Friday, November 28, 2014

Movie with Abe: The Grand Budapest Hotel


The Grand Budapest Hotel
Directed by Wes Anderson
Released March 28, 2014

It’s easy to recognize films by select directors. With Woody Allen, it’s his signature font, with Quentin Tarantino, it’s a certain style, and with Wes Anderson, there are a number of elements that immediately identify Anderson as the singular mind behind a project. The quick, purposeful dialogue, the colorful landscapes, anachronistic characters and references, and an ensemble of recognizable actors are all traits common to Anderson films. His previous film, “Moonrise Kingdom,” was a spectacular saga set in the United States several decades ago, and his latest film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” transplants its audience back even further in time for a truly outrageous story that only Anderson could appropriately tell.

The film begins by introducing a flashback within a flashback within a flashback, as a young woman comes upon a memorial to a famous writer, whose older self (Tom Wilkinson) recounts how his younger self (Jude Law) had the incomparable opportunity to hear the life story of one Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who begins his career as a lobby boy (Tony Revolori) at the Grand Budapest Hotel in the Republic of Zubrowska. His mentor and the hotel’s concierge, Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) was a unique personality who, among other things, gave nightly sermons over dinner to the other hotel employees and went to bed with octogenarian hotel guests. The murder of one such elderly woman (Tilda Swinton) prompts a ridiculous adventure in which the young Zero becomes intricately and unforgettably involved.

There’s a considerable and familiar charm to this story film that defines everything Anderson does. His use of actors is excellent as usual, creating great parts for Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, and Harvey Keitel, among others. No part is too small to merit a terrific actor. Fiennes in particular has a fantastic time putting on his most high-minded and dainty air to portray the brilliant Gustave H to hilarious perfection. Varying accents, including inexplicable American ones, are used throughout this film’s journey through Europe, and for the most part, they all work. Adrien Brody’s Dmitri, however, feels out of place in a film built on such things due to the short and terse modern way in which he speaks. The film has a dark, violent, and deadly undercurrent to it that prevents it from being as satisfying and enjoyable as Anderson’s past works, and it ends on a strange and uncomfortable note. Still, there is a magic to it all, and this is one trip that can’t be repeated or recreated, even in Anderson’s next film.

B+

Movie with Abe: Antarctica: A Year on Ice


Antarctica: A Year on Ice
Directed by Anthony Powell
Released November 28, 2014

There’s no place quite like Antarctica. It’s easy to understand just how different the coldest place on Earth is from the rest of the world, but not entirely possible to grasp its beauty and the feel of being there. That’s why director Anthony Powell set out to capture what it’s like to spend the full year in Antarctica, setting up time-lapse cameras and interviewing those who spent the dark winter there over the course of ten years. The result is a visually stunning and very enlightening look at how things operate on a continent unlike any other.

“Antarctica: A Year on Ice” begins with dazzling shots of its subject matter, as Powell recounts his creation of a number of cameras that could withstand the weather – and some that couldn’t – in his effort to film the experience of living and working up north. The film as a whole mixes shots of the sky with beautiful colors and the snowy landscape with conversations with those living there who try to get at just how indescribable spending so many months away from civilization with a small group of people is.

Much of this film’s impact is rooted in the stark reality of some of the revelations it makes. A few are common knowledge but are still hard to believe, particularly the fact that the sun doesn’t set for months and then doesn’t come up for months, which leads to sunny strolls at midnight and a permanent sense of darkness that creates an incomparable calm. Residents describe their feelings upon first arriving in Antarctica and then the way in which short-term memory begins to fade after spending weeks isolated in the same routine. It’s all fascinating, and it’s great to see the spirit of energy and cooperation that defines this unique experience.

This documentary isn’t trying to prove everything, not arguing that climate change is real or demonstrating something else of vital importance to the world. Instead, it’s an entertaining, endearing portrait of a singular place, with enthusiastic emphasis on how great it is for so many countries to coexist in one particular space. Loud musical interludes are frequent, but they’re all in support of the awe-inspiring visuals on screen and the cool, exciting nature of this one-of-a-kind subject matter. It’s hard not to be captivated and made even more curious by this enjoyable and educational documentary.

