Friday, November 13, 2015

Brooklyn (2015)

Thanks to some fortuitous circumstances and a bearer of free tickets, I was able to attend a pre-screening for the film Brooklyn.

I had seen the trailer for this movie a couple of months ago and was definitely intrigued. It combines my love of Saoirse Ronan, her amazing native Irish accent, and her great range in a proper drama. There were a couple of strange sci-fi/fantasy choices that she made that I wasn't the most thrilled with but this one is right in my wheelhouse.

Saoirse plays Eilis (pronounced Eh-lish, for us Canadians or the Fonz) a young Irish girl leaving her mother and older sister Rose to sail for America in a quest to find new opportunities. She has some support once landing in Brooklyn but finds it hard to forget her home of potatoes and Guinness (okay bad stereotypes) and start anew. She struggles socially and at work until she meets a young Italian plumber named Mario....sorry, I mean Tony. I keep getting those two names mixed up and I can't for the life of me think why. At least he doesn't have a moustache. The story follows the pair of young lovers and Eilis' internal struggle when tragedy forces her to return to Ireland.

Saoirse really shows us why she is an Oscar nominated actress. Eilis goes through so much personally and emotionally and as an audience you feel captivated by her life and sometimes forget you're not there with her. Tony (Emory Cohen) is a bit uncouth but he has a boyish charm. I think I liked the character because he's a bit goofy but also due to the crassness of his character in The Place Beyond the Pines. The supporting cast is a treat. Everyone from Jim Broadbent to Julie Walters do just what they need to nothing more, nothing less and in the best way. The supporting roles are just that and they don't pull focus from Eilis but guide her along as she grows.

I find it heartbreaking seeing Rose having to put any hope for a life of her own on hold to stay in Ireland and take care of their mother. This sort of self-sacrifice is something we see a lot in film but I don't think it's been done any better than with older brother George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. It's a character you always want to succeed but that's not their cinematic destiny. Although it did turn out pretty well for George in the end.

Upon Eilis' return to Ireland we also meet a young Irish chap, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson). I found his character a bit lacking in development and I would have loved to see more of him. For a drama like this I am glad that it is under two hours but felt like it could have used more time particularly for Rose and Jim who could have been flushed out more considering their roles.

I'm sorry if this seems a bit rushed, I'm writing this when I should be getting ready to go to the airport but my priorities are clearly out of whack. I'll definitely come back to finish what I wrote here but this is a good start for now.

It has a limited release in Canada starting November 20 and although it's not action packed it really is worth the watch. It's surprisingly funny while keeping you invested emotionally. It paces well and doesn't leave you shifting in your seat waiting for the credits. Check it out for a compelling story and a great performance from Saoirse Ronan.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

It's official, the summer blockbuster season has begun! In recent years a big budget superhero movie tends to start us off and Avengers: Age of Ultron is definitely a worthy flag bearer for the flood of this year's additions.

The Rundown: After retrieving Loki's Scepter from a HYDRA stronghold Stark decides to research the scepter and finds something that might just bring peace to the world. His unfortunate mishap results in Ultron, an artificial intelligence hell bent on destroying the Avengers and the human race (villains are all the same).  

As usual, the witty comedic style we've come to know and love from Marvel was in full force. I found the opening action sequence a bit jarring and almost too animated but I could live with it. I can only guess it was made for 3D but it hurts my eyes so I opt to save the $5 or so.

Thankfully I had no such gripes later in the film. Overall the action was pretty crisp and was bolstered well by the abundance of debris from Ultron's legionnaires being utterly destroyed and blown apart in oh so many ways.

Newcomers Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson were pretty enjoyable with their generic Eastern European accents (or Sokovian as per Marvel lore). I prefer Evan Peters' Quicksilver from Days of Future Past but only just. When I first saw production stills of Taylor-Johnson's look in the role I had my doubts. The character was a little darker, a little less goofy, but all in all he brought his own in a star studded ensemble. The two were solid, late additions to the Avengers crew. It just makes you think how big the cast will be once the Infinity War starts kicking off.

I actually wrote this whole thing and forgot to talk about Vision so I am going to subtly slip it in like it was meant to be here this whole time. Vision is an android designed as the final vessel for Ultron's intelligence. Vision is created using Vibranium to bond with human cells as well as the power of the Mindstone (the Yellow Infinity Stone). Paul Bettany gets buff and painted up to play the part and it certainly wasn't as campy as I feared it could be. I spoiled the storyline a bit because I knew he would be playing the character while also previously voicing a very familiar friend to Stark.

I don't often like reading more critical and general negative reviews that oppose my own but Forbes had one that does touch on some valid points. They call Ultron "lame" but I think that is a bit harsh. James Spader gives Ultron a funny, yet diabolical whimsy but he doesn't quite instill the kind of fear or terror as would be implied in the trailers. The article also gets it right in that the movie does try to keep track of too many characters. It did need to happen though in order to ease audiences into what will be a zoo of heroes in the Infinity War films. 

To throw in a little criticism of my own, the dramatic moments with Barton, and especially those between Natasha and Bruce were a bit clumsy but the quick quips and clever one liners that were ever so cooly slipped in saved us from any lengthy discomfort. Also, the introductory HYDRA crony Baron Wolfgang von Strucker has a made up sounding name and looks like the Colonel Klink's poor, sad, and less successful younger brother. 

Is it better than The Avengers? No. Is it worse? I don't think so. In any case it has a little more awkward drama, the same style and humour, and I personally liked the polish on the action more even if it was more chaotic. 

