The Lego Batman Movie (2017): A Wonderful Satire and Celebration of Batman

    “The Lego Batman” movie is hilarious, a great satire and celebration of Batman and a great addition to the Batmanverse if you are any sort of fan of the character. This is a film that finally makes Batman fun again and brings in just how important the Bat Family is, which is something many of the live action films have forgotten. Before I get into story spoilers, I highly recommend this film. Much like the “Lego Movie,” it never stops being fun.

    The film was directed by Chris McKay, written by Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna, Seth Grahame-Smith, Jared Stern and John Wittington while being produced by Dan Lin, Roy Lee, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

   The story involves Batman who after defeating Joker and his Rogues Gallery once again is alone but finds his life changed when Jim Gordon (Hector Elizondo) retires and his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) takes his place and wants to work with Batman (Will Arnett). Dick Grayson (Mchael Cera) is also accidentally adopted by Batman who must now deal with caring for others again as Joker sets a plan in motion to reach the enemies in the Phantom Zone, as he’s hurt that Batman doesn’t see him as his nemesis.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of Batman is fascinating and Lego’s take on it adds a lot of much needed humor as well as a recognition of the campy roots that have always been a part of Batman to some degree. We see a diverse array of Rogues, the Justice League of course the people of Gotham.

The Action – The action is fantastic, with my favorite parts being the opening fight where Batman faces off against his Rogues and the Phantom Zone enemies invading and pretty much destroying Gotham. The action is fluid and quick and remains focused even with so much going on.

The Joker – Zach Galifianakis was brilliant casting as the Joker. He brings so much snide and emotion to the role and I loved how he had a co-dependent relationship with Batman where all he wanted was to be the most hated and Batman’s nemesis aka have a special relationship. His Joker isn’t all bad either as at the end he helps save Gotham and in the Phantom Zone is freaked out by the mentality some of the villains have.

The Bat Family – The Bat Family is wonderful as see Alfred is Bruce’s surrogate father just as he becomes Dick Grayson’s (Michael Cera doing some great comedy) surrogate Dad. Batgirl (Rosario Dawson is once again fantastic) is the one who sees the big picture of them working together and that it is needed and Batman is the inventor whose inventions help save the day. It is Alfred calling Bruce to action that helps him grow (Fiennes does a wonderful job as the character), Robin’s usefulness, innocence and admiration and Batgirl’s accountability that help him complete his arc and finally grow out of the fear that was with him on the day his parent’s died.

Satire of Batman – Batman is trapped as a perpetual child who plays rock and roll is an ungrateful narcissist and this on display, from tantrums (a good satire of Bale and Affleck’s Batman at his most extreme), his strange villains from his early run (Condiment King, etc.) his strange rivalry with Superman (Batman v Superman, Dark Knight Returns) and how a lot of it comes from Batman’s childish need to one up and be extreme, and his isolation and just lonely that really is. The great thing is, a character arc comes out of it!

Batman’s Character Arc – In the end this satire is a celebration of the character because his anger and rage is mocked but it is also explored and it goes somewhere. Batman grows up and realizes he isn’t alone. Besides “Dark Knight Rises” I can’t think of a film that has really done this well (“Batman Returns” did it but not well).

 Okay: Batman’s Rogues – Batman’s rogues don’t much besides being minions of the Joker and function as one entity (which was a shame) some of the references are funny though, from Condiment King (actual rogue) to Bane having Tom Hardy’s Bane’s voice. As jokes and references they are fine but they don’t exist as characters, which would have raised this film higher.

The Phantom Zone Villains – Gremlins, The Eye of Sauron, King Kong and Lord Voldemort are some of the baddies in the Phantom Zone. They also largely exist as references too and as villains so powerful Batman’s Rogues and the Bat Family have to team up to defeat them.

The Cons: The Legoverse – Gotham is built over dirty laundry and the Phantom Zone has a talking Lego that sounds like a kid. I didn’t like either of these things. I get it is the Legoverse but these things took me out of the great Batman story that was taking place and was the worst part of the film and only real con.

