Established May 2010.

Gordie: Do you think I'm weird?
Chris: Definitely.
Gordie: No man, seriously. Am I weird?
Chris: Yeah, but so what? Everybody's weird.

Film Critic for Twin Cities Live

Member of THE LAMB: The Large Association of Movie Blogs LAMB #1588

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Movie Review: NOAH

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman

Films like Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan are these artistic visionary tales that take your mind to a whole different dimension. I was a bit perplexed when I heard that writer/director Darren Aronofsky would make his follow-up to Black Swan be an adaptation of the biblical tale of Noah and his ark. All of his films are very different, and Noah was a passion project for him that he has been developing for years. Apparently he’s been working on the script since Pi came out.

As a young boy, Noah watches his father get killed by Tubal-cain. This is early proof for him that the people and descendants of Adam and Eve have turned against each other. As an adult, Noah (Crowe) believes he is receiving a message from The Creator/Him that He will flood the Earth in order to destroy the universe as man is turning against each other. Noah believes he has been chosen to save all of the animals as they are considered innocent with an ark to keep them shelter from the flood. He turns to his grandfather Methulselah (Hopkins) for guidance and is given a seed that has been passed on from the Garden of Eden. This seed turns the desolate and barren land into a rich saturated land full of trees in order for Noah to build his ark to save the animals. Noah, his wife Naameh (Connelly), and the rest of his family receive help from The Watchers, rock creatures that are considered to be the fallen angels that have been punished by God. Tubal-cain (Winstone) receives word that Noah is building an ark and sets his men off to destroy the ark.

You may already be thinking to yourself that this does not seem like the happy story you read in Sunday school about how Noah built this ark and had two of each animal march peacefully into the ark in preparation for the flood. You have to go into the film with a bit of an open mind knowing that this is just one interpretation of someone’s take on this biblical story. Aronfsky fleshes out quite a bit of the story that is probably taken for granted if you read the bible story at face value. There is violence and unrest, bloody killings, sacrifices, mythical creatures, and even some CGI rock creatures. I’m sure that idea will turn many people away from this film. Have you ever wondered why God would want to destroy the universe He created or what happened to all of the animals once the entered the ark? What happened to Noah’s family on the ark as it weathered out the flood? Aronofsky decides to tackle a variety of these questions and some of his answers make some plausible sense while others feel a bit stretched.

I am sure there will be Bible literalists that will scoff and spew anger toward the film as it won’t be faithful to the version of the story the way they have come to believe it. These moviegoers will be turned off by the fantasy style elements with the rock creatures and other animal creatures that Aronofsky and his team have designed that no longer exist in today’s world. There is even a battle sequence that feels like it has come straight out of a Lord of the Rings movie. It has been many many years since my days of religion classes in my Catholic grade school, so I went in with a pretty open mind. I was on board with Aronofsky’s take on this story throughout quite a bit of the movie. I decided not to get wrapped up in the idea that the fallen angels became rock creatures. I was fascinated in this idea that the people were turning on each other and watching Noah’s determination in a message he believes he is given. Aronofsky seemed to have a clear vision on how he was going to approach this story and what would lead up to the eventual flood. The big problem with Noah comes post-flood. It feels like Aronofsky felt stuck with how he was going to resolve the rest of his take on this story once the flood happens. He resorts to seem cheap and gimmicky ways to keep the conflict going to put tension between Noah and his family and Noah and Tubal-cain.

Russell Crowe brings a strong, guiding presence to the determined Noah. Truth be told, I can’t really picture another actor in this role. This is the third time he has starred with Jennifer Connelly following A Beautiful Mind, for which she won the Oscar, and this year’s Winter’s Tale. This is a silly criticism but she always looked far too pretty as Naameh. I understand that fact that she is beautiful in real life, but how come they didn’t roughen her up a bit here. The men are seen with scruffy facial hair and even Emma Watson, who plays their adopted daughter, has frizzy hair. Connelly has perfect skin complexion and her hair always looks pulled back as if it’s ready for a photo shoot. The rest of the production design around the ark and environment felt pretty realistic given the time. Again, it’s a different look to the ark than people are probably used to seeing in illustrated versions of the bible. I appreciate the effort they went into actually making an ark structure to film on instead of fully relying on a CGI ark. On the opposite end, all of the animals seen in the film are CGI.