I know you're going to watch it so no endorsement needed from me.

There is an extra scene at the end but if you've been following the Infinity War setup you won't be surprised by it. 

- The product placement was a little more blatant than usual or maybe I'm just more aware of it. Beats by Dre, Audi, Samsung, and Adidas really made their mark in this one.
- Andy Serkis is almost non-existent in his tiny role and I wish he could have done more. Julie Delpy's role is even shorter and I only caught her because I knew she was in it.
- Idris Elba looks good out of Heimdall's gold armor. It suits him better. Catch that pun?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Cinderella (2015)

Kenneth Branagh has been putting his touch on big budget blockbusters these last few years. He's been taking on iconic characters and I think his take on Cinderella is safe but entertaining.

Branagh doesn't push the boundaries in many places and pretty much just sticks to the plan. From what I could see the story was pretty spot on with the Disney's first attempt 65 years prior. There are however a few major differences from the 1950's version

First, when making her dress, Cinderella does not use any of the her "family's" old clothing, her sisters and step-mother are just cruel for even fewer reasons. Secondly, the Captain played by Nonso Anozie is a new character and is basically the honorable and kind half of the Grand Duke. Which brings us to the fact that the Grand Duke isn't supposed to be evil but is portrayed so in this story by Stellan Skarsgard

Lily James put in a pretty visceral and real performance, but when you're comparing it to a cartoon it's like comparing apples and oranges. 

One thing that piqued my attention is the way they got her into the beautiful blue gown by the end. She supposedly could only eat soup because of the physical limitations set upon her by the gown. As far as feminism goes I am not particularly outspoken but Cinderella is a strong female character that is hard working, loving, and kind. She is my second favourite Disney Princess (Belle will always hold a place in my heart) and rightfully so. Lily James is not a big girl and she is beautiful and I am fine with that casting. But had they loosened the corset, would it really have killed the image? Cinderella is supposed to be a woman so stop trying to make her a cartoon.

Hayley Atwell's role as Cinderella's mother is warm and loving and you really believe it. Although, for me, her beautiful brown locks seem to suit her more than the blonde but that is neither here nor there. Drizella and Anastasia were as described but mostly forgettable as they were overshadowed by Cate Blanchett's eerie performance as Lady Tremaine. Blanchett could seemingly play many of the villainous female characters Disney has to offer. She could have easily slotted in as Maleficent as well as a remade version of Cruella de Vil (although Glenn Close was terrifying). Helena Bonham Carter is exactly as you might expect as the Fairy Godmother, absolutely, wonderfully weird. 

Finally we get to Pretty Boy....I mean the Prince. Richard Madden portrays the Prince with those piercing blue eyes and Ross Geller-inspired white teeth. Many of the Prince's scenes provide some sort of quick quip or joke and brings some levity to oppose the cruel and dark situation that befalls Cinderella. His inability to speak to Cinderella asking for the first dance is cute only in a pre-teen first "date" kind of way. It is a bit awkward but it rolls past it fast enough. 

Technically speaking I thought it looked dark. I'm not sure if that was intentional or just an issue with the projector itself. On one hand it made for a somewhat more realistic look, with a little less artificial light but on the other hand tt made some of the details muted or muffled. The images weren't quite as crisp as they could have been. 

I loved the set decoration. Towards the end is when it really started to shine. Cinderella's carriage and the interiors of the castle were simply magnificent. There were touches of computer graphics for those things but I think most of it was practically done. 

I did find the movie spent a lot of time explaining some of the minutiae of the story which was nice but they did rush over Cinderella making her dress for the ball and that was disappointing. Also, there is a lack of the magical music present in the original. A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes does play but only after the credits start rolling.

Speaking of credits, I should add that there is a post-credits scene. Although my policy is to stick around until the credits are over, I succumbed to peer pressure and my friends leaving the theatre. Having only read what it entails, it's not a huge deal if you miss it but just a somewhat chuckle worthy extra snippet. 

All in all, it was fun. It isn't reinventing the story but it shows it in a different medium. I didn't feel like it was too geared towards children but it didn't have any frightening parts either (e.g. Spider Baby Head and his friends from Toy Story). I can imagine the IMAX Experience does punch up the effects quite a bit but I'm not interested in buying an overpriced ticket just for that. Regular admission is perfectly adequate but I might suggest waiting a week or two for some of the theatres to get less crowded. Besides spoilers shouldn't be an issue for those that haven't been living under a rock for the last 65 years. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Boyhood (2014) - Take 2

A few days removed and 165 minutes later I can rest easy that I am not just a warped, frustrated old man.

After a sufficient break from Oscar films and a few episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as a cleanser, I returned as promised to Richard Linklater's Boyhood. I won't be backpedaling too far in this post; it's more of an update and addendum to my ever so slightly harsh words issued on the weekend. 

I stand by the fact that the first half hour is not easy to sink into. Knowing that it is nearly three hours beforehand was a detrimental piece of knowledge to have. I was actually surprised that for me, after the half hour hump, the remaining two plus hours went rather quickly.

There is no point sharing a summary because it is summed up in the title of the film.

The material itself is mundane, almost dull but relatable in many ways. As a dear friend told me, it isn't a particularly climactic movie but you can't help but start to get attached to the characters. Towards the end though, the young characters were becoming too philosophical and towards the far-left wing. It was encroaching on "My name is Rainbow. I am a gluten-free vegan and my clothes are made entirely from hemp" territory. Not that that is a bad thing, I just can't relate in terms of my own boyhood.