   This was a film that was amazing as a Batman film, but brought down by the ties to the Legoverse. It was that aspect that took me out of the great Batman story that was being told. There is fantastic character arc that takes place with Batman finally growing up, from Gotham being built over dirty laundry and the Phantom Zone talking lego…I still highly recommend this film and consider it a favorite. I’m curious to see what the Lego Team comes up with next and hope that DC can take note of the fact that Batman can’t remain static. The great movies have him grow and change, it is when that is forgotten we are given the dramatic child who Will Arnett satires beautifully.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Advertisements

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016): A Masterpiece of Animation With an Unforgettable Story

Kubo and the Two Strings

  “Kubo and the Two Strings” is my favorite movie of the year. Whether it was hold that place remains to be seen but thus far, it is the most perfect film I have watched this year. Not only is the stop-motion animation and soundtrack amazing but the story and characters kept me involved through the entire story, and the story starts out slow to let know become familiar with the world. You should see this film, I want more films like this to be made and it needs all the support it can get, given it is only Laika studios that is keeping this form of art alive.

   The film was directed by Travis Knight, who was also one of the producers, written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler with the other producer being Marc Haimes.

    The story involves Kubo (Art Parkinson), whose eye was stolen by his grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and must not go out at night unless his grandfather finds him and takes his other eye. During the village’s festival he stays out too late and finds himself hunted by his two Aunts (Rooney Mara) who have come to take his other eye at his Grandfather’s behest. He must collect his father’s armor, sword and helmet in order to stop the Moon King and is helped by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a former samurai turned into Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) along the way.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is wonderful and full of amazing monsters! From a Garden of Eyes, Witches and Gods to a Ten Foot Skeleton…this is a world that is lived in and all the powerful for it as it embraces Japanese mythology while creating a mythology all it’s own.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful, Dario Marianelli manages to create a soundtrack infused with magic that is full of power in depth, where you feel each loss and the power behind each action or fight.

The Writing – Marc Haimes and Chris Butler did a fantastic job on the writing! There is powerful drama and humor that gives it a balance that doesn’t really exist in “Deadpool”(which is a favorite film). It is their mixture of humor and drama mixed with a powerful message and characters are what made it my favorite film this year thus far.

 The Animation – “Kubo and the Two Strings” is my first Laika film. Suffice to say after this I plan on watching the rest of the films they’ve made. Stop-motion animation is a lost art that they keep alive and continue to improve upon.

The Characters – The characters are extremely memorable! Each of them is an archetype to some degree, but also manage to get beyond those archetypes in how they are written. They have humanity and flaws and it makes them worth rooting for or makes them feel threatening.

Hosato – George Takei plays one of the people in the village who takes care of his daughter who is Kubo’s biggest fan. He’s a nice solid presence in the film and in a way reminds Kubo of the fact that he believes his father to be dead at the beginning of the story and his mom is only lucidly present of him…

Kameyo – Kameyo is the older woman who is a beggar in town and the soul of the town. She is a mother figure to Kubo a bit as she is one who looks out for him and helps him with his storytelling. Brenda Vaccaro is fantastic.

The Sisters – The Sisters, who are Kubo’s Aunts are amazing! Rooney Mara gives a haunting performance as these two mask wearing witches who are so powerful that they kill both Kubo’s mother and father. They are one of the best animated threats I’ve ever seen.

Beetle/Hanzo – McConaughey is wonderful in the role of Beetle, who we learn was turned into a Beetle by the Sisters and the Moon King to punish him for leading their sister out of immortality. He has a lot of humor to him and isn’t very bright but his heart is in the right spot and he has great humor. His death is powerful too as he risks his life to protect Monkey/his wife Sariatu.

Monkey/Sariatu – Theron plays my favorite character in the film. Monkey and her Sisters are the best parts of the film. In Monkey we get the strength of her personality and her love for her son and husband while as Sariatu she is a traumatized shell destroyed by her family being cared for by her son. The dichotomy is powerful and gives her humanity and depth. She was a God and gave it up to protect Hanzo from her family…She is the best part of this film.

Kubo – Kubo is a great protagonist who feels very much like Link a Zelda game but has so much more depth and layers to him as we see him finally allowed to be a kid after he leaves the village and is collecting his father’s sword and armor. Before that he is forced to be an adult caring for his mother and making money for food. He had no childhood until his life was at risk and seeing how they explore it is something you have to see for yourself.

Facing Loss – He loses both his mother and father twice, both times as they protect him and in the story we see him face that loss and remember the memories as well as honoring them with the lantern ceremony the village does as who they both are live on in him. The missing of another never goes away, but those we lose become a part of us like the strings on Kubo’s instrument.

