Archive for April, 2014

CBC Docs calls out Dr. Niobe Thompson as Kickass Canadian

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014—News

Thanks to CBC Docs for their nod to Dr. Niobe Thompson and his feature! For the latest on Niobe and his films, visit Clearwater Documentary.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014—Film

The Grand Budapest Hotel (USA/Germany 2014, Comedy/Drama), Writer/Director: Wes Anderson

I don’t know what it is about Wes Anderson movies, but looking back at my Moonrise Kingdom review, it seems I felt the same way I do now about The Grand Budapest Hotel: I loved the movie, so much so that I wanted to get something up on this blog, no matter how short, but I simply didn’t feel like writing much. Really, I just want to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel again and soak up any morsels of the delightful confection I might have missed the first time.

But before that, a few words about exactly why I loved it so much, in the hopes that your appetite may be whetted enough to get you to the theatres, ready to sink your teeth into this delectable treat.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson in all his glory. The sets are masterpieces, oddball works of ornate, pastel art. The cinematography is extraordinary, ditto the score (with musical mastermind Alexandre Desplat returning to Budapest from the Kingdom to work his magic once again). And the story, chock full of absurd characters and absurdist scenarios, manages to touch on human and historical truths, all in a thoroughly engaging, giggle-inducing manner.

Most of The Grand Budapest Hotel takes place in 1930s Europe, although it moves around in place and time, being a story within a story, several times over. A young girl reads a book of the entire account, which was written by a now-deceased author, whom we meet as an older man (Tom Wilkinson) and then as a middle-aged man (Jude Law). As Law, the young writer travels to the Grand Budapest Hotel, only to encounter the hotel’s fascinating, if lonely, owner Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who recounts the story of how he acquired it.

With that, the main story begins. It follows Mr. Moustafa in his youth, when he was a lobby boy who went by the name of Zero (Tony Revolori) and studied under the hotel’s expert concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). M. Gustave is a spectacularly thorough concierge, even going so far as to take his patrons to bed—particularly the wealthy, elderly, female blonds. When one of those patrons is murdered (the mysteriously named Madame D., played by Tilda Swinton) and M. Gustave inherits her most prized possession, her greedy family is understandably suspicious. From there, Gustave and Zero embark on a wacky caper that makes its way across fascist-era Europe, into jail and down the snowy Alps near the fictional Republic of Zubrowska, where the Grand Budapest stands tall.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is as fanciful as Moonrise Kingdom, but even quirkier and much heavier. For all its whimsy and brightly coloured décor, the film’s historical backdrop sets some darkly hued undertones. Case in point: the ZZ officers who invade Gustave and Zero’s train compartment.

But Gustave refuses to bow down to the rising wave of fascism. He insists on preserving the “faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.” Indeed, the Grand Budapest itself is a nostalgic nod to Old Europe’s refinement and romanticism. (Driving the point home, the film’s 1930s storyline is shot in the nearly square aspect ratio used in the golden oldie movies of yesteryear.)

Gustave runs the hotel with panache, leaving a haze of cologne and exquisite Mendl’s pastries in his wake. Shamelessly flirtatious and unfailingly polite (minus an f-bomb here or there), he manages to come across as that oh-so-rare creature: an honourable jackass. This spectacular combination is delivered courtesy of Fiennes’ brilliant performance. As Gustave, he’s staggeringly hilarious; his brand of straight-up comedy is perfectly on point and appears utterly effortless.

Fiennes steals the show, but he’s backed by a seemingly endless supply of impeccable actors, none above even the smallest cameo in a Wes Anderson film. In addition to those already mentioned, The Grand Budapest Hotel features an overwhelming ensemble cast that includes many Anderson favourites, not to mention mine—Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, and Saoirse Ronan as Zero’s true love Agatha, the creator of those adorable little Mendl’s pastries that look as scrumptious to eat as the movie is to watch. (It’s a lot of fun to see Ronan in another fairytale-esque flick gone mad, after her outstanding turn in Hanna.)

All this to say I absolutely adored The Grand Budapest Hotel; I even managed to write a full review of it after all. Still, there is some small print to read: As soon as the credits rolled, a guy behind me in the theatre said, “That was the strangest, most boring movie I’ve ever seen.” Strange? Yes. Boring? Not in the least, not in my opinion. Maybe this movie isn’t for everyone. But if you’re a Wes Anderson fan, or even more generally an art fan, you should absolutely get thee to The Grand Budapest Hotel, post-haste. And you might want to bring along some pastries for the ride.