LE WEEK-END (2013/IN THEATERS) Don’t be fooled by the poster or the trailers for this little film, now playing in art houses. It’s one of those movies that divides the audience—love it or hate it? Funny or appalling? A bit of a critical darling, with a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes from that group vs. an audience rating of 58%. I think the answer to which camp you will choose depends on just how much you like the main characters—a married British couple “of a certain age” who are celebrating their 30th anniversary in Paris, where they spent their honeymoon. We meet them on the train heading through the chunnel from London and they look reasonable enough. He’s Nick Burrows, a philosophy professor at a 2nd rate institution (played by the wonderful Jim Broadbent ) and she’s Meg, a teacher as well, with a bit of the devil in her (an equally strong Lindsay Duncan). Things quickly deteriorate, however, when they arrive in Paris. Meg rejects totally Nick’s choice of hotel (a sentimental choice which is now a seedy and drab place) and spends their precious Euros driving by cab around the city until they reach one its most expensive and elegant establishments. Here they decide to throw all caution to the wind and take the suite that was once occupied by Tony Blair. How are they affording this? Time will tell. Meanwhile, we join the couple in lovely walks around the city and even lovelier dinners, some of which they clearly cannot afford. Midway through the film, they bump into Nick’s old chum from Cambridge, Morgan (Jeff Goldblum in full mode), who has “made it” as a writer/philosopher and now lives with his new, young wife on the Rue de Rivoli. This all sounds nice, doesn’t it? But the movie and these two characters are actually not nice at all. In fact, they’re rather selfish, foolish and boring—at least in my view—which makes for a long and puzzling picture. Mind you, many in the theater where my friend and I viewed the movie last night were laughing out loud at parts we found appalling. So I guess it’s a matter of taste. Check it out if you’re curious and let us know what you think in the comments below.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014/IN THEATERS) Wow! What can we say about this fabulous new feature from Wes Anderson (his 8th) after only a single viewing….I feel at least 3 more will be needed just to take in all of its fabulous-ness. Anderson describes the movie as “Lubitsch-esque” with a hint of ”a 30s type of Hitchcock.” Got that? The story begins with one narrator (Tom Wilkinson) but moves swiftly to another (F. Murray Abraham speaking to Jude Law) and finally to the story itself which is set between the two world wars in a fictitious Austro/Hungarian locale and centers on Gustave H., the legendary concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel, played to a “T” by Ralph Fiennes—a newcomer to Anderson’s entourage. As the story unfolds, familiar faces from earlier Anderson films–the inner circle, as it were (Adrien Brody, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban) – are joined by many others, including some personal favorites like Mathieu Amalric, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Léa Seydoux and even Harvey Keitel, all of whom serve to advance the plot in their various chapters and scenes. A plot, which I hasten to add, is more than somewhat complicated and involves the untimely death of a longtime hotel guest and the reading of her will which leads M. Gustave to steal a valuable painting (cleverly titled “Boy with Apple”).
Joining Fiennes is Tony Revolori as his understudy Zero, the new Lobby Boy, whose sad past has brought him to this exciting present and who shows himself to be fully worthy of M. Gustave’s trust. No doubt both Ralph Fiennes and Mr. Revolori will soon be joining the “inner circle” for future Wes Anderson films.
Quick Note: One of the many hotels which served as a model for The Grand Budapest is the Gellert Spa and Bath which is actually located in Budapest and is still up and running. I am happy to say that I once stayed there long ago. The pool and spa on the lower level of that hotel look exactly like the ones portrayed in this film. Be sure to check it out if you ever get the chance.