The Power of Story – Story is a major theme as the Grandfather is trying to force his story upon his Grandson and make him like him, the village story of his Father’s past is never finished until he becomes a literal part of it when myth (his grandfather the Moon and his Aunts) hunt him and the stories of the dead are interwoven through the film. The self and it’s connection to story is powerful…how a story can change or be erased is captured in the story of his family as at different points they lose their story.

The Hero’s Journey – Kubo’s Hero’s journey is powerful as he discovers connections only to lose them and has to adapt to change all around him. From his mother becoming Monkey, his father being a live and Beetle…to losing them both and in the end having to care for his Grandfather who loses his memory as well. Even as he discovers joy and childhood circumstances force him to lose it and from it find himself.

Okay/Pro: Raiden the Moon King – Raiden has great minions in his daughters and I liked the fact that he is like a sympathetic old man until he turns into a monster…in the story it is left open too if he ascended to Godhood and was once human or was forced into humanity by Kubo…there is so much possibility in this character that I can’t just put him as okay as he is interesting in what they do with him.

    Minus the fact that Raiden is a bit underdeveloped (though still interesting)…this is  a film that I can’t really find any faults with. Kubo doesn’t really get his happy ending, his parents are dead and he has to face it. This is a film that is well worth your time and you should really see it if you have the chance. Give strength to these stories that don’t exist as franchises and are timeless and powerful. This is the best film of the year I have seen thus far and is well worth your time, it is in the timeless stories that we are reminded of our own and this story does it with unforgettable power and beauty.

Final Score: 10 / 10. First perfect film of the year.

Hail, Caesar! (2016): A Satire and Celebration of Hollywood’s Past

Hail-Caesar-poster_1200_1752_81_s

     The Coen Brothers continue to make gold. This film is a really good satire that isn’t as great as some of their older films, but still would easily make my Top 10 Films of the Year (whether it’d make Top 5 remains to be seen). This is a film that captures the Coen Brothers’ humor, western feel and detachment that makes up so many of their films. It also does a great job illustrating the craft of making a film and all the art and messyness that goes into it as it explores it through the lens of Hollywood’s “Golden Era” during the 1950s.

    The film was written, directed and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen with the other producers being Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.

SPOILERS ahead

      The story involves Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) the head of Production at Capitol Pictures and the drama of the life he lives as his star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) of “Hail, Caesar” is kidnapped, the pregnancy of one of his star actresses DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) and two rival gossip column sisters Thora and Thessely (Tilda Swinton) which puts the choice Lockheed Martin is offering him as an out into perspective as he must make a choice to take the offer or stay with Capitol.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful as old style ways of filming are captured…whether it is the epic open shots of the Roman Epic “Hail, Caesar” or the small black and white of the comedy western Doyle is in, or the stark, sterile large rooms of a Laurence production. Roger Deakins truly does a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is amazing too. Just like with the cinematography all the different styles of 1950’s films are captured. From the epic trumpets of “Hail, Caesar” or the more action adventure of Doyle’s western. Carter Burwell did a great job once again.

The Writing – The Coen Brothers are great writers and though there is a narrator we never see narrating the life of Mannix, it never interferes with the story going on. We are shown and not told most of what happens and that is part of what makes the brothers so great at what they do, as the script is usually the strongest part of their films.

The Characters – The Characters are easily the strongest part of the film. This film was really well cast and each of the side characters has their moment to shine at different points.

Laurence Laurentz – Ralph Fiennes is wonderful as an uptight director doing Victorian style films who has to use Doyle, a cowboy with a very strong accent as the star of his show. Over the course of his scenes you see him slowly lose control of his calm nature and finally explode at Mannix before keeping Doyle to only two lines to make the film work. He really is a fun character.

Thora and Thessely – These two (both played by Swinton) are a lot of fun as they reveal the underbelly of everything and the drama. They have a relationship with Mannix too in that he does throw them bones to keep scandals from getting out of hand. I wish we could have seen what got them into the circuit as they are both extremely driven.

Baird Whitlock – George Clooney plays the naive star who gets kidnapped by a communist cell of writers and comes around to their way of thinking. He’s an example of the pseudo-intellectual (like many cell) except he’s largely an idiot and you get the idea he’s doing what he’s doing for the attention as him going on benders and getting into trouble is a huge part of his character. He gets his act back together though after Doyle rescues him and Mannix knocks some sense to him as we see that all he really wants is to be a star (and the attention that comes with it).

