You don't arrive at the Grand Budapest Hotel without your share of Wes Anderson baggage. Odds are, if you've booked a visit to this film, you've enjoyed your past trips to the Wes Indies (I promise I'll stop this extended metaphor soon), delighting especially in Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and his most recent charmer Moonrise Kingdom. On the other hand, you could be the adventurous sort — a curious diplomat who never really got Anderson's uric-toned deadpan drudgings but can't resist browsing through the brochures of his latest European getaway. First off, neither community should worry about a bias in this review — I'm a Life Aquatic devotee, equally alienating to both sides. Second, neither community should be deterred by Andersonian expectations, be they sky high or subterranean, in planned Budapest excursions. No matter who you are, this movie will charm your dandy pants off and then some.
While GBH hangs tight to the filmmaker's recognizable style, the movie is a departure for Anderson in a number of ways. The first being plot: there is one. A doozy, too. We're accustomed to spending our Wes flicks peering into the stagnant souls of pensive man-children — or children-men (Moonrise) or fox-kits (guess) — whose journeys are confined primarily to the internal. But not long into Grand Budapest, we're on a bona fide adventure with one of the director's most attractive heroes to date: the didactic Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes mastering sympathetic comedy better than anyone could have imagined he might), who invests his heart and soul into the titular hotel, an oasis of nobility in a decaying 1930s Europe. Gustave is plucked from his sadomasochistic nirvana overseeing every cog and sprocket in the mountaintop institution and thrust into a madcap caper — reminiscent of, and not accidentally, the Hollywood comedies of the era — involving murder, framing, art theft, jailbreak, love, sex, envy, secret societies, high speed chases... believe me, I haven't given half of it away. Along the way, we rope in a courageous baker (Saoirse Ronan), a dutiful attorney (Jeff Goldblum), a hotheaded socialite (Adrien Brody) and his psychopathic henchman (Willem Dafoe), and no shortage of Anderson regulars. The director proves just as adept at the large scale as he is at the small, delivering would-be cartoon high jinks with the same tangible life that you'd find in a Billy Wilder romp or one of the better Hope/Crosby Road to movies.
Anchoring the monkey business down to a recognizable planet Earth (without sacrificing an ounce of comedy) is the throughline of Gustave's budding friendship with his lobby boy, Zero (newcomer Tony Revolori, whose performance is an unprecedented and thrilling mixture of Wes Anderson stoicism and tempered humility), the only living being who appreciates the significance of the Grand Budapest as much as Gustave does. In joining these two oddballs on their quest beyond the parameters of FDA-approved doses of zany, we appreciate it, too: the significance of holding fast to something you believe in, understand, trust, and love in a world that makes less and less sense everyday. Anderson's World War II might not be as ostensibly hard-hitting as that to which modern cinema is accustomed, but there's a chilling, somber horror story lurking beneath the surface of Grand Budapest. Behind every side-splitting laugh, cookie cutter backdrop, and otherworldly antic, there is a pulsating dread that makes it all mean something. As vivid as the worlds of Rushmore, Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise might well have been, none have had this much weight and soul.
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So it's astonishing that we're able to zip to and fro' every crevice of this haunting, misty Central Europe at top speeds, grins never waning as our hero Gustave delivers supernaturally articulate diatribes capped with physically startling profanity. So much of it is that delightfully odd, agonizingly devoted character, his unlikely camaraderie with the unflappably earnest young Zero, and his adherence to the magic that inhabits the Grand Budapest Hotel. There are few places like it on Earth, as we learn. There aren't many movies like it here either.
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The movie world's highest of high brow event is indubitably Festival de Cannes, the annual French film fest that handpicks the finest works of new cinema to unleash upon the world. From legendary auteurs to first time directors, Cannes is exalted by film buffs as the premiere stage for big screen debuts. If a movie gets into Cannes, it's already earned a level of respect.
