A Fantastic Fear of Everything [2012)

I found this one difficult to watch.

Multiple attempts.

I’m still alive.

Lon-don.

Tell them I’ll call them back.

Hackney.

Hacked.

Hanoi.

Humbert Humbert.

This is a rather inventive film.

Insular.

Wrapped up in web mind.

Cobwebs.

Webby.

Super glues a knife to his hand!

For fuck’s sake!!!

That’s when it started to get good.

But God knows how long it took me to survive the punishing beginning.

Boredom.

My Beautiful Laundrette.

[sic]

Working Title Films.

Jackpot!

Bean, Lebowski, Ali G., Johnny English, Shaun, Fuzz, Paul, World’s End, Grimsby, Saoirse Scots…

These are my films.

The auteurs of comedy.

Bona fide.

The twins.

And the muse.

My journey through addiction.

Knowing you’re an addict.

And not a patient on medicine.

Step 1.

Can I recapture?

Which way?

What???

Scissorhand.

Shatterhand.

Forgot the soap.

An opera.

Slow-motion underwear.

Soiled with blood.

Dust.

Attic.

Beautiful curry.

Had burned off the hair on one side of his head.

Scrotum.

FaTE.

Very much like lovely bones.

Hatch.

Soft bulletin.

Swung open.

Brochure.

Kiss to remove my gag.

Little ‘Nam.

Indeed.

Martin Rev suicides the wrap arounds from Wal-Mart.

Blinking LEDs chasing across the brow.

Creepy as fuck!

But bathos.

Bathetic.

Maudlin.

Yet in the mold of Frank Giustra (suing Twitter for comments I and others made).

Free speech, mate.

Yes, you have a psychopathic vibe.

It is my human right to state so.

Fuck Canada!

Hackneyed serial killer.

Trite.

Headbutt dog and duck.

Scotch egg.

1001 nights…

The star here (besides our subject of study, Simon Pegg) is the beautiful Amara Karan.

Breathtaking!

Sri Lanka.

Bikini.

Atoll.

Darjeeling.

Investment banker (!):  M&As.

Get the fuck out!

Oxford,

not a terminal degree, but quite academic for iTunes fare.

Pegg’s least-purchased movie (it appears).

But really a fine job by Crispian Mills (Kula Shaker, wot?!?) and Chris Hopewell.

 

-PD

Till det som är vackert [2009)

This is a perfect, imperfect film.

Like Russell’s paradox.

And I hope director Lisa Langseth won’t go all Frege on me and jump out a window.

Ah!

You know…

I have spoiled nothing.

And my words are almost completely inconsequential.

But similar things have been said about La Règle du jeu.

And I disagree with that.

In 1939, Jean Renoir made an unqualified (perfect) masterpiece with that film.

I qualified it only to distinguish from my initial example.

And so Pure (the title of this Swedish film which is currently on Netflix in the U.S.) is much like Asia Argento’s almost-masterpiece Incompresa.

I will be quite blunt.

Lisa Langseth stretches in almost the exact same dimension that Argento did with her fine film.

But the real similarity is acting perfection.

For a young child, Giulia Salerno was magnificent (really!) in Argento’s film.

And so Ms. Argento had the secret weapon.

A (very young) actress capable of cine-magic.

Ms. Langseth was blessed with more-or-less the same thing.

But even better.

[perhaps because the actress was a little older and more experienced]

Alicia Vikander makes Till det som är vackert go.

I mean, really…this is an acting performance unlike any other.

And so my only gripe with Ms. Langseth, the director, is that she stretched the story TOO FAR.

But that’s ok.

Because, you know what?  Maybe I’m wrong.

Langseth and Argento both seem to be trying to tell every story they’ve ever lived…IN ONE FILM.

Argento is the guiltier party.

For most of Pure, Langseth sticks to a taut plot.

Buttressed by Vikander’s exquisite acting, the sum total is ecstasy.

And so, I find myself reacting against the Hitchcock tendency in two films.