Hobie Doyle – Alden plays Doyle who was a rodeo guy who was picked up by Mannix and when he got the chance to sing became the star of westerns. He’s a kind and naive guy like Baird but also serious about his work. He doesn’t make it out of being in the westerns and he likes it that way as it gives him a chance to celebrate the western background he comes from. He’s the hero of the picture besides Mannix as he is the one who finds Whitlock and brings him back to the studio.

Joseph Silverman – Jonah Hill is awesome as the no-nonsence fixer who is a legal person so that Moran can get legal control over her child. They end up falling in love though as she’s tough and he fits what she wants in a man as they get married and leave the child behind and send it into foster care.

DeeAnna Moran – Johansson is awesome in this role and I wish we’d spent more time with her. She doesn’t care about anyone but herself and is a huge diva but in the end finds love with the most un-person person, showing that there is more to her too, though she is still extremely selfish and the character we’ve known all along as she has her child go into foster care rather than raising it. I wish we could have got more of her backstory. She steals every scene she’s in.

Eddie Mannix – Josh Brolin plays are main guy who is a rough manager facing a choice of stability with Lockheed or the chaos of the studios and making pictures. In the end he stays as he loves the challenge of it and feels he is main for it as he is made to be the Christ Figure as he is born in light (Film) and will live forever because of it. He is a smooth operator and is able to fix everything, which in the end we learn is why he likes to do it so much. It’s difficult but he’s good at it.

The Satire of Hollywood – The satire is in layers, whether it is the sisters focusing on stupid actor pairings and hookups, the communist cell intellectuals are aren’t changing anything and just hanging out in a vacationesque home and how every film we see captures the hammyness of those early productions where everything was big and overdramatic.

The Celebration of Hollywood – The very things that are being satired are celebrated too as the humanity of characters is shown. “Hail, Caesar” is a film I would watch as it has heart to it and the overdramaticness fits the film, same with the westerns that are played largely for comedy but find something more sometimes. In each thing being satired there is a celebration of the arts and film and this is shown the most when Mannix chooses Capitol Pictures of Lockheed (Where the guy kept insulting films as useless and a dying industry), making this one of the biggest love letters to the art of cinema and Hollywood’s past and present.

The Cons: Pacing – At times it goes really slow and this really hurts the overall quality of the production and keeps it from rising higher.

The Communist Cell – I felt that these guys weren’t explored as well as they could have been. They were a group of intellectuals who never got beyond that and that was a shame given that they kidnapped a person because of their beliefs.

More Character Exploration – If the script had been tighter we could have explored more of these characters more. In my opinion Manix is one of the weaker characters of the story and because the focus is on him we lose sight of the fascinating characters like Moran or the Sisters who had a lot more potential to be explored within the confines of the script.

   This was a solidly great film and well worth checking out. It isn’t the greatest of the Coen Brothers films but it doesn’t need to be. Within the confines of the story it explores all the themes and characters it means to and it presents it beautifully through the soundtrack and cinematography. This is a film well worth your time and I’m glad that this was the film that kicks off my film reviews for the films of 2016.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Top 5 Films of 2014

download_1

This is the first time that I’m doing a Top 5 list for the year, but there shall be many more to come as the blog continues to exist. This was a great year for films and there are a lot of films I’m going to mention that didn’t make the list that I still think you should watch, again this was a great year for films. The films that made the list are ones that stand out to me though and are ones that I plan to own and would watch multiple times…these are the movies that stand on their own as a film and are the best of the best for this year. So, before I get into the list, here are the honorary mentions.

“Big Hero 6” Disney Studios did it again, it’s rich and deep and worth seeing. “X-Men Days of Future Past,” Bryan Singer is back and the X-Men series is great again. “Gone Girl” and “Interstellar” almost made the list but after re-reading my reviews I realized that the problems they have don’t elevate them to best of the best. Still worth seeing, “The Book of Life,” excellent animation and story, which “How to Train Your Dragon 2” also did and had loss, in a kids film just like “Big Hero 6.” This was a good year for animated stories. None of these are in the top 5 though, but you should still check them out. Also, “Mockingjay Part 1” is the best of that Franchise so far too.

guardians_poster_via_marvel

5) Guardians of the Galaxy

Director James Gunn

This script is hilarious, the characters are rich and you know what…you will care about what happens to a talking Racoon and a Tree Alien that can only say, “I am Groot.” That is the magic of this story as it shows just how expansive the marvel universe really is.  James Gunn is clearly the right guy to be put in charge of this franchise and I can’t wait to see how he expands the universe. These characters are broken and flawed and we love them because of it. They are forced to grow from the mistakes they make and they learn to care about each other. It also has a rocking soundtrack full of that 70’s rock n’ roll that adds humor to scenes and provides an epic feel in many scenes. My issue with why it isn’t higher on the list are two reasons…Thanos is just kind of hanging around, and Gamora’s development doesn’t really happen. The guys have great character arcs, but Gamora doesn’t get enough screen time for her character and and her character’s motivations to be developed. Still made the top 5 for a reason though. Definitely worth checking out and multiple watches. It truly is a masterpiece.

