A Few Very Late Thoughts On Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel


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It took me a while to come around to appreciating The Grand Budapest Hotel.

When I first saw Wes Anderson’s latest film, way back in March, I have to admit that I was somehow both impressed and disappointed.  The film’s virtues were obvious.  Ralph Fiennes gave a brilliant lead performance as Gustave, the courtly and womanizing concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel.  As played by Fiennes, Gustave came to represent a certain type of old world elegance that, I’m assuming, died out long before I was born.  As is typical of Anderson’s film, The Grand Budapest Hotel was visual delight.  Even when the film’s convoluted storyline occasionally grew self-indulgent, The Grand Budapest Hotel was always interesting and fun to watch.

At the same time, I had some issues with The Grand Budapest Hotel.

One of the major ones — and I will admit right now that this will seem minor to some of you — is that halfway through the film, a cat is killed.  The evil Dimitri Desgoffe von Taxis (Adrien Brody) is attempting to intimidate a nervous lawyer, Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum).  Kovacs’s owns a cat and, at one point, Dimitri’s henchman, Jopling (Willem DaFoe), tosses the cat out of a window.  Kovacs runs to window and sees his dead cat splattered on the sidewalk below…

And this is when the audience in the theater laughed and I got very angry.

To me, there was nothing funny about killing that man’s cat.  But the more I’ve thought about it, the more that I’ve come to realize that my reaction had more to do with the audience than the film.  The film was not saying that the cat’s death was funny.  The film was saying that Dimitri and Jopling were evil and dangerous, as their actions throughout the film would demonstrate.  It was the audience that decided, since Grand Budapest Hotel is full of funny moments and has the off-center style that one has come to expect from Wes Anderson, that meant every scene in the film was meant to be played strictly for laughs.  The fact of the matter is that a typical Wes Anderson film will always attract a certain type of hipster douchebag.  They were the ones who loudly laughed, mostly because they had spent the entire movie laughing loudly in order to make sure that everyone around them understood that they were in on the joke.

But that’s not the fault of the film.  Despite what you may have heard and what the Golden Globes would have you believe, The Grand Budapest Hotel is not a comedy.  For all the deliberately funny and quirky moments, The Grand Budapest Hotel is actually a very serious film.  For all of the slapstick and for all of Ralph Fiennes’s snarky line readings, The Grand Budapest Hotel ultimately ends on a note of deep melancholy.

When I first saw The Grand Budapest Hotel, it seemed like it was almost too quirky for its own good.  And, to be honest, I could still have done without some of Anderson’s more self-indulgent touches.  The sequence at the end, where Gustave, who has been framed for murder, gets help from a series of his fellow hotel concierges started out funny but, as everyone from Bill Murray to Owen Wilson put in an appearance, it started to feel less like the story of Gustave and more like the story of all of Wes Anderson’s famous friends.

However, the more I’ve thought about it (and The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film that I’ve thought about a lot over the past year), the more I’ve realized that the quirkiness is only a problem if you made the mistake of thinking that the film is meant to be taken literally.

The more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that the most important scenes in The Grand Budapest Hotel were to be found at the beginning and the end of the film.

The film opens with a teenage girl sitting in front of the grave of a great author.  She opens a book and starts to read.

As soon as the girl starts to read, we flashback 29 years to 1985 where the author (Tom Wilkinson) sits behind his office desk and starts to talk about the time that he visited the Grand Budapest Hotel.  

We flashback again to 1969, where we see how the author (now played by Jude Law) met the owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel, a man named Zero (played by F. Murray Abraham).  Over dinner, Zero tells the author the story of how he first came to the Grand Budapest and how he eventually came to own the hotel.

And again, we go back in time, this time to 1932.  We see how the young Zero (Tony Revolori) first met and came to be the protegé of Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).  We see how Gustave taught Zero how to be the perfect concierge.  Eventually, Gustave would be framed for murdering a guest, Zero would meet and fall in love with Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), and then Zubrowska (the fictional Eastern European country in which this all takes place) would be taken over by fascists who would eventually claim the hotel as their own.