Some directors NEED a good dose of Hitchcock.

Wes Anderson, for example.

That guy is so saccharine…that when the fingers come off in Grand Budapest, we finally have a filmmaker.

But Langseth and Argento are telling GRUELING stories throughout (in Pure and Misunderstood, respectively).

And so the heavy bass note…the one which when slammed births the 9th harmonic…it doesn’t work here.

Because the tritone.

To progress through the harmonic series.

And resolve on a tritone.

It takes a special auteur to do such.

And these two ladies are not the dodecaphonists to do so.

They have not worked out a coherent system to justify their heart-ripping atonality.

But fear not.

Pure is so, so, so worth watching!

This is as close as a film can get to masterpiece while still being flawed.

And it’s so very close, I’m wondering whether the flawed one is me.

[no doubt]

Let me correct the record (ouch…David “Scumbag” Brock)…

We get noodles with ketchup.

I mean, this film is Gummo real.

So I want to give some BIG compliments.

Till det som är vackert is the best Swedish film ever made by anyone not named Ingmar Bergman.

In fact, it’s BETTER than several of Bergman’s films.

Shall I name names?

Pure is worlds (WORLDS) better than Fanny and Alexander.

Bergman was in poseur mode.

That flick is so overrated.

And Lisa Langseth totally smokes (eats the lunch of) Bergman.

Further, Till det som är vackert is (in my humble, masculine opinion) the greatest feminist film since 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days…and in some ways EVEN BETTER than that timeless masterpiece.

And so, in general, I bow down in worship to Pure.

We have homelessness.

We have mental illness.

We have resilience.

Naturalism.  Grit.  The bird-soul of music…

The only thing we needed was an editor.

To say.

Cut.

About 20 minutes before the end.

Because Ms. Langseth wants to give us redemption.

She just seems to have her Raskolnikov in the wrong pocket.

It’s ok.

I’m the daftest son of a bitch on the planet.

One last thing…

This movie moved me so much.

The bulk of this film.

Did something to me.

Therapeutic.

And sublimely enlightening.

And so I thank God for Lisa Langseth and Alicia Vikander.

God bless you.

Thank you for making this kind of art.

As Nick Cave sang,

“It’s beauty that’s gonna save the world now”.

-PD

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [2005)

I was very apprehensive.

Because I loved the original so much.

1971.

Trying to remake one of the best films ever.

An unenviable task.

But Tim Burton was bringing it all back home.

1964.  Roald Dahl.

But let’s take a step further back.

Camp X.  Ontario.

“Established” December 6, 1941.

Yes.  You read that right.

The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was established by the “real” James Bond:  a Canadian by the name of William Stephenson.

His codename?  Intrepid.

He oversaw British intelligence, MI6, for the entire Western hemisphere during WWII.

(!)

Roald Dahl, the author of the children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was one of the men trained at Camp X (today known as Intrepid Park).

So it should go without saying that we are not dealing with just any children’s author.

And herein lies the secret of Tim Burton’s success.

He reimagined.

I fully expected full-on ball-tripping excess in homage to Mel Stuart’s “wondrous boat ride” of 1971, but Burton managed to restrain himself.

Indeed, the psychedelia of this film (and weirdness in general) is evident throughout almost every part of the film…EXCEPT THERE.

And so I must hesitantly call 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a masterpiece.

Against all odds.

It’s only fitting that the lead child actor who plays Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) was born on Valentine’s Day.

Yes Virginia, perhaps some things are fated.

Highmore is fantastic in a role created by Peter Ostrum.

And though we miss Diana Sowle and her priceless rendition of “Cheer Up, Charlie”, Helena Bonham Carter is quite magnificent in her limited scenes as the cabbage-cutting Mrs. Bucket.

But Tim Burton updates our story considerably to make it more relatable to the Harry Potter generation (and the service-industry pipe dream known as the “third industrial revolution”…for the “adults” in the crowd).