Score: 9.8 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/guardians-of-the-galaxy-2014-a-masterpiece-of-sci-fi-action-and-comedy-gold/

Captain America Winter Soldier

4) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Director Anthony and Joe Russo

I didn’t care about Captain America in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” after “Winter Soldier” he is my favorite member of the Avengers. This is a movie with consequences which “Guardians of the Galaxy” lacked in regards to the Marvel Continuity. One of the major parts of the world is destroyed and we learn that one of the enemies that was a nobody enemy before is like a virus in the world of Marvel. This is powerful as we finally have an enemy that feels like a threat, Captain America has to wrestle with being a moral hero in questionable situations where there isn’t a clear good or bad. Hell, the bad guy is sympathetic even though he only appears in this movie. We also realize just how complicated Black Widow is, it was this movie that made me want the Black Widow film…her story is rich and we get glimpses of this in this film. We are also introduced to Falcon who is one of my favorite characters now in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He may someday be Captain America’s replacement too when Chris Evans leaves, at least the new comics leave that option open which makes me happy. Again, this is a movie with consequences in the world of Marvel as a whole and has so many rich characters who all receive development. The scenes at the end also set up “Age of Ultron” really well in regards to two characters who will be appearing in it. Only issue with the film is that the Winter Soldier doesn’t get enough of development. He is a force of nature more than anything else. Still worth checking out though. It’s my favorite of the Disney Marvel films so far and stands strong on it’s own as a part of the greater whole. Not only that the issue of freedom and security is addressed in an awesome matter. It answers the “So what?” in regards to it’s own existence better than any Marvel film prior.

Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/captain-america-the-winter-soldier-an-amazing-spy-thriller-that-changes-the-marvel-universe/

birdman-movie-poster-1

3) Birdman

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu

Alejandro truly created a masterpiece here. This movie critiques the culture of New York City, reveals the nature of lies (acting in a way is a lie, playing pretend and people want the lie for the story) and dealing with Ego and pride as Michael Keaton plays his greatest character so far in his best performance of all time. Not only does the film deal with issue that actually matter and how to grow beyond the ego and have an all star cast but it also has beautiful cinematography and the music which as a constant drum throughout is great at adding tension. This film was also filmed to look like a continuous shot so you feel like you are in a lived in world. The characters are all flawed and all of them are forced to grow from circumstances and situations. My only issue with this film is the ambiguous ending. So much of the film is about breaking out of ambiguity which is embraced at the end which sadly takes away from what could have been a perfect film. I put it above “Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” even though it has a lower score since it is an original film and not part of a franchise. In the era of franchises I greatly value the self-contained story.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/birdman-2014-a-surreal-exploration-of-meaning-and-ego/

Noah-2014-Banner

2) Noah

Director Darren Aronofsky

“Noah” is the best of Darren Aronofsky’s work in my opinion. It has a much better reason for it’s existence than “Black Swan” which is another favorite film and tackles if humanity is truly worth saving. It also has some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in any movie. What elevates this film above “Birdman” it isn’t ambiguous. “Noah” is mad clearly and God is an abstract. It’s such a beautiful take on a mythological tale that I can’t help but appreciate it simply for existing. It gives fallen angels the look of giant rock golems and we see just how dark humanity can become and just how flawed Noah and his family are. There are no heroes in this film which gives the dilemma of humanity being worth saving truly an issue. It’s dark which is what Aronofsky’s specializes in, though as far as the ending goes it is more bittersweet than some of his other films… which is saying something,  given the premise of Noah is mass genocide of the human race. Great performances from Connelly, Watson and Crowe as well. Some of the best work I’ve seen from all of them. Definitely check it out if you like dark films with a point.

Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/noah-2014-the-meaning-of-humanity/

The Grand Budapest Hotel

1) The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director Wes Anderson

The greatest film of 2014 goes to “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” This film tackles the very nature of story in that it is presented to us as the author talking about the book, which before is lead into with a child reading the book, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” at his monument. From here the richness only goes deeper as we see a country torn apart by war and corruption that our heroes live in. From the refugee Zero finding love with Agatha as they are both poor people with nothing except each other and Gustave H. who lives only for them and The Grand Budapest Hotel which is his legacy and what he puts his lifeblood into. The film explores the nature of humanity and we see cowards, heroes, villains and people of all types living in a harsh world where the people who have the ability to push forth their will use it to supress others…from the outcast immigrants like Zero, to Gustave H. because he doesn’t come from money and was loved by an old woman who was old money. This film shows us that family is more than blood and that sorrow can be around any corner, just like the good moments and adventures we have will always be with us. This is the best Wes Anderson film and one of my favorite film of all times. If you are looking for a timeless film and the best film of 2014, check this one out. It is worth every bit of praise it has received and is one of the greatest films of all time.

Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/edthe-grand-budapest-hotel-2014-of-story-the-nostalgia-from-loss-and-a-life-lived/

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): Of Story The Nostalgia From Loss and a Life Lived

The Grand Budapest Hotel

      Wes Anderson is one of my favorite directors and this is my favorite film he has done…it’s either this or the “Royal Tenenbaums.” both capture drama, are full or rich and real humor and have an element of tragedy pervading through them. Both are also stories being read too, which I think is Wes Anderson in his element. I’llAb get into more of what i mean in the assessment. This is also my second time watching the film, as I saw it when it came out in theatres before I started the blog.

    “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was written, directed and produced by Wes Anderson with the other producers being Jeremy Dawson, Steven M. Rales and Scott Rudin.

      The premise of the story begins with a girl at the monument of one of her nations heroes somewhere in Eastern Europe in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka. The hero was the man who wrote the novel only known as the Author (Tom Wilkinson as old author, Jude Law as the young author) the Novel is “The Royal Budapest Hotel.” The story begins with how the author met Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham old Zero, Tony Revolori as young Zero), the owner of the The Grand Budapest who tells the story of how he began there as a Bell Boy the drama he and the Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) are pulled into when one of his clients is murdered and  Gustave is blamed for it after getting “Boy with Apple” from her inheritance. Gustave H and Zero steal the picture, the story unfolds from there.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a story within a story and how it relates to the present is powerful…the fact that the story begins with a child reading the story and showing us that the author looking back on the past shows that things have changed over time, but the traditional music playing the cemetery shows an awareness of time too and how even as things change they stay the same.

The Cinematography – Wes Anderson uses a lot of physical sets and paintings and some actual beautiful locations. This gives the world a very lived in feel and Anderson’s masterful use of shooting a scene symmetrically gives so much charm as well as bringing about some great tension when it needs too.

The Script – The dialogue is witty, comedic and tragic, which is saying a lot since at time the Author is literally reading us what is happening. Though telling is going on it is shown in such a way that it doesn’t matter that we were told, it all fits into the overall narrative and lends weight to when the story stops and Mustafa shares where he is with the author and the losses he has experienced in his life.

The Characters – Wes Anderson has so many of his old crew in this film…from Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, as well as countless others who make small to large appearances as intriguing characters. I’ll get more into the details but this and the story are the strongest parts of the film.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – The Hotel is living history. We see when it has become more run down and modern with the usual clients who keep their solitude like “The Author” and the Hotel of the past where it was full of rich clients and tons of workers where legacy is huge and the Hotel is an institution. The Hotel itself is a living character in a film in a matter of speaking and a lot of the minor characters who don’t have names or have very small parts (Owen Wilson here during the military occupation when he is the Monsieur Chuck since Gustave is in hiding with Zero).

Madame D – Tilda Swinton plays the rich heiress who fears for her life for good reason and has a deep love for Gustave H. We learn she always loved him and The Grand Budapest Hotel and what scenes she is in she is amazing as she is the stress to Gustave’s calm. They also have great chemistry together. Her death sets everything in motion.

Dmitiri and Jopling – Dmitri (Adrien Brody) plays the son of Madame D (the one killed) who killed his mother in order to get her fortune. He is a fascist and has Gustave arrested and blamed for the murder of his mother. He is evil and goes to any means to get what he wants, largely using his enforcer Jopling (Willem Dafoe). Jopling is brutal, at one point killing the lawyer in charge of the will and killing the man who learned about the murder in order to keep it covered up. The two of them are also a sign of the encroaching war and fascism upon their nation that is going on too. They are priveldge with no awareness of people, the opposite of Gustave, Zero and Agatha.

