The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)


I was bored the other night and this film was literally the first thing to pop up on Netflix. So I thought I’d give it a try although I was pretty sure I would not like it. I have never seen any of Wes Anderson’s films. His films look pretentious and weird and … I still feel the same way after seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel. But, I did like the movie more than I thought I would.
The most enjoyable aspect of the movie for me was all the cameos from great character actors. Each time I saw someone new I got a thrill. Tom Wilkinson! Jude Law!
Jude Law was great in his brief role. But I absolutely hated the way he narrated some of his scenes with “he said,” “then I said,” It just pissed me off. I’m watching a movie, not listening to someone read out a book.
The humor in this movie is just too weird for me. Most of the time I didn’t even giggle (and I usually laugh at everything). Although there was one moment I absolutely loved.


Oh God I laughed and laughed. So funny.


I also thought Adrien Brody was great, he is such a talented actor who isn’t in nearly enough movies. Vampire Alien Queen Tilda Swinton was also great in her brief role.
I don’t understand why everyone else seems to think this movie is so great. The humor mixed with such violence and darkness…it really put me off. There are some fine performances from the actors, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is too bizarre for me to really enjoy. 6/10.

Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)


“A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.” This motto adorns Riggan Thomson’s mirror in his dressing room. It applies quite well to his personal story as well as the film that documents his attempt to regain recognition and respect. Birdman, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, has been receiving a lot of praise lately. Largely all well deserved. Birdman is an experience, a film like no other. It can’t be pigeon holed or put into a neat little box. It just simply is what it is. Which is something both highly entertaining and meaningful. I’m not going to delve too deeply into the film because I don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone else. And also, I think it is a film that is better when the audience simply lets go and enjoys the ride.
The structure of the nearly seamless one long take the film is done in is more than just a gimmick. It serves to fully immerse the audience in the mind of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a man trying to recapture relevance and respect after he walked away from Hollywood and his superhero franchise 20 years prior. I really enjoyed how the film plays with reality and both Riggan’s, and the audience’s, perception of it. The references to actors like Michael Fassbender, Robert Downey Jr., and Jeremy Renner, as well as their superhero counterparts, were funny. These references, combined with Michael Keaton’s past as the first cinematic Batman, serve to ground the film in our world and make it seem all the more plausible. But then Riggan starts flying around New York and the audience, as well as Riggan, no longer has any idea what is real and what is not anymore. I especially enjoyed the final scene and the look of awe on Emma Stone’s face. I won’t spoil it, but I still don’t know what I think really happened there. Another aspect of the film I loved was the use of language. The dialogue is fast, witty, engaging, and a little vulgar. And always. I especially loved the very beginning when Birdman says “This room smells like balls.” Hahaha.

An amazing scene unlike anything else.
An amazing scene unlike anything else.

The cast is all phenomenal, but of course the star, and the one I predict right now will win an Oscar, is Michael Keaton. If he does win I think it will just reaffirm what Birdman has to say in the end about Hollywood and how fickle its adoration is. Michael is captivating right from the beginning, when he is simply floating with his back turned to the camera. It’s hard to pick a stand out scene of his because they are all so excellent. I guess I like his walk through New York in only his underwear. I also really enjoy the transition he goes through in the scene in which Birdman materializes and talks to him. I guess that’s the start of his mental breakdown. It was so powerful, I’ve never seen anything like it.

Two amazing actors, Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, create some fireworks.
Two amazing actors, Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, create some fireworks.

One thing about the film, which isn’t really a criticism since it is inevitable, is that the secondary characters (everyone other than Riggan) are underdeveloped. The film is called Birdman after all. The other actors are so good it would have been nice to see more of them and some of their characters feel useless (I’m looking at you, Laura). Other reviewers are singling out Zach Galifanakis for his performance as Jake, Riggan’s lawyer/manager. He is very good and funny. But he didn’t stand out too much to me, he doesn’t have very many lines. The two performances that really stood out to me were 1) Edward Norton and 2) Emma Stone (and Naomi Watts a distant third). Edward Norton has quite a showy part. I think I’ve only ever seen him in Fight Club, in which his character is a loser and social misfit. Here, as Mike, he is extremely charismatic. And even though he is a d-bag (as usual, Star-Lord’s words) he is kind of likeable. In a world where a lot of the characters are in denial of their inadequacies and the world itself is full of BS, Mike is truthful, even if that truth is only evident on the stage. Norton also lends the film a lot of its humor. His scenes with Emma Stone are wonderful, thought provoking. I particularly like when he asks her why Riggan was such a terrible father. And it becomes evident that in fact, he wasn’t all that bad.

It's a bird, it's a plane, no, it's Birdman? Or is it?
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s Birdman? Or is it?

