Wes Anderson

Review: Grand Budapest Hotel Blu-Ray

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Review: Grand Budapest Hotel Blu-Ray

There are a few directors that I will go see any movie they make; granted not a lot, but Wes Anderson has been one of those directors for quite some time. While both his recent movies, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonlight Kingdom, weren’t exactly my favorite films, they still had enough Anderson to keep me entertained. Well that, and almost every movie has a little bit of Bill Murray in them.

That being said, when The Grand Budapest Hotel was announced, I was more then a little excited. I watched all the trailers and patiently waited for our local indie movie house to have the film. The one thing I didn’t count on was finding someone to go with me. Long story short, I had to wait for the Blu-Ray release. Is The Grand Budapest Hotel a four-star hotel? Or is this more of a Best Western? Yeah I know, hotel humor, it was hard to resist.

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Movie Issues: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Movie Issues: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the new film written and directed by Wes Anderson. Once again he brings his unique sense of style and visuals to another fun filled movie that only could have been made by him. In this new story, we follow the adventures of Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. When Gustave is framed for the murder of the very wealthy Madame D (Tilda Swinton), comedy, drama, and adventure ensues as the two friends try to find the real killer and prove Gustave innocence.

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The Fantastic Mr. Fox

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Fantastic Mr. Fox, The

Rental with Snacks

Roald Dahl writes books of fantasy grounded in realism, and the Fantastic Mr. Fox is no exception. Wes Anderson is a director with a deadpan sense of absurdism and dysfunction. From them come this stop-motion animated film, a story of civilized wild animals trying to get their piece of the pie and vex three horrible local farmers, and possibly wrestling with their wild nature. Anderson’s style is very unique and I respect his adherence to it, even though it’s generally not my cup of tea (see: Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic). Here, Anderson makes a children’s book grown-up with existential angst and marital friction and possibly darker underpinnings than Dahl may have intended. The existing classic story fortunately softens Anderson’s fetish for randomness and forces him to stay on track. It’s a nice balance. As one of my companions astutely noticed, Anderson’s kooky brand of humor just works better as a cartoon. I probably would have loved Life Aquatic if it had been animated.

George Clooney is surprisingly cast as the titular patriarch of his little fox family (with wife Meryl Streep, son Jason Schwartzman, and nephew Eric Chase Anderson). Clooney’s Fox is a former chicken thief who just wants one last score off the valley’s three hated farmers, headed by Michael Gambon, while his kid feels neglected and his nephew frets about his family being ill. It’s no Ocean’s 11, but sometimes it feels like Clooney is just rummaging in that bag of tricks. He does the whistling rogue like no one else, but earnest family man less so, especially disguised as a rail-thin fox in a suit and tie. The puppets are sweetly old-fashioned in design, but the odd character design limits their mouth movements. The eyes are great.

Needless to say, this “one last score” plan, despite flowing nearly obstacle free, snowballs into hyperbolic responses from the evil farmers, leading to an extended journey on the part of Fox and his companions, including his lawyer and his superintendent. Yes, the fox’s lawyer and superintendent. Anderson makes copious use of the huge cutaway sets that he employed so well in The Life Aquatic, but as soon as our heroes go underground, we have less rosy, sweet Dahl and more slouching, petulant Anderson. I never lost interest, but the film consistently started to drag just when the danger needed to seem more pressing. The sets are very pretty and the lighting in particular is amazing — the reality of the story is all in the lights and the eyes. The voice casting is good, but many of the voices are so iconic (Bill Murray, Clooney, Owen Wilson, Gambon) that it begins to distract somewhat from the content.

The climax is pretty over the top and funny — I wonder how much of it was Dahl and how much Hollywood. Despite looking like a children’s movie, I don’t think kids would like it very much. It’s long and full of grown-up concerns like mortgages and marital vows, but it does have some funny bits and sweet character moments. It was a nice ride, and definitely is now my favorite Anderson film, but I would recommend renting it at home, on an HD TV if possible for the lovely detail.

