Saturday, April 4, 2015

La Femme Recommends….Jealousy





While it may not be comfortable for an amateur film critic to admit, I have always been vulnerable to the lure of celebrity and prestige.  And hot guys.  My longest and most vital cinematic crush has been Louis Garrel. Ever since I saw him in The Dreamers, I have been a fan girl for him.   I am not embarrassed to admit that I have watched/slogged/suffered/enjoyed movies simply for the joy of seeing my french dream guys face.  I think admiration, desire, that giddy joy one gets from seeing someone they find utterly beautiful, onscreen is one of the great joys of cinema.  Movie star crushes are  one of cinemas most essential pleasures and connection and shouldn't be discounted.  Silly they mean seem, but movies wouldn't be the same without beautiful movie stars and their swooning fans.

Louis Garrel's face is interesting and Gallic and some might call him ugly.  He has a big nose, a fivehead, and moles on his face.  In films and in life he usually wears over sized collared white shirts.  His hair is unruly to the point of looking nearly unkempt.   But all of those things that others find dirty or unattractive or strange, I like (no wonder I call him Monsieur Dirty Hot).  I have always liked a little bit of ugly in my pretty.  And Louis has it.  His hair, unkempt as it is,  may be the greatest to ever grace the silver screen.  It's lush and dark and messy in that impossibly perfect, natural way.  He has a big nose, but it fits his face, and his face is like a Roman statue.  As for his acting skills: one of my favorite critics once called him "indefatigably gormless" and another that I respect, when talking about a surprise cameo he had in literally the last frame of a film said, "Also , Louis Garrel is in the movie, but the movie ends seconds after he appears, which is how all movies featuring Louis Garrel should work". Dessolez Les Haters.   I would say that moment is a perfect heartthrob moment, and Louis definitely doesn't give us many of those.  It showed a great awareness and humor about his persona.  Louis is a subtle performer and he has suffered by never pushing himself outside of his comfort zone, but he has a magnetic screen presence and does that suffering french lover thing, oh, so perfectly.    

Phillipe Garrel isn't just Louis' father. he is in fact a respected filmmaker in his own right.  I have watched multiple P. Garrel  joints only to see that Gallic God that is Louis.  And I have also subjected my poor husband to it.  Regular Lovers was so long and boring, I'm sorry.  And Frontier of Dawn was intriguing for half of it until the electroshock therapy(?!) and then in the last five minutes.  I skipped A Burning Hot Summer even though it had the burning hot Monica Bellucci.  But Philippe's last movie, Jealously was on Netflix streaming and it was only an  hour and fifteen minutes.  And it had Louis.

Phillipe Garrel's films always have fairly simple plots and Jealously is no exception.  The film opens with Louis (this is also his character name.  P. Garrel is big into autobiography in his film) leaving his wife, which is witnessed through a key hole by his daughter, Charlotte.  Louis moves in with his depressive, husky voiced lover, Claudia (Anna Mouglalis).  Both of them betray each other to varying degrees.  We see jealously in all of its forms.  Someone contemplates suicide.  Love is torture.  Etc.  This is pretty much the story of all of the Phillipe Garrel movies I've seen, I think they could all be named "Only Love Can Hurt Like This."  Sounds fun, right?

But at the end of those 80 minutes, I was shocked.  I didn't feel like I wanted to die.  In fact, I kind of liked Jealousy.   It didn't have the oppressive sadness of the other films.  And it looked gorgeous.  And it had a semblance of humor.  It confirms every stereotype you may have had about the French.  That they are cheaters and liars and revel in it or at the very least don't seem to care. That they love baguettes, wear stripes and smoke like chimneys.  But it also has the deep feeling of love that only French people seem to have.  Do you know what I mean, where they declare their love and it seems so serious and so deep and so sexy that you almost swoon and think, oh my god, I want to live in a freezing garret?!  It also has this great warmth, because Louis has this adorable daughter who seems to be an archetype of French childhood.  She wears a striped sweater and asks existential questions.  She is sweet and charming and adorable and heartbreaking.  And even though Phillipe leaves us with that notion that romantic love is fleeting and can only lead to deep unhappiness, this time he gives an alternative.  Paternal love: the real love story at the heart of the film is between father and daughter.   Louis thinks he can't love anyone more than Claudia;  but in the end he realizes that that feeling will pass and the deepest love he will ever feel is for his child.  Its sweet but not in a treacly way.