I applaud Aronofsky for tackling this very ambitious and daring project. I don’t think a filmmaker would go into adapting this story if he wasn’t fully committed and had an interest in Noah. There is quite a bit of imagining and explaining that any screenwriter or director would have to do with bringing Noah’s story to the big screen in order for it to make sense. If the film had ended with the flood or even wrapped up shortly after the flood, I probably would have given the film a positive review. Instead, it keeps going and turns into a mess. Even before the flood, the film goes back and forth between having these really interesting and thought-provoking scenes mixed in with some tragic over-the-top dialogue and Anthony Hopkins hiding out in a cave. I guess all of that led me to start rolling me eyes even more when it came to the scenes aboard the ark.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? Unfortunately, no. With such a talented filmmaker and cast, you would have thought it would have worked. Instead of staying afloat in it's third act, it sinks pretty hard.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Ticket Stubs

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Director: James Bobin
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Danny Trejo, Ray Liotta

In 2011, The Muppets came back to the big screen in an all new adventure thanks to Jason Segel and director James Bobin. It was wonderful to see Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and the gang reaching a whole new audience of moviegoers of all ages. The whole gang of Muppets plus Bobin, screenwriter Nicholas Stoller, and composer Bret McKenzie are back for a new global adventure.

Picking up at the exact same moment the last film ended, the Muppets are excited about the prospects of making a sequel and even sing a little song about it aptly titled “We’re Doing a Sequel”. Their new tour manager Dominic Badguy (Gervais) suggests going on a world tour to ride on their success. Kermit is a bit hesitant and thinks they need to polish their act first. What they don’t know is that Dominic is secretly working with Constantine “The World’s Most Dangerous Frog” who bears a striking resemblance to Kermit. Kermit gives in to Dominic, and the Muppets head out on the road for their world tour.

Constantine escapes from a Siberian prison and Kermit is mistakenly arrested instead and sent back to the prison. Constantine poses as Kermit on the tour trying to mimic his voice and mannerisms despite having a thick Russian accent. Fellow Muppets Animal and Walter are the only ones that seem hesitant and suspicious of Constantine’s behavior. Dominic takes the Muppets to these dusty dingy theaters that just happen to be located near historic museums and banks. Throughout The Muppets performances, Dominic and Constantine are pulling off heists and burglaries looking for a set of instructions leading them to the Crown Jewels. CIA member Sam Eagle and Interpol’s Jean Pierre Napoleon (Burrell) are put on the case to track down and identify these con artists.

It is no secret that there is a new helm of writers, puppeteers, and actors taking over the beloved Muppets universe that Jim Henson and Frank Oz created. There is that specific touch and vision that those two had with their characters that cannot be replicated. A special magic and feeling is missing in the writing of the past two movies. I feel like there is a general wash over how to write for some of the side characters. Each one of the Muppets has a unique personality and can be funny on their own accord, but many of them are just lumped together here as part of the larger group. The jokes even fall flat for the Statler and Waldorf, the two grumpy critics who always have the best punch lines. I would have loved to have seen more of Janice, Gonzo, The Swedish Chef, and Animal. I may be getting a bit too picky here, because what matters is the spirit of these characters. Their essence and core are still present. Unlike the Jason Segel remake, this film does a better job at making them the focus over the human actors. The love story between Kermit and Miss Piggy is as present as always as planning for their wedding becomes a part of the story.

I feel like only a Muppet movie could get so many well known actors and musicians making silly cameos or even appearing in small and RANDOM roles. I don’t want to spoil too many names here as pointing them out is half the fun of the movie. Some play themselves while others appear as prisoners, delivery men, etc… I would really like to know how much they had to pay Danny Trejo and Ray Liotta to sign on to do a song and dance number from A Chorus Line. They play two prisoners under Tina Fey’s reign who are assigned to perform in the prison talent show. Maybe it’s just the lure and nostalgic appeal to being in a Muppets movie, but it was so random and out of character for those two known for their tough exteriors.

Muppets Most Wanted is a good wholesome family film and provides some good laughs along the way. I think the bits between Sam Eagle and Ty Burrell are quite funny as they always try to top each other. Bret McKenzie won an Oscar for his song "Man or Muppet" from the last film and has written more delightful songs for this one, especially one with Miss Piggy's Fairy Godmother. While it may not be the best Muppet movie in the series, it's hard to not have a good time when Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and the rest of the gang can put a smile on your face. It's a true testament to the genius mind of Henson and Oz that even under different hands (literally), these characters have stood the test of time.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? Yes. It's great having the Muppets and Jim Henson's creations back in the limelight again reaching a new younger audience. Hopefully it will inspire young moviegoers to go back and rewatch the old movies and classic TV show.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Ticket Stubs

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Monday, March 24, 2014


Director: Chiemi Karasawa
Starring: Elaine Stritch, Rob Bowman, Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, James Gandolfini, John Turturro

There she is in her white button down shirt with black tights with no pants singing, "I'm Still Here" from Follies. It seems like the perfect song for her. Like every song Elaine Stritch sings, she makes it fit for her and where she is at in this moment of her life. Her rendition of "I Feel Pretty" is not like the one you grew up hearing. Legendary Broadway actress Elaine Stritch is not known for being a shy, private, or hidden person. Even at the age of 86, she puts it all out there and doesn't care what anyone else thinks. If you ever saw her one-woman show "Elaine Stritch At Liberty", you know what I mean. In this new documentary, Elaine proves she is just as busy as ever. This love of performing, the theater, and her audience is what keeps her going.

