The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

★★★

TGBH PosterDirector: Wes Anderson

Release Date: March 7th, 2014 (UK); March 28th, 2014 (US)

Genre: Adventure; Comedy; Drama

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori

It goes without saying that Wes Anderson rustles up his films to appease a desired taste and The Grand Budapest Hotel, despite its universal recognition on the awards circuit, is another fine delicacy. That’s not a bad thing, especially if you’ve previously been a fan of Anderson’s work. Cards on the table: I haven’t seen enough to really form a stalwart opinion on the director. Moonrise Kingdom was a charm-fest and although The Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t quite match up for my inexperienced liking, it is still a fun one hundred minutes.

This is the story of a much admired hotel concierge and his invaluable lobby boy. Not for the first time we watch a Wes Anderson flick that is tremendously well crafted, with everyone from prolific cinematographer Robert Yeoman to those in the costume department really pulling up trees to make the outing a visual feast for the audience. It rattles on without so much as a chink, fluent and meticulous in full flow. Walls are painted the right shade of blonde or pink to suit the mood at any given moment, and we watch the madness unfold as if perched on a stand measured to a ninety degree angle with the utmost precision (at one point a character fixes a lopsided painting to maintain this custom).

The piece is a real gem to look at — you could easily spend the entire run-time focused on how minor details play out in the background without as much as a glance towards the immediate plot and still be pretty satisfied. Different aspect ratios are employed at different points in the film, from the older traditional 4:3 to current traditional 1.85:1. It’s fairly enjoyable watching hotel concierge Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his young partner in crime Zero (Tony Revolori) scamper around, but the purpose of the varying ratios gets somewhat lost as time passes.

There is an almost slapstick element to the film, one that totally suits its colourful, comic-ey surroundings. Every movement is overly emphasised, from running with knees aloft to plate-setting. The characters are all sky high on the eccentric scale — Tilda Swinton appears as an elderly lover and we even get Harvey Keitel in especially nutty convict form. The sheer volume of famous faces that show up, many of whom only appear for a scene or two, is a testament to Anderson’s strongly regarded reputation around acting circles, as well as the jovial atmosphere apparently present on set. This star-studded Hollywood collective helps fund a comedic tone — funniest when it breaks the mould with common insults (“that little prick!”; “who’s got the throat-slitter?”) as opposed to long-winded monologues, some of which can be a tad egregious.

And The Grand Budapest Hotel can be difficult to get into, simply because the screenplay’s ferocious nature doesn’t offer as much as a breather for the audience to adjust and then readjust. It might be a personal thing, in fact it almost certainly is, but the constant velocity can be off-putting (despite it enabling much of the sharp humour). As a viewer, you’re either strapped in and along for the ride or still weighing up the height of the roller coaster. For me it’s a bit too tall.

Much of the film’s allure emanates from the charismatic Gustave, played brilliantly by Fiennes. Fairly short of previous comedy chops — he was part of In Bruges, though his performance in the Martin McDonagh piece was far darker — Fiennes is quite the surprise here. He gets the funniest gags (“you know the drill then? Zip it”) and the actor plays the popular Gustave with an amusing air of receptive non-discrimination; he engages with everyone equally, from jail mates to lobby boys to militant inspectors.

Tony Revolori is a fine assistant to Fiennes on screen, and the two strike up quite the odd chemistry. Members of Anderson’s large cast move in and out of shot as if through a revolving door — Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Léa Seydoux all show face, to name but a few. The film isn’t as fun when we’re not watching Gustave and Zero in tandem, but thankfully they’re together for most of the piece.

The question remains: is there anything going on beneath the surface, or is it all just that — surface? The director doesn’t appear too fussed about incorporating deep meaning and there is nothing necessarily wrong with that. He is more than an aesthetic filmmaker, as evidenced by the humour on show here, but his approach does to an extent alienate those without wholesome affection for it. There isn’t really a plot, rather a whole host of five minute segments incorporating many different Hollywood stars.

As such The Grand Budapest Hotel is an enjoyable spectacle, rampantly good fun on occasion, but not much more than that.

TGBH - Fiennes and Revolori

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Fox Searchlight Pictures

April Fools 2014: Consumed by Film

Check out my list of five loveable idiots, plucked straight from cinema’s comedy museum! You know, those endearing folks who are a bit worse for wear in the common sense department? And thanks again to Cara for welcoming me into her terrific April Fools series.

