Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (15)

To date, I haven't found anything that couldn't be enhanced by a glass of red wine.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discoverd my chosen World Of Cine were offering vin rouge, by the glass, behind the very counter where I was purchasing my ticket.

The fact I was there to see The Grand Budapest Hotel just rounded off what promised to be a great evening. All that was missing was some olives and cheese.

Cineworld, take note.

So, wine in paw, and a perfect seat free and available in a pleasingly full Screen Five, I settled down for what I hoped would be another fine Wes Anderson offering.

Now, I'm not saying I'm a huge fan of the Wesster - The Darjeeling Limited left me cold - but when he hits, like with 2012's Moonrise Kingdom, no one can touch him.

And from the trailers, it looked like this was going to be another sublime cinematic experience.

Inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig (no, me neither), The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the tale of Zero, a trainee lobby boy taken under the wing of esteemed concierge Gustave.

The story takes us through the death of Madame D., a stolen painting, murder, prison, more murder, a ski slope, some cakes, the breakout of war and a shoot out.

All in a smidge over 90 minutes.

It's nothing short of brilliant.

For a start, the casting is spot on. Ralph Fiennes (Gustave) has never been better, camping it up and oozing class and sleaze like he was born to play the role.

Tony Revolori, meanwhile, is perfectly balanced as Zero, underplaying his role while Fiennes tears it up. It should be the making of a great double act.

The comic timing of the pair is just superb, deadpan deliveries abounding while the physical comedy is delivered as if they were a couple of seasoned pros.

And it's a measure of just how good the pair are that they are in no way overshadowed by the stellar line-up Anderson has assembled around them.

In no particular order, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Bob Balaban and Tilda Swinton all pass through (some staying longer than others) and acquit themselves with aplomb.

And you won't recognise at least three of those until the credits roll.

But, amazingly, none of these are the stars of the show.

That's Wes.

There is no flab on this film - not a shot, not a frame, is wasted. And it all looks stunning.

From the opening scenes, the travels back in time (taking the aspect ratio with him) and the closing scenes, it's like watching one long work of art.

All the more fitting, given that Boy With Apple - a masterpiece left to Gustave - is at the centre of all the comic capery.

It doesn't matter if we're at The Grand Budapest, out on the ski slopes, on a train stopping by a barley field or hiding in a museum, each scene is filmed with such care and attention to detail that it is clear we are in the presence of a man at the top of his game.

It's so perfect, in fact, it can almost be a distraction.

Like finding a hidden gem in an art gallery, some scenes can so steal your attention you can almost forget you're actually watching a film.

Fortunately, Anderson clearly knows this, because that's usually when another gag pops up and reminds you why you're sitting in your comfy cinema seat with your wine.

Even, though, with the fine writing, acting and shooting of Grand Budapest - all of which, if I haven't laboured this point enough, are near perfection - there is still one thing that steals the show from everything else.

What shines through in every scene, in every frame, is just how much love has gone into this film.

The cast are clearly having the time of their lives, but behind the camera Wes is basically writing a love letter to the art of film making.

From the carefully chosen pallets to the ere-sensitive use of the aspect ratios (I counted three different ones, but I may have missed one), this is a film made by a film lover for film lovers.

Nothing is left to chance, and every scene bears repeated watching as you'll have missed something the first time, and by the end you're just left grinning in a warm glow.

In an era where people pay money to see Michael Bay's efforts, the fact this screen was packed for a quirky, oddball romantic comedy crime caper that almost defies description (never mind genre classification) goes some way to restoring one's faith in humanity.

Just keep your hands off the lobby boy.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Lego Movie (U)

I won't deny that, despite being a grown man the wrong side of 30 (cough), my excitement levels went through the roof when I saw the trailer for The Lego Movie.

Not only was it made by the people who brought us the superb Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, but it was a proper Lego film.

By that I mean everyone involved got what Lego is about, right down to the laser beams being recognisable pieces of Lego.

You probably have to have spent your formative years - or last night in my case - building stuff to really appreciate just how exciting it is to see an entire universe built out of those little Danish blocks of genius.

But, you don't have to had such a childhood to enjoy this film. You just need to be human.

There's a plot, which helps - evil Lord Business wants to control everything and has to be stopped - but to be honest that's just the framework on to which endless gags, laughs and bags of fun are bolted.

Because if there's one thing this film is, it's fun. With a capital F. And U. And N.

And it works on all levels.

For the target audience, it's a Lego man who has to save the universe - something that's attempted at high speed with more gun fights and explosions than Michael Bay could dream of.

For the grown-ups "dragged" along (I forgot to take a kiddie along, my bad) there are so many other jokes flying off the screen you'll forget to pretend you're only there because the children begged you.

There are Star Wars jokes, Batman jokes, Lego space jokes, Duplo jokes, good cop bad cop jokes, jokes about glue, jokes about big business, jokes about media control, jokes about a a kitty unicorn, jokes about Green Lantern... you get the gist.

You see, in this modern, President-Business kinda world, thanks to focus groups n wotnot it's damn hard to find a film that the whole family can enjoy.

You've got your Tinkerbell movies for the under-threes, High School Musical for the older age group, popular book adaptations for the next lot up, and then you have to either be a teenage boy, a teenage girl, a man or a woman.

Not so here.

There is something for every demographic here - especially if you've ever so much as picked up a Lego brick.

There is a moment late on when an 80s Lego spaceship appears on a small video screen, causing me to almost leap from my seat.

It was one of the first Lego models I ever got. And it was awesome.

The fact someone knew that was an image that was needed in this movie shows you just how much love and attention to detail has gone into this.

Yes, it's cheesy.

Yes, the song is annoying - but you'll still be singing it for weeks.

Yes, the message is handled with all the subtlety of a Lego brick under a bare foot.

But none of that matters.

This is unabashed, unashamed, unavoidable fun.

It's been out for weeks and it's still on three screenings a day.

Critics have all lavished praise on it.

And there's a good reason for all of this.

The assembled voice cast have all bought into the premise (indeed, this may be the best performance from Liam Neeson in years) and all deliver believable performances.

You believe in the characters, the story, the action and the mad pirate fella.

In essence, there is nothing to not fall in love with.

Oh, and the 80s astronauts are all over the place. Which is even more awesome.