Anyone else here who missed seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel back when it was released in the spring? Yes, I’m guilty of that too. I can blame it on things like me being tired right after last year’s Oscar season to having a lot of preoccupations in my life at that time. This year’s Oscar race sent me the message of what I missed out on the first time. I finally saw it on DVD a few days ago and I now finally see why it ranks among one of the best of 2014.
This is another review of mine where I won’t give an analysis of the plot. Instead I will put focus on the movie’s strengths and possible flaws.
This film is quite typical of what to expect from a Wes Anderson film. It has an eccentric situation along with eccentric characters and a lot of comedy along the way. However this movie has its charm: the common charming eccentricity with Wes Anderson movies that continuously attract fans of his movies and moviegoers looking for something different. It’s also a trademark charm of the director that does not run stale with their movies time after time and continues to be enjoyable.
This too is a film that offers a lot and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at first but makes sense as it goes along. It starts with a young girl paying honor to a writer in the present. Then flashing back to the writer in 1985 talking about hearing from Zero the owner of the practically lifeless Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968 about why he won’t close it down and Zero flashing back to 1932 to explain the whole story why. Wow, a lot of flashing back!
The story itself unravels itself over time with its various chapters from Zero joining the hotel as an orphaned lobby boy to the fictional country of Zubrowska nearing war to the owner Monsieur Gustave’s affair with Madame D to inheriting her most coveted painting much to the anger of her own family who hoped to have it to being framed for her murder. Yes, already bizarre. However the colorfulness comes with Zero’s love for the cakemaker Agatha whom he eventually becomes engaged to and helps bake cakes with escape tools.
The situation gets weirder as an assassin is on pursuit for him and the hotel needs to be managed, especially since news about a second will from Madame D is in existence somewhere. It’s after a pursuit while at a winter sport’s to kill off the assassin that the can return to the hotel only to find it overtaken by soldiers in the war and police on the hunt for Gustave.
As you can tell, this all makes for a bizarre confusing story and even leave you wondering about why the hotel is still in existence. Understanding it means having to see the story for itself from beginning to end. There may be some confusing moments along the way and even a lot of eccentric humor but you will understand it and even the reason why a mountaintop hotel that’s completely useless is still in existence. You’ll even understand why the lobby boy is the only person in the world Gustave can trust wholeheartedly and would eventually own it. It’s no wonder Wes had to write a story along with his writing partner Hugo Guinness in order to bring this to the screen and make it work.
There are even times when I felt the story resembled Farewell To Arms, albeit with Wes Anderson’s dark humor intertwined into the story. Actually the credits in the end say the film was inspired by the readings of Stefan Zweig. I’ve never read Zweig’s writings so it’s hard for me to judge on that factor. Nevertheless the fact that Zweig was an Austrian Jew who fled to Brazil for refuge where he died may have some bearing on this. Even seeing how the character of The Writer looks like Zweig gives a hint. Whatever the situation and even if the story does not go as well as you hoped it would, it does leave you feeling that it does end as it should.
Despite this film being another excellent work from Wes Anderson, we shouldn’t forget that this is also because of the excellent ensemble of actors. Many of which have already acted in Wes Anderson movies of the past. Here they deliver well as a whole to make the movie enjoyable and true to Anderson’s style of humor and style of film making. However it also succeeds well with those who have never acted in a Wes Anderson movie before, like lead Ralph Fiennes. He delivers a character that’s humorous and true to the humor of the movie. Newcomer Tony Revolori also adds to the charm of the movie as the young bellboy who becomes Gustave’s partner in crime as does Saoirse Ronan as Agatha. You can easily see why she won his heart. Even minor roles from other Anderson first-timers like Jude Law and F. Murray Abraham add to the story.
Even the technical aspects of the story are excellent. The costumes designed by Milena Canonero are perfect to a T in this movie as is the set design and the makeup and hair. All these elements fit the times they’re set in and add to the film’s charm. The cinematography by Robert Yeoman fit the story well and the music from Alexandre Desplat also fit the film.
The interesting thing to note is that The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson’s highest-grossing film ever with $59.1 million in North America and almost $175 million worldwide. Buzz for the film first started after it won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Buzz continued after it continuously impressed film festival after film festival. Although his box office total in North America is not too impressive, it should be seen as respectable as it opened around the same time as the summer movie phenomenon that was happening. It made for a nice humorous alternative to the overhyped summer schlock.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a DVD worth watching. We all didn’t know what we were missing during the summer and now we can finally see why.
The Master looks like it’s meant as a depiction of a religious leader of a controversial religion. The question is how true is it? And does it succeed in getting the message across?
