The Grand Budapest Hotel Shines

by Leif Erik Harty

GBH_Title_meteormermaidIn Wes Anderson’s latest cinematic adventure Ralph Fiennes stars as M. Gustave, the concierge of a hotel in the fictional European nation known as the Republic of Zubrowka. Joined by his newfound lobby boy, Zero (played by the relatively unknown Tony Revolori) he seeks to avoid detainment for the “theft” of his rightly inherited property. The movie follows their escapades across fictional alpine Europe in a time period designed to mirror that of World War II. And the effect shines like pure Anderson gold.

Grand-Budapest-Hotel-Actors-Talk-About-Director-Wes-AndersonFor the longest time, I have been wrestling with the issue of my favorite movie. It’s one of those questions that people ask pretty frequently, but I’ve always had trouble answering. The main reason I’ve struggled with it so much is that I thoroughly enjoy so many movies. I decided the best way to finally make a decision was to approach my thinking from two directions, effectively creating two sets of favorites. The first method revolved around how the movie made me feel, while the second method focused on my admiration for the mechanics of the moviemaking process (use of lighting, quality of editing, cinematographer’s preferences, etc.). Then it happened. I sat down to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel for the first time earlier this year and discovered a movie that hit both criteria out of the park. The narrative follows a grandiose and ever-winding path, but tells the majority of its story (like most good movies do) through exceptional visuals. I’ve walked away from each subsequent viewing with a continued sense of this movie’s masterpiece quality.


Despite its fictional nature, it’s really quite an experience taking the 100-minute vacation to the Republic of Zubrowka. Any good movie will draw you in, but few movies transplant you quite the way Grand Budapest Hotel does. The hotel and all of its guests live a regal lifestyle, even through some very dark moments. In complete honesty, the hotel is a den of pomp and lavish living, but it never feels quite that way. The goal appears not to be to create a feeling of disgust within the viewer, but rather a feeling of fondness, which is exactly what happens. Throughout the ups and downs of the plot, there is always a fanciful touch to everything, which is part of the comedy. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but a large portion of the amusement comes from the persistent elegance in the face of blatant misfortune. In addition to its comedic value, the atmosphere is also just downright pleasant. However, it isn’t innately well done. The atmosphere is successful because of several technical aspects that work well together.

The Grand Budapest HotelCinematography is the first of these aspects that I’m going to touch upon. There are a few visual qualities that really set The Grand Budapest Hotel apart, the most pervasive being its thematic color. While it’s not necessarily unique for a movie to have a color theme, it is unique for that color to be primarily pink. Within the bulk of the movie, there are shades of pink everywhere. For the brief parts of the movie that take place in the late 60s and mid-80s, the thematic color is orange. Both colors are rather unusual, but they do a great job of constantly reminding the audience where things are in the overall timeline. The pink adds to the flowery feel of the hotel’s heyday, while the orange adds to the dull feel of the hotel’s declining years. The system works very well, but never makes itself overly present.

GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL_426.jpgThere is also another visual achievement that succeeds by making its presence known. Films need establishing shots. They really do. It can be very disorienting to the audience if the narrative lacks any visual encompassment. I admire the way that Wes Anderson’s team decided to tackle such a standard element. There are a good number of typical wide shots, showcasing the outside of a building or something along those lines. However, there are also many wide shots composed in such a way that they take on a Charlie Chaplin-era feel. They’re actually rather hard to describe, but the most accurate description is that they make the scenery look like high quality backdrops. These shots, combined with slides separating acts and the occasional vignette, ingrain a golden-age-of-cinema feel within the movie. Visuals aren’t everything, though. The Grand Budapest Hotel would fall flat on its face without the aid of some excellent dialogue.


Keeping in line with the elegant feel of the hotel itself, much of the movie’s language is quite fanciful. The narrative is full of metaphors and figures of speech too flowery for the average Joe to come up with, but it never becomes stuffy. In fact, things progress quite differently. In the same way that the film creates comedy by contrasting pomp with turbulent situations, it also contrasts the linguistically proper with the linguistically crass. The elegant language of the upper class is often broken up by a cruder, but equally colorful, way of speaking. Part of the movie’s R rating can be attributed to its crude language, but it isn’t overdone. It’s present just enough to create a very nice contrast and provide some variety, which is something this film has in abundance, especially in the casting department.

