The Grand Budapest Hotel

I wanted a special movie to take my wife to on our anniversary and Wes Anderson’s latest did not disappoint.

Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Rated R

The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.”

I would like to just put “Go see this. Now.” as the entire review. Fresh off his Oscar-nominated Moonrise Kingdom, writer/director/producer Wes Anderson has knocked it out of the park again.

One Line Review: Go see this. Now. Best film of the year thus far. Perhaps in toto. Oops that’s a lot of lines but you get the picture.

Wes Anderson the director, and his favorite cinematographer, Robert D. Yeoman, have a fantastic eye for detail. This movie could be used to teach a master class on shot composition. Every frame is either jam-packed with detail or a masterwork in simplicity. I worry I may have missed some dialogue staring at the screen.

Wes Anderson the writer, together with co-writer Hugo Guinness, have composed a love letter to the golden age of fancy hotels and Hollywood. Profanity is used sparingly and, because of that, to good effect, earning the ‘R’ rating. Non-profanity language is elegant and refined, including such bygone terms as funicular.

The plot should not work at all as it is a flashback within a flashback and, at times, within another flashback. The visual style changes with each iteration as does the main character. The tone, which works surprisingly well, is part-farce, part-slapstick, with a dash of darkness as a fictionalized version of World War II hangs over the events

Ralph Fiennes gives a fantastic lead performance, far removed from his more recent villainous and/or dour turns. He is not called on to carry the movie but he obviously could. Previous Anderson alums populate the film to varying degrees. Look for Adrien Brody, Willem DaFoe, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray (himself a 7 time Anderson alum) to add quirk and verve to their parts. In addition, there is an almost unrecognizable Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, and Jude Law in various parts. Were it not for Fiennes’ incredible performance, the movie would have been stolen by the two young actors, Saoirse Ronan as Agatha and Tony Revolori as Zero.

Seriously I cannot recommend this film enough. Anyone with a love of cinema should see it.

FREE April Movies at The Carolina

Carolina Cinemas

 

Every Tuesday at 8 p.m., the Asheville Film Society puts on a FREE movie at the Carolina in theater 6. Membership is not necessary to attend. Arrive early as they have gotten very crowded.

4/1 The White Sheik (1952, Federico Fellini)

4/8 Shanghai Express (1932, Josef von Sternberg)

4/15 Monte Carlo (1930, Ernst Lubitsch)

4/22 The Devils (1971, Ken Russell)

4/29 A Hard Day’s Night (1964, Richard Lester)

Thursday Horror Picture Show

 

Every Thursday night at 8, Ken Hanke & Justin Souther put on a FREE horror movie in Carolina’s cinema lounge.

4/3 Spider Baby (1968, Jack Hill)

4/10 Werewolf of London (1935, Stuart Walker)

4/17 Fear No Evil (1981, Frank LaLoggia)

4/24 Eyes Without a Face (1960, Georges Franju)

Muppets Most Wanted

Yay! After some rather dismal movie trips (“a bad day at the movies is still better than a good day at work” – K.S.), I got to take my wife and granddaughter to Muppets Most Wanted.

Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted (2014) – Rated PG

Flush with their revival’s success, Kermit the Frog and his friends are approached by Dominic Badguy to go on a world tour. Unknown to them, this is all part of the sinister plan of Constantine, the world’s most evil frog, to become the greatest thief of all time. After making sure that Kermit is jailed as himself, Constantine impersonates him to use the Muppets’ tour as cover for his scheme. While Sam the Eagle and Inspector Jean Pierre Napoleon investigate, the Muppets find their boss seems strangely changed even as Kermit desperately attempts to escape to stop the impostor.

One Line Review: More fun than good but isn’t fun what you are looking for?

Huge credit needs to be given to Jason Segel for reviving this franchise. The Muppets was not perfect but was highly humorous, full of heart, and was the first to feature a human character that mattered. It was the best Muppet movie since the original, The Muppet Movie. After The Muppet Movie, subsequent Muppet outings were increasingly dependent on gimmickry and had less heart.

Obviously a successful relaunch begets a sequel and thus Muppets Most Wanted was born. I hesitate to call Muppets Most Wanted a good movie but it is certainly an enjoyable one, particularly if you have a little one with you.

James Bobin, who directed The Muppets, returns as director as well as co-writing Muppets Most Wanted with Nicholas Stoller (who was also a writer on The Muppets). They clearly have a love for The Muppets. There are nods to earlier Muppet films and several nods to the original television series.

