Review – The Grand Budapest Hotel

2014, 99 mins, 15, Dir. Wes Anderson, starring Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and most other actors and actresses of renown.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s filmmaking style is something you have to be prepared for. ‘Quirky’ isn’t quite the word, for it is not only a colossal understatement, but also something of an insult. Anderson’s persistently symmetrical cinematography, the weirdness of his characters and the apparent absurdity of his humour quite simply escapes literary description (though I will press on regardless). That style has provided some of the most entertaining films of recent years. Moonrise Kingdom, a warm and nostalgic tale of young lovers in a New England town, has proven unforgettable since I saw it in 2012.

The story of this film involves the battle for a family fortune and the theft of an expensive Renaissance painting; this is however merely a framework for a number of hilarious smaller sequences featuring the mellifluous hotel concierge M. Gustave, as well as his lobby boy Zero. This is by far Anderson’s zaniest and most fantastic work yet. It has cats being thrown out of windows, amputated fingers, a dizzying action sequence in a ski run, three different aspect ratios, an astonishing array of cameos from famous actors and actresses, and a vertiginous alpine setting that (despite the title) isn’t even in Budapest. It all makes for a distinctly heady and farcical 99 minutes, one which makes you want to rewatch the entire thing to seek out the bits you’ve missed.

An elevator scene in the film - note newcomer Tony Revolori standing at the back, with Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes seated
An elevator scene – note newcomer Tony Revolori standing at the back, with Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes seated

The cast is truly remarkable, with regular Anderson favourites Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray appearing in brief cameos amidst an ocean of familiar faces. Tilda Swinton turns in an unrecognisable performance as an octogenarian patron of M. Gustave’s hotel. Willem Dafoe turns up to scowl and mercilessly kill people. Harvey Keitel turns into a tattooed prisoner. Edward Norton turns out a magnificently hirsute upper lip; indeed, the facial hair alone in this film merits academy recognition. Nevertheless the film is really Ralph Fiennes’. Dapper, eloquent and philandering, he provides an uncompromisingly hilarious British centre to the narrative, purring ‘Darling’ at officious soldiers and insecure older women alike.

The marvellous M. Gustave, played by Ralph Fiennes, a part specifically written for him by Wes Anderson
The marvellous M. Gustave, played by Ralph Fiennes, a part specifically written for him by Wes Anderson

The cinematography is typical Wes Anderson, with an underlying orderliness to everything he shoots and frequent whip-pans from one character to the next. It perfectly fits the outlandish, even Bondian events of the plot. The music isn’t quite as prominent or notable as in some of his previous works – perhaps one of the few disappointments of the film – but nevertheless the ultimate impression is that this is another triumph. That brings us to the question of how it rates in comparison to the director’s past oeuvre. I still think that Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson’s best, despite the widened ambition and pace of The Grand Budapest Hotel; there is something more personal, more affecting about the former film, particularly as it has autobiographical elements. Nevertheless The Grand Budapest Hotel is a more-than-worthy addition to Anderson’s idiosyncratic world, a satisfyingly deranged cinematic experience that will prove as equally unforgettable as its predecessors.

8/10

Facial hair and symmetry: Edward Norton and others in The Grand Budapest Hotel
Facial hair and symmetry: Edward Norton and others in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Reviews – Hugo 3D and Melancholia

Over the past two days I have seen two films in two different cinemas in Leicester Square. One was the highly-praised children’s film Hugo which was sadly put on relatively limited release in the USA. The other was Lars Von Trier’s latest, Melancholia. The latter I saw at the rather excellent Prince Charles, the West End’s only independent cinema. Like the movie double-bills it is famous for, I present to you a double-bill of reviews: of Hugo and Melancholia.

Review – Hugo 3D

2011, 126 mins, U – Dir. Martin Scorsese; starring Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz

Hugo

When it was announced that Brian Selznick’s historical fiction novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (which relied as much on its numerous cinematic drawings as its text), was going to be made into a film, it seemed quite obvious that Martin Scorsese should be the man for the job. A cinema auteur and the inspiration for thousands of filmmakers, Scorsese was passionate about the novel which is a heartfelt ode to the early days of silent cinema. Hugo is his first U-rated film in eighteen years, as well as his first foray into the overused 3D format. Although many were skeptical about the great director utilising this, Scorsese treats 3D as an art form, not just a money-maker, and Hugo is an utter delight to watch on the big screen.

