Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

*** out of ****

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is an impersonal, yet fun vision of a sinister point in twentieth-century European history. Set between World War I and II in a fictional country at a mountain resort hotel, the story focuses on the friendship between a lobby boy and an eccentric concierge who is the murder suspect of an elderly countess.

Ralph Fiennes plays the concierge to a whimsical perfection and Tony Revolori plays the lobby boy with the deadpan straight-faced nature required of most Anderson characters. They spend a good amount of the film on the run with a police inspector (Edward Norton) and a hired killer (Willem Dafoe) on their tail. There are undertones of fascism spreading through Europe and the looming threat of war. Anderson’s miniature effects and storybook aesthetic help to lighten an ill-fated part of the world, but he throws in moments of horror here and there.

Did anyone see that SNL short a few months back when they spoofed Wes Anderson and everything predictable about his style? It was pretty amazing. Spoofing a director’s work is like doing an impression of a celebrity. It’s a statement about what we’ve learned to expect from them –whether we like them or not.

Wes Anderson is to art-house cinema, what Michael Bay is to action movies. You can interpret that statement however you like. From Anderson, I have learned to expect all style and some substance. I’ve always found his style to be unique and amusing. It’s his substance, more often than not, which bores me. The guy is great at setup but weak at payoff. Every one of his films, with exception of his best, Moonrise Kingdom, get to a point during the final act, where I find myself yawning.

Starting with The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I’ve been pleased with Anderson’s choice to change-up his movies a bit and I’m pretty sure that The Grand Budapest Hotel is his best-looking film. The choice to shoot in the classic “Academy” square-shaped aspect ratio works wonderfully with the scenery. I wish that more directors would attempt to reuse this format when the material calls for composition of this kind.

As always, the cast is huge, but the film is thankfully focused on its main characters. I still find Anderson’s need for quirky details to be more distracting that entertaining. When I first saw in the film’s trailer, that Saoirse Rohan has a birthmark on her face in the shape of Mexico, I groaned. Maybe someone will think it’s funny. Not me. I think it’s just stupid.

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