My Favorite Scene #6: “The Last of the Mohicans” (Promentory)

Video

Here it is, this, my favorite film of all time, and this, the last almost ten minutes, where the editing, the phenomenal performances (has any actor ever said more with a head tilt and a hand gesture?) and the fantastic musical score, the romance, the brilliant cinematography, two of the main characters die in the first 5 minutes of this sequence, the vistas, the interplay between the dark and the light, the good and the bad, the freedom to make your own decisions when faced with your own death, it’s all here, all we’ve built towards the entire movie, all we’ve come to understand of these characters we love, it’s all here, in the final ten minutes, all of it-one of the best-staged, most well-shot, best played end fight scenes between the main baddie and one of the good guys, it’s all that’s good about what American film can be, and if this were a short film, it would stand alone as a fantastic bit of historical adventure, and in a movie with so many great set-pieces, there’s nothing quite better than Daniel-Day Lewis holding two rifles as he runs and kills two men at once with the notoriously inaccurate flintlock. The beats, the music, the drama-I don’t know if it’s art-but I love it. This is the one movie I would take with me on a deserted island, and it’s the one movie I will always look to to remind me how much I can love movies. There hasn’t been a more bittersweet or more engaging or more rousing ending to a movie than this one. It is and will always remain my favorite film of all time, and this scene, and this ending, will stand the test of time.

Opening in the U.S., April 18, 2014

Standard

I’m writing this from Gettysburg, visiting family. There’s nothing new this week I want to see, so there’s no problem there.

The big new opening this weekend is Transcendence (44), D.P. Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, starring Johnny Depp as a man whose brain is uploaded into a computer. Ironically, this was the plot of The Simpsons just last Sunday, and I’m sure that The Simpsons was better. Most critics are calling the film pretty dumb. It’s interesting that Johnny Depp only has hits when he’s in some bizarre costume. Peter Hartlaub: “Transcendence looks and sounds like a Christopher Nolan film that got attacked by malware.”

Also in wide release is A Haunted House 2 (19), which was not screened for critics, but some must have bought their own tickets. Jenni Miller: “In the running for worst film of the year… and it’s only April.”

For those who like nature docs, there’s Bears (68), which is pretty self-explanatory. If I had kids I’d take them, rather to some dumb second-rate animated film. Michael Rechtstaffen: :Disneynature’s Bears combines sweeping vistas and remarkably intimate wildlife photography to typically stirring effect.”

There are 24 limited release films opening this week. I guess the most prominent is Fading Gigolo (56), written and directed by John Turturro, who plays a gigolo, pimped by none other than Woody Allen. Kyle Smith: “With Fading Gigolo, writer-director-star John Turturro does a passable imitation of a mediocre Woody Allen sex comedy, and guess who tags along for this would-be romp?”

Also this week: The Final Member (67), about an Icelandic museum that preserves genitalia; Proxy (60), a thriller; Soft in the Head (64), a film directed by Nathan Silver (not the numbers guy, apparently); and Manakamana (87), a documentary about pilgrims in Nepal.

Review: Draft Day

Standard

Let’s give this to Kevin Costner–he’s king of the sports movies. From American Flyer, one of his first starring roles, to Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, and Tin Cup, he’s personified the American attitude about sports. And he has, now in his late 50s, continued that trend with Draft Day, a movie about the esoteric world of the professional football amateur draft.

I saw this with a couple of friends, and we all agreed that we liked it better than we thought we would. The script is funny and smart, Costner is at his best, and there are some clever twists. But we also talked about the football draft, which now generates almost as much press as the actual season does. One friend said she can’t watch the draft, but I have watched it, and against my better judgement. It tends to suck you in, and you get involved with the stories of the players, the ones who sit there in the green room, surrounded by their families, waiting to get picked.

