Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The centered photography, the immaculate production design, the tweed costumes, the specific title cards, the pastel colors, Bill Murray – these are just a few of the things that help Wes Anderson establish his universe. For lovers of his work, these many tell-tale signs are what make us love Anderson’s films. For detractors, these devices act only as a nuisance. As I watched his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, I had a consistent thought: Wes Anderson lovers are going to love this film, and Wes Anderson haters are going to really hate it.

That’s where Anderson is at in his career: he always appeals to his base, but doesn’t have much hope of reforming the opinions of his critics. And that’s fine. Despite what studios say, it isn’t the job of a filmmaker to appeal to the masses, but rather to present stories in whatever way they see fit. Some of us like Anderson’s film, others do not. Me, I’m touch-and-go with his oeuvre. It’s pointless to list which of his films have worked for me and which haven’t, because we’re here to talk about one, the extravagant, comically absurd, technically perfect The Grand Budapest Hotel.

In many ways, this is the biggest film Anderson has made yet, with a vast call sheet of actors, and an epic narrative that spans upwards of 80 years. The film, and try to stay with me here, starts in the present, with a young girl reading a book in a park. From there, we jump back a few years, where we meet the author of that book (Tom Wilkinson) who addresses the audience directly. From there, we jump back to the ‘60s and listen as the author (now played by Jude Law) shares his experience with the night he spent at the Grand Budapest Hotel, dining with its owner, Zero Moustafa (played by F. Murray Abraham). From there, we jump back to the ‘30s and listen as the author (narrated by Law) retells us the story of Zero Moustafa (now played by newcomer Tony Revolori).
Essentially, the narrative is the prose of a book, told by the author, told by the person it happened to. Sure, it’s a bit complicated, but it’s just one thing that makes this film so unique. (For added fun, each timeframe in the movie is presented in a different aspect ratio.) I honestly can’t remember seeing a narrative shaped in such a way before. And that’s enough to make me interested.

Zero recounts his early years as a Lobby Boy at the Grand Budapest Hotel, and how he came under the spirited tutelage of the hotel’s most esteemed worker, a concierge named M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes, inhabiting Anderson’s world perfectly). Zero’s story centers on one of the Grand Budapest’s most loyal guests, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), who, following her death, left an invaluable painting to Gustave in her will. This infuriates Madame D.’s son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), who does everything in his power to destroy Gustave and reclaim the art.

The film follows Zero and Gustave on their whimsical journey of good vs. evil, art vs. savagery, cat vs. concrete. They encounter dozens of colorful characters along the way, some of whom help Gustave and his plight, while others attempt to prey on it.
In addition to its large cast and broad scope, The Grand Budapest Hotel may be the most Wes Andersonian film Wes Anderson has made in years. The witty, academic dialogue is here (great to have Anderson characters casually cursing again, by the way), Robert Yeoman’s signature cinematography, a delightful Alexandre Desplat score, and so on. An additional audacious touch is that all of the actors speak in their real voices. A few (namely Edward Norton) attempt subtle cultural accents, but for the most part, the performers talk as themselves, even if it doesn’t make geographical sense. Jeff Goldblum sounds like Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel sounds like he’s in a Scorsese flick, Saoirse Ronan sounds Irish, Léa Seydoux speaks French, all to consistently amusing results.

As mentioned, if you’re a fan of Wes Anderson’s work, you’re going to enjoy The Grand Budapest Hotel. If you don’t vibe with Anderson’s style, then I can’t see this film being of any benefit to you. For me, The Grand Budapest Hotel ranks just below Anderson’s great films. I had a sensational time watching it, but highly doubt I’ll find the need to revisit it anytime soon. But in the moment, packed in a dark theater with hundreds of strangers, The Grand Budapest Hotel kept reminding me to appreciate the pleasures of cinematic style. And that’s certainly enough to make it worthwhile. B

45 comments:

  1. hmmm i'm very so so on him, so i wonder how i will feel about this one

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    1. I'll be interested to hear your take. I don't know if so-so Anderson fans will like it. A tough call.

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  2. I'm going to see this film. Wes Anderson puts my ass in the seat!

