Monday, March 17, 2014


I absolutely adored Wes Anderson’s MOONRISE KINGDOM – a film that was enchanting, eccentric, visually as clear as breathing in the early morning light. The director successfully used actors against type making me realize the range of their abilities. I was held captive and surrendered my prosaic reality for almost 2 hours until the magic ended.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL was about 70% as mesmerizing even though the dialogue was snappy, the actors racing back and forth – torsos rigid and legs moving like Keystone Kops right out of a Mack Sennett film  were endearing, but “sight gags” too oft repeated can be tedious. Anderson walks a tightrope – between being overly cute, and conjuring incisive transformations that are entrancing. He teeters on both sides of that thin line – sometimes outrageously playful and facetious, and at other times predictably slapstick and repetitive.

Through flashbacks, we are introduced to Gustav H. (a wonderful stately, farcical Ralph Fiennes) who is the ideal concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel located in a fictional kingdom somewhere in Central Europe in the 1930’s. We are shown inklings of a tremulous and uneasy time period between the wars, and the cataclysmic changes that will soon overtake the continent. Glimmers of fascism are on the rise, but the movie treats the black-shirted “thugs” with short shrift – ridiculing them as if they were burlesque characters out of a Marx Brothers film – impotent and ridiculous.

Gustave H is a gentleman who lives by the rules of his profession and has a genuine affection for his job and his patrons. He is a man who believes in “service,” and has the personality and charismatic appeal to glide in out of seductions, preferably with the older and wealthier of his female clientele. Cynicism is made palatable by the undeniable joy and high spirits of his antics.

 Basically this is a mystery tale – a whodunit involving the murder of one of the hotel’s customers; a missing will and the theft of a valuable painting. It is also essentially a film about a friendship – a mentorship of a young apprentice, aptly named Zero Mustapha (an enthusiastic and winning Tony Revolori) who is the most fully realized individual in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL,) a “lobby boy” taken under the Concierge’s wing becoming his ally and devoted friend. Their adventures combine whacky perilous undertakings overlaid with the innocence of innate goodness, often involving Wes Anderson’s ensemble cast – Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson with “newcomers” Jude law, F. Murray Abraham, William DaFoe, Jeff Goldbaum and the fragile Lea Seydoux thrown in the mix.

Visually THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL feels like a fairy tale. Once upon a time…in a far off land …describes what Anderson’s world evokes. Emotional resonance does not peek out very often, except for a few tender scenes between Zero and Gustav H. and even then there is a wall of self-conscious drollery that separates us from them. But I definitely think that this is a film one should see by a director who deserves our attention. 

Monday, March 10, 2014


True Detective, an ambitious 8 part series on HBO, where the word Detective is singular not plural. Always wondered if the title gave that designation to Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) who obsessively continued "detecting/searching" for 17 years after a serial killer case in the backwoods and swamps of Louisiana was "solved" with lots of unanswered questions left in the dank and steamy air. His partner - Marty Hart ( Woody Harrelson), a mercurial, womanizing, down-to-earth antithesis to Cohle saw the conclusion of the case, and the end of their relationship as the finale to a tormented, life-altering period.

We meet them again in 2012- a plot device which had many "red herrings" -the two former Louisiana detectives being interrogated - a flashback technique - addressing issues of hindsight, marriage, prevarication and the attempt to bring some clarity to the intervening time period.

Basically this series was about the relationship between these two men; their different approaches to investigation - the ups and downs of their personal connection - interspersed with mysticism, philosophical gibberish, religion, hard drugs, drinking, rough sex, shootouts, and most importantly deeply ingrained familial tragedies that slowly leak - drip by drip down to the next generation. We can not escape the "darkness' of our forebearers, at least that is what creator Nic Pizzolatto would have us believe.

What held my interest, despite the convoluted plot and Rust Cohle's pretentious monologuing, was the strong acting performances by McConaughey and Harrelson. The chemistry between them was strong, their human failings and the burdens of life's heavy lifting were etched in their body language as well as their oftentimes passionate and eloquent features. Each stayed in character - one mask like and inscrutable, the other engaging with a seductive grin - the tongue peeking out with delight out of the corner of Harrelson's lips.

I believe the last episode left an opening for a sequel. I hope so.