The film picks up as her run as Colleen Donaghy on "30 Rock" is ending. She is seen shooting her final scenes with Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey. There is this feeling that she can be hard to work with at times, but she is always worth it. She lives at the Carlyle and is prepping for another cabaret act where she plans on singing the songs of composer Stephen Sondheim for the Cafe Carlyle and then taking the show out on a mini tour. Her diabetes slows her down, but she never feels completely defeated. At the same time, she knows how far to push herself, when to stop, and makes no apologies about it. Why should she? She's 86-years-old and can do whatever she wants. I admire her frank openness to her health and what she allows to be shown on camera. She is someone that definitely puts it all out there regardless of her age or how she looks.

At one point during the film, she is being honored with a rehearsal hall being named after her at the Stella Adler studio. She is tasked with picking out old photos and show posters for decoration. It provides for a wonderful trip down memory lane as she looks back at her career on stage and on the silver screen. It is quite astonishing when you think about the career she has had and how far back it dates. There is footage of her with Bela Lugosi, Rock Hudson, Ben Gazarra, and James Gandolfini. The film isn't just a career highlights reel as she is quite open about her struggles with alcoholism and diabetes and provides a peak into her loving marriage to her late husband John Bay. I had no idea that he was part of the family that began Bay's English Muffins. There is something sweet and endearing as she still has this love of those muffins and makes them part of her daily routine.

As a performer, I find her tenacity and love of the art so admirable and inspirational. I am fascinated with hearing about old Hollywood and the golden days of Broadway. Many actors of her age have long since retired and are living private lives. She easily could have retired years ago, but she continues to keep working and refuses to let her health stop her.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? Absolutely. Even if you are not as familiar with her work, Stritch provides some lessons on living life that are inspirational.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Ticket Stubs

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Movie Review: DIVERGENT

Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Kate Winslet, Jai Courtney, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller

Big screen adaptations based on young adult book series are a hot commodity in Hollywood right now. Some of them have been hugely successful like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight. Other like Beautiful Creatures, The Mortal Instruments, and Vampire Academy have not left a lasting impression on moviegoers. Divergent is the next film in this sub-genre hoping to have a massive appeal. It is based on the first book in a series of three by Veronica Roth. It stars a slew of talented up and coming actors like Shailene Woodley (The Spectacular Now, The Descendants), Theo James, and Miles Teller (That Awkward Moment). The supporting adult characters boast the well-known faces of Ashley Judd (Kiss the Girls), Tony Goldwyn (“Scandal”), and my Kate Winslet (Titanic).

In a post-war dystopian Chicago, the city has been divided into five sections, known as factions, based on people’s virtues and aptitudes. They include: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (peacefulness), Candor (honest), Dauntless (bravery), and Erudite (intelligence). People are born into the factions of their family, but once a year a ceremony is held where those that are sixteen years old can take a test to see which faction they belong in. They have the choice to stay with their family or transfer to a new faction based on the results of their aptitude test. Beatrice (Woodley) and her brother Caleb (Elgort) take their tests on the same day and their results could affect their family forever.

Beatrice’s aptitude test scores come back showing she has strengths in all five areas. This rarity is considered a danger and threat to the government and society as a whole. These people are considered Divergent. She is warned to keep her test results a secret from everyone including her parents (Judd and Goldwyn) and claim they came back as “inconclusive”. On the day of the ceremony, she chooses to be a part of the Dauntless faction leaving behind her brother and parents. She changes her name to Tris and immediately begins the physical training side of the initiation. In the meantime, Jeanine (Winslet) the leader of the Erudite faction searches for those that are Divergents that pose a threat to the order and structure of society.

I will have to admit that I have only read a third of the book so far. Fans of the book should be happy as it seems to be a pretty faithful adaptation. There are small minor changes along the way, but that is expected. Without knowing how the rest of the book plays out, I did question some of the pacing and structure of the events in the film. The ceremony happens very early on in the film and then we get right into Tris’ training which feels like it takes up a majority of the film. I kept wondering if and when would we see the actual conflict of the story play out. Was the first film going to be all set up and exposition leading up to the second film? Kate Winslet’s icy character does come back into the picture to stir up some trouble and gets the ball rolling again, but it could have happened faster. The training is important as it brings out the shift in character for Tris, but it feels like too much of the film is devoted to that. Maybe the original source material is to blame for that. The training is where we meet Four(James), a trainer that takes Tris under his wing. Sure enough she starts falling for him and a romance ensues before the end of the movie. So much of the story was about Tris becoming a strong, brave, and tough girl that I was determined that they weren’t going to throw a love story in here. I was getting excited that Veronica Roth wrote a young adult series that didn’t go down that path. I was wrong.

