A. Khan's Profile - Rotten Tomatoes

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Rating History

The Grand Budapest Hotel
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Not Wes Anderson's "deepest" film, but still a lot of fun. :)

GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (Wes Anderson, 2014) is actually a story within a story within a story (I think that's right), so I'll skip past the frames and get to the meat of the tale, told by an elder version (F. Murray Abraham) of a "lobby boy" named Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), who works in a place called The Grand Budapest Hotel in a non-existent, vaguely European (this is Wes Anderson, after all) mountain country. He is in the employ of one M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the hotel's concierge, who insists that being a lobby boy is a noble profession, even though it's Mr. Gustave who spends his time there "servicing" wealthy old dowagers. One of these dowagers happens to die, and leaves Mr. Gustave her most valuable possession, a priceless painting, much to the chagrin of her family members, particularly son Dimitri, hilariously played by Adrien Brody. No sooner do Gustave and Zero make the long journey to get the painting back to their distant Grand Budapest than Mr. Gustave gets accused for the dowager's murder and is jailed. Hilarity ensues as Zero and Gustave hatch a ridiculous plan to help the mentor escape, and then they begin a ridiculous journey to clear the concierge's name, for which Gustave promises to make Zero his heir, and thus ultimate recipient of the painting. Will Zero and Gustave clear Gustave's name and save the painting? That's the film.

And it's a good one, though less "profound" than Anderson's earlier work, with the experience more about watching Anderson's madcap camera try to keep up with his high-energy plot than anything else. It's also about gazing at the ridiculously beautiful color scheme and production design, magnificently shot with Anderson's trademark wide angles from weird places. The film also revels in Anderson's typical dry and ironic humor, features a surrogate family of sorts, and guest-stars a whole bunch of Anderson's A-list friends, like Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, and of course, Jason Schwartzman. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is one story, in and of itself, well-told, with a lot of sentimentality and sweetness, and is beautiful to look at. And that's about it, which is fine for me, but as I drove home from the theater, my younger sister made the comment that she wanted "more" somehow. This brought up a conversation about whether or not an artist like Anderson is always supposed to try to top himself, or if he should make film as the mood strikes him, based on whatever story he feels like telling. I mention this because if there's a criticism of this movie, it's that it's pretty much par for the course Wes Anderson stuff. There's no new ground here, per se, just this sweet little story about this boy growing up through this experience and reflecting upon it as an adult. For me, that's enough, but for the moviegoer that feels that filmmakers are supposed to work in a linear progression of quality, there may be a bit of a let-down. Last year's MOONRISE KINGDOM (2013) was different in that it was basically a movie about younger kids, which kind of borrowed from things Anderson did well in RUSHMORE (1998) but took them in a different direction. This film is more like DARJEELING LIMITED (2007) in that it's a basic story in a foreign place extremely well-executed, and that's pretty much it. The fun is just in watching it all go down.

As I said, for me, that was enough. The movie is visually gorgeous, the story is entertaining, if somewhat bittersweet in places, and I definitely enjoyed and recommend it. For the person looking for more, I recommend trying some of Anderson's older stuff. For the uninitiated or the casual Wes Anderson fan, however, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is a grand movie. Check it out.

Trance (2013)
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The last time I saw a film that kills itself in its final act this badly, it was directed by Michael Bay. Danny Boyle can do much better than this.

TRANCE (Danny Boyle, 2013) is the story of a would-be art thief (James McAvoy) who loses his memory before delivering the loot (a painting, in this case) to the criminal (Vincent Cassel) that he is indebted to immediately following the crime. After trying everything they can go get him to remember, the criminals decide their last resort is to let him see a hypnotist (Rosario Dawson), who they believe can get him to remember where he stashed it. Will they successfully find the painting? In one sense, that's the film.

In another sense, it's a very well shot, well acted, well directed Danny Boyle movie that totally shoots itself in the foot in the eleventh hour. Never have I been more disappointed in a movie's ending, because up until it starts getting sexual, setting up things to be revealed, I was totally into this film. As I said, it's rendered beautifully and the story is intriguing, as we go through the twists and turns of the protagonist's disturbed mind. We get a sense of who he was prior to this crime, and see glimpses of clues that suggest that some act of violence has brought him to this point. But the payoff is... wow. Frustrating doesn't even begin to cover it. It's a good movie that destroys itself, pure and simple.

And it speaks to a tendency we now have in cinema that I blame on M. Night Shayamalan, the idea that audiences somehow need "twist" endings. The problem with that is that not all twists are created equal, and may or may not fit the story being told. In THE SIXTH SENSE (Shayamalan, 1999), the twist at the end matches everything that led up to it, so that the realization the audience makes fits cleanly into everything we've seen. It makes everything we saw better, and compels us to watch the film again. When a film does the twist poorly, however, as is the case in this film (and some of Shayamalan's others), it just leaves one tired and frustrated. It asks you to do go through mental gymnastics that the material does not justify, especially since there are fairly obvious ways you could remove the twist, tweak a few things, and get a better film. It adds nothing to it, in other words, and requires too much suspension of disbelief to be satisfying. It ruins an otherwise good movie.

Which leaves me with the question of whether or not to recommend it. I don't know, to be honest. This movie is good until it falls apart. But because it falls apart, it's not a good film. I think ultimately I will give this movie a "C" - I think the botched twist detracts enough from the film to give it a negative review, but the good stuff here deserves some partial credit. TRANCE could have been a great film. It just isn't.

Zero Dark Thirty
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

This is what a patriotic movie should be all about.