Yes, we needs must only revisit Eliyahu Goldratt’s “business novel” The Goal to remember the shortsighted “local efficiencies” which factory robots can produce.

By the way:  there’s a father Bucket.  And he runs into a patch of robot trouble.

Updated.

But Tim Burton does not stop there.  Whereas the original film focused tentatively on child  spies (remember the purloined Everlasting Gobstopper?), the film under review seems to situate itself amidst the full-scale industrial espionage (and, in particular, intellectual property theft) which the United States attributes to China.

But let us pay our respects here.

David Kelly was fantastic as Grandpa Joe.  Truly a wonderful performance!  And we are sad to have lost his talents in 2012.

Reading from back to front:

-our Augustus Gloop is somewhat forgettable (save for his Lowera Bowie hair tint)

-AnnaSophia Robb is appropriately snotty as the overachieving brat Violet Beauregarde  [How did Tarantino not hire this girl for his next refried kung-fu film?!?]

-Julia Winter (who strangely has no Wikipedia page) is really special as the mouthy tart Veruca Salt

-and Jordan Fry plays Mike Teevee (though they might as well have gone with “Hacker” Mike Xbox or some such first-person shooter sobriquet).

And that leaves us with the big dog himself:  Johnny Depp.

Stepping into some very big shoes.

Gene Wilder.  Taken from us just months ago.  A truly magical being.

And so Depp and Burton needed a strategy.

And it appears it was something like, “Ok, let’s make him weirder.  Like, lots weirder.  Remember those sunglasses Keith Richards wore on Between the Buttons?  And the hair like Brian Jones.  Prim.  Proper.  Rocker.  Ok, ok…but we want the Salinger recluse thing with some Prince or Michael Jackson oddity.  Purple velvet.  Ok, yes…we’re getting somewhere.”

Most striking, however, is Depp’s accent.  Very Ned Flanders…but possessed by the thoughts of Salvador Dalí.

But the Burton touch shows through.  That macabre glee.

A little cannibalism joke here.  “Which half of your child would you prefer?”

Oddities.

Though tempered by quick-tongued childlike wonder, Depp is still a rather darker Wonka than Wilder’s fatherly archetype.

Yes, Depp could fit fairly well into Kraftwerk (especially germane had Augustus from Düsseldorf won the grand prize).

Johnny and his purple latex gloves.

Not a touchy-feely Wonka.

Doesn’t even bother to learn the kids names.  [there’s only five]

Totally off his rocker.

Makes Gene Wilder’s Wonka seem like Mister Rogers in comparison.

But this is mostly secondary to the success of this film.

Tim Burton evidently didn’t feel making a true family film was beneath him.

And so, perhaps with a bit of inspiration from Wes Anderson, he made an immensely touching picture here.

Charlie Bucket is the kid we need in the world.

The chosen one.

The needle in the haystack.

And it is Wonka’s quest to find such a unique child.

Charlie almost gives up the ticket (sells it) to help his desperately poor family, but one of his four bedridden grandparents must have read Hunter S. Thompson at some point.  And so Charlie is convinced to “buy the ticket, take the ride” so to speak.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Enter Deep Roy (Mohinder Purba) as ALL (and I mean all) of the Oompa-Loompas.

It is in the short (!) song sequences where Burton’s debt to David Lynch emerges.

Kind of like Danny Elfman’s debt to Tom Waits.

Comes and goes.

Burton, being the mischievous connoisseur of all things dark, manages to make Veruca’s exit an homage to Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren (albeit with squirrels).

Very inventive!

Sure, there’s some crap CGI in this film (not to be confused with the even more insidious Clinton Global Initiative), but it is generally restrained.

At a few points, it gets off the rails and threatens to damage an otherwise fine film.

But I tell you this…there are plot twists here which for someone who has merely seen the first film (like myself) truly baffle and surprise.

And they are touching.

So it is with no reservations that I call this a family film.

Sure, some of the jokes are a bit obtuse.

But the framing story (the Bucket family’s existence) is indescribably magical.