TRUE DETECTIVE (2014/HBO) There’s been plenty of well-deserved buzz about HBO’s fabulous 8 part series featuring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle and Martin Hart ever since it started. And with last Sunday’s finale, there’s also been no shortage of disagreement. I finally caught the last two episodes just last night and, without introducing any spoilers, I’m going to say that I found the ending solid and satisfying—and for at least a few minutes, positively nerve wracking. BUT….you have to know, I watched the series for itself and I wasn’t tempted by all those theories floating around on the net. Like everyone else, I was blown away by the acting, the writing, and especially the cinematography from Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre). Gorgeous….and creepy. Just watch the opening sequence of each episode if you don’t agree with me. And add to that, the score from T. Bone Burnett. It all worked.
If you’re interested in the back story on the series creator/writer/director and show-runner Nic Pizzolatto, be sure to read his interview with The Daily Beast here. Mind you, he was once a college professor teaching writing but got inspired to break into film somehow. He created True Detective back in 2010 and says of the series: “The jackpot hit when Matthew McConaughey read the script and said, ‘I want to do this.’ Then we were all off to the races.” As the Aussies would say, good on you Matthew! Keep up the great work.
And let’s see if Pizzolatto and HBO can come anywhere close with Season 2.
Grade: A (Don’t Miss It!)
How about those Oscars, guys?! Oh, what a time we had! Truthfully, we here at Serious Movie Lover may have been slightly distracted by delicious foods and sparkling conversation during this year’s broadcast, which we would describe as “OK, I think?” or even “not bad!” Favorite moments included thoughtful speeches by Jared Leto and Lupita Nyong’o, Ellen’s opening joke about everyone being racist if 12 Years a Slave didn’t win (downright edgy material for her), and John Travolta’s mesmerizing hair piece.
Here are some of our favorite post-game posts from around the Web:
ALL THINGS OSCAR / 2014 BROADCAST, THIS SUNDAY March 2nd, 7 ET / 4 PT on ABC !
It’s that time again! The creative team at SML offers its Oscar Menu for your consideration…..let us know what you think and feel free to add other ideas in the comments. Get those Ballots out! And let’s hope for a few surprises in there….
American Hustle “Science Kitchen” Jersey-style Meatballs with Red Sauce
Captain Phillips Chowdah with Pirate’s Booty Popcorn
Dallas Buyers Club Sandwiches
Gravity Gin and Tang
Her -batious Pesto with Feta
Nebraska’s Finest Corn Muffins
Philomena’s Guinness (with a splash of holy water)
12 Years a Slave to Fashion-able Appetizers (viewer’s choice)
The Wolf of Wall Street Over-the-Top Lobster Mac and Cheese
It’s only been out for a week now but confess–have you already watched all 13 episodes? I have! The series starts with a bang in Episode 1 (no spoilers here) and rolls along pretty briskly to its end. This time we have as the centerpiece a “mano-a-mano” battle between Frank Underwood (perfectly portrayed by Kevin Spacey), scheming and ruthless as ever, and his nemesis Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney), the equally ruthless and power hungry businessman who cost Frank that Secretary of State job last season. They duke it out over matters like trade with China, power plants and energy shortages, bridge building, Native American casinos and tribes, tabloid level smear campaigns, and of course, always over their ability to control and influence wishy-washy President Garrett Walker (Michael Gill). Maybe not quite as much fun as manipulating the poor alcoholic, sex-obsessesed Representative Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), like last year….but politically tense and riveting nonetheless. Back again is Frank’s right hand man, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), himself a recovered and recovering alcoholic.
Also back and bigger than ever is Frank’s wife Claire (Robin Wright, who shows us definitively why she got that Golden Globe last month). And a few new players, most notably Jaqueline Sharp (Molly Parker), the take no prisoners House Whip championed by Frank, who finds herself in an affair with the handsome and super smooth Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) – whoops! I promised no spoilers. Better stop now before I get too far ahead. If you haven’t started Season Two yet, get going. And there’s good news. Season Three is coming our way in 2015. Can’t wait.
