Friday, January 30, 2015

Grand Budapest Hotel Review

Wes Anderson’s latest film, Grand Budapest Hotel, is a movie about a stupidly-dressed young woman who looks at a bust on a pedestal, and this makes her hear someone (the “Author” on the bust) narrating a story in a way that people only do for a television broadcast, and that is itself the story of that writer meeting someone who recites their life’s story to the author. Basically: what the f—k?

It is from this ludicrous and labyrinthine beginning that one of 2014’s best comedies takes off. The story of the girl looking at the monument feels blank, like the pure-yet-empty framing device that it is, the story of the author talking about what he heard feels twee and... “doofy,” while the story of the author hearing the life story told to him seems intimate and intense. And the life story told by that person? That one feels exhilarating and insane, and I’m sure it’s all on purpose.

As a writer and director, Anderson focuses on people who live in a world that is so idiosyncratic and eccentric that anything can happen – probably with some sort of 70’s quirk in the background, like tacky furniture or wallpaper. If Wes Anderson wrote a Twilight Zone episode, the moon and sun would go on some kind of journey to... I dunno, find their non-adoptive father, start an affair with each other, realize that they’re related to one another by blood even though they were both adopted, and then destroy the Earth in their attempt to consummate the affair. Also, either the sun or the moon would wear a monocle, a cummerbund, a cravat, or some sort of ridiculous headgear best suited to Midwestern children in the early-middle of the 20th Century.

In the end, Anderson’s fetish sure as hell isn’t my fetish, but he handles it nicely and makes it more appealing than I thought possible. As the opening minutes of the movie played, I found myself getting instantly annoyed by the sheer Wes Anderson-ness of it all, like someone who’s put on way too much cologne or perfume. But it wasn’t long before I looked past the overly-mannered dialogue and carefully-prepared sets, instead losing myself in the physical and verbal comedy on display; the barrage of jokes was so steady and so effective that I was very much impressed and won over. While not perfect, I couldn’t ask for more from GBH, as a comedy or a part of Anderson’s C.V.

So the narrative at issue here is that some Author once met the reclusive owner of a storied hotel, while the author and owner were both staying in that hotel. Being a fan of the author, the owner decides to reveal the incredible and ridiculous tale of how he came to work at - and eventually own - the building that they are both in. The story is full of treachery, loyalty, wit, and snark. My god, so much snark.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

Guardians of the Galaxy was probably the biggest cinematic success story of 2014. So many other pictures had a higher profile – they starred Tom Cruise, or Ben Affleck, had Oscar-bait storylines, or were based on very popular novels... Meanwhile, GotG is about a group of galactic criminals and misfits who are all chasing the lead to either claim the bounty on him, or to take back the powerful artifact that he steals in the movie’s opening scene.

And Guardians hid its highest-profile names with makeup or CGI to portray: a rodent (Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon), a tree (Vin Diesel as Groot), and a green chick with a weird jaw (Zoe Saldana as Gamora). This is before we round out the protagonists with a red-skinned thug played by an MMA guy (Dave Bautista as Drax), and the lead - an earth conman who’s lost in space played by an actor from Parks & Recreation (the formerly cherubic-chubby Chris Pratt as Star-Lord).

You simply don’t expect that kind of central cast to front a movie that’s an unmitigated blockbuster hit (which actually parallels the success of these underdogs in their fictional story), but the audiences spoke with their dollars: earning $331M in North America and another $439M around the world, it’s both the third highest-grossing pic of 2014 and the third highest-grossing pic out of all the Marvel Cinematic pictures – which is extra insane since both the Marvel pix ahead of it had at least 4 films as a setup. Better still, the critical response was very strong, and most everyone I knew loved the hell out of the thing.

So now, it’s time for me to open my big stupid trap and chime in. Well, I should start with something that I’ve stated here before: I was a fan of comics in my teens, but stopped reading them not long before I started college (and also started dating, which I’m sure is no coincidence). I wasn’t sure that GotG was based on pre-existing characters - I simply assumed that fact, because the comic companies have done more recycling and refurbishing lately than an Apple Store. Despite my abandonment of them, I am very familiar with the general vibe of comic books from the 70's to the 90's.

