The Grand Budapest Hotel (Film Review)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Film Review)

I have never been a particularly huge fan of Wes Anderson, aside from the brilliant Rushmore. After that, I was fairly indifferent to his work, and now, I must question my own opinions, and give his other films another shot, after watching The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Simply put, this is one of the best films of 2014, and highly worthy of all the praise it has received. I’ll allow IMDB.com to provide the plot summary of the film:

grand“In the 1930s, the Grand Budapest Hotel is a popular European ski resort, presided over by concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). Zero, a junior lobby boy, becomes Gustave’s friend and protege. Gustave prides himself on providing first-class service to the hotel’s guests, including satisfying the sexual needs of the many elderly women who stay there. When one of Gustave’s lovers dies mysteriously, Gustave finds himself the recipient of a priceless painting and the chief suspect in her murder.”

The Grand Budapest Hotel provides us with a few things that are very Wes Anderson-ey, and done so well that this film could, and should, be considered the best of his acclaimed career. Everything starts with a great script, and that has been delivered here. It is quietly hilarious, filled with eclectic characters and line after well-written line that engrosses and entertains the viewer. As usual, there is a unique blend of the realistic with the absurd, creating a film that has its more serious moments, juxtaposed with curious incidents and odd adventures. It is done seamlessly, and is a blast to watch.

grand2Anderson does a great job of directing his usual stellar cast. From the central role of M. Gustave being played perfectly by Ralph Fiennes, to an all-star cast of secondary characters (like Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Lea Seydoux, and even more), Anderson and his stellar stable of actors bring out his strange world perfectly, and it drags us right in for an extremely entertaining hour and forty minutes.

grand3It is not necessary to go on and on about the virtues of the film, as there are a ton of other reviews out there about it. However, in its simplest form, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a must-see film because it is fun to watch, and it is funny, in the way that we, as a mature or maturing audience, want to see. It will sometimes go to the borderline of slapstick, but it will pull it back, to create a humour that is brilliant, silly, yet still intelligent.

After enjoying it so much, I am going to have to dig through my DVDs and find my dusty copies of The Royal Tannenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizou, just to give them another chance. I think Budapest has re-opened my eyes to how great Wes Anderson can be.

The Musketeers: Season 1 (TV Review)

The Musketeers: Season 1 (TV Review)

I had never heard of a television adaptation of the famed novel, and often adapted to film version of The Three Musketeers, until The Musketeers popped up on the “Recently Added” section of Netflix Canada. I’m always up for a show produced by the BBC, since they are consistently good, and therefore decided that I would give the 10 episode first season of The Musketeers a shot.

musketThe show provided a pleasant surprise, and offered something a little different from other adaptations of the novel. Typically, we are provided with a couple of hours of swashbuckling, and focusing on the same story of how D’Artagnan joins the group, and becomes the best of them. The Musketeers provides us with a little bit about that story, but they generally get it over with fairly quickly. From there, the show essentially becomes a crime drama, which makes it quite entertaining.

Many of the story lines are ongoing throughout the first season, but each episode also provides us with a central crime that the gang of Musketeers are trying to solve. This provides us with episodes that are able to stand alone, and allows for more casual viewing.

The show is fun to watch. All of the characters, specifically the four central Musketeers, are enjoyable and likable. There is often a lightness and a humour to the show that can keep viewers coming back for more, and it is not always super dark, and doesn’t always take itself too seriously.

musket2The actors chosen for the main roles of the show are all good. Despite all being British (even if they are supposed to be French), the casting was well done, and we can’t help but like all of them. D’Artagnan is played by Luke Pasqualino, who is excellent, from his acting to his ability with the sword. It took me a while to realize that he was one of the better characters on the excellent, and must-see British teen drama Skins (well, at least the first 4 seasons are must-see, after that the cast changes go south). Pasqualino is watchable, and is strong enough as the central character to keep us coming back for more.

There are the usual selection of heroes and villains in the stories of The Musketeers, and they all do a pretty good job. There are numerous love stories, including some with the pretty French Queen, there is the weak King, the evil Cardinal, etc. The writers have definitely created heroes that are heroic, and villains that are villainous. So many recent television dramas have succeeded by creating delicious anti-heroes, and The Musketeers takes us back to simpler characters. But not in a bad way. The show is not taking us backwards, and does not demonstrate weak writing, or a lack of chances being undertook. It just wants to be fun, and it does well at that.

musket3The Musketeers is well worth a watch. The sets and scenery of 17th Century Paris are great, the costumes are excellent, the acting and stories are strong, and there is always a good sword fight or five to keep the action pushing forwards.

A fun show to watch. Nothing too serious, which is a nice change.