budapesthtelCatPeople don’t pay enough attention to casting. I have to admit that I fall into that group. Fortunately, this movie woke me up. The array of actors is pretty unique and it creates an interesting setup. For one, the list of notable actors is pretty lengthy. Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, to name just a few. The thing that particularly sets The Grand Budapest Hotel apart in the realm of casting is that many of the big-name actors receive only a short amount of screen time. At first, it’s a bit strange to see them in minor roles, but ultimately, it’s a nice twist on typical expectations. On the flip side, one of the leading roles is the lobby boy, Zero, played by the no-name Tony Revolori. The genius in having the unknown actor play such a key role is that he brings no baggage with him. The audience gets to experience him in a completely fresh way since he has no past characters for which people to connect him. The freshness of Zero’s character and the celebrity casting contribute to the film’s pleasant, but unique feel. 

In short, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a fantastic movie. It tackles many familiar conventions with new thinking, makes great use of contrasting realities to tell a funny story, and pulls the audience into a world with more strength than many films could every dream of. I highly recommend it.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is now Extended and on Blu-Ray in 3D


by Carrie Specht

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second installment of the epic The Hobbit trilogy arrived on Blu-ray 3D and regular old Blu-ray in a new “Extended Edition” on November 4th courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. The Extended Edition features a 25-minute longer cut and more than nine hours of new special features on two separate DVDs. That’s a whole lot of middle earth bang for the buck. The most ardent fan will be thrilled with this extremely thorough presentation package, and the less enthused admirer of the series (although I can’t imagine who these people are) will be impressed with the behind the scenes look into the production of the three most ambition films of our times. Now is the time to own it on Blu-Ray.

HBT1-fs-304358.DNGThe 25 minutes of extra film footage is spread out, extending individual scenes, adding coverage that was previously unseen through out the known movie. So, don’t expect a surprise ending or anything like that. But instead, enjoy the welcome extension of your favorite moments that now have a little some extra. For fans such embellishments make this the must-see, definitive version of the film. And that goes for both the 3D and the regular Blu-Ray presentations. The more than nine hours of new bonus features offer exactly what you would expect and more, truly enriching the experience of the Trilogy. All this comes at the perfect time as fans restlessly gear up for the December 17 theatrical release of the third and final film, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

gandalf-the-hobbit-dos-ee-620x330The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the adventure of the title character Bilbo Baggins as he journeys with the Wizard Gandalf and thirteen Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield. Their’s is an epic quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. Having survived the beginning of their “unexpected journey”, the company travels east, encountering a skin-changer and a swarm of giant Spiders in the treacherous forest of Mirkwood. Their luck holds out as they escape capture by the dangerous Wood-elves as they journey to Lake-town. Finally the troop (for the most part) make it to the Lonely Mountain itself, where they face the greatest danger so far, a creature more terrifying than any other; one which will test not only the depth of their courage but the limits of their friendship. This creature is of course the title character of the dragon, Smaug.

The-Hobbit-desolation-of-Smaug-dragon-photo-close-up Among the many new special features are an audio commentary with Peter Jackson, the film’s director/producer/screenwriter, and Philippa Boyens, co-producer/screenwriter. The two-disc “Appendices” are really a multi-part documentary focusing on various aspects of the film and the Trilogy showcasing an immersive multi-part history of the filming of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The scope of which includes pre-production in the various departments of the film in the months leading up to the start of principal photography, the extensive training required of the many actors, and the work done on set and in the world of digital effects. Of course, you can’t talk about the making of The Hobbit without giving due respect and attention to New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth. I’m telling you this is an all out effort to give the fans what they really want, and that’s to get as close to the action as possible, and this package delivers just that.


Special note: Another bonus that comes along with the purchase of specially marked Blu-ray discs is the inclusion of Digital HD with UltraViolet . THis is pretty cool, because Digital HD with UltraViolet allows consumers to instantly stream and download movies and TV shows to TVs, computers, tablets and smartphones through UltraViolet retail services like CinemaNow, Flixster, Target Ticket, VUDU and more every day (this is a wonderful world we live in). For more information on compatible devices go to Consult an UltraViolet Retailer for details and requirements and for a list of HD-compatible devices. 