So perhaps the best thing about Guardians is that it’s post-post-post-times-5-modern, yet feels like an old movie. I’m not talking about the way that Super 8 felt like a mimeograph of E.T. by looking like E.T. and resembling many of the emotional aspects of E.T., I’m talking about possessing both the look and the feel of a movie made in the 70s or early 80s. The opening sequence felt like a gleeful update of Raiders of the Lost Ark, pulled it off successfully, and kept something like that vibe going for much of the film’s running time.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Reviewing with Others, Pt. 77: The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman

My last several off-site reviews have all been movies that were sent to me - with the exception of Coherence, which I actively sought out, I was in a slightly more passive position of having people explain to me why I might want to check out a movie about Ai Weiwei, Greenwich Village's role in folk music history, or particle accelerators.

Finally, I get back to a reviewing with others entry about something I've been eager for: Will' Terran's second film, The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman. I provided several updates here about the film's progress, and I've had the DVD on hand since around Halloween, but my schedule has only just now allowed me to complete my review. If you'd like to read it, please go here, to Man, I Love Films...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Immigrant - C'est Si Bon, But Not THAT Bon

James Grey's The Immigrant is a slow, sweeping story about Ewa (Marion Cotillard), a Polish woman who comes to America with her younger sister, Magda (Angela Sarafyan). Their quest to find safety and stability in the USA becomes a nightmarish ordeal because luck, avarice, jealousy, pride, and corruption conspire to drag them down a brutal and cruel path.

As Ewa and Magda wait in line at Ellis Island, the former admonishes the latter to hide her cough; tuberculosis symptoms get people detained to be observed, then deported. Ewa knows English well, yet sinks into quicksand once a doctor comes by and races through the inspection. In seconds, Magda is declared suspect and confined to the island. Her medical treatment won't be free, either.

Things don't fare better for our protagonist. Her questions about her sister are barely answered. Bureaucrats say that the Aunt and Uncle who were to sponsor them are absent, with a home address that doesn't exist. Finally, Ewa's told that the men on her boat accused her of "low moral character" (read: slut or prostitute, almost interchangeable back then (F-K you, patriarchy)). Those last two reasons together are fatal, and the older sister learns she will be sent back to Poland shortly.

In a long hallway, Ewa waits. A man approaches her, and they speak quickly. She’s plaintive, while he’s hesitant. After a few tense moments, Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) says that she's bound to be sent back, but he could take her off the island. This chance rescue then turns into an offer of a place to sleep, in addition to employment as a seamstress. Bruno lays out the idea that Ewa needs money to feed her sister, as well as secure her eventual release.

And so, Ewa takes something like a Dante’s journey through the 9 Levels of NYC. She’s occasionally joined by the light-hearted – and pretty foolish – stage magician, Emil (Jeremy Renner), but almost her whole existence Stateside is overshadowed by Bruno, who’s so studiously abusive that I took him for a proto-Ike Turner.

So the real question is: why is this movie so highly regarded as to be at the top of many best of 2014 lists?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

It's A Good Day to F--K ME Hard

Two posts went up early today: one was a draft of thoughts on The Immigrant, the other being my round-up for 2014's films. Sorry about that, but the demands on my time have been greater than ever.

But, as so often, there's light in the darkness. My review for The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman will be ready by Friday latest, but it's likely to go up tomorrow morning (I just need to find some photos). The Immigrant will follow after, then The Guardians of the Galaxy, and then my thoughts on the Oscar Noms should come next.

By that time, I should have my review of the original Carrie completed - with special apologies to Lady T, who quite kindly commented on what was basically a bunch of jumbled-up notes. Once those have all been published, I should have one or two more 2014 reviews ready, although I'm not sure which movies will be covered.

What can say, I have a demanding schedule, a lot of non-business stuff going on, and I'm only seeing these pictures by legal means - I can't just torrent stuff and fire off a quickie review like some hack. I trust my thoughts will make the wait and mis-posts somewhat worthwhile... Thanks for your patience and understanding; that's all we can ask of each other.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reviewing with Others, Pt. 76, sorta: Academy Award Nominations

Last week, I was asked for some Oscar thoughts by the site for which I write indie movie reviews, Man I Love Films They wanted to do a group post from all the writers, much like I suggested we should do when The Dark Knight Rises came out. You can check that post out here.

I prepared some nice thoughts, but was told there was a two paragraph limit. I amended my comments accordingly... only to find that several of my colleagues exceeded the limits. It's not really a complaint, because the site's owners were the big ones to run over, and it's their right... Yet it means that I definitely have to post a longer version soon. That will go onto the pile of posts that I should have ready in the next week. I'm a little under the weather right now, so fortunately (hahahaha), I'll have time to get everything polished and published.

Friday, January 16, 2015

F--K ME Hard With a Vengeance

So between yesterday and the day before, three separate posts went up, and none of them were in finished form. To that end, I can only claim being very busy, believing the posts were set for way later in the month, and a surprising (if dumb) minor injury.