Comedians Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, and Tina Fey are the main non-Muppet actors and they handle the comedy well, delivering good lines and pratfalls without taking too much from the Muppets themselves. There are a slew of hilarious cameos with my favorite being Danny Trejo. Look for Tony Bennett, Sean Combs, Ray Liotta, Salma Hayek, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, and a host of others.

Besides focusing on Kermit and Miss Piggy, the script finds ample time to highlight Sam the Eagle, Animal, The Great Gonzo and Walter. Fozzie seemed a little shortchanged.

Muppets Most Wanted is not as good as The Lego Movie but it is a lot of fun. If you go, don’t forget to submit your ticket stubs for Disney Movie Rewards points.

Best part: The Seventh Seal joke

Worst part: The preview scene where Danny Trejo says “wokka-wokka” wasn’t in the movie (unless I missed it when I took the four-year-old to the bathroom).

 

This ‘n’ That – The Guild, Starship Troopers Invasion, Archer

The Guild (all six seasons), Archer (four seasons), and Starship Troopers Invasion are currently available on instant Netflix.

The Guild

The Guild (2007-13) – Not rated

Fantasy and reality collide in this engaging Internet series that follows a quirky group of gamers, including Codex (Felicia Day) and Zaboo (Sandeep Parikh), as they struggle to balance real-world relationships with their commitments to playing an addictive online video game. Bound in a tight-knit guild dubbed the Knights of Good, these hopeless geeks confront stiff challenges from controlling mothers, rival factions and, at times, each other.

True story – my wife and I met playing Dungeons & Dragons in college. Admittedly I was the one playing while Jenny was visiting her father but later she joined the group. Many years later, the three of us used to play World of Warcraft far too much. I think that’s the only way people play that game.

Felicia Day started her own web series to lampoon her addiction to World of Warcraft. The Guild was funny and insightful. Jenny and I really enjoyed the first five seasons but we think the series may be played out now as the sixth season was very ho-hum.

Don’t be turned off by the time commitment – a season is only 45-90 minutes.

Archer

Archer (2009-13) – Rated TV-MA

Sophisticated spy Archer may have the coolest gadgets, but he still has issues when it comes to dealing with his boss — who also is his mother.”

I have previously reviewed Archer but now the fourth season is available. It has yet to wear out its welcome and the fourth season is still quite enjoyable.

Starship Troopers Invasion

Starship Troopers: Invasion (2012) – Rated R

A starship crew on a secret mission goes missing in a nebula, and troopers must embark on a rescue mission while also combating invading alien bugs.”

I’m not sure who the audience is for this film. Special effects aficionados will be disappointed that it is animated. While there are nods to Robert Heinlein’s original work, there is little of his work here.

Fans of Verhoeven’s snarky 1997 original will find that this continues the story of a few of the characters. Unfortunately they are voiced by completely different actors and all of the humor and satire have been stripped from the film.

I do have a few good things to say about Invasion. It is far better than the abominable, live action, direct-to-DVD Starship Troopers 3: Marauder. Invasion is competently made and animation allows them to show scenes that would have been prohibitively expensive in live action CGI. There just doesn’t seem to be much life in the movie.

 

New Netflix Streaming Releases for the Week of 3/25/14

Another week, another set of viewing choices, mostly documentaries and foreign films.

American Dreamz

Comedy: American Dreamz, Anjelah Johnson: The Homecoming Show

Bhutto

Documentary: Ballerina, Bhutto, Breaking the Maya Code, The Devil’s Miner, Fidel, For the Bible Tells Me So, Forgiving Dr. Mengele, A Girl and A Gun, Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral, Live Nude Girls Unite!, Living Downstream, Nicky’s Family, War on Whistleblowers, 20 Feet from Stardom

Drama: Parting Glances, Bloomington, Jump, Least Among Saints, Out in the Dark, Princess Kaiulani, Big Sur, Mud

Fantasy & Science Fiction: Contracted

Foreign: Band Baaja Baaraat, Chak De! India, Dhoom, Dhoom 2, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Dostana, Fondi 91, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, Mohabbatein, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, Veer-Zaara, The Prey

We Are What We Are

Horror: We Are What We Are

Television: New seasons of Good Luck Charlie and Drop Dead Diva

Thriller: Paranoia

Tom Selleck, Jesse Stone, & Our Anniversary

My wife and I celebrated our anniversary over the weekend so today I’m sharing some of our favorite comfort mysteries with you – the Jesse Stone series starring Tom Selleck. (In case you are wondering, after spending the day in Hot Springs, NC, I set up a private dining experience, the Chef’s Table at Mountain Magnolia Inn. It was expensive but my wife is definitely worth it.)