That same respect extends to the stars, who flock to the chic festival to walk the red carpet and command audiences with their latest performances. Cannes imbues an actor or actress with immediate cred — especially helpful if for up-and-comers looking for respect. There's a theme of this year's line-up: the new and the old rubbing shoulders, a younger generation ready to step out the door and rise above their goofy franchise roots. Robert Pattinson has teamed with the highly-respected David Cronenberg for the absolutely bonkers-looking Cosmopolis; Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund help Walter Salles (Motorcycle Diaries) bring his long-gestating Kerouac adaptation On the Road to life; Shia LaBeouf drops alien robots for Depression era gangsters and Tom Hardy in Lawless; and Zac Efron stars opposite John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey and Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy, the latest from director Lee Daniels (Precious). The kids, as it seems, are all grown up.
But don't think Cannes has abandoned its A-Listers. Facing off against the Millennials are familiar faces like Brad Pitt (Killing Them Softly), Clive Owen (Hemingway & Gelhorn) and the incredible ensemble assembled for Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, which opens the festival. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman…Hollywood friendly, but with the unique quirk that only an Anderson film could provide.
Check out the full list of titles, films ready to hook lucky attendees when the festival gets underway May 16.
Rust and Bone - dir. Jacques Audiard
Moonrise Kingdom - dir. Wes Anderson
Holy Motors - dir. Leos Carax
Cosmopolis - dir. David Cronenberg
The Paperboy - dir. Lee Daniels
Killing Them Softly - dir. Andrew Dominik
Reality - dir. Matteo Garrone
Love - dir. Michael Haneke
Lawless - dir. John Hillcoat
In Another Country - dir. Hong Sang So
The Taste of Money - dir. Im Sang So
Like Someone In Love - dir. Abbas Kiarostami
The Angels' Share - dir. Ken Loach
In The Fog - dir. Sergei Loznitsa
Beyond The Hills - dir. Cristian Mungiu
Baad el Mawkeaaa (Apres La Bataille) - dir. Yousry Nasrallah
Mud - dir. Jeff Nichols
You Haven't Seen Anything Yet - dir. Alan Resnais
Post Tenebras Lux - dir. Carlos Reygadas
On The Road - dir. Walter Salles
Paradise: Love - dir. Ulrich Seidl
The Hunt - dir. Thomas Winterberg
Un Certain Regard:
La Playa - dir. Juan Andres Arango
Miss Lovely - dir. Achim Ahluwalia
God's Horses - dir. Nabel Ayouch
Antiviral - dir. Brandon Cronenberg
Trois Mondes - dir. Catherine Corsini
Days In Havana - dir. Benicio Del Toro, Gaspar Noe, Laurence Cantat, et all
Laurence Anyways - dir. Xavier Dolan
Le Grand Soir - dir. Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern
Aimer A Perdre La Raison - dir. Joachim LaFosse
Después De Lucia - dir. Michel Franco
Mystery - dir. Lou Ye
Student - dir. Darezhan Omirbayev
La Pirogue - dir. Moussa Toure
Confession Of A Child Of The Century - dir. Sylvie Verheyde
The White Elephant - dir. Pablo Trapero
11:25 The Day He Chose His Own Fate - dir. Koje Wakamatsu
Beasts Of The Southern Wild - dir. Benh Zeitlin
Out of Competition:
Tess - restored by Polanski
Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir - dir. Laurent Bouzereau
Once Upon A Time In America - dir. Sergio Leone
The Central Park Five - dir. Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon
Garbage In The Garden Of Eden - dir. Faith Akin
Les Invisbles - dir. Sebastien Lifschitz
Journal De France - dir. Claudine Nougaret and Raymond Depardon
Dracula 3D - dir. Dario Argento
Madagascar 3 - dir. Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath
Me and You - dir. Bernardo Bertolucci
The Legend Of Love and Sincerity - dir. Takashi Milke
Mekong Hotel - dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Villegas - dir. Gonzalo Tobak
A Musica Segundo Tom Jobim - dir. Nelson Pereira Dos Santos
Hemingway & Gellhorn - dir. Philip Kaufman
[Festival de Cannes]
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As with seemingly every other tentpole release to hit the multiplex this summer the action thriller Cowboys & Aliens is based on a comic book – albeit a lesser-known one. It’s directed by Jon Favreau whose previous comic-book adaptations Iron Man and Iron Man 2 proved how much better those films can be when they’re grounded in character. Unfortunately his latest effort is grounded not in character but a hook an alt-history scenario best expressed in the language of the average twelve-year-old: “Like wouldn’t it be awesome if like a bunch of 1870s cowboys had to fight a bunch of crazy aliens with exoskeletons and spaceships and super-advanced weapons?”