The Bourne Legacy (Film Review)

The Bourne Legacy (Film Review)

All of the Jason Bourne movies have been complex and interesting, to the point where I have always felt like I was missing something, but ignored it because there was always such great action scenes, ones that James Bond should be jealous of. The Bourne Legacy is no exception. It is fun and interesting, and while it isn’t the best of the four Bourne movies, it is still entertaining in its own way.

First off, there is no Jason Bourne in this film. The lead role is now Aaron Cross, played well by Jeremy Renner, who has become a target, since they are trying to eliminate all survivors of the program that created Jason Bourne. I liked how there was tie-ins to Bourne’s actions in the previous films, and that it was because of him that the big wigs at the CIA (the main one being played by Edward Norton) have decided to eliminate the program altogether. This makes Cross a target, but like Bourne, he is a tough one to take down.

bourne2I enjoyed how they gave more information on what this particular program was doing, which was basically creating a type of super soldier. With proper medications, they were able to increase intelligence and dull pain receptors, also making their muscles perform better, creating better killing machines. This was taken a little too far towards the end of the film, where it is revealed that they have some new breed of soldier, which made it feel a little bit too much like it was veering into Terminator territory. But they managed to restrain themselves, and keep their story in check before it got too preposterous. It maintained the right amount of silly.

The best part about the original Bourne trilogy was how badass Matt Damon was. Regardless of our thoughts on him as an actor, it was tough to argue that he was great in the first three installments of the series. He did great stunts, and excelled in his cool and understated fight sequences. Jeremy Renner is equally as badass, which is nice to see. He can definitely play the role of the action hero, and he nails all of his scenes with a calmness similar to Damon’s. There is nothing to extravagant about his fighting; it gets straight to the point, making it seem more realistic, and therefore, even more cool.

The other Bourne films have been known for some of their cool settings, usually in interesting and different European cities. It gave the films a different feel from another action movie set in New York, and that was one of the great things about the series. The Bourne Legacy follows in that tradition, and it provides us with some extremely cool winter scenes, in which Renner is surviving against the elements, wolves, and drone attacks, as well as more exotic cityscapes, like Manila.

bourne3With pretty continual action, a story line that I found far easier to follow than some of the other installments, and a straightforward cast of characters, it is tough to not recommend The Bourne Legacy. It does what it needs to do as a film. Again, it is not the best one, and has some weaknesses, such as the less-than-interesting character played by the usually fantastic Rachel Weisz, who is never really able to pique our interest too much.

But, considering this is a sequel to a trilogy in which the main star no longer wanted a part of it, it was a pretty good off shoot into new territory using the main story as a basis. For that, it is well done. Also, even though there are so many differences, such as a lack of Damon, it still feels like we are watching a Bourne film, which really, is all they could have expected to do.

Adult World (Film Review)

Adult World (Film Review)

Amy loves poetry, and has wanted to be a published poet since as long as she can remember. The only issue may be, despite her thoughts and objections, that she is not very good at it.

Graduating university with a degree in poetry does not exactly open up the world with opportunities, and this is what Amy must soon realize. Spending the majority of her parents money on poetry submissions, she is faced with continual rejection from magazines, but keeps pushing forward intrepidly, without looking at the obvious signs. Eventually forced out of her house by her parents, she must take a job at Adult World, the pornographic video store in town, where she meets an interesting cast of characters that make up her new life, her figurative journey into the adult world that faces everyone once they have completed their higher education.

adult3Adult World is an indie drama, which is quickly becoming the stomping grounds of the young and talented Emma Roberts. Continually shedding the image of the sickly sweet girl she played on TV when she was a tween, Roberts is constantly taking on similar roles in her career that will push her away from her Nickelodeon beginnings, and establish herself as more than a child actress, or just a relative of that other famous Roberts. While Adult World may not be her best work, and she has had some strong roles in her career to date, it is something different for her. Roberts still plays that wide-eyed kid, trying to grapple with the reality of the world, but she does it not as the sweet or cool girl we are more used to. She is painfully awkward, pretty annoying and overbearing, and is constantly buoyed by her false hopes and dreams. I quite liked her performance in this film, despite many of the negative reviews Adult World has received.

adult2Of course, this is nowhere near the best indie drama/coming-of-age story out there, but it is exactly what you are looking for when you want an indie film or quirky coming-of-age story. Central character, slightly broken by the reality of her world, forced into circumstances that are out of her comfort zone, begins to slowly embrace them, while still trying to hang on to her childhood hopes and dreams. Seems pretty much what an indie is all about, if you ask me. She comes out on the other side a stronger and more realistic person. The end.