Ethan Hawke performed very well as his slightly grungy but lovable and charming self, which is not surprising in the least. Patricia Arquette's performance grew on me. She convinced me more as an older more settled mother than trying to play a woman in her early 30s in the beginning. She was the most consistent hitter of the actors and she has the hardware to prove it. Lorelei Linklater and her character Samantha were not that pivotal to the story and the film and it was definitely felt when she just slipped away towards the end. But again, the movie is called Boyhood not Girlhood. That would be a nice companion piece in Linklater's repertoire though.

The scenes with Ellar Coltrane who played Mason Jr. were filmed for 3-4 days each year, which is a pretty small window to capture. Yes Mason is a fictional character but as Linklater, Hawke, and Arquette sat down and wrote each year, the story, at some points had to progress along with Ellar as well as Mason.

I loved the subtle (and not so subtle) pop culture references letting us know generally what year it was without having to explicitly tell us. The music was also a nice touch, most used as a tie to the year in which it was shot. The Black Album, the works of Paul, John, George, and Ringo, made by Mason Sr. for his son, is one nice addition to the music department of the film. It is glossed over so cooly in the scene and enhanced its intrigue for me.

I'm not certain how accurate this playlist is but you can check it out here.

So after giving Boyhood its clearly deserved second chance, I can say that I liked it. I think it was one of the best movies of the year but not my favourite. That's not detracting from the film because unlike previous years I did watch all the Best Picture candidates and the competition was fierce. The Grand Budapest Hotel was my pick for best of the year. From the point of view of a novel and creative way to film a story, I am sad that Richard Linklater didn't win for Best Director. It is not however "a travesty" that neither he nor Boyhood won for their respective categories.

What I want to finish with is that while it was a slow burn I did enjoy it. The way the story is told doesn't make me want to see it again but it does make me want to see his next chapter, the 18-30 year old story for Ellar and Mason Jr. Like a TV Unfortunately, it will be another 12 years in the making. 

- Did you like that topical reference in the opening paragraph? Nothing like a 70 year old movie to stay current.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Boyhood (2014) - Take 1

I am going to disappoint some people because sadly I did not complete my quest to watch all the Best Picture Oscar nominees before the big event. 

I could not finish Richard Linklater's Boyhood but it wasn't due to lack of time. 

Call it sacrilegious, call it whatever you want. I just didn't like it. I only got thirty minutes in and let's take a look at those thirty minutes. 

(Please don't take my opinion seriously. I didn't finish it and 98% of the Rotten Tomatoes community seem to like it so I'm in the minority. Just enjoy my rant from here on out.)

We always see the divorced single parent trope in movies but rarely do we see it kids' point of view. Linklater puts a novel spin on old material and I can't fault him for that. 

I think for me the problem is that in those first thirty minutes, I hated every character that appeared on screen. I'm not saying their performances were bad but the characters just made me want to smack some people. Maybe that is what he intended. I'm certain some of them grow into perfectly respectable people but.... 

Okay let's put it this way. I compare it to watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix but instead you replace every character with Dolores Umbridge. Great acting but if I had to watch that I would probably gouge out my eyes or punch my screen. A bit extreme but I am do so for the sake of being dramatic. 

I love Linklater's long term trilogy Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. It follows two lovers across an 18 year span. These movies are often mundane, unbroken, long winded, and hard to watch and I love them for it. Boyhood seems to share many of the same qualities but never hooked me. If the hook is beyond 30 minutes I'll be reticent to try to watch it again. 

I put Take 1 in the title because I will give it another chance in due time. There are a number of factors that may have driven me not to like the movie. 
  • I chose to watch this movie last of all the Best Picture nominees. That may have soiled my palette for these long dramas
  • I had just finished watching Big Hero 6, a fantastic, lovable but very unrealistic movie
  • Boyhood was overhyped
  • I am growing more critical of movies
  • or the remote possibility of it just not being good
I am surely being too harsh to it without giving it a fair chance but that is what I think right now. 30 minutes felt like two hours and 165 minutes would feel like a hammer to the temple claw side first.

I really don't have that much against the movie, it just didn't hook me. For now I will shelf it along with some other movies I haven't finished like Lincoln and Robin Hood.

- Instead of finishing the movie, I watched some YouTube videos then went to bed. I think I watched Guy Falling for 9 Seconds about 10 times.
- Richard Linklater's daughter Lorelei makes you want to give her a good smack every time she does anything, says anything, or appears on screen. I do not condone child abuse but some discipline helps in the long run. Maybe that's the old fashioned talking.

Selma (2014)

I have a very limited knowledge of the work Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accomplished during his years as a civil rights activist. Everyone knows the I Have a Dream speech but I knew little else.

I also have a very narrow and limited knowledge of much of US History. Although I know who LBJ was (if you think that stands for Lebron James you can get out now), I could never have told you much about the man, other than he was in office for a sizeable chunk of the Vietnam War. 

In that vein, I apologize in advance for any historical inaccuracies found in the this post. I love film history, not regular history.

Selma focuses on the work done by Dr. King and the SCLC in the state of Alabama and more specifically the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches. The events start after Dr. King's famous speech and after he is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I think it is tragic that David Oyelowo was not nominated for an Oscar. It would be hard to knock out the great men in the category but to bring to life one of the greatest orators in American history in a resounding fashion is an amazing sight to behold. Selma focuses on the injustices towards African Americans in that they are being denied the right to vote. Not only that but their is apathy and almost disdain in the highest offices in government towards the cause. Blacks are being beaten and killed and nothing is being done to stop it. MLK did not stand for that.