Like perhaps. The hook was compelling enough to get someone to pony up a reported $160 million to find out and the result is a film in which the western and science-fiction genres don’t so much blend as violently collide. After the wreckage is cleared both emerge worse for wear.
Daniel Craig stars as Jake Lonergan a stranger who awakens in the New Mexico Territory with a case of amnesia a wound in his side and a strange contraption strapped to his wrist. After dispatching a trio of bandits with Bourne-like efficiency he rides to the nearby town of Absolution where he stumbles on what appears to be an elaborate Western Iconography exhibit presented by the local historical preservation society. There’s the well-meaning town Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) struggling to enforce order amidst lawlessness; the greedy rancher Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who really runs things; his debaucherous cowardly son Percy (Paul Dano); the timid saloonkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) who’s going to stand up for himself one of these days; the humble preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown) dispensing homespun spiritual advice; et al.
Jake of course has his own part to play – the fugitive train-robber – as we discover when his face shows up on a wanted poster and a sneering Dolarhyde fingers him for the theft of his gold. The only character who doesn’t quite conform to type is Ella (Olivia Wilde) who as neither a prostitute nor some man’s wife – the traditional female occupations in westerns – immediately arouses suspicion.
Jake is arrested and ordered to stand trial in Federal court but before he can be shipped off a squadron of alien planes appears in the sky besieging Absolution and making off with several of its terrified citizenry. In the course of the melee Jake’s wrist contraption wherever it came from reveals itself to be quite useful in defense against the alien invaders. Thrown by circumstances into an uneasy alliance with Dolarhyde he helps organize a posse to counter the otherworldly threat – and bring back the abductees if possible.
Cowboys & Aliens has many of the ingredients of a solid summer blockbuster but none in sufficient amounts to rate in a summer season crowded with bigger-budget (and better-crafted) spectacle. For a film with five credited screenwriters Cowboys & Aliens’ script is sorely lacking for verve or imagination. And what happened to the Favreau of Iron Man? The playful cheekiness that made those films so much fun is all but absent in this film which takes itself much more seriously than any film called Cowboys & Aliens has a right to. Dude you’ve got men on horses with six-shooters battling laser-powered alien crab people. Lighten up.
Craig certainly looks the part of the western anti-hero – his only rival in the area of rugged handsomeness is Viggo Mortensen – but his character is reduced to little more than an angry glare. And Wilde the poor girl is burdened with loads of clunky exposition. The two show promising glimpses of a romantic spark but their relationship remains woefully underdeveloped. Faring far better is Ford who gets not only the bulk of the film’s choicest lines but also its only touching subplot in which his character’s adopted Indian son played by Adam Beach quietly coaxes the humanity out of the grizzled old man.
Chris Remi is a responsible mostly serious accountant with the nickname Goat of Fire. Tony is his younger brother a struggling actor who's popular with the ladies and goes by the nickname Smiling Fish. When their parents die the two must learn to adjust to life without Mom and Dad. Meanwhile Chris attempts to reconcile with his estranged wife before meeting an Italian beauty while Tony must decide what he wants when he meets his perfect match.
Chris and Tony played by real-life brothers Derick and Steven Martini respectively are relatively newcomers to the big screen and their acting doesn’t necessarily leave a lasting memory. They’re brothers playing brothers no real stretch there. The best performance by far is provided by Bill Henderson who plays Clive Winters -- a retired soundman from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Clive warms up to Chris taking him under his wing to teach him a thing or two about the wonders of love and weaving the films various subplots into a sweet package.
Director Kevin Jordan also wrote this film with the Martini brothers and produced it on a shoestring budget of $40 000. Clearly then it's all about the story. Shot in Los Angeles over 12 days Jordan draws you in with the appealing story line wins you over with some comic relief and keeps you hoping that each brother will get his girl.