Naysayers may pick it apart and try to draw comparisons to the likes of the Harry Potter or The Hunger Games series. Yes, it is easy to see similar actions and character types along the way. I would give Divergent credit for being the most realistic of these three series. Tris is a great role model for any young girl reading the series or seeing the film. She isn’t one to give into pressure. She stands up for herself and faces her fears and demons. Shailene Woodley brings out the soft, innocent side of her of that is needed for the beginning of the story, but can easily take her through the changes Tris goes through during her initiation. Ansel Elgort has a minor role here as Tris’ brother, and will also star with Woodley in the summer’s highly anticipated The Fault in Our Stars. This is the first time Kate Winslet has portrayed a villain. She takes the less is more approach to playing out the cold and evil demeanor that her character embodies. I have been a massive Kate Winslet fan dating back to Titanic, and it’s great to watch her play someone different. She keeps Jeanine realistic without making her cartoonish or diabolically wicked. She really can do no wrong in my book.

I don’t know if Divergent will live up to the success of some of the others in the young adult sub-genre, but it still works. It’s still better than Twilight in many regards. I am curious as to where the story is going to go next. My brother and husband had not read the book and still enjoyed the movie overall, so it does have an appeal outside of those who were already invested into the story.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? Yes. Even though it's far from perfect, it's talented cast led by Shailene Woodley make the film work better than many of it's other competitors in the young adult sub-genre. You won't feel completely lost if you haven't read the books.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Ticket Stubs

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Movie Review: BAD WORDS

Director: Jason Bateman
Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Rohan Chand, Phillip Baker Hall, Ben Falcone

I sometimes wonder what drives actors and directors to certain projects. I then wonder if I'm maybe missing something. Am I in a bad mood? Why am I not laughing? Such is the case when it came to Bad Words. Jason Bateman is one of those child stars that actually transitioned pretty well into working as an adult in the business. He will always be Michael Bluth to me after his four seasons on "Arrested Development". For his big screen directorial debut, he chose this script from beginner screenwriter Andrew Dodge. I really would like to know why. Not only does Bateman direct the film, but he stars as the main character, Guy Trilby.

Guy never graduated from the eighth grade and uses that as he way into competing in national children's spelling bees. He finds that loophole in the rules and milks it for some unknown reason. He ends up winning some competitions and gets himself entered into The Golden Quill, a legendary and prestigious tournament that is now being broadcast for the first time. His media sponsor Jenny Widgeon (Hahn) is forced to tag along as part of some other rule where the students or random adult need a sponsor to enter.

Rumors of Guy and his reputation spread to those involved with the competition where protests and arguments ensue against the president of the tournament (Janney) for allowing him to enter. Even the hotel gets word of Guy's antics and pays him back by making him stay in the custodian's closet. The tournament continues with Guy participating despite the hatred from everyone else involved. Guy aces through ever word he is given. At the same time, he will go to extremely stupid lengths to humiliate the other contestants into getting eliminated. The only kid that seems unphased by Guy is ten-year-old Chaitanya Chopra (Chand). He follows Guy all over the hotel insisting they become friends. Guy eventually relents and takes Chaitanya on many inappropriate, dangerous, and immature little nightly trips.

If you think it sounds like a dumb premise, you are pretty accurate in your assessment. I know some people were laughing throughout the film, but the Allison Janney scenes were the only moments I found myself laughing at throughout the eighty minute movie. The majority of the comedy comes from Guy's humiliation of the kids and his actions towards turning Chaitanya into a man. Of course there are plenty of insults and slurs along the way toward Chaitanya's nationality, "Slumdog" being one of them. We have seen these types of comedies before where the main character is this deplorable human or some old curmudgeon. Those films have been funny as it can be funny watching someone be a grump. Bateman's character seems so lonely, bitter, and angry and it's all directed toward these innocent and smart kids. I just don't find that type of humor funny. Maybe I was remembering my days when I was a child who got teased from time to time. We do find out late in the movie what his motivation is but it comes far too late and isn't strong enough to support his actions.

