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.