While the film could come across as being dark at times- it begins with Roberts considering suicide to end her misery- it is provided with good levity from the secondary cast, which includes John Cusack as Rat Billings, a semi-famous poet who lives in the same town as her. He reluctantly takes her on as a maid/protege, and pulls no punches when it comes to her writing abilities. Despite his general disdain for Amy, and for her work, he is able to provide her with the lessons that she requires to actually grow up, and embrace the adult world that now surrounds her. That she needs to grow up, and she needs to experience a life for herself in order to become a stronger writer. Evan Peters plays the role of her manager at Adult World, and while he is not given a ton of dialogue, he plays the role well of being the more knowing person of the same age, and predictably becomes her love interest.

adult4As with many indie films, this serves as a vehicle for the actress, and so much of the strength of this film is dependent on the performance of Emma Roberts. Despite her annoying traits, we still want her to move forward and make the realizations that she needs to as to not completely fail in life, to end up being another crushed dreamer.

Adult World is not perfect. There are some hammy performances, a sometimes struggling script (Roberts does her best to take some of the cheesier lines and own them), a pretty predictable plot, and perhaps a sunnier-than-it-should-have-been ending. But it is still a pretty enjoyable film.

Celeste and Jesse Forever (Film Review)

Celeste and Jesse Forever (Film Review)

Here we’ve got an indie romantic comedy that features two actors (Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg), most known and loved for their purely comedic and sitcom work, showing off their chops in more dramatic roles. And it works very well for both of them.

Celeste and Jesse were best friends from a young age, ended up getting married too young to one another, and decided to separate after six years of marriage. Even though they aren’t going to be married anymore, they want to remain friends, which they do; almost too well. Despite the separation, they still spend all of their time together, which is frustrating for their friends.

celeste3It is also difficult as they try to move on from one another, but keep going back to each other. We have to wonder if they really want to be apart from each other at all.

As the film progresses, we see the two characters doing their best to move on with their lives, while sort of trying to hide that fact from the other. That makes things complicated for them, and for the new people that have entered their lives.

The script, written partially by Rashida Jones is well done, and provides Celeste and Jesse Forever with some good characterization, some humorous scenes, and a strong cast of secondary characters, including the pretentious and unlikely friend of Riley, an up-and-coming pop star played really well by Emma Roberts (who herself is becoming a bit of an indie-film queen while trying to shed her Nickelodeon image).

Both of the titular characters are fun enough and likable enough that we want them to both succeed in the film, even if we know that means that they can’t be together. Or can they? Rashida Jones, known for her role on The Office, and Andy Samberg, known for Saturday Night Live and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, are both excellent in this movie. We enjoy both of them, making it hard for us to cheer for one over the other when all is said and done. We want them both to be alright in the end. The both play their roles realistically and enjoyably.

Celeste and Jesse Forever offers a unique insight on the idea of marriage for people currently in their 20s and 30s. It is a different viewpoint than was held by our parents, and it is seen as something less permanent than it used to be, something that no doubt contributes to the astronomical divorce rate. But it also does a good job of looking at how people of that age look at life in general. There certainly are people that are very driven, but they are opposed by those who take a very laid back approach to life. Oftentimes, there is very little in the middle, and this is what causes many of the problems with these relationships.

celeste2The film, while being a romantic comedy, probably focuses more on the romance and the drama than it does the comedy, but it does so well. We are provided comedic relief in the form of the meltdowns of the main characters, the awkward situations they (more often Jones) get themselves into, and the strong secondary cast.

While Celeste and Jesse Forever might not be the most romantic of romantic comedies, or the most comedic, it is one of the most real, and that is what is usually being sought after in an indie film. Realism. We are provided with likable characters, strong acting, and a story that is engrossing enough to keep us entertained to the end.

A strong film, all around.

Mad Men: Season 6 (TV Review)

Mad Men: Season 6 (TV Review)

So much has been said and written about the superb AMC series Mad Men, that I will try to keep things brief. There is no doubt that this is not only one of, if not the, best show on television right now, but it would have to rank on the top lists of best television shows of all-time. Since its inception, this has been one of the most compelling character dramas out there, providing us with a large cast of characters that we have come to know, both the good and the bad.

mad2There have been a couple of seasons that were not as interesting as others, but Season 6 is not one of those. It is excellent, right from the very beginning, and ends up being one of the best that the series has to offer. The season starts with Don and Meagan on vacation in Hawaii, and Don goes through the first part of the episode without saying a single word. We wonder if he will talk at all during the first episode. It is another bold choice by the writers of the show, but one that speaks not just to the acting of Jon Hamm, but to the secondary characters around him, as they are able to carry out a scene with the lead actor as little more than a prop.

madMuch of the sixth season revolves around the continual change in the lives of the people at Sterling Cooper (plus a bunch of other names…). Not only are things changing within the walls of the advertising agency, but outside as well. In 1968, America was in shambles. The Vietnam War was escalating daily, and becoming a more real talking point among every day Americans. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy made headlines, shocked the nation, and divided it. Mad Men deals with all of these issues incredibly well, and doesn’t shy away from dealing with them, and having their characters deal with them. How do the old school boys of the firm move on in a nation that is continually evolving, and falling apart at the same time? As always, the show has been about a clash of traditions and progress, and it does so wonderfully in Season 6.