After the story of Gustave, Zero, and Agatha has been told, we suddenly flash forward to the author talking to Zero and then to the old author telling the story to his grandson and then finally back to the teenage reader sitting in the cemetery.

In other words, the Grand Budapest Hotel may be the story of Zero but we’re experiencing it through the memories of the author as visualized by the reader.  Gustave, Zero, and the entire Grand Budapest Hotel are not just parts of a story.  Instead, they become symbols of an old way of life that, though it may have been lost, still exists in the memories of old travelers like the author and the imaginations of young readers like the girl in the cemetery.

As I said at the start of this, I was vaguely disappointed with The Grand Budapest Hotel when I first saw it but, perhaps more than any other movie that I saw last year, this has been a film that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind.  Having recently rewatched the film on HBO, I can also attest that both The Grand Budapest Hotel and Ralph Fiennes’s performance not only hold up on a second viewing but improve as well.

I still stand by some of my original criticisms of The Grand Budapest Hotel.  I still wish that cat had not been thrown out the window, even though I now understand that Anderson’s main intent was to show the evil of Dimitri and Jopling.  And I still find some of the cameos to be jarring, precisely because they take us out of the world of the film.

But you know what?

Despite those flaws, The Grand Budapest Hotel is still a unique and intriguing film.  When I sat down tonight and made out my list of my top 26 films of 2014, I was not surprised that Grand Budapest Hotel made the list.  But I was a little bit surprised at how high I ended up ranking it.

But then I thought about it and it all made sense.

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Film Review: The Woman In Black: The Angel of Death (dir by Tom Harper)


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Welcome to January!

This is the time of year the studios release the films that they don’t have much faith in, hoping to make a little money while all of the critics and more discriminating audiences are distracted by the Oscar race.  Typically, films are released in January that the studios are specifically hoping will be forgotten by June.

Case in point: the horror sequel The Woman In Black 2: The Angel of Death.

Now, as you all know, I love horror movies.  It’s rare that I can’t find something to enjoy about a horror movie, whether it’s the atmosphere or the suspense or just the chance to do some old-fashioned screamed.  Some of my favorite horror films have been the ones that — much like The Woman In Black 2 — were snarkily dismissed by most mainstream critics.  And, needless to say, I’m a natural born contrarian.  The lower a film’s score on Rotten Tomatoes, the more likely it is that I will find a reason to defend it.

Taking all of that into consideration, it’s hard for me to think of any film, horror or not, that has left me feeling as indifferent as The Woman In Black 2.  I would not say that I was terribly impressed by the film but, at the same time, I didn’t hate it either.  Instead, I felt it was an amazingly average film and I was just incredibly indifferent to the whole thing.

The Woman In Black 2: Angel of Death picks up 30 years after the end of the first Woman In Black.  It’s World War II and German bombs are falling on London.  A group of school children are evacuated to the countryside under the care and watch of two teachers, Eve (Phoebe Fox) and Jean (Helen McCrory).  Naturally enough, they end up taking refuge in the abandoned Eel March House.  The Woman in Black is still haunting the house and she’s determined to claim all of the children as her own.

While Jean refuses to accept that anything paranormal is happening at the house, Eve quickly comes to realize that they are not alone and that the Woman in Black seems to be particularly determined to claim young Edward (Oaklee Pendergast).  Working with Harry (Jeremy Irvine), a pilot who is deathly afraid of water, Eve tries to save the children…

The Woman in Black 2 goes through all the motions.  Floorboards creek.  Doors open and slam shut on their own.  The Woman in Black often appears standing in the background and occasionally jumps into the frame from out of nowhere while screaming.  The film is darkly lit and there’s a lot of atmospheric shots of the fog covered moors.

But, ultimately, the film never really establishes an identity of its own.  Instead, it feels like a collection of outtakes from every other haunted house film that has been released lately.  While I wasn’t a huge fan of the first Woman in Black, I did think that it benefited from having a sympathetic lead character but the cast here seems oddly detached from the story that they’re supposed to be telling.  You never believe in their characters and, as a result, you never really buy into any of the menace surrounding them.