ZERO DARK THIRTY (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012) tells us that it is based on the true events that led to the execution of Osama Bin Laden, and because I don't know what actually happened, I don't know what was embellished and what wasn't. But man, I really hope this is close to the truth (as Bigelow has said it is in interviews), because this is an excellent film that puts a lot of things about 911 and the human condition into a striking perspective. It begins when a character we know as Mya (Jessica Chastain) gets initiated into the world of the manhunt to find Bin Laden by taking part in an enhanced interrogation that includes water boarding. Immediately we see what kind of movie this is - unapologetic, but at the same time, with no interest in speeches, gloating, or any other obnoxious gesture we have come to associate with patriotism in the modern era. These are people doing their job, and as it turns out, a very difficult one, full of false starts, disappointments, death, and burn outs, including Maya's trainer (Jason Clarke), a PhD who tells her early on in their association to just get out. She's young; she should do something else, this kind of work is not for anybody, least of all a woman who we later learn was recruited fresh out of High School, and has her whole life ahead of her. Instead, this focused, driven woman chooses to spend her life hunting Bin Laden, a choice that becomes more urgent when she loses a friend (Jennifer Ehle) in the process. It's a lesson in what a human being is really capable of when s/he dedicates him / herself to a cause. A cause, admittedly, that is in no small part about revenge, but to its credit, the movie makes no judgement. It just tells us what happened.

And it does so very well, because this movie is beautifully shot, flawlessly edited, and masterfully directed. This movie has several moments where it could easily turn into a film about speeches, like my hated A FEW GOOD MEN (Rob Reiner, 1992), or a "Fuck yeah" patriotic movie, and never does. Instead, it de-glamorizes the long and painstaking work done by professionals that brought one of the greatest mass murderers of our time to justice. And it points out that in some ways, they just got lucky.

But that's not to say that they didn't do an incredible thing, and are worthy of praise for it. Real life, the film reminds us, is more like that than not, which can also be said about Kathryn Bigelow's recent films. They are about big things, but lack those "big" moments, creating a realism that is hard to do, particularly dealing with subject matter this well known (relatively - Bigelow's sources, of course, got into hot water for revealing too much here). By rendering it this way, she takes it away from the obnoxiousness the world associates with the U.S. military and reminds us that these are good people doing what needs to be done, often at a great cost to themselves. This theme appeared in THE HURT LOCKER (Bigelow, 2008) also, and I like that Bigelow has fully realized this strength of hers. She really is a fantastic filmmaker, and this film removes all doubt of that.

Most importantly to me, however, is that she takes a concept that I originally thought was really dull, so dull that I would not have seen it if I wasn't invited to it, and came away amazed at how compelling a movie it was. THE HURT LOCKER really is a clinic on what good direction is, and I can't recommend it enough. A

Hyde Park on Hudson
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

It really stinks that Bill Murray made this film this year.

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (Roger Michell, 2012) describes the King and Queen of England (Samuel West & Olivia Colman)'s visit to the U.S. to convince President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) to aid them in then in the mounting World War II, at a time when he was having an affair with his distant cousin (Laura Linney). I describe the movie this way, because that is much of its charm - instead of being a movie about a long affair, stretched over a long period of time and multiple scenes, as a lesser film would, this is, for the most part, a very specific story about two very specific characters - the President and his mistress - and is told very charmingly, with two fantastic performances by two great actors. As a result, we get to see this complex relationship as it plays out in real, public life, a public life as complex as the situation described here. For although FDR was (and is) a much beloved figure and a memorable President, this movie makes it clear that he was a man like any other, that his handicap didn't give him any particular nobility, but rather that the greatness of the man came from his ability to negotiate all of the various hats he wore and roles people expected him to play successfully. A champion of the poor, FDR, as depicted here, had no idea whether his New Deal was ultimately going to work or not, and had the burden of keeping the hopes and expectations of a suffering nation at bay. To cope with this, he did things that challenged his moral reputation, things that, to his cousin Daisy (Linney) made him as important on a personal relationship level as he was on the larger one. As a result, the relationship between the two of them is very charming, and they are compelling to watch together.

Most compelling to me, however, is the way this movie humanizes everybody in it. There is nothing grandiose about the stuttering King George VI (West), who constantly lives in the shadow of his brother, completely at the mercy of his domineering wife (Colman). FDR connects with him on this level, as the President himself is continually under the thumb of his handlers, including both his mother (Elizabeth Wilson) and his own wife (Olivia Williams). But it's through this that we see why he was such an effective politician, able to connect with the King through their mutual constraints, and connect them with the common man the way he himself did by serving the royals (gasp!) hot dogs. By showing both FDR and the royals on this microscopic level, this movie illustrates that at the end of the day, the great figures in our history are just people, doing the best they can with the huge burden placed on them. It sometimes forces them to compromise to do it, but in the situation they are in, that really does seem to be the best way. We have never seen FDR in this light, and that made him all the more compelling a figure.

As did Bill Murry, which is the reason why I say this was the wrong year for him to do this film, because in any other, he would easily win Best Actor at the Academy Awards. Having watched the comedic Bill Murry for years, we have only learned how good an actor he really is recently, as he has taken on more and more challenging roles. In this one, the Bill Murry we know from "Saturday Night Live" and GHOSTBUSTERS (Ivan Reitman, 1984) disappears - he really becomes this new character who we see as being FDR. It's a remarkable performance, and as I said, would definitely be rewarded in almost any other year. In this one, however, I cannot see him beating Daniel Day-Lewis's Lincoln, which this film is a good companion to, as they both humanize two of the greatest Presidents in history.

As a film unto itself, however, it's exceptional, IMO. A.