Tom Selleck is a star who has aged well. While he was fun in Magnum, P.I., he just seems to get better as he goes along. His recurring guest role on Friends was a highlight of that show. His movie career never took off, in spite of being originally cast as Indiana Jones.

In a role that seemed tailor-made for him, Selleck was cast in the television adaptation of Robert Parker’s Stone Cold about a down on his luck ex-police officer taking a job as a small town police chief. It was so successful that he has played the role in eight different movies. The first four movies are currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Please note that these movies are mysteries in name only. They are really tone poems and character pieces. Each is about an hour and a half and all are very similar.

Stone Cold

Jesse Stone: Stone Cold (2005) – Rated R

In quiet Paradise, Mass., police chief Jesse Stone jumps into action when a corpse washes ashore and multiple assailants rape a high school student.

Night Passage

Jesse Stone: Night Passage (2006) – Not Rated

After hard-drinking Jesse Stone is hired as police chief of idyllic Paradise, Mass., it doesn’t take long for him to uncover the town’s dark secrets.

Death in Paradise

Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise (2006) – Not Rated

As police chief Jesse Stone obsesses over solving the murder of a young girl found floating in a lake, he also works a deadly domestic violence case.”

Jesse Stone: Sea Change (2007) – Not Rated

Police chief Jesse Stone reopens an old rape case but is stonewalled as the town tries to keep the incident quiet to minimize the effect on tourism.”

If you have Amazon Prime, the fifth movie is also available for streaming:

Jesse Stone: Thin Ice (2009) – Not Rated

Jesse Stone is back! When his friend and fellow cop is shot during a visit to Boston, small town police chief Jesse Stone (Tom Selleck) risks his life and career to solve the crime while also investigating the disappearance of a missing child in this exciting fifth installment in the popular Jesse Stone movies based on the best-selling books by Robert B. Parker.”

The Non-Stop Monuments Men

I also got to see Non-Stop and Monuments Men this past weekend. while neither was great, they were both far better than the other movies I saw (300 Rise of an Empire, Pompeii, 3 Days to Kill).

Non-Stop

 

Non-Stop (2014) – Rated PG-13

An air marshal springs into action during a transatlantic flight after receiving a series of text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account.

I’m not hijacking this plane. I’m trying to save it! ”

One Line Review: Exciting, generic thriller is enjoyable albeit pointless

Non-Stop was a breath of fresh, yet recycled, air after 300: Rise of an Empire.

Non-Stop is a standard Liam Neeson thriller. As long as he can keep up the quality and they bring in the box office, Neeson’s turns should not devolve into direct-to-DVD fodder like the output from Van Damme, Seagal, Bronson, etc.

The story is nothing, simply made to keep you guessing. It is fun as it goes along but after the climax you’ll be scratching your head realizing so-and-so could not possibly have known about such-and-such. Such and such being many, many different things. The only possible ending that makes sense of the events is a fascinating one that you have to read into the script. I’d love to discuss it at length but I don’t post spoilers.

Liam Neeson is in fine form. They give him a tragic backstory to help propel the plot and appeal to his hangdog demeanor. At one point, Julianne Moore simply blurts out her character’s backstory as an exposition dump but is otherwise fine. Lupita Nyong’O is wasted here in a role that is only exceeded in thanklessness by the played by Shea Whigham. I have to assume that some of his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

The Monuments Men

 

The Monuments Men (2014) – Rated PG-13

An unlikely World War II platoon is tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners.”

One Line Review: Fascinating story told rather passively and by-the-numbers.

George Clooney has a knack for finding unusual stories and telling them well. Ignoring his acting achievements, Clooney was nominated for both directing and writing for Good Night, and Good Luck. He nominated for writing again with Ides of March.

Clooney co-wrote The Monuments Men with frequent collaborator Grant Heslov. He directs a fabulous, if topical cast: Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and John Goodman all perform well here. Clooney’s direction is assured if not inspired.

So what went wrong? The Monuments Men is too unfocused. Throughout the film, the men are scattered across Europe. There is not enough humor to turn this into a Dirty Dozen, not enough planning for a caper film, and we don’t really feel invested in the characters. Perhaps the narrative is flawed by sticking too close to real events and the book but I never felt invested in the characters.

The Monuments Men is not bad. It just isn’t what it should be, considering the pedigree.

People Watch: Look for Downton Abbey’s own Lord Grantham, Hugh Bonneville as one of the Monuments Men.