And, the end result, is indifference.

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Here’s The Latest From The Guilds: WGA, CDG, and ASC


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Here’s the latest news from Awards Season!  Today, three more guilds announced their nominees for the best of 2014.

First off, the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) nominated the following five films:

Birdman

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Mr. Turner

Unbroken

And then, the Costume Designers Guild (CDG) nominated the following fifteen films:

Excellence in Contemporary Film
Birdman – Albert Wolsky
Boyhood – Kari Perkins
Gone Girl – Trish Summerville
Interstellar – Mary Zophres
Wild – Melissa Bruning

Excellence in Period Film
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Milena Canonero
The Imitation Game – Sammy Sheldon Differ
Inherent Vice – Mark Bridges
Selma – Ruth E. Carter
The Theory of Everything – Steven Noble

Excellence in Fantasy Film
Guardians of the Galaxy – Alexandra Byrne
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Bob Buck, Lesley Burkes-Harding, Ann Maskrey
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 – Kurt and Bart
Into the Woods – Colleen Atwood
Maleficent – Anna B. Sheppard, Jane Clive

(Is anybody else surprised to learn that Interstellar is apparently a contemporary film?)

And finally, here are the Writer’s Guild (WGA) nominations!  As always, the WGA nominations should be taken with a grain of salt as several Oscar front runners — Birdman, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Mr. Turner, had been ruled ineligible for a WGA nomination.  Over the years, many films that were ineligible for a WGA nomination have gone on to win Oscars for original and adapted screenplay.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Boyhood, Written by Richard Linklater; IFC Films
Foxcatcher, Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman; Sony Pictures Classics
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness; Fox Searchlight
Nightcrawler, Written by Dan Gilroy; Open Road Films
Whiplash, Written by Damien Chazelle; Sony Pictures Classics

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
American Sniper, Written by Jason Hall; Based on the book by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice; Warner Bros.
Gone Girl, Screenplay by Gillian Flynn; Based on her novel; 20th Century Fox
Guardians of the Galaxy, Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman; Based on the Marvel comic by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
The Imitation Game, Written by Graham Moore; Based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges; The Weinstein Company
Wild, Screenplay by Nick Hornby; Based on the book by Cheryl Strayed; Fox Searchlight

DOCUMENTARY SCREENPLAY
Finding Vivian Maier, Written by John Maloof & Charlie Siskel; Sundance Selects
The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, Written by Brian Knappenberger; FilmBuff
Last Days in Vietnam, Written by Mark Bailey & Kevin McAlester; American Experience Films
Red Army, Written by Gabe Polsky; Sony Pictures Classics

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Here’s The Trailer For The Lazarus Effect!


So, here’s yet another trailer.  I say yet another because the trailer for The Lazarus Effect resembles the trailer for just about every other horror film that will probably be released during the first half of 2015.  However, I’m still sharing this trailer because the film appears to have a cast that’s much more interesting than its premise.  Not only do we have Olivia Wilde and mumblecore pioneer Mark Duplass but it also features none other than Community‘s Donald Glover!

Unfortunately, the trailer seems to indicate just what exactly Glover’s fate is going to be in this particular film.  Between Donald Glover in the trailer for The Lazarus Effect, Joel McHale in Deliver Us From Evil, and Alison Brie in Scream 4, what’s the deal with Community actors dying in horror movies?