Silver Screen Serenade

consumed by film

Happy Friday, you beautiful people! That’s right–you’re beautiful. Know what else is beautiful? A nice list of lovable idiots. Lucky for you, I have such a list for you from Adam of Consumed by Film. That’s right, Adam took some time away from his excellent movie and TV review site (that you should certainly follow) to share his own list of April Fools. Let’s check out his picks!

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Calvary (2014)

★★★★

Director: John Michael McDonagh

Release Date: April 11th, 2014 (UK); August 1st, 2014 (US)

Genre: Comedy; Drama

Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen

John Michael McDonagh’s second venture into the directorial settee is a significant improvement on his fun but ultimately forgettable 2011 debut The Guard. In Calvary, many previously utilised elements are retained — namely Brendan Gleeson, dark comedic undertones and Ireland — but an additional steadfast formula heralding both intrigue and earnestness offers robust support to these familiarities. This time around we’re essentially presented with the makings of a whodunit mystery, only nothing has been ‘done’ yet. It’s a ploy that keeps you guessing, one that forges with bleak humour and traces of hearty emotion (just about) resultantly presenting a film worthy of the talent displayed on-screen and the guile emitted from those off-screen.

As one of the more considerate residents of Sligo, Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) often finds himself at the quarrelsome mercy of those whose problems determine their lives. His priesthood is undoubtedly a factor in this invariable trust too, only said profession is one James mightn’t be too fond of presently given his life has just been threatened by a troubled voice emanating from the other side of a confession booth. “Sunday week” is seemingly his final calling, because that way he’ll have a few days to get his affairs in order. How thoughtful.

Perhaps Calvary’s greatest strength is that it manages to successfully fluctuate between a variety of modes without losing its primary sense of direction. Most obvious is the blackly comedic tone that hollowly reverberates throughout proceedings. It should come as no surprise to those well-versed in the work of the McDonagh siblings — brother Martin wrote and directed the wonderfully downbeat In Bruges — that laughs are placed on a pedestal above the occasional murmurings of insensitivity here, but each quip is genuine in nature and far from callous. The film is akin to a live-action version of Guess Who? as numerous distinct personifications manifest on screen. At one point James is informed, “Playing you though now, that might be interesting,” enforcing this odd feeling of different characters role-playing. Many of the actors are funny in their caricature mannerisms, but there are a few who especially stand out by way of effortlessly humorous portrayals. Killian Scott is particularly amusing as the naive Milo, his stoic facial expressions accentuating a comical deadpan delivery (“The war on terror has no borders”). The ignorant doctor of Sligo, Frank Harte is gauged efficiently by Aidan Gillen; funny, intimating and overtly suspicious all in equal measure.

Brendan Gleeson carries the weight of the film upon his shoulders for its entirety (the camera hardly wanders from his bearded jawline) and evokes a sense of attachment in tandem with the viewer from the get-go. It’s not necessarily sympathy that we feel — James peculiarly appears in control of his own destiny despite the threat on his life — but rather it is the priest’s accommodating presence to those around him that warmly rubs off on us with an amiable sheen. Aside from the comedy then, is a story about a man attempting to come to terms with his profession, his faith and effectively his own life. James is unable to assemble the frantic thoughts racing through his own head never mind those of others, yet he still tries: “Everything’s fine”, he says almost systematically before realising his own desperate predicament, “I mean no, everything’s not fine”.

As the film progresses director John Michael McDonagh raises the currently prominent issue of priesthood stigma, motioning towards prejudgement and the idea of tarring all with the sins of a few — we become more aware of James as a human being, somebody dealing with more problems than any it seems. A notably poignant scene towards the fraught conclusion embodies the sentiment of forgiveness and wholly captures a sincerely heartfelt air that McDonagh absolutely appears to have intentionally sought out. Calvary exhibits a serious tone that never becomes overbearing thanks largely to a number of chuckle-worthy happenings, but a serious tone that demands consideration nonetheless.

The third side of Calvary’s narrative triangle is the aforementioned murder mystery element, and it too meshes well with the other components. From the exceedingly off-kilter opening, the film garners intrigue as a tension builds. There are constant references to sinning, to death and wrong-doing, remarks almost always aimed indirectly at James (“Evil thoughts floating around”). These serve as frequent reminders amongst the raft of humour and seriousness that there is a conundrum demanding solution. Though some characters occupy characteristics too obvious to be genuinely threatening, McDonagh’s dialogue-driven plot ensures that just about anybody could be the instigator of violence. Maybe the knife-wielder is Dylan Moran’s upper-class hedonist Fitzgerald, or perhaps it is Kelly Reilly’s distressed Fiona Lavelle who has her hand on the trigger — there are more than enough candidates offered up to consistently make us doubt ourselves as we attempt to play detective alongside Father James. One thing is for sure: as wide-shots of vast drumlins are shown leering over the town of Sligo, a progressively uneasy mentality begins to unfairly haunt our lead.

