Edward Norton

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu)

The funniest thing in Birdman is, surprisingly, not when Michael Keaton and Edward Norton get into fisticuffs and Norton’s in nothing but speedos. The funniest thing in Birdman, which is about former superhero movie megastar Keaton staging a pseudo-intellectual comeback stage production of a Raymond Carver adaptation, is–after Norton makes fun of Keaton’s character’s overly wordy adaptation (Carver wasn’t a wordy writer, as published)–how pointlessly wordiness of director Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo’s script.

There’s also a huge gaffe when Emma Stone talks about Carver’s story being sixty years old (unless Birdman takes place in 2041 and, given the constant references to social media networks, it isn’t).

Birdman is a pretentious, Hollywood “indie” melodrama. Iñárritu’s fake single shot style, expertly manipulated by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, brings nothing to the film except a distance from the audience. Iñárritu uses the style–and Antonio Sanchez’s drum score–to keep up the film’s energy, because otherwise, there’s nothing but Batman references, superhero movie jabs, New York condescension of Hollywood, trite father-daughter problems and expository dialogue.

Oh, and Keaton being haunted by Birdman, the superhero his character played to great financial success.

There’s nothing in the script for Keaton to do. He does it all pretty well, but his part’s exceptionally shallow. The “deep” scenes with ex-wife Amy Ryan suggest Keaton and Ryan could make a good film. Not this one.

Norton’s great, Stone’s awful. Nice supporting work from Naomi Watts.

Birdman’s gallingly light stuff.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu; written by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione; music by Antonio Sanchez; production designer, Kevin Thompson; produced by Arnon Milchan, John Lesher, James W. Skotchdopole and Iñárritu; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Michael Keaton (Riggan), Edward Norton (Mike), Emma Stone (Sam), Naomi Watts (Lesley), Zach Galifianakis (Jake), Andrea Riseborough (Laura), Amy Ryan (Sylvia), Lindsay Duncan (Tabitha), Jeremy Shamos (Ralph) and Merritt Wever (Annie).


The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones 21 (September 1984)

Indy 21There are a bunch of inkers on this issue. They stay consistent until the finish, when it’s very obvious the inker has changed. The final inker changes Steve Ditko’s pencils so much, it barely looks like the same comic.

Ditko doesn’t do a great job on Jones, but it’s really cool to see his old standard panel arrangements used again. And the eyes. Love the eyes. It’s a shame Priest didn’t write the issue as a retro thing to match Ditko, but given the number of inkers, I’m sure no one at Marvel had any idea who was drawing it when Priest was writing it.

The story itself is lame. It’s a lot of action and some silly villains. Priest continues to flush the romance between Indy and Marion… Not to mention playing up Marcus Brody being tough.

Priest is also really bad with the setting. He writes too modern.

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p style=”font-size:11px;”>CREDITS

Beyond the Lucifer Chamber; writers, David Michelinie and Christopher Priest; penciller, Steve Ditko; inkers, Bob Wiacek, Steve Leialoha, Jack Abel, Al Milgrom, Carl Potts, Edward Norton and Danny Bulanadi; colorist, Rob Carosella; letterer, Joe Rosen; editor, Eliot Brown; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson)

With Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson has finally put his directing craft so far ahead of his narrative, the narrative doesn’t matter. Neither, in Moonrise‘s case, do the actors. There isn’t a single outstanding performance in the film… maybe because Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola don’t write one. They’re to the point of using Jason Schwartzman as a gag cameo.

Moonrise is purposefully, aggressively artificial–Bob Balaban plays an omnipotent, future narrator who interacts with the characters. But it doesn’t really matter because Anderson’s craft is outstanding and the writing is still decent. A lot of the scenes between preteen outcasts Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are lovely.

Anderson shoots as much of the film as he can in profile; the camera pans to introduce new action instead of cutting. Partially due to the film’s artificiality–partially to Anderson and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman’s photography–it works. Moonrise isn’t supposed to be real. For instance, Tilda Swinton’s reduced to her job title.

Swinton’s no great shakes in the picture, but she’s not supposed to be. She’s gag casting, much like Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel. Keitel’s the best of those three. Bruce Willis and Edward Norton both do pretty well, though neither have enough material. Anderson and Coppola give Bill Murray absolutely nothing–he doesn’t even interact with his kids in the film, just barks near them. As his wife, Frances McDormand is better.

