The Grand Budapest Hotel


Caught in the act!

Caught in the act!

(2014) Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Matthieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Lea Seydoux, Bob Balaban, Fisher Stevens, Florian Lukas, Giselda Volodi. Directed by Wes Anderson

There was a time when elegance was in fashion, when gentility was all the rage and a gentleman was a gentleman and a lady was a lady. Those days are gone.

A student sits down by a shrine to read a book called The Grand Budapest Hotel. In 1985, a famous Author (Wilkinson) reads the book aloud and tells us about the time back in 1969 when he was young (Law) and visited the namesake hotel of the book in the beautiful Republic of Zubrowka and spoke with the owner of the hotel (Abraham). He, in turn, tells a tale of when he was but a young ambitious lobby boy named Zero Moustafa (Revolori) who came to be taken under the wing of the greatest concierge that ever lived – the legendary Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes).

Gustave has made his reputation by knowing what his clientele needs before they themselves know. He specializes in elderly dowagers, flirting and bestowing on them the sheerest form of flattery, leading them into bed. One of his more devoted clients is Madame D (Swinton), but there are many and nearly all of them blonde.

When one of his clients passes away, Gustave takes Zero to pay his final respects but it turns out that Dmitri (Brody), the manipulative greedy son, is absolutely scandalized that his mother had carnal relations with someone like Gustave whom he considers to be a perverted little bisexual. Dmitri has in his employ Jopling (Dafoe), a psychopathic assassin.

As it turns out Gustave is accused of the murder of his client and jailed. Zero, his devoted protégé and friend and Zero’s fiancée Agatha (Ronan), a comely assistant pastry chef with a distinctive wine-colored birthmark shaped like Mexico on her cheek, will have to overcome the canny Inspector Henckels (Norton) and the ruthless Jopling to help Gustave clear his name.

Anderson has always had a quirky comedic sense that crosses Ernst Lubitsch with the Coen Brothers. This is in my opinion his best film to date, taking all of the promise he has shown in films like Rushmore and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and delivering on it. The timing is impressive and the film is funny throughout.

In talking about this film one has to talk about the production design. Each time period has a certain color palate which grows more dingy and dreary in 1969 and 1985 1932 however is awash in color, the pink jewelbox of the hotel dominant. Often the movie looks like it was printed on paper, with animated cutouts doing some of the action. The stylized movements of the actors and the oddball facial hair of the men complete the overall air of gentility and hilarity.

Fiennes is perfect as Gustave. Genteel, manipulative, a bit of a cad but with a heart of gold, Fiennes carries the movie in his coat pocket. It is a magnificent performance that unleashes hidden depths from Fiennes who often plays roles that are emotionally closed off. This is right in his wheelhouse and he steps into it and knocks it out of the part with enthusiastic gusto. While I find it unlikely he’ll be nominated for any awards later on for the role, this is definitely one of the best performances you’ll see this year that won’t get awards consideration.

The only reason this doesn’t have a perfect score is the unnecessarily convoluted structure of having a student sitting by the grave of an older author who talks about his younger self hearing a story from an old man who tells about what happened to him and his mentor as a young man. The problem with peeling back the layers from an onion is that someone inevitably ends up in tears. Nonetheless this is a terrific movie, quirky but funny and satisfying and thoroughly enjoyable.

REASONS TO GO: Imaginative and funny. Fiennes is transcendent. Clever for all the right reasons.

REASONS TO STAY: The beginning is unnecessarily complicated.

FAMILY VALUES:  A fair amount of ungentlemanly language, some unseemly violence and some naughty bits.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The name of the fictional Republic of Zubrowka where the film is set actually comes from a Polish brand of vodka.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/31/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 87/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hudsucker Proxy

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

NEXT: Fireflies in the Garden

Advertisements

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


Michael Cera

Game on, Michael Cera!

(Universal) Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Alison Pill, Ellen Wong, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Jason Schwartzman, Brandon Routh, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Mae Whitman, Bill Hader (voice). Directed by Edgar Wright

There’s something about videogames that appeals to most of us; the clear delineation between good and evil, the use of skill and deduction to be successful, the ability to explore amazing places and live vicariously through the characters in the game. We can become anyone, defeat anything, but we can’t escape love.

Scott Pilgrim (Cera) is a 22-year-old slacker who has broken up with his girlfriend Envy Adams (Larson) for some time and hasn’t really gotten over her. He’s dating a 17-year-old high school Asian chick named Knives Chau (Wong) who worships the ground the Scott walks on. He’s also playing bass in a trio known as Sex Bob-omb along with fellow slackers Steven Stills (Webber), drummer Kim Pine (Pill) who Scott once dated and Young Neil (Simmons), who subs for Scott on bass when he isn’t in the mood to play. Knives also worships the ground they rock on.

Then, into Scott’s life comes Ramona Flowers (Winstead), a lively red/blue/green-headed hipster who recently moved to Toronto from New York City. Scott falls immediately and implacably in love with her, much to the disgust of his sister Stacey (Kendrick) and gay roommate Wallace Wells (Culkin). At first, things are a little rough between Scott and Ramona; she’s getting over some fairly rough times and is inclined not to trust anyone. Gradually, Scott’s charm wins her over.

That’s when Scott’s problems really begin. It turns out that Ramona has seven evil exes, people she dated with super powers and evil intentions. Scott will need not only to fight all seven of them, he’ll have to defeat them in order to win the hand of the woman he loves.

