The Grand Budapest Hotel
March 20, 2014
The Grand Budapest
Hotel (** ½)
A funny thing happened immediately following the screening of director Wes Anderson’s latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel. One of my print critic colleagues, who shall remain nameless, was asked by the studio rep what he thought of the film. He immediately replied that he enjoyed the picture but just wasn’t sure what one was supposed to take away from the film. I, of course, couldn’t refrain myself from putting in my two cents and said that I didn’t see anything of substance that one could possibly ‘take away’ as it was a pleasant trifle and nothing more. ‘You may have a point,’ my colleague replied, although it was clear that he enjoyed it more than I, as he guffawed through the entire picture, while I expelled mere chuckles.
Such are the films of director Wes Anderson, an acquired taste to be sure. Either you go with Anderson’s idea of ‘funny’ or you don’t. This will ultimately determine how much you enjoy The Grand Budapest Hotel. As for me, Anderson’s comic sensibility and mine, with rare exception, exist on two separate astral planes. If there is such a thing as being comical but not actually funny, Anderson’s films more than amply fill that bill for me.
Tilda Swinton & Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel
Having said that, there are many things to admire about The Grand Budapest Hotel. As in most of Anderson’s films, the production design takes precedence over actual story. In terms of the actual look of the film, this one is a stunner in its depiction of a 1920s/30s hotel and the European countryside in which it resides. The film also benefits from the impeccable casting of such acting heavyweights as Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Harvey Keitel, to name a few. These two aspects alone may be enough to coax some of you reading this review to investigate and I certainly couldn’t argue with that decision.
The film uses the framing device of a reporter (Jude Law) in the present, attempting to get to the bottom of how the current owner (F. Murray Abraham) of the hotel came to acquire it. The film then flashes back to a story involving the Abraham character’s relationship to M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and the shenanigans—too numerous to mention here—that lead to the hotel’s current circumstances.
It’s when one begins to more closely scrutinize the film’s story, however, that things start to go awry a wee bit. As a good chunk of the film takes place during the rise of the Third Reich, you would think that Anderson might possibly attempt to inject some amount of social commentary amongst the proceedings. Instead he seems to be more content to woo the audience with his offbeat, idiosyncratic stylings rather than attempt to leave us with anything much of substance to chew on during the film’s unspooling. Some might argue that there’s nothing wrong with this but I beg to differ.
Veronica Mars (** ½)
Much ado has been made about the fact that Veronica Mars is one of the first major studio films to be partially financed by fans of the 2004-2007 series via the online site Kickstarter, a paradigm that certainly has leveled the playing field in terms of what types of films may or may not get financing the from here on out. It’s also interesting to note that in spite of Warner Brothers’ reluctance to completely fund the film, Veronica Mars turns out be as good as, if not better, than the majority of the films that I’ve screened this entire calendar year. It’s amazing that studios can pour hundreds of millions of dollars into projects with only a concept—and not much more—that wind up tanking, but are slow to give a film such as Veronica Mars the relatively small amount of funding needed to bring a film of this nature to fruition. If for no other reason than this, I really hope Veronica Mars does well for its investors.
From a filmmaking standpoint, one can safely guarantee that Veronica Mars probably won’t be getting any awards accolades a year from now but it’s enough fun that even those unfamiliar with the television series upon which it’s based will dig it. Speaking of which, if you’ve never seen even one episode of the Veronica Mars series, have no fear. Veronica (Kristen Bell) recaps everything in voice over during an opening credits montage, bringing the audience up to speed in the process.
Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars
In the years since we last saw her, Veronica has gotten through law school and is in the process of mulling over offers as to which law firm with whom she should seek employment. It isn’t long before Veronica learns how true the old adage is that ‘you might be done with the past but the past ain’t done with you’ when her former nemesis-turned-lover, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), turns up as the prime suspect in the murder of his girlfriend. Veronica then returns to her old hometown, Neptune, ostensibly to help Logan select an attorney but finds herself getting more deeply involved in Logan’s dilemma with each passing day. She also reconnects with her P.I. father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), left behind in the years since Veronica left to pursue another life in NYC.
It isn’t until the second hour that Veronica Mars begins to really find its rhythms, which come courtesy of the crackling, pop culture littered dialogue that infuses the film. The plot here is secondary and can be determined well in advance by any viewer schooled in this genre of film but this isn’t what viewers are likely to take away. It’s the character interactions and dialogue that will keep viewers invested in the film. If this is what Kickstarter funded films have to offer viewers it’s certainly a good start.
Veronica Mars & The Grand Budapest Hotel are playing in Charlotte.
Questions or comments? Write Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.