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Film Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

the-grand-budapest-hotel

An author recounts the tale of Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), devoted concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel and his lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Toni Revolori). When Gustave is left a priceless painting by the deceased Madame D (Tilda Swinton), he and Zero must go to extraordinary lengths to keep it out of the clutches of her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody).

Many directors can be considered auteurs, but few boast such a distinctive style as Wes Anderson. Even the most casual cinephile can pick out one of his films from 100 paces, and we’ve even got to the stage where films are described as ‘Wes Anderson-esque’. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson’s most Wes Anderson-esque film to date.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a matryoshka of a film, a story wrapped within a story, wrapped within another story, and this is just the start of its curiosities. We begin with a girl looking at a statue of an author and holding a copy of a book entitled ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. We then briefly see the author (played by Tom Wilkinson) before cutting to a younger version of him (played this time by Jude Law) who is speaking to a man about how he came to own our titular hotel. Clear? Good.

And it’s at that juncture that Wes Anderson is unleashed, as if the author of the book has employed the director to tell his tale. From that point on it’s a full frontal assault on the senses that rarely lets up for a moment. Anderson’s signature style has never been more pronounced; the colour palette is deliciously vintage and every shot is meticulously framed within an inch of its life.

The abundance of static camera shots gives the impression we’re at times watching a play, whilst some of the stylised scenery harks right back to the birth of cinema with Georges Melies’ A Trip to the Moon. There’s also a nice bit of fun had with the screen ratios representing the different eras in which the film is set.

But it’s not all style; there’s plenty of substance to back it up. The script is razor sharp, dripping with dry humour and delivered brilliantly by the unbelievable cast (which includes among others Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel and Willem Dafoe). Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave, the frantically camp hotel concierge, is wonderful as he rattles off his lines in quick-fire fashion and displays a genuine affection for lobby boy Zero.

As you’ve probably gathered, The Grand Budapest Hotel is somewhat on the bonkers side, perhaps too much so at times. With so much going on so quickly and with so many characters popping up here, there and everywhere, it can be a little tricky to follow what’s going on, although it’s so much fun that this shouldn’t present too much of a problem.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a madcap caper of the highest order, a picturebook playground examining what’s so wonderful about cinema and presenting it in a truly wonderful explosion of action and colour.

No-one does Wes Anderson quite like Wes Anderson.

Pros

  • Wes Anderson’s distinctive style as pronounced as ever
  • Genuinely funny script
  • Ralph Fiennes is fantastic
  • Wonderful supporting cast

Cons

  • So crazy it can sometimes be tricky to follow

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Quickie: The Monuments Men

monuments-men-posterWith the Nazis stealing all the paintings and sculptures they can lay their hands on, Frank Stokes (George Clooney) enlists a crack team to help the Allies reclaim the stolen art.

Trying to find new and interesting stories to tell about World War II may seem like a bit of a stretch, but with The Monuments Men, George Clooney has done just that. So just how he’s managed to turn it into such a mediocre film is somewhat of a mystery.

Clooney has assembled quite the cast, including Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Jean Dujardin, but many of them feel underutilised and underdeveloped. We’re led to believe they have some kind of history together but this is never explored, and as such we never really care about what happens to them.

The plot also feels somewhat disjointed and lacks cohesion. It flits back and forth between different plot threads, none of which ever really grab your attention and struggles to find a balance between a lighthearted and serious tone. It even descends into some good ol’ fashioned American flag waving by the end.

There is some fun to be had, however, and there are some nice interchanges between some of the characters, with Bill Murray and Bob Balaban probably the standouts. The period detail is also excellent and helps create a really believable setting.

The Monuments Men recalls classic war movies but ultimately fails to have similar dramatic or emotional impact. Great concept, poor execution. Sorry George.

2 and a half pigeons2.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Hyde Park on Hudson

Hyde Park on HudsonSometimes a combination of different genres and styles can be a good thing for a film. Not being pigeonholed can increase intrigue and stave off disinterest. Django Unchained is a perfect recent example. However, Django knows exactly what it wants to be and sticks to it throughout. The problem with Hyde Park on Hudson (a world away from Tarantino’s film, I know) is that it never really knows what it wants to be and ends up meandering around without committing to one style or the other.

The story focuses on US President Franklin D Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and his love affair with distant cousin Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), referred to as Daisy, during a visit by the King and Queen of England to his country estate in Hyde Park, New York.

The synopsis puts the film firmly in the ‘drama’ category as does its opening. However, when Daisy suddenly gives FDR a handjob in the front seat of his car, things take somewhat of a bizarre turn. Prepare for many an odd sideways glance. All of a sudden, it wants to throw in some comedy. But then it’ll take it away again. Continue ad infinitum. The fact that it never settles for either prevents you from ever really investing in the story and is little more than confusing. It’s never dramatic enough for a drama nor funny enough for a comedy.