While it is a a HARPO Production, I'm glad I don't see much of an Oprah effect on the film other than in her brief scenes. Although Dr. King shouting, "You get a vote! And you get a vote! And you get a vote! Everybody gets a vote!!!" to the masses would have been an excellent scene.

I love how much of a loathsome bully Tim Roth plays as George Wallace. I don't know how realistic it is to the man himself but I haven't heard much to the contrary. Having those truly villainous characters makes a story oh so much more intriguing and also satisfying when they are conquered.  

The main concern in terms of historical accuracy is the complete failure that is Lyndon Johnson as he is portrayed in this film. Supposedly, Johnson was very proactive with civil rights legislation and accommodating to Dr. King in their work together. Here is a largely biased but hopefully accurate source disputing the portrayal of LBJ in the film. Tom Wilkinson does a fine job and I'm sure it is simply written that way for dramatic effect.

The story of Selma is one I had not heard before and I attribute that to why I liked it. I had a visceral enjoyment of the film and I think that is how it should be. There were some heavy moments as is to be expected but I couldn't look away. It actually made me angry even though, for the most part, the issues being raised in the story have been addressed. It was slow at times but that is the nature of biopics and historical movies. For me it was a much easier watch than Lincoln if that tells you anything.

- I'm sorry for the Oprah meme but I couldn't resist.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Birdman (2014)

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can! Knocking Birdman off my list, I am six for eight with only a few days to go. That gives me plenty of time to make it there!

I felt that Birdman was as good as the sum of its parts but nothing more. 

I see traditionally shot films as an amalgamation of scenes coming together to tell a story. The scenes themselves are useless out of context and thus those films become more than the sum of its parts.  

Since Birdman was filmed to look like one long scene it meant the characters and sets made up sections of one large sum. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, because it isn't. In this case, the aesthetic director Alejandro Inarritu (sorry for any missing accents) went for is really helped by the style of cinematography and editing. 

Riggin Thompson (Michael Keaton) was Birdman (an allusion to Batman, but you all know that so we can move right along), a comic-book adapted to a few big screen blockbuster hits. Over twenty years later he is struggling to try to find his footing. He has financed, written, directed, and is starring in his own Broadway play. It seems that Murphy's Law is in effect and nothing can go quite right, but that's what previews are for. From his venomous interactions with castmate Mike Shiner (Ed Norton) to his failing relationship with ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) and daughter Sam (Emma Stone), his personal life is a mess and he is falling deeper into his spiral of psychosis that metastasizes into Birdman walking around telling Riggin what they need to do. 

Keaton is outright insane and I loved every minute of it. Now that's nice and succinct for you. 

Ed Norton plays a great asshole and I really don't care about him at all, that is why it was wonderful. Amy Ryan, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, and even Emma Stone are all mainly ancillary but Naomi Watts is what I have to talk about most with the supporting cast. 

I didn't like her, to be fair I never really do, but she overacted. She is playing a "young" woman who has dreamt of being on Broadway and acts like a child when she thinks of it slipping through her fingers. Naomi will be 47 later this year and she acts less than half her age. Amy Ryan is the same age and her character is the mother of another adult character in the movie. Yes this is Hollywood, but it's time to move on and embrace the mom roles now Naomi.

Antonio Sanchez provides a fantastic jazz drum score that was brilliant and not unlike another Oscar nominated movie, Whiplash. Unfortunately for him and the film, the Academy deemed him ineligible for the Original Score category, for which Birdman was nominated at the Golden Globes, due to the effect the classical music portion of the score had on the film. I think that is total hogwash and even after an appeal they just have to live with it.

I was going to say at the top of this post that the one take look of this movie is very reminiscent of Alphonso Cuaron's style. That is because Birdman cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki often works with Cuaron and is responsible for cinematically notable films Children of Men and Gravity, for which he just recently won the Academy Award. I see gold in this man's very near future as he is nominated again for Birdman. Along those, lines the editing was very clever but from the sheer number of transitions, the quick cut to and from darkness became a little played out. 

I loved the story even if it was fairly obvious what the climax would be. Michael Keaton and the way it was shot were the big draws for me. I enjoyed myself the whole way through but ultimately I don't need to watch this movie ever again. For me, it has very little value in a repeat viewing. For those yet to see it, let this movie sink in a little before you move on from it forever. You won't regret it.

Check out The Grand Budapest Hotel, American Sniper, and other Oscar nominees if you haven't already. You're running out of time!

American Sniper (2014)

I'm on movie two of five on my race to the Oscars. I have to pick up the pace if I want to make it in time. 

Clint Eastwood's American Sniper has been criticized for being many things. Some say it is very black and white in how it portrays Kyle and the SEALS as heroes and the Iraqi people as terrorists. Some say it is anti-Muslim propaganda. Some people do not like that they refer to the Iraqi people as "savages" constantly throughout the movie. 

I completely agree. However, these points address the face of the movie. Eastwood's true message is one of family and what war does to them. Unfortunately, his intentions aren't always clear and the face of the movie is a pretty glaring one. 

I liken Clint's message to Chris' younger brother Jeff. Jeff pops up a few times in the movie at critical junctures. Jeff is with Chris when he makes the decision to enlist in the Navy. He is at Chris' wedding right before Chris gets shipped off to Iraq. He eventually gets shipped out as well. Jeff appears again, now down trodden and clearly defeated when Chris returns for Tour Two. The exchange between the two brothers is almost hard to watch. Like Clint's message, the brothers' relationship is quite subtle. You don't see them interact normally after the first five minutes. 

