Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Wes Anderson
Inspired by Stefan Zweig
Starring every major actor who has ever appeared in a Wes Anderson film
I just got home from watching The Grand Budapest Hotel and I will admit without hesitation, I enjoyed this film more than any other film I have seen in a very long time. This is one of the few films in recent memory where I actually wanted more time with the characters. I was not wondering what the time was, or fidgeting in my seat. I was absorbed by what was happening in this film.
The film looks beautiful and Wes Anderson seamlessly blends models and miniatures with stop motion and digital effects. The aspect ratio was unusual in that within each story, the aspect ratio changes. For the most part the film is set in in 1932 and screened in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, as this was the Academy Standard in 1932 while the scenes with the narrator set in the 1970s are in 2.35:1, which was the standard aspect ratio of that time and the girl in a more contemporary setting, reading the book about the narrator telling the story is in 1.78:1 which is the standard aspect ratio today. This may sound strange, and it is, oddly enough it works brilliantly as we are drawn into the world of Gustav H. through a story within a story, within a story. What this brings is an incredible sense of depth through a wide-angle lens while omitting widescreen.
This appears as a fantastical world of Wes Anderson, yet there is perhaps more pathos than audiences are accustomed to in these films. The emotional core of this film was both funny and tragic while also functioning as an allegory of pre WW2 Europe through the gradual loss of pride and violence seeping through the aesthetics.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012) had on-screen violence, in stabbing a boy and Snoopy (the dog) being impaled. The Grand Budapest Hotel takes the violence to a new level. Yes, there is blood in this film and despite some of the criticisms of Wes Anderson films being too cute, his films are more adult than they have ever been. Where Moonrise Kingdom dealt with the pain of growing up, the onscreen violence felt unnecessary but may be clearer on a second viewing. The Grand Budapest Hotel appears more interested in the pain of isolation, disconnection, totalitarian occupations and love lost. While the violence mentioned may sound out-of-place in these films, one of the running themes of the film was the need to maintain one’s humanity in a savage world. So when the film aesthetically looks like a fairy tale, the content is deceptively dark and in many ways brilliant. So there is a lot to take in, which is why I recommend this film very highly. as an intelligent film that is engaging on multiple levels.
Written and Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, Analeigh Tipton and John Malkovich
97 Minutes, 2013
Last Wednesday I attended an advance screening of Warm Bodies. When I got the tickets in the mail I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about this film. I am not a huge fan of the Zombie film and felt like I had seen enough Zombie films of late. As far as Zombie comedies go, Zombieland (2009) was amusing but it didn’t feel like anything new or even particularly memorable. The only Zombie comedy that I have enjoyed up until Warm Bodies was Fido (2006). This was because they took the Zombie film in a direction that I hadn’t seen before. Fido was about a boy and his domesticated pet Zombie Fido (played by Billy Connolly). It was a very funny film for what it was but in the end like Zombieland, Fido was a broad comedy. It is a very funny movie that works really well for what it is, but there was not a lot to the film. Warm Bodies on the other hand exceeded my expectations for the genre they were working within.
Warm Bodies exceeded my expectations not only as a unique premise, but more than that, there is a surprising amount of emotional depth to the characters and humour. Jonathan Levine (who also directed 50\50) has created something deeper than your standard horror/romance/comedy. There is a high level of intelligence and sophistication that he has brought to this film. Hoult and Palmer have great chemistry and from the first time that Hoult’s character R sees her the spark of humanity ignited in her presence is a brilliant example of the emotional range of Nicholas Hoult who spends most of the film grunting and growling.
The standout for me was Rob Corddry who is one of the better comedic actors of the moment. Where Corddry generally plays Jerks, and brilliantly so, as seen in Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), Harold and Kumar: Escape From Guantanamo Bay (2008) and his recurring role in Community. In Warm Bodies, Corddry brings a sense of humanity to his Zombie character. Corddry, Hoult and the rest of the cast push the film beyond a broad comedy made for general entertainment with little point to actually having something to say about the state of humanity and how objectification is perhaps the most dehumanizing thing one can do to an other. On the other hand, if you are only looking for escapism, Warm Bodies could easily be enjoyed as a standard comedy or romance. This is perhaps why the film works so well.
One of the requirements of a good genre film is that the stories and characters should not be dependent on the genre conventions. The genre is just a framing device. In my opinion, it happens too often where characters are written to fit the story. A good example would be The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). When you see the story developing out of the characters as seen in Warm Bodies, this to me is when you know you are watching something special. You can sense that a lot of time and effort has gone into making the characters as believable and honest as possible. Warm Bodies fits this criterion better than most genre films. What was also refreshing about Warm Bodies was that it felt like a complete film. By the end of the film I didn’t feel like I was watching (what I call) a ‘Franchise Starter’. This is something that continually grates on my nerves in mainstream films. Warm Bodies is a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end. It is well told and unlike any Zombie film that I have seen. Warm Bodies could well be regarded in time as a film that redefines the horror comedy genre in that it moves against the tide of current conventions.