With such a funny cast, I really wanted this to work. Allison Janney and Kathryn Hahn are always fantastic in supporting roles. Unfortunately, Hahn has such a weird role here that her comedic talents are just wasted. Phillip Baker Hall and Ben Falcone play the spelling bee announcers. If you saw Lone Survivor (which you should have!), you may recognize Rohan Chand. He is cute, likeable, and has this nice innocent quality that is a nice juxtaposition to Bateman. I thought there would be a clever little twist or witty banter, but Dodge's script is amateurish at best. It tries to have some poignant moments, but it just falls flat. The "humor" stemming from the kid's humiliation is just crass and crude. I'm not trying to claim I only like clean comedy. I love a good raunchy flick, but it just doesn't work here. I really like Jason Bateman, but I just don't understand what drew him to this movie.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? No, don't waste your time unless you want something to add to your worst of the year list.

RATING: 1 out of 5 Ticket Stubs

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Director: Rob Thomas,
Starring: Kristen Bell, Enrico Colantoni, Jason Dohring, Krysten Ritter, Martin Starr, Tina Majorino, Chris Lowell, Gaby Hoffman, Jerry O'Connell

Truth be told, I have never seen a single episode of the television show “Veronica Mars”. It’s the legions of fans, known as Marshmallows, that made it into the little cult show that now has come back for an all new mystery. The new movie version acts as a reunion for the cast and for the fans to have one more chance at seeing their favorite characters when the show was cancelled far too early on. The question I kept asking myself is if it could still hold up for someone like myself that has never seen the show. I knew the basic idea behind it, but I didn’t have a connection to these characters going in. I don’t know their relationships to each other, who are the good guys, who are the bad guys, etc…

Nine years have passed since the events in the final season of the show. Veronica (Bell) Mars has said goodbye to her life as a private investigator. She has lost too many friends along the way. She has left her hometown of Neptune, California and has moved to New York City to start her life over as a successful lawyer. She has received news that her old classmate Carrie, who is now pop star “Bonnie DeVille”, has been found dead in her bathroom. Veronica’s ex-flame Logan Echolls (Dohring) has been accused of her murder and calls Veronica for some legal aid.

Veronica feels the need to go back to Neptune to help him out but only plans on staying a couple of days. Her dad Keith Mars (Colantoni) is beyond thrilled when she shows up at his office at Mars Investigations. Old habits are hard to break as Veronica cannot seem to shake the feeling that something doesn’t add up. She firmly believes that Logan is innocent and feels compelled to stay in Neptune a bit longer. It doesn’t help that she feels some of her old classmates probably know more than they are leading. Let’s forget that Bonnie had an obsessive fan (Hoffman) that is equally a bit nutty herself.

It’s refreshing for fans to see a majority of the old cast come together again for this new Veronica Mars case. Percy Daggs III, Francis Capra, Ryan Hansen, Tina Majorino, Krysten Ritter and a slew of other cameo appearances get audiences of new and old back into the spirit of the show. There were plenty of fans of the show in the audience and you could tell where there would be a little nod or reference as little giggles happened with excitement. It should also be known that series creator Rob Thomas (not the singer) wrote and directed the film, and Kristen Bell is one of the executive producers. You may be asking yourself how and why they are still in Neptune. Are we to believe that Veronica was the only one that moved away? Their high school reunion just happens to be the same weekend that the murder of Bonnie DeVille happens which coincidentally helps with the idea that all of the old faces are back together. I am getting a bit sick of using a high school reunion as the catalyst to bring people back together. Luckily, it is not the sole focus of the movie like it was for American Reunion.

For someone who has never watched the show, the film is fairly entertaining. There is a quick montage at the beginning to set up the character relations and give a brief recap of what happened during the show’s run. As for the rest of the story, I never once felt like I didn’t know what was going on. Yes, obviously having a background with the show would help deepen your knowledge of the characters but you quickly realize who Veronica’s friends are as opposed to her enemies and whatnot. I must say there were some shocking moments along the way that I audibly gasped at that took me by surprise. Maybe the show was like that and I’m not giving it enough credit. It’s easy to see why the show has appeal as it plays smarter than your average teen soap typically found on the WB or UPN at the time. Kristen Bell and Enrico Colantoni have an infectious father daughter relationship full of fun banter and witty rapport.

It’s due to the fans that this movie even came together. Thomas and Bell created a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds needed to make the movie happen. I applaud their effort as it pays off for the die-hard Marshmallows as well as those like myself that are new to this universe. Anyone that watched the show will no doubt get a big kick out of the film. If you have never seen the show, the film may feel like going to your spouse’s high school reunion. You will most likely go, have a great time, enjoy the people that you meet, but you don’t have the history or connections that everyone else has. I am now even inspired to go back and watch episodes of the show.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? Yes. The film works well as it's own story without making the newbies feel too left out.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Ticket Stubs

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Monday, March 17, 2014


Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Owen Wilson, Mathieu Amalric, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson

I mentioned in my reviews of Bottle Rocket and Moonrise Kingdom that Wes Anderson has a very distinct style and vision with every film. Film goers should know going in what to expect from the universe he creates each time, yet know there will be surprises and gems along the way to revel in. His latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, may just be his most ambitious story yet.

