King Arthur: Legend of the Sword starts with elephants the size of castles and ends with snakes the size of rivers and there isn’t much sandwiched in between that’s any less ridiculous. A monochromatic mess replete with sketchy, video game-esque CGI and an often out of focus, mangled 3D conversion, Guy Ritchie’s bonkers fantasy film ditches the legend of the sword in the stone of yore for something that feels equally indebted to Heavy Metal and Shadow of Mordor cut scenes. Read More
Like Funyuns, Melissa McCarthy is an acquired taste. In her least delicate projects, she vaults around the frame, sharting and cursing to the apparent delight of squealing audiences that I just don’t relate to. Even in Paul Feig‘s Spy – a film that affords her at least an attempt at a three-dimensional character – a wide margin of the comedy is rooted in McCarthy’s heft and just how riotous it is to see a fat lady try to do normal lady things. Tee-hee. Read More
Like Funyuns, Melissa McCarthy is an acquired taste. In her least delicate projects, she vaults around the frame, sharting and cursing to the apparent delight of squealing audiences that I just don’t relate to. Even in Paul Feig‘s Spy – a film that affords her at least an attempt at a three-dimensional character – a wide margin of the comedy is rooted in McCarthy’s heft and just how riotous it is to see a fat lady try to do normal lady things. Tee-hee.
As with McCarthy projects past, Spy projects a cipher of reality in which fantastical things transpire in the name of “comedy.” McCarthy attempts to mount a European motorbike but it flops over. In footage showing her spy academy training, she flips and rolls with the best of them before punching nuts like a cracked-up monkey. She even fails to glide over the roof of an automobile in a scene literally aped from Feig’s The Heat. It’s funny because she’s fat and little more. I wish there were more to it than that, but there’s not.
With Bridesmaids, The Heat and now Spy behind them and Ghostbusters on the horizon, Feig and McCarthy have cooked up some kind of unbreakable collaborative bond. Their partnership is odd to say the least – being betwixt an aged, three-piece wearing gentleman and a scuzzy, willing-to-do-anything plumpette – but like other talented individuals who have failed to see their way out of a faltering relationship (ahem, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton), Feig and McCarthy continue to be just the bee’s knees to one another. Feig’s gushing introduction of McCarthy at the SXSW premiere (“My favorite person in the world”) left little to doubt as to the kinship shared between the two. It’s all good to be BFFs but maybe a skosh of constructive criticism wouldn’t hurt.
Consider the face-palming failure that was McCarthy’s long-gestated dream project (Tammy). With that in mind, I for one have serious doubts for McCarthy’s comic sensibilities and with what I’ve seen of her – from Identity Theft to Tammy – I just don’t see the comic star that some envision her as. It’s true that Feig once lead her to a (totally undeserved) Oscar nomination but maybe it’s time for this red sea to part ways. Because underneath the failures of Spy is evidence that both McCarthy and Feig have the ability to thrive, if only they could get out of each other’s way.
The film opens with an extremely on-the-nose James Bond tip-of-the-hat with agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) tossing a well-populated mansion in search of a nuclear weapon. From a distance, McCarthy’s Susan Cooper provides tech support – altering Fine of incoming henchmen and advising him which rooms to duck into for cover. When Fine uncovers the big bad, he pulls a Vince Vega and accidentally turns the man’s brains to crimson mashed potatoes. For what it’s worth, the sequence is disarmingly cutesy and sinfully hilarious and it reminds one why Law was once considered to play James Bond.
Throughout the film, Feig’s actions sequences are surprisingly strong in their glossy execution but, unlike celebrated contemporary Edgar Wright, Feig doesn’t know really know how to pull off physical comedy on camera. Rather, his shots supposedly attain comedic effect because McCarthy’s too big to be pulling off the stunt or she pukes after she does them. While Wright uses clever visual cues, camera movements and framing to deliver a rare form of in-camera comedy, Feig’s films just throw in the kitchen sink, crams his camera in the space and lets it roll without a taste for subtlety or a mastery of his craft.
You likely wouldn’t believe me if I told you but the comic king of Spy comes in the shape of Jason Statham – an agent who talks a big game but lacks almost entirely in follow through. His lofty opinion of himself has him showering us with a list of prior accomplishments – “I was dead for five minutes one time,” “I once had my arm ripped completely off…and reattached it with my other arm,” etc. – and, surprising though it may be, he pulls off the deadpan bit with hearty aplomb.
Miranda Hart, Allison Janney and Bobby Cannavale all bounce in and out of the picture at one point of another, providing very little in terms of actual comedy while Rose Byrne as an ice-cold vixen with an atom-bomb up for sale actually packs in a few nice laughs. A brief interlude with Zach Woods make me grin and showed that Feig was maybe even willing to challenge his status quo with a little gore but it’s a promise that stands unfulfilled. Over and over again, Feig returns to McCarthy and how she looks like a lonely cat lady, or a mini-van driving mom, or a coupon-clipper and ha, ha, look she’s trying to do something not totally lame! Let’s point the camera and laugh at her. Were I McCarthy, the oft mocking material would slice a chink in the ol’ self esteem armor and, personally, it’s hard to watch her knocked down again and again even if we know redemption is surely in the cards.
