The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

 

The Grand Budapest HotelReleased: March 28, 2014. Directed by: Wes Anderson. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Dafoe. Runtime: 100 min.

Wes Anderson’s films are an acquired taste. It is a taste that I am starting to like after two of his films. I think 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom is good, but boring when the laughs weren’t there. This isn’t the case with The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s a consistently funny film that boasts a phenomenal ensemble cast. The film follows the adventures of a legendary concierge named Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) at a popular hotel in Eastern Europe called the Grand Budapest Hotel. It also follows closely his relationship with his lobby boy Zero (a funny Tony Revolori, making his film debut), who becomes a trusted friend. 

The comedy at hand might not work for everyone. Some of the comedy might be dry to some, but I think it’s witty. Take for instance: While this film made me laugh at least 20 times, I never once heard the woman sitting in front of me laugh. At points I was almost convinced she fell asleep – but she kept moving. I’m really not sure why she stayed the whole way if she wasn’t laughing very often. Anyway, the reason the film’s comedy works is because of the pure lunacy of everything on-screen. It’s a compelling crime caper with a lot of situational comedy.

Anderson directs the film with his signature signature, which some accuse of being just style over substance. I think the story at hand is engaging, if a bit bizarre – but that’s what is so entertaining about it. Why have a car chase when you can have a sled chase? The vastly different landscapes also make this worthwhile, as the settings are always as beautiful as the exquisite cinematography that captures it. The visual style is also great, and so is the set design. One thing I do not like about the film: A bit of an uninspired animal death to get a laugh or two. Now, this scene did make me laugh, but Anderson takes the situation too far for my tastes.

I like the narration by both Jude Law and F. Abraham Murray. Murray plays an adult Zero, who shares his and Gustave’s experiences to a Young Writer (portrayed by Law), who later writes about the man’s experiences. I like the poignancy of Zero wanting Gustave’s approval. I think they have a great chemistry together, and a realistic relationship. Gustave is a peculiar character but Ralph Fiennes brings him to life so well with a hysterical, energetic and flamboyant portrayal that is beyond charming. I think the fact that he has a palette for older women is weird – he states he’s had women older than the age of 84 – but perhaps he’s only searching for the approval of a grandmother figure; and I think it works into the story’s favour in other ways, by using it as a character device. Due to this it’s not as strange, but little oddities are part of this film’s charm. 

The chemistry shared between Saoirse Ronan (portraying Agatha, who has a “birthmark shaped like Mexico”) and Tony Revolori portraying Zero is lovely. Revolori shows promise in his first outing, and takes to the subtle humour like an expert. Willem Dafoe also has an amusing performance as a maniacal character. Adrien Brody plays his villainous character well, and Anderson makes some good musical decisions when he’s on-screen. Many of Anderson’s favourites have small roles, including Edward Norton as a main investigator. Thanks to great storytelling, and the performers’ fun performances, it will make your stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel enjoyable. I would like to check in again soon.

Score80/100

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Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

A Series of Unfortunate EventsLemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

Release Date: December 17, 2004

Director: Brad Silberling

Stars: Jim Carrey, Jude Law, Meryl Streep

Runtime: 108 min

Tagline: On December 17, Christmas cheer takes a holiday

Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken), and Sunny Baudelaire (Kara Hoffman and Shelby Hoffman) are three intelligent young children who receive terrible news that their parents have died in a fire and have left them an enormous fortune not to be used until the eldest child is of age. When they are sent to live with Count Olaf, a greedy distant relative, they soon learn he is trying to steal their fortune for himself.

Because of the seriously insane Olaf, they meet colourful relatives along the way after he does some… questionable acts. He tries to kill the children, first of all. You read that right. He checks the train schedule, parks his car on the tracks, and locks the kids in the car, leaving them for death. He doesn’t stop there. This sadistic and fairly obnoxious “actor” would do just about anything to gain the family fortune. He’s strange and creepy, but Carrey gives a great performance.

The acts Olaf goes through are sometimes much too mature for young children, and a lot of it is extremely dark. Especially for a family film. The third act is by far the strangest of the feature and frankly, it made me very uncomfortable. It’s necessary for the story, sure, but it’s just too strange for words. Though, the actions these characters often do make this a memorable feature. There are some great emotional moments, and even though the third act seriously creeped me out, it ends on a great and emotional note.

This film is based on Lemony Snicket’s thirteen-book series entitled A Series of Unfortunate Events. I know what you might be thinking: One movie based on thirteen books?! It really isn’t as crowded as it may sound. It flows well and the production design is fantastic and it’s a nice film to look at, because the cinematography is notably great. I did care for the three central characters on some level because they just lost their parents and I really wouldn’t want to see their fortune lost and have them be miserable until they’re eighteen years of age. Since their parents did die, many could relate to them, and the audience, can at least comprehend their sorrow. Though, most of us couldn’t say a psychopath actor tried to steal our fortune by trying to kill us and dressing up in weird costumes. If one is to take any morals from this story, they would be: 1) Just give the kids a damn chance and listen to them, because they could sometimes really help; 2) Some actors are just bat shit crazy, and 3) If you correct someone, they might get really pissed off and you won’t ever be seen again.

Meryl Streep is great as an irrational phobic; and Billy Connolly is fantastic as Uncle Monty, an eccentric herpetologist. Though, Jim Carrey is the real highlight of this. He has some hilarious jokes that may be sure to make you laugh out loud, and his impression of a dinosaur is worth the DVD price alone.

