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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Review-ish: The Grand Budapest Hotel

I actually feel a little stupid trying to review this movie.

You see, Wes Anderson is a painter. His canvas is film. His paints are all the tools one can use to create a piece of art, including actors.

To reduce a painter to each stroke is only interesting from a distant perspective. How does Wes Anderson make films… what visual language is he working with… how does he use actors… etc, etc, etc? But I doubt there were as many as six speaking roles in this film with any of these great actors working more than 3 or 4 days. This does not devalue the performances. No one else could do them any better or, in some cases, with any success at all, except for those chosen by Wes. And they are not there as cogs in a bigger machine. There are absolutely unique and necessary and, mostly, gone in a flash.

For instance, Tilda Swinton does something she’s never really done here. And it is a thing of epic beauty. And she might have 3 minutes of screen time in the whole film.

I will say this… The Grand Budapest Hotel is more of a Rube Goldberg machine than any of his other pictures, though that feeling has been in most of them. It is absolutely relentless as a story. Constant forward motion. All pieces moving.

It was interesting to see The Great Museum, a Fredrick Wiseman-esque doc about the restoration and reopening of Austria’s state museum. There is a glorious piece of art, described as “an 18th century executive toy” which is a gold boat with what looks like ceramic sails, which has a mechanism in it to move characters of the deck and, in the good old days, fire off a cannon on the 1.5 foot long ship’s deck. This movie reminded me of that boat.

Really, Wes Anderson is the Willy Wonka of art films. He works in a land of pure imagination. You never know what will be around the next corner. But you do have a sense of what the chocolate will taste like.

Anyway… the movie is pleasure after pleasure. Many audiences will be unhappy by how briefly some of their favorites appear in the film. It’s almost unfair to tell people that Bill Murray is in the film… because he is there for an instant. Surely less than a minute in total screen time. But he makes for a wonderful couple of beats.

GB is a Ralph Fiennes movie. And he is perfection. By his side is Tony Revolori, who hits the right Wes tone on every note. Willem Dafoe is a ton of fun as the film’s Boris Badenov. Saoirse Ronan gets a bit of screen time, but doesn’t get to do too much besides look angelic. F. Murray Abraham is your living narrator and is well measured from start to finish.

But make no mistake… this is a Ralph Fiennes movie. And though it is February, it is the kind of turn that generates a lot of awards talk. A lot of great decisions by Ralph, a lot of great decisions by Wes, and a lot of great decisions by Ralph & Wes turn this into a character that can be completely obvious and completely unexpected all within a sentence or two.

What is the movie about? It’s a complicatedly simple adventure. It’s a ride… even though it is still an art film. Just take the ride… describing the stops isn’t going to make it any better, just ruin great surprises.

If you like Wes Anderson movies, you should like this movie, so long as you are not going to feel cheated by the many brief performances (which I would not call cameos, because they don’t feel like that… they feel organic, not stunty… but very limited). And if you can’t get over that, get over yourself. Ralph Fiennes hits it out of the park. Take that and stop being greedy for more.

13 Responses to “Review-ish: The Grand Budapest Hotel”

  1. Dave A says:

    Sold.

  2. leahnz says:

    it’s killing me that i have to wait till april to see this

  3. Breedlove says:

    Moonrise Kingdom was a bit of a comeback, I thought, and the trailer for this looked great. Plus Fiennes in the lead looks like loads of fun. Such an interesting talent he is.

  4. Keil Shults says:

    Stop calling Moonrise a comeback. The Fantastic Mr. Fox is practically a masterpiece.

  5. EtGuild2 says:

    Awesome. And yeah, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a masterpiece.

    Great for Fiennes, he’s done some superb work recently (The Invisible Woman is really well done).

  6. drake says:

    agreed with Keil and etguild2— i think “fantastic mr fox” was like the critics composite #4 film of 2009. that’s masterpiece territory

  7. JoeS says:

    Snore. Sounds like yet another Wes snarkfest………

  8. Breedlove says:

    I’m an adult. I don’t watch cartoons.

  9. Hallick says:

    “I’m an adult. I don’t watch cartoons.”

    This is a stance that lost most if not all of it’s reasonability over 25 years ago. It’s also moot since “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” isn’t a cartoon either.

  10. MarkVH says:

    Fantastic Mr. Fox is indeed a masterpiece.

    And I happen to like Darjeeling more than most (and honestly, I like it at least as much as Moonrise if not more so), but even haters should admit that Adrien Brody’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.

  11. doug r says:

    I think the limitations of animation helped keep Fantastic Mr Fox a nice tight 90 minutes or so. The fantastic voice cast didn’t hurt either. Moonrise was pretty charming as well.

  12. Hcat says:

    Animations fine but there is just too damn much of it. I would have preferred to see frozen tangled and up done as live action.

  13. leahnz says:

    i’m also a fan of ‘the Darjeeling ltd’, it’s an Anderson that has grown on me over time. it may be the least narratively-driven of his films but it’s also unique in that it’s wes’s only film that doesn’t exist in some lily-white world/culture – it’s cliché in ways but the India setting and flavour give the meandering journey an exotic tone and earthy vibrancy unique to the Anderson oeuvre, i wouldn’t argue that he nailed it as a film but i appreciate the brother’s journey set against a different cultural aesthetic (and i love the last, long shot of just the train and the sound of the carriages riding the rails with the closing credits).

    the one thing i’d really love to see is anderson apply his aesthetic to a story with a female protag for a change, what is up with that, it seems like a real artist would want to explore different palettes and points of view and expand their world (i think several of the current more auteur-ish directors working today are stuck in a male-centric rut and need to blow the cobwebs out of that shit)

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