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUGAnd you can have all that goes with the purchase of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition on Blu-ray 3D for $54.98 and Blu-ray for just $35.99. That’s a pretty awesome price, especially when you consider that Warner Home Video Blu-ray Discs offer resolution six times higher than standard definition DVDs, as well as extraordinarily vibrant contrast and color and beautifully crisp sound. I watched this on an 80″ screen and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen on it. No kidding. I know I sound like a print ad, but it’s true that the format also provides a higher level of interactivity, with instant access to extra features via a seamless menu bar where viewers can enjoy features without leaving or interrupting the film. Why hasn’t someone thought of this sooner!



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Carrie, Randy and Ruben Are Back Rambling About Movies


Carrie, Randy and Ruben like to talk about movies whenever and where ever. Sadly, Randy couldn’t be with us so Dick Hollywood is filling in for him for this quick (8 minutes or so) revival of a once grand plan.

We roam from topic to topic pretty quickly, and Carrie is a lot louder than her subdued counter parts (Dick can be such a wallflower, poor thing). We’ll be sure to iron out the technical difficulties for our next submissions, but for now give us a listen and let us know what you think. Is Carrie an insufferable know-it-all? Is Ruben an obstinate jerk? Is Dick Hollywood the coolest guy in town who just knows everything about films on the edgier side? You tell us.

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Love is Strange is Not as Strange as You Think, or Want

LOVE-IS-STRANGEby Carrie Specht

As much as I wanted to love this film I just couldn’t. As much as I wanted John Lithgow and Alfred Molina to wow me with award worthy performances it just didn’t happen. And as much as I would like to agree with so many other reviewers about the qualities of this well-intentioned film, I just can’t. Love is Strange was to me the biggest disappointment of the summer, but I suppose that’s because I wanted so much for it to be so very good that my expectations were too high. Then again, I feel the director shares some of the responsibility here, and that he settled too often for “good enough” when he should have made the extra effort to do better. He has dropped the ball on a wonderful opportunity and done a disservice to two fine actors who deserved to have this film be as good as it should have been.


I absolutely love the concept of the film, mostly because it sounds a bit like the plot from on old 1937 film I adore, Make Way for Tomorrow. Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are a couple who have been together for nearly forty years. They don’t have kids, but they have many friends and an extended family that appear to be very supportive as demonstrated at a beautiful wedding ceremony held in lower Manhattan. Things change however, when George loses his job soon after and the couple must sell their apartment. For financial reasons they are forced to “temporarily” live apart until they can find a new home. Seems like a reasonable idea, but of course it’s one thing to love your friends and family and an entirely different thing to live with them. 

6150563_origBen goes to stay with his nephew (Darren Burrows) and family (Marisa Tomei and Charlie Tahan), while George ends up at the apartment of some much younger and more socially active friends (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez). And this is where the heart of the story really is. As much as the previews and ads want you to believe this film is about the relationship between Ben and George and the pain of their separation, the focus is all on the tension that builds between those forced to live together who otherwise wouldn’t. An already awkward situation is made more difficult because Ben has to share a bedroom (and bunk beds) with his nephew’s temperamental teenage son as the sedate and classical music loving George now spends his evenings with well-intentioned neighbors who seem to live life in a never-ending stream of parties and get-togethers.

LOVE IS STRANGEThe press release I received says that director Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On, Forty Shades of Blue), and I quote, “blends the romance of New York City’s streets and skyline with a delicate Chopin piano score to poignantly capture both the lightness and sorrows of this modern day love story”. However, the moments that feature the Chopin music are very heavy handed (a montage of shots of random people listening intently is less than inspiring), and I didn’t see a lot of the city or its skyline in this film. In fact, I didn’t realize that Ben’s character was relocated to Brooklyn until I read the press release. The set up of sending the two men to two separate homes is so poorly executed that if you’re not paying close attention you’ll be confused about why they haven’t gone to stay in the same place. Especially since there is a relative with a home large enough to accommodate them, although it is in New Jersey and everyone keeps making little jokes about how no one would want to go there even if only temporarily. Really? I would think these two men would.


The incompetent execution extends to the lack of so-called coverage. Many scenes are shot with just a few camera angles (if more than one) leading me to believe the filmmakers had a very small budget with a very tight schedule. Okay, I can understand that, but that’s no excuse for not creatively coming up with the coverage necessary to tell such an intimate tale. For example, when you have a close up of one of the two heroes expressing his feelings to the other you want to see the reverse and the face of the one who is listening (and sometimes even talking), and not just the back of their head. This to me is lazy filmmaking. Not to mention the lack of any real conflict occurring between the houseguests and their hosts. Ultimately, it just seems that everyone is a bit shallow and unfeeling towards these two men who need a little more help than they originally thought they did. And don’t give me the false hope of the ridiculous situation that pops up at the end completely out of the blue. It wasn’t necessary. I don’t want to give anything away, but it would have been fine just to show us the final home without the way it was acquired. It seemed to me a weak attempt to build pathos in a film that is sorely lacking elsewhere.