Events unfold in the Gare Montparnasse railway station in Paris in the 1930s. A young boy, Hugo Cabret, lives within the walls of the station. Every morning he winds up the clocks and avoids the station inspector who believes it is his late, “inebriated” uncle doing the job. Hugo manages to steal food and supplies from several shops and is eventually led to a small toy booth run by a certain old man. Gradually Hugo begins to unfold the mystery that involves this senior citizen (whose name is Georges Méliès), his deceased father and a rusted automaton that sits in his flat, waiting for the right part that will enable it to write out a message.

It was often commented by Alfred Hitchcock that the visual aspect of a film was by far the most important, and that “dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds”. Hitchcock indeed started his career making silent films (The Lodger is perhaps his most famous) and Scorsese has worked very hard in order to make Hugo as visually breathtaking as the movies of that era. The film begins with a wonderful opening shot which swoops down from the snowy Parisian sky into the busy railway station platform; soon enough, Hugo is chased through the station and ends up dangling from the minute hand of a giant outside clock, echoing Harold Lloyd’s magnificent 1923 film Safety Last. It’s hard to tear your eyes away from the film’s beauty – the setting is, after all, quite magical.

Sacha Baron Cohen is an absolute hoot as the station inspector; clad in bright blue uniform, his injured leg supported by an awkward mechanism, he runs through the station with extreme difficulty, his every movement inducing laughter from the audience. The young actors Asa Butterfield and Chloë Moretz perform extremely well under Scorsese’s careful eye and Ben Kingsley gives a very emotional performance as Georges Méliès, the inspirational yet troubled filmmakerThe great Christopher Lee, 89 years old and still acting, makes an appearance alongside Jude Law, Richard Griffiths and many others. 

Hugo stays refreshingly faithful to Selznick’s novel and a great number of shots in the movie are near-identical to the pencil drawings found in the book. More importantly, though, the adaptation contains the same enthusiasm and affection for the subject matter as its source material. The issue of forgotten silent films is treated with the utmost care and admiration. Although it is marketed as a children’s film, Hugo has a lot more for adults, a sensitive look at the movies that excited those in the 1900s to the 1920s, a further display of Scorsese’s virtuosity and versatility. The scenes with the automaton hark back to the days when machinery, clockwork and invention was far more wondrous.

Is it the best use of 3D so far? It could be. Will other masterful filmmakers look at this film and contemplate switching to two lenses after Scorsese, Spielberg and Cameron? Only time will tell. One thing’s for sure, though: that Hugo is one of the most honest, insightful and entertaining films of 2011 – it’s just a shame it hasn’t made more money.

5 stars out of 5

Review – Melancholia

2011, 136 mins, 15 – Dir. Lars Von Trier; starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt

Warning – contains spoilers

Melancholia

Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia has a superb opening and a superb ending. What happens for nearly two hours in between, however, is thoroughly disappointing and makes me want to commit as few words as possible to this review. It commences with a montage of slow-motion shots culminating in an impressive piece of CGI in which the earth is engulfed by a strange blue planet. We then transition to a few days prior to this, where Justine (Dunst) is late to her wedding reception. The reception itself takes up a huge chunk of the film and is shot almost entirely with dizzying handheld cameras. The second part involves the lead-up to the collision between the blue planet, Melancholia, and earth. While Von Trier engages in lacklustre self-indulgence, little thought is given to the actual audience as the disorientating camerawork and dull pace distracts from what is actually a very decent concept. It does have strokes of genius here and there, particularly in the disquieting music, but as a whole the film is overlong and frequently uninteresting. Dunst gives a good but vague performance and is rarely believable as a character. The ending, in which the earth is destroyed, is practically a relief.

It’s arthouse. It’s Lars Von Trier. But all in all, Melancholia feels utterly meaningless.

2 stars out of 5