Films I Saw This Week (24/08/2015)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Is The Grand Budapest Hotel the best film Wes Anderson has made? Quite possibly. Though not as instantly cool and iconic as The Royal Tenenbaums, on second watch The Grand Budapest Hotel is perhaps the funniest, certainly the most heartfelt film he’s made to date. A madcap caper movie following an accused concierge (Ralph Fiennes) on the run from police with his loyal lobby boy (Tony Revolori, a breakout star), The Grand Budapest Hotel is almost note perfect from start to finish. Fiennes, one of the finest and most versatile actors of his generation, gives an astounding performance. His well-spoken, lilting tones are note perfect, while his physical comedy is up there with the best of Peter Sellers.
In an incredible ensemble cast (Anderson always attracts the best stars), standouts include an amusingly angry Adrien Brody and a sinister Willem Dafoe. Though no scene is quite as good as the ‘Needle in the Hay’ scene from The Royal Tenenbaums, there are some beautiful sights courtesy of cinematographer Robert Yeoman. With non-stop laughs and a surprisingly melancholic, eye-moistening epilogue, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an outstanding film, and if not the best film Anderson has made, certainly his boldest vision.
Perhaps a controversial opinion, but I found Client Eastwood’s Oscar-winning western Unforgiven slow to the point of being inert. Eastwood gives one of his best performances as William Munny, a retired gunslinger filled with bitterness and regret over the death of his wife. Brought back from retirement to bring two prostitute-beating bandits to justice, Munny clashes with nasty sheriff Gene Hackman, who spends the film dishing out brutal beatings and gunfighting philosophy. There are some powerful scenes and a great supporting turn from Richard Harris, but Unforgiven’s length and pacing issues hold it back from being the masterpiece its reputation suggests.
Ruby Sparks (2012)
It’s great to see perpetual supporting actor Paul Dano in a leading role. In Ruby Sparks, an enjoyable rom-com written by and starring Dano’s real-life girlfriend Zoe Kazan, writer Dano finds his dream girl has come to life, and he can control with his typewriter. Though Ruby Sparks doesn’t reinvent the rom-com in the same way Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind did, it’s a fun meditation on perfect relationships and the insecurities they bring, with a surprisingly dark climax. Dano and Kazan have chemistry in spades and make a lovely on-screen couple, and if Ruby Sparks won’t blow your mind, it’s a worthy watch.
Throne of Blood (1957)
Akira Kurosawa’s Samarai-infused take on Macbeth isn’t quite up there with his greatest works, but Throne of Blood is still as well made and acted as you’d expect. Regular Kurosawa collaborator Toshiro Mifune is suitably over-the-top as the warrior told by an apparition that he will one day rule the castle. The pacing is very much of its time, with a few scenes going on far too long, but Mifune’s powerful performance as he loses his mind, genuinely eerie scenes in the haunted forests, and an outstanding climax, make Throne of Blood a hugely enjoyable watch.
Sound of My Voice (2012)
A great example of effective low budget filmmaking, Zal Batmanglij’s sinister film about an underground cult features a brilliant turn from co-writer Brit Marling, as a woman claiming to be from the future. Batmanglij’s film doesn’t contain many answers to the questions it raises, but it honestly doesn’t need to; it’s mysterious and creepy in all the right ways, as couple Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius are pulled further into the disturbing group. Many will be put off by the film’s strange subject matter and narrative question marks, but hang in and you’ll find Sound of My Voice an insidious, memorable little nightmare of a film.
Stanley Kubrick is one of the greatest directors in history, but Lolita is certainly not his best film. For 1962, it’s almost shockingly daring, focusing as it does on a paedophilic writer (James Mason, the sort of actor you just don’t get anymore) and his lust for a fourteen year old girl (the quite amazing, great-beyond-her-years Sue Lyon). Though Mason isn’t the most riveting screen presence, he handles the outrageous material well. The problem with Lolita is that it opens with by far its best scene, as Mason handles his rival Peter Sellers. As you’d expect, Sellers is terrific as the drunken fool playing table tennis and serenading Mason at the piano. If he were on-screen for more of Lolita’s exhausting two and a half hour runtime, it could be a better film. Without him, the film has some incredibly dull stretches, and lasts much, much longer than it needs to.
Breaking the Waves (1996)
Can an outstanding performance save a bad film? Nope. Lars von Trier’s truly awful Breaking the Waves is lucky to have Emily Watson in the leading role of Bess, a devoted but disturbed religious woman who believes she can cure husband Stellan Skarsgard’s deadly symptoms with sex. The film runs close to three hours and Watson never once dips below Oscar-worthy; it’s one of the best and most intense performances you’ll ever. Sadly, the film is absolutely hideous. One of the most tedious films I’ve ever seen, von Trier lets every scene run and run, despite the fact there are almost no interesting scenes in the film. The plot is total bollocks, seemingly treating Bess like a Jesus parallel and piling misery upon misery on her (a theme von Trier revisited in the equally naff Dancer in the Dark and Melancholia). Despite Watson giving it her absolute all, she can’t save the boring dirge that is Breaking the Waves.
By Harry Ford
- Posted in: Films I Saw This Week
- Tagged: 1957, 1962, 1992, 1996, 2012, 2014, adrien brody, akira kurosawa, boring, breaking the waves, brit marling, classic, clint eastwood, controversial, creepy, cult, drama, emily watson, funny, gene hackman, james mason, lars von trier, lolita, macbeth, morgan freeman, oscars, overrated, paul dano, peter sellers, ralph fiennes, romantic comedy, rubbish, ruby sparks, sound of my voice, stanley kubrick, the grand budapest hotel, throne of blood, toshiro mifune, unforgiven, wes anderson, willem dafoe, zal batmanglij, zoe kazan