Moonrise Kingdom‘s a masterfully produced film. It’s just pointless, save demonstrating Anderson’s abilities as a director.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Roman Coppola; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Andrew Weisblum; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Adam Stockhausen; produced by Anderson, Scott Rudin, Jeffrey Dawson and Steven M. Rales; released by Focus Features.

Starring Jared Gilman (Sam), Kara Hayward (Suzy), Edward Norton (Scout Master Ward), Bruce Willis (Captain Sharp), Bill Murray (Walt Bishop), Frances McDormand (Laura Bishop), Tilda Swinton (Social Services), Jason Schwartzman (Cousin Ben), Harvey Keitel (Commander Pierce) and Bob Balaban (Narrator).


The Incredible Hulk (2008, Louis Leterrier), the extended version

After seeing The Incredible Hulk in theater, I knew a couple things. First, I knew the extended version–the one Edward Norton fought for, that fight costing him the role in future productions–would be better than the theatrical release. Second, I knew its release would be contingent on Norton’s future involvement with the franchise.

So, something of catch-22.

Luckily, there’s an Internet.

The extended version of Hulk runs about thirty minutes longer. It still has the problems the theatrical version does–for example, the big long fight scene at the end is a terrible way to end a movie about three people coming to terms with their actions (Norton, Liv Tyler and William Hurt)–especially when you take into account it boils down to Hurt not liking his daughter’s boyfriend. Simplest is often best and Hulk does get there.

What the extended version improves is everything until that finale. It fleshes out characters–continuing the distilled reading, Norton’s nemesis becomes Ty Burrell (Tyler’s jealous boyfriend), instead of Tim Roth’s creepy but ultimately goofy aging career soldier.

Norton and Tyler–whose relationship anchors the entire film, theatrical cut or extended–becomes even more compelling, the film taking its time with them.

Unfortunately, the added character development makes Hulk‘s competing intentions clash even more. Making a simplistic summer blockbuster out of a tragedy doesn’t work.

Still, the extended version’s a significant improvement. And if Norton and Leterrier ever did get to do a professional revision… I imagine it’d be incredible.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Leterrier; screenplay by Zak Penn and Edward Norton, based on a story by Penn and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Peter Menzies Jr.; edited by Rick Shane, John Wright and Vincent Tabaillon; music by Craig Armstrong; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Avi Arad, Gale Anne Hurd and Kevin Feige; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Edward Norton (Bruce Banner), Liv Tyler (Betty Ross), Tim Roth (Emil Blonsky), William Hurt (General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross), Tim Blake Nelson (Samuel Sterns), Ty Burrell (Leonard), Christina Cabot (Major Kathleen Sparr), Peter Mensah (General Joe Greller), Lou Ferrigno (Security Guard) and Paul Soles (Stanley).


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The Italian Job (2003, F. Gary Gray)

So Edward Norton hated making The Italian Job? I’m shocked. (According to the Internet gossip, it was to fulfill a Paramount contract–they even gave him a car… I don’t remember if it was a Mini Cooper). It’s the lamest role Norton’s ever played. As an actor without a persona, he doesn’t belong in the Italian Job at all, since almost everyone is just playing his assumed screen role.

Mos Def is a funny black guy, Jason Statham is the cool British guy, Seth Green is the dorky guy. Only Mark Wahlberg (it would have been amazing if the ad campaign had been “meet the new funky bunch”) doesn’t have a persona. His performance is so bland if he didn’t smile ever three minutes, he’d disappear.

Charlize Theron does a little better than Norton and Wahlberg–though persona free, her character is also absent any presumed personality.

From the first few minutes of the film, it’s impossible to imagine it existing without Ocean’s Eleven. But it’s the studio version of Ocean’s Eleven (it doesn’t even take place in Italy, which disappointed me quite a bit).

Gray is a perfectly adequate director in terms of composition, even in Panavision; the film’s visually engaging if not interesting. His direction of actors is terrible here, but I doubt he really even bothered.

One very nice surprise is John Powell’s score, which is playful and “inventive” enough, it carries whole sequences.