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  3. This looks like a lot of fun based on the trailers (and I've heard that it also has quite the melancholy edge to it as well) but mainly I think I just want to see Fiennes play this character. I'm with you when it comes to Anderson's work (I loved Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom but have found a lot of his other films a bit too much), but this looks funny to me.

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    1. He definitely has fun with it, which is nice. But it is a VERY Wes Anderson kind of film. So I could see this one falling into the Too Much category for you. But it's a toss up. Let me know what you think of it!

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  4. You are so lucky to have seen this already!! I was feeling quite happy because I managed to snag some advance screening tickets for next week but this film doesn't get released until next month in Australia. I am rather a large fan of Wes Anderson and the previews have made it look amusing enough. It's really the cinematography I'm interested in. Can't wait!! Great review once again Alex

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    1. Thanks Angela! I will say that this is one of my favorite looking films Wes Anderson has made. The cinematography is splendid throughout (though, curiously, missing his standard slow motion). I really hope you enjoy it once it comes your way!

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  5. I'm highly anticipating this, but my reaction to Wes Anderson films isn't always the norm. For instance, I consider Rushmore his "worst" and The Darjeeling Limited (or maybe Moonrise Kingdom) his "best". Still, I can't wait for more quirkiness!

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    1. That's the thing about Wes Anderson... everyone has a different opinion about his films. Tenenbaums will always be tops for me, with Darjeeling a close second. Moonrise and Life Aquatic unfortunately don't do much for me.

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  6. Oh lovely! So glad you liked this, I thought it was wonderful. Anderson usually goes one way or the other for me, but I fell in love with The Grand Budapest Hotel.
    I liked it more than you, but still glad you liked it.

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    1. I'm glad you liked it too! This one worked in so many ways for me. I haven't enjoyed an Anderson flick this much since Darjeeling.

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  7. Ok Alex, I'm pretty happy I read this review.

    I can tell that Wes Anderson has had an indelible effect on you as both a filmmaker and film goer. I see it in your shorts, along with Spike Lee, Steve Soderbergh, blah blah.

    So please, excuse my audacity here. Aren't we tired of twee dresses, white chinos and moustaches? Aren't we tired of Jason Schwartzman?

    I've never been much of a fan of Wes Anderson, in fact, I like 3 of his movies. The original Bottle Rocket, The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom (Less for it's cinematography and more for the couch occupied by myself and my former kissy girlfriend -- who yes, loved Wes Anderson.) In films like Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, I saw a filmmaker who was pushing a new envelope. Wes Anderson stood as a representation of film as conceptual more than rigid. He played by a new and colorful playbook, one many have taken pages from today. I admire that. Wes is clearly inspired by Bergman but in the best possible way (Whereas Woody shoves our nose in it from time to time).

    I admire Wes, his color palette, his ideas, his dialogue and that ever traveling camera of his. But man, can I watch another one of his movies geared toward his audience of bearded layabouts and thirtysomethings? Can his comedy stop telling me it's comedy? The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film I've yet to see, strikes me as a film I've already seen.

    And that said, it's clear you've such respect for him man. And that itself is worthy of my time.

    And THAT said, I fucks with Wes' commercials. That guy can put together an ad like no one. His Prada short films, his Ikea ad, man, so tight!

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    1. First off, thank you very much for saying that you can see his influence in my shooting style. That is definitely unconscious on my part, but I love that you can see. That’s awesome.

      Wes Anderson is a guy I started off loving. Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and what I feel is his magnum opus, The Royal Tenenbaums. Love them. And then something happened. As much as I hate to say stuff like this, I detested The Life Aquatic. I’ve revisited it two additional times since seeing it in the theater, and I still feel that it is an awful film. I do quite enjoy The Darjeeling Limited, but haven’t loved anything since. My point is: while I appreciate that he can usually offer something pretty, his movies have become filmic annoyances in self-reflexivity.

      You summed it up best with, “Can his comedy stop telling me it's comedy? The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film I've yet to see, strikes me as a film I've already seen.”

      Like I said, I enjoyed my time with The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I honestly doubt I’ll ever watch it again, just as I’ve never rewatched Fantastic Mr. Fox or Moonrise Kingdom. Once was enough. The Royal Tenenbaums, though… I’ve watched that twice in the past week.

