Directors: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi; Main Cast: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonny Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer;
Hilarious and very original mockumentary about vampires living as flatmates in modern day Wellington (New Zealand). The audience is introduced to each character with a mix of direct interviews and everyday life scenes and getting to know Viago (Waititi), Deacon (Brugh) and Vladislav (Clement) is funny and highly entertaining. They have problems that are typical when sharing a house: paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, overcome conflicts and getting invited into nightclubs; they also have others issues due to being centuries-old vampires: avoiding sunlight, getting fresh human blood, hitting a main artery and not being able to get a sense of their wardrobe without a reflection. In the interviews you get pearls like these:
There’s also Petyr (Ben Fransham) as forth flatmate, he’s the oldest and most ghoulish vampire of the lot and has a tendency to turn his victims instead of killing them. This is the reason why Nick (Gonzales-Macuer) becomes a vampire and, being new-made, gets to be a guide to his brethren, helping them to overcome modern society’s obstacles. Along with his best friend Stu (Stu Rutherford), who is still human but very understanding, Nick manages to teach Decon, Vlad and Viago to use a computer and internet with pretty interesting results such as dark bidding on Ebay or a Skype conversation with a former minion. They finally have no problem enjoying the nightlife and entering bars and clubs, with their great surprise and delight. In return, they mentor Nick in all-things vampiry: eating in a proper way, fly and turning into a bat, hypnotizing people, dealing with werewolves and so on.
The story flows nicely, it’s engaging and amusing and it’s served well by the documentary style of shooting and editing. The cast is brilliant, especially Waititi and Clement who are also the dark minds behind this film. This movie is a breath of fresh air in this stale genre, it’s unusual and up to the mark with another unconventional take, although very different, on vampire tales: Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Diverting —8/10
Director: Frank Capra; Main Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Van Johnson, Angela Lansbury, Adolphe Menjou;
Formidable Kay Thorndyke (Lansbury) has a mind to use her clout as important press publisher to convince the Republicans to nominate her lover, Grant Matthews (Tracy), a principled industrialist, as the presidential candidate to the 1948 elections. After the first, small hurl of convincing Grant himself that he would be a great President, for which Kay enlists Jim Conover (Menjou), eminence grise of the party, and Spike McManus (Johnson), political journalist and campaign expert, the next big step is to obtain his wife’s support. Mary (Hepburn) should join her husband on the campaign trail for the primaries to help sell the image of wholesome family man. Up to this point, Hepburn’s character has not been seen yet, but it comes out as an outspoken and strong woman, which is fully confirmed by her sudden arrival and settling in in a whirlwind of talk and action. The perfect description of this introductory scene is the exchange between Spike and Kay while she stealthily goes out:
Kay: Has she moved in there?
Spike: She established a beachhead!
What follows is Grant’s journey, both physical and spiritual, in which he slowly compromises himself to win over the party delegates while he loses the admiration and respect of his wife and the common people. The best angels of his nature will in the end prevail (of course!) and he will regains his self-respect and the love of his wife. This is the only film in which the talents of Capra, Hepburn and Tracy are joined and it’s also the first one that tells a story about political campaigning and the complex mechanism and back room maneuvers of American power. It’s both a captivating and mordant tale that sapiently blends the tones of comedy, of satire and human drama, in Capra’s unique style. The script is simply brilliant and it’s one of the stronger points of the film: witty and touching at the same time. Clearly the cast has a lot to sink their teeth in and they all give solid performances. Tracy has three outstanding monologues, but Hepburn has amazingly sassy rejoinders that make her a scene stealer. My favorite of all is: ” No woman could ever run for President. She’d have to admit she’s over 35″. Inspiring —8.5/10
This post is my contribution to The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon (2015 edition, my last year entry can be found here), organised by the lovely Margaret of margaretperry.org. Go to her site to read all the other amazing entries to this blogaton:
