Since last month, big-screen viewing has been a mix of awesome and disappointing. The two films I most was looking forward to were Wes Anderson’s THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL and Darren Aronofky’s NOAH. Both were outstanding visually but in need of script doctoring.
The story of THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL looks back in time to a strange adventure had by a fictional concierge, Gustave H., and his lobby boy, Zero Moustafa, sometime after World War I. The characters are many and they are cleverly-drawn. The set design is outstanding, and the use of color—which sets a Wes Anderson film apart from others, is superb. However, the plot elements and dialog are uninspired. While Ralph Fiennes breathes every bit of life he possibly could into the character of Gustave H., the situations in which he finds himself are trite. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is stylishly conceived and worth seeing for the visual quality alone, but its story is old hat.
NOAH also has extraordinary visuals. It is the unusual film in today’s market—a blend of sophisticated special effects and a screenplay rich in character development and humanism. Russell Crowe plays the title character. He is a family man with a loving wife and two sons, a man who has significantly higher values than the lowlifes who share his turf. But Noah’s character leaves me with unanswered questions. Is he a good man who falls prey to his own obsessions? Is he a faithful servant of god or a power-hungry madman who would sacrifice his own family in the name of righteousness? Does Aronofsky want me to be wondering about the mindset of his character, or is the script unnecessarily vague? Or both!
My most satisfying viewing experience in recent days has been the Sunday evening broadcast of THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE Season 2, Episode 1 on PBS affiliates such as WMHT. This is the story of several highly intelligent women who once worked in secret as code-breakers during World War II and ten years later are fighting the frustrations of being ordinary. Not only are we treated to a solid crime mystery, but we also have the advantage of sharing in the complicated lives of these fascinating women as they struggle with discouragement and disillusionment in Britain of the mid-1950s.
Compared to the big-screen releases, the episodes of season 2 of THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE are lower in budget, poorer in visuals and special effect, but they hold solid entertainment value. Simply being entertained. That’s what counts for me.
Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She teaches film studies at the University at Albany and has co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.
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