Sorry, but Love is Strange completely dropped the ball for me, and when there’s so much potential I find that unforgivable. I’m glad we’re finally seeing such characters as Ben and George on the big screen; I just think they deserved a better story, and certainly a much better director. This is one you can skip.

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The Trip To Italy is a Refreshing Summer Get Away


by Carrie Specht

Summer is usually the time for big movies with lots of action enhanced by copious amounts of special effects and computer generated images. Or even high concept comedies that involve opposites who are irrevocably drawn to each other. And of course there are the silly, flamboyant films aimed at kids accompanied by gobs of marking products that inevitably end up making more money than the film itself. But sometimes, maybe once in a blue moon there emerges another kind of film, one that relies on content clever dialogue, and snappy repartee. Fortunately for audiences the week before this film opened we experienced a “super” moon, which is even more rare than a blue one. On its trail comes The Trip To Italy, the delightful follow up to Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s previous road movie, The Trip.

thetrip240314wLike their previous team up, Coogan (Philomena, Hamlet 2) and Brydon (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, The Rob Brydon Show) are on a regional exploration with the intention of visiting several restaurants to review for some English print outlet, but this time they’re in Italy instead of the English Lake district (poor fellas, right?). They drive a lot and they eat a lot, and there’s not much more to the plot than that. Although there are some strained attempts at a couple of subplots (romance for Brydon and family drama for Coogan), the whole set up is just a really good excuse for two friends to talk and rant about whatever comes to mind.

trip-to-italy This might seem like a boring concept to some moviegoers, but with the likes of Coogan and Brydon it’s a brilliant idea that allows for some moments of hilarious comedy that will have you laughing along as if you were a part of the conversation and endless bantering. And since the two comedians appear to be sincerely close friends – the kind that pick on each other relentlessly and get on each other’s nerves to the absolute straining point and yet will still go for the kill on a tender subject if there’s a good joke in it – you’re really getting an inside look at a wonderful adult friendship. The Trip To Italy is as intimate a film as you’re ever likely to see.


I recommend seeing this film with someone with whom you share a similar relationship to the one that exists between Coogan and Brydon. No doubt the empathy you’ll experience will make the comedy that much more funny, and the movie that much more memorable (kind of like when you take a vacation with a friend). There are times you’ll wonder why these two men put up with each, and why they would even consider a trip together their behavior toward each other is so acerbic and unrelenting. And yet it is clear that they understand each other, making each other laugh harder than anyone else they know. When those moments happen I promise you’ll be laughing just as hard, especially if your own Coogan or Brydon is sitting next to you with whom you can share a knowing glance.


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Boyhood – A Brilliant Concept Realized

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by Carrie Specht

Richard Linklater’s latest film is a remarkable and unprecedented must-see for anyone who has ever experienced the difficulties of growing up. No doubt you’ve heard about the concept of Boyhood, and how the story follows the progress of one boy as he grows, changes and develops into a young adult. Granted, the story itself is not so remarkable, however the fact that the actor playing the boy is the same person throughout the duration of the film is astonishing. The rest of the cast also remains the same all the way through the film. And since the plot runs from the time the main character is six until he reaches eighteen, means that all those involved on screen were committed to the project for twelve years. This level of commitment alone is worth celebrating, but what’s even more noteworthy is the fact that the film is good. In fact, it’s very, very good and is one to watch come award season.

image2resizeSurely, there have been other films that have taken a great amount of time to complete, but never with such anticipated and moving results as Boyhood. From the very beginning shot when we find Mason (Ellar Coltrain) on his back gazing into the sky (an image used for most of the posters) we sense the journey that is before him. But how do you trace a boy’s life? Is it by the momentous events that happen, or is it through the every day happenings that take on significance only when seen in retrospect? Fortunately, in this case it is the later. Linklater and his collaborators (the actors themselves) have crafted a storyline that is familiar yet special in its familiarity. I doubt there is anyone who can’t relate in some way or form to the troubles of a modern family and the complications that arise as life simply happens. It is this straightforward approach that keeps Boyhood on an even dramatic keel as it follows its inevitable course, and the lack of trauma is exactly what most audiences will find refreshingly appealing.


