An all-star cast checks into The Grand Budapest Hotel for Wes Anderson’s colourful farce. A tale within a tale the film begins in the present with ageing author (Tom Wilkinson) recalling the time he checked into the dilapidated Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional Alpine region of Zubrowka in the late 1960’s. There his younger self (Jude Law) once met the Grand Budapest’s reclusive owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), a multi-millionaire who visits the hotel every year and insists on staying in the smallest room.
Zero recounts to the writer the story of his mentor Monsieur Gustave H, the impeccably mannered concierge at The Grand Budapest Hotel back in its heyday. Played in a rare comic performance Ralph Fiennes like a swearier version of 50s matinee idol Dirk Bogarde, the flamboyant Monsieur Gustave is loved by the guests at Grand Budapest Hotel, particularly the female residents towards whose every need Gustave pays close attention too.
Gustave is particularly fond of 84-year old Madame D. (a heavily made-up Tilda Swinton) much to the chagrin of her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody), a fascist with a menacing bodyguard (Willem Dafoe) who for some reason disapproves of his mother having intimate relations with a lowly concierge. A stolen painting and a murder throw Gustave’s life into chaos as both he and his trusty young lobby boy Zero (Tony Levoroli) are pursued across the Alps by police led by Henckels (Edward Norton). The Grand Budapest Hotel recalls classic screwball comedies from the early days of the Talkies when the Marx Brothers would make highly literate but delightfully silly movies like Duck Soup though this has an idiosyncratic charm all of its own.
Anderson’s highly stylised mode of filmmaking defies realism, instead relying on brightly coloured set design and a deadpan approach to storytelling. Characters in his films are usually eccentrics, all slightly crazy in their own way and often perplexed by the world around them. Though Anderson’s direction has a lightness of touch and his approach is comic there is an underlying melancholy usually taking the form of nostalgia for a lost time, place, or person. Dialogue is often hilariously absurd though delivered completely straight which makes it even funnier as in this exchange between two runaway children after a dog has been accidentally killed by a Khaki Scout with a bow and arrow in Moonrise Kingdom (2012).
“Was he a good dog?”
“Who’s to say? But he didn’t deserve to die.”
Other recommended films by this unique filmmaker include Rushmore (1998), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), and The Darjeeling Limited (2007).
A throwback to star studded guys on a mission war movies like The Dirty Dozen (67, Aldrich) and Kelly’s Heroes (70 Brian G. Hutton) George Clooney’s Monuments Men tells the true story of a group of veteran soldiers dedicated to hunting down missing works of art during WWII. Based on the book ‘The Monuments Men’ by Robert M. Edsel the film focuses on a disparate collection of middle-aged museum curators and art historians brought together during the last year of the War to recover rare artworks. The Monuments Men would eventually recover five million artefacts from the ruins of wartime Europeincluding pieces by Michelangelo, Da Vinci, & Vermeer. Star/director George Clooney has assembled an impressive cast led by Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, The Artist star Jean Dujardin, & Britain’s own Hugh Bonneville for this entertaining tribute to a group of unsung heroes.
George Clooney – Director Profile
Nobody would have pegged George Clooney as a potential movie star back in the Eighties. Sporting an unflattering mullet hairstyle which obscured his good looks and emphasised instead his slightly goofy smile the young Clooney usually appeared in sitcoms like the Different Strokes spin-off The Facts of Life and the first season of Rosanne though he did make a rare movie appearance in Return of the Killer Tomatoes (88, John De Bello). A decent haircut and playing Dr Doug Ross in ER changed all this making Clooney a household name and leading to opportunities in Hollywood. Since then Clooney has built an impressive CV combining mainstream fare with more eclectic films. Less keen to play the clown despite his easy charm and adept comic timing Clooney is an increasingly statesmanlike figure these days heavily involved in political causes.
