Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)

grand budapest hotel

Ok, I like Wes Anderson films. You have to have a certain tolerance for whimsy, and bring a bit of goodwill so that his flights of fancy don’t infuriate, but his films have a certain quality of – and I can’t think of a better term – likeability to them. He creates a world that is like a luridly coloured, eccentric and slightly off-kilter reflection of our own in which it is enjoyable to spend a little time.

I can see, however, that if you don’t make that initial decision to go with them, his films could utterly alienate and repel.

So, to this one. Set in a hotel in a generic central/Eastern European country, the action takes place over three time periods. Opening in modern times, a writer (Tom Wilkinson) starts to recount how the story came to him. Then, in a communist-ruled 1960s period, his younger self (Jude Law) is staying in the now run-down hotel and encounters the proprietor, Zero Moustafa (F Murray Abraham), who now begins to recount his story*. This last period (in which the young Zero is now played by Tony Revolori) is where the bulk of the action takes place, as Zero recounts his 1930s education as a bell-boy at the Grand in its heyday, under the instruction of its concierge, Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), and their adventures and friendship as Gustave inherits a valuable painting from one of the elderly dowagers he beds (they visit the hotel specifically for his attentions). Trying to navigate both the enmity of her sinister family and the onset of war, the film has a few intimations of a darker sensibility than is usually evident in Anderson films, even amidst the whimsy.

Packed full of stars, many of whom are Anderson stalwarts (Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson and, of course, Bill Murray), and many of whom make only fleeting appearances, there is much fun to be had, though the inevitable ‘cartoon-style’ high speed chase sequence left me cold, as they always tend to do.

(*edit – I actually missed a level – the film opens with a girl putting a memento on the memorial to Tom Wilkinson’s author, now dead, while carrying a copy of one of his books and then cuts to his starting to tell his tale. This is a story within a story within a story withing a story!)


The Lego Movie (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 2014)

The Lego Movie
Although I’d heard (universally) good things about this film, it was not high on my watch list but schedules determined this was the only one available in which I was even remotely interested. And I’m not going to break the consensus – it was great fun.

The plot is a standard ‘little guy has to find hidden strengths to defeat the big-business forces who want to rule the world’. It opens with a skit on the Gandalf vs the Balrog scene in Lord of the Rings, as the wizard Vitruvius tries and fails to stop the evil “Lord Business” from acquiring a superweapon with which he intends to destroy the world. Vitruvius warns Lord Business that there is a prophecy of the “special”, a master builder who will find the “piece of resistance” and will free the world from tyranny.

Emmet Brickowoski is a boring, run-of-the-mill worker in this world made entirely of lego. Emmet is happy in a world of stifling conformity, though he is not popular at work, being too ordinary even in a world that seems perfectly happy with mind-numbing mediocrity. Leaving work, he stumbles upon a mysterious and glamorous loner on his building site. Trying to get close enough to speak to her, he falls into a pit and finds a mysterious object which seems to call to him, and wakes up in a police cell with the piece of resistance affixed to his back.

Emmet is no master builder, only able to make anything by following instructions, but could he really be the prophecied “special”?

The film constantly, and successfully, pokes fun at both cinematic and more general cultural tropes and clichés. The idea of prophecy, of a destined person to save the world, both maverick and yet (incoherently) the culmination of a master-plan, most memorably portrayed in The Matrix and now itself a tediously conformist film cliché, is itself effectively ridiculed, and there is a warmth and inclusiveness about this film.

There is so much wit, ingenuity and downright subversion evident here that it is really hard to recall that its existence is due to the needs of a toy company to shift more product. But then Lego was always a little different among toy manufacturers, being among the first to offer gender-free advertising (which they’ve offered again, recently). Kudos to Lego for trusting filmmakers to make a proper film, without overtly selling product to us, and in doing so, have made a really great advert for their philosophy and product.