Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)

Wes Anderson’s latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, has bowed to reviews that link the occasionally staggering scale of its production design to the director’s meticulously ordered stop-motion film, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Certainly the two stand as the most thoroughly crafted works in the oeuvre of a man whose trademark is his fussy attention to detail; in The Grand Budapest Hotel, hotel lobbies, prisons, even Alpine monasteries are created in such lavishly minute precision that the logistics of each impeccably straightened sign, every spotless carpet threaten to divert all attention away from the narrative at hand. In execution, however, the film belongs more with its immediate predecessor, Moonrise Kingdom, as both an unmistakable continuation of its maker’s singular style and an increasingly sophisticated breakdown of it.

From a narrative standpoint, no Wes Anderson film has ever been this convoluted. Typically, the director’s films spend more time merely introducing the characters and their strictly regimented habits than they do detailing what those people get up to. That is not to say that there is not conflict or drive in Anderson’s movies, but that said conflict typically arises from the intrusion of reality and lived, experienced wisdom upon the myopic headspace of stunted wunderkinder, a forceful denial and eventual acceptance of how ignorant these self-perceived geniuses truly are. But The Grand Budapest Hotel is the first of Anderson’s films in which the outside sources of awakening do not come as a natural course of maturation but from the direct imposition of actively hostile forces. Set primarily during WWII, the film presents a series of nested narratives involving characters whose pluck, intelligence and wit is slowly revealed to be utterly inadequate a defense against forces hellbent on eradicating the old way of things. Anderson routinely presents a sense of style and fashion far removed from the present; The Grand Budapest Hotel hones in on the last moment such modes were considered contemporary and proper before being violently stomped out.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Enjoy the Silents

This was the first of a planned monthly series on silent cinema, which appears now not to be going forward unless I can find a new home for it. A shame, too, as this first article was more of an easing into the subject, with a brief list of 10 great silent films on Netflix instant. With any luck, I'll be able to continue the series elsewhere; I had planned articles focused on John Ford's formative silents, Erich von Stroheim, Louis Feuillade's serials, as well as intended forays into silent actors I've been wanting to explore in more depth. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, check out my picks at, and check out the movies I mention!

John Ford's Lasting Importance

I had hoped to devote much of February to a celebration of John Ford, whose 120th birthday was on the first of that month. But restructuring at and unsuccessful pitches elsewhere stalled those efforts. At least I did get to write this piece, an attempt to counter some notions of the director's supposed stodginess and obsolescence by pointing out how much he still has to offer. It was difficult to limit this piece; at one point I felt I could make a book on the topic, before I remembered that it could not hope to compete with Tag Gallagher's own book celebrating the auteur.

Anyway, check out my piece for

Best DVD/Streaming of the Week (1/28/14)

Another round-up. Sadly, this appears to be the last one, at least for

Best DVDs

Best Streaming

Best DVD/Streaming of the Week (1/14/2014)

Quick link piece here since it's so past publish date

Best DVDs

Best Streaming

Thief (Michael Mann, 1981)

Back in January I wrote about Michael Mann's incredible theatrical debut Thief (one of the best feature debuts ever, even if Mann had a significant amount of experience by the time he got around to it) for It's a hell of a movie, and Criterion's Blu-Ray of it is unimpeachable, restoring the film to its full visual power after years of being stuck with a non-anamorphic, dull transfer on home video. An early contender for a best Criterion releases of the year list. But it's the film that really matters, so check out my thoughts on it over at

The Sun Shines Bright (John Ford, 1953)

I wrote about John Ford's The Sun Shines Bright, cited by the man himself as his favorite of his movies, for Spectrum Culture. It's one of my favorite Ford movies as well, a subversive comedy that tackles the legacy of racism and nostalgic martyrdom in the South in a way that is sentimental and weighted toward sympathy for a dying breed even as it hides surprisingly bold critiques of contemporary racial and social division in plain sight. Olive Films put the film out on Blu-Ray out last year, and I can't recommend it enough.