It’s a simple enough concept, but under the guidance of director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) the execution is imaginative and clever. You know from the 8-bit version of the iconic opening of Universal Studios that you’re in for something special. Videogame conceits order the action, from the onscreen graphics to the extra lives to even the look of the movie.

There are a lot of homages to various classic and current videogames, from Pac-Man to Dance Dance Revolution to Mortal Kombat to Sonic the Hedgehog. There are also lots of pop culture references, from the graphic novel culture from where this project originated, but also the indie music and movie scene as well. However it is videogames that are the primary inspiration for this movie and those who aren’t at least aware of some of the conventions of videogames aren’t going to be able to follow the movie very well, or at least get some of the humor.

Much of the movie rests on the skinny shoulders of Everytwerp Michael Cera. I have never been a huge fan of his mainly because of what I perceive as a sameness of the characters he plays in movies like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Juno and Superbad not to mention his role in the cable series “Arrested Development.” Cera tends to speak in the same annoying, mousy tones and plays guys who get women way out of their leagues. Here, he has a bit more of a crafty undertone to him; we find out during the course of the movie that he’s a little bit of a player when it comes to women.

Most of the critical brickbats have focused in on Winstead’s Ramona Flowers and I can understand some of the criticism. She’s a bit aloof emotionally (as is Cera’s Scott to a very large extent) and that creates a bit of a gulf between the audience and the action. It’s hard to want a relationship to succeed if you aren’t feeling that the love is genuine; Cera and Winstead never convince that there’s a real deep emotional bond between Scott and Ramona.

That’s what keeps me from giving the movie a higher score, but the clever visuals and the frenetic pacing are what elevate the movie to something better than standard summer action fare. The fight sequences are some of the best I’ve seen in a movie that didn’t come from Asia, and the humor throughout appeals not just to the videogame crowd but for general audiences as well. This is one of those movies that seem much shorter than it is; you’re enjoying yourself so much you don’t notice how time is passing by.

My son Jacob has been looking forward to the movie for eons. He is a big fan of the original graphic novel which I haven’t read yet; he is also a nutcase about videogames. This is HIS movie, and these are HIS people. The movie speaks to him and his friends in ways I can’t; it relates to him in ways I won’t either. It speaks his language and knows his shorthand. I suspect this will be a cultural touchstone for him and his generation for years to come.

REASONS TO GO: A pop culture icon for the digital generation. Cleverly designed and executed, the movie moves along at a frenetic pace.

REASONS TO STAY: There are times when the characters get a little hipper-than-thou, and Cera is playing yet another Michael Cera role, so if you don’t like Michael Cera you won’t like him any better here.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some stylized videogame-like violence and a few bad words here and there. There are also some sexuality and drug references. Pretty much okay for everyone, although parents may want to decide if it’s suitable for their younger children.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Whitman, who plays one of the evil exes here, previously played the girlfriend of Michael Cera’s character in “Arrested Development.”

HOME OR THEATER: This should be seen in a theater with a bunch of cheering fans, but if you can’t get there, a roomful of videogame addicts at home will do just as well.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Drillbit Taylor

New Releases for the Week of August 13, 2010


August 13, 2010

One of the evil ex-Boyfriends eats some Kroww.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD

(Universal) Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Alison Pill. Directed by Edgar Wright

When a slacker falls in love with a girl he should rightly have no chance with, to his delight it turns out she has feelings for him as well. Unfortunately, she has seven evil ex-Boyfriends who don’t take kindly to a bass-playing interloper, so Scott Pilgrim is going to need to nut up and take on the world…or at least, seven evil ex-Boyfriends. Fortunately, he has genius director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) guiding his way.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references)

Countdown to Zero

(Magnolia) Jimmy Carter, James Baker III, Tony Blair, Valerie Plame Wilson. Most people believe that when the Cold War ended, so did the threat of nuclear annihilation. After all, both superpowers have embarked on a mutual disarmament program. However, the fact of the matter is that more nations have nuclear weapons than ever before and many more have the technical capabilities of manufacturing their own. Terrorist groups are actively seeking fissionable material to construct their own Weapons of Mass Destruction and the possibility of a dreadful accident caused by human error grows every day. This documentary serves to educate people on the remaining nuclear threat – and to urge the world to demand zero nuclear weapons on the planet.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for thematic material, images of destruction and incidental smoking)

Eat Pray Love

(Columbia) Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, James Franco, Viola Davis. A woman trapped in an unfulfilling marriage – heck, an unfulfilling life – decides to chuck everything in an attempt to go find herself. Apparently herself is hiding in India, Italy or Indonesia. It’s always in the last place you look, I say. In any case, it’s based on the bestselling book of the same name.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language, some sexual references and male rear nudity)

The Expendables

(Lionsgate) Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Bruce Willis. A highly skilled mercenary team goes on what seems to be a routine mission; to overthrow the bloodthirsty dictator of a small South American island nation. Betrayed by a rogue CIA agent, the team is forced to leave behind an innocent woman who will surely die for helping them. They must either walk away or turn around and finish what they started. In addition to the guys listed above, the cast reads like a who’s who of action movie stars, including the Governator himself – Arnold Schwarzenegger – in a cameo role.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language)

Nora’s Will

(Menemsha) Fernando Lujan, Veronica Langer, Silvia Mariscal, Juan Pablo Medina. A man finds out that his wife of 30 years whom he lost contact with after an acrimonious divorce has committed suicide and left him executor of her estate. Due to religious obligations, the burial must take place immediately or else wait five days before she can be laid to rest. Preparing for the funeral, the man finds a mysterious photograph that will take him on an unexpected journey.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: NR