Tuesday, March 25

REVIEW: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Directed by Wes Anderson
2014 Comedy Drama
1 hour 40 minutes
From Indian Paintbrush

Ralph Fiennes
Tony Revolori
F. Murray Abraham
Willem Dafoe
Adrien Brody
Edward Norton
Harvey Keitel
Bill Murray
Jeff Goldblum
Saoirse Ronan
Jude Law
Jason Schwartzman
Tilda Swinton
Owen Wilson
Tom Wilkinson

I'm running out of Tuesday and racing to get this done and yet I sit here staring at the screen and pondering whether to give this two or three stars.  It was not an easy decision but obviously I sided with those qualities that I most admired and the film certainly had some of those.

Wes Anderson, the director, is a piece of work.  I don't know his background but was he some sort of whiz kid?  Did he direct little pieces with his siblings and the family pets when they were all very young?  He seems like the type.  His films are all so quirky, if not a bit fantastical, and they all seem to be test runs for this one. 

Let's first consider his past achievements.  How about The Royal Tenebaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012) for starters?  Aren't they all rather distinctively out there?  Well, come check into this hotel.  Anderson must have been sitting around the lobby with directors like those who helmed Marx Brothers movies and The Three Stooges romps, along with Preston Sturges, Ernst Lubitsch, Blake Edwards, Billy Wilder, George Cukor, Vincente Minnelli.  I see their DNA sprinkled throughout this sumptuous comedy.

The aspect that I seemed to care the least about, oddly enough, is the zany plot.  The story stretches out between the two great wars, told in flashback, by a former lobby boy who works for a flamboyant concierge who is a slave to his guests (and a bedmate to some) and a fearless leader to his staff.  At the heart of the plot we have a stolen painting that has a lot of folks concerned, especially one vengeful clan.  It is told against the background of a crumbling European society, the horror of war, tyranny and betrayal.  Anderson has a gift for presenting these and other things in the spirit of nostalgia.  There is a whimsy and charm afoot here as in most of his work.  The most fun came in an imaginative prison-break segment.

I spent some moments thinking the plot was a little over-hyped and that what was perhaps needed was a little more practicing of the less-is-more strategy, but perhaps others will find this criticism unwarranted.  When thinking about how you Anderson devotees (of which I am not particularly one) may put a curse on me for deriding this project in any manner, I shall attempt to duck your slings and arrows.

Here's the good news.  This is the most visually-stunning film you are likely to see in quite some time.  If how arresting a film looks impresses you in any way, waste no more time.  Check in to this hotel as quickly as possible.

If there aren't Oscar wins for the large set and art departments and those involved in miniatures, then something is seriously wrong with the universe.  I was agog at the beauty on that screen which also included hair and makeup and costumes and a nostalgic look at props from a bygone era.  The camerawork is equally dazzling with frames filled to capacity, shots from every imaginable angle, great matte work and festooned with vivid colors.  How we were told of specific places and times was fun to anticipate.

The large cast was equally impressive, although some were little more than cameo roles.  It was populated with a number of those who have worked with Anderson before, including four from The Darjeeling Limited alone.  Top honors, however, go to Ralph Fiennes and to relative newcomer Tony Revolori, who is virtually in every scene.

Some film enthusiasts may not feel that Anderson broke any new ground here.  There is the familiar cast members and the director's famed quirkiness, but the look, a bit like a lovely painting, really deserves some attention.

Review of Enemy

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