The Films I've Watched This Year #36

Film  Yesterday's post about TEDx Liverpool wasn't meant to be as cynical as it ultimately became.  That is a side effect of having waited so long before putting words to screen.  If I'd written something that night, every  word would have included a smiley face between.  But I wanted to wait until all the videos had been posted to YouTube and that took months.  I did genuinely enjoy the day and came away feeling like I could change the world, until the reality set in as usual.  The idea of the post was for someone to be able to sit and watch their way through the talks in sequences as they happened on the day, which was quite a complex process because TEDx Liverpool's website's own running order changed on the day and my memory had failed so I had to scour a Twitter search for that chunk of time and piece together the chronology.  Or at least I did until I realised that all needed to do was look at @tedxliverpool which posted photographs of each of the speakers and performers in turn...

The Conquest
The Words
The Players
Taken 2
On the Road
The Grand Budapest Hotel
La Piscine

The film of the week is The Grand Budapest Hotel, which may well be Wes Anderson's masterpiece.  Considering his career this is quite some achievement. As purest a distillation of the director's style as we've seen so far, almost a live action version of what he achieved in The Fabulous Mr Fox.  The production design is as deliciously detailed as the cakes which the fictional bakery makes within, looking utterly ravishing on blu-ray once you've adjusted the aspect ratio of the television the opening title card ordering me to change the setting to 16:9 taking a couple of attempts before entirely convincing me.  Of all the toys and tools which filmmakers have access to but ignore, Budapest reminds us of the strength of the Academy ratio with its ability to force the viewer to concentrate on particular aspects of image and sense of dimensionality without artificial stereoscopy.  Oh and the whole thing is damned funny, especially when it breaks out the swears.

A typical example of Hollywood's loss of nerve can be found in the extras on the Taken 2 blu-ray which include a complete alternative version of the final half hour of the film.  In this iterration, Liam Neeson is able to save both his wife and daughter and return bring them to the embassy before deciding that the only way to really confirm their safety is embrace a version of the Bush Doctrine and find and kill the vengeful father or as we see in the released cut, at least offer him the choice.  In the preceding caption the director, Oliver Megatron, says that he prefers the theatrical with its differing motivation, but that version is an inherently weaker, more generic film with its further damselling of Famke Janssen. Comparing both versions is however a demonstration of how a narrative can be substantially changed with the minimum of reshoots and clever editing around existing footage, with Janssen being removed from the back seat of the car chase scene and inserted into the climactic fight.

Rotten Tomatoes shows that the critics went open season on The Words, with a collective score of 22% and splats everywhere, though its noticeable that the "top critics" were kinder, suggesting they, like me, were more understanding that a film which is about literature is deliberately utilising some literary devices.  Utilising a layered structure featuring narrators within narrators, fictions within fictions, flashbacks within flashbacks in order to explain how it is one writer would or even could plagiarize the lost work of a predecessor.  A decent comparison would be Six Degrees of Separation with its Russian doll structure, though a bit less complex.  Stonking performances from an ensemble cast which includes Dennis Quad, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons and especially Bradley Cooper who demonstrates that he's always at his best when he's understated and introspective.  It's currently on Netflix and well worth a couple of hours of your life, if your in the mood for something more demanding.

All of the films I saw this week had some kind of French connection.  Here are the three which were in the French language.  The Conquest is a fictionalised account of Nicholas Sarkozy's rise to power, which is nowhere near as entertaining as you'd expect because it can't decide if it's supposed to be drama or satire, oscillating wildly between something akin to Peter Morgan's Blair trilogy and The Comic Strip Presents.  The Players is a horrific anthology piece in which the usually very good Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche mug through a string of adulterous cretins in misogynistic and entirely unfunny situations which ends on a potentially homophobic note.  There's a pretty good  Alan Partridge knock-off in the middle though.  La Piscine is Jacques Deray's anti-thriller from the late-60s in which Alain Delon lazes around a sun drenched villa lusting after a young Jane Birkin, whose father, Maurice Ronet is rekindling an affair with Delon's girlfriend played by Romy Schneider.  Suspicion, sex and random acts of violence ensue.

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