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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Tony Revolori, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton

Written By: Wes Anderson (also story), Hugo Guinness (story) Directed By: Wes Anderson

The Short Version

Wes Anderson presents his most approachable – and his best – film yet.

With a cast like this, of course the acting is impeccable.

The biggest star, mind, is the dialogue.

Of all the genres this film might fit into, I’m calling it as “a nostalgic caper.”

If you fall into any kind of art house or coffee house crowd, check into The Grand Budapest Hotel.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEDDAR.

One that’s sharp yet mellow all at once, and tastes of a bygone era.


Pairs Well With...

PINOT GRIGIO.

Worked for me at the theatre, anyway.  I like to think that M. Gustave would approve.

“There’s more.”

“Okay.”

“To the story.”

“I get it; go on.”


Wes Anderson is one of those filmmakers who has, over time, become a genre unto himself.  With that in mind, I’ll start with the obvious statement: if you’re already a dyed-in-the-wool fan of his previous work, you’re going to love this movie. 

But let’s say you’re not.  Let’s say, for example, that you have a thing against characters who should absolutely never be allowed to dress themselves.  Or maybe you looked at the name and said “Wes who?”  What then?

If you’re at all inclined to enjoy an intelligent, character-oriented caper with whip-smart dialogue snapped off at a rapid pace even as the people delivering it long to live in a world with a slow appreciation for the finer things as they used to be or perhaps never were, it’s worth your time to check into The Grand Budapest Hotel.  It is, I think, Anderson’s best film to date, and – though it does reside firmly in the neighborhood of the art house, the coffee house, and the wine bar – easily his most approachable.

Capers are good for that.

The Grand Budapest Hotel exists in four layers of time.  (As if those layers weren’t obvious enough, the film helpfully presents them in the aspect ratios most appropriate to their respective eras.)  The top two add flavor and appear only briefly.  The true frame story plays out in the third layer, which takes place during the 1960s.  A young writer (Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) checks into a once extravagant hotel in the East European nation of Zubrowka that has obviously seen much better days.  While there, he strikes up a conversation with one of the hotel’s few other inhabitants: its mysterious owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham, Star Trek: Insurrection).  Over dinner, Mr. Moustafa tells the tale of how he first came to The Grand Budapest Hotel back in 1932, not as its owner, but as a Lobby Boy (Tony Revolori, The Perfect Game) under the watchful eye of the hotel’s most legendary Concierge, Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes, Skyfall).  The flashbacks to that tale represent the core story of The Grand Budapest Hotel: one of love, Renaissance art, murder, a will, and… well, lots of things.

And lots of things are interesting.

I walked into The Grand Budapest Hotel expecting something good.  I walked out absolutely in love with the movie.  What’s there to love?  Damn near (but not quite) everything.  Here are a few – and only a few – highlights.


The Cast.  If there’s anything that a Wes Anderson flick can always be guaranteed to deliver, it’s not just an outstanding cast, but an outstanding cast that’s ready to stretch its muscles and have fun with the work.  Ralph Fiennes is a wonder to behold as Gustave H, easily switching gears from rapid fire fastidious propriety and perfection to being a shameless (and perhaps gold digging) lothario to engaging the meaner necessities of prison breaks and fisticuffs (can’t be perceived as a “candy ass,” after all).  He never loses stride, never breaks a sweat, and if golden statuary doesn’t adorn his mantle for this, someone just isn’t paying attention.  Meanwhile, the brief performance of Tilda Swinton (check out our interview), who is nearly unrecognizable under the aging makeup of Madame D, is a marvelous exercise in range and versatility that is equally mesmerizing to witness.  Truth be told, one could pick nearly any name from the cast list and make a similar pronouncement, for every last performance in this movie isn’t just good; it’s exceptional.

The Dialogue.  I have always loved Noir, and though that is one of the few genres that The Grand Budapest Hotel can’t really lay claim to, it does incorporate one of my favorite elements from it: sharp, smart, rapid fire dialogue.  Conversations and exchanges in this film are a joy to listen to.  This isn’t the meandering coffee parlor prattle that one finds in so many other art house auditoria; this is the good stuff.  Rich, flavorful, fun, thoughtful, and above all, substantive: made all the more so by the aforementioned actors.  This is a movie I could not only watch but indeed simply listen to over and over again.

Attention to Detail.  When Gustave H walks the corridors of The Grand Budapest Hotel, he notes every detail and demands perfection from it.  This is one of two reasons that it’s be fairly suggested that Our Hero could be an analog for filmmaker Wes Anderson, for Anderson does the same with his movie.  Be it the change in aspect ratios to correspond to different periods, the artisan’s touch of refraining from using full names for anyone but the character of a single primary storyteller (a common convention used in 19th and early 20th Century first person literary narrative; here, the primary storyteller is Zero Moustafa, with the nameless author being but a conduit for him), the fact that one can go to the film’s website and find the complicated recipe for the story’s signature dessert (I was wondering, and now I know), or the simple sway of a picture hook when art is taken down from the wall; nothing about The Grand Budapest Hotel is lazily accomplished or left to chance.  This is a motion picture for which the brush strokes are clearly visible, and wonderfully so.

The Bygone Age, with an Asterisk.  The Grand Budapest Hotel stands well with the rest of the Wes Anderson “genre” in that it is indeed a love letter to at least one bygone age, and perhaps more.  In this film, however, there’s no perceptible smarm to it, no saccharine, and never a notion that slowing down the story is a necessary by product of turning back the clock and setting it to “savor.”  Even before the caper goes into full swing, The Grand Budapest Hotel is brisk of pace, moving whether its subjects are themselves in motion or still.  Never does this story drag or feel slow; indeed, when it end, it leaves one longing for more.  There’s also an admission that the bygone age (or ages) for which The Grand Budapest Hotel expresses its nostalgia may have already been gone before the earliest days of the film’s story… if it (or they) ever existed at all as anything but magnifications of wishes and memories placed atop a different, more ordinary truth.  That is more flavorful stuff than any old Main Street by itself could bring.


I think that’s enough for the highlights now.  After all, I do want you to experience this movie for yourself.

The only thing I didn’t like about The Grand Budapest Hotel?  Call it a pet peeve, literally.  There’s a scene involving the murder of a housepet that’s played up for laughs not just at the moment it happens but also into two parts of a later sequence.  It’s a personal thing with me: kill people in movies all you want (I know it’s not real), but leave the cats and dogs alone.  (Still not real, but not cool.)  Does it ruin the whole movie?  Obviously not, but it does keep the “perfect” label at bay.

Bottom line, the world of The Grand Budapest Hotel may be long gone, and indeed may never have been at all save in the imaginations of storytellers, but it is a fascinating one to visit, not just once, but for many seasons to come.  When the time comes, this will be a movie worth owning, and until then, it’s worth catching on the big screen.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, March, 2014


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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