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Film Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

the-grand-budapest-hotel

An author recounts the tale of Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), devoted concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel and his lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Toni Revolori). When Gustave is left a priceless painting by the deceased Madame D (Tilda Swinton), he and Zero must go to extraordinary lengths to keep it out of the clutches of her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody).

Many directors can be considered auteurs, but few boast such a distinctive style as Wes Anderson. Even the most casual cinephile can pick out one of his films from 100 paces, and we’ve even got to the stage where films are described as ‘Wes Anderson-esque’. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson’s most Wes Anderson-esque film to date.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a matryoshka of a film, a story wrapped within a story, wrapped within another story, and this is just the start of its curiosities. We begin with a girl looking at a statue of an author and holding a copy of a book entitled ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. We then briefly see the author (played by Tom Wilkinson) before cutting to a younger version of him (played this time by Jude Law) who is speaking to a man about how he came to own our titular hotel. Clear? Good.

And it’s at that juncture that Wes Anderson is unleashed, as if the author of the book has employed the director to tell his tale. From that point on it’s a full frontal assault on the senses that rarely lets up for a moment. Anderson’s signature style has never been more pronounced; the colour palette is deliciously vintage and every shot is meticulously framed within an inch of its life.

The abundance of static camera shots gives the impression we’re at times watching a play, whilst some of the stylised scenery harks right back to the birth of cinema with Georges Melies’ A Trip to the Moon. There’s also a nice bit of fun had with the screen ratios representing the different eras in which the film is set.

But it’s not all style; there’s plenty of substance to back it up. The script is razor sharp, dripping with dry humour and delivered brilliantly by the unbelievable cast (which includes among others Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel and Willem Dafoe). Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave, the frantically camp hotel concierge, is wonderful as he rattles off his lines in quick-fire fashion and displays a genuine affection for lobby boy Zero.

As you’ve probably gathered, The Grand Budapest Hotel is somewhat on the bonkers side, perhaps too much so at times. With so much going on so quickly and with so many characters popping up here, there and everywhere, it can be a little tricky to follow what’s going on, although it’s so much fun that this shouldn’t present too much of a problem.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a madcap caper of the highest order, a picturebook playground examining what’s so wonderful about cinema and presenting it in a truly wonderful explosion of action and colour.

No-one does Wes Anderson quite like Wes Anderson.

Pros

  • Wes Anderson’s distinctive style as pronounced as ever
  • Genuinely funny script
  • Ralph Fiennes is fantastic
  • Wonderful supporting cast

Cons

  • So crazy it can sometimes be tricky to follow

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Side Effects

Side EffectsSteven Soderbergh has some pretty impressive films under his belt but still seems to be a director who has never quite broken into Hollywood’s elite. He’s directed big name films such as Erin Brokovich and Ocean’s Eleven and won an Academy Award in 2000 for Traffic. However, those highs didn’t really last and his latter material, including films such as Magic Mike and Contagion, has had a much more lukewarm reception. Side Effects is (apparently) going to be Soderbergh’s final film having become disillusioned with Hollywood, and it’s another decent, if unspectacular, addition to his catalogue.

When her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is released from prison, Emily (Rooney Mara) falls into a deep depression. After trying to kill herself, she is prescribed a new drug by her therapist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). However, the drug has some unexpected and life altering side effects.

Side Effects suffers from a somewhat mundane start but soon picks up pace significantly, laying off the obvious subtexts of a ubiquitous and consumer-like pharmaceutical industry in favour of a more traditional thriller with strong central performances and a twist-laden plot. Because when Side Effects is good, it’s really good; it’s slick and never lets you settle long enough to feel comfortable. However, too often it stumbles and tries to be a little too clever for its own good. At the film’s climax, just as you should be fully engaged, it throws one too many twist at you and the whole thing becomes a bit of a mess. The motives of some of the characters, particularly Jonathan, are also questionable and some choices they make do belittle the story at times.

