Sunday, March 16, 2014

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"

 3.5 / 5 

I've got to be honest: Wes Anderson films aren't really my thing.  While I've been able to admire the stylized, controlled ironically highbrow humor of some of his movies, most of them have left me disappointed that I'm missing out on some great joke.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is every bit as calculated and droll, smugly confident, intellectually superior and visually calculated as his other films, but it's far less emotionally aloof.  Yes, the characters all speak in an arch, stylized way, as if narrating bits of their favorite novels to each other rather than actually engaging in meaningful ways -- but in The Grand Budapest Hotel that conceit is less off-putting than before and even works in the film's favor.

The movie is as light, frothy and dangerously close to falling apart as one of the sumptuous dessert creations that figure so prominently in its story.  Whimsically visual stimulation has always been one of Anderson's strong points, but in The Grand Budapest Hotel he adds an unexpected ingredient to its creation: emotion.  Real emotion.  Carefully considered emotion.  It's not overbearing, some might not even notice it, but within the last few minutes of The Grand Budapest Hotel, I had a thought that had never once occurred to me while watching one of Anderson's previous films: I'd like to see it again.

I'd like to go back and savor the many nuances I missed the first time around because my eye and my mind were so distracted by the film's overwhelming visual flair and by its breakneck speed.  The Grand Budapest Hotel reminded me at times of an Ernst Lubitsch or Howard Hawks comedy, the kinds that move so fast they careen from one scene to the next with a logic that seems more coincidental than planned.  Those movies still feel fresh 80 years after they were made because they feel lighter and freer than other films of their time, and despite the careful, downright intricate, staging of The Grand Budapest Hotel, it shares that quality.

The movie begins with a curious opening scene in which a girl visits a shrine of sorts, covered with hotel keys.  From here, The Grand Budapest Hotel travels back and forth in time, seemingly at random, finally settling down (mostly) to tell of a gloriously pink leviathan of a mountainside hotel, the kind they truly don't make anymore.  By the 1980s, it's become a much different place, taken over by a communist state and turned into a barely inhabited, bleak-looking place.  But when it was in its prime -- oh!  There never was such a place!

And there never was such a man as its concierge, M. Gustave, the randy, perfumed, fey little lothario who dedicates his life to the operation.  He's the sort of man who believes the vision and success of the hotel is a direct result of his own passion and dedication.  For all of his ridiculous quirks (including bedding all of the wealthy septua- and octogenarian widows who frequent the hotel -- his explanation for preferring their sexual company is hilarious), M. Gustave is the kind of man the world needs more of today, and Anderson clearly admires him: He has ambition but he has morals; he epitomizes the grandeur of the hotel and of the time.

Zero (Tony Revolori) is the hotel's teenage lobby boy, who quickly becomes M. Gustave's personal valet, learning the value and supreme importance of discretion and service.

Gustave's latest eighty-something lover, though, dies a suspicious death and leaves a priceless painting to M. Gustave, inciting the wrath of her violent, vengeful family.  Most of the movie is a loopy chase to keep the bad guys away from the painting, but there's much, much more than that.

It would be impossible to convey most of the plot: There is downhill skiing, a sled on a ski-jump, a prison breakout, a Nazi-style invasion of Central Europe, an auspicious meeting in a thermal bath, a girl with a birthmark that looks like Mexico … none of it makes sense in the moment or afterward, yet it all works perfectly well together.  Anderson doesn't linger over formalities like maintaining narrative sense.  What matters here is the kinetic movement and the commitment of the actors.  On those counts, The Grand Budapest Hotel never falters.

It's a living cartoon: zany, non-sensical, genuinely funny and bizarre -- and then comes the unexpected grace note: True, genuine emotion.  Anderson makes it clear that the movie is really a wistful tribute to the kind of day that has long gone by (if it ever really existed), when men wore tuxedoes to hotels, when women wore furs and hats and stood up straight, when glamour came not from being famous or even having money, but from having elegance and charm.  The Grand Budapest Hotel is a love note to the kind of beauty and grace that simply don't exist anymore, and the last few shots bring this all home beautifully -- along with a quite unexpected last touch to remind us that, above all, this is a story, a story that may or may not have happened … but that we'd like to believe did.

We all harbor notions that the time we're living in is graceless, inelegant, loud, brash, disconnected and changing too fast.  That was as true in 1914 as it is in 2014 -- there comes a point at which the past needs to cede the thing of youth and allow the future to come barging in, crass and incomplete and very often inconsiderate of all that came before.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a fast, fun, funny, charming, silly, borderline bizarre, stylized, visually inspired memento that captures a past filled with beauty, grace, charm and just as much insanity as we have today.  I loved the last shots, which serve as reminders of how much we long for the times we've only read about.

In a fast, goofy way, The Grand Budapest Hotel takes some of the best of those times and captures them in time.  If you're not an Anderson fan, you may still not get it, but even if that's you, give The Grand Budapest Hotel a try; it's the closest he's come to bringing his perspective of the world to the screen in a way others can really understand -- it's a warped perspective, perhaps, but also a loving, gentle and ultimately quite lovely one.

Viewed March 15, 2014 - ArcLight Hollywood 


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Oscar Guesses

Come back in 24 hours to see how I've fared.

Here's how I did.  Out of 24 categories, I predicted 19 correctly -- a not-too-shabby 79% accuracy rate.

(For what it's worth, I'm traditionally not particularly good at this, because I let my preferences and personal favorites get in the way.)

Best Picture
Gravity 12 Years a Slave

Best Director
Alfonso CuarĂ³n, Gravity

Best Actor
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Best Supporting Actor
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyer's Club

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave

Best Original Screenplay

Best Adapted Screenplay
12 Years a Slave

Best Animated Feature Film

Best Foreign Film
The Great Beauty (Italy)

Best Original Song
"Let It Go" from Frozen

Best Original Score
Steven Price, Gravity

Best Costume Design
American Hustle The Great Gatsby

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Dallas Buyers Club

Best Sound Editing

Best Sound Mixing

Best Cinematography

Best Production Design
The Great Gatsby

Best Film Editing*

Best Visual Effects

Best Documentary Feature
20 Feet from Stardom

Best Documentary Short Subject
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life

Best Short Film (Animated)
Get a Horse! Mr. Hublot

Best Short Film (Live Action)

*Isn't it time they change the name of this category, since there's virtually no editing of film happening anymore?