Archive | March, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

31 Mar

We tell ourselves that this is a film blog, though we often discuss other topics.  This time we’ve gone out and seen a bona fide current movie, Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Most film reviews boil down to the question of whether the film being reviewed is worth the time of the the one reading the review, so let’s get this question out of the way right now.  Is this film worth your time?  To quote The Who, “you better, you better, you bet.”  Wes Anderson’s films (“Rushmore”, “The Royal Tennenbaums”, etc.) are known for their offbeat humor.  “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is no exception – the humor is offbeat, often dark, often deadpan, sometimes slapstick, and downright picaresque at times.

Anderson cast includes actors he has worked with in other films, such as Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman.  In this film however, Ralph Fiennes takes center stage and does an outstanding job .  Fiennes plays Gustave H., the concierge (at least we think that’s what he is – in any event, he’s the head guy) of a an ornate hotel in the 1930s, assisted by Zero (Tony Revolori) , a lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

In many ways, Gustave should not be a likeable character, as he has many off-putting traits (he is fastidious to an extreme, he romances rich, elderly women, and his use of cologne is excessive) but in the hands of Fiennes, us viewers are behind him 110%.

We ought to say something about the plot, but we’re not going to, because we think that you should experience the picture for yourself.

In addition to Fiennes  and Revolori, the film boasts F. Murray Abraham, Tom Wilkerson, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, and Willam Dafoe (the list goes on)  – it’s a Who’s Who of acting talent.

The film is wonderful to look at, and we loved the way the camera moves.

There are probably going to be a lot of big-budget movies this year (just like every year) and some will disappoint.  Here’s one that delivers.

We should probably say more stuff about it, ’cause a film review is supposed to more fleshed-out than this.  However, this isn’t our day job, and we’re really lazy.  There’s really nothing more we can say except to encourage you to see this picture.  We don’t own stock in the film’s production company and we’re not related to anyone connected to the picture, so consider the source.

Grand Budapest Hotel Postet

Check in and check it out.

Fear of Forgetting

26 Mar

This morning it occurred to us that we could only remember five of the six wives of Henry VIII.  To us, this was no laughing matter.  It bothered us as much as the day last year that we temporarily forgot the name of the actor George Clooney.  We’d seen Clooney in lots of movies, such as “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, “Michael Clayton”, and “Three Kings.”  Not to remember the guy’s name was just not acceptable.  Later that day, when we weren’t trying so hard, his name came back to us and George Clooney was George Clooney once again. Whew!

This morning’s wade into the River of Forgetfulness was just as troubling.  What if a radio station called and offered a free automobile if we could only rattle off the names of the Henry’s six wives? We’d loose the car for sure.  We grabbed a pen and paper and wrote down what we could remember:

Catherine of Aragon
Anne Boleyn
Anne of Cleves
Catherine Howard
Catherine Parr

There was a name missing, we knew that, but whose was it?  Were all of Henry VIII’s wives Catherines or Annes?  There had to be an outlier, one that was neither a Catherine nor an Anne. Let’s see –  which ones were beheaded?  Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. No help there – they were accounted for.  What was that mnemonic we’d once heard? Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced Beheaded, Survived.  That was it!  The missing wife died, so she fit in the space between Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves. Oh well, we were at work.  Must attend to other matters. Above all, we had to stay off the Web.  If we were ever to recall the name of this elusive Tudor wife, we had to do it ourselves.

We returned to this question off and on all day between our work duties.  As usually happens when we find ourselves troubling over facts that are not central to our everyday lives,  the answer suddenly came to us when we weren’t really thinking about it: Jane Seymour.  We felt a rush of relief.  Maybe we weren’t on the brink of senility after all.  The radio station could call us now and the car would be ours.

Ya had us worried there, Jane.

Ya had us worried there, Jane.

Fun with Income Tax

18 Mar

It’s getting to be that time again, and boy, are we ever disappointed. We were so sure we were getting a refund this this year that we had visions of dollar signs dancing in our heads. We were therefore bummed out to find that not only are we not getting a return, but we owe the Federal government $1.00 dollar.  Oh, well, it could have been a lot worse.  Some years, we’ve owed the Fed (and the state government) a lot more than that.

One year we worked a freelance job, so we were responsible for putting aside money for our taxes (not like today, where the folks down at Engulf and Devour do that for us.) Well, we didn’t set aside enough money. In fact, we didn’t set aside any money. When tax time came ’round, we were unable to pony up a sufficient quantity of bread.

We appraised the Federal and state governments of this unhappy fact, and the Fed were kind of cool about the whole thing.  The tone in their letters was “OK, so you’re going to be late this year, you owe X amount of money, you’ll have to pay X in penalties, after which you’ll be in the clear.”

Tax form

It’s that time again…

The tone of the state’s letters however, was something like “Well, you deadbeat, you haven’t paid.  Please be aware that you’re kind of a bad person.”  OK, so maybe they weren’t that bad, but we did detect a less than positive vibe from the state.  This got us mad.  So we started writing crank letters to the state.  This was during the days of the Iran-Contra scandal, so we wrote stuff like:  “Dear guys, you know what really bums us out?  Iran-Contra.  Some of the  money those guys used to finance the scam probably came from the taxes of state residents, so why aren’t you going after those guys?”  It didn’t make a lot of sense, but it wasn’t supposed to.  The state government sent us terse letters in response.