In 2002 Clooney directed his first film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind based on the autobiography of American game show host Chuck Barris. Though known for presenting trashy TV shows like The Dating Game Barris made outlandish claims about being a hired killer for the CIA in his biography. Bizarrely nobody has ever managed to disprove his claims and Clooney’s film retains this ambiguity. Clooney’s father worked in television as a news anchor and journalist and the film has an insider’s knowledge and affection for the medium. As does Goodnight and Good Luck (05) set against the backdrop of the McCarthy hearings in 1953 as a journalist defies government policy and risks being jailed as a Communist. Less successful was Leathernecks (08), an attempt to recreate the classic screwball comedies of the 30’s which continued the long tradition of films about American football bombing at the box-office.
Haven’t done much writing lately. Overcome with a general feeling of malaise I can’t seem to kick. Still providing notes for screenings at The Station Restaurant though. Will update here with the few worth posting starting with The Railway Man.
|Courtesy of Lionsgate
The Railway Man is a fine tribute to the bravery of Eric Lomax (1919-2012). Captured by Japanese troops in 1942 Lomax was one of many Allied soldiers forced to work on the notorious ‘Death Railway’ in Thailand. Many years later he returned to confront the man responsible for torturing him. Adapted from Lomax’s memoir ‘The Railway Man’ by Frank Cottrell Boyce, the film stars Colin Firth and Jeremy Irvine as the older and younger Lomax respectively, Nicole Kidman as his wife Patti, Stellan Skarsgard as fellow survivor Finlay, and Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada as the older version of his tormenter Nagase.
Colin Firth – Career Profile
Handsome and blessed with an old world charm, Colin Firth has taken the long road to success. Firth made his debut opposite Rupert Everett in Another Country (84, Marek Kanievska), based on the school days of the defector Guy Burgess. Everett was courted by Hollywood while Firth kept on doing fine work in smaller productions. Touching as a WW1 veteran restoring a church mural in A Month in the Country (87, Pat O’Connor), and winning a BAFTA for Falklandswar TV drama Tumbledown (1988). The lead in Milos Forman’s Valmont (89) would have impressed more had Stephen Frears version of the same source material Dangerous Liasons not been such a huge hit. Firth held his own opposite Peter OToole in the little-seen but haunting Wings of Fame (90, Otakar Votocek) which imagines the afterlife as a Grand Hotel where the famous get the best rooms until their reputations fade away. The Hour of the Pig (93, Leslie Megahey) is another oddity with Firth as a medieval lawyer defending a pig from a murder charge as the plague sweeps through Europe.
Mainstream success at last and heartthrob status with Pride and Prejudice (95) on television. Bigger films now but a supporting player. A cold fish aristocrat in Circle of Friends(95, Pat O’Connor), a cuckold in The English Patient (96, Anthony Minghella), a cuckolded cold fish aristocrat in Shakespeare in Love (98, John Madden). Girly fighting with Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones Diary (01, Sharon Maguire) and its sequel. Reunited with Rupert Everett for The Importance of Being Ernest (02, Oliver Parker). A trip to Richard Curtis land for Love Actually (03). All roles requiring Firth to display a stiff upper lip. Yet as he ages the work gets more interesting. a bullying Rat Pack style entertainer in Where the Truth Lies (05, Atom Egoyan). Achingly good as a gay man mourning his lover in fashion designer Tom Ford’s film A Single Man (09) An Oscar winner for The King’s Speech (10, Tom Hooper). Poker faced as one of the potential traitors in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (11, Tomas Alfredson). Next up after The Railway Man Firth will be providing the voice of Paddington Bear and playing a suave 007 type spy in The Secret Service for director Matthew Vaughn.
Writing accompanying notes for a film I missed at LFF and have as yet still to see. So a simple synopsis and brief overview of Stephen Frears career is all I could manage. Much prefer writing notes for classic movies when the opportunity arises.
Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark
Screenplay by Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope Based on the book ‘The Lost Child of Philomena Lee.’
Directed by Stephen Frears
Based on a shocking true story Philomena attacks its subject matter with passion and a dark sense of humour. Fifty years ago Philomena (Dench) fell pregnant out of wedlock and was forced into a convent. The child was taken away from her. After hearing her story at a party burnt-out journalist Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) agrees to help Philomena find her son and the two begin an unconventional friendship and a journey to uncover the truth.
