2014 in Film Jan-June
I’ve viewed far fewer films this year than in those past, which is a shame. The huge shifts occurring in my life have left me with little time to actually sit down and watch a whole bunch of stuff. Never the less, I’ve made it to six films in the cinema this year (~one per month) and have decided to say here what I’ve been thinking about each of them (aside from The Fault in Our Stars and Under The Skin, which get their own pieces). Enjoy!
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Budapest appears to be Wes Anderson’s imagining of a blockbuster action film. It’s as though all the rambunctiousness of a Michael Bay insanity was passed through an Adersonian filter, and this is what came out the other side. And that’s not a bad thing. Not at all. Even though The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the most conventional and plot-driven of Anderson’s tales to date, the ride he takes us on is a wild one. Sure, it’s more or less a story with an A-to-B trajectory (plus some detours), but it’s a trajectory that is nonetheless a whole bunch of the same fun we’ve come to expect from the director.
In this film, Anderson plays with aspect ratios, with slapstick comedy, with stop-motion, with models. He’s not afraid of a massive ensemble cast, or of ski-jump chase scenes. In fact, Budapest pretty much indicates that, at this point, its director really isn’t afraid of anything. He’s okay with encasing huge emotional character traits within twenty-second asides. For instance, we see what is almost literally a flash of Mr Gustave in a room, and we instantly understand something very important and intrinsic to his character—and then, just like that, Anderson moves on.
For a director who is sometimes so over-the-top, particularly with aesthetics, Wes Anderson makes it clear that he knows the power of the understated. The Grand Budapest Hotel is not his best work, though not through any fault. It still has the same magic of Rushmore or Tenenbaums, but it’s been repackaged into a less personal format. And what a fun time that format provides.
This is the worst movie of the year. Featuring Hugo Weaving of The Matrix as an unthreatening convict that everyone fears for no conceivable reason, he spends two hours trying desperately to string along the film’s painfully forced metaphors. Weaving is a convict put in charge of a bird recovery centre. He fosters a relationship with an eagle which was injured around when he wound up in the low-security Australian prison. Need I say more?
The joint metaphors of flight/freedom and injury/jail are painful to watch, and aren’t helped by the awkward combination of CGI/live action bird footage that’s jarring even in the long, gratuitous opening scene. The eagle’s wingspan is two metres, but that’s not the only part of this film that is ridiculously long. You see, this film is a tease. It pretends to end at least three times before finally offing itself with the bittersweet ending we were all set up to expect. And when it came by, we rolled our eyes and moved on. I don’t understand why this film exists, or why anyone thought it was important to make. It’s a lovely movie that does nothing interesting at all. To be pretentious about it, we could say that the film says nothing worthwhile, either. In fact, it doesn’t say anything. It screams everything, as though subtlety were a lost art, and as though the creators were somewhat aware that its audience would find it difficult to care about the film at all.
The Lego Movie
The Lego Movie is a children’s film triumph. Where animated films have lately tended towards being sequel-oriented, or just somewhat underwhelming (though Frozen was a humble, soon-to-be-forgotten surprise), The Lego Movie really shines through. It’s funny to kids and adults, begins with a good thirty minutes of social satire, and understands how to pace out its action to remain interesting right up till the end, unlike anything made by Marvel in the last decade. Did I mention that The Lego Movie, against all expectations of an action movie aimed at kids, actually has an incredible ending that elevates the film to greatness? The very nature of the ending, and the way the film’s scope zooms simultaneously out and in is incredible.
This is a smartly-written film, and it’s a film that understands Lego, too. It understands fundamentally why we like building things with plastic blocks, and the film both celebrates and challenges these ideals. It’s brilliant, it’s funny, and saying anything more about it would ruin so much of it for you.
The Zero Theorum
Terry Gilliam’s portrayal of the future in The Zero Theorum is both peculiar and eerie. It contains some haunting premonitions, such as street-long billboards featuring ads that follow people as they walk, or religions being advertised on the basis that they’ll get you rich. The film clearly draws on 1980-80s scifi for its imagery (as do many of Gilliam’s other works). People’s jobs as ‘programmers’ involves interacting with virtual reality in the confines of an unconventional and incredibly physical video game.
Matt Damon has a role in this film that he suits really well for some reason, alongside Christoph Waltz. Both actors give us good performances, though nothing that could stand proudly next to the best in their careers, perhaps only because the script didn’t give them enough to work with.
The Zero Theorum is a movie I desperately wanted to enjoy, but as the issues piled up, it became almost aggressive in demanding that I didn’t. Sometimes, Gilliam seems to fancy the film a rom-com, and as such writes in the most thinly-written manifestation of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope I’ve ever encountered. Bainsley, played by Mélanie Thierry, has not a single motivation in this film, nor one part of her character that draws beyond cliche.
When it isn’t attempting romance, The Zero Theorum is an exercise in existentialism and accountability. But you understand exactly what this exercise entails after the first half hour, and yet the film still feels the need to explain every one of its metaphors in the final act(like how Waltz’s Qohen has spent his whole life waiting for a phone call). Gilliam doesn’t trust his audience, and it is from this lack of trust that the rest of the film falls apart.