There’s a lot of that drama in Draft Day. To be sure, the claims that this film could have been called “Men on Phones” is true. In many ways it’s like Moneyball, although without the romantic allusions. Football is not a romantic sport. Baseball is a business, yes, but it has literary flights of fancy. There is no romance in football. It is strictly a business.

Costner stars as Sonny Weaver, in his second season as general manager of the hapless Cleveland Browns (the script originally had the team as the Buffalo Bills, who have been equally hapless as of late, but Cleveland has a much richer football history). He’s had an interesting week. His father, longtime coach of the Browns, passed away, but not before being fired by his own son. His girlfriend, also a co-worker (Jennifer Garner) has told him she is pregnant. And it’s draft day, and he’s just a made a trade with Seattle for the number one pick.

Everyone thinks it will the Heisman Trophy winner, a white quarterback. But Costner likes a linebacker from Ohio State (well played by Chadwick Boseman). The brash coach, Denis Leary, likes a running back. Over the course of the day, Costner will deal with all those people, his image-obsessed owner (Frank Langella), his mother (Ellen Burstyn) and other teams, and try to do the best for the team.

From what I know about the draft, the action here seemed authentic, and those who treasure the art of negotiation will have a blast. But beyond that, I found the dialogue witty and laughed out loud several times. That this is a sports movie that doesn’t have any sports action in it may seem blasphemous, I can appreciate that, but this film really isn’t about football, it’s about horse-trading.

The director, Ivan Reitman, tries to spice things up by using various camera tricks during the many phone conversations, and frankly they call attention to themselves. But aside from that, the film is easygoing and well-paced.

It probably helps to know and love (or at least like) American football to fully appreciate Draft Day, but I don’t think it’s essential.

My grade for Draft Day: B.

Opening in the U.S., April 11, 2014

Standard

The film I’m most looking forward to this week is Only Lovers Left Alive (78), a vampire film, but by Jim Jarmusch. I’ve kind of lost track of Jarmusch’s work, but back in the ’90s I saw all of his films. Lou Lumenick: “Legendary hipster filmmaker Jim Jarmusch’s wryly funny exercise in genre bending hits so many grace notes it ends up being his most satisfying film in years.”

The multiplexes will be saturated with Draft Day (52), which was the 2012 top entry in the Blacklist, the annual survey of unproduced screenplays. The Blacklist has mentioned many fine films, including Oscar-winners, but what of the top of the list? Any good films there? No, most are still unproduced. The only one that may be any good is Recount, which ended up being a well-received HBO film which I haven’t seen. Anyway, Draft Day is about American football, and though it may seem out of place in April, it isn’t, since football is now a year-round American obsession, and now everyone is consumed with the player draft. Perfect timing in a sports movie, for once. Matt Singer: “The biggest problem with Draft Day is that even as it shows Sonny sticking to his guns, its absurd, saccharine third act suggests Reitman didn’t stick to his, and allowed his latest celebration of free-spirited mavericks to get co-opted by the very kind of system they were created to criticize.”

Also in multiplexes this week is the horror film, Oculus (64), about a haunted mirror, getting suprisingly strong reviews. Adam Nayman: “How do you get revenge on an inanimate object? That’s the quandary facing the characters in Oculus, a deeply silly and mildly effective horror movie.”

Nicolas Cage, who has become an industry joke due to his bankruptcy and laughably bad film roles, tries a resurrection with Joe (72), as a guy who tries to help out an abused kid. Chris Nashawaty: “Both Cage and Sheridan (who shined opposite Matthew McConaughey in Mud) give true and at times tender performances. It’s a shame the film lacks the same subtlety and force.”

Also this week: Rio 2 (50), a sequel to the popular animated film; The Railway Man (56), a David Lean-type war film starring Colin Firth; and Cuban Fury (51), a film set in the world of salsa dancing, starring Rashida Jones.

Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Standard

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the latest in the seemingly never-ending Marvel Universe series, is more of a political thriller than a superhero movie, but it is a blast nonetheless. With a plot “ripped from the headlines,” it takes a dim view of government surveillance, and has a Hollywood legend playing his first villain. It has great action–including superb car chases and terrific fight choreography–and typical comic book quips.

The film has Cap (Chris Evans) still adjusting to life after being frozen for sixty plus years (he’s made a list of things he needs to check out, ranging from Star Wars to Nirvana). We start out with Cap and Black Widow (a glamorous and sly Scarlett Johansson) taking on pirates on a freighter. Johansson steals a thumb drive, and eventually Cap learns from the director of SHIELD (Samuel L. Jackson) that an Operation Insight is ready to launch. This operation will send up three advanced heli-carriers that will spy on people, including Americans, and eradicate them before they have a chance to do anything bad.

Cap, being a good civil libertarian, immediately objects. The project is the baby of Robert Redford, as the Secretary of some sort of international peace project. Am I really spoiling anything to reveal that Redford has darker motives?

Anyway, Captain America and The Black Widow have to go underground after a shocking murder (but, as a Marvel writer once told me, remember that with Marvel, no one stays dead except Uncle Ben) and the two, along with a new ally, Anthony Mackie, team up to stop Redford and his associated baddies.

The biggest baddie is the title character, a relentless killer with a metal arm. To add a further wrinkle, once his mask comes loose Cap realizes they’ve met before.

So that’s the plot, which is involved but easy to follow, and takes a direct slap at the NSA, and upright liberals will nod in righteous agreement. There is also an affection for vets, as Mackie plays one back from Iraq who is assisting other vets. He ends up being Falcon, who was Cap’s sidekick in the comic books in the ’70s, but here has a different reason for being called that (there is no actual bird, as there was in the comics).

I had a lot of fun with this. The film doesn’t drag, and even when it has cliches, such as when a villain, who has been uploaded into an old computer, reveals the whole conspiracy, I kind of grinned at the absurdity of it. The chemistry between Evans and Johansson worked, and Jackson, who’s Nick Fury usually steps into these films for five minutes for exposition and then leaves, is given a lot to do, including a whiz-bang sequence in which he comes under fire in a heavily-armored SUV. The directors are Anthony and Joe Russo, and they slow an aplomb for action films.

Note: the requisite teaser after the credits introduces two new characters who will appear in the next Avengers film. In the comics, they are the children of Magneto, who is now a character with a different studio, so I don’t know how this parentage will be handled. Also, make sure you take notice of an epitaph on a tombstone near the end of the film. It has the best inside joke of the movie.

My grade for Captain America: The Winter Soldier: B+.

Opening in U.S., April 4, 2014

Standard

The summer blockbuster season is starting earlier and earlier–will there be the day that it goes year round?

Anyway, it kicks off with Captain America: Winter Soldier (69), the second film and the third appearance for the patriotic superhero. I liked the first one enough to brave the crowds for this one. Scott Tobias: “Arriving in the middle of Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Winter Soldier is among the best of the nine films released so far—roughly on par with the first Iron Man and The Avengers—but if the film has one major flaw, it’s the obligation to serve a larger franchise that keeps taking on weight.”

Cap has the multiplexes to himself this weekend. In art house fare, there’s Alan Partridge (68), Steve Coogan’s British TV character, an obnoxious talk-show host. I love Coogan, but I haven’t seen anything but clips of this character, so I’m not sure he deserves an entire movie. Stephen Dalton: “Though not the finest screen outing for Coogan’s best-known alter ego, this is a worthy addition to the ever-growing Partridge archive, with enough weapons-grade comic zing in the first half to excuse the less sure-footed second.”

Under the Skin (74) was getting pre-release buzz for a naked Scarlett Johansson, which guarantees at least a rental for me. But I don’t feel compelled to search it out in a theater. It’s the story of an alien shapeshifter with a certain hunger for mankind. Eric Kohn: “A totally wacky head-trip with midnight movie sensibilities and a daring avant garde spirit, Glazer’s movie is ultimately too aimlessly weird to make its trippy narrative fully satisfying, but owes much to Johansson’s intense commitment to a strangely erotic and unnerving performance unlike anything she has done before.”