The story of The Grand Budapest Hotel and one of its concierges has inspired a book that has left a lasting impression on its readers throughout the decades since its release. It's author (Wilkinson) looks back at where it all started. As a young writer (now played by Jude Law), he sat down with Zero Moustafa (Abraham) who still maintains the luxury hotel despite the fact it has seen its better days. The customers are few and far between, but he still lives in the same quaint room he once lived in when he was just a small lobby boy. The hotel rests in the fictional Republic of Zumbrowka somewhere in Central Europe.

As a young lobby boy Moustafa (Revolori) worked under the guidance of M. Gustave H. (Fiennes), the concierge and life of The Grand Budapest Hotel. M. Gustave H. was a beloved man who ran the hotel with a distinct style and directness. He always had these special relationships with many of his female guests, one of them being the wealthy 84-year-old Madame D (Swinton). She is found dead of an apparent murder and the mystery of her death leaves everyone scrambling. As family and friends gather for the reading of her will, it is revealed that Gustave has been bequeathed her painting "Boy with Apple" which sets off a fury of anger at the hands of her son Dmitri (Brody). He accuses Gustave of her murder in order to get that painting. Gustave and Zero are able to escape with the painting without the family knowing. It is not long before Gustave is put in jail for the murder of Madame D. Zero uses the help of local baker Agatha (Ronan) to help Gustave escape from prison.

Where do I even begin when it comes to a movie that is so full of delicious morsels and layers to feast upon? One of the things I love about Anderson as a writer is that he always comes up with these wildly imaginative characters. As an actor, I would relish in playing any role he has written. It is quite apparent that actors love to work with him as he has a repertory of actors that are always willing to come out and play. No matter how big or small the part happens to be, these actors put their egos aside (ahem, Edward Norton) and give it their all. Whether they carry the movie like Ralph Fiennes or have a couple of scenes like Owen Wilson or Jason Schwartzman, it is quite apparent that Anderson cares about his actors and that his characters are vital aspects to every one of his movies. The make-up and costume designers must have a field day knowing they have this wild palette to incorporate their touches to make each individual stand out from the next. Here's hoping they receive some recognition from the Academy next year.

If your local movie theater pays attention to the instructions it received, you will notice that the film will be shown in three different aspect ratios according to the various timelines that the story covers. All three ratios are within the 1.85:1 ratio. Anderson and his longtime cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman have specifically shot the film with these framing ratios in the mind. You will notice that the during the 1930s segment, the picture is in a square shaped framing ratio. Many films of the time period like The Wizard of Oz were shown in this ratio. This idea and the cinematography with it adds some interesting dimensions you don't always find in movies these days. What I love about the Anderson and Yeoman collaboration is that you could look at any frame from this movie and there is a story within itself.

The Grand Budapest Hotel covers all sorts of genres of storytelling, and Anderson captures each one of them with just the right touch that is needed. Sometimes comedies that cross genres feel a bit off. Tropic Thunder tried that, but I thought it was pretty unsuccessful. This zany madcap fun ride is a mix of comedy, adventure/action, murder mystery, and a little love story. It’s hard not to think about certain films of the past like The Shining with its orange color palette and historic hotel feel. It really makes me miss these types of hotels that have beautiful architecture, character, and stories within its walls. I have stayed at many old hotels in Europe over the years, and the big hotel chains just don’t have the same sort of character. The ensemble comedic caper aspect of the film brings me back to Clue and Murder by Death. The moment where Zero and Gustave are zipping through the snowy mountains reminded me of some of James Bond’s adventures. It is evident that Anderson has been inspired by the caper films of the past.

Anderson’s rich script is wordy and witty with so much juicy text and wordplay it will take a couple of viewings to take it all in. His cast, led by the incomparable Ralph Fiennes, have taken on these characters that are far different than their usual fare. Fiennes may just have one of the best characters Anderson has ever created. Tilda Swinton is another scene-stealer despite her limited time on screen. I cannot wait to see it again as there is so much to pick up and study upon each viewing.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? YES. Wes Anderson is ALWAYS worth a trip to the movies in my book.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Ticket Stubs

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Friday, March 14, 2014


Director: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Dimitri Leonidas, Cate Blanchett

As we all know George Clooney is a man of many talents. He has won Oscars for acting (Syriana) and producing (Argo) and has been nominated for his writing and directing efforts (Good Night, and Good Luck). These are just some of the high caliber credits under his belt. Plus, he is pretty darn good to look at on any given day of the week. His latest project, The Monuments Men, has him wearing many hats again as he acts, directs, writes, and produces the film. He enlisted the help of an all-star cast with Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, and his good pal Matt Damon. This all sounds like a winning combination for this little known lesson in art history.