Stephen Frears – Selected Career Highlights
Now aged 72 years old Frears shows no signs of slowing down. Over a forty year period he has proven himself highly versatile and always at his best when working in tandem with a strong writer. Though he made his film debut in 1971 with the quirky thriller Gumshoe Frears spent the next decade or so honing his skills in television notably for the BBC’s ‘Play for Today’ series.
Frears returned to cinema with a trio of acclaimed British movies. In the understated The Hit (84) a beatific Terence Stamp unsettles two criminals escorting him to his death by calmly accepting his fate. The Hanif Kureshi scripted My Beautiful Laundrette (85) combines a gay love story with a satire about Pakistani immigrants embracing Thatcherism and made a star of Daniel Day-Lewis. Prick Up Your Ears (87) is an even-handed and touching account of the tragic relationship between 60’s playwright Joe Orton and his lover and eventual murderer Kenneth Halliwell.
Frears cracked Hollywoodwith Dangerous Liasons (88), a suitably chilly version of the Pierre Choderlos de Laclos novel, yet moving in its final moments. Martin Scorsese hired Frears to direct The Grifters (90), a bleak crime thriller about a small-time con-artist mixed up in a scheme with his estranged mother. The 90’s proved less successful though with expensive projects Accidental Hero (92), Mary Reilly (96) failing. Frears recovered, successfully relocating Nick Hornby’s much loved novel High Fidelity (2000) to the States. Gritty thriller Dirty Pretty Things (2002), and the Oscar-winning biopic The Queen (2006) won him more acclaim. Frears is currently filming a biopic of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.
“It’s the enemy you know. Happiness. It puts doubt in your mind. Because all of a sudden you have something to lose.”
The remarkable race for the 1976 Formula 1 Championship is brought thrillingly to life in this colourful dramatisation of the battle between two drivers with contrasting personalities. Niki Lauda, impressively played by German actor Daniel Bruhl, is the dour pragmatist who adopts a tactical approach to racing and designs his own cars. Australian beefcake Chris Hemsworth is Peter Hunt, the dashing English playboy with a reckless streak. Rush recreates an era when Formula 1 was potentially lethal. For one of these men a rainy day towards the end of the 76′ season will have a profound effect on their life.
Ron Howard – Career Highlights
Though one of the most successful and versatile directors in Hollywood Ron Howard will always be best known for playing Richie Cunningham on the long-running sitcom Happy Days (1974-84). Born into a showbiz family, Howard appeared in countless TV shows as a youngster as did his brother Clint who some may remember as the blonde kid who befriends a Grizzly bear in Gentle Ben. Howard began directing under the tutelage of B-movie king Roger Corman who produced his first movie Grand Theft Auto (77). The comedy Night Shift (82) was a modest success but Howard’s next two films, Splash (84) with Tom Hanks falling in love with a mermaid and Cocoon (85) about a group of OAP’s given a second lease of life after an encounter with alien life-forms, were massive box-office hits. Sword and sorcery epic Willow(88) remains a favourite with 80’s kids. Parenthood (89) is a funny and wistful comedy about family life which makes great use of a young Keanu Reeves.
Backdraft (91) an exhilarating drama about fire-fighters in Chicago shows Howard developing an interest in stories about people working in high stress environments. The highly acclaimed Apollo 13 (95) is Howard’s first film based on real life events. Gripping thriller Ransom (96) casts swivel-eyed lunatic Mel Gibson as a businessman turning the tables on the kidnappers holding his son hostage. Howard won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind (2001), starring Crowe as a mathematician struggling to cope with schizophrenia. Crowe again starred in the underrated Cinderella Man (05) as Depression era heavyweight boxer Jim Braddock. Huge box-office returns for The Da Vinci Code (06) and its sequel Angels and Demons (09) but neither film pleased the critics. Frost/Nixon (08) about the events leading up to President Nixon’s confession of perjury live on television marked Howard’s first collaboration with Rush screenwriter Peter Morgan. Howard also narrated the cult TV comedy Arrested Development and appears in the final season as a comic version of himself.