The second volume of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (60), which I’ll get around to seeing some day if just to satisfy my curiosity. Owen Glieberman: “A notch more watchable than Volume I, if only because Joe, the self-destructive heroine, is now played front and center by the magnetically dyspeptic Charlotte Gainsbourg instead of the vacuous model Stacy Martin.”

Also opening this week are a film generically called Alien Abduction (48); Afflicted (56), a horror film; Dom Hemingway (52), a British crime drama starring Jude Law; Island of Lemurs: Madagascar (65), a doc about the playful animals, who this time presumably don’t sing; and the worst title and worst rating this week, 10 Rules for Sleeping Around, which scores a 1 on Metacritic.

Review: Noah

Standard

The Biblical story of Noah seems a perfect subject for a film director–it’s about a man who is obsessed with a vision. Director Darren Aronofsky has been interested in Noah since he was a schoolboy, and his film, Noah, is concerned with a man so blinded by his mission that things gets tense among the family. In a way, it reminds me of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, which is from a man crazy enough to make a film about a man who’s crazy.

I just now read the text of Noah from the Bible. It took me about five minutes. Clearly, Aronofsky and co-screenwriter Ari Handel had some padding to do or it would be a short subject. They looked in other texts (all the world’s major religions have flood myths) and did some invention on their own. We get a lot of the Sunday school stuff we all know: a man receives a message from God (that word is never spoken in the film, it is always “the creator”) that the world will be destroyed by flood, and he is to build an ark where he, his family, and two of every animal on Earth will be housed in in safety until the waters recede.

So we get more. Noah, played with ferocity by Russell Crowe, is a vegan who lives apart from other men. He chooses not to be part of the society that is ruled by Tubal-Cain, who calls himself king (played by Ray Winstone). Winstone, irked by Noah’s craziness, believes he might be right, so he wants the ark. Noah is aided by giants, actually angels who are encrusted with rock, looking like stone-age transformers, so when Winstone and the wicked people about to be destroyed start feeling the rain, they want on the ark. The resulting battle between these stone giants, The Watchers, and the mob is pretty impressive.

The rest of the film deals with Noah starting to go all Abraham and Isaac. Here’s where Aronofsky makes a bold choice that has gotten him into trouble in some eyes. Noah interprets that the creator has decided that the world is better off without mankind at all (this is a viewpoint I think everyone rational can agree with), which makes his children unhappy, especially his son Shem’s wife Ila (a character created for the film) who his pregnant.

Noah is a film that is big and grand and just a little bit crazy, like it’s main character. The film is shot in muddy colors–I don’t remember much in the way of bright colors–and dour and grim. There are a few twinkly touches, provided mostly by Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather.

It is not a reverent or particularly irreverent film–only those who believe in the literal interpretation of Genesis could object. I find it interesting those articles that document what Noah gets wrong–that’s like saying a movie about King Arthur, Hercules, or Santa Claus gets things wrong. We can’t believe this story–from the opening title card, we see that Adam and Eve had three sons. So who were the mothers of their children?

The film does get the brain working, wondering about a creator who decides to destroy his own creation, in essence, a mulligan, and then decides he’s never going to do it again. One can also ponder the difference between good and evil, and why someone like Noah was chosen, and what it means to be innocent.

The performances are solid. Crowe pulls out all the stops, for better or worse. Jennifer Connelly is his wife (with amazing looking teeth for a time before dentistry) while Emma Watson, excellently leaving behind her days as Hermione Granger, plays Ila. She has a scene near the end that I won’t spoil that is absolutely gut-wrenching. Noah’s older sons are played by two young men with matinee idol looks. In the Bible, it is said that Noah’s sons were on the ark with their wives, but Aronofsky turns things into a telenova by denying Ham and Japheth mates, which means we’re all descended from an incestuous relationship, which may account for why we’re all so screwed up.

