The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham and Adrien Brody
Written and Directed by Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums)
Rated R for language, some sexual content and violence

    I have always had a huge love for Wes Anderson’s films.  From Bottle Rocket to Rushmore (filmed in Houston by the way) to The Royal Tenenbaums and the rest that follow, I connect with his style, his color palette and his wonderful usage of actors.  And while it’s hard to rank my favorites, his new outing is up at the top. 

    The crux of the story revolves around a concierge (brilliantly played by Ralph Fiennes) at a pre WWII Eastern Block hotel who finds himself on the hit list of a local family when an elderly woman he had been courting at his hotel dies and leaves him a valuable piece of art.  Filled with incredible and memorable little stories with unique characters throughout, the film twists and turns in unexpected and joyous little adventures. 

    So why do I love Anderson’s films so much?  Probably because they are so quirky yet so absolutely adorable.  There is not a predictable moment in any of his films, and like Hannibal Lecter,  you find yourself enjoying his delicious little brain and all of the nuances found within (sorry for any overtly cannibalistic references).  Even in the darkest and most violent of moments in the film, there is joy to be discovered.  It’s like a scary Disney ride where even though you might be a little concerned for your safety, you always know that there is a big happy mouse waiting for a hug on other side. 

    Like all of his other films, there is a huge A-list actor around every turn.  Like roaches on a filet mignon, I’m fairly certain that pretty much every actor in Hollywood is dying to have any role they can get in Anderson’s movies and they all do their very best with not even an extra “phoning it in.”  Fiennes, Law, Abraham, Brody as well as Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Ed Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldbloom, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Defoe, Harvey Keitel, Owen Wilson and newcomer and co-star Tony Revolori all turn in these amazing performances that are a simply pleasure to sit back and watch. 

In addition, this is one of the best productions Anderson has ever presented with interesting and gorgeous cinematography by long-time collaborator Robert Yeoman, a perfect score by Alexandre Desplat and 12 Years a Slave production designer Adam Stockhausen. 

    If you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of the film.  I’ve seen it twice already and I’m sure many more viewings are to come.  It is a sincere pleasure that I recommend it and hope that you have as much fun watching it as I have.  A

New in Home Entertainment – March 19, 2014

New in Home Entertainment

March 18, 2014

Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

I would have never thought that Disney’s latest princess flick would be the avalanche that it has become, but it has turned out to be the mouse house’s biggest animated hit in years.  Now it enters homes hot off its two Oscar wins (best song and best animated feature) and will most likely fly off of the shelves to become a record-breaking dvd/blu-ray release.  The music is extremely catchy and the story, about a princess with the power to freeze her surroundings and her sister who longs to have a relationship with her, is as touching as it is entertaining.  It is highly aware of itself as it tries to debunk the old-fashioned notion of love at first sight and the power of true love’s kiss, but this does not distract from the enjoyment in the least.  A-

Saving Mr. Banks
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images. 
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

While I was surprised that Frozen has become such a hit, I was even more surprised that Saving Mr. Banks was such a miss.  After all, it has Tom Hanks as Walt Disney trying to woo Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers into allowing him to make one of his all-time classics, Mary Poppins.  It’s a fantastic story with amazing performances by a very talented cast including Hanks, Thompson, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Collin Farrell and others.  I hope that on DVD this one gets the crowd it should have gotten in theaters.  A

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, brief strong language, intense sequences of violence and sexual content

Based on Nelson Mandela’s very thick autobiography, Long Walk tells the story of the man who has been given the credit for ending apartheid in South Africa.  The performance by Idris Elba as Mandela is really fantastic, but as with many biopics, the movie suffers under its own weight.  I finished watching feeling educated about some of the major events of his time, but the story and script were less than impressive.  C+

Monsters: The Complete Series
Available on DVD

From 1988-91, the Sci-Fi channel brought us 72 half-hour episodes of this cult classic show which revolved around all sorts of monsters starring all sorts of stars like Steve Buscemi, David Spade and Lili Taylor.  While it could be extremely cheesy at times, it has surprisingly good creature effects for its time.  While I didn’t get to see all of the 26 hours contained within, what I did see proved to be a gloriously campy way to spend a night eating pizza and popcorn.  B

New in Home Entertainment – March 12, 2014

New in Home Entertainment

March 11, 2014

Out of the Furnace
Rated R for strong violence, language and drug content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Christian Bale plays a struggling blue-collar worker who is forced to take the law into his own hands when his brother (Casey Affleck) turns up missing and the law won’t do anything about it.  This indie is quite ambitious for a quiet little rust bowl picture.  The story isn’t that unique but the performances stand out, especially from Woody Harrelson who plays one heck of a mean villain.  All of the characters are more complex than they let on, though, making for an interesting watch.  But while the film is a decent enough drama, it is ultimately pretty forgettable and really only worth a rent and not a buy.  B-

The Book Thief
Rated PG-13 for some violence and intense depiction of thematic material
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Based on the book by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief tells the story of a young girl who is adopted by a German family during WWII who is hiding a Jewish refugee.  After she learns to read, she begins stealing books from a local home in order to entertain herself and keep her illegal guest company.  While the film has good intentions, it just isn’t interesting enough to hold your attention.  Sophie Nelisse, who plays the young girl, isn’t a particularly great actress, and the script by Michael Petroni even makes the performances of Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson look stale.  The one saving grace the film has is a magnificent score by the infamous John Williams, who hasn’t done a non-Spielberg film since 2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha.  While the music doesn’t make the film worth watching, it certainly is a soundtrack worth owning.  C

New in Home Entertainment – March 4, 2014

New in Home Entertainment

March 4, 2014

12 Years a Slave
Rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

12 years follows the life of Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from the north who is kidnapped and sold to an oppressive slave owner (Michael Fassbender) in Louisiana.  This newly discovered true story is remarkable and possibly the most accurate portrayal of slavery in the United States.  While incredibly harsh and at times difficult to watch, the film ends being overwhelmingly rewarding.  You start to cheer on Solomon and his companions, hoping that things might turn out okay, even though the odds are horribly against them.  And talk about great performances.  The cast here is tremendously talented, stirring up the kinds of emotions that bring its audience past such notions as white guilt or black pride and into the world of empathy and love for fellow humans.  Worthy of every award it has won, including this year’s Oscar for best picture and Lupita Nyong’o for best supporting actress, 12 Years a Slave is an modern classic that will be impactful for decades to come.  A+

The Grandmaster
Rated PG-13 for violence, some smoking, brief drug use and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s legendary martial arts instructor, has been a major subject of asian cinema over the last few years.  Once again his story is being told, only this time with iconic director Wong Kar-wei (In the Mood for Love), big stars like Tony Leung (Lust, Caution) and Ziyi Zhang (Memoirs of a Geisha), and action choreographer Yuen Wo Ping (Kill Bill).  The production is very good and deserving of the two Oscar noms for cinematography and costume design, but the story is difficult to follow and frankly quite annoying.  I really wanted to like the movie but I was just too distracted by the lousy writing and narcissistic excess.  I’m sure there is something lost in translation here, but I love martial arts films and I couldn’t enjoy this one at all.  C