April 5, 2014

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Wes Anderson movies, such as 2012's Moonrise Kingdom, generally get on my nerves quickly, but I quite enjoyed almost all of this one. 

Granted, this movie about the concierge (Ralph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustave) at a pre-WWII Austrian luxury hotel is almost entirely made out of frosting -- Viennese pastries and other desserts provide much of Anderson's inspiration for his extravagant art direction. There really isn't much else in the movie besides endless riffs on what the Austro-Hungarian Empire would have had the budget to look like if the unfortunate events of 1914-18 had not transpired. But, old-time Austria and Wes Anderson are made for each other. Anderson has the worldview of a talented, refined, wealthy, and spoiled 12-year-old boy, and for whatever reason Habsburgian styles are an excellent fit for him.

Granted, the movie's plot is just an excuse for Anderson to indulge his cinematic sweet tooth for all things visually mitteleuropäisch. As usual, Anderson mostly just squares up the camera head on like he's making 2001. Anderson's constant dead center framing of shots -- And now look what I've dreamed up this time! -- gives the impression of a child who must have been endlessly praised for his creativity. But in The Grand Budapest Hotel his imagination almost lives up to the smugness of his cinematography.

And the constant guest appearances by Anderson's movie star friends, most of whom have discordantly American accents, start to get tiresome. (Is that Alan Arkin or Harvey Keitel as the con boss in the prison Monsieur Gustave gets sentenced to?) 

And, as in most Wes Anderson movies, there are remarkably few jokes. His movies always look like they are going to be extremely funny, but they almost never are, especially now that the careers of Anderson and his old college buddy, the genuinely amusing Owen Wilson, have diverged since their 1996 debut Bottle Rocket.

Fortunately, all the guest appearances really work just as a setup for the final cameo, in which Wilson, with his Texan accent, steps in temporarily at concierge for Monsieur Gustave as Monsieur Chuck. The joke is more or less: "Now you may be thinking that I, Owen Wilson, don't seem that culturally appropriate as the concierge of an Austrian hotel in 1932, and you may have a point; but, still, you gotta admit I would have been a great concierge and you would have given me a huge tip."
     

39 comments:

J said...

What about Mr Wilmos Kovacs's cat? That was funny!

Anonymous said...

This puts me in mind of two recent iSteve threads.

First, Austria's relatively poor score on those PISA tests really shocked me.

And, of course, there was the whole question of the White House pastry chef resigning.

Is that why you rented the movie?

Also, without going to IMDB, who is Wes Anderson?

Okay, I just went to IMDB, and I was kinda vaguely aware of that Life Aquatic movie, with Bill Murray and Kate Blanchett.

That was back when I used to like Kate Blanchett.

Congo Sam said...

Inappropriate American accents are better than distractingly awful fake ones. Look at what Hollywood does with fake Southern accents. You can't even sit through it.

The fingers at the museum were funny. Several funny bits with Goldblum's cat. "Dynamite in the sack".

I took it as part of the surrealité anyhow. Didn't bug me.

All a matter of taste of course. I enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

Steve, the latest theory behind why women are not going into STEM is that STEM courses are taken taken mostly by beta males -- and little Ms so and so does not want to spend her next 4 years with losers...

From Dr Layla McCay:

"Apparently, a key reason that young women aren't choosing careers in STEM is dating. Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College, found concern that their 'geeky' male classmates will present poor social prospects is genuinely one of three key barriers to young women entering STEM... "

OK -- so what are we going to do about this? Maybe if we encouraged alpha males to go into STEM, then the women would follow?

Anonymous said...

The word you're looking for is mitteleuropäisch.

Anonymous said...

RE: Accents,

Well, since most of the characters wouldn't be speaking English in the first place, I didn't find the American accents to be out of place.Once the decision was made not to use subtitles, claims to linguistic authenticity went out the window.

FredR said...

I liked the movie a bunch too, but there was something weird about pairing Gustave, the homosexual/bisexual gigolo, with that pubescent-looking arab boy for the whole movie, as they share train compartments and Gustave writes the kid into his will and suggests they retire to Tunis or wherever together. It seemed like a pederastic relationship was being implied, but the movie was otherwise so clean-minded I started wondering if that was all in my head.