In large part due to smarmy secondary characters the likes of Law, Statham and Bryne, Spy does slip in some low laughs, sometimes even at the hands of McCarthy. And though I get the sense that this is supposed to be empowering – as if McCarthy score one for the girls when she doesn’t inevitably f*ck everything up – but, if we’re being honest, I don’t know if I buy it. As Melissa McCarthy and Miranda Hart celebrate their victory with a “girl’s night out”, the intention to pander towards female audiences is grossly obvious in what is essentially a reheated formula of the Feig/McCarthy machine that we’ve seen before. Having digested Spy, I feel as if I can forecast exactly what is in store for the all-female Ghostbusters; fat jokes, slightly funny improv comedy and female failures turned female success stories. And maybe a kitten sweatshirts or two for good measure.
Bozer, loser Dom Hemingway may be renown for his safe-cracking fingers, but they don’t get an entire soliloquy dedicated to them like his little Dom does. In riotous, far-out hyperbolization, a madcap Jude Law as Dom describes his lowers bits with the candid immodesty of a Manson Family member. The camera jammed tight in his spittle-frothing face, he professes his undying love for his nethers. His Johnson is his fleshy David, his uncut Mona Lisa, his pube-riddled Sistine Chapel. It’s his masterpiece. You don’t hear of screenwriting lessons that teach starting a movie on a three minute penis-focused speech but after Dom Hemingway, they should. It’s a glorious beginning, a magnificently off-kilter snickerfest and character magnification that showcases Law’s brilliance in the role and the boldly misanthropic directions writer/director Richard Shepard is willing to take us. Oh and it turns out that during this whole sequence, Hemingway is being orally pleasured by a dude with a cheap mexistach. The movie could have ended there and been an A+.
After Hemingway receives prison-grounds fellatio, talking through the whole sexventure, we’re given a rock-hard idea of who he is and the extent of his unscrupulousness. He’s the kind of guy who answers phone calls during sex or cuts you off and then gives you the finger or waxes philosophy on his junk while his prison bitch is forced to satiate him. That meticulously claustrophobic, tantalizingly verbose opening scene is our window into Dom’s mordant soul. In his eccentric vernacular, everything is a delicious metaphor, a roundabout simile caked in cusses and c-words. In another world, he may have been a poet. In this one, he’s getting blowies from dudes in lockup. Such is life.
Outside the prison walls, he dresses like a booze cruise skipper and stomps around town with the purpose of an avenging cuckold. The first thing he does after release is clomp to the auto shop to brutally beat down the man who married his ex-wife. Dom’s actions are that of a world-class megalomaniac with a chip the size of a hatchet on his shoulder. There he stands with bloody hands over the man who raised his bastard daughter and took care of his heart-broken wife. 12 years waiting didn’t work for her so she moved on. Dom, in this and other matters, has not.
He’s a man out of touch with the world. From iPhones to women’s rights, he’s can’t seem to navigate what has become of the world he once was the cream of the crop of. From one scene to the next, it’s Hemingway’s inability to cipher the world of prison rules from outside civilization that gets him so quickly into deep doo-doo. His uncaged loquaciousness is both his charm and his worst enemy, a truth known by colleague and unlikely friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant). While Dom whittled away years in the joint for keeping his uncommonly large trap shut, Dickie whispers assurances of fortune and glory upon his release. Cue a wonderfully tense meeting of the minds as Dom comes face-to-fact with would-be benefactor, Mr. Evan Fontaine, played by the always terrifying Demian Bichir. As Hemingway helplessly unleashes volleys of libelous offense, we see just how much of a big fish in a small pond he is. In everything, the Dom Hemingway model is outdated.
All that transpires up to here makes for a riotous first half but there’s a notable turning point where penance starts to take hold and everything that makes Dom such an parasitically compelling character start to fade to lighter hues and knee-bending. Law never loses hold of his commanding presence but the script steers him in directions that we would have rather it forsaken. We’ve seen the man trying to win back his family back (even if their family doesn’t include a tragically-hip-haircut-sporting Emilia Clarke) and it fits the ravager Dom like a three-dollar suit.
Suffering from my ‘daughter hates me’ woes, Hemingway looks like a Cocker Spaniel with junk clogging its eyes. He’s a pitiable lunk whose legacy will measure up to his effusive tenure in prison and a propensity to crack out-of-date safes. In the age of electronic everything, even his specialization has outdated him.
