Lost In Translation


Viewed – 03 February 2018  Blu-ray

I’d hazard a guess that Scarlett Johansson transformed from acclaimed actress into genuine Hollywood star in this much loved 2003 comedy-drama.  She continues to be one of my go-to actresses, but I always look back on this with fondness and well, I’m not sure if she’s ever been as good since … at least not in what I’ve watched.

Lost In Translation

She plays Charlotte, a woman visiting Japan with her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) who more often than not finds herself abandoned in the hotel where she’s staying, frequenting the bar and occasionally meeting up with friends … but ultimately ‘alone’.  At the same time, a former Hollywood actor now doing whisky commercials, Bob (Bill Murray) finds himself similarly lonely in a foreign country, feeling out of place amongst the locales whilst trying to figure out his place in life.  So the two catch each other’s eyes and gradually form a friendship, that gently turns into a strong bond.

I really like this movie.  It treats it’s characters intelligently, doesn’t ‘go there’ but you kind of end up thinking (wishing?) it would, and every step of the way director Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides) makes you really believe in the friendship whilst also making the backdrop of Japan a character in it’s own right.  It’s funny in a gentle, heart-warming way, Murray is fantastically under-stated, and Johansson is just simply gorgeous.  The movie develops what should be a forbidden love story but still makes you fall in love with it (at least it did me).  I especially liked how freeing their friendship became, trapped and unhappy when apart, free-spirited when together … and it’s infectious.  At times the sheer wackiness of Japan is a tad clichéd and well, I’m not entirely sure why Scarlett is shown walking around in her underwear so much (even if I’m not complaining), and for such an otherwise easy going general-viewing movie, that bit in the strip club is just out of place.   Nit-picks because along with very genuine performances and such a charming, whimsical ‘vibe’ topped off with that heart-breaking yet strangely feel-good ending … this remains in a class of it’s own.

The limited edition steelbook I picked up has the movie in decent shape.  It’s not the most eye-popping of visual presentations due to it’s very natural photography … yet Coppola’s classy direction still made this viewer feel ‘there’ and I very much enjoyed being in the company of two of my favourite actors.  Sound, presented in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio whilst gentle, with carefully chosen, mood-enhancing music cues (and a great Karaoke scene) has clear dialogue and overall suits the relaxed feel of this movie.  Extras consist of deleted scenes, behind the scenes footage, an interview with Murray and Sofia Coppola and a music video.  The lack of a commentary is disappointing but otherwise this isn’t too shabby.

Verdict:

(the movie) 5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

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The Royal Tenenbaums


Viewed – 07 December 2016  Blu-ray

I made a promise to myself last year that I’d check out the other movies by director Wes Anderson.  This followed my absolute love and admiration for his acclaimed Grand Budapest Hotel.  I loved his visual style, his quirky, larger-than-life characters and well, just about everything that movie had to offer.  So when I learnt that prestigious label ‘The Criterion Collection’ were releasing one of the director’s best known movies as part of their UK collection … I jumped at the chance.

Royal Tenenbaums

This whimsical tale follows Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) who wants to reconnect with his dysfunctional family on hearing the news that he is dying.  His family however are made up of a group of former child geniuses, now washed up has-beens and a feisty ex-wife on the brink of excepting a marriage proposal.  Time isn’t on Royal’s side.  Immediately it’s clear this has that same beautiful visual style, albeit less fantastical of Grand Budapest, with Anderson’s clear love of wide angle lenses and vibrant colours.  Each and every frame of this is eye-catching, even for a movie set in modern day Manhattan.  It is a light hearted, gently paced snapshot of a family and their various personalities and eccentricities.  We get Ben Stiller’s over-protective father to his two young sons, Gwyneth Paltrow’s moping loner, and Luke Wilson’s troubled former Tennis star.  However it’s Hackman that stands out and for an actor I hadn’t seen much of in a Margotlong time, I loved every time this ‘his own worst enemy’ character was on screen, complete with his bizarre Indian man servant / accomplice.  We also get appearances from Owen Wilson (who co-wrote the movie) and Bill Murray.

I’d have preferred this to have had more humour, as it’s an ensemble piece ripe with comic potential, but instead we mostly get fascinating but overly miserable characters all trying to get on with one another but clearly failing.  It’s charming and very watchable … but not traditionally entertaining.  Whilst never boring, it plays its cards leisurely and proves an easy-going experience that still managed to make this viewer smile.

the-royal-tenenbaums-criterion

The Blu-ray as expected from Criterion is exceptional.  The image quality has a lovely warm sheen to it with colours that pop and plenty of detail.  For a fairly gentle-paced drama this doesn’t wow the surrounds audio-wise but has crystal clear dialogue and the various music cues work a treat (Wes Anderson’s tastes being suitably quirky).  Extras are plentiful with a very welcome commentary and a nice collection of behind the scenes featurettes.  In addition we also get booklets comprising of exclusive artwork and an essay on the movie.  Welcome treatment to a likeable but in my opinion, not exactly essential movie.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

The Jungle Book


Viewed – 24 November 2016  Blu-ray

I must admit I was sceptical going into this.  The much loved Disney classic from 1967 was prominently known for it’s sing-a-long musical numbers and largely animal cast of characters, with the only human being a child.  In this day and age of state-of-the art CGI I wasn’t too worried about them pulling off convincing animal performances.  Yet that child casting and subsequent acting had to be spot on.  Luckily it is.

