potential. Among Anderson’s oddball round-up of actors are Ralph Fiennes (who has never appeared in his films yet fits right in), Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and more. Each of his team members has a unique role to fill in the movies, to some degree, which provides the actors an opportunity to embody a zany character. Edward Norton, who is known for more serious, Method roles, assumed the persona of Inspector Henckels of Zubrowka (the fictional region in Eastern Europe where the films takes place; moreover, his performance was seamless and utterly amusing, permitting the film as well as Norton himself to shine that much more. The centerpiece of acting in this fine picture is, indubitably, Ralph Fiennes, who portrays the suave concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, M. Gustave. Like Norton, Fiennes is recognized for dramatic roles like the ruthless Nazi commandant, Amon Goeth, in Schindler’s List. In Grand Budapest Hotel, however, Ralph Fiennes had the surprisingly challenging task of a lighter role; indeed, making audiences laugh is typically more difficult than making them cry. As expected, the talented Fiennes shrouded himself into the role, transforming on screen into the dashing M. Gustave and captivating viewers in the process. His performance was enveloped into the smooth elegance of his character, convincing audiences that was the greatest concierge in Zubrowka. It is truly abhorrent that he, as well as the rest of the actors, received no award recognition for his astounding performance. The acting in Birdman, on the other hand, did not merit the accolades it received, for it bordered along the lines of mediocrity. The assembly of actors in this film equates the caliber of those in Grand Budapest Hotel, more or less; however, the acting portrayed in Birdman did not mirror the talent of its players. In situations where the actor’s performance is not compatible with their capabilities, the director is the prime suspect to blame. Interestingly, the sole actor whose performance was not lacking was Edward Norton, who also appeared in Birdman as a Method actor with “performance problems” off stage. As for the remainder of the cast, their acting faltered due to some anomaly. Michael Keaton, the leading man of the film, assumes the role of a washed-up actor, Riggan Thomson who directs and stars in a play he hopes will serve as his comeback. Irony aside, Riggan used to be a superhero in a franchise called “Birdman,” which has led him to form mental manifestations of the actual Birdman character to constantly whisper insults in his ear. Subsequently, Keaton must portray a mentally disturbed and slightly manic person; instead, he utilized the comedic chops which served him favorably in 1980s goofball roles to embody a depressed and realistic individual. This results in an awkward, haphazard performance that jolts viewers, confusing them as to who exactly is he trying to portray. Perhaps his character demanded this brand of madness, but Keaton was far too agitated and scattered, much like the film itself. As talented as the actors in both films are, the performances in Grand Budapest Hotel gleamed while those in Birdman stumbled upon each other.
         Moreover, as the script of Grand Budapest Hotel flows smoothly onto the screen, Birdman exhibits awkwardness in its progression. Indeed, the enchanting originality of Wes Anderson’s script becomes realized once the image of the Grand Budapest Hotel and its characters reaches viewers’ eyes. With this film, Anderson demonstrates his signature craft which includes aesthetic screenshots and idiosyncratic plot twists. The band of unusual characters in the film is amusingly varied: a decrepit and wealthy widow, a diabolical heir, a mysteriously peculiar assassin, a naïve and thorough inspector, and a secret society of hotel concierge. These characters make up a supporting portion of the film, contributing to its overall eccentricity and level of enjoyment. The essential plot of Grand Budapest Hotel involves the murder of the aforementioned widow and the implication of M. Gustave, who supposedly sought to gain the wealth she had left behind for him. As intriguing as this story already seemed, the film managed to branch out to degrees of sheer hilarity and adventure. The concise dialogue that resonates Anderson’s style somehow conveys purpose in an objectively meaningless film; truly, it is the artistic value of the film that makes it consummate cinema. On the contrary, the banality of Birdman’s premise is exceeded by the ineptitude among the players on screen. The general idea of the film sounded reasonably pleasant: an actor who once portrayed a superhero in a movie franchise seeks his comeback on stage, while having to confront his ego in the midst of a mid-life crisis. In fact, this plot sounded very familiar and therefore hackneyed. With this categorization in mind, it is nearly impossible not to notice the clichés the film succumbs to. In addition to the protagonist’s status as a flawed, desperate has-been, he must face his troubled daughter, Sam Thomson, who has just overcome a drug addiction in rehab. Sam, portrayed by Emma Stone, is now begrudgingly working as her father’s assistant; however, as expected with her addict background, there are critical issues between the two as she belittles his stance in the world of fame that he craves. She roasts her father’s intentions for producing the play not for the sake of art but as a pathetic attempt to stay relevant in cinema. Another obstacle Riggan Thomson faces is the appearance of Edward Norton’s character, Mike Shiner, a last-minute replacement of a supporting actor in Riggan’s production. Because Mike is a renowned Broadway star, Riggan feels he may be overshadowed in the play; therefore, he would return to a life of nostalgia and inferiority. The primary conflict is within Riggan himself, which is evident in the external ridicule he has faced. These scenarios of conflict are very predictable with such an insecure protagonist, and, as a result, the entire film becomes irksome and pretentious. The writing of a film can contribute to its dreamlike production as in Grand Budapest Hotel or to its pitiful prosaicism as in Birdman.
         Finally, the methods in which Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman were filmed demonstrate why one film triumphed and the latter plummeted in quality. Wes Anderson, like most talented directors, understands his task is to create a setting where all aspects of Grand Budapest Hotel are in harmony. Indeed, he dazzles the audience’s eye with his distinctive filming style and choice of setting. Here in Grand Budapest Hotel, he transports viewers to the fictional city of Zubrowka, a region in Eastern Europe that beautifully mimics the charm of folk villages. In some scenes, he reportedly used handmade miniature models for certain shots; the wide shots of the hotel itself, for example, are artificially constructed, giving the film a kitschy ambience. Many of the scenes are filmed in a rather two-dimensional manner, such as the ski chase scene between M. Gustave and the inspector. This simplicity gives the film a sort of pure innocence that characterizes both Grand Budapest Hotel and Anderson’s technique alike. Beyond the visual pleasures of the production design, the course of the film as a whole evolves tastefully. Wes Anderson conducts his cast with finesse, ensuring that the set environment is productive yet balanced. He organizes his troop of performers in a manner that provides a foundation of sound direction that permits them to act to their fullest potential. With this golden formula, Anderson brings to a life a gratifying rapport between the actors on screen, which in turn satisfies audiences with absolute entertainment. The execution of Birdman, however, was jarring and faulty in practically every sense. Films are often designed as a play within a play, underlining the historic link between the stage and the screen. What Birdman accomplished was a futile attempt to honor that cinematic tradition that resulted in pseudo-intellectual disorder. The entire production felt as if director Iñárritu was purposefully trying to make an artistic film, and this intention forces Birdman to enter the realm of pretentious cinema. Aside from the setting of a Broadway play, there are several other facets of the film that give away its pompousness. The cinematography itself was unsettling, as the cameraman hurriedly follows Keaton’s character around New York City. The camera movement gave the film the feel of a reality television show, which is enormously unfavorable for audiences expecting a movie. While many viewers interpreted this shaky cinematography as artistic, aesthetically-speaking, it is rather disturbing and redundant. The musical score of the film was bombarded with cacophonous jazz and rat-a-tat drumbeats. Oftentimes, this noisy score blocked out some of the film’s dialogue, inevitably making part of the script lost in translation. Throughout the film, Keaton’s character is harangued by this imaginary Birdman figure who represents his own self-loathing as a washed-up actor. While this inner conflict is logical considering Riggan’s insecurities, what the director choreographs near the end of the film is a preposterous action-packed scene involving building-size robots reminiscent of Transformers. This demonstration is all in Riggan’s head, of course, yet the transition in the movie itself is sudden and discordant; moreover, as Riggan witnesses this action circus, he begins to believe that he himself is actually the Birdman. The final act of the film perhaps completes the absurdity of its production: Riggan Thomson confronting his Birdman identity and flying out of a window into the sky. These countless inconsistencies and lack of order render Birdman as a film to be meaningless and appalling with no attributes of virtuosity. Direction of a film is incredibly significant regarding the final product, as it is verified with the illustrious Grand Budapest Hotel and the atrocious Birdman.

