Sunday, March 16, 2014

Grand Budapest Hotel, Enemy, Tim's Vermeer Reviews

Grand Budapest Hotel
Dir. Wes Anderson
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Wes Anderson is one of those directors whose singular vision is so strong, most criticism falls to pure taste.  For his eighth feature film, he yet again delivers a painterly-perfect film, shot with vibrant colors, immaculate set design, very precise camera movements, rich costume design, and just about every big-name star that could fit under one roof.  This particular roof belongs to the Grand Budpest Hotel - the goings-on of which we are presented Inception-style via three different timelines.  The "main" story takes place in 1932, in the fictional nation of Zubrowka, where M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) steal the painting "Boy with Apple," the prize object of a family fortune (headed by an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton in old lady makeup).  What follows is part-heist, part-slapstick, part-dissemblance of the nature of storytelling that is obsessed with its own quirkiness.

Now, don't get me wrong, if you consider yourself a Wes Anderson fan, you'll probably love The Grand Budpest Hotel; it's got everything you expect (to the point where it's almost a parody of itself) and as an added bonus is surprisingly violent at times - but I just couldn't get into it.  This type of ultra-quirk simply doesn't make me laugh or excited, and while I can appreciate the craftsmanship that went into producing this strange little vibrant caper, I just did not care about the plot or characters enough to be invested.  Anderson's work always feels a little too artificial to me - with his symmetrical compositions and an ultra-clean look - almost as if we're looking at a dollhouse instead of an actual hotel.  And while it was interesting to frame the story in this "meta" narrative, it seemed to me more like Anderson making a comment on his own work and how he "borrowed" ideas from other artists to make them his own (one scene in particular is ripped right from Hitchcock).  I'm sure the film is brilliantly constructed if you peel back the layers and analyze it, but on a personal level, I just found the film too...Wes Anderson-y.

Rating: C+

Dir. Denis Villeneuve
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The last time director Denis Villeneuve and Prince of Persia Jake Gyllenhaal got together, they made one of my favorite films of last year, Prisoners, so as you could imagine, I was eager to see what they'd come up with next.  Enemy is another thriller, this time about a history teacher who finds his doppelganger in the background of a movie rental and decides to track him down.  The events that follow after that I can't explain to you.  Not for spoiler reasons, but I actually have no idea what the fuck I watched.  While I'm certain there are meanings to the madness that is Enemy (the film even begins with the quote "Chaos is order yet undeciphered"), this is one of those head-scratchers that will leave you with nothing but questions by the end.  This film is very cold, humorless, and at no point will it hold your hand through this mess.  If you're really into this kind of challenging filmmaking (such as Upstream Color or Primer), you may find yourself fascinated, but I personally found it frustrating and unrewarding to sit through.  While it's certainly unique, and has one of the most inexplicably freaky endings to a film I've ever seen, I ultimately found this too much of a slog, and none of the characters have much spark to them.

Rating: C-

Tim's Vermeer
Dir. Teller
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I've always been a huge Penn & Teller fan (I was even lucky enough to see them in Vegas!), so I definitely made an effort to check out Teller's directorial debut.  Tim's Vermeer, though, isn't about the magician duo at all - it's about Penn's close friend Tim Jenison, the inventor of various TV equipment (Video Toaster, TriCaster), who in his spare time became fascinated with the 17th century artist Johannes Vermeer and how closely his paintings resembled video in how they portrayed reality.  The film is essentially Tim's painstaking 6-year journey in trying to reproduce one of Vermeer's classic works using techniques that could have been used in that time period to uncover the mystery plaguing art historians for centuries: how did Vermeer paint his paintings?  Although the documentary had some noticeably amateurish mistakes (such as camera people appearing in mirrors and an inconsistent video/audio quality), I absolutely loved this film.  Much like Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this is about a man driven to perfection, while also bringing to mind what exactly makes art "art."  I think anyone with even a passing interest in art or just people who have ever been obsessed over their own work should connect with this very interesting, funny, even moving film.

Rating: A-

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