Here are the movie reviews I wrote for the June issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo last weekend.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
It’s telling of Wes Anderson’s curious ouevre that his best films are set in an idealized past that feels like a physical place, as if the present were too changeable to get a fix on. Of course, the past is changeable, too, open to shifting interpretations, but Anderson likes the idea that what really happened can’t be changed, and though his films are fictions he treats them with such unerring sureness of purpose that they feel less like memories and more like fossils. Judging by the way he circles around his main plot in The Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s obvious he misses the idea of the “old Europe,” which idealized civilized behavior. In a gambit that feels like a brilliant joke, he moves backwards from the present through not one, not two, but three layers of flashback to the titular institution, a fine hotel in the mountains of the made-up country of Zubrowka lorded over by the proud, effeminate concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who beds his elderly female customers (and probably a few of the male ones) as a show of hospitality that keeps them coming back for more, so to speak. Gustave’s management style is meticulous but fair, and he treats his new “lobby boy,” Zero (Tony Revolori), with respect rather than condescension because Zero must pass on the values of service that the hotel stands for. We already know from the second layer of flashback that Zero will grow up to be Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the owner of the hotel in its shabbier 1960s incarnation, and it is Mr. Moustafa’s warm narration that sets the tone of this remarkable tale, loosely based on the writings of Stefan Zweig but nevertheless wholly Andersonian in execution and feeling. On the eve of World War II, Zubrowka is under pressure from authoritarian forces that contradict the old European sensibility M. Gustave represents. The concierge is forced to act on his impulses after a crime occurs in his little empire that affects the fortunes of his most illustrious customer (Tilda Swinton). He becomes embroiled not only in the customer’s noble, in-fighting family, but in the intrigues that will soon plunge the region into war, and he dives into these adventures with all the facility and determination of a fop James Bond. The machinations get complicated, and if Anderson seems to make them that way just to utilize as many of his friends as possible (Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Jason Schwartzman, Jeff Goldblum) he doesn’t shortchange the viewer. You follow as breathlessly as M. Gustave as he skis down the side of an Austrian Alp in pursuit of an art thief. The Grand Budapest Hotel has everything you want from a movie. (photo: Twentieth Century Fox) Continue reading