Reviews: Lust and Envy Edition

Film: The Grand Budapest Hotel (M)

grand budapest hotelWes Anderson has created a classic comedy drama with The Grand Budapest Hotel—this film has it all: pastel hued backdrops, spectacular European scenery, politics, a uniquely witty script and, of course, a brilliant cast.

Ralph Fiennes plays the effortlessly charming M. Gustave H and newcomer Tony Revolori is his earnest protégé, Zero Moustafa. Their camaraderie and loyalty to each other is compelling to watch as the story unfolds. Peripheral characters played by the outstanding Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum and Saoirse Ronan are equally mesmerising in their whole-hearted performances.

The story is narrated by an elderly M. Moustafa, owner of The Grand Budapest Hotel to his audience, an Author, played by Jude Law. He divides his story into five parts—in Part 1 he introduces M. Gustave H, the legendary concierge who provides second to none service to all hotel guests; some guests spend several seasons at the hotel simply for him.

In Part 2, Madame D, the Hotel’s most loyal guest and a close personal friend of M. Gustave, is found dead in her bathroom. Naturally M. Gustave and Zero rush to her opulent manor to pay their final respects; they get more than they bargained for when it is revealed that Madame D left Gustave a priceless painting, Boy with Apple. A series of unfortunate events follow the revelation and M. Gustave is imprisoned under suspicion of murdering Madame D.

Part 3 shows that M. Gustave never loses his charm and rather English sensibilities as he treats life in prison and fellow inmates as he would were they all at the Hotel. His courtesy charms the other inmates and they devise a plan to break out of prison in a similar fashion to The Great Escape. During these parts Zero’s loyalty never wavers and he faithfully visits Gustave in prison and does as he is told without question. Although Zero is somewhat ignorant of prison- breakout strategies and tactics, the members of The Society of the Crossed Keys, Gustave’s fellow concierges across Europe, come to their rescue and smuggle the duo back to The Grand Budapest Hotel in Part 4.

The climax of the film is a memorable shoot-off at the Hotel where all of the living characters are gathered—the exact requests of Madame D are revealed in her final will and testament and there is a brief moment of jubilation before the realities of World War II invade; despite this, M. Gustave and Zero Moustafa show us that ‘there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.’

This was an immensely enjoyable film that will become a generational classic thanks to Wes Anderson’s brilliant direction, a mélange of seasoned actors and newcomers who all play their parts to perfection, and the memorable dialogue that provide deep insight through witticisms and outright comedy with unexpected bursts of well-timed expletives.

By Prerna Ashok

Film: Noah (M)

Throughout Darren Aronofsky’s eclectic filmography, there is an increasingly clear through-line of recurring themes and ideas. With his last three films, specifically, he has honed in on the passions, dedications and obsessions of distinct individuals. From Noah_posterthe psychological pressures of upscale ballet to the emotional detachment of performance wrestling, he is able to extract similar truths from seemingly disparate narratives.

With this consideration, Noah feels like a summation of everything he has been working towards. Where The Wrestler and Black Swan had dealt mostly with internal repercussions, Noah expands its scope beyond the interiors of its central character. With the God-burdened task of deciding who’s worthy of life beyond the flood, Noah is forced to confront his deepest understandings of humanity—with the risk of losing his own in the process.

As he did with his previous two features, Aronofsky works between the borders of passion and obsession. By forcing his characters to question, or perhaps compromise their vocations, he compels destruction—of both the individual and the collective. With Noah, though, the collateral damage stretches far beyond familial relationships. Producing a similar truth with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, it ostensibly works as a macrocosm for Aronofsky’s well-tried themes.

Noah is one of the most peculiar products of studio filmmaking you’re likely ever going to see. Blending subtle poetry with tone-deaf blockbuster tropes, it thuds and whispers in uneasy rhythm.

Russel Crowe does his best in the title role to anchor the unwieldy production, but Aronofsky’s not-so-invisible hand regularly manipulates the narrative in ambitious, sporadic bursts.

