Friday, January 16, 2015

Movie Review - The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Starring Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Matheiu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, and Tony Revolori
Directed by Wes Anderson

Director and screenwriter Wes Anderson's films are always easy to pick out by their colorful visual style, exquisite production design, sardonic, quirky humor, and the presence of Bill Murray, but with the exception of Fantastic Mr. Fox, I always tend to feel that Anderson can't quite craft a great story around his admittedly unique style.  While The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of his better efforts, I still find myself waiting for one of his live action flicks to really grab me and pull me in with its story.

Told in a flashback within a flashback, the film focuses on Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge at the prestigious Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka in 1932.  While Gustave runs the hotel with precision, he's also well known amongst the elderly lady crowd for providing something a little bit extra during their stay.  (That "extra" would be case I was too vague.)  One such lady -- Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis (Tilda Swinton in a ton of make-up) -- has fallen in love with Gustave and while he admittedly reciprocates the feeling to her, he has too many other "duties" in the hotel to fully give himself to her.  However, after she leaves to travel back to her home, Gustave receives word that Madame D has been killed and that he must attend the reading of the will for she has left something to him.  Upon arrival, Gustave learns that Madame D has bequeathed the terribly expensive painting "Boy with Apple" to him much to the chagrin of his relatives.  Not only that, but Madame D was murdered and her sons and daughters are pointing to Gustave as the main culprit.

There are so many great things about The Grand Budapest Hotel that it pains me to not love it more.  Ralph Fiennes is fantastic as Gustave.  The dry humor and wit that exudes from every line reading and every movement from Fiennes is an enviable feat and he really is the unsung hero from the piece.  The rest of the supporting cast is pitch perfect as well with a very nice turn in particular from newcomer Tony Revolori as Gustave's lobby boy/right hand man.  Fiennes is a strong presence in the film and Revolori holds his own, providing his own bit of humor from his reactions to the oddness going on around him.  The cast itself certainly gets the tone of things from Wes Anderson himself who, as a director, has a way of creating humor simply from his direction -- the pan of a camera may be all that's needed in order to elicit a chuckle.  As I watched, I realized that not too many directors have this ability and Anderson understands how to utilize the lens itself in order to create humor.  And the production design -- top notch, melding old school and new school designs with ease, creating a storybook-like world that completely brings us into the fake land of Zubrowka.

But it's that darn story that doesn't quite elevate things.  For about an hour, I was onboard, but the thing peters out towards the end as it shifts from focusing on Gustave to focusing on Gustave's escape plan from those trying to pin him for murder.  I can't say that I want an emotional connection in Anderson's films -- that's not what I'm looking for from his pictures.  But there seems to be some fundamental piece of the puzzle missing in his live action flicks for me that fail to click with my mind on some level as the film progresses.  Perhaps it's just that I tire of the quirkiness after about an hour and I'm left with some pretty basic storytelling in nearly all his films.

Still, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a good flick -- certainly one of Anderson's better films -- with fantastic production values and great acting, but it's just missing that last bit of pizzazz from its screenplay.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

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