The Prisoners – Gustave makes friends with the prisoners since through Zero he gets them cupcakes which later become their way to get tools from Agatha and Zero to break out. It’s a lot of fun and one of the prisoners dies in the escape before a taxi driver is killed the rest of the convicts showing how Gustave is not of that world…especially after he hurts Zero for being an immigrant and not doing everything perfect but apologizing when he’s so repulsed by his words and privilege. The scenes are so rich and the prison feels deadly and the escape means something and has a cost.

The Society of the Crossed Keys – The Society of the Crossed Keys is a group of Monsieurs  who help Gustave escape and find out where the butler of Madame D is hiding and help Zero and Mustafa get there. There is Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and others who play Monsiuers who have been in Anderson’s other work. It is a great scene and is callback to all the people who have made so many of Wes Anderson’s great movies possible.

The Chase – Zero and Gustave go undercover as monks to meet up with the Butler who confesses that Madame D was murdered and has the evidence but Jopling kills him. They chase Jopling which leads to Jopling falling to his death after Zero knocks him off the cliff. They than steal his motorcycle to get back to the Grand Budapest Hotel as Inspector Henckles pursues them.

Deputy Vilmos – Jeff Goldbloom does an awesome job as the Deputy who is in charge of the will and the finances from the Grand Budapest Hotel. He is taken out by Jopling when he refuses to submit to Dmitri. He has integrity and his resistance leads to Dmitri and Jopling eventually being defeated. He’s one of the good few.

Inspector Henckles – Edward Norton plays one of the good people. When some of his men are roughing up Gustave for defending Zero because he doesn’t have his paper he lets them go free and even later writes a card for Zero to travel freely through the country. He is one of the good ones just doing his job and he greatly admires Gustave which adds sadness that he has to hunt after the prison breakout. Luckily the document the butler hid leads to Gustave’s freedom and their relationship being good again.

Gustave H. – Ralph Fiennes plays one of my favorite characters  that Wes Anderson has done. He sleeps with old ladies, wears tons of perfume and has high standards for the Hotel. The Hotel is his life until he builds an actual brotherhood with Zero who all his money goes too since Gustave has no family and all we know was that he was at one point a Bell Boy like Zero and worked his way up. He is a major people person though and makes friends with prisoners, monks and is highly respected by the Society of the Crossed Keys. He is a great man who stands by Zero too against fascist thugs who oppress immigrants and in the end this costs him his life when he stands up for Zero after Zero and Agatha’s wedding. R.I.P. Gustave H. He even admits that when he was angry how horrible it was that he bashed Zero being an outsider and never does so again. Everything he has becomes Zero’s.

Agatha – Saoirse Ronan is the glue of the story and the person who keeps Zero going. They marry and both start out with having nothing but one another. This all changes when they support Gustave in his escape and help find out that Dmitri murdered his mother. After they marry and we see she is the clear headed one to Zero’s idealism. From this we get part of why Zero misses her so much. She died of an illness that was easily treated in the modern time of him telling his story and we learn Zero kept the Grand Budapest Hotel because he and Agatha had great memories there. She is also really smart as she hides tools in the cupcakes for Gustave’s prison break.

Zero Mustafa – Both Tony and Abraham do a great job as Zero in the different points in his life. Young Zero is idealistic and committed fully to the Hotel, while old Zero is lost in memories of his lost Agatha and that humanity is cruel and so many of the good people like Gustave H. are dead. His life is contrast. As Zero he had community, Agatha and Gustave but had lost his family in the war in his home country making him a refugee and outsider…and in the present he doesn’t have any of them but is one of the richest people in the country. His story is one of sadness but also human connection as he saw something in the Author. He is one of my favorite characters and I love his relationship with Gustave and Agatha.

The Message – The messages I found were that the past is always with us, and that as much as things change, elements stay the same. That you don’t need money to be happy and that there will be people who will stick with you through the toughest of times. Money as a corrupting influence was huge as so many people were wealthy while the nation was in extreme poverty both in the past and in the modern era.

The Ending – The Author relates how after the story was done that if the Hotel was kept for Gustave, and Zero says Gustave was a man outside of time but that he kept the hotel for Agatha, “We were happy here.” That’s why he sleeps in the servants quarter when he visits. It ends on a sad note where the story touches the heart of the little girl reading the book showing how even though this is all the past, it is still touching the present and is still relevant.