THE ANSWER LIES WITHIN
Cast & Crew
Aamir Khan – Inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat
Kareen Kapoor – Rosie
Rani Mukerj – Roshni Shekhawat
Reema Kagti Farhan Akhtar, Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyup
Directed by Reema Kagti
Running time 131 minutes
Though largely ignored by Western audiences Bollywood movies are big business in one of the largest territories in the world. Once mocked for their low budgets (visit Youtube and search for the Bollywood version of Spielberg’s Jaws for a cheap laugh) these days Hindi movies are as stylish as their Hollywoodcounterparts. Many of these films are musicals and influenced by the work of classic directors like Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain). The tone is one of pure entertainment, escapism from everyday life. For an idea of how gloriously demented and funny they can be seek out Om Shanti Om (2007, Farah Khan).
Talaash is something else entirely, a sleek crime thriller with a phantasmagorical edge. The opening credits set the tone with a jazz torch song playing over images of neon-lit strip joints, working girls plying their trade, and beggars in the street. An unusually bleak opening for a Bollywood movie and one which tells us director Reema Kagti is taking a more realistic approach to the material and will not shy away from showing the rougher side of life in one of Mumbai’s roughest areas.
Crime thrillers are as much about the man investigating wrongdoing as they are about criminal activity. Inspector Surjan Singh is a grieving father with a crumbling marriage who becomes obsessed with a seemingly unsolvable case involving a dead movie star. Singh develops a bond with Rosie, a prostitute who guides him through the backstreets of Mumbai as he searches for the answers he seeks. Rosy however seems to know more than she is letting on and what began as a simple car accident becomes something much stranger.
“The greatest measure of the Nineteenth Century. Passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.”
In Frank Capra’s classic movie Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939) a regular guy enters politics and is horrified by the corruption he witnesses. At his lowest ebb he considers quitting but finds new strength at the Lincoln Monument. Capra backlights Lincoln’s statue making it look God-like, a mythical figure. Interesting then to see Steven Spielberg’s biopic which presents Lincolnin an earthier fashion. A man who argues with his wife, tells jokes in company, and is more than capable of dealing with the complexities of political life. Tony Kushner’s screenplay begins in 1865 amongst the blood and chaos of the Civil War then follows Lincoln’s attempts over the next year to win the twenty votes he needs to force through the Thirteenth Amendment banning slavery.
Kushner previously collaborated with Spielberg on another historically based movie Munich (2005) about the Israeli hit squad seeking reprisals for the eleven murdered athletes at the 1972 Olympics. He is best known in the USfor his Pulitzer winning play Angels in America set at the height of the AIDS epidemic and his writing has a grittiness which counterpoints Spielberg’s tendency towards grand spectacle. Though epic in scale and length Lincoln takes place mostly indoors and concerns itself more with the backroom deals, political machinations, the compromises needed and sometimes cast aside for progress to be made. At the heart of the film is a towering performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, suggesting both the charisma of Lincolnand the greatness in the man which still makes him the most revered of all American Presidents.
“I will find them, I promise you that.”
The Impossible is based on the true story of the Alvaraz family and their incredible struggle to survive the Tsunami which devastated Thailand in 2004. Though the family’s nationality has been changed from Spanish to British the film is apparently a credible recreation of events. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play parents whose career worries fade into insignificance when they are separated from each other by the disaster. Henry (McGregor) is left with two of their boys, while eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) is swept away with Maria (Watts).
Director Juan Antonio Bayano made his feature debut with the creepy horror film The Orphanage (2007) and you can see the influence of that genre here. Bayano builds tension with close-ups of everyday objects being used (a juice blender, a ball bouncing) that coupled together with the ominous music seem to act as portents. The first act makes it very clear the devastating the effects of the Tsunami hitting the resort and the sound design department captures every crunching noise as trees are snapped like twigs, buildings demolished, and people dragged underwater. Camerawork is often handheld and used to disorient the viewer.
It would be unfair to reveal any more except to say after this powerful opening sequence the film becomes a journey through a ruined landscape as the survivors come together and try to find their own folk. While Watts received an Oscar nomination for her performance and McGregor also impresses young Tom Holland steals the film as the resourceful Lucas. There is also a striking but all too brief appearance from Geraldine Chaplin as a kindly stranger. The Impossible is a powerful but ultimately rewarding viewing experience.
Written by Sergio G. Sánchez, Maria Bélon
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayano
Running time 114 mins
“The wild is no place for gentle folk who can neither fight nor fend for themselves.”
