Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu 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, Bob Balaban, Fisher Stevens
Written by: Wes Anderson, based on a story by Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness
Directed by: Wes Anderson
MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual content and violence
Running Time: 0
Date: 03/06/2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Checked In

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Writer/director Wes Anderson's filmic worlds and his peculiarly funny, rhythmic dialogue are willfully artificial. This has led detractors to peg him as fake, spoiled, cutesy, precious, and quirky, as if nothing other than realism will do.

But as his eighth film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, attests, he is undoubtedly talented. The new movie is so good, has just the right combination of elements in all the right places, that perhaps even the detractors will be convinced.

The movie tells the story, through the clever use of flashbacks within flashbacks, of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) a famous, adored and respected concierge working at the title hotel after the First World War.

The thrust of the plot begins when one of his elderly guests, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) -- for whom he has performed certain in-room favors -- dies and leaves him the priceless painting known as "Boy with Apple."

Not only does this raise the vengeful ire of her greedy descendants, but also Gustave winds up accused of her murder.

The movie's centerpiece is the touching, funny friendship between Gustave and his latest lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori).

With unflagging youthful dignity, Zero does everything from fetching the morning papers to breaking Gustave out of prison.

Additionally, Zero falls in love with a beautiful pastry maker (Saoirse Ronan), whose wares come in handy several times over.

As with his earlier films, Anderson and his crew have built an impeccable, elaborate world, opulent and breathtaking, yet somewhat silly.

Everything is framed in large rectangular blocks -- with different aspect ratios for different time periods -- and even the camera seems only to move at perfect 90-degree angles.

Usually when filmmakers fixate on design, they do so at the expense of character, but Anderson clearly loves his large cast of actors -- most of whom he has worked with before -- and he loves their characters and the things they say.

Fiennes' warm, buttoned-up performance and his chemistry with newcomer Revolori provide part of the movie's heart, though many other interactions are quite touching as well.

Certainly, none of these characters is particularly deep, but they sometimes reveal small, beautiful things. They're interesting and amusing like lovable cartoons.

Indeed, Anderson's greatest influence could be the Looney Tunes shorts of the 1950s, with their zany humor playing out in front of rich backdrops. Though the name "Madame D." also suggests a nod to the elegant filmmaker Max Ophuls.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is completely controlled, yet anything is possible. In several scenes, Anderson cheerfully employs miniature models -- and in one case, miniature figures -- rather than computer effects.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is all these things at once, and more, and it could be Anderson's finest work to date.

The movie received nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. It won four Oscars, for Best Costume Design, Best Score, Best Makeup/Hairstyling, and Best Production Design.

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