I thought Adrien Brody gave the stand-out performance.

RS said...

I was dazzled at first by 'Rushmore'. There's a frail inspiration in it. It didn't wear too well, after all . . . better I guess than stuff that wore worse.

Pity my pedantry, but it's mitteleuropaeisch! Beloved country.

RS said...

Later I saw some other Andersons, which were worse. Despite my full faith and credit in Sailer, nothing will entice me to the new one.

I haven't even seen the new Malick movies - 'Tree of life' absolutely blew me away (ten or twelve times), but it looked like his 'last legs'. One wonders, will this be the final masterwork of Europe before its rebirth, if any? (Malick is half-Syrian, looks basically Ashkenazi, but was born in Texas.)

I heartily recommend Zerkalo, Days of heaven, Enfants du paradise, and Ashes & diamonds, which I have seen five to fifteen times each. (Some movies don't wear well. The richest usually go over my head mostly the first time or two.)

Let me tell you something, a lot of supposedly refined and vigorous movies are nothing much. What do you expect? The canon was laid down in rather decadent times, largely. But my gosh is fine cinema worth the effort of sorting out - what a supreme art form.

Anonymous said...

Anderson's constant dead center framing of shots ...

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Anderson has the worldview of a talented, refined, wealthy, and spoiled 12-year-old boy

Well said. And he's still more interesting and entertaining than most of the other American film-makers out there.

Seamus said...

Wes Anderson seems to be a very talented filmmaker who is reluctant to take himself seriously. He should try shooting someone else's script. In contrast, his contemporary PT Anderson has the opposite problem. He needs to lighten up, since the humor in his films is filled with menace. They should should film each other's scripts and see what happens.

Anonymous said...

http://washex.am/1h7Ic0t

Even Christian Right giving up on GOP.

Anonymous said...

I'll never understand why Andeeson didn't cast gene Hackman more. Tennanbaums was the one genuinely funny movie in Anderson's filmography.

Dave Pinsen said...

The lavish attention to clever visual details and the paucity of jokes sound reminiscent of Idiocracy.

Jason said...

A good book about that general period - in Budapestian history - is John Lukacs' Budapest 1900. Paul Lendvai's The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of History in Defeat (nice title!)is also good. Also, if you get a chance to go there Mr. Sailer, Budapest really is a beautiful city. One of the most pleasant times in my life was bathing in one of Budapest's warm pools outside, watching old men play chess in the open (like that introductory scene in The Unbearable Lightness of Being).

smead jolley said...

Steve, here's some (old) Hollywood dish for you. My friend was reminiscing about his days as Captain at a venerable continental bistro in San Francisco. At his table were Spielberg, Quincy Jones, and a NYT reporter. The NYT guy said DeNiro and Pacino were refusing roles in Godfather III if John Travolta was going to be in it. Spielberg started to tip my friend, but Jones waved him off and said he'd take care of him. Jones slipped him a bill, and it turned out to be a single.

wiggles said...

ot: mystery baseball team looks to supercomputer moneyball machine.

dave: hal, is baseball still boring?
hal: yes, dave.

David said...

>Maybe if we encouraged alpha males to go into STEM, then the women would follow?<

Fill STEM courses with the basketball team. Kill several birds with one stone--by which I mean reduce racial disparity and gender disparity and demographic disparity and white male hegemony all in one stroke. Isn't this what our self-appointed masters basically want? We wouldn't reach Mars--but we would reach "equality"!

AceWhiplash said...

Wes Anderson is a little bit older than me, so there's that, but i've enjoyed all of his movies --EXCEPT-- the ending of Life Aquatic and the Darjeeling one. He doesn't do tragedy well. I credit Bottle Rocket for reintroducing narcissism as a positive trait.

Anonymous said...

"Sunshine," also with Ralph Fiennes was Austro-Hungary as tragedy. Is this now Austro-Hungary as comedy?

Portlander said...

"There really isn't much else in the movie besides endless riffs on what the Austro-Hungarian Empire would have had the budget to look like if the unfortunate events of 1914-18 had not transpired. But, old-time Austria and Wes Anderson are made for each other."