Performances are generally strong; Rooney Mara, in her first feature since 2011′s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, gives a subtle but effective performance, perfectly balancing her character’s vulnerability with something else bubbling just under the surface. However, it’s Jude Law whose performance really shines through; the dutiful doctor at the start, becoming a much more complex character by the film’s conclusion. Catherine Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, is little more than laughable as Victoria Siebert, Emily’s former shrink. Her acting is matched in eye-rolling melodrama only by her obviously foreboding black clothing and make-up. She might as well be wearing a witch’s hat. As for Channing Tatum, his small amount of screen time makes a mockery of his equal billing in the film’s advertising.

If this does indeed prove to be Soderbergh’s last film, then it’s difficult to say he’s gone out with a bang. Side Effects has a Hitchcockian dark side to it that is its strongest element (although possibly not explored enough), but it never gets out of third gear for long enough to consistently be as good as it threatens to be.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Rise of the Guardians

Rise of the Guardians

Aaaaand cue the annual big Christmas family movie. There are only three things in life that are certainties – death, Nicolas Cage accepting a film role, and a family friendly festive film to warm the yuletide cockles. Last year we had the lovely Arthur Christmas and this year Dreamworks have taken on the mantle with Rise of the Guardians. What? Wait, that can’t be right. It’s set at EASTER?!

Plot thus: The children of the world are looked after by four Guardians – Santa (Alec Baldwin (voice only, it’s all animated)), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and the (voiceless) Sandman. However, an ancient evil known as Pitch Black (Jude Law) threatens to turn all of the children’s dreams into nightmares and make them stop believing in the current Guardians. To combat the threat, a petulant Jack Frost, struggling to work out the reason for his existence, is enlisted to join the legendary group.

So, yeah the film is set at Easter. A pretty bizarre move from Dreamworks considering the time of year the film has been released and that one of the main characters is Mr Claus himself. However, as the film involves kids questioning the existence of these childhood figures, basing the whole thing at Christmas might lead to a few too many awkward questions this time of the year. Much safer to bash Monsieur Lapin instead. Despite that it is still essentially a Christmas film in all but time of the year. There’s loads of snow and ice, a bloke with a big white beard riding a sleigh, and plenty of fun and frivolity. Pretty much all you need.

Hades...I mean PitchRise of the Guardians presents said Guardians (some of them, at least) in a genuinely refreshing way, which helps it stand out from the usual incarnations. Santa has a Russian accent, carries a sword and has ‘naughty’ and ‘nice’ tattoos on his arms, making him seem like something from Eastern Promises, whilst the Easter Bunny is a 6’1″ boomerang-throwing Australian. However, not all the characters are quite so interesting. Emo Jack Frost is a disgruntled, angsty teenager (complete with stylish spiky hair and hood) who for the most part of the film is just a bit whiny, although he does become more of an interesting character as the film progresses. Similarly, the Tooth Fairy spends much of her time fawning over Jack or crying: hardly a strong female role. As the big bad villain, Pitch (bearing more than a little resemblance to Hades from Disney’s Hercules) is also really quite boring. Visually, he’s as interesting as an office chair, whilst his motives are more than a little wishy-washy. His scary demon horse things are pretty cool though.

It’s an interesting universe that is created here, inspired by William Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood book series, and there are times that you wish for a little more insight into the characters’ backgrounds. If all the Guardians were once normal humans, why were they picked to become the Guardians? We learn Jack’s story but no-one else’s. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how much you liked this film), there is ample room for potential sequels which, if this does well, will surely follow.

The story isn’t really anything new at its core, however. It’s a ‘face up to your fears’/’coming of age’ story that has been told plenty of times before, although this does offer its own unique take. There are some overly corny moments fresh from the Big Book of Vomit-Inducing Cliches but as it’s essentially a children’s film, that can be overlooked. Despite that, there are a couple of darker moments (not just the visual ones caused by the 3D) that do give the film a bit more depth. Talking of depth, the aforementioned 3D works pretty well for the most part aside from a couple of blurry moments and delivers a couple of genuine ‘jump out of the screen’ moments. Whether that’s a good thing is entirely up to you. The visuals in general are very impressive whilst lacking the spit and polish that comes from some of Dreamworks’ competitors, namely the Mouse House and associated studios.

Like the journey a humble carpenter and his suspiciously pregnant wife (supposedly) made all those years ago at this time of year, many families like to make a trip to check out a good ol’ family film come the holiday season, and they could certainly do worse than Rise of the Guardians.

Chris

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