EW’s Criminally Underrated on Netflix

Entertainment Weekly’s current issue has several articles on criminally underrated television shows and movies. I thought that I’d highlight the ones you can watch on Netflix streaming.

Television: The Returned (The French series that spawned Resurrected), Peep Show, Harper’s Island (a slasher series where one or more cast members die each episode), The 30 for 30 series (picked by Bill Lawrence), Call the Midwife, Rectify

Movies: Flanders (picked by John Waters), Bandits, and two that would be on my personal list:

The Host

The Host (2006 – not last year’s abomination) – Rated R

A mutant creature has developed from toxic chemical dumping. When the monster scoops up the granddaughter of a snack-bar owner, he races to save her.”

Dead Snow

Dead Snow (2009) – Not rated

A group of friends gets the scariest history lesson of their lives during a weekend getaway, where the party is interrupted by Nazi zombies.

Look for the sequel, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, later this year.

Rape is the New Black & The Invisible War

I occasionally use Spoiler Weekly – I mean Entertainment Weekly – as a jumping off point for various topics. Unfortunately this time they have written about something I had intended to write about, making my point(s) moot. My wife and I have been horrified – okay, more irritated than horrified – to find television shows and movies just throwing rape in willy-nilly as shorthand for women in trouble, brutality, et cetera. I was going to call the column “Rape is the New Black”. EW called their column “TV’s Tiresome Assault on Women”.

Sexual assault is all too prevalent in society and no one wants to talk about it. While anecdotes are not evidence, most women I’ve talked to about it have experienced it at some point. It is horrifying, life-changing, and all too difficult to move on from.

The Invisible War

 

The Invisible War (2012) – Not rated

The Invisible War exposes a rape epidemic in the armed forces, investigating the institutions that perpetuate it as well as its personal consequences.”

Last year, The Invisible War was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary (Searching for Sugar Man won). Netflix had (and still has) it on streaming as they do with tons of documentaries so my wife and I watched it. It took us five tries on successive days to slog through this painful, though well-made, documentary.

While The Invisible War “has been credited with both persuading more women to come forward to report abuse and with forcing the military to deal more openly with the problem.” (New York Times), very little has actually been done. I am not a political activist and generally try to stay away from polarizing political topics but I find it shameful that the Military Justice Improvement Act was filibustered (and on the very same day that the Army’s prosecutor in charge of sexual prosecutors was suspended for an alleged sexual assault). Is that the definition of cognitive dissonance?

Please accept my apologies as I had not intended for this column to get political. My complaint for this column was meant to be the cavalier use of rape to further plotlines. Rape, as an unfortunate part of the human condition, does have a place in storytelling.

SPOILERS AHEAD

……

……

There is a, to my mind, well-handled subplot in House of Cards addressing this, which is obviously drawn from The Invisible War. Rape occurs frequently in the background and once in the foreground of 300: Rise of an Empire. Unnecessary, in my mind, sexual assault subplots were introduced in Scandal and Downton Abbey – just to name the two most recent shows. If you need more examples, try: Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men, Private Practice, Law & Order SVU, 90210, American Horror Story, Reign, The Fosters, Ringer, Veronica Mars, The Americans, Bates Motel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Oz, The Shield, Nip/Tuck, The Sopranos, Chicago Fire.

My wife and I are tired of rape being used simply to advance the plot or to show that villains are villains. I suppose it is better than the days of the soap opera where the heroine would be raped, impregnated, then fall in love with her rapist and marry him. Stop using rape as shorthand.

Anyway /rantmodeoff.

New Netflix Streaming Releases for the Week of 3/18/14

Another week, another slew of movies on instant Netflix

Bad Boys

Action/Adventure: Bad Boys

Anime: Sword Art Online

Comedy: How To Be A Man, Jasper Redd: Jazz Talk, Look Who’s Talking Now, See No Evil Hear No Evil, Stir Crazy, Tom Segura: Completely Normal

Documentary: Stand, The Loving Story

Drama: Margarita, A Marine Story, The Skinny, Underdogs, How I Live Now, Center Stage: Turn It Up

Faith: Taken by Grace

Turbo

Family: Legend of Sarila, Turbo, Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild, Swan Princess: Enchanted Castle

Fantasy & Science Fiction: Gattaca

Foreign: The Final Girl, Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen, Reaching for the Moon, Nightmare City, Terraferma, Watchtower

Horror: Night of the Comet

Sports: Valhalla

Jesus of Nazareth

Television: LEGO: Friends, Breaking Amish, the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, and new episodes of Comedy Bang! Bang!, Long Island Medium

Thriller: Wild Things 2