Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)- Movie Review by Sean Wu

What a joy! It's only March, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the most wholesome, funniest, and overall best movies of the year, a lock for my top ten. The film follows the escapades of the most valued concierge working at the Grand Budapest Hotel (the place, not the movie,), M. Gustave H., played in sublime fashion by the usually dramatic Ralph Finnes. In the process of training new lobby boy Zero, he is framed for murdering the extremely old and extremely wealthy Madame D., and goes on the run. 

This is director Wes Anderson's eighth film, and easily his best. He is regarded for his instantly recognizable style, a double-edged sword. He has the acclaim of cinephiles and hipsters around the world, but has the increased potential of retracing his own footsteps, doing what he has done in the past. Based on the trailer, it appeared Wes would rehash the subplot of kids on the run, a la Moonrise Kingdom. I say with great relief that his is Anderson's most original film to date, a murder-mystery with his largest cast and most gratuitous violence. There is a prison break scene in the movie that had me trembling in my seat, out of utter hilarity and superb suspense. From 1996 to now, Wes Anderson has evolved so much as a director, one that tried to be great by being unconventional, but is now great. It's utterly unique, a joy to watch.

Now that 'kids on the run' has been mentioned, it goes to show how dense of a plot the movie has. There are many stars in the movie, enough to make a new constellation, and many of them are underutilized, like the French maid Clotilde, played by Lea Seydoux, or the Author, played by Tom Wilkinson. It sounds horrible for a director to have so many people with unequal representation, but when you've got Ralph Finnes doing offbeat comedy, who needs anything else? I sure didn't.

Newcomer Tony Revolori is Zero, and he holds his own admirably. The film gives Adrien Brody his best part in a long time as Madame D.'s profane and spoiled descendant, and Jeff Goldblum is impossible funny as the oddly-speaking hotel curator. I can recycle sentences all day talking about how fun and great and perfect the movie is, but instead you have to see it for yourself. It's as sweet as a Mendl's pastry and as masterful as the painting 'Boy with Apple'.

Note: This is Wes Anderson's most emotional movie to date. It came as a surprise to have this goofy action comedy tug on the heartstrings, utilizing sentimentality in the best way possible. It's amazing that this movie was not released last year, for it would have been number three on my top ten and a definite Best Picture nominee. I hope there's Oscar glory for Wes and company.

Noah (2014)- Movie Review by Sean Wu

I'm going to be honest, I was really tempted to walk out of this movie around the forty minute mark. I thought, has Darren Aronofsky gone sentimental? At that point, the film was a string of scenes, nothing inherently complete.

Noah is not a perfect movie by any means, but when the ark hits the water, sh*t hits the fan in the best way possible. It's thrilling to see Russell Crowe command the screen, delivering power not seen since 2000's Gladiator. And with the film being PG-13, it's amazing how gore, guts, and overall grim atmosphere Aronofsky can shove in two-and-a-quarter hours.

Do you read the Bible? Are you religious? Both questions are irrelevant, because you must surely know the story of Noah's ark and the great flood. Writers Aronofsky and Ari Handel appear to have been very thorough when writing the film, digging through the Old Testament like ark-eologists (haha). Their creativity is superb, but when they try their hands at poetry, it falters. It tries hard to be like John Ridley's script for 12 Years a Slave, but comes off like Terrence Malick, without the improvised feelings.

Outside of Crowe, the cast is solid. Jennifer Conolly returns as Russell Crowe's devoted wife, a la A Beautiful Mind, and she gets a very strong scene of her own (you'll know it when you see it, which you should,). Emma Watson is really good, believe it or not, holding her own against the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Russell Crowe. Speaking of Anthony Hopkins, his character was poorly developed. He's the film's main source of comedic relief, and his mystic powers as the legendary Methusulah can only be revealed through internet articles about the movie. Ray Winstone is a good villain in the movie, he has motives and explains his character in a way the audience might agree with his ideals.

What makes Winstone's Tubal-cain so agreeable is that Aronofsky really develops the idea of internal conflict in Noah, the biproduct of burdening one with the task of saving animals and killing people. Noah believes that humanity should no longer continue after the Great Flood, and is convincing in his unjust belief. Tubal-cain, the animal of a man that he is, believes in the ethics of saving humanity, also convincing. I thought I was going into a disaster movie, but I instead I needed my thinking cap, and it made the movie so much better.

