Hail, Caesar! Review: Ode to Old School


Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen

Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen

Stars: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes

hail-caesar-poster


Release date: February 25th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

3½/5

Review: Hail, Caesar!

The Grand Budapest Hotel Review – Wild, Wild Wes-tern


Director: Wes Anderson

Writer: Wes Anderson

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe

 


Release date: March 21st, 2014

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Anderson’s direction.

Worst part: The unnecessary bookends.

Words like “hipster” and “pretentious” are thrown around far too often nowadays. Intended as insults, these words are too often taken out of context and placed into judgemental analyses. Unfortunately, these words are often directed toward writer/director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom). Sure, his style stands out from every other big-name filmmaker out there. But why should we criticise him for being different? This year, Anderson has pursued a new and improved form of critical and commercial acclaim.

Ralph Fiennes & Tony Revolori.

Simultaneously lampooning and embracing his distinctive style, Anderson’s new feature The Grand Budapest Hotel reaches out to newcomers and long-time fans. Here, this near-rabid fandom is what Anderson strives for. In  this delectable dramedy, his bold visuals, deadpan performances, and relevant themes are dissected and meticulously placed back together. To introduce readers to Anderson’s universe, I’ll describe this labyrinthine plot. In one timeline, a girl places a key on a statue before diving into a novel named ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. We are then introduced to the novel’s narratorial force. The author (Tom Wilkinson) describes one significant event in his tumultuous life. From there, we meet the author’s younger self (Jude Law) residing in 1968. Meeting the hotel’s elderly owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the author enquires about Moustafa’s past. We then examine Moustafa’s younger self (Tony Revolori) whilst learning of the Hotel’s former glory back in 1932. This timeline, set in the fictional Eastern European country of Zubrowka, deals with countries and businesses during wartime. As a lobby boy, Moustafa becomes friends with the hotel’s favourable concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). Over the years, Gustave courts several rich, elderly women whom come for the hotel’s reputation and stay for his “exceptional service”.

Adrian Brody & Willem Dafoe.

Heartbroken over his lover Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe-und-Taxis(Tilda Swinton)’s death, Gustave, after acquiring prized painting ‘Boy With Apple’, is pursued by her son Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody), assassin J.G.Jopling (Willem Dafoe), Deputy Vilmos Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum), and Inspector Henckels (Edward Norton). Honestly, it’s difficult fitting this expansive, starry-eyed cast into this synopsis. In true Anderson fashion, commendable lead and character actors fill each role. Here, Anderson’s auteur status ascends to a notch above transcendent. Embracing narrative tropes and visual flourishes, Anderson takes full responsibility for each detail. Conquering screenwriting and directorial duties, this masterful dramedy icon embellishes what others fear. Idealistically, fun concepts are explored in this sprawling tale about hope, love, age, loss, and survival. The Grand Budapest Hotel, escaping Anderson’s conventional familial-drama confines, delivers an investigation into an entire country’s peculiar inhabitants. Despite including one-too-many timelines, Anderson’s deft touch and focused direction delivers an honest and fruitful idea of humanity’s lighter and darker shades. The author’s timeline fuses with Moustafa’s in a tricky yet purposeful fashion. As a showcase for renowned performers, The Grand Budapest Hotel is chock-a-block with impactful moments and hearty surprises. In fact, around every corner, characters, laugh-out-loud gags, and clues reside to bolster this quirky tale. In addition, the movie throws gunfights, murders, and tension into this whimsical concoction. Thankfully, the movie never becomes quirky for quirky’s sake. Gustave’s journey never becomes corny or materialistic. Instead, this harsh yet intelligent narrative explores Anderson’s most enigmatic ideas. 

“Keep your hands off my lobby boy!” (M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), The Grand Budapest Hotel).

Jude Law & Jason Schwartzman

Of course, generating fans the world over, Anderson’s signature visual style eclipses this narratorial thrust and opinionated viewpoints. Beyond being the all-knowing creator of prescient dollhouse-like universes, the mis-en-scene, from the ground upward, builds glorious interiors and kitsch exteriors. As Gustave compliments people on their artistic merits, we can see Anderson applauding his own identity and style. Here, his universe becomes more wondrous, idiosyncratic, and gargantuan than anything a modern blockbuster can, and would, deliver. As blockbusters for the indie crowd, Anderson’s features exclaim more than expected each time. Overcoming obvious and ill-conceived preconceptions, his attention to detail almost becomes a cure for a conquering bout of Hollywood-itis. Overcoming the cynicism, his near-symmetrical compositions, clashing colours, stylistic experiments, and blank-faced characters develop near-wordless conversations. Here, his glorious style interacts with over-arching messages. Paying homage to everyone from Ernst Lubitsch to The Marx Brothers, Anderson uses hallways, elevators, cramped spaces, and lobbies to accentuate the story’s manic energy. Fitting its entire cast onto a bevy of key hangars, the poster reveals only a fraction of the movie’s content. Despite the vagueness, these performers, whether they be new to or accustomed to Anderson’s flourishes, admirably reinforce this tale’s enthusiasm, vision, and ideology. Fiennes breaks from tradition to embody this unhinged and comedically-charged role. Tapping into his slapstick chops, the iconic British actor jumps into each scene with charm, maliciousness, and reverence. Newcomer Revolori is also a standout as Gustave’s naive and witty number-two. Bolstering their already esteemed reputations, supporting players like Norton, Goldblum, Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, and Harvey Keitel stand above this immensely talented ensemble.