Lieutenant Frank Stokes (Clooney) has been granted permission from President Roosevelt to form a troop of men to rescue precious buildings, monuments, and art that could be lost and damaged in the war or stolen by Hitler’s men for the Fuhrer museum. The group known as “The Monuments Men” consists of various architects, art historians, and curators who are not fit for war by any means. The physical aspects of boot camp pose a challenge for some of the men.  Their experience with firing a gun and knowing how to survive in the battlefield is minimal at best. Stokes and his men haven’t a clue as to where the Nazi party is keeping their stolen goods, so they split off into pairs to track down the various pieces and collections that have gone missing.

Like I mentioned previously, Clooney co-wrote and produced the film with his partner Grant Heslov. I think Clooney may have bitten off more than he can chew here. There is a lack of specificity that plays throughout the film that is quite apparent early on. They have this general layout for the story but they don’t infuse it with anything meaty to grab onto. The group of guys are written quite generic at best and are not given anything juicy for the actors to play with regarding character development. Clooney casts these great character actors that are probably all his friends, but no one is playing outside their comfort zone. Yes, they each have fun little moments here and there. Bill Murray has a touching scene listening to a recording of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, but that’s just one scene. Are we supposed to take away that by casting all of these comedic actors that can also do drama that it’s funny and ironic that they are the ones going into war to save the art? Clooney and Heslov didn’t write the comedy strong enough to make it that apparent. Cate Blanchett is thrown into the mix but her beginning scenes feel a bit off kilter as well. She plays a French art curator that is also working to save and protect certain pieces from being captured by the Nazis. Her scenes seem to flow better once Matt Damon’s character enters the picture. There is a fun joke about the Damon character not speaking French properly. Again, it’s a decent gag like some others, but the thread that runs between them is not very strong or supportive.

A really great musical score composed for any given movie can elevate the story by bringing out the suspense and tension in any given scene. Sometimes if a score is mediocre it fades into the background and you don’t notice it. I normally love the work of Alexandre Desplat (Philomena, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). There can be these beautiful and melodic choices in his work that carry us through certain scenes. His score for The Monuments Men is quite jarring. It often times doesn’t match the tone of the film or of the action going on in each scene. I partly blame Clooney and Heslov for not having a clear voice and structure in the film. Desplat’s score makes that even more apparent. It often feels like it is used as a crutch to carry scenes along and cover transitions where dialogue seems to be lacking.

The film was originally set to be released in December 2013. It was naturally thought of as being a heavy Oscar contender with Clooney and Heslov attached to it.  After news broke that the release was being pushed to February, it was a clear sign that the film was in rough shape. The "official" wording was that it wouldn't be ready in time. I think it's evident that the studio knew that there was no way it could compete with the other films released around that time. Clooney brings forth an important story about the importance of art in our culture and how tragic it would have been to have lost all of these pieces. I am by no means an art historian, but I was able to stay engaged as someone that has been to his fair share of art museums. The bigger problem is that they don't really know how to tell this story with a precise and distinct vision to it. The writing is a general wash without any careful eye on character choices or what tone they want the film to have. My husband loves history and has been reading about Truman's life recently, so he was able to connect more dots and have a better understanding of the war details that I missed out on. I wouldn't consider myself bored by the movie as the basic premise is intriguing. There are some nice moments here and there, but they don't add up to a great movie.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? No. Clooney, Damon, Murray, and Blanchett have far better movies out there to chose from. On the other hand, you may find the film enlightening if you are a big history buff.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Ticket Stubs

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

My Criterion Collection: BOTTLE ROCKET (1996)

Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Robert Musgrave, Andrew Wilson, Lumi Cavazos, James Caan, Kumar Pallana

Film audiences probably know Wes Anderson best from his other films like Moonrise Kingdom, Rushmore, and his most commercially accessible film, The Royal Tenenbaums. His latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, arrives in theaters this week, and I thought it would be the perfect time to go back to where the Wes Anderson cult following started. His first venture was a little film called Bottle Rocket that launched his career and that of Owen and Luke Wilson.

