Ernest & Celestine

March 31, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Posted in 2014 | 1 Comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

This beautiful little French film is actually a couple of years old and was one of the Oscar nominees for Best Animated Film for last year.  However, it has only now arrived in wide release here in the U.S. but, for anyone who likes animated films, it was worth the wait.  “Ernest & Celestine” is a lovely example of the classic animated movies of another era and serves to really show how empty films like “Frozen” are.  The backgrounds are beautiful watercolors that evoke mood and a sense of place that digital animation simply cannot.  Likewise, the characters are joyfully simple, sweet and wholly likable.  Unlike modern American animated films, there is no sarcasm or “hipness” here.  That is not to say the film is without humor.  In fact, it is quite funny but in a gentle slapstick and heartwarming sort of way.  The story, about a bear and a mouse who become friends, has a moral about not judging those who are different but it is very softly played and never feels preachy.  In the end, what sold me most is what always draws me to an animated film: the artwork.  The soft, dreamy watercolors created such a lovely mood and generated a pleasant nostalgia in me (it reminded me so much of the old animation I used to see on British TV in the late 70s).  While similar in look to other recent French animated films, “The Triplets of Belleville” and “The Illusionist,” this movie has a softer, more washed out look that lends itself well to the story.  Make no mistake, this film does not touch the brilliance of those other two, both of which are true animation classics, but it is a delightful diversion, none-the-less.  I saw the English version, rather than the subtitled one and I’m glad I did.  The fantastic cast (Forest Whitaker, Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H Macy, Nick Offerman, Jeffrey Wright and Megan Mullally) do a wonderful job of bringing their characters to life and allowed me to focus on the images rather than on reading.  In a world of overly clever animated films, this old fashioned gem was exactly what I needed.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

March 17, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Posted in 2014, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

Wes Anderson appears to be hitting his stride.  His last three films: this one, “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Fantastic Mr Fox,” manage to be the best of what you expect from a Wes Anderson film, which is to say, you will either love it or hate it. His mix of absurdity and whimsy is definitely not for everyone but, if you love him, you will love this. He sadly stumbled a bit with “The Life Aquatic” and “The Darjeeling Limited,” somehow managing to make the films seem twee rather than whimsical and pretentious rather than absurdist fun. However, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” almost rises to the level of “Moonrise Kingdom” with its brilliant visuals and joyfully convoluted plot. This is caper movie in the grand tradition of caper movies, owing as much to the “Muppet” movies as it does to the likes of “The Sting” or “The Thomas Crown Affair.” The plot is ridiculous but of course it is. You don’t see a Wes Anderson film for a nuanced plot; you see it for ridiculous dialogue, deadpan acting and weirdly wonderful visuals and this film has all of those in spades. It’s a lot of fun to see all the Anderson regulars here: Bill Murray, Jason Schwarzman, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton and Harvey Keitel, all clearly enjoying the hell out of themselves. In addition, they are joined by the usual gaggle of the odd and unexpected: Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Fisher Stevens (!), Tom Wilkinson, Saoirse Ronan, F. Murray Abraham and the newly hot Léa Seydoux (“Blue is the Warmest Color”). Everyone is great in their roles, however large or small, though Fiennes and Dafoe were the real joys to watch. Tony Revolori, the heretofore unknown 17 year old who places the main character, “Zero,” also did a fantastic job in what I hope is a breakout role for him. It can’t be easy to step into a film like this, that requires a real knack for comic timing, but he was up to the task.  Wes Anderson’s movies will never be lauded on Oscar night but thoseof us who truly love film have great respect for the voice that is uniquely his.

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