However, I am not singing my praises. There are characters in the beginning that are similar to the mechs in Pacific Rim, assuming they could talk. It's totally silly, even if it is one's artistic interpretation of the Bible, it doesn't work on-screen at all. It's unnecessarily silly, as if Aronofsky decided to make the first forty minutes in Middle-Earth instead.

As a whole, Noah ain't the masterpiece that has been decades in the making, but it is a good movie that works as both a blockbuster and moral drama. I liked it.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Post Oscar Thoughts.

The Oscars were almost two weeks ago, but I have decided that it's better to do a post of my thoughts now instead of never. Here goes.

12 Years A Slave unsurprisingly took the top dog. I wish this year was actually more unpredictable, because I nailed 22/24 of my predictions. I mean, way back in the nomination stage, the whole thing was up in the air! I didn't know how many acting nominations American Hustle would get, Saving Mr. Banks looked to be one of the year's biggest films, Her was all but a pipe dream, Inside Llewyn Davis was a lock for a Best Picture nomination, and The Wolf of Wall Street was going to be a 2014 release. It's been a hell of a year. In the end, the true winner was the audience, for they were treated with the best movie year in a long long time. I gave so many perfect ratings, and even my last film in the top 20, Behind the Candelabra, would have been safe in my 2012 or 2011 top 10. That's how good 2013 was.

2014? I'm excited. I'm planning on seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel as soon as possible, and I am anxious for the Cannes Film Festival announcements. Dahan's Grace of Monaco is opening the fest, but the rest is a guessing game. Birdman? Knight of Cups? The new film by the Dardennes? What about Hazanavicus? Cannes is my favorite festival because it has some of the best films, and I am itching to hear what is announced.

As for other films, Inherent Vice, Foxcatcher, Boyhood, and Whiplash would probably round up my top five most anticipated. And I'm sure I'm leaving something off. I can't wait.

Friday, February 28, 2014

2014 Oscar Predictions. Final.

So it ends here. One of the most convoluted and hopelessly aimless years in Oscar history has ended. Here's my predictions for what's gonna take home gold on Sunday.

12 Years a Slave
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Spike Jonze, Her
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
The Great Beauty
20 Feet from Stardom
Get a Horse!
The Voorman Problem (idk)
The Lady in Number 6 (idk)
Let it Go (Frozen)
The Great Gatsby
Dallas Buyers Club
The Great Gatsby

Saturday, February 22, 2014

It's been a month... what have I missed?

I think I'm using the same images with every Oscar post I do.
Alright, I've slacked severely. In the past month, I haven't written a word on my site. Why? Because I just forgot. In the dead heat of the Oscar race, I lost interest. It's a three-horse race between American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, and Gravity, with each one winning different prizes and hardly moving anywhere, I just lost interest in the Oscars. I love movies all the same, but this year is hopelessly exhausting.

Best Picture: Gravity AND 12 Years a Slave
Gravity is so close to being a solid lock for Best Picture, but every BP prize it wins in the big shows are ties, as seen with the LAFCA and PGA. Okay. American Hustle is probably the weakest horse in the three horse race, but it's still one of the strongest in the nine horse scheme of things.

Original Screenplay: Her, Spike Jonze
Adapted Screenplay: Captain Phillips, Billy Ray
The Her love is strong for screenplay, because it also happened to take the Golden Globe prize for screenplay. Even Tina Fey, when heckling the film in her monologue, had to mention that she loved it. It's the weirdest thing of the year, but one of the most lovable. Come Oscar night, I'm crossing my fingers for Her, but American Hustle is still an undeniably strong contender. For Adapted Screenplay, WGA rule shenanigans eliminated 12 Years a Slave, which would have been the clear winner had it been nominated. The clear winner was Terrence Winter for his bonkers The Wolf of Wall Street, but nope, the unspectacular Captain Phillips had to upset. I quote The Wolf of Wall Street in conversation now (...goes up, down, sideways, in circles...), but I can hardly remember a good line from Captain Phillips (They'a R nawt heer to fish). Quotability doesn't determine the quality of a script, but let's leave it at this: I was never bored during The Wolf of Wall Street, but one hour of Captain Phillips put me half to sleep.

Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Out of all the nominees, Cuaron was the only true visionary. Simple as that.