THE JUNGLE BOOK

But I digress.  This classic tale follows the story of young ‘man-cub’ Mowgli, a child abandoned as a baby and brought up by a pack of wolves, along with the watchful eye of a black panther by the name of Bagheera.  Yet when bitter and ferocious tiger, Sheer-khan finds out about Mowgli, he vows to kill him as revenge for being burnt by ‘man’ some years previous.  So Mowgli, in order to keep him safe is sent away to find the man-village and be with his own kind, if that is he can escape the clutches of Shere Khan first.

Shere KhanThis is very well done.  The child actor playing Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a revelation; just as likeable and fun as the original character, and aiding him on his journey is lovable Bear ‘Baloo’ perfectly voiced by Bill Murray.  Voice-acting on a whole is very good throughout with only a couple of questionable choices.  Scarlett Johansson as a manipulative snake seems out of place and Idris Elba’s Shere Khan whilst good, is way too familiar to me (I’ve just come away from a run of Luthor episodes after all).  However Ben Kingsley as Bagheera is perfect, and I got a kick out of Christopher Walken’s mobster-like King Louie.  Yet the somewhat awkward implementation of the most famous songs, like ‘bare necessities’ and ‘I want t be like you (ooh ooh)’ considering the different tone, felt like unnecessary nods to the past rather than adding anything to the experience.

But for a remake that really shouldn’t have worked, this delivers on (almost) all counts with several stand out sequences and plenty of heart.  Well worth your time.

Verdict:  4 /5

Ghostbusters


Viewed – 16 July 2016  Cinema

(Updated: 18/07/2016) Possibly one of the most heavily criticised movies for a long time before anyone actually saw it.  Now that it’s out however, although public opinion hasn’t completely reversed it seems the movie might actually be worth your time … and I’ll say straight away that it certainly is.

ghostbusters

Is it OK to say I have a crush on Kristina Wiig?   The Bridesmaids star heads an all new female cast who join together to rid the city of New York from a supernatural phenomenon, despite government and the media struggling to take them seriously.  So far so very much the original plot, and this movie bares a very close resemblance to what came before along with many in-jokes and (a slight overkill) of cameo appearances from the original actors.  That being said this also has it’s own flavour – in the form of a great cast all doing a fine job bringing their individual personalities into the action.  Melissa McCarthy whose brand of often slapstick humour I feared might have been misplaced, is very good as are a somewhat unhinged Kate McKinnon and a fun Leslie Jones.  The effects for the various ghosts and creatures are above average and the ghost busting action itself is often thrilling, funny and utterly entertaining.

Inevitably comparing this to the original, I’ll admit the movie doesn’t hold up as well, replacing creepy atmosphere and characterisation with at times corny humour and an overdose of CGI (and gunge).  Yet taken on it’s own merits I enjoyed several fun encounters (slimer and mrs slimer?), it made me chuckle often and it was seriously feel good in places, making this more than a simple cash-in … and for a new audience it possibly works even better.  So I say give this a chance.  It does a lot right and everyone involved (including a dopey Chris Hemsworth) look like they are having a blast, which came across strong enough to this viewer to leave him with a big, satisfied grin.

Verdict:  3 /5

The Grand Budapest Hotel


Viewed – 21 February 2015  online-rental

I didn’t have a clue what to expect from this.  I had heard that director Wes Anderson had his own unique style, that it starred one of my favourite actors, Ralph Fiennes and had been widely acclaimed and nominated for several Oscars.  So I thought … it has to be worth checking out.

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel

Narrated by an ageing hotel owner recanting his exploits as a bell boy taken under the wing of a charismatic and respected concierge, Mr Gustave (Fiennes) who following a wealthy woman’s mysterious death, comes into possession of a priceless painting and the disdain of her greedy family, headed by a snarling Adrian Brody.  So follows a very entertaining ‘caper’ comedy as we follow an unlikely duo through various adventures.

Wes Anderson has presented here a real spectacle of a movie… it’s shot with a style that echoes the avant-garde look of French cinema ala Jean-Pierre Jaunet (Amelie, Delicatessen) mixed with the flourishes of Baz Lurhman (Moulin Rouge) via the technical perfection of Stanley Kubrick to create one of the best looking movies I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s also for the most part presented in old-school 4:3 ratio, like that Oscar magnet The Artist and it works very well indeed.  There is more character and personality in any five minutes here than most movies have in their entire running time.  Also we get a wealth of famous faces all doing their bit in small but enjoyable roles from Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum and Saoirse Ronan to Bill Murray.  Add to this a great villainous turn by Willem Defoe … and this has it all.  The story is fun and energetic and held together by a brilliant where-has-he-been Ralph Fiennes as the camp, poetic and lovable Mr Gustave – surely one of the most memorable characters in a while.

I had a great time with this, and it’s made me an instant fan of Wes Anderson – I love directors with such visionary appeal.  Essential viewing.

Verdict:  5 /5