Interesting way to put it. I always thought Anderson's appeal, though obviously unstated because that would be to notice things, was his thinly-veiled nostalgic reminiscences of what the US was, and hence might be if the unfortunate events of 1964-65, had not transpired.

As such, I'd have guessed you'd appreciate his brand of cheese-cake nostalgia. I don't mind saying that I certainly do. But then again, I was never there. Maybe that makes a difference? It's a generational thing?

Also, his artist's eye for color is what makes the dead-on shots work. He paints a canvas on the screen and we sit in our seats and take-in the beauty. Heck, there's even a "pinterest" page to serve as design guide for decorating one's home.

Dave Pinsen said...

Is Fiennes the only actor to play both a nazi concentration camp commandant and a Jewish victim of the nazis?

Anonymous said...

Factoid: Terrence Malick was a Rhodes Scholar at Magdalen College. He left without a DPhil after a bitter disagreement with his tutor, the philosopher Gilbert Ryle.

Percy Gryce said...

Uh, Steve, if you're going to tell us the final joke, how about a spoiler alert?

Fan said...

It was funny. Was the Fiennes character supposed to be Jewish?

I kinda saw him as a white guy muddling through.

This movie is about the Anschluss never happening. Austria had a pretty fouled up system of Jewish Oligarchy, Clerical Inquisitions and a secret police state. It also had Nazi insurgents running around setting off pipe bombs.

Personally I'm sick to death of the ww2 retreads. Like any of it is relevant in the face of an Islamic Europe?

Dave Pinsen said...

The Fiennes characters in Sunshine (he played 3 generations) were Jewish.

Anonymous said...

I liked it (I HATED Moonrise Kingdom and don't care much for Anderson), but I didn't laugh at any of the jokes. I just didn't find them funny enough I suppose.

The constant 90-degree whip-panning annoyed me. Distracted me from the story to the technical side.

"Sunshine" by Szabo was a good film, if I well remember.

Dan said...

I don't think it was a sexual relationship.

The reminiscence of the Semitic/Arab boy (who looked Indian) was larger than life. It's almost like the memory of a man who barely understood the overall nature of the society that he had entered.

Fiennes was pretty damned funny. Slipping from a foul mouth to charm in a second. Eric Idle could have played it with his nudge nudge wink wink a nods as good a wink to a blind man...

White man muddling through the bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Fan:"It was funny. Was the Fiennes character supposed to be Jewish?

I kinda saw him as a white guy muddling through."

I'm not sure if he was a White Jewish guy or a White Gentile guy.

Anonymous said...

Hans Deak (spelling that wrong) wrote The Dissolution of the Hapsburg Monarchy- excellent book. He was part of the Jewish elite, supportive of the Hapsburgs, like Gombrich et al., who saw the ideal as a multi-ethnic mitteleuropean empire (like what they had). Escaped to the US, ended up in a tony Northeastern liberal arts college, beloved by students. The book lays out the failures of that ideal, but also powerfully evokes the sense of loss many like him felt at the A-H's demise. Anyway, it's worth a look...

Dan said...

Most if not all of the Aristocratic characters or shifty lawyers were actually played by Jewish actors thought. Very obviously Jewish actors. I thought that was a good touch. The mega money men in Austria were invariably Jewish industrialists or bankers anyway. The Zig Zag stuff was excellent as it hinted at SS iconology, yet showed a deeper understanding of Fascism in Eastern Europe and perhaps Austria than our text books let on.

Anonymous said...

Hedy Lamarr's husband was a rather interesting representative of the old Austrian Jewish elite:

"Friedrich Mandl (9 February 1900, Vienna, Austria-Hungary – 8 September 1977, Vienna) was chairman of Hirtenberger Patronen-Fabrik, a leading Austrian armaments firm founded by his father, Alexander Mandl.




A prominent fascist, Mandl was attached to the Austrofascism and Italian varieties than to Nazism. In the 1930s he became close to Prince Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg, the commander of the Austrian fascist private army ("Heimwehr") leader, whom he furnished with weapons and ammunition.

From 1933 to 1937, Mandl was married to Jewish actress Hedwig "Hedy" Kiesler, who would later become known as Hedy Lamarr in Hollywood. Mandl is rumoured to have attempted to bring a halt to her acting career and to purchase all copies of her infamous film Ecstasy (1933), in which she appeared nude.

