The Grand Budapest Hotel-Capsule Review

Grand Budapest 2014Though I’ve not been a huge fan of Wes Anderson’s work in the past, The Grand Budapest Hotel stands out from the rest of his work. My love of independent films doesn’t extend to simply art for pseudo-art’s sake, or in Anderson’s case, a grindingly slow and bizarre plot or a set of circumstances staged with a cast of bizarre characters littering the landscape. But in Grand Budapest, there seems to be a wink and a nod to the type of extremes seen in most indy films and Anderson’s in particular. There is a running cast of A-list actors peppered throughout that reminds one of Hitchcock’s placement in all of his films. Again, a wink and a nod to an earlier era in filmmaking.
Ralph Fiennes is a pleasant surprise as the lead, playing a fastidiously effeminate type of leading man…Not just anyone could carry this character off. Fiennes is surprisingly funny and poignant at the same time as the eccentric head concierge M. Gustave in the mythic Grand Budapest Hotel. The plot centers around the death of an older patron of the hotel, one that Fiennes character knew well. (Tilda Swinton in a small gem of a role)
Most of the parts are small gems set in the jewel of the Budapest hotel setting. The artistic placement of each shot is not lost on the viewer. Each scene is set as if in a storyboard with an imaginary artist’s palette framing the scene. It works wonderfully to convey the image of a lost time and the type of individual isolation used to describe most of the characters. There is a chase scene leading fittingly to a museum, where the characters are shown with individual shots of the museum pieces entering into the spirit and the framework of the film and becoming an integral part of the plot.
This is a film I would recommend for anyone to see at the movies. But now that it is released on DVD, it’s still worth the time it takes to savor the artistry of the film and drink in the scenery. This is a beautifully shot and artistically crafted piece of work

Magic in the Moonlight-Capsule Review

Magic in moonlight pix 2014Magic in the Moonlight is Woody Allen’s newest film. His choice of leading man, Colin Firth, is an inspired one. Firth’s ability to channel the cynicism and power of the rant that Allen perfected is shown in the opening sequence. But the film is paced rather too slowly, and it seems to fizzle in the second half. However the cinematography is gorgeous, with scenes from the South of France and Provence region overtaking most of the thin gruel of a plot.
Allen has been fascinated with magic in film in some of his more successful screenplays-Shadows & Fog comes to mind. In Magic, the central plot deals with a magician attempting to defraud and expose a medium. The idea that a character, Colin Firth’s magician, is attempting to expose this young medium, played by Emma Stone, is not enough to carry the 100-minute film. In the past, Allen has used various sub-plots in the same way that Shakespeare would weave his complex plots together to create artistic masterpieces. The interest of the main characters was always supported by the props of colorful characters surrounding even the thinnest of plots. In this case, the action is carried by the one story line of the medium and Firth’s attempt to expose her.
The sets and characters are gorgeously presented, and like a banquet laid out before us, we expect to dine on one of Woody Allen’s classic comedies. In this case, to those of us who have followed his career, it’s painfully obvious that Woody Allen’s bag of cinematic tricks is definitely on the decline. This is not his best work, yet there are some glimpses of his former glory within the film. Firth’s Aunt Vanessa, played by Eileen Atkins, is one delightful surprise.
Go and see Magic in the Moonlight only if you love Woody Allen comedies. Or better still, rent Shadows & Fog to see Allen working at the top of his game

Hollywood reports worst box office numbers in over a decade


mgm-1943 stable of starsI hate to say “I told you so” but….the evidence is clear. Hollywood is reporting the worst box office numbers in over a decade. The reason? You don’t have to be a genius to figure that out… the movies aren’t very good. Most of them are downright awful. The remakes aren’t good either, and some of the original films were not worth re-making. But the projects are given the green light based solely on what sells tickets overseas. The writers with original ideas are now working for cable shows on the small screen. That is the wave of the future.