Anna Mouglais is fantastic as Claudia.  She has this voice that is so deep it almost sounds fake.  But it is so unbelievably sensual and tragic that you completely understand why our protagonist is so taken with her. She may be the other woman, and in some ways the villain of the film, but she is imbued with such humanity in the performance that your heart bleeds for her. Louis has charm on his side in this film.  His scenes with Olga Milshtein as Charlotte are super charming and natural.  He has a natural, easy charisma.  The scene where he chastely holds a stranger's hand in a movie theatre is maybe the sexiest thing you will see all year.   His performance is earthy and confident, and much more mature than anything I've seen him in.

This surprised and heartened me.  Every love story between two adults in P. Garrel's  films ends in tragedy and no one seems particularly happy to be with that person. I swear, I have never seen lovers in his films smile or have fun together.  They always seem on the verge of tears. Louis and Claudia aren't really that different.  She can't find a job and cheats on him when he leaves town for a night.  He kisses his costar and seems indifferent to Claudia's suffering.  Those kind of characters can make it hard to invest in their relationship  But what P. Garrel slyly does it make both characters sympathetic when your first instinct is to detest both of them.  Louis may be a philandering jerk but he genuinely loves his daughter and gets joy from being with her.  Claudia may be insecure and emotionally distant but she dotes on Charlotte and makes friends with Louis' sister.  Charlotte is the glue that holds the film together, she makes us look at all of the characters in a better light.  That may be because in this film, Louis isn't his father's conduit, Charlotte is.  We are seeing the action from the perspective he had when Louis' grandfather, Maurice left his family.   I always felt that Phillipe seemed so hard on Louis, making him play unsympathetic characters who ultimately died horrible deaths but with Jealousy there is a real tenderness that was unexpected and deeply felt.

Its funny, I watched the movie because of my crush on Louis, I'm not afraid to admit it.  And I didn't have much respect for Phillipe as a director.  His films always look fantastic but seem so remote and almost parodies of what people think art films, or particularly French films are.  After watching Jealousy, my love for Louis is as strong as ever but I also gained just a little bit of respect and admiration for his crazy dad.

Julie

Saturday, March 21, 2015

It's Twelve O'Clock Somewhere….Meyer Lemon Rum Sour




It may be the first days of spring but winter citrus is insane right now and if you aren't using it in your cocktails, you are missing out.  Honestly, you can get Meyer Lemons all year round, but they are best and most cost effective in the winter.  Meyer Lemons are the sweet and tart love child of lemons and oranges and are amazing for cooking.  But lets be honest, they are better for cocktails.  Much better.

As long time readers may know (hahahahahaha, yes, I have been delinquent with this blog, so thanks Dad for sticking with me!) I love rum and one of the first cocktails I ever featured on this blog was a rum sour.  There are multiple reasons I have given up on my beloved rum sour, at least one of them being that I no longer can stand the taste of bottled sour mix.  The other being an unfortunate night playing the Pitch Perfect Drinking Game on Lopez with my family.  But I digress, the point is, that a sour can still be a delicious cocktail, you just need to use citrus and simple syrup instead.

You can make simple syrup lots of different ways.  Depending on the ratio, you can have a thicker or a thinner syrup.  I like two parts water to one part sugar because I don't like it too thick.  All you do is boil it until the sugar dissolves.  I keep a jar on hand at all times.  You can also infuse it with herbs or citrus or just about anything to make a flavored simple syrup.  Actually Meyer lemon rind would be great in this simple syrup to pump up that lemon flavor even more

For this particular cocktail, I use golden rum or spiced rum and mix it with Meyer Lemon and simple syrup.  Plus a splash of Cointreau or Triple Sec or my new favorite orange liquor, Patron Citronage orange liqueur.  Its simple but delicious.  And fleeting, which makes it taste even better.

Meyer Rum Sour

2 oz Golden Rum
Juice of 2 Meyer Lemons
3/4 oz Simple Syrup
Splash of Orange Liquer (I use the good stuff!)