Jeff is overshadowed, beaten down, and a character you mostly don't care about. That is what happened to Clint's message. Most of the film is very black and white but the family scenes are supposed to be right smack in the middle of the grey but they aren't long enough to get that feeling from them. 

Here is the spoiler-free super lazy version of the plot:

Chris Kyle is 30 year old piss poor excuse for a cowboy. After the 1998 embassy bombings he enlists in the Navy and is trained to be a SEAL sniper. He marries the beautiful Taya (Sienna Miller) and has two kids. Sadly, he is away from his kids most of the time because is busy shooting countless terrorists. His marriage and family life is a struggle because he can't leave the war behind even when he is home.

The brevity of my summary is no disrespect to the man, it is simply out of laziness.  

Bradley Cooper has had a great three years bagging three consecutive Oscar nominations. He has had some stiff competition losing against Daniel Day Lewis' Lincoln in 2012 and to Jared Leto in Dallas Buyer's Club just one year ago. Unfortunately for Bradley, the third time is not the charm. I can't be so sure but even if Eddie Redmayne doesn't win, there are a few other obstacles on Bradley's road to meet Oscar.

Don't write off Sienna Miller because although she may not meet Bradley's performance, she isn't far off. I think I formed a negative opinion of her after she played such an awful person in Stardust but she really does a fantastic job at making me like her again. Her scene at the movies close, when she is staring through the crack in the door, seemed really heavy handed but that's not her fault. 

Some of the special effects looked clumsy and cheap and it actually made me laugh. Some grenade explosions look like what Freddie Wong would use in his action scenes. There is nothing wrong with that when you're making an exaggerated action scene in a five minute YouTube video but when you spend $60 million on a film you really have to make sure those effects are on point. I didn't like the CGI and slow-motion around Kyle's bullet in the climax but watching it a second time it isn't so bad. 

I do want to say that while I am very adept at turning my brain off and suspend any disbelief and just enjoy a movie, having almost Iraqi person in the film be a terrorist was not a great move. I thoroughly enjoyed it regardless but it was something I noticed it and that detracts from the experience. Despite my nit-picking and the real lack of family coverage in the film (which is the point, I guess) it was a very good movie. The acting from the two leads was great but I think I would have nominated Ralph Fiennes over Cooper because I'm weird like that.

Check out The Grand Budapest Hotel and other Oscar nominees if you haven't already. You're running out of time!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Having seriously lagged behind and viewed only three of the eight nominees for Best Picture this year, I have embarked on the quest to enrich my film palette before this Sunday's festivities. 

Today's undertaking was a wonderful surprise in terms of entertainment value. Why I ever had anything else in mind is beyond me but more than a year after it's release I have finally watched The Grand Budapest Hotel.

I admit I am not I am a simple novice when it comes to Wes Anderson films, so most of this review will be misinformed and naive. 

If you have read any of my posts in the past you know that my summaries of films are shoddy at best. This film is so quick and filled to the brim with plot points and brilliant characters in just under 100 minutes that I shouldn't even try. Unfortunately for you, I will try anyway. 

In present day, a young girl comes to visit a cemetery in the fictional country of Zubrowska. She has come to pay respect to The Author, the man who wrote a novel about The Grand Budapest Hotel in 1985.

She starts reading and we see The Author starting to recount his tale. The Young Author, begins his acquaintance with the titular hotel in 1968. The hotel at this point is run down and nearly abandoned apart for only a few solitary guests and unmotivated workers. One day during his stay at the Grand Budapest, The Young Author asks about a strange man who arrived at the hotel. This man, Zero Mustafa, turns out to be the proprietor who invites The Young Author to listen to his story.

Zero's story starts in 1932 when he started work as the Lobby Boy under Monsieur Gustave H., the devoted concierge of the Grand Budapest.

Sadly, this is where I must leave you in terms of story. I gave you an overview of the first two of seven parts to the movie. Firstly, I don't feel it would be fair to rob you of the joy of watching the story unfold. Secondly, if I summarized the whole movie it would probably take another thousand words or so. Lastly, I just don't want to do it.

In terms of story and comedy, this is my favourite movie of 2014, but it also provides so much more than that. I loved the technical aspects of the film. I loved the camera work as it captured the intricacies and the crisp meshing of how each scene flows. Every last detail is so deliberate and that is why it was so entertaining for me. Also, the comedic effect of moderately used and perfectly timed profanity is seriously undervalued. I have an inkling this is true for all Wes Anderson movies but I cannot for the life of me remember in my clouded memory of way too many movies.

The duo of Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori (Monsieur Gustave and Zero respectively) really accent an already great story and visually beautiful film. I won't bother listing the cast because its length is unsightly. Instead, I will say most were well used but there were only a couple that I didn't think were quite on point in their given roles. Ed Norton is a very capable actor and I enjoy many of his roles but he seemed to pull me out of my immersion into the story. I can't quite explain it but after his first scene I was hoping he wouldn't be a frequent player in the narrative. You might have guessed that I guessed wrong. The second actor that seemed a bit off to me (which is difficult to say since I have an almost unhealthy obsession with her) is Saoirse Ronan. She played Zero's love interest and it wasn't anything she did to stifle my enjoyment. It was her accent that threw me. I had not seen a single role in which she uses her natural Irish accent until this one. I have heard it many times in interviews, it is beautiful, but it seemed out of place amongst the other characters. Although her native Irish had me slightly perturbed, I hope you enjoyed her performance as the lovely Agatha.