It is then, only fitting, that Christopher Lee be the one to welcome the prodigal oddball Depp.

Which is to say, this film has a sort of false ending…which is inexplicable…and genius.

It is at that moment where the film finds its soul.

Family.

Love.

Humility.

Sacrifice.

Happily, Burton gives us a fairy tale ending in which the young mind can work with the eccentric master…and the eccentric master can once again know what home is like.

Home.

Wow…

-PD

Viskningar och rop [1972)

Cris et Chuchotements.

…et Chuchotements.

This horribly powerful film.

No light reading.

From the lips.

Fumbling big-hand thoughts.

Like Brice Parain said, inseparable from language.

We can see this fount at which Godard drank.

We can see the borrowing of von Trier.

We can see the fealty of Wes Anderson.

It is Cries and Whispers of Ingmar Bergman.

Tired, aging Bergman.

Clear as a bell.

Static shots which must be achieved through moving pictures.

Just stop moving for a moment.

And be quiet.

That microphone.

Just out of sight.

No B-movie swoop-downs.

But absolute perfection throughout.

And yet the message is dark.

No hope.

Cathartic, maybe.

Always fade to red.

And reemerge through the color spectrum.

Yellow to white light.

Four women.

Three sisters and a zaftig maid.

Someone’s crying Lord…

Come by here.  In a dream.  See their lips move.

We should love the coquette.  The redhead.  Liv Ullmann.

She should dominate us like a Renoir painting.

A madder rose cinema has known not.

But is she not a fake, Maria?

Is she not just a color palette towards which we gravitate?

What worth in the façade when the heart is empty?

It had been a long time since Summer with Monika, but Harriet Andersson was here.

And yet, it is Liv Ullmann who gets the plastic surgeon insults of the doctor (Erland Josephson).

But Harriet Andersson has enough grief with which to deal.

No no, I have gotten mixed up with all these actresses of Bergman.  And don’t even mention Ingrid!

We will come back to poor, sweet Harriet.

But we must first deal with the witch:  Ingrid Thulin.

What kind of misery makes such a witch?

A tissue of lies (reads the subtitles).

I believe Thierry Meyssan had to deal with such proclamations (though I read them in translation).

What kind of lies here, though…specifically?

Loveless marriage.

Probably even more empty than simply.

Loveless.

No creative punctuation.  No flirtatious commas or semicolons.

But simply poetry written like a telegraph dispatch.

Full stop.

Desperate.

Depression unto madness.  That is Ingrid Thulin here as Karin.

But then we must come back to our sickness.

A true physical ailment.

A patient.

Bedridden.

Patience.

It is Agnes.  Painful.  Wheezing.  Horrible.  Ghastly.

A high-water mark of art films.

Top that, motherfucker.

Jerry Lee to Chuck Berry.  Worse than an expletive.

But what brings this whole film together?  Who holds this house against her bosom?

It is none other than Kari Sylwan.

Yes, there are no important male characters within.

Georg Årlin chews his fish like someone in the diplomatic service should.

And expects “a little consensual rape in the evening” (to quote the Nick Cave of Grinderman).

But such petty existence boils the madness.

The glass.

Shards of light.

Smeared with lunacy.

Against all this is Kari Sylwan as Anna.

The maid.

The help.

Priceless.

Humanist.

A believer.  As the sick believed more than the priest.

No real important male characters here.

But Anders Ek is the voice of reason.  The voice of poetry.  For a moment.  Touching.

Don’t touch me.

Don’t touch me.

Such damage in the world.

And Anna bears it all.

The only true hero.

Meek.

Equally tormented.

But strong.

Annas make the world go round.  Deliver the medicine.  Keep the world from splitting open.  Make sure the trains are on time.  Hugs.

The history of cinema is littered with sad brilliance.

Strewn with fictional corpses.

Troubled directors trying to come to terms with their own fears of death.

And in the end, such creations loom large because they closest resemble the art of the ancient world and the itch of the Renaissance.