Freddie Quell is a Navy veteran who returns home from World War II with an uncertain future and unsettled behavior. How unsettled? He gets violent at the drop of a hat. He’s an easy drunk whose favorite drink is a personal mix of alcohol and other various chemicals. He’s sexually obsessed with sex to the point he masturbates frequently and loves making women out of beach sand just to seduce. Life back in the US is not easy for him to get back to normal. He loses his job as a photographer after starting a fight with one of his customers. He loses a farming job after one of the elderly farmhands gets poisoned from his drinking concoction. Is there any chance for him?
One day he stows away on a ship but it’s not just any ship. This ship is a yacht owned by Lancaster Dodd, a religious leader of a philosophical movement called ‘The Cause’. Dodd allows Freddie to watch the marriage of Dodd’s daughter as long as he makes his mysterious brew for him. Dodd sees a way of getting Freddie into the movement. Dodd asks some deep questions about Freddie and his past, called Processing, which he hopes to heal Freddie’s traumas. Freddie tells Dodd some dark truths about his past and Dodd doesn’t flinch like most. Freddie is blown away by Dodd while Dodd takes a liking to Freddie. Dodd agrees to make Freddie part of The Cause and Freddie becomes an active member in it recruiting other people.
The one problem is that members of The Cause are hoping to improve Freddie’s irrational behavior and he shows no signs of improvement. One example is Freddie assaults a man at a hotel some time after he questions Dodd for his beliefs. Dodd’s wife Peggy tries to make a deal with him that he quits drinking if he wishes to stay. He agrees but shows no intention to quit. Freddie even criticizes Dodd’s son for rejecting his father’s teaching but the son believes he makes it up as he goes along. Dodd is later arrested for practicing medicine without a license and Freddie is arrested for assaulting the officers pursuing Dodd. The time in the jail cell is hard as Dodd and Freddie are in opposite cells. Dodd tries to calm a violent Freddie down but Freddie questions him in a tirade and accuses him of being a fake. Both trade insults in the end. Freddie and Dodd reconcile upon release but those in ‘The Cause’ become more suspicious of him.
Freddie continues with The Cause and its exercises but becomes more frustrated when the results don’t work. Freddie helps Dodd in spreading the word on the street and on the radio. However things turn nasty when Freddie assaults a book publisher who criticizes Dodd’s book. Dodd himself event becomes temperamental around critics of his books.
Already there are strong signals that Freddie is ready to leave The Cause. It came when Dodd gave his colleagues an exercise of motorcycling in the desert to an object in the distance and Freddie cycles away. Freddie returns home to rekindle his relationship with Doris, his girlfriend he wrote to during the war, but learns she married and started a family in the seven years since she lost contact with Freddie. However Freddie has a dream of Dodd telephoning him in a movie theatre and telling him he’s in England and Freddie must join as soon as possible. Freddie goes to England and finds Dodd with wife Peggy. Peggy believes Freddie should leave The Cause since he’s made no improvement. Dodd agrees but still taking a liking to Freddie and gives him an ultimatum: stay and devote his whole life to The Cause or leave and never come back. Freddie leaves and is left to follow his own path.
The film appears to be a depiction of the Church of Scientology and its leader L. Ron Hubbard. There are a lot of similarities to it: Hoffman’s resemblance to Hubbard and the film set in 1950, the same year Hubbard set up his church. Anderson will admit that Lancaster Dodd is a lot like L. Ron Hubbard but not intended to be a direct depiction of him: “This is not the L. Ron Hubbard story.” Some people in the Church Of Scientology had spoken concerns of the film. Anderson even screened the film for Tom Cruise who had acted in Anderson’s Magnolia and had concerns of his own. Nevertheless there has been no talk of lawsuits from the Church of Scientology. Whatever the situation, I can’t say because I never attended the Church of Scientology in my lifetime.
Once again Paul Thomas Anderson writes and directs an excellent effort. Ever since he burst onto the filmmaking scene with Boogie Nights, he was continued to impress with Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood and now again with The Master. One thing Paul Thomas Anderson succeeds in doing again is captivating a svengali-like character. We’ve seen it before in There Will Be Blood where he was able to capture Daniel Plainview and his desire to use and manipulate his way to the top and ultimately face a downfall. We see it here again in Lancaster Dodd who succeeds in being the one in control and convince his followers to his sayings, even if they know they’re a lie. Philip Seymour Hoffman does his own part in making this svengali-like character come to life. He fills the character up with the charming controllingness very common in many svengali-like figures or leader-like characters. That’s a common trait of Philip Seymour Hoffman to embody the character completely. He’s done it in the past to exceptional results and he does it again here.
Just as good at capturing a character is Joaquin Phoenix. He did a good job of playing a very lost character: a navy officer returning from World War II disturbed and uncoothed in behavior. This movie is just as much about the controlled as it is about the controller and Joaquin did a great job in holding his own well despite the easy upstagings of Hoffman. Also good at stealing the scene was Amy Adams. She did an excellent job of playing the wife who was both a controller and the controlled. Another standout effort of the film was the original music of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. He has done music before for There Will Be Blood and he does another excellent work.
