Third Person

July 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody
Directed by: Paul Haggis (“Crash”)
Written by: Paul Haggis (“Crash”)

Writer and director Paul Haggis is no stranger to the narrative device of balancing multiple storylines and character threads and attempting to bring them together physically or thematically. It did, after all, win him a Best Picture Oscar with “Crash,” an award that remains possibly the biggest Oscar stunner of the modern era. With “Third Person,” Haggis, who has only directed two films since 2004, returns to juggling parallel narratives only to clumsily drop them all at once.

“Third Person” tells the tale of three relationships in different stages and circumstances. In Paris, a writer (Liam Neeson) has a complicated relationship with a mistress (Olivia Wilde); in Italy, a businessman (Adrien Brody) has a run-in with a woman (Moran Atias) who is trying to get her daughter back; and in New York, a woman (Mila Kunis) is trying to regain custody of her child from her husband (James Franco) after a serious incident.

Though the screenplay constantly weighs them down, some of the actors of the impressive ensemble are able to turn in good performances in spots. The most consistent of the bunch is Neeson, who finally gets a role where he isn’t kicking ass on air, land or sea. It isn’t exactly nuanced, but it’s one of the least annoying characters in the film. Brody for his part is also fine, particularly where he gets to rattle off a couple of one-liners in the film’s opening. Wilde and Kunis, for their parts, get to show off some chops, though their characters are written tremendously weak. They both get to tap into emotional breakdowns and while their reasons might be absurd (especially in the case of Wilde) they are able to show dramatic range.

The aforementioned characters, however, are just a fraction of the giant roster of people who take up screen time. It becomes a serious issue as Haggis so overstuffs the film that there are often gaps where the audience doesn’t see a certain character for 15-20 minutes – not that the audience would miss any of them. Frankly, the design of the characters and their relationships with one another seems to elicit emotions ranging from indifference to strong indifference.

As the film trudges on, the screenplay and story wither into dust as plot points grow in banality and Haggis runs through the cliché handbook to carry the film forward. The big “twist” and conceit of the film is painfully obvious early on and, for whatever reason, Haggis feels the need to take over two hours to get there. When it finally happens and Haggis pulls the rug from under his audience, it is almost insulting in its execution. If there was anything character or story-wise worth becoming invested in, the last 15 minutes of “Third Person,” including a completely nonsensical, lazy ending, would have been an offense worthy of heaving objects at the screen.

“Third Person” doesn’t really turn into a disaster until its final act. The rest is bad, but generally watchable and mostly inoffensive. In what is becoming a troublesome trend, screenwriters and directors are squandering A-list ensemble casts at an alarming rate. For Haggis, “Third Person” takes a talented cast but a tired idea and runs it straight into the ground. If there is any lesson to be learned from “Third Person,” it is that sometimes less is more.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

March 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody
Directed by: Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom”)
Written by: Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom”)

If filmmaker Wes Anderson simply isn’t your quirky cup of tea – the handmade look and feel of his sets, the subtle and oftentimes dry humor, the eccentric overall nature of his characters – not much is going to change your mind with his latest opus, “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” For fans of his authentic and whimsical work who really don’t understand what everyone else is missing, a trip with Anderson to the fictional Republic of Zubrowka (because in Anderson’s world Hungary would be just too square) is like an inclusive tour of his 10-year-long career. From his 1994 film “Bottle Rocket” to his prior art-house success, 2012’s Oscar-nominated “Moonrise Kingdom,” Anderson seems to have taken elements from his past work to fashion together another satisfying creation. It doesn’t top some personal favorites (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”), but even Anderson’s middle-of-the-road entries should never be described as such.