Stories are continually expanded, and with such a large central cast, there is no shortage of stories to tell. There is more movement with the agency, and the back story of Don Draper is exposed more, as we see flashbacks to his youth, as an orphan, being raised in a house of prostitution. We also see Don starting to crack.

mad4His alcoholism, cheating, questionable parenting decisions, and past, are all catching up to him at one point or another, and it is riveting to watch.

As Mad Men is nearing the end of its amazing run on television, we know that we are being taken somewhere. But where? What is going to happen to Don Draper, one of TVs all-time greatest characters, in the end? Will he ever find his peace? Will he completely melt down? Will he never be able to reconcile his past with his present, and end up doing something drastic, realizing that happiness is not something that will ever be in the cards for him?

Mad Men is a special show. One that may never be replicated. In an era of outstanding shows, it has lifted itself head and shoulders above the rest, and continues to intrigue us all the way through.

Trance (Film Review)

Trance (Film Review)

Danny Boyle has directed some very impressive films. From the Oscar darling Slumdog Millionaire to other diverse movies such as The Beach28 Days Later, Trainspotting, and 127 Hours, he has been a bit of a chameleon during his career, trying out films in a variety of different genres. This has allowed him to become one of the more interesting directors out there, and viewers are never sure what they are going to get with one of his movies. Boyle definitely keeps things interesting.

Boyle tries something different again with Trance, a film that is based on a confusing script that is a little bit Inception, and a little bit Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The plot revolves around an art heist gone wrong, where the painting has been misplaced. The lead of the film, played averagely by James McAvoy, cannot remember where he put the art, because he was smashed on the head by the lead villain, played by Vincent Cassel.

trance4This takes us to the strangeness of the plot, in which the villains attempt to find out the location of the painting by having McAvoy hypnotized by Rosario Dawson. Then things get confusing.

We are provided with multiple story lines, and for much of the film, we are never entirely certain if we are watching his memories, or real life, or some kind of alternate reality. Normally, this would provide extremely interesting entertainment, but for too much of the film, it is unclear what is really happening. Things work themselves out and are explained towards the end of the movie, but somehow, it feels unsatisfying having been kept in the dark for too long. It is an interesting twist at the end, but we have seen it before. The writers failed at truly engrossing us in the depths of the character, and the issue of memory, making the viewers feel like they were a little ripped off after investing so much time in the story.

The directing for Trance is…different. Using a bleak musical score, Boyle confounds us with difficult to see scenery, primarily in large apartments with blurry lenses and colour filters added on. This adds to the distress of the film and the events within it, but it actually makes for some tough viewing. It muddled the already muddled story even more, which caused some frustration in the enjoyment of the film. While Boyle took chances here, only some of them paid off, and the rest will remain as good attempts to do something different. He does include a couple of scenes of his trademark gratuitous violence, however.

Trance film stillTrance is not a bad movie, and not a waste of time to watch. It is, however, not as good as it could have been. We are presented with a complex story, but it feels rushed at times, and slow at others; and not always at the right times. The quick pacing would have been served with some deeper explanations, or more in-depth analysis of some of the characters, especially the one played by Cassel.

There are definitely some scenes that will capture the attention of viewers, however. An example of this is the explicit full frontal nudity performed by Dawson. If you were ever wondering what every part of the actress looks like, then this is definitely the film that will provide the answers. The scene seems odd and out of place, even though an explanation for it is provided later on in the denouement of the movie. Why does she go to the bathroom to shave herself before hooking up with one of the characters? Is it just for gratuitous nudity, or is there a reason? Well, there is a reason, but the clues are either too complex for the audience to understand, or they have checked out to this point, and will only be able to piece things together at the end, when we are told what was happening. The film provides foreshadowing without any context, leaving some of the clues of things to come to be impossible to see, until it is revealed.

This was definitely a revealing role for Dawson.
This was definitely a revealing role for Dawson.

I considered the idea that perhaps Trance was simply too complex for me, and that I just didn’t “get it.” But upon considering the film following its viewing, I have decided that it was not too tough to understand, but it was simply not executed perfectly. Trance could have been an excellent, mind-bending film. Instead, it comes across as a distinctly average one.

While Boyle has been successful in the majority of his career, Trance probably won’t make it onto his list of best films. Again, it is not terrible, and it manages to stay tense for the majority of the movie, but it simply didn’t work well enough, everything together, to make it one of his best.