Storm on!  And write all night long!!

Someone has stolen my beard, but my mustache is plenty weird.

We shall live to see Nietzsche bitch-slap Hitler.

And Tarantino will again work at a video store.  Where he belongs.  A very able clerk.  Like me.

 

-PD

Ostře sledované vlaky [1966)

There is no precursor for this delicious film.

Closely watched trains…

There is no warning.  No real foreshadowing of what awaits Miloš Hrma.

And I, of course, will not give away the game.

But let me tell you about this watershed moment in cinema.

You could say Czech New Wave.  You could also say Czechoslovak New Wave.

In the case of the auteur in question, Jiří Menzel, it is the former.

The movement was already going by this point.

1966.  Almost the midpoint, if we say 1962-1972.

But none of that matters too much.

What matters is this film.

Closely Watched Trains.  Ostře sledované vlaky.

And so we started with Romania.  A new wave.  A current phenomenon.  Briefly in vogue.  And completely deserving of the praise.

And we made a point to look elsewhere.  To Iran.  Because of Kiarostami.

And now we add a much older New Wave.  It is of particular interest to our first location (Romania).

In globetrotting through movies we hit some odd, beautiful destinations.  Nations.

Czechoslovakia.  No more.  Today.  Czech Republic.  Slovakia.  And Ukraine.

But none of this matters much either.

What matters is Miloš Hrma.  The shy boy.

We know.

Intimately.

Not easy.

If the meek shall inherit the earth (Earth?), then it’s a long time in coming.

I am fond.  Quoting Neil Young.

“Vampire Blues”

“Good times are coming/But they sure coming slow”

Indeed.

That is the situation of Václav Neckář’s character Miloš.

He has the delight of love.  Snow in the air.  Smoke from a steam locomotive.  A cloud of fleeting sparks.

Our heart beats rapidly for cute Jitka Bendová.  And we think of football.  We try to ignore the Bond girl essence of her name.

Because she is one of the most poetic faces in cinema.  No Wikipedia page for her.  At least not in English.

But it is this love between Miloš and Máša which gives us hope.

An adieu from the caboose (football, football).

No doubt Wes Anderson plumbed the depths of Closely Watched Trains while searching for his own cinematic language.

In fact, the beginning of this film is very much like the beginning of every Wes Anderson film.

An exposition of characters.

Some with peg-legs.

An old crazy uncle.

A cow with too many udders.

But the most crucial is the hypnotist.

If there is a precursor to Jiří Menzel (and there must be), then it is Renoir.  Renoir meets Eisenstein.  And sex.

Did I fail to mention?

Closely Watched Trains is a sexual tension which can no longer be crystalized.

And thus history served us well by preserving this document of a different age.

It is a naughty film, but not by today’s standards.

It is sex…as directed by Hitchcock.

And for that it is sexier.  More tense.  Taut.

Consider, for instance, the stamps.  Ooh la la.

If you go ga-ga for Gyllenhaal in Secretary, then you must see the breakthrough moment.  In cinema.

Like the first kiss.  May Irwin.  Thomas Edison.  But actually William Heise.  1896.

Big black maria.  Something/Anything?

Yes, in fact.

First, and most importantly, the telegraphist (as played by Jitka Zelenohorská).  Almost like Chantal Goya in Masculin Féminin, but better.  Same year.  1966.  Maybe Menzel got an idea from Godard.  In any case, Zelenohorská gives one for the ages.  Deliciously naughty.

And lest you run off feeling less-than-substantive edification, it is political as anything.  That’s where Eisenstein comes in.  A brief moment of cinematic intercutting.

And the war.  Like Les Carabiniers.  1963.  The Rossellini inspiration via Godard, perhaps?

But really it is a new cinema.  Czech!  Mind-blowing…

Sex is more erotic with a laugh.  Surreal.  Real.  More real than real.

In a stunning final coup Menzel brought us Naďa Urbánková.