Grade: A for “Addicting”
PHILOMENA (2013/IN THEATERS) This true story of Philomena Lee’s search for her son, who was sold for adoption at the age of 3 by Irish nuns to an American family in the 1950s, is up for no less than four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actress (Judi Dench as Philomena), Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope). But, in my eyes, it’s already a big winner in real life. Philomena Lee, who appeared in person on stage at the Golden Globes with Steve Coogan, has inspired the Catholic Church, thanks to the book about her life and now the movie version of it, to make changes in its policies regarding what information it will now make available to other mothers whose infants were given away or sold. In fact, the Vatican screened the film and the Pope himself met with both Philomena and Coogan (see The Guardian’s account of the meeting here). A major victory for a modest woman who never stopped searching for her child. The story is poignant and the film, directed by Stephen Frears, does a great job of telling it, moving along at a steady pace. Judi Dench is, of course, marvelous as Philomena, who retained her faith in the church despite their mistreatment of her and their attempts to make her feel guilty about her life. Steve Coogan, who I have loved for years in his wonderful comedies and various impersonations, here plays it straight as the journalist Martin Sixsmith who agrees to take on the telling of Philomena’s story for all the world to read. The two begin by traveling to the convent where Philomena, a young, unmarried and pregnant mother, gave birth to her son and spent four years in hard labor to “repay” the nuns for her room and board. Of course, the officials at the convent are not helpful. They tell the two that all the records concerning the adoptions have been burned and are lost. But Sixsmith is a real journalist and he doesn’t let go easily. Eventually, the pair travel to the U.S. to track down Philomena’s son. I won’t spoil the movie for you, if you’ve yet to see it. By the end, you’ll either be siding with Philomena who shows forgiveness or with Sixsmith, whose anger at the nuns is more difficult to overcome. I know where I stand. Though the film is unlikely to win in any of its Oscar categories, I’m hope all who worked on it are already celebrating their achievements.
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (2007/DVD/AMAZON STREAMING) Among the many tributes out there for Philip Seymour Hoffman, in the wake of his sad and early demise, one film that is seldom mentioned is this one—the last movie directed by Sidney Lumet (when he was 83) which features a great cast and plot in a twisted family tale. Hoffman is Andy, the older brother to Ethan Hawke’s Hank. Both brothers are in trouble as the film opens–money trouble, that is. Andy has stolen funds from his employer and is about to be found out; Hank is failing with child care payments and now is pressed for more money to send his kid to private school. Andy’s got other problems as well–his beautiful, cold wife Gina (Marisa Tomei) is never satisfied and indeed, is having an affair with Hank. And that’s not all—Andy is also a heroin user and has to raise money to cover his habit. But Andy has a plan—he knows a little jewelry store in a strip mall which would be easy to rob. He knows the value of the jewels held there and where to fence them. All he needs is for Hank to rob the little old lady who will be handling the store on Saturday and both brothers will be on the road to redemption. So…how does Andy know this store so well? It belongs to their mother and father (played by Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris). Andy’s pitch to Hank says, hey…we’ll rob them, the insurance will cover it and all will be well. Too good to be true, and for sure, it is not. The movie plays out in multiple replays of scenes, from different points of view, showing off Lumet’s ability to build a story to its conclusion. It’s safe to say that there’s a general downward spiral to the film and the ending is grim but it would be worth watching now, particularly for Philip Seymour Hoffman, of course.
