The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

(On Cable TV, January 2015)  How many movies does it take for a director to redeem himself?  I’ve had trouble with Wes Anderson’ first few films (too twee, too weird, too annoying), but after Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonlight Kingdom and now The Grand Budapest Hotel, it feels as if I have re-discovered a great director.  Easily the most ambitious of his films so far, The Grand Budapest Hotel ends up being a delicious blend of comedy, fake history, striking characters, artful cinematography and dozens of name actors seemingly having tons of fun.  Visually, the film voluntarily goes retro with classical staging, highly stylized set design and voluntarily cheap special effects that somehow add to the comic absurdity of the plot.  (Also notice the absence of diagonal movement in-frame)  The story has surprisingly dark twists and turns, but screenwriter Anderson seems delighted in playing with a familiar plot, only to flip over the table and have whimsical fun whenever it suits him. The result is almost impossible not to watch with a growing sense of fondness.  Ralph Fiennes turns in a small comic masterpiece performance as an ultra-competent hotel concierge, while being ably supported by far too many great players to count or enumerate.  It amounts to a striking oddity of a film, something almost impossible to describe faithfully but nonetheless utterly compelling upon viewing.  From time to time, we get a film that reaffirms why cinema can be fun and stylish without forgetting to be meaningful.

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