Ralph Fiennes

The Grand Budapest Hotel

TGBH

 

2014

American Empirical Pictures/Fox Searchlight Studios

Directed by and Screenplay by Wes Anderson

Produced by Wes Anderson, Jeremy Dawson, Steve M. Rales and Scott Rudin

Story by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guiness

One of the main characters in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL works in Mendl’s, a bakery that is renowned throughout the fictional European alpine country of Zubrowka. The confections that come out of Mendl’s are famous for not only tasting as if the angels themselves had baked them but they are also glorious works of art for the eye as well as for the tongue that one can spend hours just looking at, debating whether or not it’s too beautiful to be eaten.

That’s kind of an apt metaphor for this movie as well. Because THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is like a very rich cake or dessert that looks absolutely amazing and goes down very sweetly. Like other Wes Anderson movies, this one is an ornate visual treat.  A Wes Anderson movie doesn’t look like anybody else’s movies and I am thankful for that. He uses practical effects in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL such as miniatures, rear projection and matte painting. Right now some of you reading this are scratching your head and saying, “Why go through all that trouble? Why not just use CGI?” if so, then THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL in particular and Wes Anderson movies in general are not for you.

968full-the-grand-budapest-hotel-photo

The story of THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is told in a flashback of a flashback and while that might sound confusing, it isn’t, trust me. We meet a Young Writer (Jude Law) in 1968 staying at the almost empty Grand Budapest Hotel. This once elegant establishment is slowly and stubbornly decaying beautifully. The Young Writer makes the acquaintance the hotel’s owner, Mr. Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who takes a liking to the Young Writer and over a long dinner tells him the story of how Mr. Moustafa came to own The Grand Budapest Hotel.

trailer-2-the-grand-budapest-hotel-16470

We now go to the 1930’s where Mr. Moustafa worked as a lobby boy at the hotel. Zero (Tony Revolori) is taken under the wing of the hotel’s concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) who acts like a benevolent monarch to the staff and an extraordinarily capable servant to the guests. Especially the ladies. And most especially the ones who are old and rich. M. Gustave reserves very special services for them (and a few men as well, it’s implied)

The plot (such as it is) gets going when one of M. Gustave’s conquests, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) dies under mysterious circumstances. In her will she has left M. Gustave a priceless Renaissance Painting. Gustave’s claim on the painting is put in jeopardy by accusations from Madame D.’s son Dmitri (Adrian Brody) that Gustave himself murdered Madame D. Gustave takes the painting and goes on the run with the faithful Zero by his side, determined to clear himself and restore his good name.

And that’s really all you need to know about the plot because Wes Anderson doesn’t seem very interested in it himself. As usual, the strength of a Wes Anderson movie is the visuals and the characters. And Ralph Fiennes is indeed quite the character. Ralph Fiennes without a doubt delivers the best performance in the movie. On one level the character is totally ridiculous, delighting in his own pomposity, given to reciting or making up poetry on the spot. But on the other he’s supremely devoted to his position and his respect for the tradition of The Grand Budapest Hotel that is both endearing and in its own way, quite noble.

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel

His chemistry with Toney Revolori is delightful and one of the pleasures of the movie is to watch the wonderful friendship that develops between Gustave and Zero. The movie is chock full of interesting, quirky characters played by many familiar faces from Wes Anderson’s usual repertory of actors who appear in his movies such as Willem Dafoe, who is blackly hilarious as a hit man, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban. But there’s a whole host of other actors who pop up in cameos that will give you a nice thrill when you see them.

How does this stack up with the other Wes Anderson movies I’ve seen? I wouldn’t put it on the same shelf as “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” “Moonrise Kingdom” or “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” all of which are my favorite Wes Anderson movies. But I do rate it way higher than pretentious pap like “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Darjeeling Limited”

It’s a luxurious and downright opulent movie that presents us with an entire world that has weight and depth and texture. I truly appreciate movies that don’t look like other movies and present stories a little bit skewed and makes me cock my head a bit to the side while watching it. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is well worth your time if you’re the type who likes your desserts just a little bit richer than is good for you. Enjoy.