The heists aren’t interesting, but it’s affable enough they don’t need to be.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by F. Gary Gray; written by Donna Powers and Wayne Powers, based on the film written by Troy Kennedy-Martin; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce and Christopher Rouse; music by John Powell; production designer, Charles Wood; produced by Donald De Line; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Mark Wahlberg (Charlie Croker), Charlize Theron (Stella Bridger), Donald Sutherland (John Bridger), Jason Statham (Handsome Rob), Seth Green (Lyle), Mos Def (Left Ear) and Edward Norton (Steve).


Leaves of Grass (2009, Tim Blake Nelson)

I wonder if Tim Blake Nelson has read Disgrace. Cheap, cheap, cheap comment.

One-liner even.

It’s a one-liner.

Leaves of Grass is not–if I underlined, I would here–an American Disgrace. It’s something different from that sort of attempt, but also something different from a mainstream or independent attempt… it’s a comedy drama unlike most others because the comedy is absurd at times and it’s got Edward Norton playing a genius pot grower.

It’s also got him playing a genius classical philosophy professor, which then makes it a twin movie–in a genre occupied, with the exception of Parent Traps, mostly–in recent history–by Jean-Claude Van Damme. I wonder if anyone mentioned that one to Norton.

It’s a fine, fine film. It’s funny, it’s touching–it features the best Richard Dreyfuss performance in many years not to mention actually talking about anti-Semitism in an American film without being sensational. I don’t think, actually, anti-Semitism even gets a sensational handling in American film anymore. American film pretends the country isn’t chock-full of bigots, unless they’re bigots who get easily cured by the end of the picture.

Great acting by Norton (the lack of Oscar nomination is a hilarious, gut-bursting joke), Dreyfuss and Nelson. Susan Sarandon’s underwritten but fine, as is Melanie Lynskey. Keri Russell’s surprisingly okay.

It’s a great film until the third act, when Nelson seems to realize something should probably happen and it’s fine after that point.

Just not great.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson; director of photography, Roberto Schaefer; edited by Michelle Botticelli; music by Jeff Danna; production designer, Max Biscoe; produced by Nelson, Edward Norton, Bill Migliore, John Langley, Elie Cohn and Kristina Dubin; released by Millennium Films.

Starring Edward Norton (Bill/Brady Kincaid), Tim Blake Nelson (Bolger), Keri Russell (Janet), Richard Dreyfuss (Pug Rothbaum), Susan Sarandon (Daisy), Josh Pais (Ken Feinman) and Melanie Lynskey (Colleen).


Red Dragon (2002, Brett Ratner)

It’s hard to know what to think of Red Dragon. While it’s an adaptation of a novel, it’s also a remake of Manhunter, whether the film wants to acknowledge it or not. It’s got Danny Elfman doing the score, so it’s scary (though he does seem rather influenced by early 1990s Morricone) and director Ratner works in the opposite direction of what Mann accomplished in Manhunter.

It also features Edward Norton’s worst performance. I watched it wondering what he used the money on and apparently he used it to finance 25th Hour, which makes sense. It’s a bunch of Academy Award winning or nominated actors turning in lousy performances. Ralph Fiennes is goofy as a serial killer, Emily Watson barely holds her accent, Philip Seymour Hoffman is atrocious–it’s the kind of movie where if Harvey Keitel were drinking through the whole thing, it’d be funny. Instead, he’s not and it’s not. It’s depressing.

I think the worst served has got to be Mary-Louise Parker, who’s so boring as Norton’s wife, her outfits have more personality. Anthony Hopkins is crappy, but in his unspectacular way he’s crappy. He’s top-billed on a conductor-less train wreck.

There should be something to recommend Red Dragon–it’s an immensely watchable (at least once) curiosity, just because it’s so lousy and such a drab remake of Manhunter. It’s supposedly more faithful to the source novel–no surprise, Mann made some significant improvements.