My recommendation continues to be: Watch classic films on the small screen or look for cable programs to see new and innovative content. I’m excited about Director Steven Soderbergh’s latest project coming to Cinemax-The Knick with Clive Owen. I’m still waiting to see Calvary, which has gotten pretty good press. The other success story of the summer is , a film that took ten years to create. Not much chance of a sequel on that one anytime soon! The films in the latter part of the summer that I’ve seen and reviewed continue to be classics from the vaults of Hollywood.

About Woody Allen

Woody Allen pixWoody Allen has a new movie out –Magic in the Moonlight. This is not a review of the film, that is coming soon. Instead, I wanted to address some of the serious charges that were made about Mr. Allen. -MLJ

The news about the charge of child molestation is distressing.I’ll admit I had heard of the unusual circumstances surrounding his marriage. His dysfunctional family relations and the very public breakup with Mia Farrow were all public knowledge. But this is different. These new allegations were not the same. To be fair to Allen, he denies the charge and credits the allegations to the spiteful and vengeful nature of his ex, Mia Farrow.

My thinking is this. On the one hand, the morality of Hollywood actors and artists generally do not correlate with the rest of America. They tend to live more like Old World Europe combined with the Good ‘Ol Boy Mentality reminiscent of the bygone era of Big Studio bosses. There is plenty of arrogance, easy money, amorality and occasionally unethical behavior found in New Hollywood. But not quite like this

In Woody Allen’s case, avant garde Upper East Side is mixed with an amoral (or nonexistent) value system. His personality bordering between narcissism and nihilism was no surprise. But the child molestation charge was. It is not to be dismissed or put aside lightly. Not in the wake of the Joe Paterno scandal. At times, power can indeed turn a blind eye to corruption and evil. Yet he was never convicted of a crime. And unlike Michael Jackson, he was never charged nor tried for the alleged crime. That does not mean he is innocent.

The point is this. His work should stand apart. So many of the greats of Hollywood were really not nice men-not warm and fuzzy people. They were hard working, masters of their craft with many admirable traits which seldom included being loving husbands and fathers (some exceptions, of course.)

It has to be acknowledged at this point that Woody Allen is a genius. You cannot fault actors for wanting to work with him. Many may not have known or accepted this charge of child molestation. And in the end, he must answer to a higher authority. We have not been called to judge him Yet in the court of public opinion, we have done just that The verdict is in. Allen is seen at best as a weird guy and at worst, a monster of sorts disguised as a comical and harmless schlep. In the realm of art and in the world of film criticism, his work still stands alone. His body of work matters to film critics and movie buffs. The play’s the thing in the artists world view.

In the real world, we must make our own decisions about this man. He’s not the first talented Hollywood director with this charge leveled against him. In the case of Roman Polanski, the difference was that Polanski was convicted and yet his accuser eventually forgave him. In Allen’s case, the reverse is true. Although there was evidence to proceed, Allen was never charged nor convicted of a crime .More importantly, his accuser, his adopted daughter, did NOT forgive him of the crime-after all these years. There lies the problem. The pain is still real for her many years later. That is the truth and a sad reality-the pain is real and doesn’t fade away.

Flame on, Robin Williams

Robin Williams 2014The funny thing about Robin Williams death is that it is a shocking thing. It does not surprise us that he died, but the fact that he was able to stem the light from such a great ball of energy that was his existence is shocking for most of us. We knew him, and felt we knew him, because he made himself accessible to all of us.
He was so vulnerable and sweet, that even the most cynical and cutting of comments that he made came out in a rush of love and humor and little-boy badness. No one could fault him for telling the truth. He was who he was. He was a great talent and a troubled soul. Warts and all, we could see in his eyes the light of that sweet and vulnerable soul.
I’m reminded of a comedian on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show talking about the Crocodile Hunter’s death. Although it was tragic, the comic said, “For a Crocodile Hunter, 42 is a ripe old age!” In retrospect, Robin Williams lived to the fullest for the 63 years we knew him on this Earth. He burned so brightly that the light was bound to flame out. That is the curse of genius and the blessing. We are lucky to have known such a man through his work. Flame on forever, Robin. You may find some peace and a place to lay your weary head.