What I Built in My Spare Time


As I point out in nearly every post, I’m not terribly motivated.  I make posts now and again when the inspiration strikes, and while I sometimes wish I were as prolific a writer as others here, I’ve accepted that it’s just not my thing.  Part of my lack of posts is due to me putting in a ton of overtime at my job, and when I’m at home, I find that I just want to sit in peace and quiet, with no TV on, and so no anime DVDs being watched.  But, just sitting and staring blankly at a computer screen is only fun for the first 7 days or so.  After that, I find I need something to occupy my time.  Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always loved Legos.  I had many kits of them, and of course a lot of the fun back then was mixing and matching them to make my own creations.  These days I still love Legos, but they have such amazing kits that I’m quite satisfied building what they show.  In this instance, I really got back into building with Legos a few years ago when I came across a Lego store in a mall.  Never having seen a Lego store before, I went in and was instantly hooked on their Star Wars collections.  I started with the Super Star Destroyer Executor, and haven’t looked back.  The most recent kit that caught my eye was Slave I, which is Boba Fett’s iconic ship.  It was a nearly 2000 piece set, and the final product is about 18 inches tall.  Instead of me rambling on more than I already have, I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.  For the most part every picture is the completion of one bag of parts, of which there were 13.

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Well worth the $200 and 5 or so days (only doing a couple bags per day) it took me, and it’ll look quite nice with the SSD, R2D2, and the AT-AT that I also own.  My only regret is not getting into this much earlier, since there are several limited edition sets that I’ll never realistically own due to their insanely inflated prices.  Yeah, I’m talking to you Ultimate Collector’s Millennium Falcon and your $5,000 price tag.  Could have had you for a mere $500 when you first came out!

“Wolf Moon” Is Worth Howling About


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Holy shit — whoever thought cartooning would turn out to be one of the world’s most dangerous occupations?

The comics world is obviously in a state of shock and mourning — as is, indeed, much of the world in general — following the brutal murder of 12 employees of a well-regarded French satirical newspaper, four of whom were cartoonists, presumably by a handful of armed, masked Islamic fundamentalist extremists earlier today, and while now probably wouldn’t be the best time to comment on the wider cultural, as well as socio-political, implications of this shocking mass murder, let me just say that a climate of fear and ignorance is usually at the root of violent acts of intimidation like this, and that whatever Muslims you may know personally are more than likely to be just as horrified and appalled at today’s events as you are, if not moreso, because chances are they’ll be treated with an even greater level of undeserved suspicion than they already are. It’s probably no secret to those of you who read my posts even semi-regularly that I’m not a big fan of any religious belief system of any sort, but we didn’t go around treating Catholics like shit after IRA bombings in the UK and we should extend that same courtesy to Muslims here in the US, who had absolutely nothing to do with this insanely brutal crime.

I would also hope that it should go without saying that an act based in fear and ignorance shouldn’t be responded to with fear and ignorance, since all that does is up the ante, so let’s hope the French government doesn’t decide that the best way to deal with this is by, I dunno — invading countries that had nothing to do with it and torturing non-existent “information” out of impoverished goat herders and random street kids.

Really — no government would be that stupid, would they? Errrrrr—- wait a sec —

In any case, the good news is that the owner of the paper in Paris has said that he will not be intimidated by this act and that he’s going to continue publishing. That much we can all agree upon as being both courageous, and the right thing to do.

Still, the tone of discussion at my local comic shop was definitely somber today, and our thoughts go out to all affected by this tragedy. Fortunately, after a couple of depressing hours in front of the tube watching these events unfold, I was able to distract myself with my new pile of purchases today,  some of which were even — gasp! — good, the standout among them being the second issue of writer Cullen Bunn and artist Jeremy Haun’s new six-part horror series from Vertigo, Wolf Moon.

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Bunn, of course, has been a talent well worth keeping an eye on for some time, with The Sixth Gun from Oni Press and his recently-completed The Empty Man from Boom! Studios garnering extremely positive reviews — hell, folks even tell me that his work on Marvel’s ongoing Magneto monthly is pretty good stuff — while Haun, for his part, seems to be a guy whose work everyone likes a lot, but who hasn’t found a steady gig month-in-and-month-out since leaving DC’s Batwoman along with J.H. Williams III due to editorial short-sightedness of the highest order (it’s probably worth noting that the creators Williams and Haun were replaced with on Batwoman have driven the book down so far so fast that it was recently cancelled). Pair these two with veteran colorist Lee Loughride, then, and I think it’s fair to see that we’re looking at an “A-list” assemblage of talent here.