One minute you’re thinking about a girl, another you’ve been rounded up by the state security apparatus.

And then they realize you’re nuts.

And they have pity on you.

Release you into the swaying grass.

And like Chaplin you waltz off into the sunset to fulfill your destiny.

What a film!

-PD

Moonraker [1979)

This was Lewis Gilbert’s best Bond film (which isn’t saying very much).  This film straddles the line between good and bad filmmaking for its entirety.  At the end it’s hard to say just which has edged the other out in predomination.

Something tells me the director in question is less to blame for these debacles than I had previously thought.  It seems that there was an artless voice from above which was exerting pressure upon our metteur en scène.  Was it perhaps Albert Broccoli?

Enough with the finger-pointing.  Let’s talk about why this film is bad (and occasionally good).

The opening sequence is quite masterful.  It is, in fact, to these eyes more impressive than the feted ski jump from The Spy Who Loved Me.  And so, from the start, we are back in the company of dear old Jaws (Richard Kiel).  Any question as to whether he survived the fall from a plane sans parachute is answered quite quickly in the opening credits.  His name is prominent enough (comes quickly after the top-billed stars) that we assume (and correctly) that he did indeed live through the plunge.  It is just this sort of clumsy filmmaking which typifies Gilbert’s contributions to the series.  This daft touch even shows up at the end of the opening credits when the last chord of the song carries over like a maudlin, syrupy blanket into the shot of Q milling about in M’s office.  It is like we are watching Days of Our Lives.  One can hardly take such careless filmmaking seriously.

At least Holly Goodhead continues a string of success regarding the names of Bond girls.

Perhaps the most telling S.O.S. from Lewis Gilbert is the obvious homage to Jean Renoir’s La Règle du jeu.  As Drax and his hunting party are taking leisure in sportsmanship, his assistants are swatting at the tree trunks with sticks or canes to scare the birds into the air.  Only the finest of minds would work this deft reference into such an otherwise brutish series.

The bit atop Sugarloaf Mountain is generally delightful.  Perhaps Wes Anderson had this in mind when he plotted the funicular rendezvous in The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Jaws meeting the buxom, bespectacled Dolly is just impossibly cute (with the strains of Tchaikovsky in the background).  In a final bit of touching panache, Jaws switches allegiances to help out Bond and Goodhead.  It is actually a masterful stroke in a series rife with pithy henchmen.  We even get to hear Kiel’s voice for once (after he pops a champagne cork by prying it off with his metal teeth).

The film really gets bad when it tries to not only relive the glory of Thunderball, but also tries to transpose that elusive magic into the milieu of Star Wars.  To say that the outer-space laser battle has not aged well would be a fairly grand understatement.  Of particular offence are the sound effects which make Oskar Sala’s noises from The Birds sound like Mozart by comparison.  The lasers sound so cheap and doinky that the entire mise-en-scène falls apart.

Gilbert didn’t really have a very persuasive Bond girl to work with either.  Lois Chiles has about as much personality as a wet rag.  Likewise, we are subject to “villain fail” once again.  Michael Lonsdale is merely a sweaty schlub who happens to have the same tailor as Chairman Mao.  Toshiro Suga is comedically unmenacing.  Corinne Cléry would have made a much better Bond girl.  At least her demise at the hand (paw?) of dogs was unique to the series thus far.

Truth be told:  Blanche Ravalec is the most attractive girl in this movie (with honorable mention to the redhead and the short-haired blonde in Drax’s “ark”).

But saving the most important for last, let us try and deconstruct after Derrida.  The positively worst, most abrupt cut in the entire series happens when Bond is ejected from the back of an ambulance onto a road in Rio.  With absolutely no segue, we next see him on a horse in full vaquero costume.  It is at this point that the movie becomes so absurdly bad and ineptly surreal.  In truth, the whole film hinges on this one amateurish cut.  And it is from analyzing outwards (concentrically) that I assume Lewis Gilbert was subject to a maltreatment akin to that suffered by Orson Welles post-Kane.  No director deserves to be so abused.