   I think this is my favorite Wes Anderson film. It has politics and war as well as family and human relationships and the sheer depths they can reach, as well as having a diverse, rich cast of characters and a point about how timeless stories are. As a writer this speaks directly to me. There are stories that are timeless whose themes stick with us for as long as we live and fully define what it means to be human. This movie is about our humanity and both the good and bad about what it means to be alive. Definitely my favorite movie of 2014.

Final Score: 10 / 10. The perfect Wes Anderson film.

In Bruges (2008): A Tragic Quest for Redemption

mpainbrugesposter3

 

“In Bruges” was a film that was recommended to me by a friend, and I got to say it didn’t disappoint. I’ll get into what I liked and disliked about in the assessment, but for now this is one of the most beautiful films in regards to cinematography.

“In Bruges” was directed and written by Martin McDonagh and produced by Graham Broadbent and Peter Czernin.

The story is that of hitmen. Two hitmen named Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are sent to Bruges by their boss Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) after Ray accidentally kills a kid during a hit job. From here the story unfolds as Ray wrestles with his guilt and the world around him unfolds.

Here as my assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – Visually, this is a stunning movie. The use of fog and light are used to capture how grey the characters are morally and emotionally through the film, and even ties to the end with the mystery of what finally happened.

The Music – The music is also reflective it shows us the dilemmas Ray faces as he considers taking his own life, and Ken has when Harry orders the hit. It is a stunning soundtrack and one I plan to use for writing in the future. Carter Burwell’s use of the piano made this soundtrack a masterpiece.

Chloe – Chloe is Ray’s love interest and the one showing him a reason to live as she’s been in deep with gangs and drugs herself and they help give each other direction and higher purpose beyond themselves. As her ex-boyfriend is a thief. She’s a very beautiful, kind and complex character. Poesy is fantastic in the role.

Jimmy – Is a drug addict Dwarf from the United States, who is in Bruges as part of a film. He has racist tendencies and thinks there will be a race war between whites and everyone else. When he is called on it by Ken who had a black wife who was murdered by a white man he changes his tune. He blames his racism later on the cocaine, but he seems to have learned from Ken. Ken really is the moral center of the film. Jordan Prentice is a great actor and I want to see him in more films.

Ken – Ken is the moral core of the film. While Ray reacts and tries to escape from his actions, Ken is always facing them. We see this in his love of history as he is the one taking in the sights and history of Bruges and really appreciating the place. He owes a lot to Harry the mob boss as Harry avenged his wife (in a deleted Harry played by Matt Smith does it) so you get the life debt he owes and why he doesn’t hold Harry killing him against him and uses the last of his will to give Ray a gun and warn him that Harry is in town. At one point he is about to kill Ray when Ray is about to kill himself so he changes his mind, saves Ray and gets him out of town. It is here that he chooses to make the right choice rather than stay a killer, which leads to why Harry tries to kill him later. Brendon Gleeson is wonderful in this role.

Harry Waters – This guy is the clear set moral mob boss. “You don’t kill kids.” Is his philosophy in regards to when he does hits, it doesn’t matter if it’s accidental or not, the person who does it will pay, even if it is him. We see the reasons why since he has a family and children of his own and this sets the stage of him killing himself after he accidentally kills a kid into perspective. He’s a character true to his word. Ralph Feinnes shows is acting depth and range again with this character.

Ray – Colin Farrell shows why he won an award for this film…from his hate of Bruges, love of Chloe, nihilistic escapism and confronting his guilt when he almost takes his life in the park while watching kids play. We never know if he dies at the end, we just know he doesn’t want to die in Bruges. He fucking hates Bruges and describes it as being in Hell for an eternity if he dies here. We’re left wondering if he’ll ever find redemption as so far he’s either been running or lost in guilt. This theme pervades the film. 

Cons: The First Third – The first third of the movie is really slow, it’s before we meet Jimmy and Chloe and the backstories of our characters haven’t been fully revealed yet. It goes on way too long and could have been cut since when it picks up it keeps going. This is the only thing keeping it from being a perfect film. Action should have been faster initially, or at least more drama in the first third of reflection.

I loved this film, the cast, music and cinematography are spectacular and it gives us very human characters facing their choices. All the choices have consequences too and there are no easy outs and asks the question of redemption being even possible. For these reasons I would recommend this film, just know the first third is a bit long before the action really picks up.

My final score for this film is 9.4 / 10.