Such a quick, clever, and well made movie in every facet it seemed longer than its sub two hour run time, in a good way. When the story came to a close it was bittersweet because it was a fantastic journey but I genuinely wished to see more. The movie runs fast and it is complex but not so much that you won't be able to follow along. It provides just the right amount of complexity to be comical from start to finish.

It really was a pleasure to watch it and I hope on my next watch the few odd issues I had with it will have ironed themselves out. I also hope it stands up on subsequent viewings because I plan on many to come.

- I probably should have (re)watched some of Wes Anderson's previous work but I didn't. If you have been equally neglectful you should check out a nice Beginner's Guide to Wes Anderson movies.
- Harvey Keitel is looking intimidating as always but at 75 he's looking a little saggy around the everywhere.
- Willem Dafoe is the maniac we all know and love and I love it. I was hoping for his creepy wide grin though but stoic and menacing works well too. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dirty Dancing (1987)

It has taken some time to fill in the gaps of my movie knowledge but I'm slowly getting around to some important ones. A couple years ago, I caught up on great dance/musical movies Footloose and Grease, and finally....FINALLY, I've gotten around to watching Dirty Dancing.

There are so many references to Dirty Dancing in both cinematic history and daily life that I felt I had already seen it. I thought it would be kind of fun but ultimately disappointing. I'm always glad to be proven wrong. It is great entertainment and I loved watching a clever montage of little Frances Houseman transform from a sweet, shy, innocent girl to the gyrating dancing queen she knows she is.

If you don't know the plot yet, Frances "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey) and her family go to the Kellerman's resort in the Catskills. With aspirations of saving the world and her genuine apathy for being there, she gets bored very quickly. That's when she sees Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), the hunky male dance instructor. When Johnny's dancer friend Penny gets into some real trouble, Baby has to step in and fill her dancing shoes. Cue the montage!

Obviously Baby and Johnny fall in love but that seriously complicates things. In the eyes of everyone but them, they aren't supposed to be together.

Skipping over some plot points to the end; it is the night of the big talent show and the big dance number that Johnny always performs. We hear Swayze utter those famous words,

"Nobody puts Baby in a corner" 

That line had so much power before I saw the movie. Patrick Swayze returns and sees Jennifer Grey sitting in a corner watching the talent show with her parents and spouts off the line nonchalantly. I know the line is a metaphor and has another meaning but it still is a ridiculous line. Thankfully, the movie itself is very theatrical so it is the whip cream on top of the fantastical sundae that is this movie. The cherry is the closing number with Baby and Johnny, complete with the Swayze stage jumps, and the now iconic Dirty Dancing lift. 

The movie only starts rolling when she meets the guy, so it fulfills all the requirements for a teen romance flick. Even though Grey was in her mid-20s she passes effortlessly as a teenager. With Swayze his mid-30s...well I'm not sure Johnny's age but I'm sure it's not that old. The wonders of movie magic!

I really enjoyed the Penny story because it provided the catalyst for a lot of plot points. It is pretty much the only driving story of the movie. Without it, everything else would have been stagnant. Cynthia Rhodes who played Penny was not particularly memorable but did a serviceable job. She retired from acting in 1991 to stay at home and raise her kids.

Jennifer Grey was so beautiful before the rhinoplasty and whatever else she might have gotten done. I'm not condemning those who get plastic surgery, but I really did think she was beautiful when I saw her as Ferris' sister. 

Grey came into the role after her time in Ferris Bueller and she brought her loveable brand of snarkiness with her. Swayze has some great moves, and to paraphrase the immortal words of Shakira, "You know his hips don't lie". The pair seemed to have great chemistry especially during the montage scenes when they (mostly Baby) bursts into laughter.

Jerry Orbach plays Baby's father and he really captures that quintessential protective father who has a change of heart by the end. Although he is strict and sometimes unfair, I never see him as a villain, which is a testament to the actor more than the character. Jane Brucker is a riot as Baby's sister Lisa. She is petty, stupid, and her practicing for the talent show is one of my favourite scenes because I could not stop laughing.

My biggest gripe with this movie is the terrible misuse of Kelly Bishop. Granted I've only seen her in Gilmore Girls as the brilliant Emily Gilmore (arguably the most entertaining character on the show) but as Baby's mother, she was absent from the plot entirely. She has some lines of dialogue but they are quickly forgotten. The woman had been on Broadway almost 20 years at the time this movie came out. She won a Tony. She is the triple threat of entertainment. She can sing, she can dance, she can act, yet they toss her in the back like an extra, but I digress.

I keep going back and forth about how I rank Dirty Dancing among dance movies. I think I liked it a little more than both Footloose and Grease, although Didi Conn with that pink hair as Frenchy, oh my!

This Valentine's Day, instead of going out to a fancy dinner. Watch two naive lovebirds fall in love through dance. Then dance to The Time of My Life but don't try the lift. For all the love of all things holy, don't try the lift.

- I suck at summarizing movies so just IMDb or Wiki it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)

I wrote about Joe Versus the Volcano three years ago around Valentine's Day even though I had never seen it. Things are different this year! Although I'm still single, I finally got around to watching the first of the Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan rom-com trilogy. That's a victory in my books.