Although the film is long at about two hours and forty-five minutes, I did not sense a moment when I was not completely involved with the drama on the screen. And even though the passing of time is noted in the growth of Mason and his sister (parents Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke remain remarkably unchanged – they must have portraits decaying somewhere) the impact of their overall growth by the end of the film makes a powerful impression. You will miss the children that they were and feel a pang as you realize they are literally gone, never to be seen again. This to me is one of the most lasting effects of the film: that the actor grew up before our very eyes and has immerged as a new person by the end of the film. I haven’t stopped thinking about the ending of this film since I left the theatre.


There’s a particularly moving moment provided by Patricia Arquette not too long before the end of the film that sums up the message of the story and subsequently the role of parenthood (which could be the alternate title of the film had it not already been used for a Steve Martin comedy). Arquette as the mother is about to be on her own as her youngest sets off to college without fanfare or much regard for what or whom he’s leaving behind. She is relieved, sad, angry and frustrated. This is it for her life with her child. What happens next? Alternately we see the same question cross Mason’s face just before the screen goes to black. But the possibilities are decidedly different, and the future far more promising. The difference is in the perspective, and the answer is yet to be determined. That is unless you consider this film to be a prequel to Before Sunrise, which I think it could easily be. As good as it is it has earned the possibility. Knowing that, I don’t see how you can’t but enjoy the experience of seeing Boyhood.


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The Rover is a Hard Sell but Worth Every Brutal Minute


by Carrie Specht

The Rover is an Australian film set in the not too distant future where some sort of cataclysmic decline in society has occurred. We don’t know how or why, but the world as we know it no longer exists and people now live in a dystopian state as dehumanized individuals that have little regard for human life. The film and its characters are very reminiscent of a few other films I can think of from Australia, such as Mad Max and even Walkabout. But make no mistake, The Rover is unique and packs a powerful punch that will leave you thinking of no other film you’ve seen before.

1400830342863.jpg-620x349David Michod wrote (with Joel Edgerton) and directed this sparse and lean chronicle of a man who goes after the men who stole his only possession: his car. Michod’s only previous feature film credit as master and commander was for 2010’s Animal Kingdom. Although this would qualify as his sophomore effort, there are certainly no signs of any slump. If anything, you could say that Michod’s second time at the helm is even more impactful than his first. As bare bones as the mise en scene may be every touch to the overall composition has an edge to it, creating an atmosphere as crisp and full of energy as any action pact scene from a summer block-buster.

The Rover

I liked this film very much, and have grown to like it even more, the more I think about it. However, I did notice multiple couples get up and leave during the screening I attended. Perhaps they expected something else due to the two stars, Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. Maybe they thought it was going to be something more romantic, or funnier. Pearce is not your usual hero here as a man of few words and the scariest angry look I’ve ever seen in any movie. His unfaltering stares are powerful enough to make you squirm in your seat. And Pattinson is nothing short of a revelation as a (shall we say) mentally encumbered young man whose brother has left him for dead, and whose loyalty shifts to the one person who is actively using him, for better or worse. The accolades both men have been earning since the film’s premier at the Cannes Film Festival are certainly well deserved.


Make no mistake, The Rover will not appeal to everyone. But this small movie is an exceptionally well-crafted film that deserves to be seen. However, it will get lost amongst the gigantic releases populating movie houses during the summer months. So, you’ll have to seek this one out. Think of it as an artistic responsibility, or perhaps your own personal strike in a war against the commercial drudgery of films like The Transformers. Whatever your reason, see it and judge for yourself. My feeling is you’re going to be glad you did.


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Flutter, a Film That Tells a Good Solid Story


Flutter is one of those small independents that unless you’re looking for it is likely to get lost in the mass of summer releases and slip under your radar, and that would be unfortunate. Even at a festival I can see how the unassuming façade of this well produced little feature might not catch the eye of the usual attendee looking for the latest edgy story. However, if you take the time to seek out Flutter you’ll discover a little gem of a film that recalls the quality of the best productions of the independent world, films that tell a good story.