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  8. I am a huge fan of Wes, but I was kind of disappointed with Budapest. Even though I did enjoy his stylizing in this, I felt like he tried too hard. I thought the story and characters were underdeveloped and Wes is actually one of my favorite screenwriters! First impressions are a bit tough especially when you're expecting so much, so I'll definitely give it another chance when I can. Glad you enjoyed it though!

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    1. Hey Rachel, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! Honestly, the more time that passes with this one, the less and less I like it. I'll stick by my B grade for now, but basically, I get everything you said here. Much of it did feel sadly undeveloped.

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    2. No problem, I enjoy your blog! I read your Moonrise review and I agree with you a 100%. Hopefully Wes' bad writing streak will end with this film.

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    3. At this point, I wonder (or fear...) if his work will more or less stay the same. I can't see him departing from his signature style, you know?

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    4. As much as I love his style, I feel like he's focusing more on that than the writing, possibly trying to appeal to a larger market. I could be wrong.

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    5. Hey, do you have a blog or Twitter? I'd love to check out some of your posts!

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    6. That's very kind of you to ask, I do in fact! http://itsmejonahillfromoneyball.tumblr.com

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    7. Nice! Ohh I LOVE American Psycho. Great post!

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    8. thanks and thanks for checking it out!

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  9. i'm a big fan of anderson, but i didn't care for this too much. i would've preferred the cast of characters to have been cut in half and have the major ones fleshed out more. i loved brody as the villain, but he barely got any screentime. a lot of it just felt like cameos.

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    1. Oh wow, I'm surprised by this actually. But I do agree with the cameo notion. It just felt like he wanted to cram in as many people as possible, just 'cause. I enjoyed certain aspects of it (Fiennes and Brody were great), but certainly not my favorite Anderson flick.

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  10. I saw it twice this weekend and while I quite enjoyed it the first time I appreciated it more the second time and loved it afterwards. What makes the time reversal narrative so interesting is how flows so well without feeling clunky and how it adds extra personality to the story by using at least two characters who for any other filmmaker would be wholly unnecessary. Fiennes was marvelous but for me Brody was the best, especially just during a scene where all he does is walk down a hallway.

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    1. I will agree that the narrative here was such a unique and ballsy move. It is damn hard to explain in print, but it's clunkiness wasn't apparent on screen. I actually really dug it. Along with Brody... he was such a trip.

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  11. I always love Anderson so this was just another delightful tale to me. I really enjoyed it, but at the same time I didn't feel quite as emotional about it. In all my favorite Anderson films there's at least one moment where I feel a rush of emotions. There was no such moment here, but it also was bit more of a comedic romp so there was a benefit to that as well. I loved the huge cast, but I missed the more intimate characterizations you usually get from Anderson (even in larger casts, like Tenenbaums and Moonrise, where there's at least 6-8+ characters that feel completely fleshed out). I would have loved more time with Brody's character especially.

    All in all though, another movie I definitely enjoy and can see myself watching for years to come.

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    1. We're pretty much in agreement here. I missed that specific emotional connection as well, but I do think Anderson was intentionally going for a romp. I also enjoyed the huge cast, but would've liked more time with many of them. But yes, all in all though, a grand film.

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  12. I saw this a week ago, and while I would give it a somewhat higher score, I agree with a lot of what you said. Wes Anderson fans will love it, naysayers will hate it. Wes Anderson is my second or third favorite director, behind Kubrick and possibly Haneke (yes you did read that correctly). I've seen most of his work, save for the short Bottle Rocket and Hotel Chavelier, and the only film he made that I didn't love was Fantastic Mr. Fox (although I feel that if I saw it again, I'd like it a lot more. Also, yes, I do in fact really like Life Aquatic. I never really understood why it's so hated, but to each their own. But I digress.). And Grand Budapest has proven to be no exception, although I do agree it was more style-over-substance than most of his other work. But oh, such a style! When it comes to style-over-substance, I feel like Wes Anderson pulls it off better than most other directors, like that shopaholic hack Baz Luhrmann (sorry, I just hate that guy). And this film pulls off an interesting feat: it features Wes Anderson's style to an exaggerated extent, but it never feels like self-parody. It's a fun little movie from a fun little director.

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    1. I'm right there with you... this one was style over substance, but how can you argue when the style is so impeccable?