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best British Film: Gravity
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofer, 12 Years a Slave
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Best Original Screenplay: David O. Russell, Eric Warren Singer, American Hustle
Best Adapted Screenplay: Jeff Pope, Steve Coogan, Philomena
So this is a truncated list of winners, but these are the 'big' awards. And the BAFTA group is kind of painting an augmented picture, especially since Dallas Buyers Club and Her weren't nominated for anything (lack pf viewership can be easily blamed). So in a year where the love is being shared, do you think the shared love could be changed if Dallas and Her entered the picture? No matter. The Best Picture winner here only took two prizes, the other being Best Actor. And to think we all thought after Telluride, that 12 Years a Slave would sweep the circuits, a la Return of the King!. It's a testament to the quality of filmmaking that sprouted from 2013, where all films were good if they weren't titled Lee Daniels' The Butler, even Captain Phillips has some admirable components. Notice how despite winning Best Pic, 12 lost the screenplay prize to Philomena, a film with a British advantage called Steve Coogan. It won't translate overseas on the 2nd, and despite loving the script to 12 more than Philomena, what Coogan and Pope did was make a safe, solid, sweet, and superb script that got some worthy recognition this year. Gravity took home the most prizes of night, so it is still a formidable contender for the top prize. Hustle took Best Original Screenplay, but Her wasn't nominated, so Oscar night should be more interesting.

Expect my Oscar Opinions series to restart soon, especially since I haven't yet done reviews of best picture nominees like Philomena and Captain Phillips. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

TheScreenTeen's Top 10 Films of 2013.

In one of the strongest years in movie history for a long time, out comes a top ten. Blood, sweat, and many tears have been sacrificed in perfecting this list, and whittling it down was more difficult than telling a kid that he was adopted. Anyways, here goes.

10. 12 Years a Slave
It's a lyrical ode to a time gone by, a warning to the future about the brutalities of human past. Almost everything in the film is pitch perfect, from the performances, Steve McQueen's unflinching direction, John Ridley's epic script, and even the Oscar snubbed cinematography. It would rank higher if the movie just had a better sense of time.

09. Blue is the Warmest Color
Sheit, I may have been too young to see the film, and I may or may not have streamed it via internet, but that doesn't mean I can't sing my praises for it. Adele Exarchopolous gives a natural tour-de-force in her debut lead performance: she feels raw and real in emotion. Lea Seydoux plays against her perfectly, and watching their relationship evolve for three or so hours makes for great filmmaking.

08. Short Term 12
I hated seeing this film get so much recognition, because it was such a small film that hardly anyone got to see. I saw it maybe two or so weeks ago, and it really deserves more recognition. Awards are all about recognition, and that means that Brie Larson deserves all awards that are Best Actress related. She is an embodiment of nature and grace, and she gives such an intimate down-to-earth feeling in every scene she is in. Loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it. Please seek this little gem out.

07. Frances Ha
I loved this one too! I think I'm saying that I loved every film in my list, but its true. This one's special though: it's a brisk lightweight comedy that feels effortlessly rewatchable and always hilarious. Two words that make this chaotic calamity work so well: Greta Gerwig.

06. Gravity
In the past few years of movie history, we've had technological innovations like Avatar, Hugo, and Life of Pi, but nothing on the level of Gravity. Even for 2D movie history, Gravity is on its own level. The shots are beyond normal length and beauty, and Sandra Bullock's solo is great. Cuaron directs with the most risk I've seen in a long time, and the payoff is HUGE. Let's cross our fingers for more Cuaron soon.

05. Ain't Them Bodies Saints
I feel that this is the year's most overlooked gem. I have a thing for all things styled like Terrence Malick, and this one is worthy of being placed on the level of him. Lowery, a feature film director newbie, tells the story he wants to tell, and by no one else's agenda. It's lyrical, it's beautiful, it's human, and it's natural. I could not take my eyes away.

04. Before Midnight
I said in my review of the film that it would be guaranteed a spot on my top three of the year. Well, that was a bit of a lie, but it came damn close. Watching Ethan Hawke's Jesse and Julie Delpy's Celine love, lose, and rediscover each other is so heartwarming and beautiful, and the two do it with immense ease and grace. It's amazing that Linklater could craft a film just out of walking and talking, but I loved it.

03. The Wolf of Wall Street
And the winner for the year's best three-hour movie that actually felt like ninety minutes goes to The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese, the best working director today, should be barred from moviemaking ever again, because this movie pretty much confirms he uses filmmaking enhancing drugs. At 71, he shoots scenes more off-the-wall than a 25 year old with an Annapurna budget can. Leonardo Dicaprio, a great guy that tends to overact, gets his best performance yet with the Wall Street investor Jordan Belfort, who just can't get enough, with Jonah Hill as his sidekick that goes too far too many times and Margot Robbie (I'd let her give me AIDS), is his wife. An American masterpiece.