Rated R

100 Minutes

Wrath of The Titans

2012

Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

Produced by Basil Iwanyk and Polly Cohen Johnsen

Screenplay by Dan Mazeau and David Leslie Johnson

Story by Greg Berlanti

Most of my friends disowned me after my coming out in favor of the 2010 “Clash of The Titans” and my saying that I liked it a lot.  They saw my liking of the film as a betrayal of the original version that was the last movie done by stop motion visual effects legend Ray Harryhausen.  I never understand why nowadays people feel it necessary to have to like one version of a movie over another.  Can’t you like two versions of a movie for different reasons?  And one of the reasons why I liked 2010’s “Clash of The Titans” is that it wasn’t a slavish remake of the original. It took the basic story and put its own spin on it.  Much like how those ancient Greeks took the original myths and legends and every time they retold the story, they added stuff on or left stuff out they didn’t think was important.

It’s the same reason why I like WRATH OF THE TITANS.  It has many of the same characters as the previous movies and adds some new ones to change up the character interaction dynamics.  It gives Perseus a new motivation to go on an heroic quest.  It gets in what I think are some knowing, loving winks to the Harryhausen movie.  Bubo the mechanical owl makes another cameo appearance that I didn’t expect, didn’t see coming and made me laugh as the scene he appears in played out.  And like the previous movie, I was surprised that I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.

Perseus (Sam Worthington) has been living peacefully for ten years, earning his daily bread as a fisherman.  He’s been raising his son Helius (John Bell) alone as his wife Io died giving birth.  Perseus is happy with his life and says so to his father Zeus (Liam Neeson) who comes to Perseus for help.  Since men no longer pray to the gods their power is fading away and so they cannot keep imprisoned the demons kept in the underworld prison of Tartarus.  Perseus has no wish to become involved again in the business of the gods.

It’s up to Zeus, Poseidon (Danny Huston) Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Zeus’ other son Ares (Edgar Ramirez) to go down into Tartarus and fix things.  But it turns out to be a trap.  Hades and Ares have cut a deal with the imprisoned Kronos, the most powerful of The Titans: they drain Zeus’ power to free Kronos and they will be part of the new pantheon of gods once Kronos is back on top.

Poseidon gets away and gives his trident to Perseus, charging him with passing the weapon on to Poseidon’s demigod son Agenor (Toby Kebbell) Perseus goes one better. After rounding up Agenor and Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) he sets out to descend into Tartarus and rescue Zeus.  To do this he’ll need the help of Hephaestus (Bill Nighy) who constructed Tartarus and the insanely impossible labyrinth the intrepid band have to navigate and survive to reach Zeus.  And even after that, Perseus must recover two more powerful weapons to join with the Trident of Poseidon to form The Spear of Triam, the only weapon that can stop Kronos.

I really enjoyed WRATH OF THE TITANS because it’s so unpretentious.  This isn’t a movie that’s out to reinvent the genre.  Its sole purpose is to tell an entertaining adventure fantasy story for 100 minutes and I felt entertained once it was over. Rosamund Pike takes over as Andromeda from Alexa Davalos who played the role in “Clash of The Titans” and she brings a whole new energy to the role.  Which is welcome as Andromeda has much more to do in this movie, strapping on a sword and fighting right alongside Perseus.  Toby Kebbell brings some welcome humor to the adventure as the son of Poseidon who is much more of a trickster than the heir to the throne of the God of the Sea.  Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes have a lot of screen time together in this one in a really nicely performed character arc revolving around their characters that is brought to a resoundingly satisfying conclusion.  Sam Worthington appears more relaxed in this movie and allows Perseus some moments of warmth and humor and he even gets to smile.  I’ve liked Edgar Ramirez ever since seeing him in “Carlos” and he brings a good intensity to his role as Ares as if he’s been doing this kind of movie all his life.

So should you see WRATH OF THE TITANS?  If you saw the 2010 “Clash of The Titans” and didn’t like it then there’s no reason why you should want to see this one. But if like me you did enjoy it then I see no reason why you wouldn’t want to see this one.