In spite of this, Noah represents a refreshing departure from standard blockbuster filmmaking. It also gives us a taste of what an independent filmmaker can do with a tentpole budget. And while the first sampling wasn’t a resounding success, it gives temporary hope to a studio format of filmmaking that feels all but bereft of original thought.

This quasi-religious, gonzo epic makes no reference to ‘God’, has Transformers-inspired rock monsters and a less-than-likable central protagonist. These are the sorts of eccentricities we can be surprised by if the studio system continues to give big budgets to independent voices.

Thanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for providing the opportunity to review this film.

By Sebastian Moore

Film: It Boy (20 Ans D’Ecart) (M)

French romantic comedies are generally charming, humorous and sophisticated—It Boy is no exception and Virginie Efira and Pierre Niney light up the screen with their dynamic relationship.

It Boy posterAlice (Efira) is a successful, fabulous woman in her late-thirties working at fashion magazine Rebelle. Her goal is to get the top job and there’s only one thing standing in her way—her boss doesn’t think she has what it takes to keep the magazine fresh and contemporary because of Alice’s uptight attitude.

A chance encounter with 20-year-old Balthazar (Niney) and a series of misunderstandings and rumours soon changes the situation. She goes from being seen as the uptight control freak to a carefree cougar. Naturally she follows through, keeping up the cougar persona to impress her boss and show that she has what it takes to get the job done. However, the situation becomes complicated when her feelings for Balthazar become serious.

Efira and Niney are brilliant in their respective roles—Niney plays his role as a gobsmacked 20-year-old student with conviction, while Efira charms the audience with her hilarious efforts as a cougar.

This film is brilliant at depicting the shifting views on the idea of women dating younger men and the issues they face in the workplace— having to compete with younger models, dealing with workplace gossip, and keeping up appearances while juggling family and personal lives.

There are plenty of laughs and memorable moments in this film, perfect for a girls’ night in.

By Prerna Ashok

Film: Tracks (M)

The story of Tracks is one both liberated and trapped by our national image. Ripe with desolate, sunburnt plains and filtered through a typically abrasive Australian gaze, Tracks could so easily be mistaken for another tourism advertisement. But as luck Tracks_posterwould have it, director John Curran isn’t interested in these sorts of platitudes.

Based on a memoir of the same name, Tracks follows Robyn Davidson’s 2,700 kilometre trek from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean. Walking in tow with four camels and her jet-black canine companion ‘Diggity’, her motivations for the journey remain refreshingly ambiguous throughout.

Sponsored by National Geographic, her trip is frequently interrupted by a bubbly photographer named Rick. While this character feels more like a contrivance than an organic part of the story, he provides an interesting counterpoint to Robyn’s reclusive nature—subverting predictable plot developments in the process.

If Tracks sometimes feels like it’s dragging its feet, that’s the feeling of a storyteller in no hurry to arrive at a destination. Its longueurs, while sometimes frustrating, impart Robyn’s exhaustive journey. Consequently, Curran is able to elicit an aching loneliness in Robyn and the landscape that would’ve gone undetected had he felt the need to move at a brash pace.

Mia Wasikowska is smartly cast as Robyn, creating equilibrium between stubborn independence and repressed vulnerability, a balance she has competently handled in past roles (see 2013’s Stoker). Adam Driver is also effective as Rick, departing from his small screen persona in HBO’s Girls for something a little more jovial and accessible.

Tracks ultimately achieves an inspiring, if depressing beauty in Robyn’s journey. Escaping the rat race and embracing the unknown is an idea we all harmlessly flirt with from time to time; but people like Robyn—the outliers who exist on the fringes of our world—remain fascinatingly unknowable to us.

Curran welcomes this fascination, and is intelligent enough to accept the mystery.

Thanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for providing the opportunity to review this film.

By Sebastian Moore

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