Director: Jon Favreau; Main Cast: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, Sofía Vergara;
This is a feel-good movie written and directed by Jon Favreau, mostly known for directing Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens. It is a comeback story about Carl (Favreau), the titular chef, who loses his job after a bad review from a critic and a melt-down gone viral on internet. Notwithstanding the fact that all the cliches are in it (unappreciated genius, workaholic, divorced with difficult relationship with his son…) the story works well because it has a nice pace, some good humor and the acting is up-to-par. Carl realises, with some help from his ex-wife Inez (Vergara), that he should go back to where he started: making cuban sandwiches on a food truck. The second act of the film is an on the road buddy comedy: Carl is helped by his friend and fellow cook Martin (Leguizamo) and his 10-year-old son Percy (Anthony) on a journey of rediscovery, appreciating the simple pleasures of life and the joy of cooking. On this trip from Florida back to Los Angeles, Carl’s food truck reaches celebrity status thanks to his social media savvy son (a true marketing genius!) and life will smile to him again (obviously). As I said, the film is nothing new but Favreau manages to balance very well the buddy banter, the father/son moments, the self-introspection and the cooking. In addition he has great on-screen chemistry with all the other actors, in particular with Leguizamo and young Anthony, and a knack for making the father/son scenes sweet but not cloyingly so. I should also issue a warning: there’s a fair amount of food porn during the film so I strongly suggest eating before watching otherwise you end up feeling famished when the closing credits start to roll (as I did!). Enjoyable —7/10
Director: Matthew Vaughn; Main Cast: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sofia Boutella, Jack Davenport;
Vaughn’s latest effort is a funny, tongue-in-cheek foray into the spy world, in a way, it’s a love letter to the genre and to the 007’s films of yesteryears (I’m looking at you Goldfinger!). In his world the heros are knights in shining armor who happens to be spies and gentlemen. They have mad fighting skills, ingenious (and lethal) gadgets, dapper suits and, above all, good manners. Colin Firth is Harry, a.k.a Galahad, veteran member of a secret, independent agency, and Taron Egerton is Eggsy, a young man with potentials who is recruited to fight the good fight. The two of them have a mentor-protégé relationship but there’s also the clash of different cultural backgrounds and the professional attitude versus street smarts, that, although pretty cliched, it’s still quite entertaining. While Eggsy is at the secret agent boot camp (more The Recruit than Nikita), that will decide if he is cut out to be a Kingsman, Harry is busy unravelling the mystery behind the death of his friend and colleague Lancelot (Davenport). To spice things up we get Samuel Jackson as Valentine, the villain with a crazy, ambitious plan for world domination and his faithful henchman Gazelle (Boutella): a lady in killer heels…literally! It’s almost as good as teeth capped with steel and a swimming pool full of sharks. To roundup all the usual suspects there is also Michael Caine as M… oops sorry, he is Arthur in this film (well not only in this one but he’s not a butler here) and Mark Strong as Merlin, who is half way between Q and gunnery sergeant Foley. The viewer gets a lot of action scenes, a few plot twists and some over-the-top violence, that ends up being more hilarious than disturbing, more Guy Ritchie’s style than Sam Peckinpah’s. Talking about violence, there is a scene that rivals the fight of the Bride with the Crazy 88 (Kill Bill Vol.1). Vaughn gives the audience an entertaining and fun ride and the cast, while providing solid performances, is clearly having a blast as well. In addition the combination of the opening credits with Dire Straits is pretty spectacular. Always remember: manners maketh the man. Amusing —7/10
Director: Edgar Wright; Main Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Rosamund Pike, Eddie Marsan;
