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Oscars 2014 Best Picture Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

A hotel owner and his lobby boy (played by Tony Revoloro and Ralph Fiennes) go on a bizarre adventure in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

A hotel owner and his lobby boy (played by Tony Revoloro and Ralph Fiennes) go on a bizarre adventure in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Anyone else here who missed seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel back when it was released in the spring? Yes, I’m guilty of that too. I can blame it on things like me being tired right after last year’s Oscar season to having a lot of preoccupations in my life at that time. This year’s Oscar race sent me the message of what I missed out on the first time. I finally saw it on DVD a few days ago and I now finally see why it ranks among one of the best of 2014.

This is another review of mine where I won’t give an analysis of the plot. Instead I will put focus on the movie’s strengths and possible flaws.

This film is quite typical of what to expect from a Wes Anderson film. It has an eccentric situation along with eccentric characters and a lot of comedy along the way. However this movie has its charm: the common charming eccentricity with Wes Anderson movies that continuously attract fans of his movies and moviegoers looking for something different. It’s also a trademark charm of the director that does not run stale with their movies time after time and continues to be enjoyable.

This too is a film that offers a lot and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at first but makes sense as it goes along. It starts with a young girl paying honor to a writer in the present. Then flashing back to the writer in 1985 talking about hearing from Zero the owner of the practically lifeless Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968 about why he won’t close it down and Zero flashing back to 1932 to explain the whole story why. Wow, a lot of flashing back!

The story itself unravels itself over time with its various chapters from Zero joining the hotel as an orphaned lobby boy to the fictional country of Zubrowska nearing war to the owner Monsieur Gustave’s affair with Madame D to inheriting her most coveted painting much to the anger of her own family who hoped to have it to being framed for her murder. Yes, already bizarre. However the colorfulness comes with Zero’s love for the cakemaker Agatha whom he eventually becomes engaged to and helps bake cakes with escape tools.

The situation gets weirder as an assassin is on pursuit for him and the hotel needs to be managed, especially since news about a second will from Madame D is in existence somewhere. It’s after a pursuit while at a winter sport’s to kill off the assassin that the can return to the hotel only to find it overtaken by soldiers in the war and police on the hunt for Gustave.

As you can tell, this all makes for a bizarre confusing story and even leave you wondering about why the hotel is still in existence.  Understanding it means having to see the story for itself from beginning to end. There may be some confusing moments along the way and even a lot of eccentric humor but you will understand it and even the reason why a mountaintop hotel that’s completely useless is still in existence. You’ll even understand why the lobby boy is the only person in the world Gustave can trust wholeheartedly and would eventually own it. It’s no wonder Wes had to write a story along with his writing partner Hugo Guinness in order to bring this to the screen and make it work.

There are even times when I felt the story resembled Farewell To Arms, albeit with Wes Anderson’s dark humor intertwined into the story. Actually the credits in the end say the film was inspired by the readings of Stefan Zweig. I’ve never read Zweig’s writings so it’s hard for me to judge on that factor. Nevertheless the fact that Zweig was an Austrian Jew who fled to Brazil for refuge where he died may have some bearing on this. Even seeing how the character of The Writer looks like Zweig gives a hint.  Whatever the situation and even if the story does not go as well as you hoped it would, it does leave you feeling that it does end as it should.

Despite this film being another excellent work from Wes Anderson, we shouldn’t forget that this is also because of the excellent ensemble of actors. Many of which have already acted in Wes Anderson movies of the past. Here they deliver well as a whole to make the movie enjoyable and true to Anderson’s style of humor and style of film making. However it also succeeds well with those who have never acted in a Wes Anderson movie before, like lead Ralph Fiennes. He delivers a character that’s humorous and true to the humor of the movie. Newcomer Tony Revolori also adds to the charm of the movie as the young bellboy who becomes Gustave’s partner in crime as does Saoirse Ronan as Agatha. You can easily see why she won his heart. Even minor roles from other Anderson first-timers like Jude Law and F. Murray Abraham add to the story.