In “Grand Budapest,” Anderson uses an assortment of flashbacks cutting from the 1980s to the 60s and again to the 30s to tell the story of how Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the hotel’s aging owner, came to take possession of his fine establishment after working as a lobby boy there decades ago. Under the tutelage of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes in a role unlike anything he’s ever done), a faithful concierge employed during the hotel’s glory days in the 30s, a young Zero (Tony Revolori) gets mixed up in family affair when Madame D (Tilda Swinton), one of the wealthy female hotel guests Gustave takes special care of (wink), dies and bequeaths to him a priceless painting much to the chagrin of her extremely serious family (Adrien Brody plays her irate son). When Gustave is accused of actually murdering Madame D, he and Zero set out on a mission to prove his innocence, which includes evading an evil assassin (Willem Dafoe) and the local police (Edward Norton plays Inspector Henckles). It also features an outrageous jail break that could only be invented in Anderson’s head.

As silly as Anderson’s past films are, “Grand Budapest,” with its crime-caper narrative, feels even more madcap than, say, a group of stop-motion mammals digging underground escape tunnels in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The “Keystone Cops”- atmosphere, however, isn’t a bad thing to see in an Anderson film. If anything, it keeps the story moving swiftly and on edge. So, along with the pastel-colored designs, the dollhouse appearance, and detailed imagery, Anderson packs his film with kooky chases and vaudevillian-esque comedy.

Finding some of his vision from the work of German American director Ernst Lubitsch, Anderson can take the most random film references and styles and build on them to mold his own cinematic flair. It might feel typical to those who can’t differentiate between Anderson’s more entertaining albeit mature storytelling, but there are plenty of new nuances in “Grand Budapest” that continue to elevate his filmmaking charm and spark more artistic inspiration.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

Splice

June 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac
Directed by: Vincenzo Natali (“Cube”)
Written by: Vincenzo Natali (“Cube”), Doug Taylor (“They Wait”), Antoinette Terry Bryant (debut)

Similar to the half-human-half-animal creature it prominently features, the sci-fi film “Splice” is a hybrid in its own regard. Part creepy morality thriller, part typical monster movie, “Splice” has a lot of identity problems, but manages to overcome its flaws by staying inside the realm of scientific fascination long enough before it decides to take too many silly, bizarre twists.

The film begins with Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), two hotshot genetic scientists who are making groundbreaking progress in their most recent experiment. Combining genes from an assortment of animal species, they have created a new ambiguously-shaped living mass that could be the key to curing the world of disease.

When Clive and Elsa ask permission to move onto the next phase of their experiment where they will start splicing human and animal DNA together, they are immediately met with opposition from those who have been financing the project. With far too many moral issues involved, the duo are prohibited from moving forward and, instead, asked to continue with the experiment at hand by synthesizing proteins. Apparently that idea is quite a yawner for a pair of geneticists, who would rather be shaking up test tubes and wondering what will pop up.

The scientists, however, refuse to stand idly by and wait for society to deem their work ethical. While Clive plays the role of worry wart, it is Elsa who is the driving force behind the unauthorized experiment. It is only fueled by curiosity at first, but when the embryo they create begins to accelerate in development and is “born,” both scientists must come to terms with the consequences of their actions.

The outcome of the experiment is Dren (Delphine Chanéac), a human female with numerous animal features – hind legs, wings, a tail with a retractable spear tip. Elsa raises Dren like her own child. It takes Clive longer to accept her as anything more than a specimen in a laboratory. As Dren’s intelligence grows, so does her realization of her dissimilarity and her frustration in being locked up like a lab rat, which causes her to rebel like any teenager would if they were grounded and sent to their room for no reason.

In the first half of “Splice,” director Vincenzo Natali (“Cube”) mixes ideas rather well from films like “Frankenstein,” “The Fly,” and even “E.T.” There is an underlying sense of dread throughout the film as we watch these geneticists ignore their principles in favor of pushing the boundaries of science. It’s during these scenes when “Splice” is at its most disturbing.

The third act (marked by an awkwardly staged sex scene), takes “Splice” into an entirely different direction and far from the deep-seated themes that make the first hour a unique addition to the genre. When Natali has the opportunity to push the story into uncharted territory, he instead pulls back and underwhelms us with something better suited for a “Jeepers Creepers” sequel.