These days director Peter Jackson is now so firmly identified with the world of J. R. Tolkien it seems hard to believe there were doubts back in the late 90’s when it was announced he would adapt The Lord of the Rings. Back then Jacksonwas best known for making gory low-budget horror films, although Heavenly Creatures (1994) based on a notorious matricide in New Zealandshowed a more serious side. Adapting Tolkien’s epic trilogy had already defeated a number of filmmakers notably John Boorman, while an animated version by Ralph Bakshi in 1978 was abandoned halfway through. The Lord of the Rings may have been larger in scale than anything Jackson had attempted but the signs were there he could deliver. These early films might feature ridiculously gory scenes of aliens being dismembered with chainsaws, or sheep getting blown up by rocket launchers, or a kung-fu kicking priest beating up zombies, but they also show Jackson’s flair for special effects and his gift for the fantastical.
After the success of the Lord of the Rings movies which culminated in a Best Picture Oscar for Return of the King (2003) it seemed likely The Hobbit would be next. Jacksoninitially intended only to produce the film. Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) was hired but left the project after two years of pre-production so Jackson once again resumed directorial duties. The Hobbit is naturally enough for a film based on a children’s novel lighter in tone to The Lord of the Rings though it feels very much like a return to the world created by Jackson and his team over a decade ago.
The cast is largely made up of television stars and trying to recognise them under their makeup is part of the fun. Martin Freeman is impressive as Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit persuaded by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to help a group of dwarves regain their homeland, but see if you can spot former Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy, Richard Armitage (Spooks), James Nesbitt (Cold Feet), Ken Stott (Rebus), Aidan Turner (Being Human), and Brett Mackenzie (Flight of the Conchords). Barry Humphries, better known as Dame Edna Everage, Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), and Manu Bennett (Spartacus: Blood and Sand) are in all in there as well although their performances are motion captured and then recreated by computer generated imagery.
Kind of appropriate to be showing Brief Encounter in a cafe restaurant next to an abandoned railway line. Amazing film and I’ll take Lean’s early Noel Coward and Charles Dickens adaptations over his later epics any time. Here’s my notes for The Station screening of Brief Encounter.
“But the minutes went by…”
Brief Encounter is the fourth and final collaboration between Noel Coward and director David Lean having previously worked together on the war films In Which We Serve (1942) and This Happy Breed (1945) as well as the comedy Blithe Spirit (1945). An adaptation of a one-act play by Coward called ‘Still Life,’ the film takes place in and around a railway station as two people consider having an affair. While Brief Encounter is thematically similar to Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz) the latter is the kind of Hollywood escapism Alec (Trevor Howard) and Laura (Celia Johnson) would go and see on the Thursday afternoons they spend together. Laura is certain such grand passion couldn’t happen to somebody who shops in Boots the chemists. Alec and Laura are blindsided by their emotions as their casual acquaintance develops into something much deeper. It is all too easy now to make fun now of the perfectly clipped accents in Brief Encounterand its old-fashioned sense of decency, but the film has lost none of its power.
Sound is important in Brief Encounter. The haunting musical score is Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2 and it counterpoints Alec and Laura’s restraint in public with the emotional turmoil they feel. The noises heard at the station; the trains arriving and departing, the announcements, the whistles, all recurring in the background are a reminder of the possibilities of escape. David Lean often uses odd camera angles and films the lovers in shadow, a technique more common in thrillers than in romances yet it adds to the feeling they are somehow transgressing. Bear in mind Coward was a closeted homosexual so forbidden love, clandestine meetings, and being very careful not to attract attention would almost certainly have been part of his romantic life.
There is an argument Brief Encounter represents a gentile and timid form of British cinema though this seems largely reductive. It is rare to find a British film from this period which is so emotionally open or poetic. It also has a complex narrative structure which begins at the end and then shows us through Laura’s memories and her accompanying voice-over events filtered through her own sensibilities before we again see the beginning/end with the added pathos of knowing what we are seeing this time around. Lean would later turn towards large-scale epic productions like Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Dr Zhivago (1965) but this small intimate movie about lives thrown out of kilter by romantic longing is his most extraordinary work.