Eclipsing Anderson’s best efforts, including Rushmore and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an effervescent and efficient love letter. In addition, it outright refuses to become a sorrowful apology to Anderson’s detractors or even average filmgoers. Anderson, now reaching critical and commercial acclaim, holds his head up higher than even the most respectful hotel staff member. Ideally, it’s worth making reservations for, and checking-in to, this hysterical and dexterous dramedy.

Verdict: Anderson’s most gleeful and nuanced effort yet.

Wrath of the Titans Review – Swords and Sam-dals


Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Writers: Dan Mazeau, David Johnson

Stars: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Rosamund Pike


Release date: March 30th, 2012

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The sumptuous visuals.

Worst part: The lack of depth.

Illustrating a world of grotesque monsters, bearded gods and vivid desert landscapes, Wrath of the Titans, despite conveying many problems from the lacklustre 2010 original, emphasises and exaggerates its mythological action-adventure appeal; creating a fun, special effect fuelled popcorn feature aimed primarily at fathers and sons, but not carved into the stone of memorable Hollywood spectacle.

Sam Worthington.

Sam Worthington.

This enjoyable romp through fantasised Greek mythology cleverly begins its journey with re-telling the brave events of fisherman turned demi-god Perseus (Sam Worthington) in the first adventure. We revisit him in a small village, fishing with his young son and teaching the ways of honest living. But war between the gods almost immediately disrupts the peace Perseus created as titans and traitors threaten the existence of mankind. With Zeus in great peril and murmurs of the titan’s release, its up to Perseus, spirited warrior queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and the son of Poseidon, Agenor (Toby Kebbell), to reach the underworld and destroy the minions and masters of hell once and for all.

Liam Neeson.

Liam Neeson.

Wrath of the Titans lives up to its name by delivering exactly what it promises. There’s Wrath, and there’s Titans. The film’s simplicity leaves room to showcase one cracking action sequence after another. Director Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles) Turns what could easily be video game-like hack and slash monster mashes into breath taking set pieces, each one excitingly increasing in quality. The fast pacing aids the brisk yet captivating action set pieces while the threats of annihilation by monsters, gods and the almighty Kronos build to a thrilling and climactic final third. With shaky cam and quick cuts plaguing the original, the sequel defies all expectations in its most appealing elements by showcasing immersive tracking and panning shots, fluid choreography, beautiful CGI effects and sharp sound editing. The maze sequence is filmed and designed with the ingenuity and epic scope of a labyrinth inside the mind of  Christopher Nolan. Unlike the disappointing misuse of the monsters in the original, the raw, wriggling and disgusting creations in this film create one startlingly imposing threat after another. They range from slobbering minotaurs, to blood stained siamese twin warriors called Makhai, to Cyclops’s looking remarkably like British soccer hooligans. Much like the original, its over dependence on action set pieces leaves much to be desired with the script and story telling.

“We may not be gods. But we do what people say can’t be done, we hope when there isn’t any… whatever odds we face, we prevail.” (Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), Wrath of the Titans).

Rosamund Pike & Bill Nighy.

Rosamund Pike & Bill Nighy.

With a story solely based on following the characters struggle against every monster in the Greek isles, it falls flat on its face as its hollow interior leaves nothing but a straightforward quest for our gaggle of misfit characters. Plot twists based on the bonds between fathers, sons and brothers become increasingly confusing as this theme is just one of many opportunities sorely wasted by a conventional screenplay. One and two dimensional characterisations and stilted dialogue also harm proceedings as Wrath of the Titans noticeably lacks a necessary emotional connection. The cast does an adequate job with the little they’re given. Worthington drastically improves on his dull performance in the original through a charismatic yet stoic portrayal of this fabled yet modest hero, while surprisingly convincing in his comedic moments. Kebbell as the wise-cracking thief and demigod Agenor lifts the tone slightly with clever one liners. Pike as the love interest seldom gets enough screen time to make her normally gorgeous presence known. While older actors such as Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston and Bill Nighy are captivating yet suffer due to lacking screen time, unclear character motivation or diminutive story involvement. Fiennes and Neeson deliver great chemistry between each other; creating a believable relationship as brothers.

Banking on the success of Worthington and Liebesman, Wrath of the Titans is obviously a made-by-focus-group action flick. Being a sequel to one of the biggest flops of 2010, the movie barely scrapes by on pure adrenaline and brute force.

Verdict: A shallow yet entertaining action-adventure sequel.