B+

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Movie with Abe: Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow
Directed by Doug Liman
Released June 6, 2014

I often watch trailers for action movies and tell myself how exciting they look, though I know that I likely won’t end up seeing them, and certainly not before my initial enthusiasm fades while they are still playing in theatres. Such is the case with “Edge of Tomorrow,” which, thanks to a strong musical choice paired with compelling clips from the film, looked like an enthralling sci-fi film with Tom Cruise’s armored soldier fighting aliens over and over as his death mysteriously meant restarting the day each time with renewed knowledge and hope of how to defeat the enemy. It’s an ambitious premise, to be sure, and, disappointingly but unsurprisingly, this film can’t hope to make it work.

Cruise stars as Cage, a spokesperson for a multinational human army against invading aliens. When he is summoned one day to a general’s office, he learns that he is being sent to the front lines and responds incredulously, emphasizing that he is meant for public service and a non-physical part of the fight. He is promptly arrested and wakes up to find himself preparing for the first day of battle, with his pleas for others to believe his circumstances falling on deaf ears. Soon after landing on the battlefield, Cage dies and awakens again at the start of the day. Gradually, Cage realizes that his pre-death encounter with soldier Rita (Emily Blunt) is crucial to his and the human race’s survival, and begins reliving his day countless times so that he can get it right and figure out how to truly win the war.

This film adheres to the notion that a relived day will play out exactly the same way no matter what, with no variance in what others say and what happens unless something different is done to change those events. What that means is Cage gets to be a ranting know-it-all, predicting what those around him will say or do before it happens and seeming like a bratty braggart who many perceive as crazy. Cruise is all too right for that part, which makes him far less appealing than when he served as a strong lead for similar films like “Mission: Impossible” and “Minority Report.” Blunt is good as usual but should be considered for deeper roles rather than one-note characters like this. This film’s logic isn’t entirely sound, so seeing the day over and over doesn’t pay off, but that’s not its main issue. The problem is that finding a way to defeat the enemy isn’t an enticing process, and the resolution is watery and unexciting, if not far too simplistic. Most of all, the action is lackluster and barely even there, and for a film featuring soldiers in giant suits shooting at aliens, that’s a true failure.

D

Movie with Abe: The Imitation Game


The Imitation Game
Directed by Morten Tyldum
Released November 28, 2014

There are countless films that have been made about World War II. Many focus on the harshness of the Holocaust, while others deal with the stark reality of war. Others shine a light on less-known stories that, due to their secret nature, never got the publicity they deserved so many years ago. Earlier this year, “The Monuments Men” followed a brigade of soldiers sent to Europe to save precious works of art, and now “The Imitation Game” tells a different tale, one of mathematicians tasked with breaking the code the Germans used to encrypt messages to tip the war in the Allies’ favor.

This story begins with the brilliant and antisocial Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) presenting himself for an unsolicited interview with Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) for an unadvertised job working to crack the Enigma code. Clearly intelligent, Turing begins working with a small band of mathematicians on an impossible task whose impact would be immeasurable. Displeased with the motivation of his coworkers, Turing commandeers the operation and hires a bright young woman, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) to discreetly join the team and to help on the construction of a formidable machine to achieve their mission.

“The Imitation Game” is designed as a thriller, one which uses newsreels from the war to compound the importance of the success of this project. Making calculations and the pursuit of a technological solution to cracking transmitted messages exciting is a considerable task, and this film manages to do it well, thanks in part to an energizing score by Alexandre Desplat. Director Morten Tyldum’s previous film was the fantastic “Headhunters,” and here he’s able to once again merge genres into something compelling by turning the novel by Andrew Hodges, with help from screenwriter Graham Moore, into an energizing and compelling film-worthy story.

Cumberbatch, who I first saw back in 2007 when I started this blog in “Starter for 10,” has been building towards a film role of this magnitude after winning over TV viewers with “Sherlock” and appearing in supporting roles in films from “Star Trek Into Darkness” to “12 Years a Slave.” Here, he perfectly inhabits the role of Turing, radiating superior intelligence and a disdain for others that makes him a fitting scientist hero. Knightley is charming in a role less prominent than usual, and dependable Brits Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, and Dance enhance a competent supporting cast. The film manages to stay interesting throughout, achieving a peak towards its finish and then ending on an unsettling note true to real events. It’s not the best war movie ever made, but it does manage to succeed in crafting a solid film with a specialized focus.

