Perf. Arts

March: A month for different films



By Tom Jozwik - Special to TimeOut

March 20, 2014


WAUKESHA - The month of March is being marked in our area by the release of three very different films: the comedy “The Grand Budapest Hotel” on Friday, one week after the documentary “Tim’s Vermeer” and two weeks after the graphic novel adaptation “300: Rise of an Empire.” Here is a look at each of the new releases:


“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (100 minutes, R)

This latest quirky offering from director-screenwriter Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Royal Tenenbaums”) showcases many more legitimate movie stars than does your average movie. Ralph Fiennes plays the lead, a popular (particularly with romance-minded old ladies) hotel concierge. A trio of Oscar winners - F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton and Adrien Brody - have pivotal roles as well. Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Jude Law and Owen Wilson are among the more celebrated supporting cast members.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a fast-paced and zany romp through the Alps, set primarily in the 1930s and involving the ill-fated appropriation of a valuable painting, a trumped-up murder charge and any number of cartoonish characters and situations. One such situation is a hotel-floor gunfight that looks like it could be footage from a World War II picture and sounds like the Independence Day fireworks display on Milwaukee’s lakefront. Despite a little gore and tastelessness, the film is tame enough for a contemporary comedy.

Tony Revolori, a relative unknown, deserves mention as the heroic hotel lobby boy Fiennes’ character calls “my dear friend and protŽgŽ.” Next to Fiennes’ role, Revolori’s is the movie’s largest.

Rating: 3 stars


“Tim’s Vermeer”

(80 minutes, PG-13)

“Tim’s Vermeer” has been produced by Penn & Teller, the jocular magicians. Teller directs, Penn narrates and appears on screen. The documentary is a decent one, technically polished and visually appealing, but it falls decidedly short of magical.

The Tim of the title is Jenison, a Texas inventor; Vermeer is, of course, Johannes, the great (some say greatest of all, the film informs us) 17th-century painter. The peerless realism reflected in the Dutch master’s work has caused art historians and others to believe Vermeer’s paintings benefited from the use of optics. Jenison attempts to verify such thinking.

Was Vermeer artist or inventor? “I think the problem is that we have that distinction,” Penn opines in the movie. Does enhancing art (or other pursuits that seek an appreciative public) through artifice negate the creativity, the practitioners’ skills? Baseball writers voted Gaylord Perry into the Hall of Fame, thus arguably exonerating his use of the outlawed spitball. Practitioners of digital enhancement have been rewarded with Academy Awards. And didn’t everybody think Fred MacMurray’s Professor Brainard quite clever years ago when he slathered shoes with flubber to create a winning college basketball team?

Initially intriguing, “Tim’s Vermeer” starts to drag after about an hour (too many mini-scenes of Jenison painstakingly applying brushstrokes while trying to replicate a Vermeer with optical assistance). Theme music, at first enchanting, literally sounds like a broken record with repetitiveness. Cast members fall flat in attempting visual comedy.

In the end, the biggest question “Tim’s Vermeer” raises may simply be: Is the artist versus inventor argument meaningful or interesting enough to serve as the topic for a movie?

Rating: 2 stars


“300: Rise of an Empire” (103 minutes, rated R)

I’m willing to bet that, in Noam Murro’s “300: Rise of an Empire,” I’ve seen my first award-worthy movie of 2014. I didn’t say Academy Award-worthy. No, “300: Rise” is worthy of a Golden Raspberry - the antithesis of an Oscar, a trophy given for the year’s worst picture. “300: Rise” is badly written (“Anger,” one character profoundly proclaims, “is something I reserve for my enemies”), badly acted, badly directed, not particularly interesting and about as big a bloodbath as World War II. In short, it’s the film that in my experience most closely matches the classic phrase “without redeeming social value.”

A follow-up to a seven-year-old movie entitled “300,” this new screen adaptation of the graphic novel “Xerxes” drew an R rating “for sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language.” I suppose stylized violence is less realistic and somewhat less disturbing than its non-stylized counterpart, but the movie is still a bloody mess - in more ways than one. One might consider “300: Rise” in conjunction with last year’s comic book-based “Thor: The Dark World,” but comparing the two would only make “Thor” look like “Citizen Kane.”

Rating: 1 star