The Grand Budapest Hotel

grand-budapest-hotel-filmWes Anderson for some time now has been one of the biggest indie directors around. With a slight dip in form occurring with 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, both of which are enjoyable but lacking a certain heart, Anderson seems to have rediscovered himself following on from his animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. So in 2014 he returns with The Grand Budapest Hotel, a sprawling crime caper with a cast bigger than one of those terrible ‘New Years Eve’ type movies. Starring Ralph Fiennes as the spectacularly posh/camp owner of the Hotel, M. Gustave, a character who has always had a special relationship with his older lady visitors is gifted a priceless painting by one of his closest visitors when she is murdered. This doesn’t go down particularly well with her sons though and this begins a manhunt for Gustave with an aim to frame him for the murder.

This is perhaps Anderson’s most precise work, known for his meticulous style The Grand Budapest takes this a new level, at least in live action. It’s so perfectly framed with every little detail designed to be just so the film often feels like an animation in the same vein as Fantastic Mr Fox. And here the script really suits the style, the script and the aesthetic merge together to create what could well be Anderson’s best realised comedic universe yet. The casting is flawless too, Fiennes’ performance is inspired as the rather bizarre but inifinitely likeable Gustave and other highlights come from his lobby boy, newcomer, Tony Revolori who is Gustave’s protege and best friend. Willem Dafoe as Jopling, is a psychopathic son of the murdered Madame D. and with very few lines he brings probably the most laughs of anyone. The cast is so large, though, and all of them perform so well that I can’t mention tham all as much as I would like. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a bit slow to kick things off and it does spend slightly too long setting the scene but when events do start picking up it is well worth the wait and as it builds to a climax the visuals become more and more impressive in equal measure to the humour. This is a prime example of an auteur confident, accomplished and at the top of his game.

This may not be a film for people who aren’t familiar with Anderson but for those who are this is certainly one of his best. And a prime example of his unique style. Although I wouldn’t go as far as this is his best film this continues a blinding run of form for the writer-director and is up there with his best works.

CAGE RAGE: Wild at Heart

wild-at-heartFollowing Raising Arizona, Wild at Heart is only the second film on Cage’s filmography that I’d seen before starting this project so going in for a second viewing I knew what I was going to be facing. And simply I couldn’t wait to get back into David Lynch’s Bonnie and Clyde-like road movie. Wild at Heart follows Sailor (Cage) a convicted killed who brutally beats a man to death in the opening scene after having a knife pulled on him and his girl, Lula (Laura Dern). After serving his sentence Lula comes rushing back to him against her mothers demands and the pair of love birds go on a wild escapade across the vast plains of America in what seems to be a particularly strange, Lynchian interpretation of our modern day world.

This film is one of the reasons why I love Lynch so much, its packed to the brim with his unique, stylish, yet awkward and uncomfortable hyper-realistic style. Wild at Heart has a more understandable plot than other Lynch films but that’s not to say its normal by any stretch. There are a number of scenes that don’t seem to have any bearing on the actual storyline, and lots of cryptic lines and shots that are difficult to read and understand. Out of these cryptic tendencies comes one of the films most intriguing themes, the constant reference to The Wizard of Oz, of course, this is partly a nod to one of cinema’s greatest achievements but it’s also an acute and incredibly well thought-out metaphor for what’s going on with these bizarre central characters. As they spiral out of control in a burst of sex, violence and crime it’s as if they’re trapped in this strange new world with larger than life characters. As the film goes on the references become more explicit to the point where Lula even taps her red heels together three times and wishes to go home. There is no escape for her though and she is trapped in this chaotic and haunting place, stuck in a particularly unusual relationship with Sailor. Before going into Cage’s performance it’s important to mention just how brilliant Willem Dafoe is in this movie as Bobby Peru, a slimy wheeler dealer who isn’t introduced till late in the proceedings. He has a habit of saying particularly disturbing stuff before laughing it all off as a joke, but his yellow-stubby braced teeth and crazed eyes show us a bubbling insanity and a dark core at the centre of another strange metaphorical character in Lynch’s vision. Cage is simply exceptional in this film, too. He is perfect casting for Lynch’s over-the-top and almost cartoony world. Every move cage makes, every line and every action is just a bit more hammy than you’d expect and it really gives Wild at Heart it’s all-important mood.

In terms of Cage Rage rating this film has to get top marks, with a scene of hideous violence at the hands of Cage to kick things off the insanity doesn’t let up throughout. While this may not be Lynch at his absolute finest Cage is a perfect match for the director and it’s a real shame the two haven’t worked together since. A great watch and the second 5/5 rating.

CAGE RAGE RATING – 5/5

 

Beyond: Two Souls

b2s_4In an extremely busy period for big release games I found myself getting very excited for Quantic Dream’s follow-up to the sublime Heavy Rain. This time casting in A-List acting talents in the form of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe to take you on a supernatural journey. Beyond: Two Souls tells the story of Jodie who has another soul attached to her who goes by the name of Aiden, the storyline jumps back and forth in Jodie’s lifetime and how she comes to terms with having this unusual burden. Much like Heavy Rain the game plays out as if it were a movie but you are in control of the character, for example, during a fight scene when Jodie needs to punch or dodge you have to flick the right thumbstick in the direction she needs to move in.

The appeal of having the game being wholly narrative based is that you are in control of how the narrative turns out, you make Jodie’s decisions to determine where she ends up at the end. Heavy Rain had this element of control just right having you constantly gripped and thinking about what to do next, however with Beyond I found there didn’t seem to be enough decisions to choose from, it all seemed far too planned. And overall this is where Beyond falls short, it feels as though you are never in control, even if the fight scenes if you fail to do the right moves the outcome will always end up the same, although there are number of possible endings and various other story strands it’s never made clear and it always feels as though you’re just being guided through the pre-written storyline. The graphics and design of the whole project is phenomenal and the performances from all the actors, especially Page is really impressive, but once the initial buzz of excitement from the first few scenes fades it quickly becomes tedious to give the odd thumbstick flick in an attempt to keep you involved in the game. The narrative itself has moments of absolute brilliance and the paranormal element makes for some really interesting moments but particularly in the middle section the whole thing just droops and becomes a chore to get through. The ending goes some way to redeeming this but again feels far too contrived with far too little freedom to decide Jodie’s fate.

In short, there are moments where Beyond is really, really good but ultimately it feels as though the makers just wanted to make a movie. It seems there is less gameplay than Heavy Rain and really they should have gone in the opposite direction, whilst it’s a very inventive new method of storytelling it feels as though they are not making the most of what is essentially a game!