Having emerged during Hollywood's new wave of the late 1960s and early 1970s, iconoclastic producer Bert Schneider was responsible for shepherding some of his time's most heralded classics. After part...
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 Easy Rider filmmaker passed away from natural causes on Monday (12Dec11), his daughter Audrey Simon has confirmed.
The New York native, who was the son of former Columbia Pictures president Abraham Schneider, started his television and film career in the 1960s.
Teaming up with Bob Rafelson to form Raybert Productions, one of Schneider's first projects was to create sitcom The Monkees, which followed a fictional rock band.
The group went on to be a successful international pop act, and helped Schneider and Rafelson break into feature films.
His first major success was 1969's iconic movie Easy Rider, starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, and he also made 1970 movie Five Easy Pieces, starring Jack Nicholson.
Schneider and Rafelson went on to create films including The Last Picture Show and The King of Marvin Gardens, while Schneider also won a Best Documentary Oscar for 1974's Hearts and Minds, about opposition to the Vietnam War.
Schneider married four times throughout his life, and once dated actress Candice Bergen.
Featured in the documentary "Hey, Hey We're the Monkees"
Partly inspired Peter Fonda's character Terry Valentine in the Steven Soderbergh crime drama "The Limey"
Early executive producing credit, The Monkees' feature film "Head" directed by Rafelson
Produced final film, Michie Gleason's "Broken English"
Executive produced the Oscar-winning "The Last Picture Show," directed by Peter Bogdanovich
First film collaboration with Jack Nicholson, "Easy Rider" in which Nicholson played a supporting role; directed by Dennis Hopper; made for less than $300,000, the film grossed $20 million in box office
Quit Screen Gems to form Raybert Productions with Bob Rafelson
Executive produced the drama "Five Easy Pieces," starring Nicholson and directed by Rafelson
Produced the NBC series "The Monkees," featuring the titular musical group; co-created with Bob Rafelson; made a cameo during an episode that aired in 1968
Raised in New Rochelle, NY
Produced the Vietnam War documentary "Hearts and Minds"; won the Oscar for Best Documentary, Features; while accepting the Oscar, read a telegram offering "greetings of friendship" from the head of the North Vietnamese delegation to the Paris peace talks,
Produced Nicholson's feature directorial debut "Drive, He Said"
Produced Terrence Malick's romantic drama "Days of Heaven," starring Richard Gere and Sam Shepard
After expulsion from Cornell, went to work for his father Abraham at Screen Gems, the television division of Columbia Pictures
Having emerged during Hollywood's new wave of the late 1960s and early 1970s, iconoclastic producer Bert Schneider was responsible for shepherding some of his time's most heralded classics. After partnering with director Bob Rafelson to create the pop culture phenomenon, "The Monkees" (NBC, 1966-68), Schneider entered the film business with The Monkees' disappointing feature debut, "Head" (1968), which marked the beginning of his fruitful collaboration with Jack Nicholson. With his next film, "Easy Rider" (1969), he helped usher in the New Hollywood era with the counterculture classic that was one of the biggest hits of the year while turning Nicholson into a major star. Schneider worked with the actor again on the Academy Award-nominated drama, "Five Easy Pieces" (1970), before producing Peter Bogdanovich's masterpiece "The Last Picture Show" (1971). After bankrolling Nicholson's rather disappointing directing debut, "Drive, He Said" (1972), Schneider won an Oscar for his Vietnam War documentary, "Hearts and Minds" (1974), while managing to cause a bit of controversy while accepting his win. He went on to produce several forgettable movies before working on Terrence Malick's exceptional "Days of Heaven" (1978). Schneider left Hollywood after "Broken English" (1981) to focus on battling political causes and his drug addiction, leaving behind a short, but lasting legacy as one of New Hollywood's great producers.