Eventually, we paid off the taxes and the penalties and we were once again bona-fide responsible citizens.  It was not the best of times, and we encourage anyone who’s freelancing not to make the mistakes we did, but we’ve gotta admit, writing crank letters full of non-sequiturs to the state was kind of fun.

An (Admittedly Dumb) Theory About When to Read a Book

16 Mar

OK, now you make think this is really dumb (it is), but it’s something that we’ve practiced in our own lives, even if only on one book.

A few summers back we needed a book to read. We decided upon “Light in August”, by William Faulkner. We felt it was most appropriate to read the novel in the hours of daylight during the course of that hot, eponymous month, so that’s what we did. (In the interest of full disclosure, we cheated – we missed reading it for a few days and actually finished the book on September 2nd.)

Now is the time to read it!

Now is the time to read it!

Since we’re now smack dab in the middle of March, we’re thinking of tackling “Middlemarch” by George Eliot. True, the title refers not to the middle of a month, but to the name of a fictional town. Nonetheless, we feel that this is the time to read this famous work. This got us to thinking of when to read other novels:

“April Morning” by Howard Fast – Read this before noon during mornings in April.
“Seven Days in May” by Fletcher Knebel – Pick a week in May, and read it then.
“The Autumn of the Patriarch” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – You’ve got the whole Fall to read this one.
“As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner – No cheating! Don’t read this until you’re on your death bed. You may protest that reading a novel may not be the first and foremost thing on your mind when that (God forbid) time comes, but if you really want to be consistent, that’s the time to read this one.

Five Films for Film Fans

10 Mar

Here’s a list of five films favored by the folks down here at De Jungle. We don’t claim that these are the five best of all time, merely that they are all well worth watching.  We present them here in chronological order.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Director: John Huston

How ’bout a hard-boilied detective story?  Here’s one of the best, with Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, the chain-smoking fast-talking hero of the piece.  We follow Sam as he tries to unravel the mystery of a jewel-encrusted statue.  The film is occasionally a bit talky, but it has strong supporting performances by Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet and Mary Astor. (This picture is not to be confused with “The Maltese Bippy” (1969). ) While we’re on the subject of Humphrey Bogart, check out Casablanca (1942) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).

Maltese Falcon

This film will give you the bird.

Day for Night (La nuit américaine) (1973)

Director: François Truffaut

A movie about the making of a movie, and all the headaches that go with it. we don’t want to say too much about this film other than Go out and rent it (or download it , or whatever way you satisfy your movie jones.)  Watch it with someone who likes movies.

Days of Heaven (1978)

Director: Terence Malick

The thing that draws us most about this film is its beautiful imagery — the film’s cinematographer was Nestor Almendros  and scenes from this film are reminiscent of Edward Hopper paintings. The story is set early 20th century America, and deals with themes of love and betrayal. Though this film is primarily a visual experience, the director makes effective use of sound as well.  In one scene, we see the a wealthy farmer’s face turn to rage while the sound of the turning blades of a fan build in counterpoint to the visuals.  Run, don’t walk to see this film.

Fitzcarraldo (1982)

Director: Werner Herzog

Fitzcarraldo is a man obsessed with building an opera house in the Peruvian jungle. In order to finance his quixotic venture, the protaganist goes into the rubber business.  There’s only one problem — in order to reach the rubber trees, he must proceed down a jungle river, then haul his steamship over a steep hill to another river.  The film’s central image of the ship being dragged up a hill was accomplished without the use of special effects.

From the beginning, the production was beset by problems, some of the director’s own making.  Had he wanted to, Herzog could have shot the entire film outside Inquitos, Peru.  Instead, he opted to travel 1500 miles into the jungle to shoot the film, explaining that this was necessary to better performances from the actors, and even the crew.  Jason Robards, the first actor cast for the lead role, developed amoebic dysentery and was advised by his physician not to return to the jungle. Delays forced Mick Jagger, cast as a Shakespeare-quoting sidekick, to pull out as well.

Herzog brought in Kinski to replace Robards, and in our view, this was all to the good.  Jason Robards was an accomplished actor, but Kinski brought a crazed energy to the role that Robards just couldn’t match.  But don’t take our word for it — see the film along with Burden of Dreams, the documentary about its making, and decide for yourself.

The Godfather: Part III (1990)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Most people would choose The Godfather or The Godfather: Part 2 over this, the third film in the series, any day.  Not us. We like this one the best.  It’s the one that’s the most grandiose and operatic in its staging (indeed, the film’s climax is set during the performance of an opera.)  Al Pacino chews up scenery and does it well, at one point proclaiming Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in!  Robert Duvall‘s character has been replaced with the too-tanned George Hamilton, who does surprisingly well in his role, as do Eli Wallach, Talia Shire, Joe Mantegna, and Andy Garcia.  The much-maligned Sofia Copplola, in our humble opinion, did not deserve the bad press she got for her portrayal of Michael Coreleone’s daughter. The whole thing plays out like an over-the-top, post-modern Greek tragedy.

And here are two more that we like but we were too lazy to write about in this post (besides, they would have ruined the illiteration in this post’s title):

La Strada (1941)

Director: Federico Fellini

The Lonliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

Director: Tony Richardson