As Shepard weaves the character of a bygone criminal braggart into a head-hanging old fool “alone and full of regret”, the bittersweet lark loses its bite. But I guess that’s the point. At some junction, we reassess life, and usually only in circumstances forced upon us. We can’t fight battles of the future with the weapons of the past. Regrettably, Dom Hemingway’s life reassessment feels a bit too much like a guy getting a vasectomy but at least it allowed Jude Law the most daffy, bombastic and peculiarly distinguished performance of his career. For a movie that starts about a guy spewing about the glory of his ding-dong, by the end, everyone’s got him by the balls.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Lea Seydoux, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Mathieu Amalric, Tom Wilkinson
Fiennes, Brody, Dafoe, Goldblum, Murray, Law, Swinton, Ronan, Norton, Keitel, Schwartzman, Seydoux, Wilson, Balaban, Amalric, Wilkinson. Wes Anderson‘s latest may have more big names working for it than ever before but their characters are more paper thin than they’ve been, more fizzle than tonic, more Frankenstein’s creations than humans. His company of regulars – joined by a vast scattering of newbies – are relegated to playing furniure-chomping bit roles, filling the shoes of cartoonish sketches, slinking in long shadows of characters. From Willem Dafoe‘s brutish, brass-knuckled Jopling to a caked-up and aged Tilda Swinton, gone are the brooding and calculated, flawed and angsty but always relatable characters of Wes yore. In their place, a series of dusty cardboard cutouts; fun but irrevocably inhuman.
Here in 2014, Anderson’s ability to attract such a gathering of marquee names to his eccentric scripts has never been as potent. He’s a talent magnet and his tractor beam is set to high. It’s just too bad that this gathering of the juggalos is as caricaturesque as they are (arguable even more than the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox). But what can you expect when your face is painted up and you’re dressed like a Slovenian underground fashion show. Upon dissecting what he’s got to offer, the seemingly indelible Wes Anderson appeal is as clear as day.
In the jungle of Hollywood, roles are mostly relegated one of two ways: the tentpole blockbusters, where characters are written like ham steaks – vessels for plot diversions, jukeboxes for one-liners, sarcophagi for the next action scene – and the smaller budgeted “independent” movie, wherein the tone is usually somber, the scenery is left unchewed, and emotional preparation ought to be through the roof. Anderson’s films flirt a very thin middle ground, a Bermuda triangle between indie cred and mainstream. To his credit, it looks like a blast.
Inside his pictures, Anderson’s stars are afforded a chance to play dress up in the midst of gorgeous sets at exciting locales. What’s not to love? Plus, this particular project had an added advantage: European travel. For these thespians, being a part of Anderson’s playground is like being a kid again. However, their childishness is more apparent here than in any of Anderson’s finest work (save for maybe Moonrise Kingdom). But through the haze of these colorful yet superficial oddities shines Ralph Fiennes‘ Monsieur Gustave, a beacon of complexity in an otherwise skin-deep cast of characters.
Gustave is a relic of the past. He’s an icon of chivalry, a servant dedicated to his craft, a well-groomed pet for his adoring clientele. He sluts it up for the elderly ladies who pass through his hotel (but he enjoys it too, so he tells us), making him a bit of a tourist attraction in himself. A hot springs for wilting feminine physiques, Gustave becomes the recipient of a pricy artifact (an ironic art piece called “Boy with Apple” – the customary brand of wry Anderson platitudes) when one of his doting golden-agers (Swinton) bites the dust. With her family trying to discredit him and blame the murder his way, Gustave must go on the run.
The cat and mouse, European romp to follow is as much an episode of Tom and Jerry as it is The Great Escape. Fiennes’ soulful gravitas brings immeasurable life to what is otherwise a series of cartoonish escape plots and hijinks. Anderson’s offerings are easy to consume and his persnickety eye for detail and Fiennes’ brilliant performance brings life by the pound to the otherwise far-fetched proceedings.
In this recent turn in his career, Wes Anderson has almost becoming a mockery of Wes Anderson. Though I thoroughly enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel it lacks the rounded emotional honesty of his pre-Fox efforts. He’s lost the intellectual intensity he had going in Rushmore, The Royal Tenanbaums and (I know I’m in the minority here) Darjeeling Limited, largely replaced by quirk by the bucket and enough billable names to make your head spin. Nevertheless, Fiennes is magical; a perfect vessel for Andersonisms, the savior of the show.
As an obsessive Wes Anderson fan, I relish in any piece of his inspired artwork, so while most posters don’t really get me excited, this one for The Grand Budapest Hotel does for all of its Wes Anderson-esque goodness. While I rather enjoyed his last film, Moonrise Kingdom, it was hardly one of my favorite of his and I’m excited to see Anderson return to the adult world. As always, he’s got a cast and crew to be oogled with season Anderson loyalites Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton and Adrien Brody will join Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan, Mathieu Amalric, Lea Seydoux, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Wilkinson, and newcomer Tony Revolori.
Although little is known about the film, the plot description per IMDB details:
“A famous hotel’s legendary concierge strikes up a friendship with a young employee who becomes his trusted protégé.”
For me, Anderson’s best films come from with exploring themes of wounded humanity. Films like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Darjeeling Limited are as deeply tragic as they are comedic and I’m hoping for something of the same from his latest without quite as much snarky childhood wist as his last two, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom.
With this first poster debut, we can hopefully expect a full synposis or trailer in the near future.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is directed by Wes Anderson and stars Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan, Mathieu Amalric, Lea Seydoux, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Wilkinson, and Tony Revolori. It will hit theaters sometime in 2014.