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.

From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn is currently available on instant Netflix.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – Rated R

“Robbers-on-the-lam Seth and Richard Gecko take an ex-preacher and his kids hostage. On a race to the Mexican border, they rendezvous at a cantina, not knowing the owners and clientele are bloodthirsty vampires in this ode to 1960s horror movies.”

“I’m not gonna drain you completely. You’re gonna turn for me. You’ll be my slave. You’ll live for me. You’ll eat bugs because I order it. Why? Because I don’t think you’re worthy of human blood. You’ll feed on the blood of stray dogs. You’ll be my foot stool.”

Director and editor Robert Rodriguez makes two separate movies here. The first is a criminals on the run saga which takes up quite a bit of screentime but then it morphs into a vampire survival tale. Although much of it is unprintable, Tarantino’s script has a lot of punch and great characters.

George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play the outlaw Gecko Brothers. Clooney is firm, loyal and desperate as bank robber Seth but Tarantino is off-the-wall as his crazy brother Richard. They take a family hostage on their way to Mexico. The father is an embittered ex-priest, Jacob Fuller, played by Harvey Keitel. His children are Kate and Scott Fuller played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu.

Rodriguez packs the movie with guest stars. Before the bar, John Saxon cameos as FBI Agent Chase. John Hawkes, Oscar-nominated for Winter’s Bone, has an early role as Pete the store clerk. Kelly Preston (Mrs. John Travolta) is a newscaster.

At the bar, makeup artist Tom Savini plays Sex Machine. Makeup artists Greg (Walking Dead) Nicotero plays Sex Machine’s friend. Director Robert Rodriguez pops up as a bandmember. Fred “The Hammer” Williamson plays Frost. The lovely Salma Hayek plays Santanico Pandemonium (and dances with a snake for you fetishists). Cheech Marin plays three roles: a border guard, Chet, and Carlos.

The criminals on the run saga is pretty good, mainly due to Tarantino’s funny script. It takes awhile to get to the vampire portion of the movie but once there, Rodriguez makes it a non-stop roller coaster ride of vampire destruction. Special effects are good and fun, with the vampires perishing in a myriad of ways. They use a lot of green blood to get some of the killings past the ratings board (an old trick).

People Watch: The wonderful Michael Parks plays Texas Ranger Earl McGraw. He would reprise that character again in Kill Bill parts one and two as well as both segments of Grindhouse (Planet Terror and Death Proof). He also plays writer Ambrose Bierce in From Dusk Till Dawn 3.

Sequel-itis: What happens when you take a franchise and get rid of director Robert Rodriguez, writer Quentin Tarantino, and actors Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Salma Hayek, and Juliette Lewis? The straight to video back-to-back sequels – From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999) with Robert Patrick and Bo Hopkins and From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (1999) with Michael Parks. The only connecting thread is Danny Trejo but the sequels are not very good.

Cop Land – Robert De Niro week

This week I’d like to celebrate one of our great American actors – Robert De Niro. Netflix has a slew of instant movies featuring De Niro including Cop Land.

Cop Land

WATCH: Cop Land (1997) – Rated R for adult content, brief nudity, graphic language and violence.

“When a local patrolman is implicated in a controversial shooting in a small New Jersey town, put-upon sheriff Freddy Heflin teams up with Lt. Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) to investigate a connection between the mob and the NYPD officers who live in the town. Sylvester Stallone delivers an effective dramatic performance in this arresting crime thriller as Freddy. Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta also star.”

“Being right is not a bullet-proof vest Freddy!”

Sylvester Stallone was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Rocky. His role as a down-on-his-luck boxer who gets a shot at the big time was heartwarming. After decades of action stardom, his role here is as a poor schlub, Freddy Heflin, who couldn’t achieve his dream of being a big city cop because of an injury suffered during a heroic rescue.Freddy is now a small cop-town sheriff.

Stallone does a stellar job underplaying his role here. It looks like he put on quite a bit of belly weight for the role. Depression and disappointment have beaten him down but he’s still a good if a bit obtuse man. Next to Rocky, this is probably his best role.

Stallone gets stellar support from a good cast even though it is clearly his show. Ray Liotta plays twitchy very well here. Robert De Niro is authoritative but doesn’t have much to do here as an Internal Affairs investigator. The always wonderful Harvey Keitel is the calm boss trying to keep everything from unraveling. Robert Patrick has a big cheesy mustache and hot temper so you won’t remember that he was the T-1000 terminator.

This is not a great film – there are way too many coincidences. A character whose motto seems to be – “If in doubt, rub them out” would be unlikely to hold the position that he does in this movie. Freddy finally realizes that he can’t trust the cops he has consistently palled around with and then trusts other people because the script tells him to. The painfully obvious voice-over postscript seems like beating a dead horse.