02. Inside Llewyn Davis
I own a t-shirt with The Dude on it, but I think that Inside Llewyn Davis is the best film that the Coen Brothers have ever made. It's a short look in the life of a struggling artist, a film that frightens me in a way, but its also enchanting too, to see the hopeful Llewyn struggle his way for success in a grim workforce. What makes the film great is that Llewyn is three-dimensional, played brilliantly by the underseen Oscar Isaac. I loved watching the escapades, all of it hilariously somber. I can't wait to see it again.

01. Her
Having seen it last weekend, I have to admit, this is the best film I have seen all year. Of the 2010's. Of the past thirteen years. Hell, I think it might be the best film since GoodFellas. On the surface, it's a sweet and hilarious (if not slightly weird) look at loneliness, but deep down it is an essay on what the future will behold. It's undeniably a twenty-first century picture, and its a picture that we have unknowingly needed.

Look around you. Any public place you go to, you might see rows and gaggles of people buried into their iPhones and Androids. Absorbed in the cloud of the internet, Jonze taps into this reality with an ambitious and self-contained lens. Extras in the film dig themselves into their devices. It's not the future, it's actually the present.

The past has happened, and what we have now is a present (haha). Joaquin Phoenix somberly plays Theodore Twombly, a ghostwriter for a .com letter writing company, and is one of the best at his job. However, he's deeply lonely. He's haunted by the marriage of his past, and how it fell through. He spends his nights aimlessly exploring the world of video games, in solitude. Until he meets a computer operating system that calls itself Samantha. Sam is brilliant, modified to fit Theodore's every need, and open to exploring the world.

The catch with Samantha is that she is expected to meet people's needs by being hyperintelligent, not human. Watching the film for a second time has shown me the slow evolution of Samantha's thought processes as they gradually become more 'Homo sapien'. She can read full books in milliseconds, recreate versions of philosophers (like Alan Watts), and communicate with others via email, but she can't seem to explore human love without needing time to herself.

Samantha's romantic Achilles Heel is not uncommon, but it's fascinating to watch Samantha's behaviors. Scarlett Johansson's voice performance is brilliant, one of the best performances I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. On paper she reminded me of HAL and Siri, but on screen she was her own entity.

Consider this scene: Theodore is talking to Samantha as they ride a train together. They are playing a guessing game, figuring how many trees are on a mountain. Samantha can determine to the nearest digit, but Theodore aimlessly shoots numbers from out of the blue. Simultaneously, she is communicating with a publisher to see if they are interested in publishing a book of Theodore's ghostwritten letters. She communicates to the publishers as Theodore however, and does this behind his back, but in the best way possible. She's doing this out of what feels like love, and the fact that Samantha is doing this without Theodore knowing is glossed over, something hardly mentioned. Jonze's vision reveals a flaw in his opus, 2001: A Space Odyssey: HAL's decision making was heavy-handed and very logical, while Samantha's decision-making is natural and normal. It's sweet to see the couple so happy, I cried a little.

The supporting cast is good too. Rooney Mara is Catherine Klossen, Theodore's childhood friend and eventual ex-wife, and Amy Adams is Theodore's friend that has also discovered an OS friendship amid a divorce. The score by Arcade Fire is incredibly melancholy and soulfully hopeful, and the Oscar-nominated production design is radically inspired too: The future is not dystopian, nor is it utopian, but it is minimalist and real. Her is a rhapsody to love at any age, any time, and with anyone. It's a movie will define the 21st century, and one of the most incredible things to ever grace the silver screen ever.

So I can finally shut the book on 2013. And with 2014 bringing us Richard Linklater's Boyhood, AJ Edwards' The Better Angels, Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, two Terrence Malick pictures, and Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice, I think we're gonna have a good year ahead of us.

Monday, January 20, 2014

TheScreenTeen's Top 10 Films of 2013 (Honorable Mentions).

It's a long time coming, twenty days overdue, but it is done. It's complete. I have finished my top ten films of 2013, and it's a doozy. In any other year, some films near the bottom of my top twenty would find a way in the middle of a top ten. There's sixteen films I really want to recognize, so that means I do have six honorable mentions. Here they are, in alphabetical order.