At first glance Flutter appears to be just another simple tale about a poor single mother struggling to get by with a young son who has some unusual medical condition (no spoilers here). However, not too long after the picture starts you’re drawn into the appealing story of motherly fortitude by the straightforward performances provided by the talented cast. Lacking the showiness of overwrought melodrama, Lindsay Pulsipher leads with her clear-cut depiction of a young mother going through the difficult day-to-day task of making ends meet in rural Texas. Looking not much older than the son she cares for, Pulsipher initially appears frail, but quickly takes on the persona of an iron willed force of nature that prioritizes her son above all else, but without shouting, crying or any other hysterics typical of films that don’t believe in the strength of their own tale.

Flutter_142157It may not be an unusual basis for a plot, but just like any oft-told tale it’s the execution that makes a difference. I was particularly impressed with how the film avoids portraying anyone as an out and out bad guy (although the mother-in-law comes close) or as an “ideal” character. Rather we see everyone with their warts and all, with complex personalities that exist as a matter of fact. The father-in-law (Glenn Morshower) is sympathetic but no hero, the son (Johnathan Huth Jr.) is charming but irresponsible, and even our heroine, the mother, is allowed a freak-out and moments of horrible judgment. And the temptation to add a love story is handled in an unexpected yet satisfying manner as well, giving a mature relationship an honest portrayal that does not end up being the answer to the female lead’s problems. Imagine that? 

A053_C008_0525XGThe other very striking element to Flutter is the stylized cinematography. Although the film is shot with traditional compositions, it is the whitewashed look that provides an almost ethereal quality to the overall mood, constantly reminding us of the hot Texas sun, the starkness of everyday life, and the lack of artificial conveniences in the world laid out before us. The cinematography is put to exceptionally good use for the little vignettes that act almost like bookends to the major moments in the film. Appearing almost as if they may have been improvised, these unguarded moments of play between the boy, his mother and his beloved pet pig (yes, a pig) provide delightful bits of character development without the use of dialogue.


I realize that most films these days tend to focus on either the special effects or supposed “edgy” material. But personally, I prefer a good story that is told well regardless of the pomp and circumstance. Such is the case with Flutter. I know I haven’t said a lot about the plot here, but I prefer seeing films without knowing that much about them, especially when they’re good. And Flutter is exactly that: simply a good film. Period. Why would I want to take away the experience of you discovering that for yourself? So, go forth and discover Flutter, a quiet and powerfully satisfying film.


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Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return Deserves a Chance

by Carrie Specht

Two weeks ago the new animated film Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return opened and immediately met with audience trepidation and hostile reviews that resulted in a very low cumulative rating on Rotten Tomatoes (currently standing at just 15%). I believe these reactions are unjust and the film deserves a second consideration. Yes, by taking on such a revered story the filmmakers set themselves up for this kind of knee-jerk reaction, but if you listen to the naysayers you’ll be denying yourself the opportunity of seeing a truly charming film as entertaining as it is appropriate for the whole family. How many other films can you say that about this holiday weekend?

14I get the reason for the initial gut response. I too was hesitant to accept any telling of a story involving Dorothy that didn’t have Judy Garland and the rest of the 1939 elements involved. In fact, I would have thought it ill advised to even think of taking on such a venture. After all, The Wizard of Oz is one of the most acclaimed and cherished films ever made. Most people (although not everyone) has seen the beloved musical either on television, in a revival house or on DVD, and that Technicolor presentation (with a little bit of black and white) is the way generations have and will always think of Oz. Period. So, why even try to make something new? For the simple reason that it’s not the only Oz story out there to have captured the imagination of a generation of young readers. I know it might shock you, but there are actually a whole bunch of books by L. Frank Baum, let alone by his great-grandson, Roger S. Baum who picked up the storytelling mantle and created the book on which Legends is based. 

