Oddly Colourful, Nostalgic, and Courageous – Movie Review on The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Harmonic chorus seemingly remote. Girl approaching a statute engraved ‘national treasure’ and slowly unraveling the book The Grand Budapest Hotel. Through the narrative of the Author, or Stefan Zweig (the ‘national treasure’), whose writings Beware of Pity and The Post-Office Girl inspired the screenplay of the movie, the adventure between a legendary concierge Monsieur Gustave H. and his loyal lobby boy Zero Mustafa unfolds in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka in the 1930s. Because of inheriting a priceless painting from a rich dowager guest of the hotel, M. Gustave was involved in the treacherous scheme of the son of the guest. He was sent to the prison, successfully escaped and inherited everything from the dowager. He was in the end shot at military checkpoint and Zero, his most faithful companion and ‘brother’, inherited M. Gustave’s property accordingly.

What distinguishes The Grand Budapest Hotel from other movies is its directing and production. Colourful scenes that exploit all hues on a palette are harmonic but in fact suggest evil plans. Meticulous design coupled with rhythmic music and acting surprisingly brings spontaneity. Seemingly discreet filming of violence presents unexpected brutality with chopped fingers and decapitated head with haunting facial expression. Literary M. Gustave who is versed in the most adorned manner and speaks in poems often explodes in vulgarities. It is a movie that you will miss out an important detail in the blink of an eye, and this is what keeps it upbeat and exciting.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the carefully constructed miniature of the director Wes Anderson’s world. A world which laments the decadent yesterday, the last aristocratic world preserved in the Grand Budapest Hotel, but slowly slipping away. A world where noble and kind people believe in humanity – ‘there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity‘, commented M. Gustave when an old acquaintance saved Zero’s and his life at the military checkpoint. A world where courage and decency are wronged by the evils, the former reluctantly become prone to vulgarity. Gustave’s world, or Anderson’s world, has long disappeared. Indeed, M. Gustave is himself the reminiscence of the past. Gustave’s superfluous manners that belong to another age are his feeble attempt to maintain the long-lost world: ‘To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it – but, I will say: he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace!‘ Gustave’s life was ended the next time his train was stopped at the same military checkpoint at the barley field – only that this time, there was no more old acquaintance saving him. He was shot by the military men when defending for Zero and his wife Agatha. The movie is an artwork mixed with faint glimmer of hope in humanity and the ironic reality of cruelty.

With camera gliding alongside the actors, Wes Anderson establishes a rare sense of intimacy and reaches out from the antique hotel to the audience in the modern world. He presents to us his impish but oddly practical fantasy in a dark but light way. He also put together the best people all of starkly different imageries in his carefully articulated hotel. He is said to be highly capable in uniting and bringing out the best performance of actors and actresses. Together they allow us to take a peek into Anderson’s wonderfully wired mind. The Grand Budapest Hotel, the quintessence of kindness and courage that shapes one of the most impressive years in recent years.


Just another oscar-winning movie – Movie Review on The Imitation Game (2014)

While success of wars depends on good leadership and sacrifice from soldiers, it is not always a hard battle. Sometimes, it is about knowing what your opponents think before they act, and that is when intelligence comes to play. Obtaining intelligence is more than sending out spies, but includes also intercepting messages for information. Countries are all equipped with the technology to intercept messages, but not the technology required to understand messages encoded by the Enigma machine, one of the most complicated encoding machines ever existed in the world and used by the Germans in WWII.

Winston Churchill once called Station X at Bletchley Park his “goose that laid the golden egg and never cackled”. Mathematicians (mostly from Cambridge), chess players, and linguists assembled at Station X for the highly confidential task of decoding wartime German messages. As a gibberish message processed by the Enigma machine could only be decoded by another Enigma machine, and each day the Germans would change the encoding settings of the Enigma machine, cryptanalysts’ analysis would only be useful for one day. What was more daunting was that there were 150 million million million possibilities for the setting, leaving the top talents exhausted. This all changed when Alan Turing abandoned the old way of manual decoding but successfully designed a decoding machine named Christopher to decipher German messages efficiently. Station X thus became the “golden egg” that could probe confidential information from the enemies. Christopher, or the Turing machine, is now considered a forerunner of modern time computer and formalises the concepts of algorithm and computation.

