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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Paramount via Everett Collection
Three sleepless nights and a coffee-fueled morning after Labor Day, and I'm still waiting for the kicker. The reversal, the twist, the big reveal that Jason Reitman — a talented filmmaker and prodigious wordsmith who managed such sophisticated character material in each of his previous movies — wasn't actually telling the story I understood it to be. That I missed something altogether, some nectar of honesty buried beneath layers of theatrical pie crust. Owing to the respect I have for Reitman, his starring players Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, and a few fellow film critics who saw beauty in Labor Day, I'll keep on entertaining the idea that I overlooked the picture's authenticity. But for now, I've got to give benefit of the doubt to my senses — hey, we all have deadlines — and concude: this movie is full of s**t.
This is no victimless crime, as Labor Day sets us up in the household of depression- and anxiety-ridden Adele (Winslet) and her 12-year-old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith), promising a tale we never get to hear. The film jumps right into the former's struggles with stinging mental illness and what appears to be a blossoming Oedipus complex in the latter — in The Wonder Years-style narration delivered by a flu-ridden Tobey Maguire, Henry proudly affirms that his mother is his whole life: he gives her back rubs, runs her baths, takes her on dates, and asserts himself her ad hoc husband to eradicate the loneliness that cripples her so (Clark Gregg plays Henry's absent father, a "Buck up, sport" type dad who lives across town with his "better" family). On one of their monthly outings to the Piggly Wiggly, or whatever — the film takes place in a 1987 that you'd swear was actually 1959 — Adele and Henry happen upon Frank (Brolin), a blood-soaked menace on the lam who makes tacit threats at Henry's safety to convince the rattled mother to allow him room and board until he can make a spring for the border.
And then, of course, they fall in love. Once Frank is settled into Adele's spacey Massachusetts two-story, he reveals himself the perfect man who fixes leaks, tends gardens, bakes pies, and whisks the shaken woman out of her decaying shell. It's clear why she takes to him — Frank is a heaven-sent gender reversal of the Natalie Portmans and Kirsten Dunsts and Zooey Deschanels who have fallen from the sky to turn things around for their broken beaus with spontaneity and singing and hamster funerals and cupcakes. In Frank's case, pies. I really can't overemphasize the position of the pies in this movie. They're everywhere.
Past the point of keeping Frank hidden from those pesky neighbors, it doesn't really serve as much concern to Adele — or, far less forgivably, to the movie itself — that he's an escaped con who threatened her son's life in order to earn a place to hide from the cops. Labor Day is not interested in redemption or excuse for Frank; it goes so far as to insist that we're wrong for distrusting him in the first place. But no. This guy, for all his redeeming qualities, is a problem.
Paramount via Everett Collection
Labor Day is even less interested in honing the authenticity of its other adult lead, Adele, who earns Frank's attention for no discernible reason other than that she seemed vulnerable enough to con into taking him back to her place. After that? Guilt, maybe. A knight-in-shining-armor syndrome that keeps him attracted to such an open wound. Just as Frank lives up to the one-dimensional angelicism of the aforementioned heroines of modern cinema, Adele is the counterpart to their boyfriends. Vacant and passive, just waiting to be saved by people who have nothing going on inside of them other than the drive to play savior. On top of that, she's got a pretty volatile emotional illness in full swing. But it's nothing love can't cure, right?
With so much wrong to cover in regards to the movie's central love story, I haven't even gotten to Henry yet: the good-natured, sexually curious middle schooler through whom the story is told. Although Henry at least has a real relationship with Frank, who stands in as dad and teaches him to play baseball, fix a car, and — of course — bake pies, every one of the boy's interesting conceits that is teased by the movie gets tossed out in favor of... well, that's the million dollar question. We're introduced to Henry through what appears to be a complex relationship with his mother, whom he views in part as a wife — without payoff, or even exploration, this is just some odd and incomplete stuff with which to open a movie. His distrust of Frank is entertained, but discarded almost immediately thereafter. Just about everything that might serve as character work for Henry is dealt with in the film's 3-minute epilogue. Spoilers: there are pies involved.
If it weren't for the severity of the characters' flimsiness, you might not risk an occuluar injury from all the eye rolls provoked by the ridiculous plot maneuvers this movie cranks out. We're talking doors left ajar, oblivious bank tellers, and the idea that James Van Der Beek can be accepted as a police officer materializing at the summit of the film's dramatic climax. All this, not to mention some atrociously goofy dialogue, feels like it was rescued from Nicholas Sparks' waste basket — only in glimmers of Jason Reitman's usual shtick through a loquacious tertiary character (Brighid Fleming playing "Psuedo Juno") who institutes far more narrative turns than she really should are you reminded of whose movie you expected to be watching.
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And these slight reminders might be why Labor Day is such an aggressive failure: it had potential. At the onset of the film, we thought we were diving into something juicy. When things get more ridiculous than you can accept, you convince yourself that it's all going to pay off with an honest, deconstructive revelation. But three days later, I'm still looking for what I missed. The disclosure of the true activity behind the false, theatrical curtain. But there doesn't seem to be anything there: just flat characters, an ill-conceived romance, dead-end arcs, and so many motherf**king pies.