My grade for Noah: B-

 

Opening in New Haven – Weekend of March 29, 2014

Standard

Noah: Darren Aronofsky’s long-awaited Noah’s Ark picture finally sees release after endless months of controversy. I’m curious whether the right wing media’s attacks would have been quite as venomous if Noah were being released by FOX rather than Paramount.

Anyway, can’t imagine I’d ever watch this.  Beyond being wary of anything featuring modern-day Russell Crowe as the lead: I’m not religious.  I have an aversion to big, CGI-stuffed historical epics and I’ve just never warmed up to Aronofsky’s work in general.

While the film should open in the mid 30′s –  a “C” CinemaScore indicates a horrific drop awaits in week two.  Then it’s off to the land of forgotten blockbusters, forever.

Personal interest factor: 2

Sabotage: David Ayer (End of Watch, Training Day) directs Arnold Schwarzenegger as a hard-boiled DEA agent in this revenge thriller. Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Terrence Howard and Mireille Enos co-star.

I must commend Ayer for finding the perfect vehicle to set his career back following Watch‘s unexpected success. With an estimated 5M opening weekend, Sabotage will be the lowest opener for Arnold since 1986′s Raw Deal.  And that’s unadjusted for inflation!

While the former Governor has a lifeline with a fifth Terminator film (in which he reportedly moves to more of a supporting role) it’s 100% over for him as a theatrical lead. Direct-to-video Avi Lerner cheapies and the occasional cameo in an Expendables sequel are about the best he can hope for now. I hope he enjoyed working with 50 Cent in Escape Plan, because there’s a lot more of that in his future.

Personal interest factor: 2

Enemy: Jake Gyllenhaal stars as history professor who meets his own double.  From director Denis Villeneuve, who worked with Gyllenhaal in the decent, but flawed Prisoners in 2013.  71% on RT, looks solid.  Should make an interesting double feature with Richard Ayoade’s The Double later in the year.

Personal interest factor:  5

Bad Words: Jason Bateman stars and makes his feature directorial debut with this dark comedy about a 40-year-old man who crashes the children’s spelling bee circuit. The red band trailer was pretty great. although I sense we’ve seen this all before.

Personal interest factor:  6

The Face of Love: Annette Benning, Robin Williams, Ed Harris and Amy Brenneman co-star in this drama about a woman (Benning) who falls in love with a guy (Harris) that reminds her of her late husband (also Harris, I guess?).

Despite the cast, this appears to be a recently-shot film and not something produced in 1995.  From the director of The Thumbsucker or The Chumscrubber…one of those.

Personal interest factor:  0

Cesar Chavez: Biography of labor organizer Cesar Chavez. Seems like it has good intentions and I always like Michael Pena, but this just looks awful.

Also: features “Bad Movie Sign” Hall of Famer Rosario Dawson.

Personal interest factor: 0

The Lunchbox (Dabba): Crazy well-reviewed (95% on RT) romantic comedy from India.

Personal interest factor:  1

In terms of classic fare: The Criterion is showing The Room (2003) Friday and Saturday evening and Grease (1978) Saturday and Sunday morning.

Yale’s Environmental Film Festival (EFFY 2014) kicks off Tuesday and runs through April 6th.  The schedule can be found here.

Review: Divergent

Standard

I admit the only reason I went to see Divergent was the presence of Shailene Woodley, one of the better young actresses working today, who has the added bonus of being easy on the eyes. An adaptation of an example of one of the better known of the hot trend in YA fiction–the post-apocalyptic dystopian bloodsport story with a strong female protagonist–Divergent makes for a very long, sluggish film that has some pretty good action sequences but some cockeyed sociology.

The film is set in Chicago, many years after a devastating war. The residents don’t even know if they’re the only people left on Earth, so it’s a pretty small population. To keep peace, they are grouped into five factions–Erudite (the smart), Amity (the hippie farmers), Dauntless (the army/police), Abnegation (the selfless caregivers) and Candor (the legal system). You choose your faction as a teenager, after undergoing a test (sort of like the sorting hat in Harry Potter), but despite the results of the test, you are free to choose your faction, and it doesn’t have to be the one you grew up in (a parlor game for those who see the movie is to speculate on which one you would choose–I would go for Erudite, because it seemed like the one with the less manual labor). Those who have attributes of more than one faction, called divergents, are threats to the state, because they don’t conform, and are hunted down and killed.

Even for science fiction, this is pretty hare-brained, because a society like this wouldn’t last for five minutes, and because you can choose to leave your faction of origin there would be a lot of cross-breeding, thus divergents would be the norm, rather than the exception. So this whole set-up gets the biology and politics wrong, but I guess we just have to go with it, because it’s a long movie.

Our heroine is Tris (Woodley), who grows up in Abnegation, where they are so self-denying that they only can spend a few moments in front of a mirror before it’s locked up. Her parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn) hope she stays with them, but after her test reveals she is divergent (the tester, Maggie Q, tells her this but keeps mum) Tris picks Dauntless. The next huge section of the movie shows her in boot camp, which mostly consists of her getting pummeled.

Her severe trainer (Theo James) comes to admire her pluckiness (but of course), even though she is kind of a disaster when it comes to fighting. She helps her team win in a war games competition because she’s the only one bright enough to climb to the top of a Ferris wheel (apparently seizing the high ground wasn’t taught in training). When she undergoes mental tests, it’s apparent to James that she’s divergent, but guess what! So is he!

The climax of the film has Woodley and James escaping the clutches of Kate Winslet, who is the head muckety-muck of Erudite, who want to use Dauntless as their army to seize power from Abnegation. There are more books, and a good box office will mean a sequel.

If they do make a second picture, I encourage director Neil Burger (if he’s the next director) to speed things up a bit. Two hours and twenty minutes is way too long for this sort of thing. There were also too many hallucination sequences (the future society is big on serums that make you do this). Woodley, who has to endure comparisons to Jennifer Lawrence of The Hunger Games, makes a completely different type of heroine–she’s much more average than the self-sufficient Katniss Everdeen, but more than holds her own in the role, projecting a sort of “how did I get myself into this” vibe that may just be the actress and not the role.

The success, or lack thereof, of Divergent will determine if more of these pictures are made. There are lots more book series out there, including a trilogy that begins with Pure, which I read last year and would make a pretty good movie. Probably a better one than Divergent.

My grade for Divergent: C-.

Opening in New Haven – Weekend of March 21, 2014

Standard

Divergent: Neil Burger’s (Limitless, The Illusionist) adaptation of the popular young adult sci-fi series. Reviews are so-so (42% on RT, 49% on MC) but a massive opening weekend in the 50-70M range should assure a very profitable new series for Summit/Lionsgate.  Are they the only studio that understands how to produce and market this genre?

Personal interest factor: 5

Muppets Most Wanted: Sequel to 2011′s relaunch of the property.  Director James Bobin returns along with franchise newcomers Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Tina Fey. There’s a slightly higher chance of me eventually checking this one out thanks to the absence of Jason Segel, but even my kids have zero interest.  I’m curious to see how it performs.

Personal interest factor: 1

On My Way (Elle S’En Va): Catherine Deneuve stars as a former beauty queen who embarks on an unexpected road trip.  Seems like a happier, French version of Broken Flowers.

Personal interest factor:  4

In terms of classic fare: The Criterion is showing Christine (1983) Friday and Saturday evening and The Godfather Part II (1974) Saturday and Sunday morning.

Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Standard

Let me start by saying that The Grand Budapest Hotel, even though it is only March, is surely going to be my favorite film of the year. Now that I think about it, it’s probably my favorite film of the decade, so far. In Wes Anderson’s career it is his triumph, so far, a film that hits all the desired points with alacrity–laughter, poignancy, death, fear.

It should also be said that it is thoroughly a Wes Anderson film. For those who find him unbearably precious, you may be sent from the theater screaming. We get all his tropes–the fussy attention to detail, the use of a static camera as figures run across it, the use of title cards, the bold use of Crayola colors (a shot of a people in a crowded elevator painted fire-engine red may be the quintessential Anderson shot).

But this film has much more gravitas than other of his films. Many of his films confront death–The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited–but this is more. The Grand Budapest could be said to be about the death of a way of life.

The titular hotel is set high in the mountains of Zubrowka, a (fictional) Eastern European nation. Many reviews have said that the story is a flashback within a flashback within a flashback, but there is even one more layer, so it is like a Russian nesting doll. It begins with a young girl reading a book called The Grand Budapest Hotel next to the grave of its author (which is decorated with hotel keys). We then see that author (Tom Wilkinson) recording his thoughts on the book. He takes us back to the 1960s, when his younger self (Jude Law), visiting the hotel, which now looks like a concrete bunker, and befriending the owner (F. Murray Abraham). Over dinner, Abraham tells Law the story of how he came to own the hotel. As Abraham says, it all starts with M. Gustave.

We then go back to 1932, when the hotel looks like a wedding cake. The concierge is Gustave H., played with an amazing flourish by Ralph Fiennes. He is training a new lobby boy, Zero, (Tony Revolori), who is the younger version of Abraham. There is a rather intricate plot involving a murdered dowager, a painting, and a murderous bodyguard, but that is really all beside the point. What’s important is the character of Gustave, the loyalty between he and Zero, and the drumbeats of war.

Anderson has a lot of fun creating a fictional Tyrolean Alps, with funny German names, but the setting and time can’t be avoided–this is in pre-holocaust Europe. The signs are there–trains stopped at random, a demand to show papers, uniforms with lightning bolts on them. I laughed many times at this film, but I also felt uneasy. The clash between the unflappable dignity of Gustave and the inhumane horrors that are to come raise the hair on the back of the neck.

There are a host of other characters, many famous faces. Anderson uses many of his stock company, like Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, and Adrien Brody in small parts. In larger roles are Jeff Goldblum, Saorsie Ronan (as a bakery girl with a birthmark shaped like Mexico on her face–only Anderson could get away with something like that), Harvey Keitel, and Willem Dafoe as the merciless bodyguard (he throws a cat out a window). Murray is part of “The Society of Crossed Keys,” a wonderful concept of Anderson’s, a fellowship of concierges who use fancy phones to ring each other when another is in trouble.

But the movie is held blissfully aloft by Fiennes. What a heartbreaking, beautiful performance. I just so happened to see him a few days before as a vicious serial killer in Red Dragon, so what a display of range in less than a week. His Gustave is one of the great character of recent film, a gallant and civilized man who has a weakness for perfume and a convivial sense of honor. He is imprisoned for the murder of the dowager, whom he has slept him: “I sleep with all my friends.” When Zero goes to visit him, he sees that his face has been damaged by fisticuffs. Zeo asks him what happened. “What happened, my dear Zero, is I beat the living shit out of a
sniveling little runt called Pinky Bandinski. You should take a long
look at his ugly mug this morning. He’s actually become a dear friend.”

That’s the essence of Gustave–he’s at home with the crowned heads of Europe or prisoners. He is sort of like Zero Mostel in The Producers–he gives old ladies their last thrill–but he doesn’t do it for monetary gain as much as he does to give–and receive–love. This is much like the film itself, which bathed me in a kind of love, the kind that I don’t often feel in movie houses.

My grade for The Grand Budapest Hotel: A.