Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel: Blu Ray Review

The Grand Budapest Hotel: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by 20th Century Fox Home Ent

Where do you start with Wes Anderson's latest?

The cast-list alone requires an entry page, but the latest from Mr Anderson is both wildly eclectic and yet also wildly - and broadly - accessible.

It's the story of notorious hotel concierge M Gustave (a brilliant comic turn from a wonderfully precise Ralph Fiennes), who during the wars is accused of murder and theft and is forced to go on the run with the hotel Lobby Boy, Zero (Revolori).

As Gustave tries to clear his name, he forms a deep friendship with Zero, but the pair of them find themselves more embroiled in a raging battle for a family fortune than they could ever have expected. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a flight of lunatic fantasy, stuffed full with whimsy and humour - as well as  anyone who's ever been in an Anderson flick.

But the major plaudits have to go to Fiennes, for a turn that's totally brilliant, deeply unsettling and riotously funny. His Gustave is prone to keeping the majority of his emotions in check, most of the time, then exploding at wildly inopportune moments; it's his comic timing that's impeccable and in some ways, a revelation given how he usually plays straighter roles. Revolori makes an excellent foil too, largely looking bemused or lost as the clandestine intentions of others play out around them; both a pair of swirling fish in a giant whirlpool whipped up around them.

Full of quirk, whimsy and utter lunacy, The Grand Budapest Hotel borders on farce, but delivers nothing but sheer fun, even if the narrative teeters dangerously thin in places as the caper unfolds. It's comical, and yet curiously close to a comic in places, with lashings of Fantastic Mr Fox style animation, this story-within-a-story-within-a-story motif works very well as Anderson's typical MO and also as a showcase of what he's capable of. It's also meticulously put together - with shots being framed perfectly and the aspect ratio of the film changing, depending on which flashback you're in and when. Visually and aesthetically, it's an utter treat, a cinematic smorgasbord of directorial love.

Packed full of stars (all of whom appear to have worked with Anderson before), the film is perhaps one of his broadest yet; witty and verbose, yet never knowingly snooty, or overly whimsical and able to take a moment to celebrate the absurdity of it all. It's a director at their most playful, yet a director who's expanding the look and feel of some of his prior movies to their logical conclusion and widening his viewpoint to include others.

Anchored by two great lead performances, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a comic caper to invest your heart and soul in - and a film to sit back and revel in the sheer frivolity of what transpires on the screen. It's a hotel that's definitely worth checking into.


Monday, 29 September 2014

Noah: Blu Ray Review

Noah: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Entertainment

Stone Transformer type creatures, a Lord of the Rings Treebeard style battle, a potential murder of babies and a flood of Biblical proportions.

It can only be director Darren Aronofsky's take on Noah.

Yep, water surprise.

You read that right - it's the old Bible story but through the old Aronofsky skew of perception, where the lead actor may - or may not - be facing the onslaught of madness. (Think Black Swan's psychological machinations).

Russell Crowe is Noah, who one day experiences a vision that the world is about to be flooded in watery destruction (the first of Aronofsky's brilliantly visual interpretations) and decides to build an ark to save the creatures so that the Creator (never God in this film) can start again. But his plan to help them avoid the initial floods (though, he intones, he and his family must be judged too) causes conflict within his family and also with tubel-Cain (Ray Winstone, looking drowned and like he failed a Game Of Thrones audition) who amasses an army to seize the ark and ensure their survival.

Epic in scale, it's easy to see why Noah may offend some - particularly with the introduction of the Watchers, a set of Stone Transformers type six armed creatures which are fallen angels, grounded by the Creator to keep an eye on Earth and Man.

While I distinctly don't remember these from earlier studies - or the magical and mythical - (which would have no doubt piqued my interest), they exist simply to perhaps engage the younger end of the audience and also to provide an epic LOTR style fight as they defend the ark from Tubel-Cain's masses, before exploding into Rapturous light and heading skyward-bound in a redemptive arc deemed necessary by Hollywood.

Of the acting, Crowe is difficult to read to start off with as Noah, the man whose visions cause so much conflict; initially, he's a father and a forager for his kith and kin, but as the quest takes his toll, we see one of Aronofsky's key motifs come into play - a man on the descent of unswerving belief and searching for something else, self-destructive or otherwise. It's here Crowe gets his acting chops on (even if the dialogue does fail him) and manages to provide some more depth to the wronged scavenger - even if you're never quite clear on whether his interpretation of events is right or not. That said, you can't fault Crowe's commitment to the cause.

Elsewhere, Jennifer Connelly is largely wasted as Naameh, his wife; Emma Watson looks Harry Potter-esque as Ila, Ray Winstone is half-eyed and slurring as Tubel-Cain and Welsh tongued Anthony Hopkins veers between venerable and OTT as the hermit Methuselah, who appears obsessed with gathering berries rather than playing grandfather.

Yet, it's Aronofsky who's the real star (and ironically, divisive presence) of this apocalyptically epic piece - his trippy execution of Noah's initial vision (all watery and floating bodies) is evocative and disturbing, suggesting a mania in his lead that's fearful and lost; equally, his peppering of the film with images of the snake, the apple and Man's destruction verges on the hallucinogenic in places; but his bravura time-lapse sequence showing the birth of creation and the Let there be light speech demonstrates a bravura flair that's only dragged down by the other flawed elements of the piece, which draws to a hysteria as the end comes and Noah threatens to teeter over into the unthinkable. At times, the bombastic score could do with being eased off as it blasts all and sundry with ominous tones that are unnecessary.

While it's clear that Noah was a passion project for director Aronofsky, I can't help but have a nagging feeling that this somewhat bloated telling of a Biblical style film for a modern day audience which veers from its subject material in some ways is likely to rankle; it appears to be a flight of schizophrenia for its director in places thanks to flawed ideas and execution, but in other moments, its visual execution and evocative displays of originality lead to plenty of impressively creative touches.


Sunday, 28 September 2014

Final day of Digital Nationz

Final day of Digital Nationz

It's the final day of the Digital Nationz extravaganza at Auckland's Vector Arena, and you've got just a few hours left to sample some of the hottest games around.

Here are some of the sights from the Digital Nationz event, mainly from the retro area:

Final Day of Digital Nationz: Day 2 shots

Final Day of Digital Nationz: Day 2 shots

Day 2 of Digital Nationz is wrapping up in Auckland. Here are some shots from the event which runs at Auckland's Vector Arena until the end of today.

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