         In many ways, Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman contrast with one another. First off, the talented actors in each film gave astonishingly dissimilar performances. Furthermore, the plot development of Grand Budapest Hotel glides along on its own smooth momentum, while Birdman trips on itself innumerable times with its defective script. To conclude, Wes Anderson guides Grand Budapest Hotel with the steadiness of a true artist and Alejandro G. Iñárritu steers Birdman into incomprehensible disarray. The ultimate determinant of a film is the director who must organize his production in a manner that causes everything involved to synchronize beautifully. From the cast to the elements of the set, each aspect of the film must harmonize in order to create a piece of moving art. What is peculiar is the fact that actors can sometimes counteract the symptoms of a director, such as Edward Norton who was talented in both an excellent movie and a terrible one. This highlights the tantamount importance of an effective cast, for they can potentially save a film from infamy. Overall, every aspect of a film is crucial to its success and cinematic value, and talent is definitely key.

There you have it. That is how I am in the world of college and proper academia. While I feel it is a strong paper--I got an A+ after all, applause--I still enjoy my standard of writing on this blog. It resembles more of how I think and speak, and it is not as restrictive obviously. My grammar is better in college essays, of course. Anyway. I hope this post wasn't made in vain and that you at least enjoyed reading it. I said enjoyed a lot already. Have a good night.

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