Anyway, soon, some brief thoughts on the Oscar noms will go up at Man, I Love Films. Also, I have reviews for The Immigrant and The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman almost ready, and probably more lengthy Oscar thoughts to follow, in addition to further reviews for 2014's big films.

Sorry, everyone! More to come soon...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Blue Ruin Review: Is Revenge a Dish Best Served at Room Temperature?

This time of year, seeing (and increasingly, hearing) all the top ten lists fills me with a sense of inadequacy. All these people who have seen a ton more movies than I have! The year started out well for me cinematically speaking, making more trips to the movie theater than at any time since my kids were born. However, as the year wore on, getting to the theater got harder and harder. Thaddeus has alluded to the trials we went through to see Snowpiercer on a big screen, and I was thwarted in my attempts to get to the theater for a couple of personal must-sees--Interstellar in IMAX and Guardians of the Galaxy, at all.

One thing that struck me while listening to the Slashfilmcast's Top 10 movies of the year episode is that a few of 2014's must-see movies have already made it to Netflix streaming. Since I wasn't quite in the mood for an experience as "opaque" as Under the Skin, and had a little trepidation about metaphysical relationship drama The One I Love, I decided to catch up with the indie revenge flick, Blue Ruin.


When Dwight Evans (Macon Blair) hears that Wade Clelland is getting out of jail, he has cause to seek revenge. What he lacks, in the words of Liam Neeson’s memorable monologue from Taken, is a “very particular set of skills.” Dwight, who when we first meet him is a vagrant haunting a Delaware beach community, has some survival skills—he forages through dumpsters for food pretty well, and he has strategies for finding a place to bathe when he needs one—but for the most part he's a regular guy with little of the attitude or aptitude required for a revenge mission.

Cinema used to have a healthy preoccupation with the plight of the normal guy forced into a world of violence. The original Death Wish was about a peacenik architect learning the ways of violence after his family is victimized. Straw Dogs had nebbishy Dustin Hoffman defending his home against a lynch mob in rural England. Eventually, as the Death Wish sequels piled up—along with the corpses of Paul Kersey’s raped and murdered relatives, friends, and employees--the curiosity about amateur revenge-seeking gave way to thrill seeking. By the end, Charles Bronson’s protagonist was just another action hardass, spouting one-liners and bringing increasingly powerful ordinance to bear against an endless army of punks.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


So a draft for an upcoming review went up by accident today. This was predicted by my Fair Warning page above, but I try to avoid these. As an apology, please enjoy this humorous advertisement, courtesy of Leah and the NYC subway system:

Now, I will have a review of The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman ready within the next week. Also coming up is a review for The Immigrant, and a few other pictures. I'm spending a little less time on healthcare this month, so I can continue to go through some of the big movies of 2014 and close out this blog in style.

Monday, January 5, 2015

HISHE Batman v Superman Trailer

Happy 1/5/15, everyone! It's been a while since I've posted anything from the How It Should Have Ended crew. But I was scanning their YouTube page the other day and was pleasantly surprised to see that they made a new entry for the upcoming Batman v Superman clusteref--k that I'm sure Zack Snyder, the genius behind 300, will unload like a bodily function onto filmgoers everywhere.

Harsh? Yes, yet word of his last superhero film, Man of Steel, cemented my decision to stay away. The guy has no viable concept of story or character, his work is often offensive to woman (and/or feminists), nor is his photographic composition and visual style as good as Michael Bay's (for which, sigh, the guy genuinely has a gift and is known to work hard at). And Snyder's pictures, from a storytelling perspective, are actively bad to me, not merely bland or incompetent. (Feel free to call in, folks. That number again is 300!)

Snyder is thus worse than both Bay and Brett Ratner, and I think his taking the reins for both Superman and Batman and the Justice League and who gives a f--k anymore, Warner Bros/DC seems to have abandoned any concern for or dedication to quality filmmaking. They're just superhero films, I can find better things to do.

Not a hyperbolic stance at all, right?

So, apparently, a teaser trailer for BvS played at this year's Comic-Con, and the HISHE team responded in the way I've come to expect from them: with charm and cleverness. It helps that I'm a big fan of all their vids of Bruce and Clark chilling out. These guys keep the characters recognizable and reasonably-consistent, posing Kent and Wayne as the best of buddies. It's just that they both have big egos and time to d--K around with each other - two grown up kids living their dreams, without a care. Let's watch: