An all-star cast checks into The Grand Budapest Hotel for Wes Anderson’s colourful farce. A tale within a tale the film begins in the present with ageing author (Tom Wilkinson) recalling the time he checked into the dilapidated Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional Alpine region of Zubrowka in the late 1960’s. There his younger self (Jude Law) once met the Grand Budapest’s reclusive owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), a multi-millionaire who visits the hotel every year and insists on staying in the smallest room.
Zero recounts to the writer the story of his mentor Monsieur Gustave H, the impeccably mannered concierge at The Grand Budapest Hotel back in its heyday. Played in a rare comic performance Ralph Fiennes like a swearier version of 50s matinee idol Dirk Bogarde, the flamboyant Monsieur Gustave is loved by the guests at Grand Budapest Hotel, particularly the female residents towards whose every need Gustave pays close attention too.
Gustave is particularly fond of 84-year old Madame D. (a heavily made-up Tilda Swinton) much to the chagrin of her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody), a fascist with a menacing bodyguard (Willem Dafoe) who for some reason disapproves of his mother having intimate relations with a lowly concierge. A stolen painting and a murder throw Gustave’s life into chaos as both he and his trusty young lobby boy Zero (Tony Levoroli) are pursued across the Alps by police led by Henckels (Edward Norton). The Grand Budapest Hotel recalls classic screwball comedies from the early days of the Talkies when the Marx Brothers would make highly literate but delightfully silly movies like Duck Soup though this has an idiosyncratic charm all of its own.
Anderson’s highly stylised mode of filmmaking defies realism, instead relying on brightly coloured set design and a deadpan approach to storytelling. Characters in his films are usually eccentrics, all slightly crazy in their own way and often perplexed by the world around them. Though Anderson’s direction has a lightness of touch and his approach is comic there is an underlying melancholy usually taking the form of nostalgia for a lost time, place, or person. Dialogue is often hilariously absurd though delivered completely straight which makes it even funnier as in this exchange between two runaway children after a dog has been accidentally killed by a Khaki Scout with a bow and arrow in Moonrise Kingdom (2012).
“Was he a good dog?”
“Who’s to say? But he didn’t deserve to die.”
Other recommended films by this unique filmmaker include Rushmore (1998), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), and The Darjeeling Limited (2007).
A throwback to star studded guys on a mission war movies like The Dirty Dozen (67, Aldrich) and Kelly’s Heroes (70 Brian G. Hutton) George Clooney’s Monuments Men tells the true story of a group of veteran soldiers dedicated to hunting down missing works of art during WWII. Based on the book ‘The Monuments Men’ by Robert M. Edsel the film focuses on a disparate collection of middle-aged museum curators and art historians brought together during the last year of the War to recover rare artworks. The Monuments Men would eventually recover five million artefacts from the ruins of wartime Europeincluding pieces by Michelangelo, Da Vinci, & Vermeer. Star/director George Clooney has assembled an impressive cast led by Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, The Artist star Jean Dujardin, & Britain’s own Hugh Bonneville for this entertaining tribute to a group of unsung heroes.
George Clooney – Director Profile
Nobody would have pegged George Clooney as a potential movie star back in the Eighties. Sporting an unflattering mullet hairstyle which obscured his good looks and emphasised instead his slightly goofy smile the young Clooney usually appeared in sitcoms like the Different Strokes spin-off The Facts of Life and the first season of Rosanne though he did make a rare movie appearance in Return of the Killer Tomatoes (88, John De Bello). A decent haircut and playing Dr Doug Ross in ER changed all this making Clooney a household name and leading to opportunities in Hollywood. Since then Clooney has built an impressive CV combining mainstream fare with more eclectic films. Less keen to play the clown despite his easy charm and adept comic timing Clooney is an increasingly statesmanlike figure these days heavily involved in political causes.
In 2002 Clooney directed his first film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind based on the autobiography of American game show host Chuck Barris. Though known for presenting trashy TV shows like The Dating Game Barris made outlandish claims about being a hired killer for the CIA in his biography. Bizarrely nobody has ever managed to disprove his claims and Clooney’s film retains this ambiguity. Clooney’s father worked in television as a news anchor and journalist and the film has an insider’s knowledge and affection for the medium. As does Goodnight and Good Luck (05) set against the backdrop of the McCarthy hearings in 1953 as a journalist defies government policy and risks being jailed as a Communist. Less successful was Leathernecks (08), an attempt to recreate the classic screwball comedies of the 30’s which continued the long tradition of films about American football bombing at the box-office.
Haven’t done much writing lately. Overcome with a general feeling of malaise I can’t seem to kick. Still providing notes for screenings at The Station Restaurant though. Will update here with the few worth posting starting with The Railway Man.
|Courtesy of Lionsgate
The Railway Man is a fine tribute to the bravery of Eric Lomax (1919-2012). Captured by Japanese troops in 1942 Lomax was one of many Allied soldiers forced to work on the notorious ‘Death Railway’ in Thailand. Many years later he returned to confront the man responsible for torturing him. Adapted from Lomax’s memoir ‘The Railway Man’ by Frank Cottrell Boyce, the film stars Colin Firth and Jeremy Irvine as the older and younger Lomax respectively, Nicole Kidman as his wife Patti, Stellan Skarsgard as fellow survivor Finlay, and Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada as the older version of his tormenter Nagase.
Colin Firth – Career Profile
Handsome and blessed with an old world charm, Colin Firth has taken the long road to success. Firth made his debut opposite Rupert Everett in Another Country (84, Marek Kanievska), based on the school days of the defector Guy Burgess. Everett was courted by Hollywood while Firth kept on doing fine work in smaller productions. Touching as a WW1 veteran restoring a church mural in A Month in the Country (87, Pat O’Connor), and winning a BAFTA for Falklandswar TV drama Tumbledown (1988). The lead in Milos Forman’s Valmont (89) would have impressed more had Stephen Frears version of the same source material Dangerous Liasons not been such a huge hit. Firth held his own opposite Peter OToole in the little-seen but haunting Wings of Fame (90, Otakar Votocek) which imagines the afterlife as a Grand Hotel where the famous get the best rooms until their reputations fade away. The Hour of the Pig (93, Leslie Megahey) is another oddity with Firth as a medieval lawyer defending a pig from a murder charge as the plague sweeps through Europe.
Mainstream success at last and heartthrob status with Pride and Prejudice (95) on television. Bigger films now but a supporting player. A cold fish aristocrat in Circle of Friends(95, Pat O’Connor), a cuckold in The English Patient (96, Anthony Minghella), a cuckolded cold fish aristocrat in Shakespeare in Love (98, John Madden). Girly fighting with Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones Diary (01, Sharon Maguire) and its sequel. Reunited with Rupert Everett for The Importance of Being Ernest (02, Oliver Parker). A trip to Richard Curtis land for Love Actually (03). All roles requiring Firth to display a stiff upper lip. Yet as he ages the work gets more interesting. a bullying Rat Pack style entertainer in Where the Truth Lies (05, Atom Egoyan). Achingly good as a gay man mourning his lover in fashion designer Tom Ford’s film A Single Man (09) An Oscar winner for The King’s Speech (10, Tom Hooper). Poker faced as one of the potential traitors in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (11, Tomas Alfredson). Next up after The Railway Man Firth will be providing the voice of Paddington Bear and playing a suave 007 type spy in The Secret Service for director Matthew Vaughn.