Shake vigorously in your favorite shaker.  Unlike most sours I enjoy this up!  Garnishing is optional but strongly recommended with some of that gorgeous Meyer Lemon rind.

Julie


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

La Femme Recommends…The Babadook



I am a self confessed scaredy cat but I couldn't resist checking out The Babadook, Jennifer Kent's debut film that none other than William Friedkin, director of The Excoricst (a movie I am too scared to watch!) called one of the scariest movies he'd seen.  Psychological horror, a creepy kid and a top hatted demon with a fun name? I'm in!

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a widow who has a thankless job at a nursing home.  She also has a terror of a son, Sam.  All day she takes care of people at her job and then comes home to Sam demanding her complete attention.  He is convinced that there are monsters surrounding him and builds traps for them all over her house, he shrieks, he gets kicked out of school.  Basically, he is a nightmare.  Poor Amelia seems to barely be making it through each day.  Then one night a mysterious  pop up book shows up in his room telling the story of "Mr. Babadook".  Mr. Babadook is a demon who you just can't get rid of, he has a big top hat and fangs and a long coat.  Of course, this terrifies Sam whose behavior only gets worse.  But once she has read him the book, strange things start happening.  I won't say much more about the plot but you can use your imagination to the places it goes.


Only what you imagine may not be exactly what happens.  Jennifer Kent uses sounds and the skill of her actors to great effect in showing us Mr. Babadook.  Many scenes we don't even see or hear anything, but the actors show us that they think something is there.  It was evident that her budget was very small but she was incredibly inventive in thinking of ways to creep out the viewer.  I mean, she basically made a red covered book a terrifying object that I don't want anywhere near me!  At times we aren't sure if the Babadook is real or fake or in the house or in one or more of the characters minds but the tone is so consistent throughout and the movie veers from psychological to supernatural horror and back again seamlessly.
Why do horror movies always have adorable pets?

Perhaps the most interesting part of the film is the way she switches up the viewers perception of the characters.  At first, you can't help but sympathize with Amelia and almost hate Sam.  Noah Wiseman is wonderful in this role, irritating and grating at first but later in the film we see his true love for his mom and his compassion shine through.  Without spoiling much I will say that Essie Davis' performance is a true wonder.  She goes from hero to villain to hero without missing a beat and takes you with her on Amelia's journey into madness.

I don't know if in the end The Babadook ended up scaring me as much as I was worried it would.  But more importantly than being scared is being engrossed and intrigued by a film and The Babadook definitely did both.  But don't be bringing me any kids story books anytime soon.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

La Femme's Top Five…Under the Radar Horror

Last year for Halloween I wrote about five movies that scare me a lot.  This year, I want to write about five more, but I am shying away from Freddy and Jason and Michael and Leatherface.  Instead I am focusing on movies that aren't as well known and maybe even not horror at all but all had images that make me scared in the middle of the night.  Not all of them are super scary, as a horror movie wimp, I shy away from anything too extreme, but I think any of these would make an excellent Halloween night choice! Four out of five of them are available on Netflix Instant!


1.  Kill List (Ben Wheatley, 2011):  I have written about this movie before on this very blog and nearly two years after seeing it, the imagery of this movie still terrifies me.  The film follows incompetent hit man and father who is just trying to take care of his family.  And it ends…well that’s the thing, Kill List has the most shocking, bizarre and unsettling ending of any movie I've seen.  The story starts out quite mundane almost in a typical way, in the realist style, kitchen sink look, with Jay (Neil Maskell) and his mate Gal (Michael Smiley) taking on the fateful, final job before getting out of this killing business for good.  Jay may or may not have committed some kind of atrocity while serving in the army and that may or may not be why he is picked for this job, to kill three people.  Wheatley builds the tension exquisitely as the hits start to go wrong, and get weird and the viewer never really knows exactly what happening.  There are demonic symbols and foreboding figures and a atmospheric and eerie play fight with his son, which feels like foreshadowing but you can’t pinpoint how. Once the first man on the kill list thanks Jay before he shoots him, you know things are going to get worse.  As Jay and Gal try to explicate themselves from this job, the sense that something terrible is going to happen only builds.  And boy does something terrible happen.  Once the hit men encounter the druid / occult / satanic group that hired them, well I will leave it at that.  A slow burn that explodes.