 

-PD

Hanna [2011)

This is quite possibly the best film I’ve ever seen.  Once or twice every generation an actress comes along who is well beyond all the rest.  That actress, for this generation, is Saoirse Ronan.  I would not have come by this film were it not for her turn in The Grand Budapest Hotel.  That film is likewise one of the best I’ve ever seen.  This one is better.  Why?  Because Miss Ronan is allowed to show a much wider array of her skills.

I had previously thought Wes Anderson a modest director until his most recent aforementioned film.  The Grand Budapest Hotel is his first great, timeless piece of cinema.  The key (though it may go unnoticed by many) is Saoirse.  The name Joe Wright meant nothing to me prior to tonight.  I must congratulate him on a near-perfect movie.

Yes, this is a movie.  And a film.  There is a difference.  Movies are entertainment.  Films are cinema.  Guy Hamilton proved in The Man with the Golden Gun that a movie could also be a film.

Mr. Wright’s film benefits from an anti-fascist plot which would do the opponents of Operation Gladio and other black ops proud.  I count myself among their number.

Hanna is a genetically-modified human…a prototype super-soldier.  Cate Blanchett plays her role so wonderfully (like James Mason in NXNW) that we wonder if there is a heart beating at all under there.  Ms. Blanchett portrays the CIA officer who helmed the genetic research which spawned Hanna.  To call her icy would be an understatement.  She registers at absolute zero.

The beauty of this story is when its’ arc arrives at the golden mean:  the moment Hanna first hears music.  To be precise, it is the moment when she equates music with the encyclopedic definition she learned as a quasi “wild child” in the Finnish arctic.  Funny how a comparison can be made to François Truffaut and the director in question is not Anderson (whose style most resembles the sentimentality of Truffaut), but Wright.  The link is L’Enfant sauvage from 1970.  Anderson, for his part, found the golden mean in The Grand Budapest Hotel by way of Saoirse Ronan as well.  That moment is the magical kaleidoscopic close-up of her angelic face aboard a merry-go-round.

Both Hanna and The Grand Budapest Hotel straddle a line which would have made Hitchcock proud.  In the latter, Mendl’s pastries are all the sweeter for scenes such as the one in which Jeff Goldblum loses four of his fingers.  In the former, the PG-13 rating is pushed to the max with gruesome deaths (such as Knepfler’s topsy-turvy demise à la Saint Sebastian…particularly as depicted by Odilon Redon), yet there is an innocence and panache to the whole affair.  Credit Wright with knowing how to offset the sheer terror of the premise with essential throwaway aspects such as the camper-van family (who, by the way, do a lovely rendition of Bowie’s “Kooks” from Hunky Dory).  The whole juxtaposition is positively Beethovenian.  And none of it would have been possible without the Leitmotiv and soul of this film:  Saoirse Ronan.  She did not, as it turns out, miss MY heart.  The Academy just missed its best actress.  I have a feeling her coup de grâce is yet to come.

 

-PD

The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014)

There have been two movies in my lifetime which affected me so that I saw them multiple times in the theater:  Life Is Beautiful and Genghis Blues.  Along with those two masterful films I would add three which have a similar effect on me and formed my pantheon of five as a college student and young adult:  Cinema Paradiso, Central Station and the original Willy Wonka.  Few films have ever touched me quite like these.  There have been a few:  Spirit of the Beehive, Wild Strawberries and even Amelie, but I didn’t feel the same level of “ownership” in the stories–the same resonant investment in the storylines and mise-en-scène.  But it has come time to add to the pantheon of five–a reservoir of naïveté which has remained untouched since at least the time of my reading James Monaco’s book on the French New Wave.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is an unqualified masterpiece.  It is not often that I even feel drawn to a movie theater whatsoever these days.  It takes a lot to get me out of the house as far as cinema is concerned.  My interest in this particular film owes to a job which I recently secured and ultimately quit (within a week or so) at an old, old hotel in San Antonio, TX.  I had initially intended to see the film ostensibly for “research,” but when I finally saw it (after quitting my brief stint as a hotelier) it took on a different and immensely significant meaning for me.

