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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Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
Endless Love has awakened something in me. Not a long dormant passion for an introverted high school classmate, or a sudden desire to break into the zoo after dark. A question about movies — more accurately, about movie criticism. The same question you would ask yourself if you fell drowsy in the middle of Citizen Kane, or welled up during the emotional climax of Just Friends. The question I ask myself now, as I recount the 103 straight minutes of asphyxiating laughter that I endured during a screening of Shana Feste’s would-be romantic drama: What makes a good movie?
We assign deference to some films, disgust to others — a lucky few of us make a living this way. But what, precisely, are we reviewing? A film’s mission or its execution? The product onscreen or the experience of watching it? All factors come into play when considering whether or not a movie “works.” But on rare occasions you’ll get a film that offers no common ground in its meeting of these standards. You’ll get Endless Love, which strives for dramatic sincerity, winds up with underwritten idiocy, and provokes in its viewers an unrestrained, absurdist revelry — the kind of joy you’d otherwise be forced to seek in a third viewing of The Lego Movie. Laughter at the ill-conceived antics and befuddling dialectical patterns of our central teen couple — a Mars native Gabrielle Wilde and her gaping mouthed beau Alex Pettyfer. Elated bemusement at the younger generation’s propensity for chaotic disrobing and didactically organized dance parties. Unprecedented ecstasy at the Mafia movie intimidation tactics of an overprotective dad (Bruce Greenwood) and the brain-dead disregard of a supportive one (Robert Patrick). As a comedy, Endless Love is unstoppable.
I can only hypothesize that it was not Feste’s intention to roll us in the aisles. I have no cold proof that her resolution in paving every nook in her Georgia-set remake with another farcical stone — Wilde’s instantaneous evolution from wordless ingénue to sexually aggressive spirit walker, Patrick’s loving caution-to-the-wind attitude regarding any situation that has to do with a girl, Rhys Wakefield’s “black sheep” character forming an odd amalgamation of Pauly Shore and Charlie St. Cloud — was not one of Wolf of Wall Street-like satire, or reappropriation in the vein of Spring Breakers. Here are two movies that earned scorn from viewers who read them literally, and in turn vehement defense from those who peered through the exaltation of cocaine and firearms into the filmmakers’ ironic intentions.
Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
To the latter community, one to which I subscribe, I ask: if we’re readily willing to dive deeper for Martin Scorsese and Harmony Korine, shouldn’t we grant Feste this benefit? If we’d defend the authenticity of the splendor we recognized in their movies, why am I inclined to write off the very same when present in this year’s Valentine’s Day cannonball? Why do I eagerly laud the merit in Leonardo DiCaprio directing Quaalude-charged tribal chants and relinquishing subhuman treatment upon anyone short a Y-chromosome, while instinctively shafting the invaluable merriment in Pettyfer’s goofily deliberate declaration that he likes to read into the category of happy accident?
But an even more precise question (one I was challenged to entertain by a friend and film critic far wiser than I am), and this time to the former community: does it matter? Did it matter to all those offended by gunplay and intrusive nudity that Korine set out to demonize youth culture and its omnipresent hedonism? Did considering his intentions make the endgame any less a visceral nightmare? If not, does it matter if Feste poured her soul into the machination of a timeless love story, only to produce a riotous cinematic episode that treads genre parody as expertly as anything from the golden age of the Zucker brothers? Does it matter that she didn’t intend for Wilde and Pettyfer’s sex scene to come off as super-hoke, for every mention of cancer to feel like soap opera send-up, or for Robert Patrick’s vindication of his son’s passion for menagerie trespassing to elicit the biggest laugh of a movie yet in 2014?
So long as I consider the power of cinema, I’ll never be sure if it matters. I’ll never be sure of the answers to any of these questions. But no matter where I find myself standing on this issue down the line, I had far too much fun at Endless Love — and entertained far too many questions on the nature of cinema and the way we react to it — to call it a movie that people shouldn’t see.