Norton looks about fifteen in it, wearing his dad’s suits.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Brett Ratner; screenplay by Ted Tally, based on the novel by Thomas Harris; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Mark Helfrich; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Martha De Laurentiis; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Hannibal Lecter), Edward Norton (Will Graham), Ralph Fiennes (Francis Dolarhyde), Harvey Keitel (Jack Crawford), Emily Watson (Reba McClane), Mary-Louise Parker (Molly Graham), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Freddy Lounds), Anthony Heald (Dr. Frederick Chilton), Ken Leung (Lloyd Bowman) and Frankie Faison (Barney Matthews).


The Incredible Hulk (2008, Louis Leterrier)

All I wanted from The Incredible Hulk was dumb fun. I figured Louis Leterrier could deliver. Unfortunately, it’s not dumb fun, but Leterrier does deliver–and instead of fast food, it’s rather good French. Frequently, Hulk showcases Leterrier’s directorial abilities and they’re significant. Leterrier handles everything the story needs–be it rural or urban, Brazil or New York (well, Canada). The Incredible Hulk has a distinctive, maturing visual style. Leterrier adds on to the beginning until he reaches the end, which is his sole misstep.

But I’ll start at the beginning. The Incredible Hulk drops the viewer into a continuing story (sort of, again, more on this bit later) and doesn’t give he or she a lot of information. For example, expatriate Edward Norton seems to have a flirtation with his neighbor and co-worker, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Norton spends most of this time alone, not even with his dog, and it doesn’t move. Norton can make watching “Sesame Street” interesting, but the script cannot. So there are lots of cuts to William Hurt’s pursuit of him. Hurt’s not an Ahab here, which is an interesting move, but one of the script’s eventual bungles (it fails to recognize what it’s done with the character). Eventually, Norton heads back to America and the script hits the first enormous logic hole. Hurt returns to the U.S. too, but has no idea Norton wasn’t still in Brazil. Norton’s reasons for heading back are inferred, rather than explained. They’re neither shown nor told. Except maybe in the press release.

As Norton gets back, the movie starts toward its now inevitable conclusion. The Incredible Hulk is not really a continuing story, it’s just a story deferred. Apparently, in the five years in between the opening titles recap and the present action, there haven’t really been any interesting Hulk sightings. It’s an origin movie, only with the fight scene five years later than it should be.

But the break does make the relationship between Norton and Liv Tyler better. Tyler starts incredibly weak, but once she and Norton get together (actually, it starts with her and the CG Hulk), she gets good. Even though she’s a scientist (sure), her voice turns their relationship into an analog of Toad and Debbie’s, from American Graffiti, and the relationship sustains through the rest of the film. But the movie’s already half over when they finally get together alone and the third act and the big fight scene hang over the scenes like the Sword of Damocles.

The big fight scene at the end starts all right, but then it gets real dumb. Zak Penn’s a terrible plotter. The fight gets boring once it’s the two CG monsters duking it out, the only accessory a helicopter. It’s just nowhere near as interesting as the idea of the fight putting people in danger. When everyone shows up to (silently) commend the Hulk, it doesn’t make any sense… only two people saw the fight scene besides the viewer.

The script’s the big problem, summarizing too much or just insinuating too many important details. There are some great moments–and they do resonate and they are memorable–but there’s too much malarky.

Norton’s amazing–I don’t think any other actor could have made the Brazilian exile believable. Everything he does is gold in the film. Tyler’s got that incredibly problematic start (why does she have to be a scientist too?), but then she’s fine. Good even. Hurt’s okay, nothing more. He’s probably never had such a poorly written character. Tim Roth’s decent, until the script fails him. Tim Blake Nelson’s strangely bad, overdoing it as a generically eccentric scientist. His character and the lack of explanation is another big script defect.

The tie-ins to the Marvel comic books are almost all terrible. They’re only goofy at the start, then there’s the excellent scenes with Norton and Tyler on the road and the hints of what a good movie it could have been (not dumb fun either)… or the nice references to the television show. With the exception of the use of the show’s theme music, which is disingenuous. Then there’s the Robert Downey Jr. cameo at the end, which is a disgrace. Maybe if they’d stuck it after the credits, but it basically takes the movie away from Norton and gives it to Downey. I’d be shocked if Norton ever makes a return to the character, given the diss.

With Leterrier’s direction, with Norton, The Incredible Hulk should have been good. With Leterrier turning out to be a great director (though the fight scene at the end is too Hollywood, not at all visceral), it should have been ever better.