MPAA Rating PG

Release date 11/13/09

Time in minutes 88

Director Wes Anderson

Studio 20th Century Fox

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The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

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Every once in a while, there comes a movie that so defies explanation that it renders me incapable for writing for a full month. This is that movie. Filmmaker Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tannenbaums) loves the quirky, the ugly (interior), and the true things in the world. He celebrates the wacky and eschews the mundane. That said, I find it, film by film, increasingly hard to be engaged by his movies. Life Aquatic, in particular, appears in the previews to be a revenge comedy about a has-been Jacques Cousteau-type hunting down a shark, but instead it is a lovingly painted portrait of this man’s sad sacktitude and the people he infuriates. That, and his maybe-relationship with his maybe-son and possibly even his maybe-erstwhile wife and his colleague. So, it’s about a lot, and event occur, but nothing happens.

Cinematographer Robert Yeoman makes the entire movie a snapshot – every shot is a straight on portrait-style, flat, centered, boxy Every one of these tableaux adds up to a weird sense of having watched a slide show instead of a film. It’s an interesting and bold choice, and it was executed skillfully, but I wouldn’t say it helped make this chilly film any warmer.

Casting Bill Murray as an aging ex superstar with a sour center is certainly a fantastic choice. Anderson’s love for Murray is evident. He puts Murray and his crew (including notables Noah Taylor and Willem Dafoe, and songs by Seu Jorge) in this fantastic ship set, not even trying to make it seem like a real place but an actual cutaway set which he uses often in his snapshotty way. Scratch that – this movie is more like a filmstrip. So, kudos for tone and flavor, but if you take the meat of something we aren’t inclined to eat, all the best seasonings in the world won’t save it.

As always, the soundtrack is smart and interesting, doubly so with Jorge singing Brazilian Portuguese adaptations of David Bowie songs. The aquatic life is just an excuse to get these people trapped in a small space together and to know each other for years and for Murray to have some bitterness and fame-sickness. I came out feeling pretty unsatisfied, but of course the film stymied me so long, I have even more trouble now identifying what bothered me so much. Even Bud Cort’s little appearance made me sadder than it pleased me. Cate Blanchett is tan, extremely British, and pregnant, all for no reason, and the motivation to include her character and that of Anjelica Huston was lost on me. Maybe the media are making me stupid, but I could not connect with this film whatsoever. I admire its visual integrity and I like the idea of Owen Wilson in a movie with Bill Murray, but not this movie.

MPAA Rating R-language, drug use, violence, some nudity
Release date 12/25/04
Time in minutes 118
Director Wes Anderson
Studio Touchstone Pictures

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The Royal Tenenbaums

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Directed by Wes Anderson (Rushmore), The Royal Tenenbaums shares much with its predecessor in terms of tone, presentation, and glorification of the hubris of genius. What more can I say? Anderson has assembled a super cast, every single one of them (with the possible exception of Royal Tenenbaum himself, Gene Hackman) cast in a role fairly far off their normal role track, performing a hurry-free script which leads up to a surprisingly satisfying ending. OK, Owen Wilson is not playing very far outside his milieu either. But damn, every time he’s on screen you are ready to laugh or love him or something, he just walks around in a cloud of promise.

I only rated this film Matinee Price because while I was excessively diverted by the excellent performances, amusing plot twists and turns, and novel presentational format, I was still vaguely outside the film. The Tenenbaum children (Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Luke Wilson) were all played like avatars of characters we are supposed to already know. Actually, in that sense, it was not unlike the characterizations in Harry Potter. I did want to know them more, to buy the non-existent book on which the movie pretends to be based and wallow in these interesting people. The script is written by Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson, and I suspect a fantastic back story exists for everyone; however, knowing it is hidden in there and reaping the benefits are two totally different things.

Remoteness notwithstanding, the performances were all marvelous, and naturally I credit the actors for making me care about the people and wanting to know them more. Wes Anderson’s directorial and scriptwriting gift appears to be taking “show, don’t tell” to an entirely new level. Only Hackman’s and Stiller’s characters ever really lift an eyebrow in emotional response, but the ways the people act out their feelings is both eccentric and delightful. Cartoon-like, everyone wears practically the same outfit for the length of the movie, and deadpans their way through emotionally rich dialogue. We see what they feel by seeing where they are sleeping and what the book cover of the portion of their life that was fictionalized looks like. It must be challenging to read a screenplay like this and see the comic potential. However it got there, I am glad it did.