2.  Entrance (Patrick Horvath and Dallas Hallam, 2011):  I think the theme of this top five actually could have been slow burning horror because Entrance is another perfect example of a sense of dread building and building and finally exploding in one virtuoso ending.  Whereas Wheately is more Kubrick, Horvath and Hallam are more Dardenne brothers, following our protagonist, Suziey (I almost want to refuse to spell it that obnoxious way), over her shoulder observing her everyday, very boring life.  Suziey has moved to L.A. and made a few friends but mostly she is lonely and isolated.  She spends her days walking (which in L.A. is strange in itself) and is threatened by men following her around, or are they?  Her paranoia seems misplaced but as a woman I can definitely relate to that fear.  We see a car slow down next to her on an empty road, she hears footsteps behind her, is it harmless or a threat?  After her beloved dog goes missing and she begins to feel more and more anxiety in the city, she decides to move home to the Midwest.  Throughout the film, there is a sustained eeriness and tension, a threat that Suziey and the viewer can’t quite put her finger on.  At her going away party, the power goes out briefly and s*&t gets real we see what has been going on the whole time.  Again, I will refrain from spoiling but the last twenty or so minutes of the film are a single, fluid take and manages to be terrifying and emotional and the last shot is strangely beautiful.


3. Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968):  I am going to say that Witchfinder General is kind of silly, it’s a Hammer horror film for god sakes.  A small budget, medieval setting, lusty wenches and Vincent Price?  A combination for a good time maybe but a truly scary film, probably not.  But again, the ending has really stuck with me for the last few years and the general tone of the movie.   Vincent Price is the "witchfinder", Michael Hopkins, who goes from village to village torturing and killing women who have confessed to be witches and exploiting the fears of the townspeople.  Price, casts an intimidating but slightly silly form, but still, a megalomaniac.  But as the film goes on, the viewer can see how serious he takes the slightly silly material and the movie takes a dark turn.  Hopkins and his henchman capture and torture a local priest.  His young and beautiful niece offers herself to Hopkins in order to save her uncle.  Instead she is brutally raped by the Igor like henchmen and Hopkins rejects her and executes her uncle.  After the execution of the priest, the young girls soldier fiancĂ© vows revenge and goes after Hopkins.  The inevitable showdown at the end of the movie is almost as f*#&ed up as the aforementioned Kill List, a haunting vision of murder and madness.



4. The House of the Devil:  (Ti West, 2009): Ti West uses the hallmarks of 1980’s horror films to, you guessed it, build exquisite and nail biting tension in this satanic take on the babysitter alone in the house film.  Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is completely broke and in order to pay for her schooling she takes a job “babysitting” a bed ridden woman in a extremely isolated and extremely creepy house.  Greta Gerwig, my current favorite indie darling, appears as the nosey and skeptical best friend and Tom Noonan is effectively unsettling as the man who hires Samantha. Donahue is pretty forgettable as Samantha, I mean if you have Gerwig, use her, but the atmosphere distracts enough from her uninspired performance.  The standout sequence is when Samantha dances around the house listening to her walk-man, not quite realizing what is behind every door she nearly opens (you will never think of the song that plays, "One Thing Leads to Another" the same way!).  West effectively conjures up the fear of isolation and strangers perfectly and leaves you creeped out at the very last scene (obviously I have a thing for last scenes, in horror movies, I think a shock ending is the way to leave a lasting impression, especially for me, since I have my hands over my eyes half the time anyway!).  A perfect amalgam of haunted house and slasher movies with a bit of Rosemary’s Baby thrown in for good measure, House of the Devil is definitely not a movie I will be revisiting any time soon and on this list, that’s the highest compliment I can pay a film.


