Archive for March, 2014

Checking In To The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

A Wes Anderson film is always going to look like a Wes Anderson film, creating a consistency that die hard fans have come to love, and critics might find exhausting. Anderson’s latest offering, The Grand Budapest Hotel, relies on many of the familiar Anderson-isms that we have come to expect of the director: vivid colors, outlandish characters, plot twists that remain whimsical even when exploring dark territory, and sets that look lovingly and painstakingly hand designed. I could probably get away with ending my review there; if you like Wes Anderson’s aesthetic, you’ll enjoy The Grand Budapest Hotel, and if you find it tedious, you should probably skip it.

Boom. Review done, under 200 words.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Okay, for those of you still reading, you might be looking for something a bit more substantive, and I am quite happy to oblige. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a story inside of a story inside of a story, creating a narrative that presents itself as a cinematic Russian nesting doll. Our framing story is that of an author recounting his most notable interview; that interview, in turn, is of a successful citizen of the fictional country of Zubrowka who tells the story of his time as the lobby boy of the Grand Budapest Hotel in the 1930s. Fortunately, Anderson doesn’t spend too much time on either framing story, spending most of his time with the lobby boy and his mentor, M. Gustave, avoiding what could have made for a confusing set of timelines. Read the rest of this entry »

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Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

Elaine Stritch

Like most writers, I try to find an entertaining hook or an interesting angle for each piece I write. As I prepared to write this review of Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, a documentary chronicling the life, career, and vivacity of a Broadway and Hollywood legend, my initial instinct was to focus on Elaine herself. After all, at 87 years of age, Elaine Stritch continues to live a fascinating life, performing one-woman musical shows, and making waves dropping F bombs on the set of ‘Today’ with Kathie Lee and Hota. Elaine is a badass who lives her life by a no bullshit policy that somehow makes her refreshing instead of caustic.

We’ll get back to Elaine in a moment, though. The most important thing I can impart to my readers about Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is just how spot-on director and producer Chiemi Karasawa’s instincts are in the creation of this documentary. Karasawa  avoids unnecessary voice-overs and narration, allowing interviews with Elaine herself to carry the narrative of the documentary. When producing a documentary about a woman as full of vigor and charm as Stritch, allowing anyone else to tell her tale would be a disservice to the audience. Sure, Karasawa interweaves short interview segments with colleagues and friends, but these pieces are not meant to tell Stritch’s story as much as to provide framework and structure for the segments featuring Stritch herself to flourish.  Read the rest of this entry »

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The Bag Man: Better Left Unopened

The Bag ManYou know that thing that happens when you make a photocopy, and then photocopy that photocopy, and you end up with a copy that comes nowhere near the quality of the original document? Well, the 2014 crime thriller The Bag Man, starring John Cusack, fits this description perfectly, presenting itself as a second-rate imitation of a mid-90s Quentin Tarantino flick. By itself, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Early Tarantino films combined quirky, charismatic characters with witty dialogue and dangerous situations in such a way as to always be interesting. The Bag Man tries to recreate this formula without understanding why the individual elements are necessary or how to craft them properly, churning out an end product that is somehow tedious and ponderous despite the numerous ‘what the fuck’ moments the film hurls at us.

The first sixty seconds of The Bag Man sets up the film’s relatively simple plot: crime lord Dragna (Robert De Niro) wants a criminal named Jack (John Cusack) to pick up a mysterious bag, check in to a seedy motel, and protect the bag in exchange for a hefty sum of money. Cusack only has one instruction: under no circumstances is he to look inside the bag. Once at the motel, things devolve into violence quickly as Cusack faces a rogue’s gallery of weird and quirky characters, including a blue-haired prostitute with potentially deceptive intentions, a dwarf in a track suit, a pimp with an eyepatch, Crispin Glover, and a squad of corrupt cops hell-bent on stopping him. Set amidst the gun fights and the double-dealing, the audience is drawn through the story wondering what’s in the box bag. Read the rest of this entry »

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