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 HotelĀ (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.

Watch the Bard Week: Coriolanus

Coriolanus is currently available on instant Netflix

One-Line Review: Excellent updating of Shakespeare’s play.

CoriolanusCoriolanus (2011) – Rated R

Actor Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut with this modern update of Shakespeare’s tale about the arrogant general who is banished by the republic he has protected at all costs, provoking him to ally with former foes and wreck a bloody revenge.”

He that will give good words to thee will flatter beneath abhorring. What would you have, you curs that like nor peace nor war? The one affrights you, the other makes you proud. He that trusts to you where he should find you lions, finds you hares; where foxes, geese. Who deserves greatness, deserves your hate.”

We initially started to watch Coriolanus some time ago but had to quickly stop it because of our granddaughter. We had not noticed the R rating when it came on – be assured this movie is quite violent and not for the kiddies. We finally got a chance to watch it recently, sans child.

During the 90s, Ralph Fiennes quickly shot up the acting charts, landing the romantic lead in Wuthering Heights and being nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. He received a Best Actor nomination as the romantic lead in The English Patient and this would normally have cemented him as a leading man. Unfortunately the science fiction epic Strange Days and attempted blockbuster The Avengers (1998) were complete bombs at the box office and Fiennes was relegated to smaller films, smaller roles, and voiceover work.

In 2005, he landed the plum role of Voldemoort in the Harry Potter series. Unfortunately, when he was cast as Hades in Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans, they essentially made him redo Voldemoort. Perhaps this is what caused him to move into directing with Coriolanus.

Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s more obscure plays. Fiennes updates it, making it a modern conflict and using the play to say a lot of things about politics and the media. In this it succeeds quite well, once again showing the Bard as relevant as ever. The combat is handled impressively, albeit on a small scale. Coriolanus has a nice crowd-turning scene a la Mark Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar.

Ralph Fiennes is quite impressive as the arrogant Caius Martius Coriolanus. Gerard Butler acquits himself nicely as his foe, Tullus Aufidius, in both the action sequences and the dialogue. Brian Cox, James Nesbitt, and Paul Jesson engage as politicians. Vanessa Redgrave shines as Volumnia, mother to Coriolanus. Jessica Chastain has less to do as Virgilia, Coriolanus’ wife.

The majority of Coriolanus was filmed in Serbia. If you read the credits, most of the non-speaking roles are filled with names ending in ‘vic’. It is somewhat ironic as Coriolanus details strife between the Romans and the Volsces. The industrial look found in most Serbian films is found here as well but it works quite well in context.

Fiennes’ direction is assured. Cinematography is excellent. Action sequences are exciting and Shakespeare’s marvelous language survives intact. This is the counterpoint to Taymor’s dreadfully campy Titus Andronicus.

Coriolanus has been on Netflix for a while so catch it before it disappears.

 

Clash of the Titans – Theatrical

My wife, daughter and I went to see Clash of the Titans on Friday at Cinebarre. My daughter loves mythology and I love monsters. My wife came along because she loves us. Oh and she also love the milkshakes which Cinebarre serves at your table – I had chocolate, my wife had cookies & cream, and I am not sure which one my daughter had (mint chocolate chip?).

The original Clash of the Titans is currently available on instant Netflix. The remake is only available in theaters so is the remake worth your hard-earned money? In a word,

NO!

PASS: Clash of the Titans (2010) – Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief sensuality.

“If he is to save the life of the beautiful Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), the valiant Perseus (Sam Worthington) — born to a god but raised as a man — must lead a team of intrepid warriors on a quest to battle a host of powerful, beastly enemies. This sweeping fantasy epic, a remake of the 1981 hit, also stars Liam Neeson as Zeus, Ralph Fiennes as Hades, Danny Huston as Poseidon and Gemma Arterton as Io.”

Where oh where did this go wrong? The original is no classic but is beloved as the last film animated by Ray Harryhausen. The actors in the original are quite wooden but the creatures are absolutely wonderful.

The studios hired hot French action director Louis Leterrier to remake the 1981 film. Previously Leterrier took a good property that had misfired (The Hulk) and remade it into something really cool and worthy of the property (The Incredible Hulk).

The original script, written by Beverley Cross, took many liberties with mythology. The new script, hammered out by 100 blind-folded monkeys on typewriters – wait I mean three separate writers, just chucks mythology and sense out of the window.

Writer Travis Beacham previously wrote Seconds and Dog Days of Summer. Writers Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay previously wrote Aeon Flux and the Tuxedo. I am really not sure who to blame but the writing is dreadful.

I was pretty much cringing through the first half-hour of the film.

When they first show the gods, my wife whispered to me, “Oh my its the gods of the round table”. The gods are shown in full shiny Arthurian-lite battle armor. Not only do they borrow from Arthurian mythos but later in the film, we have Djinn. Never mind that they are not Djinn in any traditional sense of the word.

Someone obviously liked Ralph Fiennes in Harry Potter. Here he plays Hades but they told him not to bother acting. Just play him exactly as if you were Voldemort. That was the sum of his acting direction.

Liam Neeson, normally a wonderful actor, sleepwalks his way through his performance (paycheck please!) but is still of course fun to watch.

I have now seen two (this and Terminator Salvation) of the three tentpole movies that have starred Sam Worthington. I am trying to reserve judgment until I see Avatar but I believe Sam is the new Keanu Reeves. He has no emotional range here at all.

Mads Mikkelson is quite good as Draco and stands out from the rest of the cookie-cutter characters. Sadly he still has to work within the script.

The writing direction for Hades is to take those parts that would normally belong to Poseidon (you know god of the seas, oceans, etc.) and assign them to Hades. So the lord of the Underworld releases the Kraken from the depths of the sea. Hrrrm.

I understand the god/mythology/religion/analogies but they basically portray Hades as Satan throughout the film. All other god roles besides Zeus and Hades are reduced to essentially window dressing.

Apparently Andromeda (Alexa Davos) was not a sufficient love interest for Perseus so we also have Io (Gemma Arterton). In normal Greek mythology Zeus ends up taking Io as a lover and turns her into a heifer to hide her from Hera. She has no part at all in the Perseus story but hey why stop now.

In addition to rewriting mythology, the story makes no sense. Perseus does not live in Argos, is not romantically involved with Andromeda, and apparently does not know anyone in Argos. In spite of this he leads a group of warriors to certain death so that one woman will not have to be sacrificed to save the city.

The action is fun after the first half hour. The Scorpiok fight is quite exciting. These and a few of the performances are the only things that drag this up to the pass level.

The Medusa, which should be the showpiece of the film, looks very plastic-y compared to the rest of the effects. It almost looks as if it the final rendering pass was skipped.

By all accounts AVOID the 3-D version. This film was not made with 3-D in mind – 3D was added in post-production and by all accounts, it is terrible (though I went to the 2D version and do not have firsthand knowledge of the 3D).

People Watch: The other gods have extremely little screen time and if lucky get to utter a single line. Alexander Siddig (Dr. Bashir on Star Trek DS9) plays Hermes. Danny Huston (Colonel Stryker in Wolverine) plays Poseidon. Izabella Miko (Coyote Ugly) plays Athena.