Warm Bodies opens in Australia on April 11, 2013. I highly recommend seeing this in the cinemas, as we need more original films with something to say as opposed to broad, generalized entertainment, reboots and franchises.
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First Blood (1982)
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy and David Caruso
Based on a novel by David Morell
First Blood was in many ways the film that made Sylvester Stallone a movie star. Before being cast as John Rambo his only hit films had been the first two Rocky films. Films such as F.I.S.T. and Paradise Alley were critical and commercial failures that are rarely mentioned even among his most hardcore fans. First Blood was the film that pushed him through to stardom. While this was great for Stallone it was also unfortunate that the film First Blood and the character of John Rambo got caught up in the franchise machinery of Hollywood. While the other Rambo films are entertaining in their own right First Blood has a depth that is rarely mentioned amongst film scholars. These depths are not obvious on a first viewing and have only just become apparent to me now in 2013. The two points I want to address are the Frankenstein themes and the Jesus themes that run through this film.
First, there are the parallels between Rambo and Teasle (Brian Dennehy) with the Jesus and Pontius Pilate dynamics. Teasle does not necessarily hate John Rambo, he has a duty to keep the peace and part of keeping the peace is in keeping out those that threaten the existence of the quiet community that Teasle needs to maintain. Rambo to Teasle is not really a person he is a representation of the anarchy of war and stands as an open wound of Americana that has yet to heal at the time when First Blood takes place. Rambo is a mirror of the American soul and demonstrates an element of humanity that most would rather not look at. Whereas Pontius Pilate did not necessarily hate Jesus or even want to crucify him it was something he saw as being his duty and this is part of what makes him such a fascinating and tragic character. There are also images that connect this theme such as stripping Rambo down in the cell, the flashbacks of being tortured and tied up to a device not unlike the image of a crucifix. Then there is the resurrection in the final act where Rambo is presumed dead after being sent into the mine that the towns people blew up with a grenade launcher.
The usage of the local hunters forming a pack and Rambo almost killing the child is a subtly reference to Frankenstein. Where Rambo had a relationship to Teasle that was not unlike Pontius Pilate and Jesus, Rambo’s relationship to Col. Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) character is not unlike that of Dr Frankenstein and his monster. This is the man who claimed to have made Rambo.
Therefore, Rambo is essentially a creation of the American military and barely registers as a human being. Rambo is a thing to certain degree. He is an assembled creature of military training and engineering. What remains are Rambo’s base instincts for survival. This is something he shares in common with Frankenstein’s monster. This is most evident where he encounters the boy with the hunting rifle. Rambo comes close to killing the kid before his humanity returns ever so slightly. It follows from this scene to the hunters forming a mob paralleling the Frankenstein chase into the windmill.
On one side we have a Pontius Pilate character and on the other we have a Dr Frankenstein character. ‘How can Rambo be both a Martyr while also being a monster?’ you may ask. My answer is: Rambo represents the nothingness of the world that people feel the need to fill in and mirror with their own anxieties and ego’s. Teasle needed a threat to protect his town against and Richard Crenna needed to create a monster to protect his country that eventually turns against his country when under the threat of the man wanting to protect his town. Whereas the Frankenstein Monster was created with the best intentions and purpose, once that purpose was met the monster is left to the world without a purpose. Because the monster looks like a threat he becomes a threat. Rambo was that monster but he was also a sacrifice for the purposes of maintaining peace in the world but this peace was just a veiled illusion and Rambo will become whatever those that shape him need him to be.
Directed by David Fincher
Written By Walter Hill, David Giler and Larry Ferguson
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Ralph Brown and Paul McGann
Running Time: 114 Minutes Theatrical Version/145 Minutes Extended Version.