All is Lost
I was bored through lots of this movie, in fact I thought near the thirty minute mark that the film

had spliced in repeated takes. But I feel that that was the intention of J.C. Chandor: to feel like Robert Redford in the film, bored, restless, and impatient. He succeeded, no doubt. The Golden Globe-winning score by Alex Ebert is strong, and the performance by Redford is on point.

American Hustle
I thought that this film would be guaranteed a spot on my top ten list, but in retrospect, the film is not nearly as great as some are making it out to be. Performances are confident and assured, like O. Russell's direction, but the film is pretty much just fluff. Highly stylized entertaining fluff, at least.

Blue Jasmine
I love me some '70's Woody Allen, and I can say with great confidence that this is a film by Woody Allen. Not chug-a-film-a-year Woody Allen, but by the auteur Woody Allen. It's his best film since Crimes and Misdemeanors, and I really wish I had room on this year's list for it, but it's just too strong of a year. Cate Blanchett is excellent, and I am so happy that Sally Hawkins got the recognition she deserved from the Academy.

The Great Beauty
It's the leading contender for best foreign language film of the year, and its a worthy one. Direction by Sorrentino is Felliniesque, sumptuous in style and heaving with thoughts of life's regrets.

The Spectacular Now
A great film about young love in the old years of youth. Sure, themes of alcoholism are heavyhanded, but the performances by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are superb, spot-on reflections of youth today.

Spring Breakers
There's no doubt in my mind that this film is trash, but it's dreamy, Florida sun-glazed, neon-light, orange-glow, hookers-and-blow, trash. Korine directs with some off the wall ambition, and James Franco is simply haunting as the rapper/pimp Alien. I've got half of the "Look at all my sheit" monologue engraved in my head, if that's a testament to my appreciation.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

SAG Winner predictions!

The SAG Awards are tonight, and their unusually strong support for August: Osage County and The Butler clearly didn't translate to the Academy Awards.

BEST ENSEMBLE: American Hustle. Because in October, people like me were hailing 12 Years a Slave as the instant winner. I think that the simmering cast here is going to provide a bit of an unsurprising upset.

BEST ACTOR: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club. He won the Golden Globe and Critics Choice, so he's unstoppable right now. In fact, the SAG seems to factor men's looks into voting, because in 2003 Johnny Depp won for Pirates of the Caribbean. Sorry Chiwetel.

BEST ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine. Because.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club. Because.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle. She's the hot thing in Hollywood, and she'll be swept up with the Best Ensemble prize. Or vice-versa.

Critics Choice winners!

You think this tells us something, but it really doesn't. 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture, American Hustle's fanbase gives them Best Comedy, and Gravity wins the most awards. The three-way race perseveres.

The full list of winners are below are in BOLD.
  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Nebraska
  • Saving Mr. Banks
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Christian Bale (American Hustle)
  • Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
  • Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)
  • Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
  • Robert Redford (All Is Lost)
  • Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
  • Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
  • Judi Dench (Philomena)
  • Brie Larson (Short Term 12)
  • Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
  • Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)
  • Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
  • Daniel Bruhl (Rush)
  • Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
  • Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
  • James Gandolfini (Enough Said)
  • Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
  • Scarlett Johansson (Her)
  • Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
  • Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
  • Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
  • June Squibb (Nebraska)
  • Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels’ The Butler)
  • American Hustle
  • August: Osage County
  • Lee Daniels’ The Butler
  • Nebraska
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
  • Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips)
  • Spike Jonze (Her)
  • Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
  • David O. Russell (American Hustle)
  • Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
  • Eric Singer and David O. Russell (American Hustle)
  • Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine)
  • Spike Jonze (Her)
  • Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis)
  • Bob Nelson (Nebraska)
  • Tracy Letts (August: Osage County)
  • Richard Linklater & Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight)
  • Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)
  • Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (Philomena)
  • John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)
  • Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Oscar nominees!

So they've been announced. I'm going to cry about Inside Llewyn Davis missing the big categories. Fare thee well, my honeys.

Performance by an actor in a leading role
  • Christian Bale in “American Hustle”
  • Bruce Dern in “Nebraska”
  • Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave”
  • Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club”
Performance by an actor in a supporting role
  • Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips”
  • Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle”
  • Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave”
  • Jonah Hill in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
  • Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club”
Performance by an actress in a leading role
  • Amy Adams in “American Hustle”
  • Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine”
  • Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”
  • Judi Dench in “Philomena”
  • Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County”
Performance by an actress in a supporting role
  • Sally Hawkins in “Blue Jasmine”
  • Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”
  • Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave”
  • Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County”
  • June Squibb in “Nebraska”