I don’t want to spoil the plot or ending, so I will refrain from giving away too much info concerning either.  I will, however, say right up front that the secret star of this film is Saoirse Ronan.  She is the Anna Karina of this movie and she enabled Wes Anderson to make a truly transcendent picture.  Ralph Fiennes is magnificent as Monsieur Gustave H., but it is Ronan as Agatha who embodies the film in such a way that I can only compare to Poe’s story The Oval Portrait (which played such a large role in Godard’s Vivre sa vie).  The movie really gets going in earnest when Anderson goes to a magical close-up of Agatha (Ronan) on a merry-go-round.  It is from the POV of her beau Zero (Tony Revolori) and its weightless, gossamer delicacy sets the stage for what will become (throughout the remainder of the movie) Wes Anderson’s best film to date.

Leave it to Anderson to give the beautiful, chaste Agatha a huge birthmark the shape of Mexico on the side of her cheek.  Perhaps it was a nod to Gorbachev, but the effect is such that the beautiful Ronan becomes even more adorable and perfect by way of her imperfections.  Indeed, it is when she is covered in flour at her job baking pastries that she reaches her highest peak of sublime cinematic presence.  Even in her “mug shot” (which figures into the plot), she exudes mystery and imagination in her smile-less stare.

The red-headed, fair-skinned Ronan is part of a color scheme on the part of Anderson which includes powder-blue uniforms and cotton-candy-pink pastry boxes.  Even The Grand Budapest Hotel itself is pink…like a giant pastry or gingerbread house (indeed, it is a model…a miniature…a favorite directorial device of Anderson).

But make no mistake, the royal-purple-clad gents whose acting makes this the coup that it is are Fiennes and Revolori.  To call it a “buddy flick” would be doing the entire creation a grave injustice.  Perhaps it is a comedy of manners?  Or perhaps sui generis.  Anderson’s “tricks” have never been employed to such successful effect until this film.  It is as if all his prior attempts were quite good practice runs at making this film.

Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe are integral to the fabric of this sentimental, yet razor-sharp tapestry.  Anderson manages to draw from so many influences (I seemed to notice Tati) such that the piece as a whole avoids being a puppy dogs and ice cream affair.  Goldblum and Dafoe play out a sub-plot of sorts (in terms of filmic references) which hints very strongly at Hitchcock.  It is just this dash of bitter verismo which holds the confection together and makes it truly delicious.

The story (not to mention the dialogue) would do a writer such as Ernest Lehman (North By Northwest) proud.  Monsieur Gustave is infinitely quotable and his character bears a striking resemblance to Cary Grant in terms of mannerisms.  It is as if Roger Thornhill somehow ended up in the maze that is Tati’s Playtime.  Indeed, Gustave H. is a man on the run (just as Grant’s character in NXNW).  And as per the Hitchcock motif of “the wrong man,” Gustave is, of course, innocent.

But the truly remarkable thing about The Grand Budapest Hotel is the expansive, somewhat metaphorical love story it encapsulates.  Wes Anderson succeeds in channeling not only Truffaut, but Bergman (particularly Ingmar’s bittersweet Wild Strawberries).  The overall narrative device of a recounting (Zero as an old man) and the framing of impressionable literary admiration (the student reading the “fictional novel” at beginning and end afore the canonical author’s statue) allow the film to operate on several levels simultaneously. The viewer is invited to hop on board the elevator at any floor and draw meaning from any of the many strata.  It is like a cake–a fine, layered pastry from the old world.

There is indeed an air of panache which wafts through the illustrious halls represented in this film.  It is, in some ways, a fairy tale and a morality play.  Do the right thing and you might just end up with Snow White.  And you might, with extraordinary integrity and compassion, get to have your cake and eat it too.

 

-PD