In 1979 Alien reinvented the horror/sci fi genre with its simple haunted house in space premise. Alien also made a star out of Sigourney Weaver. This was for the most part a horror film hybrid. In 1986 James Cameron delivered Aliens. In this film James Cameron shifted gears from the first film by reinventing the formula. Aliens was an Action film in space that owed no small tribute to the Robert A. Heinlan’s 1950s pulp serial ‘Starship Troopers’ and Rambo (1984) which was also written by James Cameron. So we had horror in Alien and action in Aliens. In 1992 Alien 3 was released with a lot of anticipation and was expected to follow the template of Aliens. David Fincher created something few expected. He took the conventions of the Alien series and introduced Film Noir. This can seen stylistically in the rustic prison scenes and in the contrasting shadows. This demonstrated the bleakness of this world, but unlike other neo-noirs that are admired for their technical skill and for referencing older films, Alien 3 is true film noir in its themes of death and as antithesis to melodrama that destroys any feelings of hope that James Cameron created in the final moments of Aliens.Where in Aliens Ripley was seen as a hero, in Alien 3 she is on a journey towards her own death. Through this essay I will demonstrate why Alien 3 is a film noir by investigating Ripley’s masochism and how the alien in Alien 3 is a metaphor for the internalized hatred of these characters.
Ripley’s death was one of the major selling points of the film. This is perhaps why Alien 3 was the highest grossing film in the series. Alien 3 was also the most disliked of the series. This was due in no small part to the absence of an emotional catharsis to Ripley’s story arc. An example of this is in the closing shots of the three empty cryogenic chambers that Ripley, Neut and Hicks went to sleep in at the end of Aliens. This was another signification of the meaninglessness in the world of Alien 3. All that is left behind of these characters is a computer log recording of Ripley’s voice. If Ripley had died in a heroic blaze of glory or she had some grandstanding speech, audiences would have been more receptive to her self-sacrifice.
The film going audience tends to enjoy this in melodrama such as Titanic and The Notebook. In the case of neo-noir films such as Alien 3, audiences often despise seeing their heroes die. The most likely difference depends on the emotional investment on the audience’s part and the belief that a character died for a good reason. Alien 3 did not satisfy in this manner. David Fincher’s film moved against the easy formula set up by James Cameron and Ridley Scott. He thrust his audience into perhaps the bleakest sci-fi world ever conceived in a mainstream film. Alien 3 in this regard was difficult for audiences in that the film was about a woman’s journey toward irredeemable death.
James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) featured the subplot of Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) waking up 60 years later and knowing that her closest relatives and her daughter have passed away. By the end of Aliens she had found a new surrogate family in the form of Neut the orphaned girl and a burgeoning love interest in Hicks (Michael Biehn). David Fincher’s Alien 3 on the other hand opens with the annihilation of this surrogate family and this represents the destruction of hope for Ripley, for the future survival of the family unit and for the audience’s emotional catharsis awarded at the end of Aliens. It was this discomfort, the antithesis to melodrama and the absolute alienation of humanity in this film that brings Alien 3 into the sub genre of film noir.
Ripley’s fate was sealed in the opening act with her impregnation. Therefore the film is in its simplest form is a neo-noir about Ripley’s journey towards death. Even when Ripley realises that she is going to die at the birth of the Alien Queen, she is anomic to her own doom. She just wants it over with. This was evident in her scene with Charles Dutton’s character, the preacher. She asks him to kill her but demands that there are no references to god, no eulogies or anything else. She just wants to die. Symbolically she was already dead via the death of the family. This scene was perhaps the most important scene. This scene signifies Ripley’s need to destroy herself was a greater priority than killing another Alien.
The secondary characters in Alien 3 were the prisoners. These men chose to remain on a prison planet even after the company closed down the prison and abandoned them. They not only chose to remain on the abandoned planet but they established their own religion and a vow of celibacy on a planet without women. Their incarceration manifested as religion alleviated them of their existential free will to do wrong. They were ‘condemned to be free’ and Ripley spins them out of control by posing a threat to their vow of celibacy. Whereas the prisoner’s existence represented the worst that humanity has to offer, Ripley was the representation of everything they hated about themselves.
Therefore, regardless of the Alien threat, the Prison population were going to die out. Ripley as a threat on the other hand was going to turn these men inwards and bring out the darkest instincts of human nature. The Alien in this case was an internalized hatred of themselves. Neither their prison sentences, nor seclusion from the rest of the known universe, nor religion could purge their basic instincts. Even if Ripley did not sacrifice her self to neutralise the alien impregnated in her, she would have had to die to preserve the social order of the planets population.
Despite what some may say when comparing this to other stories that involve self-sacrifice Ripley’s sacrifice was meaningless to Ripley. This was because she had nothing to continue living for. Due to the nihilistic nature of this film it is easy to see why mainstream audiences reacted negatively. After James Cameron’s hope inspiring finale Ripley has a meaningless existence. This does not make Alien 3 a bad film as some would argue but in many ways there is a lot more going one beneath the surface of these characters that were pushed aside in favor of action spectacle in the previous film. Alien 3 may not be the best in the series but examining Alien 3 as a film noir or a neo-noir provides a greater appreciation for this often neglected and misunderstood film that is very much a David Fincher film.