As for the movie, it wasn’t that big of a hit at the box office. That’s one of the difficulties of films around the Oscar period from now leading up to the beginning of the new year. Most of the top contending movies for the Academy Awards consist of movies with standout efforts in acting, directing and scriptwriting. However they face the difficulties of trying to win a crowd at the box office which is loaded with mostly commercial fare and the stuff to attract big crowds. It’s trying to compete for that attention amongst the noise. The Master hasn’t been so fortunate. It has only made $15 million at the box office. That’s part of the trials of putting serious fare out.
The Master is a very intriguing movie resembling a popular religious movement and its founder. It could shed a light on the movement and even capture what the founder may be like but it does more, and that’s its best quality.
Moonrise Kingdom is one of those films one who wants get off the beaten path might want to see. Knowing that Wes Anderson is directing it is one sign this is something out of the ordinary. But is it enjoyable?
The film starts with a young girl, the oldest of four children and only daughter, has her binoculars out for a search. She leaves her house on the search with her cat, six books and a record player but we don’t know what she’s searching for. Her name is Suzy Bishop. Meanwhile it’s rise and shine for the Khaki Scouts at Camp Ivanhoe. Only one scout is missing and no one can find him. His name is Sam Shakusky.
Flashback a year ago. Suzy is about to perform for a church musical for Noye’s Fludde by Benjamin Britten. Sam sneaks in and meets Suzy. It was like love at first sight for the two. Over the year’s time, they were pen friends and they made a secret pact to reunite in the summer and run away together. Now today is the day. As Suzy is walking to the area with binoculars in hand, Sam paddles his canoe over the lake well-equipped with camping equipment. They meet and camp out for several days on a secluded cove which they call Moonrise Kingdom. Their love blossoms as the days pass and as Sam paints pictures of her.
Eventually the two are located by the scoutmaster, the police and Suzy’s parents. They’re first able to evade escape by the scouts after Suzy stabs one in the side with lefty scissors. But it’s all too late as they are caught. Suzy is taken home by her parents and is ordered never to see Sam again. Sam is in custody with Captain Sharp and is about to be sent to ‘juvenile refuge’ because he is an orphan and his foster parents no longer wish to house him. The two run off again and hide. One other thing to add: a hurricane is expected to hit the area in a matter of days.
It’s this second incident that people are more cooperative. The Scouts learn of the love of the two and believe it their duty to help them hide. The Scouts even seek out the help of Cousin Ben to help them in the hiding out. It appears to be successful but there are many twists and turns including a flash flood within the camp and the recovering stabbed boy blockading Sam’s escape. After a lengthy chase, they return back to the church as it is about to do a musical. Problem is all those attempting to chase the two down head there too and the hurricane is slowly but surely approaching. Sam and Suzy refuse to give up and even go as far as going to the top of the church steeple while the storm is at its wettest and windiest to evade capture. The ending ends in an offbeat way but it’s a happy ending that ends in a charming manner.
I’m unsure if Wes was trying to get a point across in this movie or if he was just trying to deliver a quirky but nice story. It’s easy to sense that there may be a message here with a lot of elements in the story: 1965, New England, scouts, church plays, lawyer parents, an orphan who runs away a lot, a girl with behavioral problems. Whatever the situation, Wes succeeded in making this offbeat kiddie-romance quite charming. Wes has had a history of doing charming but quirky movies like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited and even the animated family movie The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Here he has a story of children in love that commonly make for a typical cutesy story, adds his own quirks in there, gives the two children in love unique characters and delivers a winning and entertaining story. How often can a director accomplish that?
Besides Anderson’s filmmaking, the film has other great qualities too. The script he co-wrote with Roman Coppola, son of Francis Ford Coppola, adds to the charming quirkiness of the movie. The acting performances of the leads Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward were very good, especially since they’re debut performances. The one thing is that Wes Anderson wanted the two to act in a certain style of acting that would fit the movie instead of your typical acting. Both did a good job of not only doing their character but succeeding in making the chemistry both quirky and a perfect aspiring at the same time. Anderson also brings back actors he has worked with in past movies like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Larry Pine and he also includes Edward Norton who will star in his upcoming The Grand Budapest Hotel. Their addition as supporting players also add to the story as well as supporting performances from other established actors like Harvey Keitel, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton.
It wasn’t just the writing, directing and acting. The music also added to the movie as well. The first is the inclusion of Benjamin Britten’s music in the movie. It’s obvious Wes had a liking to Britten’s music as a child. In fact we hear the Young Person’s Guide To the Orchestra played by Suzy’s little brothers at the beginning. The original music from Alexandre Desplat also added to the movie’s charm too. Many can agree that the use of such music had a lot to do with the movie’s charm.
Moonrise Kingdom is an odd and quirky story that will win you in the end. Great movie to watch for moviegoers who want to get off the beaten path.