Wes Anderson is a film maker I took a while to warm up to. The first of his films I tried, Rushmore, left me more perplexed than anything else, and though I currently regard The Life Aquatic with the kind of affection that normally warrants a restraining order, upon first viewing my attentions would only have warranted a change of address and a sturdy lock. It took until The Fantastic Mr Fox for me to really catch on and fall into the same Anderson mania felt by most trendy young film nerds, and while I greatly enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom, Mr Fox has always seemed like the be-all, end all.

Until The Grand Budapest Hotel, that is. Oh, I thought I knew what words like “charming” and “delightful” and “enchanting” meant in an Anderson film, innocent little yearling lamb I was. I thought I had seen the apex of his ability to grab the cockles of my heart and shake them like one of those handwarmers full of metal filings that never seems to work, reducing me to a state of blissful euphoria only otherwise found in first time opium users. I didn’t know shit, son.

hr_The_Grand_Budapest_Hotel_1The Grand Budapest Hotel follows the adventures of Gustave H, concierge at the luxuriant hotel of the title, located in a fictional European country. After being named as the inheritor of a priceless painting by a wealthy dowager, Gustave is accused of her murder and only ally is his loyal lobby boy Zero, whose older self is recounting the tale to a young writer played by Jude Law in a framing story. But the framing story has a framing story itself, as we are being recounted the recounting of the story by the older version of the writer, played by Tom Wilkinson, and even THAT has a frame, since the whole shebang is being read by a girl in a cemetery in what is presumably present day. The film has the structure of a Russian nesting doll, or perhaps the final mecha from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann for all you anime nerds.

And in case Anderson hadn’t done enough to ingratiate himself to film nerds the world over by filming his last movie entirely on Super 16mm film, each time period in Grand Budapest is filmed in a different aspect ratio (the width of the frame in relation to its height) with most of the action being presented in the “Academy Ratio” of a more or less perfectly square image. Everything is boxes within boxes within boxes, and the fact that there’s a recurring motif of framing characters within even smaller boxes in the frame (windows, etc), pushes this even further, and off a cliff into a tank full of excited film nerds having loud orgasms.

Grand Budapest, with its themes of looking back, recollection and storytelling, and obsession with obsolete frame shapes, is Anderson’s most overpoweringly nostalgic film yet, and I want you to take a moment and think about the implications of that sentence. The past, or at least a rose-colored, sentimentalized version of the past, is recreated with incredible amounts of care and detail. I said this about Moonrise Kingdom, but it’s even more true that Grand Budapest is in many ways just as much a work of animation as Fantastic Mr Fox, stylizing the image and going to absurd lengths in terms of costuming, set design and overall mise-en-scene to present an image so polished and prepared that anything approaching a realist aesthetic can only be communicated with by notes smuggled inside a long range interplanetary rocket.

But what surprised me, and I think it will surprise a lot of people, is the sucker punch the film pulls literally in the last few minutes, suddenly bursting from the pool of nostalgia like Jason Voorhees at the end of the first Friday the 13th to grab the viewer and offer an anti-nostalgic blow that ends the film on a shockingly somber note. But I don’t think that’s to say the film is entirely anti-nostalgic, I mean, this is Wes Anderson after all. But the film, in the last few minutes, reveals itself to be something other than just a brightly colored confection of nostalgia and fun, one that does have something to say about the dangers of becoming mired in the past.

Tony RevoloriBut for the rest of its runtime, the film is, with a purity and concentration only otherwise found in industrial chemicals, fun. Ralph Fiennes, in the role of Gustave H, is a comedic powerhouse, an Incredible Hulk of witty jabs and wry wit. Newcomer Tony Revolori is the perfect foil, a wide-eyed straight man who plays off Fiennes’ quiet absurdity beautifully. The expansive supporting cast all shine in one regard or another, Willem Dafoe plays the soul of all scowling goons like he was born for it, and F. Murray Abraham nails the quiet melancholy of the older Zero.

There’s only one joke that falls even close to flat, an extended exchange between Gustave and Zero shortly after a daring prison escape that feels like an extended improv session allowed to go on too long.

It revels in almost anachronistic adventure, weaving plots around stolen artwork and needlessly complex wills, filling its running time with chase scenes on snowy alpine peaks and old-school prison escapes involving digging tools smuggled inside baked goods and improvised rope ladders. But over the whole thing looms the specter of World War 2, barely disguised Nazi officers stop trains and newspapers warn of tanks at the border, never letting us forget that it is showing us a world that will soon no longer exist.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is an immensely entertaining film, one that reveals itself in its closing moments to have more teeth than you may expect. It’s a film about nostalgia, one not afraid to show its dangers while wallowing in its excesses. I cannot recommend it more.

