Some people like to go to the movies to escape. Some are curious about how a favorite novel might be adapted. Some love superheroes. Some dig spaceships or being scared.
And some are snooty – the sort who think film is art and any picture not trying to elevate the form is a colossal waste of time and energy. Only dullards go see “Spider-Man.” With noses in the air, the elite sniff at the common man and venture to the latest Lars von Trier “masterpiece.”
ABOUT THE FILM
That’s where Wes Anderson comes in. He, too, is beloved by the pompous filmgoer, the sort who hails the obscure and disdains the popular.
(Before the Movie Man gets too hoity-toity himself, he’ll admit that he sometimes attends movies with a positive outlook if he likes the director – Terrence Malick, for example.)
Anderson certainly has skills. He is the classic hipster’s director, the kind of guy who gets loaded down with adjectives like witty, whimsical and original.
Also pretentious, insufferable and vainglorious.
And, like Woody Allen, major actors not only line up to work with him, but Anderson also has his own coterie of actors at his beck and call.
Anderson devotees will laud him regardless of his output: “Most folks can’t get him,” say the ostentatious poseurs.
As a director, Anderson’s resum isn’t long. A 44-year-old Texan (from Houston), he has directed just eight full-length pictures.
All are beloved by the groovy crowd. Anderson broke in with “Bottle Rocket” (1996), an expansion of an earlier short. His most popular hipster movie is “Rushmore” (1998), and that was followed by his most successful box office effort, “The Royal Tanenbaums” (2001, a 5). Successful is defined as $52.4 million for a Wes Anderson movie.
It took three years for his next movie to arrive and sink: “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” A $50 million budget managed but $24 million in America. (However: “It’s not about the money, dude.”)
The next films he made all went mostly unseen: “The Darjeeling Limited” (2007), the stop-motion animated “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009), and “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012).
But the Movie Man isn’t a Wes Anderson hatah. The director understands that he’s making movies, not filming plays. His camera zooms and tilts and retreats way, way back. You know – just like with Malick – you’re gonna get some sort of eye-popping sequence somewhere along the way. (That’s why the Movie Man, over two decades ago, created the “Best scene” subhead in every review – even the worst dud will have something worth viewing, if briefly.)
What Anderson isn’t is run-of-the-mill. His movies might be grandiose, but in an era of sequels and blockbusters, that’s his allure.
A young writer (Jude Law) visits a fading hotel in the high mountains of a European country. There, he meets the owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who tells him that this grand old lady was once magnificent – and was run impeccably by a M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge.
In 1932, the young Moustafa (Tony Revolori) is hired on as a lobby boy and eventually taken under Gustave’s wing. The concierge is a miasma of a man: He’s insistent on upholding the elegance and upscale demeanor of the hotel, but at the same time, he is shockingly vulgar and beds every elderly socialite that visits.
One of those dowagers, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), dies and leaves Gustave a valuable painting – one that her son Dimitri (Adrien Brody) is desperate to keep. Gustave and Moustafa stash the picture, but the hunt for it is on.
The suave Gustave ends up in jail, gets broken out, and with Moustafa, now his most trusted friend, and the lobby boy’s fianc e Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), they flee – with the growing military power, led by Edward Norton, hot on their trail.
If you’re the sort of person who likes to see cameos by popular actors, “TGBH” is for you. Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Defoe (all part of Anderson’s regular company), and Tom Wilkinson (who shows up in the opening, a preface to the 1932 flashback) all appear. So do Harvey Keitel and Jeff Goldblum, all in varying role lengths. The Movie Man likes such appearances.
The big winner in the movie is Fiennes. He is superb, and his character is fascinating. Also exceptional is newcomer Revolori.
Anderson’s filmmaking technique is never dull; many single shots are mesmerizing. The prison breakout sequence is full of whimsy, violence and wonder – classic Anderson.
BEST SCENE (SPOILER)
The finale pays off. It takes forever to get there, but it’s potent. In a train car – reprising an earlier scene – the militia again shows up to harass Gustave, Moustafa and now Agatha.
When a soldier dares to strike Moustafa, Gustave, hopelessly outnumbered, bolts out of his seat and attacks the military men – all the while the camera pulls slowly back from the only black-and-white scene in the movie.
It has a queerly reminiscent feel of “Schlindler’s List,” especially with Fiennes who starred in both.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
This movie is all over the place, more proof that it’s “art.” That can drive lots of folks (including the Movie Man) crazy. Just because you can meander to amp the coolness factor, doesn’t mean you have to.
“TGBH” is in no hurry. That and its seemingly self-indulgent grandiosity can make it frustrating. This is one of those “nothing happens” movies. Exiting people with the Movie Man – all older viewers – said the movie was “unfocused.”
The sudden violence, language and a startlingly explicit painting are jarring. That’s the idea, but it seems like someone trying very hard to be hip.
Bill Murray fans will be highly disappointed; he’s barely in the movie, maybe five minutes.
Usually, a character-driven movie settles into a PG-13 these days. Not so here. A man gets his fingers severed, there’s a bloody knife fight, nudity, a shockingly graphic painting referenced often and scads of bad language. It’s a mild R, really, but still an R.
The Movie Man was OK with “TGBH.” It contains some interesting and even beautiful sequences. But it’s an “art” film. The majority of the folks who read the Movie Man will likely detest it. A lot.