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Terry Gilliam fans, we finally have some good news for you. The trailer for the director's latest film, The Zero Theorem, was released with all of the brightly-covered, over-the-top dystopian weirdness that we have come to know and love from his work. The film follows Qohen (Christoph Waltz), a lonely, anxious computer programmer who is taked by the mysterious Management (Matt Damon), with solving the titular Zero Theorem, and equation designed to prove, once and for all, whether or not life has a point, and if so, what exactly that point is. The previous programmers who have attempted the undertaking went insane in the process, and the same thing threatens to happen to Qohen. But he's not sure if the added presence of Bainsley (Melanie Thierry) and Management's son Bob (Lucas Hedges) is helping him stay sane or pushing him further over the edge. In addition, the cast includes David Thewlis as Qohen's boss Joby, and Tilda Swinton as his computerized shrink.
The Zero Theorem seems set to temper the deep, philosophical question at its center with plenty of Gilliam's trademark irreverent humor. Based on the trailer, we can expect a final result will be just as entertaining as it is thought-provoking — think Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy rather than the Matrix trilogy. In fact, there are a lot of comparisons that can be made to Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, from the giant computer attempting to solve a math problem in order to determine the meaning of life, to the insane, neon-colored futuristic setting, filled with a host of eccentric characters, and the similarity in tone will likely be a good thing for the film, as it will hopefully be able to make The Zero Theorem more accessible to non-Gilliam fans than some of his previous films have been. The future presented by the trailer feels uncomfortably overwhelming, and although that's likely an intention choice, it could turn away moviegoers who aren't familiar with Gilliam's work. By highlighting the humor, it makes the existential crisis at the heart of the film more approachable and more interesting to a casual viewer.
But fans of the director should have no problem getting excited about The Zero Theorem, as it appears to be a quintessential Gilliam film, and should fit easily into his filmography alongside his earlier, beloved projects. Supposedly the final part of a dystopian satire "trilogy" that also includes Brazil and 12 Monkeys, early reviews have already revealed that the film has a much similar feel to the former, both in terms of overall tone and the themes that they tackle. But even if it was set in a distant, Orwellian future or feature a protagonist who must struggle against a larger, dark force that threatens to destroy him, The Zero Theorem feels so distinctly like a Gilliam film that it's hard not to draw parallels to his other projects, and it's hard to imagine any other director tackling this insanely dense story as successfully as he seems to have done.
Brazil is also considered to be a part of a series of films about escaping the awkwardness and disorder of our lives and our universe through imagination, and although The Zero Theorem will not be added to that series, Qohen is able to escape from his life and the terrifying pointlessness of it into a dream world where he can frolic on the beach with a pretty woman or stare into black holes. Though it's not clear how he is able to get to these different dimensions and dream worlds, its clear that it will play a big role both in terms of the plot and the development of Qohen's character. Gilliam also tends to use the alternate realities to explore deeper layers of the film, and to dig into the overarching questions that tend to make up the film's themes. In this case, he's dealing with fear of mortality and whether life has any sort of meaning, both of which are themes that he has used in earlier works.
Setting aside the recurring themes or dreamscapes, The Zero Theorem also appears to utilize a great deal of Gilliam's signatures in terms of visual design and cinematography. Since his days working with Monty Python, Gilliam has been known for mixing animation or cartoon-like visuals into his live-action work. Here, he uses the bright colors, cluttered cityscapes and wacky, unusual costumes in order to give the future some depth and realism, as well as to contrast the terror that the technology-obsessed, corporation controlled future instills in the audience and in the characters. Plus, the use of such a distinct visual palette allows Gilliam to highlight the differences between worlds — a trick he also used in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus in order to differentiate between the worlds that Tony was able to travel through. Even when he's using particular shots to make the audience feel claustrophobic or overwhelmed, there's something familiar about the way that he films, which gives off a sense of comfort and makes it clear that this is definitely a Gilliam film.
The Zero Theorem also features on of Gilliam's most used elements: a mysterious woman who appears in the protagonist's dreams and either spurs him into action or results in his downfalls. In this case, that woman is Bainsley, and although she first meets him in person, it appears that she is the one who leads him into the alternate dream worlds. Whether she's helping him or hurting him isn't clear, but like with all of Gilliam's films, it's clear that she will play a significant part in his journey towards truth and insanity. Even the trailer itself features one of his trademarks, and begins and ends with similar shots of the swirling black hole, making it even more clear that this is, in every sense of the word, a true Gilliam film.
With fours years having passed since his last release, and no news other than the repeated cancellation of his Don Quixote project, Gilliam fans should be excited by the trailer for The Zero Theorem, and the imminent arrive of a film that seems to be a bona fide Gilliam production. Many of his films have fallen apart before the production stage, even when fans have patiently endured years of waiting between films, they haven't always been thrilled with the result. This time, though, it finally feels like there is a Gilliam film in the pipeline that is once again worth getting excited for. For now, the only thing left to wait on is an official release date.