Joe Banks (Tom Hanks....yeah that's not a coincidence) is stuck in a miserable dead end job at a medical supply company. He's a hypochondriac and surprise, surprise he's not feeling well. His doctor gives him some bad news; Joe has a brain cloud and only has a few months to live. Joe delivers a beautiful rant (not quite on a Chevy Chase, Christmas Vacation level) to his boss and quits. 

He is approached at his home by wealthy businessman Samuel Graynamore who needs him for a special task. In exchange for a special mineral on the island of Waponi-Woo, Joe is to jump into the island volcano as a sacrifice. Obviously, Samuel will give Joe all the luxuries in the world leading up to his fated day. So Joe decides to take the leap.

For about 20 minutes in the middle, after he meets Mr. Graynamore but before he heads to the yacht, it is a totally different movie. It feels like a long montage that could be lifted straight out of Big, had Josh been a little more mature and had more money. Once on a yacht to the island, everything takes a strange turn and what I thought to be a dream sequence (which they hinted at heavily) is just the last third of the movie going off the deep end. To parallel the movie, the plot, sets, dialogue, and effects all jump into a volcano and melt into a convoluted, stylized mess of comedy. I'm not sure I like how the movie ended but it was certainly interesting and very different. To tread lightly on the spoilers, although it's on the poster, everything ends happily ever after and he ends up with the girl. There is an interesting twist that comes up at the end but little comes of it.

I wanted to write more to summarize the film but I found it difficult to do so. Although the movie paces slowly through its first hour, it becomes so hard to describe towards the end. In terms of tone, it has a cartoonish, goofy quality. The intro sequence fantastically encompasses the misery Joe is feeling and for some reason I can picture it in claymation. The middle section of the movie was the most out of place being the most normal. Towards the end, I wouldn't have been surprised if cartoons started to walk around with the actors Who Framed Roger Rabbit style. With all this mess I always love the use of great actors in small parts, bit parts, and cameos even if some of them are underused. 

Robert Stack, with the wonderful voice as heard on Unsolved Mysteries, comes in as Dr. Ellison, Joe's doctor. Lloyd Bridges (father of Jeff and Beau) is fantastically wacky as Samuel Graynamore and I liken his character to a combination of Doc Brown and Willy Wonka. Dan Hedaya is sadly typecast as the most annoying man in existence, other than Gilbert Gottfried, but he works it well as Joe's boss. Ossie Davis is Marshall, Joe's limo driver. Amanda Plummer plays Dagmar, a tragically negligible role on the yacht. We also see Carol Kane as a hairdresser in a role so short it's almost criminal. Once on the island it's hard to pick out who anyone is but we see Abe Vigoda and Nathan Lane playing natives, because as it's explained in the film, the island was partially colonized by Jews.  
Believe it or not my favourite part of the movie was watching the performances of Meg Ryan. Meg does her best Mike Myers or Eddie Murphy impression (although I guess at the time it might have been a Peter Sellers impression) and plays the ditzy Dede, spoiled and lost Angelica, and somewhat normal Patricia. Her performances with Dede and Angelica are so over the top but it fits the movie. I flat out enjoyed it, laughing every time she spoke. 

From left to right, Meg playing Patricia, Angelica, and Dede
All in all a very strange movie. It didn't look polished enough to warrant a the big-budget price tag and the pacing was all wrong throughout. Nevertheless it ranks as one of the more enjoyable Meg Ryan performances as long as go in with no expectations. I thought it was cleverly made but had it been 20 minutes shorter it could have run smoother and tighter. Joe Versus the Volcano is certainly enjoyable and something you and a special friend can watch, discuss, and even rip apart this Valentine's Day.

- Poster image obtained from 
- I got the picture of the Meg Ryan trio from a great blog, Rock Love Austin, on a variety of subjects but the fact that they have an entire Tom Hanks section is a great.
- Taking $25 million to make and only recouping $39 million at the box office it was considered a flop despite some critical appeal, most notably a 3.5/4 star rating by Roger Ebert
- It had a higher budget than box-office hits of 1990, Home Alone and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
- A fun theory that I thought of independent of the millions of people who have probably done it before me is that Joe died on the yacht from a real illness. The "dream" is him going to the afterlife and the moon sequence, you'll know it when you see it, is him really meeting God.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Definitely, Maybe (2008)

We're creeping up on Valentine's Day and I hope you're not lactose intolerant because everything is about to get a little more cheesy.

For us single people out there it's best not to feel jealous or envy those couples around us. It's a time for blissful ignorance and naive optimism. I know being in a perpetual dream world is a dangerous thing but us dreamers can spend a few days out of the year to get our heads stuck in the clouds like only we can.

Let's get to it. 

If you haven't seen Definitely, Maybe yet you're missing out on a exceedingly handsome "regular guy" dating three amazingly stunning "regular girls" and then telling his daughter the story so she can figure out which one her mom is. If that isn't tagline worthy, I don't know what is.

To give a bit more detail Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) is asked by his daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) how he met her mother. The year was 1992 and Will, fresh out of college, moves to New York to work on Bill Clinton's Presidential campaign. During his time there he becomes close to April (Isla Fisher), apathetic politically and trying to find her calling in life, and journalist Summer (Rachel Weisz) all whilst trying to maintain a relationship with his college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks). He gets into all sorts of trouble and in present day tasks his daughter in guessing which character her mother is. 

I maintain my opinion that this movie is cute and has great actors but is a bit too cliché making it seem at times like you're being force-fed a story rather than being told one.

