Friday, April 25, 2014

2014: January - April

Figured I'd take some time off from responding to (not really reviewing) movies I had seen. It felt tedious in that I was overworking my thoughts about any given aspect of what I had viewed. So I'd rather tackle them as groups as I had done toward the end of last year. For the first four months of 2014, I saw a few films from directors (Anderson, Aronofsky, Von Trier) I greatly admire and another based on the comic books that I read while growing up.

Although not my favorite of Wes Anderson's films, The Grand Budapest Hotel continues Anderson's streak of great works. That is often how I can pick my favorite directors where no matter what material they attempt to tackle, I still walk away with a sense of appreciation. I can argue which of their own works is stronger, but when I hold them up against many other directors working today, a decent Wes Anderson film is equivalent to many others' career bests. An attraction here is the large scale and cast of this picture. Easily it includes many of Anderson's recurring players while welcoming new faces to his usual ensemble such as Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori with the film set during the outset of WWII in a fictional European country. The art direction and cinematography matches Anderson's usual vision of deceptively simple but elegantly constructed scenarios. To me, the film seems to be about a longing for one's past and how so much energy was put into the hotel's beauty and eventually it becomes a run-of-the-mill vacation spot in the future. This can be a larger statement about our culture, but Anderson isn't preachy about the matter as the film takes up a "life goes on" sort of approach to its subject matter.

Another great director to have a film released in the first quarter of the year is Darren Aronofsky with Noah. The film did receieve some criticism that I find slightly ridiculous to the point where I ask "is it me?" Noah's ark is somewhat of a fable to me. Yes it's in the bible, but like many of the early chapters in the Old Testament from what I remember from C.C.D. they had to do with teaching lessons. In this case, man became so sinful that the creator, God, decided to flood the Earth. Many of the criticisms can be quickly refuted (in particular Jon Stewart responded to FOX News by finding the actual bible verses that they claimed were made up for the film). Still, I find it odd how often some of the most spiritual films are actually turned away by many. See Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ for a prime example. As far as Noah goes, some may be worried if this is a watered-down Aronofsky vision. It is a PG-13 film and it does match the biblical genre with pop-culturally savy visual effects, but it still has an emotional arc to it with an incredible cast led by Russell Crowe that carries the film to its intense ending (a trademark of Aronofsky's works).

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is based off the comic book storyline by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. When I began reading comics, Brubaker's relaunch of the series with his Captain America #1 was the first single issue of a Cap title I had picked up. His 8-year run (probably got close to 100 issues)  read more in the genre of espionage tales than superhero fare. The film wisely takes that direction and it is full of an A-list cast that is expected of many blockbusters today (I mean, Robert Redford is an superhero movie, we've reached that point). It certainly is one of the better Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Its blend of action, character, and story is right behind The Avengers and Iron Man, but alas it is still meant to be mass-consumed piece of popcorn entertainment so expect an emphasis on action and of course there will be chaos and mass-destruction as the film cherry picks whether to focus on the loss of civillian life and property or not. That being said, the film is somewhat politically subversive (or on the nose depending who you ask) dealing with protection of privacy and drone warfare.

If anyone is curious as it comes to Wes Anderson and Darren Aronofsky, my ranking of their films would be (keeping in mind that I like them all to varying degrees)...

Wes Anderson
1. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
3. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
5. Rushmore (1998)
6. Bottle Rocket (1996)
7. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
8. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Darren Aronofsky
1. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
2. Black Swan (2010)
3. The Wrestler (2008)
4. Noah (2014)
5. The Fountain (2006)
6. Pi (1998)

I did also end up seeing Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac (both volumes) and maybe I'll save that for a longer post. I am a huge fan of Von Trier's work, but with many of his films I'd never say "I liked them" or "they were enjoyable". He is provocative filmmaker whose work stimulates often not in an inviting manner. Nymphomaniac is well acted and emotional, but despite the title, it is far from titilating. The sexual encounters are often depressing, intense, disturbing, and grimy. The film is a character study, but is sure to shock many. Similarly to Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, Antichrist, and Melancholia- this is a hard film to digest right away. It's good, no doubt about it, but I'd hesitate that it should only be viewed by those that wish to appreciate Von Trier or experience an unique cinematic style.

I also got caught up on a few films from 2013. Of the recent batch of catch-ups, Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion with Tom Cruise stood out. Cruise gives a very strong performance and the visual effects and cinematography are so sleek and envisioned with a grand sense of design. The story can feel somewhat convoluted and overbearing, but there's no denying the intensity that Cruise brings with his performance.

Sadly, I didn't enjoy many of the others films. Really quick...
-Jack the Giant Slayer- Found to be childish. Could barely get through its simple and poorly filmed sequences.
-Now You See Me- Has a very strong cast, but it is a light caper film. Doesn't really go above and beyond base expectations that one might form considering the talent involved in front of the camera.
-Taken 2- Never held the first in that high regards, but this sequel is far too rushed and over-saturated with outrageously constructed action.
-The Hangover Part III- It's not as bad as I expected, but the huge problem with this film- it actually isn't funny. The jokes barely register a laugh and make you wonder if they are meant to be even be jokes and therefore the pacing just feels off.

Two films I wanted to see, but decided against would be The Monuments Men and Transcendence. Both sounded interesting and I was hoping they'd be great accomplishments in their respective genres, but I heard from word-of-mouth and admittedly decided to listen to and read some reviews and the negative response that both projects got led me to decide to wait for the films to be On Demand or on Netflix instead of warranting a trip to the theater.

Maybe I'll post some thoughts on television next. Disregard any spelling errors in my efforts to be less formal.

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