Even the technical aspects of the story are excellent. The costumes designed by Milena Canonero are perfect to a T in this movie as is the set design and the makeup and hair. All these elements fit the times they’re set in and add to the film’s charm. The cinematography by Robert Yeoman fit the story well and the music from Alexandre Desplat also fit the film.

The interesting thing to note is that The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson’s highest-grossing film ever with $59.1 million in North America and almost $175 million worldwide. Buzz for the film first started after it won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Buzz continued after it continuously impressed film festival after film festival. Although his box office total in North America is not too impressive, it should be seen as respectable as it opened around the same time as the summer movie phenomenon that was happening. It made for a nice humorous alternative to the overhyped summer schlock.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a DVD worth watching. We all didn’t know what we were missing during the summer and now we can finally see why.

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Movie Review: Anna Karenina

Keira Knightly plays Anna in the latest film adaptation of Anna Karenina.

Keira Knightly plays Anna in the latest film adaptation of Anna Karenina.

How many of you are familiar with the novel Anna Karenina? I’m sure a lot of you are. Mostly because it was required reading in high school in a lot of schools. Did you know that Anna Karenina has been adapted to the cinema a total of thirteen times including twice starring Greta Garbo? Now Anna Karenina returns to the big screen again directed by Joe Wright and with Keira Knightly as Anna. The question is can you make a movie that’s been done twelve times before winsome to present crowds?

The films prime focus is on Anna living a privileged life thanks to her marriage to a government official but she is unhappy in her marriage. It showcases her fling with cavalry officer Count Vronsky whom she falls for at the train station which starts a fling that not only threatens her marriage but her social status and mostly chance of ever seeing her son again whom she dearly loves. She continues to see the count and even bear his child only to have her heart broken and ultimately fated to a tragic end.
 
The films subplot is on Kitty, Anna’s 18 year-old sister-in-law, and Kostya who prefers country life to the aristocracy. Kostya proposes to Kitty but she wants to have her fun at her young age, especially since she’s being pursued by other men like Count Vronsky. She becomes heartbroken when Vronsky leaves her for Anna and Kostya if left for months to labor in the country yards. It isn’t until months later that he is able to confront Kitty and convey his feelings to her. It is then that Kitty and Kostya were meant to be.

The point of the movie wasn’t simply to tell the story of Anna Karenina again but to tell it in a creative and styled manner. At the beginning you could tell that this would be a movie with a different twist to telling the novel. I mean a novel that’s already been adapted to the big screen twelve times before needs to have the latest adaptation anything but redundant. It presents the scenarios of Anna as a stage and frequently going from scene to scene as going from stage to stage. It creates a lot of the acting and dancing in a stand-out method, even quirky and eccentric. It gives the audience the impression of what’s really going on even if they’re dancing or ‘not really’ having sex.

I’m sure this unique twist is what the director and scriptwriter had in mind. Both of which have already established themselves. Joe Wright has been renowned for directing Pride And Prejudice, Atonement, The Soloist and Hanna. Tom Stoppard has established himself in writing with a multitude of plays and has even won an Oscar for writing the screenplay of Shakespeare In Love. The film’s styling and sometimes quirky way of playing out the novel would remind many of Moulin Rouge. The only thing is it makes it look like they’re trying too hard to make this adaptation stand out and be original. There are many times in which the quirkiness and the stylings don’t work their best and we’re unsure whether the film is trying to portray a message, tell the story or just simply put on a show.

One thing that went well was the acting. Keira again delivers a good performance even though I’ve seen better from her. She’s no stranger to Joe Wright’s movies as she played the leading female in Pride And Prejudice and Atonement. The latter earned her first and only Oscar nomination. Jude Law was also impressive even if a backdrop character. This is the most mature role I’ve seen Aaron Taylor-Johnson perform in and he was good. The cinematography by Seamus McGarvey was not 100%. But the music by Dario Marianelli fit the movie well.
 