45_headerI had the opportunity of seeing Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return last November during the American Film Market in Santa Monica, California. Although I admit I was less than open-minded about the idea of yet another film attempting to depict an Oz based story, I was pleasantly surprised if not overwhelmed with the quality of the overall production value. From the animation to the star-studded cast Oz is a solidly made film worthy of high praise it has yet to receive. No, the animation is not “Disney”. But neither was Toy Story. Anything that isn’t what we’re use to takes a little adjusting to. However, I found myself accepting the style very quickly as the engaging story progressed and drew me in. Besides Dorothy (Lea Michele) and the expected trio of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion (voiced by Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi and Kelsey Grammer respectively) there are a delightful group of new characters such as the soldier Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy), an owl named Wiser (Oliver Platt), the China Princess (Megan Hilty) and the fearsome foe of The Jester (Martin Short).

legends-of-oz-dorothys-return-movie-wallpaper-34Honestly, all in all, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is a film that earns every cent of your admission dollar. Whether it’s animation you’re looking for, or action, or adventure, or fantasy, or a love story (trust me, it works) or even a 3D presentation there’s plenty of appeal for every generation of the family. And on a long weekend at the precipice of summer with the whole family chomping at the bits for something to do together what more could you ask for? I say see it. Given half a chance, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return will not disappoint even the most ardent of Oz admirers.

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The Great Gatsby, Even Better the 5th Time Around


by Zijian Li

The Great Gatsby is one of the most precious of American literature. It has been adapted to film multiple times (four time for the big screen and once for television), the latest version having been directed by Baz Luhrmann, an Australian known for Moulin Rouge and Australia. This most recent film stars frequent Luhrman collaborator, Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby. In fact, the reactions of audiences toward the previous filmed versions of the story have been generally negative while the response to the original novel has been very successful. Regardless, the attempt by Luhrmann was still much anticipated particularly because of the cast, the promise of 3D, the utilization of CGI, and of course the opportunity to once again see a silver screen representation of the great novel itself. Without having watched the other cinematic versions, or even having read the book, this film definitely impressed me.

GG-06742r-1386x693First, this particular film did an amazing job (with its Academy Award winning Wardrobe and Production Design) of exhibiting how people in the time period of the flamboyant 1920s embraced and pursued the American dream, but with a unique and different angle than previously utilized. The development of Green Screen and Computer Image Generated techniques assisted in this achievement, demonstrating the excess of the “Lost Generation” on an exaggerated level that was until recently simply unattainable. At his time in the 1920s, America, as the World War I victor is celebrating its rapid growth in economy and the American dream was a key idea for society and youth. The film successfully sets the main character, Jay Gatsby as an epitome of all the pursuers who have reached success as seen through the eyes of another important character, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) who represents of those who have just started the journey. In fact, it is Gatsby’s friend Carraway who tells Gatsby’s story in a first person perspective. This method works surprisingly well, allowing the audience to be spectators who look at Gatsby’s life objectively.

Screen-Shot-2013-05-13-at-8.42.23-PMDiCaprio as Gatsby is certainly brilliant. All the feelings of the character were vividly delivered to audiences by his finely tuned facial expressions and minute gestures. The character of Gatsby is one of a man who has always been struggling, striving hard to pursue his dreams while covering his real identity. Because of this fact, there is a very complex feeling to this character that might have been lost on a lesser actor. The sense that he is an outstanding individual who has been very successful in his career making millions of dollars cannot be left to wardrobe alone, and DiCaprio has the gravitas to exude this persona effortlessly. However, deep inside of his heart, the character feels lonely, insecure, and even ashamed of his secret past. Again, DiCaprio has the skill to impart such a nuanced performance. Which is particularly essential here since the mood of the film flows with Gatsby’s mood: when he is excited and happy, the atmosphere of the film becomes likewise. In contrast, when Gatsby is upset the film has a depressed feeling as well. DiCaprio handles this character extraordinarily well, making his performance, in my opinion, the most attractive aspect of the entire film.

IFInterestingly, the way Baz Luhrmann directed this film has draw much criticism, particularly regarding the many dancing and singing scenes which almost make it a Moulin Rouge type of movie. Suffice it to say, the film has a bit too much of the furious celebration. However, this over-the-top element contributes to setting a strong contrast to the love Gatsby has for his beloved Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and how people can be are heartless toward that expression of devotion. Another aspect of the film that has also created some controversy is the presence of musical artist Jay-Z as the executive-producer of the film’s soundtrack. It is quite risky to adopt hip-hop music as the background music of a film that is set in the 1920s, especially when the story is an American classic. But the risky choice pays off nicely, as I think the music fits perfectly into the film.

the-great-gatsby-img10Certainly, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby made some bold moves in adding a lot of new factors to a piece of classic literature, generating many doubts and controversies. But by doing so it also differentiated itself from any other previous adaptation. Overall, I think if we could forget about the original novel and watch the film as a complete new story, this would make it a much better film for anyone who watches it, and very likely draw the accolades it justly deserves.

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