And hey — isn’t it about time that Vertigo got back to doing some honest-to-goodness horror comics, anyway? I mean, for a line that was built on titles like Swamp ThingHellblazer, and Sandman (which was widely considered to be a horror book before the term “dark fantasy” was in common parlance), they sure seem to have done their level best to avoid the genre in recent years.

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Fortunately for us all, that drought appears to be over, and Bunn and Haun are crafting a very tense and atmospheric werewolf-story-with-a-twist here — that twist being that the werewolf spirit passes on from one victim to the next rather than staying put in a single host the whole time. The second issue even expands on this theory as our protagonist/former werewolf host, Dillon Chase — who’s on something of a holy mission to stop the wolf spirit before it kills again —  gets in touch with a scholar on the subject (and former host himself) who posits a connection between lycanthropy and Native American “skin walker” legends.

The breezy scripting style Bunn employs and Haun’s tight, no-frills, character-focused art both have something of an “old school horror comic” feel to them, and you could just as easily imagine this book being drawn by the likes of, say, Tom Sutton, if he were still with us, or Bernie Wrightson, if his health were good enough, and while I don’t mean to say that our guy Jeremy’s work is “as good as” the legendary output of those two masters of the medium, it certainly works for this series despite the lack of intricate linework those just-mentioned names (along with others like Mike Ploog) almost always brought to the table.

In short, it’s suitably creepy and meshes well with an equally-creepy script. The covers so far have been top-notch, as well, with Jae Lee — whose work I usually actively dislike — capturing the look and feel of the act of werewolf transformation quite nicely with the main cover to issue one, Haun giving us something of a “drifter movie”-inspired variant for that issue, and Ryan Kelly doing great justice to both our protagonist and his migrating-werewolf adversary with his much-more-imaginatively-constructed-than-action-pose-images-usually-are cover for the second installment.

Honestly, I’m digging this book so much at this (admittedly early) juncture that my only gripe is the $3.99 cover price. Yeah, at least DC/Vertigo give you a high-gloss cover and a little bit better paper stock on their four dollar books than Marvel’s cheap-ass, melt-all-over-your-hands monthly product, but still — I’d sacrifice the spiffy package for a $2.99 price point on this title in a minute. “It costs too damn much” is a charge you can level at pretty much every comic coming out these days, though, so if that’s the only knock I can come up with against Wolf Moon, odds are that this is one book you should definitely check out.

2014 In Review: Lisa’s Top 10 Non-fiction Books of 2014


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I should admit that the title of this post is misleading.  While it is true that listed below are 10 of my favorite non-fiction books of 2014, I’ve specifically limited my picks to books that dealt with entertainment, pop culture, and the creative process.  With that in mind, here are my 10 favorite non-fiction books of 2014:

(And yes, you should read everyone of them.)

  1. Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life As A Fairy Tale by Sophia Loren
  2. Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris
  3. Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland
  4. Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed by Paul Cronin
  5. My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
  6. The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller
  7. Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann
  8. Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama From the Golden Age of American Cinema by Anne Helen Petersen
  9. As You Wish by Cary Elwes
  10. Heavy Metal Movies by Mike McPadden

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Tomorrow, I conclude my look back at the previous year with the list that everyone has been waiting for: my 26 top films of 2014!

Previous Entries In TSL’s Look Back At 2014

  1. 2014 In Review: Things Dork Geekus Dug In 2014 Off The Top Of His Head
  2. 2014 In Review: The Best Of Lifetime and SyFy
  3. 2014 In Review: Lisa’s Picks For The 16 Worst Films Of 2014
  4. 2014 In Review: 14 Of Lisa’s Favorite Songs Of 2014
  5. 2014 In Review: Necromoonyeti’s Top 10 Metal Albums of 2014
  6. 2014 In Review: 20 Good Things Lisa Saw On TV In 2014
  7. 2014 In Review: Pantsukudasai56’s Pick For The Best Anime of 2014
  8. 2014 in Reivew: Lisa’s 20 Favorite Novels of 2014