      I have a love/hate relationship with Baz Luhrmann's work. On one hand, I appreciate that he makes film his own way. Whether you like him or not, there really aren't too many contemporary directors that you can see a screenshot from one of their films and say, "Yep, that's a _____ film." On the other hand, rarely do I like his films as a whole. I suffered through Gatsby, my God.

      And I absolutely adored Michael Haneke.

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  13. Just watched this and I loved it a lot! I mean, I'm not the best Anderson fan by not having seen his early early work and being too young to understand the style with Tenebaums I presume, but Moonrise Kingdom and this is just.. brilliant.
    What I love about it the most is not that the story inside the story inside the story is unique and interesting, but the presentation in a picture book style..

    PS: I read there was a cameo with Clooney, did you see him because I missed it and now I want to watch it again because how the hell did I not see Clooney!?

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    1. I didn't see Clooney at all! Is that really true? Can't believe we would've missed him. You're right, the narrative was very unique and interesting, which I appreciated. Glad you liked it!

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    2. Yeah, my friend thought for a second she saw him.. but I don't know exactly where and the Wiki page says he had a cameo... now I want to know where!? :D

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    3. So bizarre. We must find it!

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  14. Words cannot describe how much I adore this film and how much I adore the whole Wes Anderson filmography as well. He's a real auteur in the Cahiers Du Cinema sense of the word, plus it's so rare to see a modern filmmaker being so inspired by Nouvelle Vague. This is actually one of my favorite films of his, so hilarious, so complex, so deeply personal. In my mind, it's the first cinematic masterpiece of 2014.

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    1. That's so cool man, your passion for the film really shines through. Even though you liked it more than me, I just love hearing people talk about what movies they love (as opposed to only bashing the movies they hate - yuck). How would you rank Anderson's films, if forced to choose? I'm dying to know.

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    2. Thanks, dude. I sincerely appreciate your words and I couldn't agree more with you in that it's so much better to hear people talk about the movies they love and not the ones they hate. I really love every film that the visionary Wes Anderson has done and this wonder of a film is certainly no exception. Anderson's passion for the art of cinema shines through his every directorial choice and can be downright infectious. That's something that wasn't that unusual in the Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Éric Rohmer era, but in this day and age is undoubtedly extremely rare. Only a few people (Coen Brothers, Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, Terrence Malick, just to name some) can claim that they have such an effect on their audience. Even in his lesser films, Wes Anderson manages to produce moments of pure cinematic magic. Ranking his films is a little tough, since most of them are masterpieces, but it's a challenge I welcome. So my list goes like this: 1) The Royal Tenenbaums, 2) Rushmore, 3) Fantastic Mr. Fox, 4) The Grand Budapest Hotel, 5) Moonrise Kingdom, 6) Bottle Rocket, 7) The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, 8) The Darjeeling Limited. "The Royal Tenenbaums" is not only Anderson's best film, but also is Anderson at his most Anderson-esque.

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    3. Sorry it took me so long to respond to this! Just seeing it now. I'd definitely have Tenenbaums first as well. That may be the only Anderson film that I absolutely love. I really enjoy Rushmore as well, but there's something about Tenenbaums that works for me.

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  15. When I saw the film it was a B. The film grow in my and now it's an A. I don't mind if it will win the The Best Picture, The Best Director, The Best Actor, The Best Screenplay and so on...
    This film is damn fine. The films that I believe that should be nominated for Best Picture of the Year: Boyhood, Foxcatcher, Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gone Girl. Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater will have there first, and well deserved Oscar nomination. Bennett Miller, David Fincher and Alejandro González Iñárritu, three damn fine directors who definitely will win an Oscar someday, will be again nominated (if the academy isn't racist and feminist and give a, probably, undeserved nomination for Selma).

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    1. I haven't felt the need to see this one again, but maybe I will soon. I like that it has grown on you with time.

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  16. I saw this film 5 times and to say the least the film is technically fantastic, well acted and jump from drama to comedy perfectly. I love it. Would you give a higher grade today?

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    1. Certainly, an A- at least. I watched it on Oscar weekend and liked it so much more. Anderson's films have a way of doing that.

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  17. Brilliantly conceived and executed ... dry, droll and delightful. It's a treasure trove of wonders - visually and emotionally - with its stylized, colourful production design.

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