Alan Turing was a Cambridge Mathematician with immense interest in decoding messages since young. His interest developed due to his strong friendship with another student Christopher, whom he named the Turing machine after. Christopher helped Turing from school bullying and gradually, Turing had romantic feelings for him.

The success of the Turing machine assisted the British to gain valuable information of German warfare. However, not every decoded message would be reported, or the Germans would become suspicious. In one of the movie scenes, a teammate begged Turing to inform the army on a planned attack by the German, as his siblings were involved in that operation. However, Turing refused and concerns were raised over what right Turing had to control the fate of the soldiers. This is the age-old debate between valuing individual life and sacrificing for the wider community. Apparently Station X chose the latter. There was no right or wrong to the question, only that the war did shorten by two years with the help of Station X.

However, Station X remained largely unknown to the public. At the end of WWII, Churchill demanded all records be burnt in bonfire. If not for The Ultra Secret by F. W. Winterbotham, a former British Royal Air Force officer responsible for distributing intelligence, being published in 1974, the secret might still not be revealed to the general public. The cryptologists at Station X were largely a group of heroes who indeed deserved recognition.

Despite his substantial contribution during WWII and to the development of computer science, Turing was prosecuted for gross indecency in 1950s due to his homosexuality. As an alternative to imprisonment, he was ordered two-year chemical castration treatment. He committed suicide after receiving a year of the treatment. He was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II posthumously in 2013 in recognition of his contribution.

The Imitation Game has been both commercial and critical success. It has earned eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch), Best Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley) and Best Director. The movie is undeniably an excellent production with outstanding performance of actors, who have done their very best with their roles. Different time frames are presented – the young Turing in school, Turing during WWII, and Turing under police investigation for gross indecency – and the transits are made smoothly. A movie like this deserves many Oscar nominations, and The Imitation Game does not let its supporters down – it did secure quite a few nominations. And yet maybe the film has been calculated in such a way to receive critical acclaim that it lacks uniqueness. It is just another movie with the ambition to capture as many prizes as possible.

Nevertheless, the movie raises awareness towards the uncelebrated heroes of WWII, that without their hard work, the war might have dragged for two more years with heavier casualties. It also constantly reminds the audience that “sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.

One interesting fact to note – some scientists claim that Benedict Cumberbatch is distantly related to Alan Turing as 17th cousins. Both can be traced back to John Beaufort, the first Earl of Somerset born in 1373, through their paternal lines.

“People do belong to each other” – Movie Review on Breakfast at Tiffany’s

At 5 a.m. in one morning in 1960, a yellow taxi gently pulled up in a rarely quiet Fifth Avenue in New York. Disembarked from the taxi was a lady with oversized sunglasses and layers of pearl necklace in a Givenchy little black dress, holding a bag of breakfast. Being the only pedestrian, she strolled to the shop windows of Tiffany & Co, where she took out a bun and a cup of coffee from the paper bag and stared at the jewellery. The backdrop plays Henry Mancini’s Moon River, while the elegant remains as an enigma.

As the story gradually unravels, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) is not a very loveable girl you will expect in any another movie. She is a party girl who lives off by engaging with rich men. She has a list of top 10 richest men in the country on top of her head. She was married at a young age with her real name Lulu Mae Barnes, but abandoned her husband for a new life in New York under the false name Holly. She meets her new neighbour Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a writer who has not published any works in the last 5 years and benefits from his relationship with a wealthy old woman.

To many, life in New York City is thrilling due to its glamour and the possibility of chasing after their dreams. To Paul or the men fascinated by Holly, the thrill of the city is seen through Holly herself. Her wildness and impulsiveness naturally attract them to experience the city through her eyes. However, it is always dangerous to give your heart to a wild thing. “The more you do, the stronger they get, until they’re strong enough to run into the woods or fly into a tree. And then to a higher tree and then to the sky.

Although a wild thing is sometimes the one in a cage. Holly is undeniably a shallow gold digger who would marry any man for his money. However, after all, she may just be another poor soul who imposes on herself all those constraints as she chases after something “better”. It is also a struggle between falling in love and safekeeping freedom. Falling in love means obligations. You are no longer on your own, but part of the two-men team against the world. It also means being vulnerable. And yet the more you escape from such possibility, the more you confine your own life by invisible nuisances.

A good movie is like wine. The more you watch it, the more it brews your thoughts – gently, never in excess.