After an exceedingly well-executed hour and a half that sufficiently garners enough pent-up curiosity, Calvary does sadly struggle to keep a lid on proceedings during the final act. Events come across as slightly rushed without meaningful conviction, and one or two questions remain unanswered — though not in a self-inquisitive way, but rather completely unnecessarily.

With the exception of a far from catastrophic concluding blot, Calvary admirably manages to juggle humour, intrigue and seriousness without compromising any element. Presently, after the completion of two native outings, John Michael McDonagh isn’t all that far from replicating his brother’s In Bruges-esque achievement, a pretty darn good feat in itself.

CBF’s Genre Toppers: Comedy

After spending most of the day trying to fix my laptop (and succeeding, evidently) I think some laughs are in order. Therefore, it is time for five funny comedies! Everybody loves to laugh and there are not many better places to go than the cinema to be prompted in that direction. I have been a fan of comedy for as long as I can remember and the great thing about the genre is that it does not discriminate — everybody enjoys it.

Anyway, let the hilarity ensue!

Johnny English (2003)

I am okay with this.

Released in 2003 and directed by Peter Howitt, Johnny English stars the incomparable Rowan Atkinson as the title character and the only British spy left in action after an attack on MI5. English — confident, yet lacking in the intelligence department — is tasked with finding the perpetrator of the attack and recovering the stolen Crown Jewels, with assistance from the far more capable Interpol Agent Lorna Campbell (Natalie Imbruglia).

This is the one of the first comedy films that I can remember watching and laughing uncontrollably at throughout. Rowan Atkinson really is a comedic genius, with everything from his facial expressions to his timing absolutely spot on here. The film acts as a sort of parody of James Bond, and Atkinson is exceedingly good at making the audience root for a rather unintelligent, out-of-depth British spy. There are a few particularly funny scenes (the sewers), but in general the film is bursting with laughs. Natalie Imbruglia does a fairly good job at portraying English’s more sensible partner, although the apparent romance between the two is a little far-fetched (I guess that is comedy though, right?). John Malkovich hits just about all the right notes as the villain of the piece with his dodgy French accent (it only adds to the humour) and sublime hair.

Johnny English does not attempt to take itself too seriously and this works in its favour as the film delivers barrels of laughs and entertainment.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

“Come on! Bin bags make great clothes, we could sell millions of these!”

The first film to be nominated in all four acting categories at the Academy Awards since 1981, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook stars Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as recently widowed sex addict Tiffany Maxwell and bipolar Pat Solitano, respectively. After being released from a psychiatric ward, Pat’s primary aim is to reconcile with his ex-wife who wants nothing to do with him. Meanwhile, having just lost her husband Tiffany has her focus on an upcoming dance competition. After the two meet, they agree to help each other out with Tiffany ensuring Pat’s letters reach his ex-wife, as long as he partners Tiffany in her dance competition.

Well that was a long synopsis. The first thing to say here is Jennifer Lawrence is the greatest living being and Bradley Cooper have tremendous chemistry which more or less makes this film as good (and funny) as it is. They work so well together, in fact, that they are working together on another two future films, one of which David O. Russell is back directing. Lawrence is absolutely on fire at the moment (no pun intended) and can do wrong, and Cooper has put in a steady stream of really great performances in recent films such as, The Place Beyond the Pines and Limitless. It is no surprise, therefore, that the foundation of all things good about Silver Linings Playbook is in the dynamic between the duo. Combine that with a witty, energetic and sensitive script, along with magnificent supporting actors like Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver and you have a very funny but also very moving film.

Much has been said about this film’s careful depiction of mental illness and how positively it is put across on-screen, but purely in terms of comedy, Silver Linings Playbook is up there with the funniest films in recent years.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

“For the hundredth time, the camera’s this way!”

Next, we take a trip back to 1986 where Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has just graced cinemas around the world, garnering much critical acclaim. Matthew Broderick stars as Ferris Bueller, a teenager who decides to take a day off school (imagine that?) with his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), where they go out and explore their freedom whilst simultaneously attempting to avoid the school principal in any way they can.