This film is really refreshing to me, mostly because it is just so self-aware. In a few moments of suspense, the narrator, Jude Law impersonating Lemony Snicket, makes his typewriter jam, so we are left with a twenty-second cliffhanger as he tries to fix his typewriter. It’s really humorous, and I love films like that. He also warns the audience that this will be an unpleasant story with suspicious fires and carnivorous leeches, not a dancing elf, but that movie probably has plenty of seating in theater two. So, like he warns you and I am about to warn you, this film isn’t for extremely young children, so just listen to the narrator and go see the little lame happy elves. Everyone else, stay, it’s a pretty unique, strange family feature.

72/100

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Rise of the Guardians

Release Date: November 21, 2012

Director: Peter Ramsey

Stars (voices): Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: Legends Unite.

Wait a minute, wait a minute! Who’s Jack Frost, again…? Is he that one guy that’s always nipping at everyone’s noses?

When a forgotten bogeyman from the Dark Ages called Pitch launches an assault of fear on earth, the Immortal Guardians are all called to fight off against him to maintain the innocence of children all over the world.

The beginning feels sort of like one student in high school is trying to write a report, but they’re having trouble organizing their thoughts. That being said, the beginning is an introduction to the characters which feels a bit disorganized. Though, after a small amount of time, it finds its pace and the story just gets better and better.
This is a great time of year to try to build up the spirits of children everywhere. This is brilliant because this time around, it is not all about Ole’ Saint Nicolas. Everyone gets their chance to shine in this. The Guardians are just great, and they give all the figures, that children believe in, the chance to show their flares.

There’s of course Santa Claus, but this time around he has a funky Russian-esque accent offered by the voicework of Alec Baldwin. He is pretty traditional looking, but he also seems pretty edgy because of his ‘Naughty’ and ‘Nice’ tattoos on his forearms. He offers some insight onto who’s actually making the toys at the North Pole. Apparently, it’s a bunch of Yeti’s, they only make the pointy-hatted elves think they’re making the toys. Who knew?

There’s also the Easter Bunny. Hop was the last Easter-themed flick, but the Guardians‘ Bunny makes the little Easter Bunny from Hop look very ordinary. Here, Hugh Jackman offers some great voicework to this character, and in the process he makes him Australian. He’s a six foot-two Easter Bunny that has a sweet boomarang, that makes him feel like he just stepped out of a video game.

There’s the Tooth Fairy, voiced by the beautiful Isla Fisher, who’s a mix between human and hummingbird. There’s also the mute Sandman (who isn’t voiced by anyone, the studio dodged a bullet casting this guy) who communicates with symbols and funny gestures. There isn’t any explanation necessary on what these two do. Though, this next character, you might need a little introduction to him.

The new Guardian in town is the wayward Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine). No, not anything like a snowman or Martin Short’s version of him. All Jack wants to do is cause snow days and havoc, but he wants to have a little fun while doing it. He constantly wonders of his true destiny, and he is a character that knows what it feels like to be invisible. Another character that knows what it feels like to be ostracized and forgotten is the film’s main antagonist, Pitch Black (voiced by Jude Law).

Pitch is a jagged-toothed Bogeyman that wants to instill fear in the hearts of children everywhere. His main motivation of doing this is so he can teach the Immortal Guardians the feeling of loneliness and invisibility he has felt for hundreds of years. He wants to be the big guy on campus for once. Pitch’s main rivals are both Jack Frost and the Sandman. When Pitch steals Frost’s memory of a former life, Frost’s motivation is to retrieve this very valuable material. Frost is also on the fence about his destiny, and he relates to Pitch from time to time because he, too, knows what it feels like to be overlooked because of his juvenile behaviour. The main conflict between Sandy and Pitch is simple. The Sandman brings happy dreams to the children of the world, while Pitch brings dark nightmares. Sandy is obviously not very happy about this, and you won’t like him when he’s angry. However, these are not the only conflicts – the characters are all given their time to shine, so it never feels as if there is one primary character.

There was a concept that came to mind when both the characters of Pitch and Man on the Moon (the moon practically, it’s like God to the Guardians) were initially introduced. It brought to mind the concept of how Lucifer was cast out of Heaven by God, because he wanted to be the head honcho. A plot point that I attempted to predict is that Pitch may have once been a Guardian, but then he was cast down because he was turning evil. That’s just a thought that came to mind because of the good vs. evil forces.

The message is one of the finest in animated films this year: if you believe, it will overcome all fear. It’s greatly displayed in this family film.

Like Monsters, Inc. was with Pixar, this DreamWorks’ edgy children’s and family film. It’s a sort of strange concept that works pretty well. Pitch, the Bogeyman, is sometimes depicted so ominously, it might be a little too hard to handle for the smaller children. There is also some thematic material that can get quite dark. However, there is enough innocent humour to level it all out.

The 3D effects are sometimes gimmicky, but that’s okay. While it is sometimes gimmicky, there are also many cool effects that bring very inventive animation to life even more vibrantly.

Rise of the Guardians is a slightly flawed animated adventure that may have some deeply thematic material and action sequences that could be midly scary for small children. The main flaw is the beginning, because it feels disorganized – but it finds its pace soon enough. The story is wildly inventive, as are the alterations of the beloved Guardians. It’s a great thing to teach the kids this holiday season – don’t just believe in Santa Claus, believe in the other figures too, when their time of year comes around, at least.

80/100