STATE AND MAIN (2000/DVD) Looking for a PSH film that’s a little lighter? One more to add to your list is this fun and classic David Mamet film. Featuring an all star cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Julia Stiles, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Rebecca Pidgeon, the film focuses on the trials and tribulations of a film production crew in a small and beautiful New England town trying their best to overcome the usual obstacles. These include the wandering eye of their leading man (Baldwin) for young lovely ladies and the sudden unwillingness of their female lead (Parker) to show her breasts. PSH is the writer of the piece, thrilled to have his book “The Old Mill” being made into a movie, but perhaps not ready for all that entails. It’s a sweet, funny movie with lots to enjoy. So, if you’ve somehow missed it, add it to the list and enjoy a young and happy Hoffman.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013/IN THEATERS) Considered a “black comedy,” this star studded film is based on the Pulitzer winning stage play of the same name by Tracy Letts, who also wrote the screenplay. Filmed in Pawhuska, Oklahoma (in the real Osage County), the movie opens with Sam Shepard as Beverly Weston, a poet, sitting in what is clearly his favorite room in a big rambling country house and quoting from T.S. Eliot. Beverly is in the midst of hiring a Native American woman (Misty Upham) to care for his challenging wife Violet—the centerpiece of the film—portrayed in a bravura performance by Meryl Streep. Vi is the wife and mother from hell, with a drug habit (pain pills mostly) and cancer of the mouth, which has failed to slow down one of the sharpest tongues you’ll ever encounter. Days later, Beverly goes missing and Vi summons her three daughters home. Oldest daughter Barb (Julia Roberts) has long ago left for Denver but returns with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and their teenage daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is the quiet one who has been in Oklahoma the entire time caring for her parents. Making a late appearance is Karen (Juliette Lewis), coming from Florida with her current boyfriend Steve (Dermot Mulroney), a sleazy business type. Added to the gathering are Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), Vi’s sister, along with her husband Charles (Chris Cooper) and later their son “Little Charles” (Benedict Cumberbatch). An incredible cast, for sure. And one of the questions is whether there is room for all the big performances to come. The original play premiered at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago during the summer of 2007 and enjoyed a two-month run. It moved from there to Broadway and on to London, as well as on a national tour. People who have seen the play LOVED it despite its three-hour length but have mixed feelings about this two-hour film version. This reaction may relate less to the performances—which are BIG, as they were on stage—and more to the spatial differences between the two performance arenas. Some have noted that the film director John Wells, best known for his work in television as a writer/producer (West Wing, ER, Mildred Pierce, Shameless), has a hard time avoiding the “closeness” of the big screen which gives a claustrophobic air to the piece. Who knows? I found the film somewhat long, with funny lines, but overall a tough slog. While Streep and Roberts have taken most of the acting honors (including Oscar noms for Actress and Supporting Actress, respectively), my favorite performances came from Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper and Juliette Lewis. Maybe just a matter of taste. If you like big theater, go see it. If not, maybe wait for an even smaller screen—thanks to NetFlix.
HER (IN THEATERS/2013) Like most people, I expected “Her” to be clever and thought provoking but probably kind of weird—which it is. But I didn’t expect it to be visually beautiful and emotionally engaging. Credit goes to Jonze and the screenplay that just won him a Golden Globe. But even more credit goes to Joaquin Phoenix in another standout performance and to his muse/friend/lover Samantha, the computer operating system voiced so perfectly by Scarlett Johansson. Kudos also to the film’s designers who set it in a gorgeously realized near-future world that looks familiar yet sleeker, colder and even more dominated by electronic devices. For example, the main character, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix), lives in a stunning modern apartment with views to die for but he occupies his time competing with life-sized electronic figures that challenge him to escape from various traps. In the daytime, he writes heart-felt letters on behalf of real people who hire him (and his firm) to say presumably what they cannot. Ironically the letters appear in long hand, though of course they are written and produced on the computer. Theo is eloquent but lonely thanks to his recent divorce from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). His one friend is Amy (Amy Adams) who lives in his apartment building and creates video games as well as strange films. On a whim, Theo purchases a new operating system for his computer. The system is called OS1 and is embodied by the sexy/friendly voice of Scarlett Johansson who chooses as her name Samantha. If you’ve seen the previews for the film, you know that Theo falls in love with Samantha. What you may not realize is that she also falls for him—a fascinating scenario and one that is played out beautifully and surprisingly. Big thumbs up for this movie which has been nominated for 5 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Music/Original Score, Best Song (“The Moon Song” by Karen O and Spike Jonze) and Best Production Design. Here’s hoping it wins at least one!
P.S. Please forgive the long silence here at Serious Movie Lover. We’re back! And ready for Awards season. Thanks for reading us again.