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Hey everyone, it’s that time again! No, not another CPA column, although thanks for reading. We’re in the midst of the best time of year, the Fall TV season, where hope is kindled anew and we patrons of the idiot box are treated to a dearth of new shows. Some reach phenomenal heights, becoming a part of the fabric of pop culture; others, no matter how critically lauded or devoted a fan base, linger in mediocrity for several seasons. And still more are just downright deplorable and cancelled faster than I can write a column about cancelled shows. “But sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that show back to set the wrong things” – never mind, maybe that’s getting too meta. (I’ve been catching up on Community and Abed might be my new hero.)
Sometimes, shows are cancelled no matter how awesome they are. And then there are those shows that don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word “cancelled.” Thanks to undying fan devotion, these series (see: Family Guy) return from cancellation and endure more years of fun for everyone. Sadly, too many shows aren’t as lucky – they are cancelled way before their time and are never heard from again. These series are axed for poor ratings, network management turnarounds, or several other reasons. But one thing’s for sure, their cultish fan bases are never going to give them up.
Shows Cancelled Without Resolution
When good series die young, it just plain stinks; we’ll never get to know what happens next. Shows end on cliffhangers to build up suspense for the next season, or even the next episode. But when the network lowers the boom, we’re left wanting more simply because as a devoted fan we deserve more – we deserve closure.
Soap (ABC, 1977–1981)
I’m not quite sure how many of you out there have heard of this late-70s gem, but we’re going to begin our rundown with it, because Soap paved the way for or jumpstarted several careers (see: Billy Crystal, Ted Wass, Robert Guillaume, Katherine Helmond, Richard Mulligan, Robert Urich), not to mention blasted down the doors of night time TV comedy and expanded sitcom boundaries. The show focused on the well-to-do Tate family and their ne’er-do-well in-laws, the Campbells. Soap was aptly named, as the entire series parodied the extraordinarily madcap daytime soap opera genre and many of its wilder tropes, such as murder, mystery, cults, demonic possessions, wrongly convicted murders – the list is never ending and Soap always made it all hysterical. Due to the show’s cliffhanger in every episode, the show was cancelled as Jessica (Helmond) was about to be saved from, or executed by, a Communist firing squad.
The 4400 (USA 2004–2007)
As a former comic book nerd, I was a huge fan of J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars. The yarn was about a group of children all conceived while a mysterious light hangs above the town of Pederson, Illinois. The babies are blessed (or cursed) with super powers, are all raised by a kind doctor and taught how to use their abilities. Do any of these elements sound familiar or reminiscent of Heroes? Well, The 4400 did it all and worlds better. The series centered on a massive group of people (and no we do not get to meet all 4400) who were abducted from the future at various points during the 20th Century and all mysteriously returned to Mt. Rainier, Washington. The group had to face many obstacles, like reconnecting with a world they have not seen in some cases for over fifty years. Eventually the series went from a “4400 of the week” format to crafting a deep mythology that became better than anything Heroes would ever do. The show also gave us the character of Jordan Collier (Billy Campbell), a messiah/Magneto-like 4400 who establishes his own society. Unfortunately, the show was a casualty of so-so ratings, budgetary constraints, and the Writers’ Guild strike, and we’ll never get to see the promises of Promise City.
Lights Out (FX, 2011)
I know a few people who bemoan the cancellation of Terriers, but for my money, if ever a series got the shaft after just one season, its FX’s Lights Out. Take Rocky’s retirement at the beginning of Rocky V, add The Fighter, multiply it by The Sopranos and you get Lights Out. After premiering strongly in Jan. 2011, the show told the story of Patrick “Lights” Leary (Holt McCallany), a former world champion who retired after losing his title and after poorly mismanaging his finances, is forced to get back into the ring. With strong performances from McCallany, Pablo Schreiber (Lights’ brother, Johnny), and the incomparable Stacy Keach (the Leary patriarch, Robert) there is no conceivable reason why this show was canned so early. Great boxing action coupled with a mob story, and a family tale of woe involving Boxer’s Dementia season, the finale had a great finale twist. Like many others on this list, we’ll never get to find out what happened to the Champ next.
Shows That Got The Axe Way Too Soon
They might not have been ratings darlings, but these dearly departed shows never left us hanging.
Arrested Development (Fox 2003–2006)
This is quite possibly the most popular cancelled series ever. The story of the dysfunctional Bluth family aired for an all too brief 53 episodes and introduced to us all to a cast of some of the wackiest characters ever. How loved was this series? Rumors of its revival by both fans and stars alike have never tapered off since the show’s cancellation. Luckily, it looks like fans are getting their wish: earlier this month it was reported the show is heading back from the grave, all leading up to what should be a monumental film.
Better Off Ted / Mr. Sunshine (ABC 2009–2010 / 2011)
Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington) is a single father and the most respected and beloved head of Research and Development at Veridian Dynamic. With a comedy, there are all kinds of wacky things for a company like Veridian to be researching and developing, like cryogenics. The affable Crisp was Don Draper with a conscience. His boss, Veronica (Portia de Rossi), was an ice queen who comically knew it would behoove her to be nicer to people (like giving Phil an award for bravery in hopes of not getting sued). Better Off Ted’s subversive and satirical blend of comedy sadly got lost in the shuffle of ABC’s other popular comedies like Cougar Town and the gargantuan genre-crossing Modern Family, and there was simply no room for a series like this. The alphabet network would try it again with Matthew Perry’s Mr. Sunshine, which is essentially the same show, except with a less likeable Ted (Perry’s Ben), a more mean-spirited boss (Allison Janney) and its arena setting with circuses performances, Smurfs on Ice, and sports teams. ABC saw the hyped show dwindle faster than the Titanic – it tanked it after nine episodes.
Mad Love (CBS, 2011)
It seemed like a good idea at the time. The affable Jason Biggs, along with the adorable Sarah Chalke, along with the biting wit of Judy Greer and Tyler Labine, who has become a bit of a TV curse (see: Reaper, Sons of Tuscon). Biggs’ Ben and Chalke’s Kate meet and start dating as the perfect couple. Anyone who watched could see the “mad love” chemistry between oddball Connie (Greer) and Larry (Labine) as the respective best friends who loathe each other. While it was always good for cutsey laughs, the series couldn’t pick up enough steam for a full season order and was cancelled. But considering the show’s How I Met Your Mother style humor, Mad Love had potential, which is why its cancellation was a bit of surprise.
Honorable Mention: Married…With Children
Yes, this show was on for 11 years, but while while the Bundys did entertain audiences all that time and along with The Simpsons helped to put the once fledgling Fox network on the map, Fox decided that the good faith the show built up for many a year wasn’t good enough to let the cast and crew know that there wouldn’t be a twelfth season. Poor ratings and progressively sillier stories would end the series’ run. But with the now fairly well-known story of Ed O’Neill learning of the show’s cancellation from a fan instead of from the network is just a downright deplorable way to do business.
Obviously, there are plenty of shows like The Critic and Deadwood that did not make this list. It doesn’t mean that I’m not aware of them, or of their greatness. But we’ve only got so much time. There’s a bevy of reasons networks take our favorite TV shows from us, and they’re all unfair because the bottom line is that we need great TV to watch, whether it’s That’s My Bush! or Flashforward or Jericho or some other series, a cancelled TV show is like a lost friend we only just met. Well it may not be that melodramatic, but you catch my drift.
So far this season, we’ve lost The Playboy Club, How to be a Gentleman, Free Agents, and Charlie’s Angels luckily none of these will raise the ire of fans. However, The Playboy Club (even if it was actually good) was dead on arrival due to all the negative publicity and How to Be a Gentleman moved to the death-sentence Saturday night slot before CBS flat out nuked it. Here’s hoping that any of the shows that we love this season aren’t unceremoniously cancelled before their time – note to Fox, leave my Fringe alone!