On the other hand there is much to appreciate in the script. There is a tender yet revealing moment between Freddy and Liz (Annabella Sciorra) and then a second one later in the film. Freddy makes a wonderfully human confession about his heroic deed. The climax of the film handles Freddy’s injury quite well.

People Watch: Look for Edie Falco and a serious Janeane Garofalo here in small roles.

Taxi Driver – Robert De Niro week

Augh! Pardon the delay in posting this as we’ve been having a few internet issues over the weekend. This week I’d like to celebrate one of our great American actors – Robert De Niro. Netflix has a slew of instant movies featuring De Niro including the Martin Scorsese classic Taxi Driver.

Taxi Driver

WATCH: Taxi Driver (1976) – Rated R

“Martin Scorsese crafts a violently prophetic, gripping vision of urban decay and insanity in which mentally unstable Vietnam vet Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) drives a cab through the sleaziest streets of pregentrified New York City and befriends a child hooker (Jodie Foster). The groundbreaking film earned four Oscar nominations, including nods for Best Picture, Best Score, and for De Niro and Foster’s haunting performances.”

Thank God for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk.”

Martin Scorsese’s camerawork and composition here is not as polished as most of his later works. This actually works for the film as too much trickery would have detracted from the raw power of this descent into madness. There is still some great cinematography of 1970s New York and a nice interior building 360 early on in the film.

The performances are excellent. Robert De Niro carries the film and almost every scene in the movie is centered on him. Jodie Foster’s supporting performance as the 12-year-old prostitute, Iris is superb – particularly coming from a child actor. Both were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances. Cybil Shepherd is wonderful as Betsy as is Albert Brooks in a non-comedic role as her friend Tom. Harvey Keitel was offered the Albert Brooks role but turned it down in favor of the much smaller role as Sport the pimp and he is superb.

Paul Schrader’s script is wonderful and logical up until the climax. He is excellent with scripts involving the seedy side of life (Hardcore, Rolling Thunder, Light Sleeper). Scorsese changed the roles of the pimp, the hotel manager, and the Mafioso to white people. This was a very wise decision because otherwise it would have seemed that Travis was simply a racist which would have blunted the whole thrust of the film. Reportedly Travis’ famous monologue in front of the mirror was ad-libbed by De Niro.

This was brilliant composer Bernard Herrmann’s last score. It is mostly composed of soft jazz with some sad soulful saxophone mixed in. With the exception of some of the post-denouement music which is a bit too jarring, his score here is excellent (as befits an Oscar nomination). Bernard Herrmann’s first job as composer was on Citizen Kane for which he was nominated for an Oscar. He is perhaps best known for his Harryhausen and Hitchcock films. Taxi Driver was dedicated to him.

This film is an absolute classic. You can view it as a harrowing descent into madness or simply as a treatise on loneliness. If you haven’t seen it yet and want to see an actor’s showcase then by all means I highly recommend this film. As for the very odd ending – remember that the story is told from Travis Bickle’s point-of-view and that the events following the denouement may have a rather different explanation.

People Watch: Martin Scorsese has a brief  but pivotal role as a psychotic passenger. Scorsese’s parents portray Iris’ parents in a photograph.

From Dusk Till Dawn

Prior to sending up exploitation films with Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino filmed a vampire exploitation film called From Dusk Till Dawn. This movie is available on instant Netflix. The two sequels are not available but you aren’t missing much as Rodriguez didn’t direct the sequels and Tarantino didn’t write them.

From Dusk Till Dawn

WATCH: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – “Robbers-on-the-lam Seth (George Clooney) and Richard Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) take an ex-preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his kids hostage. On a race to the Mexican border, they rendezvous at a cantina, not knowing the owners and clientele are bloodthirsty vampires. That’s when director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) abruptly switches from hostage drama to tongue-in-cheek, vampiric melee, creating a blood-stained ode to 1960s Mexican horror movies.”

This is a rude, crude and violent tale as might be expected from Tarantino and Rodriguez. Quentin Tarantino overacts as always but it comes off well here as do George Clooney and Harvey Keitel in more restrained performances. It takes a good long while for the vampires to show up but once they do, it’s a non-stop thrill ride. There are small, fun over-the-top performances from the lovely Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo, make-up wizard Tom Savini, and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson. The special effects are lavish and over-the-top and they take a page from the Evil Dead book and use green blood to help with the ratings board.

People watchers: look for cameos by John Saxon and makeup artists Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger and a small role by Michael Parks as Earl McGraw (a role he repeats in Kill Bill and both parts of Grindhouse).