Tag Archives: Bob Balaban

A Great Escape

Wes Anderson’s latest romp is a quirky, colorful movie getaway

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori and Willem Dafoe

Directed by Wes Anderson

R, 100 min.

 

With director Wes Anderson, you either “get him” and his oddball characters, quirky plots and distinctive, whimsical visual style, or you don’t. A whole lot of people do, however, in his movies including The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums.

Now The Grand Budapest Hotel offers a bustling movie getaway most Wes Anderson fans will find irresistible.

GHB_7195 20130213.CR2

Tony Revolori & Saoirse Ronan

A wild romp set in a 1930s Eastern European mountain resort, it features a colorful assortment of players and a story within a story within a story that keeps burrowing deeper into its own silly seriousness. As with most Anderson projects, he works with cavernous open spaces as well as delicate, meticulously detailed miniatures.

His sights, like scenes carefully colored with pastel crayons from a storybook, are often sumptuous, and his actors move, and speak, with a clockwork cadence that adds to the sense of comedic orchestration.

The plot unfolds backwards, as unspooled by the owner of the hotel (F. Murray Abraham) to one of its guests (Jude Law), relating his beginnings as the establishment’s bellboy, Zero (played by newcomer Tony Revolori in his first starring role). Zero and his mentor, the hotel’s longtime, ladies-man concierge, the ultra-dapper Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Feinnes), become friends and co-conspirators in a spiraling, sprawling misadventure that includes a murder, a missing will, a purloined painting, an outlandish prison break, and the outbreak of something that resembles World War II.

Along the way, they encounter a spectrum of characters, played by actors including many who’ve cropped up in previous Anderson movies (Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray—who’s appeared in every Wes Anderson film—Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel), as well as Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson.

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

Bill Murray

Everyone seems to be having a big old time in the big old hotel, and everywhere else, and several scenes are real hoots, like the scampering prison escape—which feels like a live-action re-enactment of something from the stop-motion animation antics of The Fantastic Mr. Fox—and an extended sequence in which a secret cadre of other concierges drop everything to help one of their own out of a jam.

The story is based on a book by little-remembered Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Sweig, who was actually one of Europe’s most popular writers of the 1920s and ’30s. Anderson gives Sweig an “inspired by” credit at the end of the film.

Anderson’s detractors often think his movies are contrived, pretentious, gimmicky, too indy/arty or simply not nearly as funny as Mr. Anderson must think they are. OK, fair enough. But if you’re looking for a kooky, slightly off-kilter stopover in a place that can offer you an exhilarating, completely unique experience like nothing else at the multiplex, then I recommend you check in for a couple of free-wheeling hours—at The Grand Budapest Hotel.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

 

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The Clooney Platoon

Director, star, producer & writer brings true WWII tale to life

George Clooney;Matt Damon;Bill Murray;Bob Balaban;John Goodman

The Monuments Men

Starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray & Cate Blanchett

Directed by George Clooney

Rated PG-13, 118 min.

 

This tale of WWII treasure hunters is “monumental” in more ways than one for George Clooney.

To begin with, he’s the star, the director, the writer and the producer. If the movie flies or if it flops, he’ll take the bows—or the boos. And he’s obviously big on the story, based on a 2009 nonfiction book of the same name by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter.

Historically, the Monuments Men were a group of artists, art historians and museum curators commissioned by the American and British armies during World War II to help protect the historic monuments of Europe from Allied bombing. After the war, they fanned out on an even more daunting five-year mission: to recover, catalog and return millions of precious artifacts—paintings, sculptures, tapestries and religious relics—that had been stolen by the Nazis.

The movie takes a few creative liberties with the facts, but it’s mostly true, and the characters are mostly based on, or inspired by, real people. Clooney and his cast mates (Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin) make a fine-looking international ensemble, even if sometimes the movie’s star power, combined with overly familiar war-movie scenes, sometimes feels like Oceans 11 plus Saving Private Ryan divided by Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Matt Damon;Cate Blanchett

Matt Damon & Cate Blanchett

The bigger problem, though, is how ironically, in the midst of its “bigness,” so much of the movie seems small. Its series of disjointed, scattered moments never really come together into a larger, dramatic whole. The large cast is confined to playing strictly on the surface—we never really learn anything about any of the characters. The humor is flat, the emotion sappy and the drama tepid; although the Monuments Men are supposed to be on the war’s front lines, they rarely seem to be, or behave like, they’re in any real danger.

The film also treads lightly—too lightly, perhaps—on the terrible human toll of the Holocaust, like in a scene in which the men examine the smoldering frame of a Picasso painting that the Nazis destroyed, then turn to find a barrel filled with gold teeth extracted from slaughtered concentration camp prisoners.

Oh…teeth. Now, back to paintings.

The Monuments Men isn’t going to win any awards, but it does shine a high-profile Hollywood light on a little-known chapter of history—and a fact of wartime looting and cultural pillaging that still happens today.

George Clooney

“Was it worth it?” Clooney’s character is asked at the end of the movie. Thirty years from now, his superiors wonder, will people remember, or appreciate, all that went into recovering some 5 million pieces of priceless European civilization?

Thanks to George Clooney’s big, ambitious movie, perhaps now they—we—will. It’s just too bad that, given such a great group of actors and such a monumental story, it doesn’t do a bit of a better job of it.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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