It’s time to catch up with some recent releases. Of the following two films, one is an interesting success and the other is a bit of a miss. The film industry is forever turning out both.
There’s no mistaking director Wes Anderson’s style: straight-on shots, right angles, semi-realistic sets, and interesting composition. If you’ve seen films such as Moonrise Kingdom, you’ll instantly recognize the same style in his film Grand Budapest Hotel.
This film is, if anything, more of a triumph. It’s one of those quirky films that might not be for everyone, but everyone ought to at least take a look. The masterstroke is the casting of Ralph Fiennes as the polished, self-important, but ultimately charming concierge at a fine European hotel. Since Shindler’s List, he’s not always been well used. But here he’s perfect. He embodies a world of elegance and civilization, most evident in central and Eastern Europe and already passing away as World War II approached—with all its attendant evils and ugliness. The major theme of the film is a yearning for the lost pre-war world… a world which perhaps never really existed, except maybe as an ideal.
The other theme is that of storytelling. Although there is one main narrative, Grand Budapest Hotel unfolds like a China doll of plotting, a story within a story within a story. Andersons’ surrealistic style, reminiscent of his Fantastic Mr. Fox (a cartoon!), works beautifully here. Along the way are car chases, homicides, hidden messages, and improbable rescues, but all of that matters less than the developing relationship of respect and loyalty between the concierge and his dark-skinned lobby boy (portrayed in the “present” time frame by F. Murray Abraham).
Then there’s the rest of the cast. At least half the fun is identifying the long list of B-list and even A-list stars who appear in supporting roles.
This is one of those films you want to like so badly that it's sad when it disappoints. Take three appealing female leads: Cameron Diaz, Kate Upton, and Leslie Mann (who is funny and engaging, almost saving the film), and then add—as the cad who cheats on all three of them—the guy who plays the heartthrob rogue on Game of Thrones, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Then come up with a clever plot: the three women will conspire to get a funny and ironic revenge on this cheating husband who’s so busy he cheats even on his mistresses. Both of them.
Too bad, then, that the revenge isn’t clever enough and the plot is uninteresting. Once Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton shows up, she’s (sadly) given almost nothing to do other than parade around in a bikini. It remains for Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann… as the hot lawyer and the long-suffering wife, respectively… to carry out the revenge plot. But there’s nothing new here; every move the duo makes is telegraphed a long way in advance. Worse yet, the two-hour length is padded out by having these women vacillate back and forth in their resolve. Make up your mind, gals, do you want to eviscerate this creep or not? Protagonists who can’t make up their minds haven’t worked well since Hamlet—and that only worked because Shakespeare was a genius. To be or not to be, this is not.