Following incorporation of Austria into Nazi Germany with the Anschluss of 1938, Mandl's remaining property which had not yet been transferred to Swiss ownership was seized, since he had supported the separatist Austrofascism and his father was Jewish. Despite Mandl's part Jewish heritage, his then-wife Lamarr wrote in her autobiography Ecstasy and Me, that both Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and German dictator Adolf Hitler attended Mandl's parties. Lamarr described Mandl as extremely controlling, and wrote that she escaped only by disguising herself as a maid and fleeing to Paris, where she obtained a divorce. Until 1940, Mandl tried to establish contact with Hermann Göring's office in order to supply Germany with iron.

Mandl later moved to Brazil and then to Argentina, where he became a citizen and remarried. In Argentina he served as an advisor to Juan Perón and attempted a new role as film producer. He also founded a new airplane manufacturing firm, Industria Metalúrgica y Plástica Argentina. Mandl became a leading member of Argentina's social circles. He acquired homes in Mar del Plata a castle in Córdoba and a small hotel in Buenos Aires. He worked closely with French designer Jean-Michel Frank who was then artistic director of Comte S.A.[1] who produced most of Mandl's furnishings. After the war, he returned to Austria. Mandl's last of several marriages was to Monika Brücklmeier, daughter of Eduard Brücklmeier, an accessory executed for his involvement in the July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler."

(WIKIPEDIA)

Anonymous said...

dAVID pINSEN:"The Fiennes characters in Sunshine (he played 3 generations) were Jewish."

The interesting thing about SUNSHINE was how each generation embodied a different political ethos: the grandfather (the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire, united under the figure of the Emperor), father (devoted to the Hungarian nation-state), and the son (communism).

Anonymous said...

Off topic but still within the confines of cinema:

Saw CAPTAIN AMERICA:THE WINTER SOLDIER. It was a mostly entertaining film. The action stuff was well handled (there was a surprising amount of old-fashioned stuntwork: always a welcome sight in our cgi-filled era).The plot was a kind of mixture of '70s conspiracy thriller (THE PARALLAX VIEW, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, etc)and contemporary superhero action. Seeing Redford in the film as the heavy was fun, especially as one could see him as essentially playing the Cliff Robertson part from CONDOR.

Most interesting, however, was how the film used Robert Redford as a kind of Obama proxy (his scheme involves a kind of comic book version of Obama-style targeted assassinations, and we are actually told in the film that Redford's character turned down a Nobel Peace Prize). It seems that Hollywood can't quite bring itself to actually use a racially appropriate stand-in for Obama. The bad guy still has to be a White guy....

Anonymous said...

"Rushmore" is one of my two favorite movies--the other is "Cool Hand Luke."

But I have not been able to enjoy any of his movies since . . . I don't know, what came before "The Tennenbaums?"

I was wanting to see this movie until a friend was talking about it, and he said, "I don't know who the director is, but he's the guy who always has two people running across the screen for no reason."

We youtubed the trailer and, sure enough, there is a scene where, for no reason, two people go running across the scene.

I don't want to see any more Wes Anderson movies.

Anonymous said...

Tom Wolfe?

http://superiorpics.com/movie_pictures/mp/2007_The_Darjeeling_Limited/2007_the_darjeeling_limited_006.jpg

Anonymous said...

This world was destroyed by the Georgian Woodrow Wilson.

He is as evil as Hitler in my books.

Anonymous said...

Wes Anderson films always make me want to watch a second time, but not because I love them. I want to watch a second time because when they're over, I'm scratching my head, saying to myself, "Did I like that? I think I did. Or maybe not. Was that a good movie?"

Part of the problem may be just what Steve describes- I'm constantly anticipating a punchline that never comes. I suspect that if I saw, say, The Life Aquatic a second time, knowing in advance that there aren't many actual jokes, I might not be as confused and therefore might enjoy it more (I did laugh pretty hard at the sneak attack on the pirates, simply because it was so surreal. Tenenbaums had a few good chuckles, too). My fiancee loves Anderson's work- even Moonrise Kingdom- so hopefully when I see Grand Budapest with her sitting next to me, I'll finally start to understand the appeal.