<p>Born on May 5, 1933 in New York City, Schneider was raised in the suburbs of New Rochelle and later briefly attended Cornell University, only to be kicked out in 1953 due to his rebellious attitude. Luckily, his father Abraham Schneider was the chairman and president of Columbia Pictures, which lead to working for the studio's television division, Screen Gems, in the early 1960s. He quit in 1965 to form Raybert Productions with director Bob Rafelson, with whom he created the pop culture phenomenon, "The Monkees" (NBC, 1966-68), a sitcom about a fictional rock band that spilled over into the recording industry when the members fought to become an actual group that made records and performed live. Thanks to the massive success of both the show and the musical act, Schneider and Rafelson entered the film business as the executive producers of "Head" (1968), a psychedelic adventure starring The Monkees, co-written by actor Jack Nicholson under the influence of LSD. The result was an absurd, plotless stream-of-consciousness comedy that ticked off Monkees fans and failed at the box office, yet acquired a cult following years later.<p>Undeterred by "Head," Schneider and Rafelson produced the landmark road movie, "Easy Rider" (1969), which starred Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as two hippies who traverse the American landscape on their custom motorcycles after scoring with a major cocaine sale. Along the way, they pick up a drunken ACLU lawyer (Nicholson) after a night in jail, only to encounter the harsh reality of losing their idealism amidst trying to achieve the American Dream. Hailed as a masterpiece in avant-garde filmmaking, "Easy Rider" was a box office smash and heralded the golden age of New Hollywood alongside "Bonnie & Clyde" (1967) and "The Graduate" (1967), while turning the unknown Nicholson into a bona fide star. From there, Schneider produced the Rafelson-directed drama, "Five Easy Pieces" (1970), which starred Nicholson as a disaffected oil rig worker who reluctantly returns home to his more cultured hometown, only to find both worlds in conflict with each other. The moody drama solidified Nicholson's standing as a rising star, while it earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The following year, he produced Nicholson's directorial debut, "Drive, He Said" (1971), a rather confusing and downbeat look about a basketball star (William Tepper) whose antics in the bedroom finally catch up to him.<p>Working this time with director Peter Bogdanovich, Schneider executive produced another New Hollywood masterpiece, "The Last Picture Show" (1971), a coming of age drama set in a small Texas town during the early 1950s that focused on two football stars (Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms) forced to re-examine their futures when the town's movie theater closes down. Shot in stark black and white, "The Last Picture Show" was hailed by critics and earned eight Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture. After executive producing the forgettable experimental psychodrama "A Safe Place" (1971), starring Nicholson and Tuesday Weld, Schneider turned to documentaries with "Hearts and Minds" (1974), a searing chronicle of the Vietnam War that juxtaposed the striking images from the war with the often ignorant words of American politicians and military leaders. The film drew polarized critical reviews for its one-sided point of view, but that did not stop it from winning Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards. He caused a bit of a stir by reading a congratulatory telegram from the Vietcong delegation at the Paris peace talks, which forced host Bob Hope to issue a disclaimer read by Frank Sinatra, who allegedly nearly came to blows with Schneider back stage.<p>Schneider went on to produce the cheap action flick "White Line Fever" (1975) and the made-for-TV documentary, "The Gentleman Tramp" (1976), which strung together clips from the career of silent movie star Charlie Chaplin. Following the moody Vietnam drama, "Tracks" (1976), starring Dennis Hopper, Schneider produced one last great film, "Days of Heaven" (1978), Terrence Malick's spectacular rural period drama about a lonely wheat harvester (Richard Gere), whose life becomes intertwined with three itinerant workers from Chicago. Schneider called it a career after producing "Broken English" (1981), a rather dated romantic drama about a white woman (Beverly Roberts) who runs afoul of her friends and family after marrying a black man (Jacques Martial). Tired of working in Hollywood, he went on to spend the next 30 years of his life battling various political causes as well as his own personal demons in the form of long-standing substance abuse. Off the radar for a period of time, he emerged to partake in the documentary, "Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees" (1997), and was allegedly the model for Peter Fonda's character, Terry Valentine, in Steven Soderbergh's crime thriller, "The Limey" (1999). Schneider married four times and saw his Beverly Hills home burn to the ground in 2007. Following years of declining health, he died of natural causes on Dec. 12, 2011 at 78 years old.<p><i>By Shawn Dwyer</i>