Anthony (Luke Wilson) is ready to leave the psychiatric facility he has been spending time at due to “exhaustion”. Where have we heard THAT before? His best friend Dignan (Owen Wilson) is waiting for him outside with an elaborate escape plan that is unnecessary due to it being a voluntary leave. On their way home, Dignan explains his 75-Year Plan that serves as an outline for the rest of their lives. It should come as no surprise that it is all mapped out in detail in a spiral notebook in five year increments. The plan involves sharpening their skills at pulling off various heists and eventually meeting and working with the elusive Mr. Henry (Caan).

They team up with their other friend Bob Mapplethorpe (Musgrave) who will act as their driver. After robbing a house and a book store with minimal disguise, they decide to go on the run hiding out in a cheap motel. Dignan’s plan does not always stay on course. Anthony starts to fall head over heels with Inez (Cavazos), a maid who cannot speak a word of English. Another roadblock in their plan happens when Bob decides to leave them and help his brother (Andrew Wilson) and deal with the marijuana plants that are growing in his parent’s backyard. Even though Anthony was the one spending time in facility, it soon becomes apparent that Dignan may be the one that is a little off.

When you start to think about the growth of one artist’s career, it is always an interesting treat to look back at where it all started. I have always been a fan of Wes Anderson’s ever since I saw The Royal Tenenbaums at the Wynnsong 15 in Mounds View, MN when it was first released.  My growing appreciation and affection for his work continues to grow with each new film. A realization hit me that I was watching a director grow and evolve, but somehow never took it upon myself to go back to the beginning and watch Bottle Rocket. The film originally started as a thirteen minute short that made it to the Sundance Film Festival. The short then made its way to producer Polly Plat (The Last Picture Show) who sent it to her friend writer/director/producer James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets). The short was only short pieces shot together of a much longer film Anderson and Wilson had in mind. Brooks met with the boys and suggested that they do a table read of the full length screenplay to hear it out loud. It was eye-opening to say the last. Wilson and Anderson spent the next two years developing and rewriting it in order to get a green light from Brooks to make the movie. They have Brooks to thank for getting James Caan to agree to be in the film. It took me by surprise as I forgot he was even in the movie. It was a bit jarring seeing this established actor appear in this low-budget first time feature from a young director. It was a whopping three days of filming on Caan's part, so thank goodness he agreed to do it.

The finished piece was originally sent to the Sundance Film Festival only for it to be rejected this time around. I wonder if they ever regret that choice. Initial tests scores from the general public came back extremely negative. Anderson mentioned in the making of featurette that for the scores of people that hated the film there was always one guy in the room that championed it. Critics seemed pretty divided on it as Roger Ebert gave it two out of fours stars, while others ranked it among the ten best of the year. Bottle Rocket has gone on to receive a cult following in the years since its release. Anderson went on to win the "coveted" Best New Filmmaker award at the 1996 MTV Movie Awards. If I remember correctly, he did show up to collect his popcorn statue.  Hopefully with each new Anderson film releases, it inspires more people go back and watch his first film. It’s hard to say if the film would still have the same cult status if Anderson stopped working or if his other movies turned out to be duds.

The Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-Ray editions offer a plethora of special features including a new high definition digital transfer, Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, and an audio commentary by Anderson and Owen Wilson. The original documentary "The Making of Bottle Rocket" features interviews with Brooks, Anderson, all three Wilson brothers, James Caan, producer Polly Platt, and others as they look back at the origins of the film and how it got made. The original black and white short film from 1992 is included as well as eleven deleted scenes, storyboards, location photos, and a booklet that lays out the 75-Year Plan and includes essays from Martin Scorsese and James L. Brooks detailing his involvement with the film.

Even as an amateur filmmaker Wes Anderson knew what he was doing. For being young writers, you can hear a specific voice and style in the witty screenplay. There is a focus and love of the characters over using heavy action and conflict to drive the story along. That being said, it's not a perfect script. It gets a bit choppy at times, which becomes more apparent when you hear about all of the deleted scenes and extra moments that had to be cut out as they didn't ever serve a purpose to the actual story. Between the dialogue and look of the film, Bottle Rocket laid the groundwork for so many of Anderson's signature moves that he has tweaked and perfected over the years. Robert Yeoman served as Anderson's cinematographer and has worked with him on every one of his films since then. There is a distinct vision and eye that audiences and fans have come to love. You will notice the God's-eye-view angle that is used during the description of the 75-year plan. You will see this framing in many of Anderson's later films. I would not claim this as my favorite Anderson film by any means, but it provided an insightful look back at where this artist begin. It is clearly evident that even back then he was a gifted writer and filmmaker that had unique style. Maybe his career would have taken a different path had Sundance picked up the full length version of Bottle Rocket.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? Yes, if you are a fan of independent cinema or of Wes Anderson's other films.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Ticket Stubs

You can find more films in the My Criterion Collection series HERE!

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