Well, shit. Just a few days ago we were frolicking like cherubs in the Elysian fields of late autumn with wild, pumpkin-spice fueled abandon. But now the cold spectre of winter has sidled up and stuck its clammy, cold hand down our collective pants like an overzealous prom date. Winter, it seems, is here, and summer seems like a distant hope. All we have to nurture ourselves for the next few months in between hunting down our fellow man for nourishment and burning down the public library for warmth is the slew of movie trailers for next year that studios are already pumping onto the internet like a morphine drip. So in this, the first week of another cruel Montreal winter, let’s take a look and get bloody well goofy.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

2013 was actually something of a disappointing year for me for superhero movies. Oh sure, there were ones I kinda liked, and only a couple I plan to ritualistically burn in effigy on the anniversary of their release. But the trailer for the next Captain America movie gives me some hope, promising lots of things blowing up in slow-motion and Robert Redford TOTALLY not turning out to be a badguy in the end.

The trailer indicates the movie will mostly focus on SHIELD (fuck if I’m gonna type all those periods) extending its power and unleashing a fleet of Helicarriers, presumably to hover over major cities terrifying people into good behavior like giant impractical nannies. Cap objects to this, because Cap is contractually obligated to remind us every few years that he’s actually pretty center-left for someone who wears the American flag.

Not that he really does anymore, his costume’s changed to a mostly blue affair reminiscent of something he was wearing for that time he was actually in charge of SHIELD in the comics. Wonder if that’s a coincidence…..

Excitement Level: 6 Crashing Helicarriers out of 10


grand-budapest-hotel-posterThe Grand Budapest Hotel

If there’s one thing guaranteed to give film nerds a raging film nerd stiffy (which is like a normal stiffy but talks your ear off for hours on end about the hidden meaning behind the can of baking soda in the background of that one scene in The Shining) it’s the release of a new Wes Anderson trailer, and ye GODS this is the most Wes Anderson-y thing ever.

It doesn’t even matter what The Grand Budapest Hotel is about, just look at the cast for God’s sake. Literally every name on the front page of the film’s IMDB entry is a recognizable name. Ralph Fiennes, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum, it goes on. And of course Bill Murray’s in it, because OF COURSE Bill Murray’s in it. Between Anderson and Jim Jarmusch the guy’ll never be–


Wes Anderson, you son of a bitch, did you shoot this thing in the Academy Ratio? Oh wait no, you shot this thing in multiple aspect ratios to indicate the time period it takes place in. It took me like four viewings to even notice that most of the trailer isn’t even widescreen. Good God, man, if you’re not careful you’re gonna have a whole lot of film nerds punching holes in their ceilings if you catch my drift.

Excitement Level: No I’m not going to explain Aspect Ratios, I haven’t got all day!


the-boxtrolls-posterThe Boxtrolls

And speaking of things that give nerds raging hardons, how about a trailer for The Boxtrolls, the latest installment in Laika studios’ plan to become the Jesus of stop-motion animation. And the teaser really does put the animation, and the love and work that goes into it, in the forefront, being partially made up of shots of the hands of animators assembling and posing figures and sets.

The cynic in me, the tenacious bastard that he is, wants to see this as a lazy way to crank out a teaser when you’ve finished only a couple of shots of animation. But the well-rounded, optimistic person in me, who spends most of his time shut in a small room in my mind like Harry Potter, sees this as something else: an indicator that what’s coming out is made with the love and attention that we’ve come to expect from Laika.

There’s also this trailer, which both endorses same-sex parents and features the voice of Catbug from Bravest Warriors, so we might as well crown this film “King of All Things Good and Wonderful” right now.

Excitement Level: Sugar peas!!!

The Lego Movie


Nobody was expecting this to look surprisingly good less than me, I mean for crap’s sake it’s The Lego Movie, but damn if I don’t actually want to see this. Part of it’s because it comes courtesy of the masters of “Surprisingly good”, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the duo that brought us Clone High, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street.

But what took me aback more is the animation, which is apparently a blend of stop-motion and CGI, meant to make everything look as realistically like actual Lego figures as possible. All the textures and light effects look dead-on, if you’re the kind of absolute hopeless nerd who’s impressed by that kind of thing, right down to those stiff cloth capes that never, ever look right. There’s so much wonderful attention to detail on display just in the short trailer, like how when one character is supposed to be dramatically flipping her hair, it just swivels in place because it’s still a solid plastic piece, or how explosions and other effects are still made out of Lego bricks if you look closely.

Plus it has Nick Offerman in it, and it doesn’t matter what something is, the promise of Nick Offerman will have me running like Nick Offerman himself to a film role circa 2004

Excitement Level: It has Batman too, so pretty high