The recent release of Anna Karenina tries to not be your typical film adaptation of the legendary novel but it tries too hard to be creative and unique. It becomes evident when the creative elements just don’t mix. 

Movie Review – Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

Okay, this is one of my delayed movie reviews. There will be three more to come. I saw it weeks before but I’m sure many of you could now see it in a second-run theatre before you can get the DVD or Netflix file.

Those of you who have seen the first Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr. only received one part of the story. Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows picks up where it left off. It’s not an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes novel but an independent story of Sherlock Holmes that is able to entertain.

The movie is full of tricks, foiled killings and even successful incidents that lead Holmes to solve his next mystery. A bomb meant for Dr. Hoffmanstahl from Professor Moriarty is detonated. Adler is murdered by Moriarty who thinks she did it out of a love for Holmes. The murders and bombings surrounding Moriarty is part of Holmes’ next case.

Even Watson and his wife become part of this when Moriarty tells Holmes he killed Adler and the couple will be next if Holmes doesn’t stop. The couple is even attacked on a train by Moriarty’s men but Holmes, who followed them for protection, is able to foil the attackers and successfully protect the two. The two head to Paris to contact a gypsy who was to receive a letter from Adler. She becomes part of the detective team and leads them to an anarchist group she once belonged to only to learn of a plan to assassinate Moriarty via explosion. One search for a bomb lead to the wrong place. The bomb kills one of Moriarty’s business associates, allowing ownership to Moriarty of the businessman’s weapons factory in Germany.

Each clue leads the three-Sherlock, Watson and the gypsy- to the factory. There they are tortured by Moriarty and his men and learn of his plan to own weapons factories to profit out of a World War he plans to start. They’re able to break free thanks to Watson and flee onto a moving train. However Holmes senses that Moriarty may be planning an incident at a peace summit in Switzerland to cause an international uproar. At the summit, Holmes learns of the true assassin who is disguised as an ambassador. Both Holmes and Moriarty go outside to discuss to their associates their plans. Both Watson and the gypsy are able to stop one of Moriarty’s men from assassinating. Holmes later revealed he replaced Moriarty’s diary with the plans and able to get Watson’s wife to decrypt the code of Moriarty’s. Mary forwards the information to an Inspector who’s able to claim the bulk of Moriarty’s assets. This would lead to a physical confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty over a waterfall, which leads to a surprise ending.

A Game Of Shadows is partially influenced by A Final Problem, which is part of Arthur Conan Doyle’s series The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes but has been tailor made for the movie with a lot of twists and turns. It’s not necessary part of a chronological series but another story based on the characters. In fact the filmmakers intended for A Game Of Shadows to be a stand-alone film that did not require knowledge of the previous movie. The movie retains a lot of the charms of the first one but doesn’t seem to deliver the same thrills as the first. It does however maintain the same energy of humor as the first. Robert Downey Jr. is again able to keep the humor moviegoers will remember from the first. Jude Law, Rachel McAdams and Eddie Marsan also reprise their respective roles well too albeit for their brief time. The biggest new edition was Noomi Rapace as Simza the gypsy and she does a good job of her own at stealing scenes. The Mulroneys, Kieran and Michelle, did a good job in creating a humorous adventure with a lot of familiar thrills as the first but often felt like a maze that was confusing at times. Guy Ritchie did a good job in directing, if not the directing that stands out. Technically the sets and costumes were excellent in fitting the times. Even the guises worked well. And Hans Zimmer returned with a score that included parts of the original as well as some new material that fit the movie’s adventurous and humorous tone.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows faced the same pressures as any sequel. In the end, the movie lacked the same level as the first in terms of its best qualities. One thing is while most sequels or follow up movies often lose the first movie’s best qualities A Game Of Shadows was still able to keep the original’s best qualities, if not match the original’s same level. Fans of the first will appreciate A Game Of Shadows and movie goers in general will find it a good relaxing time at the movies.