Emma plays Riggan’s daughter, Sam. Her character is there to make Riggan feel like a piece of shit. At least during the first half. My favorite scene of hers, one which I found very powerful was when Riggan confronts her for smoking pot. Sam lashes out at him, pushing every button he has. I was entranced by her ferocity. I was also captivated by how large her eyes looked during the entire film. Emma looks quite stunning. I thought her sexual relationship with Mike was a weak point of the film. It seemed kind of unnecessary, but I guess it is just another event that contributes to Riggan’s breakdown although he never discusses it. I also thought Benjamin Kanes, who played the younger version of Birdman, was quite good.
As I watched the film I tried to spot some bird motifs. There were a few that I think I saw, feel free to comment with any that you saw. First, Sam has a tattoo of a bird feather and a few birds flying. When Riggan’s ex-wife visits him in his dressing room for the first time she pulls a bobby pin out of his hair. But it reminded me of the way you would pluck out a feather. Then there is an instance in which half of Riggan’s fake mustache is coming off and resembles a feather. Then near the end the mask Riggan has on his face makes him look like he has a beak.
Overall I think Birdman is a very good movie and I would recommend it to anyone. It is fast paced, imaginative, and highly enjoyable. Micheal Keaton has always been a good actor, but finally he has a true opportunity to shine in the spotlight, thanks to Alejandro González Iñárritu. Michael has always been talented, but now no one will be able to deny it. Like Riggan Thomson, Michael Keaton has done something that will live on forever. 9/10

Fight Club (1999)


I felt like re-watching some of David Fincher’s older films because I am extremely excited to see his new film, Gone Girl, when it arrives next week. I absolutely loved the book and I love most of Fincher’s work so it’s a win-win for me. Anyways it’s hard to believe Fight Club is now 15 years old. As I was watching the film last night I found it hard to review because it is so ingrained in pop culture now it would be almost sacrilegious to say something bad about it. Fight Club is based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk. It is about a nameless narrator (for simplicity’s sake I’m just going to refer to him as Jack) played by Edward Norton. Jack lives a boring life where he works at a job he doesn’t like and buys Ikea furniture he doesn’t need. That is until he meets Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt).

My favorite part of the film, what makes it so enjoyable to watch are the actors. Edward, Helena, Brad, and even Meatloaf are all excellent. The first half of the film is brilliant because they all bounce off each other so well. Edward’s narration is particularly funny as he discusses how miserable his life is and how much he wants that yin and yang coffee table. Brad is also quite excellent. He exudes so much charisma and machismo he easily draws in the viewer as well as Jack. And I absolutely love his extravagant wardrobe. But my favorite of all the actors by far is Helena, I think she steals the show in any scene she is in. I may be a little biased because I love her in everything she does and also because she is the only woman in the film and really the only character I can relate to. Her timing is perfect and the way she delivers her lines is just hilarious and shocking. One of the most memorable lines (and there are many in the film) is when she tells Tyler “I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school.” I loved every minute she was on screen.

I really love the humor in this film. There is so much of it and it is quite shocking at times. The highlight of the humor for me is pretty much anything to do with Robert Paulsen (Meat Loaf). I guess I just find his big “bitch tits” hilarious, especially when Jack is crying into them. The first half of the film is the more humorous what with the narration and the support groups, so that’s why I prefer it and why I think the film starts to suffer in the second half (basically once Project Mayhem starts).

Edward Norton becomes acquainted with Bob.
Edward Norton becomes acquainted with Bob.

I love how right away the opening credits establish that we are in Jack’s head and the narrative is totally his. My issues with the film mostly have to do with the plot. For the first half of the film there is almost no plot. And it’s awesome. Jack is just going through the motions and meets Marla and Tyler and starts the Club. So things are fun for a while. But right around when Project Mayhem starts suddenly there is a plot and a problem that has to be solved. I found my attention wandering. I don’t care that Tyler is trying to undermine capitalism, I just want to see some fights and laugh at Bob’s tits. I think it might be in part the pacing of the film changes. It’s really fast paced then things start to feel sluggish. Maybe it’s because Tyler disappears for a while and Marla isn’t around much either. The first time I saw Fight Club I did not see the twist of Tyler and Jack being the same person coming. I remember being surprised, but also very confused. I didn’t really understand how it worked then. On the second viewing it is easy to see a million clues pointing to this from the very beginning. Director David Fincher is very clever in how he orchestrates the film by giving you all these hints. He’s very good at walking that tight rope of not giving away too much. The twist is definitely one of the highlights of the film and why it is so memorable. It doesn’t feel cheap to me as some of these things normally do.

I like the commentary on modern society that the film explores. But it is so obvious that it kind of spoils it for me. It just hits you like a rock over the head over and over and over again. I get that society is emasculating men and so Tyler and Jack start the Fight Club as a way to rebel. But I don’t need five different speeches from Tyler telling me this repeatedly. Focusing on the testicular cancer group at the beginning is funny and kind of clever, but not very subtle. The commentary against consumerism is also interesting, but not particularly original. One reading of the film that I found extremely interesting is that the whole film is about Jack’s desire and struggle to commit to a relationship with Marla. I find that rings quite true and you can read more about that theory here:

Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt)
Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt)

I will say that overall I think David Fincher has done a wonderful job. He is able to set up this dark, grungy, violent world and somehow make it seem appealing and glamorous in its own way. The characters are so funny and eccentric the viewer wants to join the Club. I enjoy the themes and overall message of the film, even if at times I find it to be a little heavy handed. I prefer to think for myself a little bit and to be able to draw my own conclusions instead of being force fed them by Tyler Durden. Although maybe that’s the point. We are in Jack’s head after all. 8.5/10

Funny enough Cinema Sins just posted this video: