Review – The Grand Budapest Hotel

The idiosyncratic Wes Anderson conjures up his latest magical microcosm in this sumptuously designed feast for the senses.

When Wes Anderson is good he's very, very good and with The Grand Budapest Hotel he's at the top of his game. It's is an absolute delight

When Wes Anderson is good he’s very, very good and with The Grand Budapest Hotel he’s at the top of his game. It’s an absolute delight

One could compare Anderson’s career to that of a sculptor meticulously chiseling away at a piece of rock and removing all of the rough edges until what’s left is a thing of beauty.

His 1996 debut Bottle Rocket was an uneven work with enough flashes of Anderson’s unique visual style to mark him out as one to watch. His following two films, the resplendent Rushmore (1998) and superior The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) marked the end of a highly impressive first phase.

M. Gustave H. (Raplph Fiennes) comforts the elderly Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) comforts the elderly Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Phase two was more difficult, with The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) and The Darjeeling Limited (2006) failing to strike the same chord. However, since 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, the balance of whimsy, eccentricity and maturity he failed to achieve in his previous two films was finally stuck, with this third phase in Anderson’s oeuvre also producing the lovely Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and now this charming confection (actually his second ‘hotel’ picture following the 2007 short Hotel Chevalier).

The film begins with an unnamed author (Tom Wilkinson) recollecting the time he spent as a younger man (played by Jude Law) at the Grand Budapest Hotel, where he encountered its reclusive owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). Over dinner, Zero tells the extraordinary story of how, as a young man in the 1930s, he came to inherit one of Europe’s most lavish hotels from M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who at the time was its suave and sophisticated concierge. They strike up a warm friendship after Gustave is framed for the murder of his octogenarian lover Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) and must prove not only his innocence but also uncover the real culprits.

The one and only Bill Murray plays hotel concierge M. Ivan in The Grand Budapest Hotel

The one and only Bill Murray plays hotel concierge M. Ivan in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Anderson’s love of early cinema, present in Bottle Rocket with its nod to Edwin S Porter’s landmark 1903 picture The Great Train Robbery, can be found here in the wonderful old school effects shots that bring to mind pioneering genius Georges Méliès. Likewise, the film’s deadpan physical comedy inevitably brings to mind such early masters of the form as Chaplin and Keaton.

M. Gustave H. (Raplh Fiennes) confronts the dastardly Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrieb Brody) and his henchman J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) confronts the dastardly Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody) and his henchman J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

His trademark mise en scène is also taken to the nth degree in The Grand Budapest Hotel, with its beautifully crafted and crisp tracking shots, zooms and back and forth camera shots so meticulously constructed as to make Stanley Kubrick proud.

In spite of being a marvel of precise technical mastery, the film is rich with memorable characters, each brought vividly to life by a splendid cast. Fiennes, in his first collaboration with Anderson, is a marvel and gives a beautifully measured turn that’s equal parts farcical, steely eyed and kind. He’s matched by Tony Revolori, whose portrayal of the loyal and determined young Zero sits perfectly next to his partner-in-crime Gustave.

Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) and his beau Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) and his beau Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

The supporting cast, many giving extended cameos, all stand out due to the care and attention given to each of their characters. Willem Dafoe’s henchman J.G. Jopling looks like a cross between Nosferatu and Frankenstein’s monster, while Jeff Goldblum gives a typically terrific turn as the unfortunate Deputy Kovacs and Saoirse Ronan is sweet as Zero’s love interest Agatha. Let’s not forget Bill Murray, of course, who makes a quick impression as fellow hotel concierge M. Ivan.

These warm performances are matched by Anderson’s dialogue that, while maintaining the zippiness of his previous films, is also imbued with a generosity and affection that radiates when uttered by such a gifted cast.

When Wes Anderson is good he’s very, very good and with The Grand Budapest Hotel he’s at the top of his game. It’s an absolute delight.

Debuts Blogathon: Quentin Tarantino – Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Debuts Blogathon

As the Debuts Blogathon, hosted by myself and Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, nears its end, we’ve saved one of the very best till last. Tyson from Head in a Vice is covering the one and only Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino’s hugely influential 1992 debut. Tyson was the first movie blogger to follow me and I’ve followed his posts ever since. His site is a real one-of-a-kind, providing entertaining reviews of genre fare, as well as his long-term Project: De Niro to watch and review all of Bobby’s films and his popular Desert Island Films feature (I promise to sort mine out soon!). Simply put, this is a fantastic site you really need to be following.