Another of the film’s issues is that its main story arc isn’t even the most interesting one. FDR and Daisy’s relationship is never explored in a meaningful enough way to care about and there is little to no development of either character. Instead, the royal visit of King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Coleman) is much more interesting and makes for an infinitely more engaging storyline. Both West and Coleman are very good in their roles, providing some of the more humorous moments on offer. However, both Linney and Murray don’t bring enough to the role match their British counterparts, although this is as much the fault of the largely poor script that too often champions adultery and subservient female roles.

HPoH is all about ‘special relationships’ but the one between Britain and America may stick in the throat of some Brits. Whilst healthy relationships are built on mutual respect, there seems to be none of that here and both British monarchs are frequently undermined and belittled. King George (or Bertie as he’s known) is presented as a bumbling, childish fool due to his stammer and inexperience as King and is often patronised by FDR. The (less than subtle) suggestion that the helpless British came grovelling for help from Uncle Sam to help them in World War II is also presented in rather a demeaning fashion.

With some films, it’s easy to say that they could have been so much more and how they could have been improved. However, to do that with HPoH would take almost an entire deconstruction of almost every element of the film. It’s an uninteresting story, many of the characters are unlikable and some of the directorial and script choices are lamentable. The film is based upon journals and diaries of Suckley’s that were discovered under a bed after her death, and perhaps some things should remain hidden.

1 and a half pigeons

1.5/5 pigeons

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Nostalgiathon – Ghostbusters II

This post is part of Nostalgiathon 2012, an excellent blogathon from the brains of Andy at Andy Watches Movies and Misty over at Cinema Schminema. Very briefly, The purpose of Nostalgiathon is to relive things from your childhood through the eyes of an adult. For more information on how to get involved, click here.

So yes, the first Ghostbusters is probably the better film, but when I was younger it was always Ghostbusters II that I enjoyed the most and would watch on repeat. Like, literally on repeat. Apparently I would watch it and then as soon as it finished I would put it on again. I also had all the toys, the Proton Pack, the trap thingy. Yep, I was ace. My parents must have gone out of their minds.

I’ve not actually seen Ghostbusters II for quite a while but I can still recall it pretty much scene for scene – an honour held by only a select few films. From start to finish it’s filled with scenes that invoke pangs of nostalgia, from seeing the crew have normal every day jobs and Dana’s pram go hurtling down the street to all the ghosts showing themselves around New York and bringing the Statue of Liberty to Life. Absurd I know, but when I was seven or eight it was pretty cool.

However, probably the scene I always looked forward to the most was the courtroom scene. The Ghostbusters are on trial for causing a blackout in New York and generally just being a nuisance (in the eyes of the lawholders). As the judge gets more and more irate, the jar of slime, that is affected by negative feelings, starts to bubble until it finally explodes releasing the ghosts of two murderers whom the judge sentenced to death by electric chair. Sweet. I always found this the most exciting scene in the whole film and loved how freaky the two ghosts were.

I always thought the big bad guy, Vigo was really quite frightening, especially when he started to emerge from the painting, but Janosz did do my head in a bit. You’d think an evil spirit of a 17th century Carpathian tyrant would pick someone a little better to do his duty. Still, Janosz gets the job done, I guess, and you can’t really be that picky when you’re trapped inside a painting. Thinking about it now, what would Vigo have done had he actually have possessed Dana’s baby? Would the baby have adult thoughts? If not, presumably Dana would bring him up to be an upstanding member of society, thus negating the effects of Vigo’s evilness. And times have changed, tyrants of old wouldn’t stand a chance in today’s world. Chances are, some kid would come along and pop him one a la Omar in The Wire (apologies if I’ve just spoiled The Wire for you).

Still, Ghostbusters II remains one of my favourite childhood films. There was no Stay Puft Marshmallow Man this time around (another massive childhood favourite of mine) but it’s still a rollicking good time. Bill Murray is as witty as ever, Janine (Annie Potts) is still strangely attractive, and Rick Moranis saves the day and gets the girl. Good ol’ Rick Moranis.

There’s been plenty of talk of a third Ghostbusters film but I really hope it doesn’t happen. Apparently Murray has said he doesn’t want in and Dan Aykroyd is up for replacing him with someone else. I couldn’t think of a better way of completely destroying a franchise without using the words ‘Jar Jar’. If they absolutely have to do it, they should completely reboot it with new actors and leave the old films as they are. Even better, they could just leave everything as is and leave this part of my childhood in tact and unspoiled.

Chris

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