Instead, it hints of a good film and it should do much more. Especially given how… incredible the love story turns out to be.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Leterrier; screenplay by Zak Penn, based on a story by Penn and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Peter Menzies Jr.; edited by Rick Shane, John Wright and Vincent Tabaillon; music by Craig Armstrong; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Avi Arad, Gale Anne Hurd and Kevin Feige; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Edward Norton (Bruce Banner), Liv Tyler (Betty Ross), Tim Roth (Emil Blonsky), Tim Blake Nelson (Samuel Sterns), Ty Burrell (Dr. Samson), William Hurt (General Ross), Christina Cabot (Major Sparr) and Lou Ferrigno (the security guard).


The Illusionist (2006, Neil Burger)

I don’t know where to start talking about The Illusionist. I mean, I only have two choices, so it’s really just a coin toss. I’ll start with Neil Burger. Burger adapted the script from a short story, which means he was probably confined to some degree. The Illusionist is not a “wow“ of a film in its story. It’s a fine, predictable, enjoyable magician movie with some nice special effects. So I don’t want to talk about Burger and the film on those issues. The writing ones. Burger’s direction is something special. It’s a very geeky approach to cinema–I was reminded of The Call of Cthulhu, the recent film, not the short story–because Burger directs the flashbacks and most of the romantic scenes between Ed Norton and Jessica Biel like a silent film, in terms of lighting, framing, editing and transitions. It works to an okay effect. It’s more impressive in its competence initially than anything else. Then Burger transitions to the present action of the story and he films a lot of the establishing scenes much like a Universal horror picture of the 1930s. The Vienna scenery lends itself perfectly to that approach. Then he goes on. The silent film techniques are still there for certain scenes, but Burger immerses the audience in historical Vienna–to the degree I even believed Biel lived there too. I didn’t quite believe Norton would love Biel or even that Rufus Sewell’s Prince Revolting would tolerate her even for political gain, but I did believe she was in 1800s Vienna.

Now for the second part. Paul Giamatti. His performance in the film is something singular. It’s a privilege to see Giamatti perform. He manages to chew scenery in a reserved manner, making his performance wholly believable but also joyous to behold. His performance is so good, it’s like the rest of the film doesn’t matter–it’s gravy the rest of the film is a perfectly reasonable diversion. The Illusionist wraps a piece of escapist storytelling in Burger’s masterful direction (which is in Dick Pope’s sumptuous lighting–sumptuous is the only word for it, absolutely stunning to look at), and a good Philip Glass score. Some of the Glass score seems redundant and repetitive of his previous work, but it’s fine.

I’ve only mentioned Norton in passing, but he’s real good here. Even if the only time he gets to act is in the scenes with Giamatti. Watching the two of them work together is wonderful. Like I said, Biel isn’t unbelievable and there are only a handful of moments when she’s ridiculous (I had assumed it’d be every minute she was on screen). Rufus Sewell’s evil prince is a lot of fun for a couple reasons. First, Sewell plays the perfect hissable villain (hard to believe, ten years ago, he was the best up-and-coming leading man Hollywood). Second, it’s like he’s doing a Freud impression. Loads of fun.

I was shocked to see Burger’s only done one film before this one, I have unrealistically high expectations of him now. As for Giamatti, I’m even considering seeing Lady in the Water, blasphemy of a considerable level.

I do wonder if the film could have been done without the red herrings and the twists, but I doubt it. There’s not much of a story in the end (for example, is Giamatti’s police inspector married?). So, it’s just a diversion and a better one than most.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Neil Burger; screenplay by Burger, based on a short story by Steven Millhauser; director of photography, Dick Pope; edited by Naomi Geraghty; music by Philip Glass; production designer, Ondrej Nekvasil; produced by Michael London, Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Bob Yari and Cathy Schulman; released by Yari Film Group.

Starring Edward Norton (Eisenheim), Paul Giamatti (Chief Inspector Uhl), Jessica Biel (Sophie), Rufus Sewell (Crown Prince Leopold), Eddie Marsan (Fischer), Jake Wood (Jurka), Tom Fisher (Willigut), Aaron Johnson (Young Eisenheim) and Eleanor Tomlinson (Young Sophie).


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