Anderson and Wilson have co-written all three movies that Anderson has directed, and they keep getting slicker and more accessible. The first, Bottle Rocket, was an uneven, absurdist indie that was mysteriously enjoyable. Some of it must be due to Wilson’s bizarre brand of charm and pluck, but some of it is also the writing. They create work characterized with a pastiche style that blends the banal with the brilliant with the incongruous with the natural, and The Royal Tenenbaums is a delicious confection of stylistic weirdnesses.

I also must point out that whoever the art department is on this film, they are so very lucky! These characters are so wacky and interesting (as evidenced by their environment, as I have noted) it must have been the biggest delight in the world to dress their home(s) and clothe them and design their book covers and everything. I bow to Production designer David Wasco (all of Wes Anderson’s and Quentin Tarantino’s films) and Art Director Carl Sprague (In Dreams, Age of Innocence), and hope whoever awards art department achievements does so for these fellows. PS I am for hire!

MPAA Rating R-language, nudity, sexuality, drugs
Release date 12/28/01
Time in minutes 103
Director Wes Anderson
Studio Touchstone Pictures

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Most of the other reviews you probably have seen for this movie take some sub-plot line and try to pass it off as the main story line of the movie – hell, even the preview does that. It’s hard to get a sense of the film based on its own publicity or all the rumors of Academy Award nominations for Bill Murray. True to form, I will not explode the plot for you, Gentle Readers, but I will say it’s the story of a strangely adult, yet sweetly naive kid who must live his own way and follow his heart no matter what the consequence. That doesn’t even sound right. But it is really fascinating. Brought to you by the same people who brought you the tiresome and overrated Bottle Rocket, Rushmore is a unique, funny, interesting movie that (dare I say it) may even defy genre.

Max Fischer (Jonathan Schwartzman) is an overachiever in life but his energies are not directed in a way the private school establishment of Rushmore would prefer. Schwartzman is *this close* to being handsome – like the girl in Welcome to the Dollhouse, like every ugly duckling movie before they take off their glasses – he’s just appealing enough visually to capture that superficial Hollywood-trained part of your heart so no matter what he does, you have to be on his side. It doesn’t hurt that Schwartzman is a terribly good actor and really pulls off the interesting character of Max with maturity and style.

Reviewers have been going bonkers over Bill Murray, and without disagreeing with any of them, I have to say that I don’t think the Oscar will go to poor workhorse Bill for a few reasons, none of which are even good ones, necessarily. Murray is and always has been a strong character actor with a sense of pathos and layers even in the silliest of roles. He is the ’82 Honda Civic of working film comedians. Hit a dumpster 7 times with that puppy and it will look like crap but keep running. The role Murray has in this film, a millionaire donor to Rushmore, is very interesting and completely inhabited by himself. The thing is, it’s tailor made to Murray (perhaps only by luck), and oft times people don’t appreciate a performance that comes for an actor as naturally – that sort of beaten, sad sap guy who also does a lot of thinking. I think he was great, but I also credit some of his greatness (which is always there – re-rent Groundhog Day if you don’t believe me) to the good writing and charismatic casting.

Rushmore is wacky. It’s full of weird, kooky goings-on and stuff you just can’t believe could ever happen, yet somehow feels very natural and possible, for the most part. It targets the pubescent bravado and the genuine worldliness that kids can surprise adults with, and it also captures a different brand of eccentricity pretty dead-on. Several times already people have asked me in person what I think of Rushmore – some were not drawn in by the preview at all, and others have been waiting and waiting for it to finally open wide. I have said, based on who’s asking, that I think it’s good, but then I quantify it with whether I think they will like it or not. Art house people will love it, but it’s not an art-house movie. It’s too slick to be condemned as arty. Hollywood slaves will like it, but wish that some things turned out differently, or that the pacing were more frantic. John Q. Public in Anytown, USA will think it’s weird and comment on how glad they are they don’t have any young men like that in their town. Me, I liked it. Excusing some of the obnoxious “oh my god they’re really letting us make a movie” camera work and histrionics, I have to say that it is a darn enjoyable film. But it is really hard to describe. Just go see it.

MPAA Rating R for language and brief nudity.
Release date 2/5/99
Time in minutes 90
Director Wes Anderson
Studio Touchstone Pictures