Recliner Reviews for July 3, 2014

Sometimes it’s a dilemma: what DVD should you rent or what movie should you stream or order-on-demand? Do you want a date flick, an action caper, or a goofy comedy? Weekly Surge is here to help with our reviews of recent at-home movie releases, which we’ve watched from the comfort of that favorite recliner.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Few directors are as recognizable from the opening scene as Wes Anderson. This is Anderson’s eighth film, and it appears he’s throwing in the kitchen sink here – the whimsy, the blended sense of setting and style, the quirky characters, the live action mixed with animation and painted backdrops and the sideways social commentary. It all comes together here. So does every actor he’s ever worked with, including Bill Murray’s seventh collaboration. He also brings in a bunch of newcomers, including a breakthrough performance by Tony Revolori. The cast is too lengthy and too talented to list, but the scenes crackle with chemistry. Anderson uses an experienced and deft hand to piece all the elements into a story inspired by the works of Hungarian writer Stefan Zweig. What he makes just may be his masterpiece to date. It’s a grand spectacle for the Fourth of July weekend and worth a watch.

“A Birder's Guide to Everything”

For some reason, bird watchers or birders have gotten a lot of cinematic action lately – “The Big Year” (2011), “The Birder” (2013) and this film all explore the competitive world of fowl discovery. This is a coming-of-age story disguised as a search for an extinct duck. The lead is handled with a careful unease and a terse fragility by Kodi Smit-McPhee (“Let Me In” and “The Road”). For director Rob Meyer’s first feature film, he goes for the heart, accessing grief and first love and teenagers reaching for the unobtainable. Ben Kingsley and James Le Gros act as strange conduits for Smit-McPhee as he sparks into manhood. The whole ride is fun and weird and sad and awkward and reminiscent of what it’s like to be a kid at the end of innocence and the beginning of all the rest of everything – worth a watch.


This film doesn’t pretend to be anything else but strange. And strange is an understatement. Jake Gyllenhaal plays dual roles as both a small-time actor and a history professor. Both are close to psychotic but in different ways. Denis Villeneuve, the director of last year’s superb “Prisoners,” switches gears here from a big cast and a script that pushes questions of morality to a stripped-down cast and tense pacing that makes you ask what the hell is going on. But it still pays off, because Gyllenhaal is just that good. It really is his showcase. He shows his diversity as an actor, bending with the tension of the plot and showing why he deserves the big roles today. Don’t come into this one thinking it’s going to be easy. It’s not. It’s freaky, but if you’re a fan of the odd story, this one isn’t your enemy, it’s worth a watch.

Derrick Bracey, for Weekly Surge