Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014]

Aside from Fantastic Mr. Fox, this is probably the first time I ever have felt comfortable enough to voice my thoughts on a Wes Anderson movie. This is down to a number of reasons. Firstly, I have yet to see previous work such as Moonrise Kingdom, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums (also Bottle Rocket). Secondly, my impression of Wes Anderson films is that they are stalwarts amongst film-studies-fraternities. There seems such a technicality and all-encompassing creative approach, borrowing knowledge and theory from various artistic disciplines, that I contend with a distinct lack of resources from which to construct a satisfactory review. With Fantastic Mr. Fox I have childhood referencing on my side, drawn from a book I must have fingered through almost 20 years ago. With everything else Wes Anderson, I feel exposed. But here it goes none-the-less!

The early animated doll-house hotel sequence was typically delightful and set the tone for the whimsy and what I have come to identify as 'Wes-Anderson-ness' that followed. I was immediately reminded of Mr. Fox and his compatriots evading Bunce, Boggis and Bean; of Captain Zissou and the overview of activities on his vessel; a continuation of a now trademark, characteristic style. It works towards generating a hive of activity that we, the viewer, will shortly be placed into for absorption of the unfolding narrative.

On this narrative, I will avoid going into any depth regarding the technical details and requirements, politely communicated to projectionists; though it is notably admirable detail and equally admirably highlighted (in comparison to reported dictations from other 'Transforming' directors...). There was a pleasantly smooth transition through character reminiscence, journeying back to the story of Monsieur Gustave via the narration of the older and wiser Zero. And the tale being told was a charming and witty one.

Ralph Fiennes was utterly hilarious. Not necessarily renowned for his comic delivery, the deliberate and punchy repertoire, part script part execution, seemingly had him bagging a laugh through semi-dead-pan tone then darting off screen until he was pitched another opportunity for a home run. He duly accepts these chances and knits the movie together nicely in the process. Tony Revolori obliges as the appropriate side-kick and contributes to an endearing relationship between mentor and pupil. This touching 'bromance' and ever-increasing respect between the two is never more aptly evident than when Gustave stands to the defence of his compatriot on train journeys halted by bullish soldiers from the growing war stricken backdrop; his bloodied nose and dishevelled hair serving as a tidy visual simile for his affections.

The adversaries to Fiennes and Revolori (played by Adrienne Brody and Willem Dafoe) are introduced at a family funeral at the point in which we are to learn of the division of the deceased's estate. It is immediately evident (from their all-black attire to their snarling potty-mouthed outbursts) that these family members are utterly disagreeable and will make it their sole ambition to relieve Gustave of his unexpected inheritance (the priceless painting: 'Boy With Apple'). Like something from a Wachowski Brothers trilogy, they embark on a blackly-comic pursuit of the end goal, tying loose ends and 'offing' minor protagonists before cornering their targets back at the Grand Budapest.

At this stage I should point out that, due to a very long and physically exhausting day, and a late showing at my local 'world of Cine' (a term borrowed from the Wittertainers) I actually nodded off a bit. For much of the pursuit section in fact, waking to catch an entertaining snow chase (like an animated maquette of a popular 007 scene) and parts of a Shawshank prison break; piecing together what had elapsed in my absence before arriving at the thrilling conclusion. This cinematic nap (only previously experienced during the mid-section of Iron Man 2) should not be interpreted as a signifier of the quality of this film. It absolutely should be viewed as a product of my time of life and increasing inability to remain alert and engaged whilst slumped in a spongy, oversized seat in a dimly lit, warm room with a belly full of sugary snacks.

Despite not necessarily being best informed to discuss The Grand Budapest Hotel beyond it's opening hour, I will persevere (or at least wax lyrical about those parts that stood out for me). The whole thing seemed to be the most 'Wes-Anderson' of Wes Anderson movies to date. All of the trademark features, the full ensemble of regular 'Anderson Faithfuls' and seemingly a whole lot of personality shining through. I consider it an enormous compliment to the writers/director that such a group of relatively iconic actors would agree to work on a project that features them in such minor roles with newcomers gifted the lion's share of screen time.

There is something about almost every frame in Wes Anderson's creations that leads one to imagine years of storyboarding sessions wherein all inches of a plethora canvasses are meticulously poured over by the most talented of mid-century draughtsmen, resulting in a series of American Modernist images, brought to life at the wave of a directorial 'Wes-wand'. This attention to composition and framing could well fracture a smoothness of narrative, with its hard edges, rigidity and precision; but this is a carefully honed craft and one in which each element works to compliment another. (For a fine example of this, check out: Wes Anderson // Centered)

The charm and warmth of 'TGBH' (an unfortunate abbreviation in the circumstances) supersedes much of what has been released thus far in 2014. I can definitively state that this will be a fine addition to my film collection, watched on multiples of occasions for its artistic qualities as well as its highly satisfying entertainment (and also because I will watch ANYTHING with Bill Murray and/or Jeff Goldblum in it!). I encourage you to watch it. Watch it now! Or soon (if your local cinema has stopped showing it). What I have just said about it does not do it nearly enough justice.


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