100 minutes

PG-13

Clash of The Titans (2010)

2010

Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures

Directed by Louis Letettier

Produced by Richard D. Zanuck

Screenplay by Travis Beacham and Phil Hay

Based on the 1981 motion picture “Clash of The Titans” Directed by Desmond Davis and Written by Beverley Cross

When it was confirmed that a remake of the classic 1981 “Clash of The Titans” would be happening, fans of that movie sent up offerings to the Gods of Film that the movie would not suck.  The overwhelming consensus  seemed to be that the movie would try to copy the magic of Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion visual effects through CGI. I admit myself I had misgivings.  I’ll be the first to admit that 1981’s “Clash of The Titans” isn’t Mr. Harryhausen’s best work.  It was his last film and he knew that his time was over due to a small film called “Star Wars” that had ushered in a new style of special effects  techniques that could be done faster and cheaper.  He went out in style, though and while his “Clash of The Titans” isn’t his best movie, it is a helluva lot of fun to watch and one of my all-time favorite movies.

The strength of this version of CLASH OF THE TITANS doesn’t come from it trying to be exactly like the previous movie.  We get three signature scenes of the 1981 version: The Medusa stalking Perseus and his men in the ruins of an ancient temple.  Perseus stealing the magic eye of The Stygian Witches and forcing them to tell him how to kill The Kraken.  And Perseus facing off against The Kraken.  We even get to hear Liam Neeson intone those immortal words; “Release The Kraken!”  But this CLASH OF THE TITANS goes into a different direction due to the tweaking of the motivations of the main characters.  And there are a couple of nice nods to Mr. Harryhausen’s work.  Hades commands a squadron of harpies that look a lot like the harpies from “Jason and The Argonauts.”  Bubo the mechanical owl has a cameo.  The giant scorpions reminded me of the giant scorpions in the original, naturally.  But they also reminded me of the giant animals from “The Mysterious Island”

In this one, Perseus (Sam Worthington) doesn’t find out he’s the son of Zeus (Liam Neeson) until he’s up to his eyeballs in his quest to find a way to destroy The Kraken.  He’s told of his immortal origins by Io (Gemma Arterton) while he’s being held prisoner in the city of Argos.  Perseus has just seen his adopted family killed by Hades (Ralph Fiennes) Brought to the city of Argos, he is witness to another bloody rampage by Hades who informs King Cepheus (Vincent Regan) that he will unleash The Kraken in ten days unless Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is given up as a sacrifice.  All of this is part of a long game by Hades to influence humans so that they will stop worshipping the gods and start to fear them.  Zeus and the other gods grow weaker as a result while Hades grows stronger as his power is nourished by fear and hatred.  Hades has been resentful of Zeus for eons ever since Zeus tricked him into becoming Lord of The Underworld and he figures it’s time he got the chance to live among the clouds and walk around in sparkly armor like the rest of the gods.

Upon learning that Perseus is a demigod, King Cepheus asks him to lead his personal guard to find a way to save his daughter.  Perseus agrees.  Not because he’s in love with Andromeda as in the original.  He’s hellbent on revenging his murdered family and spitting in the collective eye of the gods while he does it.

Unlike the original, we get to know the soldiers that accompany Perseus on his quest, especially their leader, Draco (Mads Mikkelsen) who trains Perseus to fight and challenges him to embrace his dual heritage as man and god for the betterment of all and not reject it out of childish spite.  It’s a good relationship between the two.  And the characterization of the soldiers makes them a mythological version of “The Dirty Dozen” and not just a nameless bunch of red shirts.

And I like how in this version, Perseus actually has to work for his victories.  He’s given an enchanted sword and the use of the winged horse Pegasus but he prefers not to use either one until he realizes that unless he makes peace with himself he will never save Andromeda.

It sounds like there’s a little more psychological and philosophical depth here than in the original and there is.  But it doesn’t get in the way of the action and there is enough to satisfy.  This is another movie that people love to bash because of the CGI but I’m not one of them.  The stalking scene with The Medusa here doesn’t live up to the original, I’ll admit.  It’s nowhere near as creepy as the original which still gives me goose bumps when I watch it.  But it’s effective in doing its job in bringing a mythological world and it’s creatures to life.

So should you see 2010’s CLASH OF THE TITANS?  If you didn’t see it in theaters because you listened to those who told you how lousy the CGI effects were and how wooden the acting is and that the story stunk, I’m here to tell you that it’s nowhere near that bad.  I’m not going to lie and tell you it’s a masterpiece.  But I am going to tell you that’s it’s a movie worth your time if you’re looking for solid entertainment.  It’s not the Ray Harryhausen version and it’s not supposed to be.  It’s its own movie and it earns that on its own strengths.  Enjoy.

106 minutes

PG-13