Most of the supporting cast is great but severely underutilized. Sadly, character development is one of the sacrifices in film over television. Abigail Breslin is adorable but alas, she peaked too soon. After Little Miss Sunshine it was pretty much downhill from there. Thankfully this role slotted nicely into her highs before what some considered cute and charming as a kid became annoying and tedious as she went through her teen years.  

I have spent some time talking to various people about the similarities between Definitely, Maybe and How I Met Your Mother. I really did love HIMYM but it simply took too long for Craig Thomas and Carter Bays to get to the point and those who were still around were left asking "Are we there yet?".

I'm going to start getting into some spoilers for both the movie and How I Met Your Mother so if you haven't seen them...EVERYONE DIES!!! Muahahahaha.....ha....ha....

Okay that doesn't happen but seriously spoilers ahead.

To parallel Definitely, Maybe let Ted replace Will Hayes for our male lead. Swap in Robin for April, Stella for Summer, and (this one is more indirect but bear with me) replace Emily with a combination of Victoria and Tracy, and you have yourself Definitely, Maybe with the HIMYM cast.  

If you don't know the characters I just referenced, watch nine seasons and a movie and get back to me.

I'm not certain which writer(s) came up with the story first but they are shockingly similar. Carter and Craig filmed the ending of the series around 2008, ultimately sealing their fate, but who knows how long they had been sitting on the complete story. Adam Brooks directed the aforementioned movie in 2008 but again it's difficult to pin down when that written story unfurled. 

In any case, if you want to summarize How I Met Your Mother or flush out the characters and story in Definitely, Maybe just swap the cast back on forth and voila!

In any case I'll have to give the nod to Definitely, Maybe because they approached the ending with a little more fluidity and tact doing so in about 75 hours of content less. It's not the most surprising of stories (April even says the words "Definitely, Maybe" in the movie) but it's fun and nice to look at for obvious reasons. 

- I started to ramble and I don't really know what the point of this post was in the end but enjoy.

Monday, January 26, 2015

In Your Eyes (2014)

A surprising Joss Whedon written film that flew under my radar until I went searching for something to cleanse my palate.

Directed by a relative unknown, Brin Hill, but backed by a Whedon script,, In Your Eyes definitely showed some promise. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Actually that's a lie, I thought it would be hilariously clich√© and predictable but that is just what I needed at the time. 

The story revolves around Becky (Zoe Kazan) and Dylan (Michael Stahl-David). We see them in polarized environments as kids. Dylan is a smart kid but hangs around the wrong crowd while Becky is an introverted girl, apprehensive of the big bad world around her. One day something amazing happens and they form a telepathic bond from across the country. 

Anyone ask for nachos? Because things just got cheesy. 

Twenty years pass and they have found themselves on wildly different paths. Becky is married to a very successful and wealthy doctor Philip (Mark Feuerstein). Unfortunately, our man Dylan has recently gotten out of prison and longs for better prospects than his dead-end employment at a car wash. This is when the connection starts to become more apparent. They start to see, hear, and experience things happening in each other's lives and it freaks them out (as it should). The start building a relationship without direct contact and it makes them question the lives they lead. 

After watching it, I read a review that discussed the fact that the obstacles between them finding each other weren't great enough. I wholeheartedly agree but I think it comes down to the characters rather than the story itself. 

Let's start with Dylan's life. He has two old "friends" Bo and Lyle who are petty criminals and get him into trouble at every turn. The problem is that they aren't developed into anything more than that. The pair are simply a vehicle to deliver plot points. Also, had Donna, played by Nikki Reed, been compatible with Dylan in any way other than that she's hot, it would have provided a more robust challenge in leaving. She had more acting chops at 18 when she was in The O.C

Now onto Becky's life. She literally does nothing. Okay that's unfair, there is a lot that goes into taking care of a household on a day to day basis especially when your partner's job is very time consuming. But when you combine the fact that they have no children, her having no discernible relationship with anyone, and being married to a completely unlikable ass of a character in Philip, they make it too easy for her to just lift out of her environment. 

In Your Eyes has a drama label but it doesn't provide enough struggle to earn that title. Character development was just too superficial beyond the two stars. Becky and Dylan have no attachments (other than her husband) due to Dylan's prison time and Becky's reluctance to delve into any other relationship than the one in her head. Both of them are blank slates and the ending shows a new beginning that has no direction. I guess those happily ever after, Disney endings really don't translate well to live-action. 

Side Note: I knew Jennifer Grey had work done since her Dirty Dancing, Ferris Bueller days but I didn't notice that she was in this movie at all until I saw her name in the end credits 

Now that I've gotten the negative out of the way I do want to leave you with some positives. 

The supernatural plot device of a telepathic link seems like it would be awful to watch but it plays out quite well. Zoe and Michael have some decent chemistry but I find she has the charm to carry the film. I am immensely biased because I think she's amazing so take that with a grain of salt. The director did a great job making it seem like they were interacting very naturally despite never being in the same place until the end. He accomplished this by having each of the actors hidden in the scenes, rattling off the other side of the dialogue while the other was shooting (Fun fact: Zoe filmed all her scenes first so she playfully says this made her job harder).

The watching experience was enjoyable, it always is for me and rom-coms. While I applaud what Joss tried to do, the screenplay wasn't as flushed out as it could have been. The supporting cast was merely subservient and the movie felt a bit hollow at times because of it. It left me feeling good but if you like Zoe like I do, do yourself a favor and check out The F Word or Ruby Sparks instead.