B+

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Golden Globe Musings: Best Foreign Language Film


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Blue is the Warmest Color (France)
The Great Beauty (Italy)
The Hunt (Denmark)
The Past (Iran)
The Wind Rises (Japan)

This category is near-impossible to predict before knowing which films might be eligible, and my number one awards site, Goldderby, doesn’t yet offer any clues about what other people are predicting. What I’ve heard most about this year are Two Days, One Night (Belgium), Mommy (Canada), Saint Laurent (France), Human Capital (Italy), Ida (Poland), and Force Majeure (Sweden), all of which are eligible for the Oscar which means that we may not be considering others that are out there.

Current predictions:
Two Days, One Night (Belgium)
Mommy (Canada)
Saint Laurent (France)
Human Capital (Italy)
Ida (Poland)

Golden Globe Musings: Best Animated Feature Film


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
The Croods
Despicable Me
Frozen


For the first time since 2008, this category had only three nominees last year, but it should be returned to five with more eligible films this year. I haven’t seen much of this year’s crop, but it certainly seems like Big Hero 6, The Lego Movie, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 are the three to beat. Globe voters rarely go for the artsier foreign picks that Oscar does, but maybe that bodes well for my favorite animated film of the year, Mr. Peabody and Sherman? Other contenders include The Book of Life and The Boxtrolls.

Current predictions:
Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Lego Movie
Mr. Peabody and Sherman


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Golden Globe Musings: Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Lupita Nyongo (12 Years a Slave)
Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
June Squibb (Nebraska)

Last year’s so-called frontrunner, Oprah Winfrey, got snubbed here and then didn’t make it to Oscar. I don’t think that will happen with Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), who may just be this category’s only sure thing. Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), and Emma Stone (Birdman) are good bets but hardly guaranteed. Laura Dern (Wild), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), and Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods), and Carrie Coon (Gone Girl) are also possibilities, and I imagine we’ll have a surprise nominee or two here.

Current predictions:
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)
Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)


Golden Globe Musings: Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Daniel Bruhl (Rush)
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

This category really doesn’t have that many nominees locked up, and I’m sure we’re going to see some unexpected faces. The actor with the best shot is J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), with Edward Norton (Birdman) close behind him. If either of those actors isn’t nominated, this may be the end of the road for them this awards season. Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) and Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) are both good bets, but they could easily be snubbed and show up closer to the Oscar race. Those who could displace them include Tom Wilkinson (Selma), Robert Duvall (The Judge), Johnny Depp (Into the Woods), and Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice).

Current predictions:
Johnny Depp (Into the Woods)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Golden Globe Musings: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Julie Delpy (Before Midnight)
Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

I’m most doubtful about this category since I don’t see most of the likely nominees as really fitting in here. Musicals tend to do well when they’re eligible, which could mean good news for Emily Blunt (Into the Woods), a past nominee in this category, and Quvenzhane Wallis (Annie), an Oscar nominee who wasn’t recognized by this organization. Keira Knightley (Begin Again), who’s having a great year, could benefit as well. Helen Mirren (The Hundred Foot Journey), a familiar face in this category, has a good shot, as does Amy Adams (Big Eyes). And then there are those who don’t quite fit, like Angelina Jolie (Maleficent) and Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars). Other possibilities: Emmanuelle Seigner (Venus in Fur), Kristen Wiig (The Skeleton Twins), Jenny Slate (Obvious Child), and Lindsay Duncan (Le Week-End).

Current predictions:
Amy Adams (Big Eyes)
Emily Blunt (Into the Woods)
Angelina Jolie (Maleficent)
Helen Mirren (The Hundred Foot Journey)
Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars)

Golden Globe Musings: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


Golden Globe nominations for this year will be announced in just a few weeks, so here’s a survey of the contenders and the most likely predictions at this time. Weigh in with your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve left off anything important. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is still a bit early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

Last year’s nominees:
Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Joaquin Phoenix (Her)

Two films submitting as comedy help their actors out a lot - Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice). Those two Oscar contenders will likely be joined by Bill Murray (St. Vincent) and Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel). On the music side of things, Chadwick Boseman (Get on Up) and Mark Ruffalo (Begin Again) have decent shots, and voters might also warm to James Corden (Into the Woods), Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins), or Chris Rock (Top Five). It’s also possible that Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes) could end up here.

Current predictions:
James Corden (Into the Woods)
Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Bill Murray (St. Vincent)
Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice)