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Film: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014)

Not sure what I can say about this film, other than I was too quick to judge it. I’ve never quite got the measure of director Wes Anderson. I have fond memories of “The Royal Tenenbaums”, but I think then it may have been the galaxy of famous actors in it, and now it might be nostalgia playing its part. I might give it another go soon.

the grand budapest hotel“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” I remember less fondly, though (and I forget he directed this), “Fantastic Mr Fox” is superb and I recommend you watch it right away. But needless to say, Wes has a distinctive style, and can attract big-named actors like flypaper.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, set in the fictitious and mountainous nation of Zubrowka, it recounts a period in the life of the titular hotel’s renowned concierge, Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), as told by his apprentice Zero (Tony Revolori, who curiously doesn’t have a Wikipedia page yet). After a wealthy customer (a dessicated Tilda Swinton) dies and bequeathes something of great value to her beloved Gustave, her outraged family take every chance to settle the matters of the deceased’s estate in their favour.

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Film: “Great Expectations” (2012)

Oh you know I’m going to make some joke on the title, don’t you? I can’t resist. So anyway, I had high hopes for this one (…). I’ve had reasonable success with the latest crop of adaptations of classic novels, but I’m pretty sure this is the first Dickens one I’ve seen (apart from the various A Christmas Carol adaps). I like these sort of films, I get to spend a bit of time with my sister, whose boyfriend wouldn’t dream of seeing something without a robot, superhero, robot superhero, or at the very least several explosions. Above all, we get the warming glow of smugness that comes with watching any high-brow film, deservedly or not.

Great Expectations movie poster

I was a little worried at the 3-hour runtime of the film, though this turned out to be a surprising typo in the cinema listings when the film finished 2/3 through. It did feel like 2 hours, but not necessarily in a bad way.

If anything, I think the pacing is my main criticism. The start doesn’t rush itself, but perhaps could have been a little tightened up. Actually I would have rather preferred a slightly longer film, as my main problem was the flood of plot exposition we get at the end of the third quarter. Too much to take in, and this is a rather crucial part of the story. That aside, it looked the part. Bleak countryside, revolting London, I didn’t feel like I was watching a movie set at any moment.

Jeremy Irvine’s “Pip” worked really well; dashingly handsome and emotively played. Young Pip was played by Jeremy’s kid brother too, he was pretty good (though I never get on with child actors that well). Opposite Jeremy was Holliday Grainger from “The Borgias” as Estella. She did well as the cold-hearted love interest, and I did get the sense of that inner conflict during her scenes. Did feel a bit odd that she was barely there for large parts of the film, but I guess that’s the book!

I hate to say she’s typecast, but is Helena Bonham Carter ever going to get tired of playing mental-looking ghoul women? That said, she’s got that nailed, and her Miss Haversham was always a scene-stealer. I was a little shocked at how the woman in the row ahead of me found Miss Haversham’s last scene so hilarious. I won’t say what happens, but WTF?! Bit of a moment-killer I think, shut up bitch!

The supporting cast did a good job, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, even Tamsin Outhwaite’s surprising appearance, first time I’ve seen her since Eastenders! Not too heavy going in the end, but just hard to keep up with in places.

PS if you freak out about spoilers, don’t watch this trailer. It’s not that bad, but I personally feel it gives a bit too much away.

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Movie: “Skyfall” (2012) – No spoilers please, we’re English

BOND IS BACK! BUY THIS WATCH! AND THIS PHONE WHILE YOU’RE AT IT. Or so the extensive marketing would like us to think. It’s difficult to get any sense of what you are expecting from a film when you’re bombarded with so much opinion from every side. Fortunately I managed to tune most of it out, in the process being able to grasp the idea that companies want to advertise products, and I don’t need to go off on one every time I see Daniel Craig drinking a Heineken or using a Sony Vaio etc.

Anyway, is Bond back? Yes, I’m pleased to say he is. By this, I mean that Skyfall felt like a Bond film again, the first time I’ve felt like that since Die Another Day. Yes I know those invisible cars were a bit much but get over it, it happened. I’m sure Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were all well and good, but I felt like the fact that James Bond was the main character was almost incidental. The ‘dark reboot’ had thrown the baby out with the bath water, in my opinion.

So in this 50th anniversary year (did you know? It’s been quite LOW-KEY), I was pleased that it re-attached the franchise to its roots, focusing on big characters: Bond and M primarily, with a new Q that might take some time to settle, and some other blasts from the past thrown in for good measure (and soapy-style twists). There was even a baddie with a refreshingly simple motive: revenge. No trying to sterilise the world with deadly orchids from space, or starting wars to sell newspapers etc.

But it’s not business as usual – the gadgets were pointedly kept to a minimum, the plot was uncharacteristically un-international for the most part (most of the air miles were racked up in the first half). We also got a rather key divergence from the status quo at the end (no, I won’t tell), and even an origin story for a well-known character. Background on Bond’s early life are flirted with but never really explored, I think.

Anyway, there was plenty of action, though perhaps it was less reliant on flashy set-pieces than you would expect. In that respect it felt more like one of the older Bond movies than the Brosnan days I am so fond of. Home Alone seemed an unlikely source of inspiration, and yet there was a sequence very much reminiscent of just that!

I’m yet to warm to Daniel Craig’s Bond much, he’s just too serious – continually frowning intently at everything in his path. Ben Whishaw’s Q was again a little too serious. Plenty of wit was traded, but he just seemed so far from the comforting grandfatherly Qs of yesteryear. He was just a bit too blasé about the peril he was subjecting Bond to, it just didn’t work for me. But give him time. Naomi Harris’s field agent (no spoilers!) was pleasant but a little nothingy. Hopefully she’ll get time to blossom too.

Villainous Javier Bardem made for an eye-catching and entertaining baddie, but he just sort of fizzled out. What was his ultimate aim? What was his plan after that? It just confused me a bit really, he was very determined and smart, but… then what? Still, at least I remembered his face, which is more than I could say about most adversaries in the previous two films. I am a little critical of a common lazy choice in movies – just establishing how smart someone is doesn’t feel like a sufficient justification that they are able to do anything the plot demands. Admittedly it wasn’t as bluntly apparent here as it was in the latest Sherlock movie, but still.

But the star this time had to be Judi Dench’s M. She really was the pivotal character this time around, and while I’m not sure what would qualify her for an Oscar nomination, aside from services to looking stony-faced, she is a compelling character, and I’m pleased to see a lot more interplay between her and Bond instead of just being stuck at HQ.

Ugh I want to say more but too many SPOILERS! On nit-picks, there was a particularly eye-popping catastrophe caused in London that seemed to get practically no attention, almost simply serving as a full-stop for the scene. Did that mean nothing to everyone? Also the non MI6 ‘Bond Girl’ (i.e. mid-film shag) was basically a sex slave, kidnapped as a child – was it really appropriate to go and fuck her at the first available opportunity? What a gent!

That said, this will surely be the benchmark Bond movie for the new era, and for me it was easily the best Daniel Craig Bond movie, just a different feel entirely from the other two, and has refreshed my enthusiasm for the franchise. I’d call that mission accomplished, wouldn’t you?

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