The Big Chill meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers seasoned with British humour. It sounds good on paper, I know, especially considering that it’s written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (and directed by the latter), who already gave us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Unfortunately, this film was not at the same level: the true funny moments are too few and far apart. Gary (Pegg), a recovering addict, wants to recapture the magic of the glory days when he was young and free, only seventeen. In order to do that he needs to give another try to the epic pub crawl (12 pints in 12 pubs!) that he and his old gang never finished. Unlike Gary, Andy (Frost), Oliver (Freeman), Steven (Considine) and Peter (Marsan) have managed to grow up and not just grow taller. They all have jobs and quite fulfilled lives but Gary convinces, coerces and outright lies to his friends to get them back to their hometown (in a very Jack-and-Elwood way). So the boys are back in town, not really enthusiastic about it but going through the motion to appease the unstoppable Gary. The first surprise is a mundane although pleasant one: Oliver’s sister, Sam (Pike), is also there, just a token love interest or a way to prove even more that Gary is a jerk? Not clear. Anyway, after this, our heroes begin to notice something strange is going on in their beloved town… the people around them are not exactly people! Gary, Andy and the rest realise that their evening out is much more they bargained for. They have to fight for their life and reach the last pub: The World’s End (foreshadowing ?). Unfortunately this mad race is not as fun to watch as it probably was to shoot for the actors. I did like Billy Nighy’s cameo though! Disappointing . — 5.5/10
Director: Wes Anderson, Main Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton;
This is the story of Gustave H. (Fiennes), renown and beloved concierge at the legendary Grand Budapest Hotel between the two wars, and Zero (Revolori), who starts as a lobby boy and then become his protégé and most trusted friend. As is Wes Anderson’s wont a voice-over narration begins the tale, in this movie he chooses to built it as story within a story, using an old writer (Wilkinson) who remembers meeting an aging Zero (Abraham) when he was still young (Law). Old Zero will recall his youth and tell his story to the writer. Gustave takes Zero under his wing from the very beginning and start schooling him in the delicate art of running a luxury hotel flawlessly, while he takes care of every need of the guests: Gustave is a full monty concierge, especially with the ladies. This might be considered the root cause of the adventures and mishaps that follows, with a touch of Buster Keaton’s humor. The death of Madame D. (Swinton), a longtime guest at the hotel and dearly attached to Gustave, sets in motion a battle for her very large estate and the possession of a priceless Renaissance painting (bequeathed to Gustave and stolen by him right after the reading of the will, in a genius move). Dmitri (Brody), Madame D’s son, will not stop at nothing to get it all, including murder by proxis, since his faithful henchman Jopling (Dafoe) will do all the dirty work. He manages to frame Gustave for Madame D.’s murder and send him to prison, allowing the audience to be delighted by a cameo by Harvey Keitel, as fellow conscript and means to Gustave’s escape. Zero and his resourceful girlfriend Agatha (Ronan), the pastry apprentice, are essential in helping Gustave to evade, to clear his name and collect what is due to him, but the secret society of the concierges of European luxury hotels will play a key role as well (and we get a Bill Murray’s cameo). By the end, the viewer will finally be able to piece together all the different parts of the story, it does feel like a bittersweet ending after such a roller-coaster of adventures, but it is always the case when one has to part ways with such great characters. We get all the trademarks of Anderson’s style: static camera, artful use of colours and photography, quirky characters and subtle humor. It is one of his best films to date, also helped by an amazing cast: Fiennes above all. Hilarious, amusing and inspired —9/10
Director: Harold Ramis, Main Cast: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott;
Phil Connors (Murray) is a weatherman at a local TV station and for the past few years he’s been tasked to cover the “groundhog day” in Punxsutawney, PA, where the local “celebrity”, Phil the groundhog, gives prediction about the winter. Phil (not the groundhog, who’s a cutie) is arrogant, obnoxious and very self-centered and he thinks the trip is a waste of his remarkable talent and he takes it out on people, in particular his cameraman Larry (Elliott) and, occasionally, even Rita, his cute and kind producer (MacDowell). Phil goes through the motions hoping to be out of Punxsutawney asap but a terrible blizzard prevent them to leave and Phil wakes up and… it’s groundhog day again! Well, I might say, it never gets old to see the evolution of Phil, doomed/cursed to relive over and over again the same day with the same people doing the same things. At the beginning he uses this time-loop to his advantage (or so he thinks), then he feels lost and hopeless and, finally, he takes it as an opportunity to improve himself and do things for others. Bill Murray is a joy to watch and the script is just great. Delightful —7/10