It took me a long time to get around to seeing this film, which is regrettable because it is one of the best feel-good comedies out there in my view. In terms of sheer laughs, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off probably is not the funniest on my list, but it certainly is the funnest. Be it the inventive ways the trio try to avoid the principal or the principal himself’s various ordeals throughout, this film grasps the ‘be positive’ attitude more than any other I have seen. Broderick, Sara and Ruck work well together in the three prominent roles, with Broderick keeping the audience on their toes as he breaks the fourth wall a number of times — this I thought was an interesting ploy used by director John Hughes and one which worked well. Jeffrey Jones is hilarious as the principal (or ‘Dean of Students’) and makes a more than adequate nemesis opposite the trio.

John Hughes has a brilliant knack for comedies and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is definitely one his more heartfelt, if not one of his funniest.

In Bruges (2008)

Directed by Martin McDonagh, In Bruges was released in cinemas back in 2008. It stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two Irish hitmen who are relocated to Bruges, Belgium after a hit goes wrong. But what they believe to be another job turns out to be something else entirely.

“Man, you’re small.”

Since its release in 2008, In Bruges has gone on to claim cult status and is regarded as a classic by many. McDonagh’s brand of black comedy is in full force here, and both Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson deliver it with ease. The two leads are hilarious in their roles, playing off each other to great effect and both generating much empathy from the audience, particularly Farrell whose character, Ray, has played an accidental role in the murder of a child. McDonagh’s sense of direction comes through in abundance here, with each character playing an important part in the film and each scene executed with finesse. The Bruges setting is beautiful and greatly adds to the poetic nature of the script and the fairy tale aspect of the film. Although this is primarily a comedy, there are a few touching moments which take the film above and beyond the comedy genre. Ralph Fiennes and Clemence Poesy are both effective in, metaphorically, very different supporting roles — the former about order and conviction while the latter exudes freedom and new beginnings.

In his directorial debut, Martin McDonagh has created a gem in In Bruges: often hilarious and occasionally touching, this is a winner.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

O Brother, Where Art Thou? opened in cinemas in 2000 and is directed by the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan (although Ethan is uncredited). Set amid the Great Depression in 1930s America, it stars George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson as three convicts — Ulysses, Pete and Delmar, respectively — who escape capture in order to search for hidden treasure, whilst evading a lawman who is in pursuit.

“My ears are burning. Can anybody smell smoke?”

This is just fantastic. I first watched this in school (school finally comes up trumps) and have been a big fan ever since. The rural Mississippi setting creates a dusty, woody atmosphere (which is by no means a bad thing), shoving the three leads right into the heart of the hardships of the depression in 1930s America. With nothing but themselves and their brains — well, Ulysses’ brain — to keep them on the correct path, they must rely on trust and luck more than anything else. The Coen brothers, as I have mentioned in one of these blogs previously, have an exceptional eye for selecting locations to film and, more than any other film on this list, the dusty plains of rural Mississippi are unequivocally suited to the mood and script of O Brother, Where Art Thou? In terms of the script, it is witty, wacky and insightful and is delivered with nothing but enthusiasm by Clooney, Turturro and Nelson. Of course, I cannot forget about John Goodman, who is very funny playing the brash, obnoxious Bible salesman “Big Dan” Teague. There are plenty of laughs woven throughout the film and they all hit the mark without going overboard — this film is out there at times, but not too far out there. Finally, the soundtrack is rich and hugely satisfying, giving the film a nice twang.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is another corker from the Coen brothers, full of quips and ambition. It is a triumph in filmmaking in my opinion.

 

Here are a few honourable mentions, films that I really like but not quite as much as the aforementioned five:

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) — The original comedy road trip film, Planes, Train and Automobiles sees Steve Martin and John Candy unwittingly team up in order to find a way home for Thanksgiving, but not without a few mishaps on the way.

American Pie (1999) — The raucous teen comedy which paved the way for more like it, the original American Pie is by far the funniest and probably the least offensive. You do not need to be offensive to be funny, right?

Bruce Almighty (2003) — Jim Carrey is in full comedic flow (facial expressions and all) in Bruce Almighty as he portrays an unlucky guy who is given God’s job for a week. Chaos, commence.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) — Alongside Johnny English, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is one of my long-standing favourite comedy films, and it is still as funny now as it was back in 2004. Yes, it is still dodging those wrenches.

The Hangover (2009) — Hopefully Kermode won’t see this.

Which films make you laugh the most?