Quentin Tarantino

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

When Chris and Mark posted about this project, I immediately knew I could only do it if I could grab Quentin Tarantino’s debut Reservoir Dogs.

Reservoir Dogs PosterFor my money, it’s the greatest directorial debut and the man has continued to inspire and make incredible movies in his uncompromising style. Luckily, I was quick off the mark and the boys gave me this movie to talk about. Now I have it, I’m here to offer my thoughts on the film, Tarantino himself and the lasting effects Reservoir Dogs has had on cinema.

Reservoir DogsWhat can I say about Reservoir Dogs that hasn’t already been said a million times, by people much more respectable than me? Not a lot, but I’ll throw some stuff out here anyway. For those that don’t know, the plot goes a little something like this: a diamond heist goes bad and the thieves are left to pick up the pieces back at their warehouse headquarters, all the while suspecting that a traitor in their midst sabotaged the operation.

Tarantino’s style can be seen immediately in the opening scene, and it showcases what most people associate Tarantino with – dialogue. The conversations his characters have in all his movies, I mean, you can tell a Tarantino film just by tuning in to a conversation. The smallest, most subtle things take on so much meaning and for me no one writes like this man. I didn’t see the film on its release (as I was 10-years-old), but I can imagine people watching it and wondering who the hell this Quentin Tarantino guy was; writing, directing and acting in his debut movie.

Reservoir DogsThen the opening scene kicks in and we are listening to some guys talking about random things like tipping and the subtext of Madonna’s Like a Virgin song. It just holds your attention, then the guys leave; the suave crew walking out of the diner in slow motion, set to the George Baker Selection’s super cool Little Green Bag. Wow. You’re just hooked, and here we are over 20 years later, the effect has not diminished at all.

Reservoir DogsI love how within this opening scene, where the issue of tipping the waitress comes up and Mr Pink’s refusal to tip, sets into action a discussion that not only tells us all we need to know about these characters, but even foreshadows the events of the film. Mr Pink won’t tip, showing he mostly cares only about himself (I’ll be honest, his argument is solid and I hate tipping). Mr White believes the waitress works hard and deserves a tip, which shows despite being a criminal he cares for people, which is what leads him to be so blindly trusting with regards to Mr Orange. Mr Blonde offers to shoot Mr Pink for a joke, foreshadowing his sociopathic tendencies. Mr Orange tells Joe that Mr Pink refused to tip, playing the part of a rat, which he is. Joe pressures Mr Pink to tip and he does, showing Mr Pink is ultimately a coward. All that is gleaned from an argument about a tip. That is great writing, and a standard which he has continued throughout his career.

Reservoir DogsIt’s a heist movie where we never actually see the heist. People always assume it’s a horrendously violent film, yet apart from the police torture scene – the camera even cuts away from the ear slicing – it really isn’t that violent. Most of it is set in a warehouse, with a small cast. Yet I can’t find a bad thing about it. Everything from the dialogue, to the cast and the music is not only perfect, but something which is synonymous with all of Tarantino’s films. He finds random music in Japanese clothing stores. He takes washed up actors and gives them the part of a lifetime. But mostly he just does what the hell he wants, when he wants.

Reservoir DogsAs a fan, the one thing I think I love more than anything else Tarantino-wise is that all the characters from his films are alive and real to him. They all play out in his head, and by doing so he has created an intricate, instantly recognisable movie universe – one which boasts a family tree of miscreants that overlap between movies in weird and wonderful ways. This chart shows the links, and it just emphasises the detail and thought that goes into everything he writes.

Reservoir DogsThese connections – however subtle they may be – bear little effect, if any, on the plots of Tarantino’s movies. Instead, they’re like Easter Eggs that reward observant onlookers: in-jokes that might mean nothing to us, but mean the world to their creator. Even in his early work, Tarantino was building his own giant playground, in which not only his individual movies co-exist, but their characters’ paths cross and intersect behind the scenes.

I could go on and on about it, but I’m merely scratching the surface. Ultimately Reservoir Dogs is a work of genius by a debut director and a film that, while he may have bettered in my opinion with Pulp Fiction, will easily stand the test of time. I’m hungry, let’s get a taco.

Over at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, Dave from ccpopculture provides a piece on New Zealand-born director Andrew Dominik’s 2000 debut Chopper. Head over to Chris’s site now by clicking here.

Tomorrow is the penultimate post in the Blogathon and comes courtesy of Shah from Blank Page Beatdown with his piece on Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave. Don’t miss it!