5. You’re Next (Adam Wingard, 2013):  You’re Next is a clever and nasty little movie, house invasion story that doesn’t shy away from gore and bloody and creative ways to kill people.  The story begins on an ominous and tongue in cheek note with a man and his much younger, much nuder girlfriend post coitus.  As she mopes around (shirtless, of course, this is a nod to slasher films) he showers.  We can guess what happens next.  As he emerges from the shower he finds You’re Next written in blood.  This isn’t a particularly scary movie but the you’re next motif was certainly the most effective scare of the movie.  And it comes back, just let me tell you.  We then move onto the neighbors, a beautiful country mansion.  The family is arriving to celebrate the parent's anniversary, four children and their significant others.  Tensions are palpable between the siblings, their spouses and the parents, everyone is whinging and .  At first I thought the movie was too mean spirited with the viewer hoping to see the unsympathetic characters killed.  But quickly Erin (Sharni Vinson), girlfriend of Crispian, slightly chubby college professor,  emerges as the prototypical final girl and we have someone to root for and hopefully save the incompetent family. I also got a kick out of seeing Joe Swanberg, indie director in the flesh; he is appropriately smarmy as the eldest brother. There is a twist that I saw coming from a mile away and I didn’t like the egregious and mean spirited last shot but overall You’re Next is a fun dissection of the horror genre that follows the formula but also keeps it fresh.

House of the Devil, You're Next, Kill List,  and Witchfinder General are all available on Netflix Instant if you are looking for a last minute scary choice.  Happy Halloween! 

Julie


Thursday, August 14, 2014

La Femme Recommeds…Snowpiercer



The world is frozen in Bong Joon Ho's Snowpiercer, but luckily for the remaining citizens on the title train, an eccentric billionaire, Wilford, (is there any other kind?) built a continuous engine train that goes all around the world in one year and even though the outside world is dead, all of the one percenters who bought a ticket get to live out the apocalypse in nearly unbelievable and ignorant luxury.  The benevolent Wilford even allowed the dirty masses who didn't have tickets to stuff themselves like sardines into the steerage at the back of the train.  Nearly eighteen years later the train is still traveling around the world and the perfect balance of the haves at the front and the have-nots at the back has reached a breaking point. Quite a concept, no?

Like my last movie I recommended, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Snowpiercer is very plot heavy  and as an amateur critic I find it hard to not share every detail, but I will try my best to be concise:  Chris Evans is our hero, Curtis, and boy do the tailies (Lost forever, right?) need one.  Sure, they didn't freeze to death but they live in squalor, survive on repulsive gelatinous protein bars and every once in a while some of the guards come and take a couple kids away.  The tailies wise old guru,  Gilliam (John Hurt), a kind man missing his arms and legs, are itching for a revolt and know the only way anything will change for them is to take over the engine.  The tailies see their opportunity, in fact, its almost too easy at first, and begin the revolt up to the front.  As with any adventure movie, along the way they free Namgoong Minsu and his daughter.  Minsu is an engineer who designed the locks between the cars who is seemingly addicted to Kronole, a charcoal looking drug popular among the elite, but sure seems more interested in collecting it than smoking it.  Together, this motley crew makes their way to the front facing numerous challenges, to say the least.

Describing this movie makes it seem supremely silly.   And it kind of is, when it isn't being overwhelmingly bleak.  Fortunately, Snowpiercer hits some of my cinematic sweet spots: highly ambitious to the point of foolishness,  over the top but pitch perfect performances and lots of pretty stuff to look at.  Although the film exists in shades of grey, Bong uses the confines of the train to great effect.  Bong manages to build a pretty convincing world in this train, he builds great suspense with the "what's behind that door concept", each time, we see the tailies open a door, a weird, funny or even downright terrifying new world awaits them.  They slowly go from the appropriately dingy steerage section to the front of the train, the lavish world the elites live in.  The film is an interesting series of vignettes in which new scene and new car holds a new discovery, from an aquarium to a nightclub to everything in between.  Bong manages to hold the tone somewhere between an action movie (the fight scene between the rebels and an almost medieval army is stunning and scary and ends with a beautiful visual punch when they end up in a tunnel and are thrown into complete darkness, that ends up being lit by night vision and fire) to a dark comedy (the classroom where the children rejoice in a ditty about not freezing and dying).  Its an awful lot of fun for a movie about the end of the world.

Chris Evans doesn't have much charisma as Curtis and it does make the viewer wonder why he is even chosen for such a role.  Although, I do admire Bong for leaving a lot of the character development to essentially the last fifteen minutes of the movie, without an actor with charm and the chops to imply a back story without exposition, it makes him too much of a blank slate.  Luckily the supporting cast makes up for it, Octavvia Spencer, Ewen Bremmer, Jon Hurt and Jamie Bell liven up the dullness of our hero.  And Song Kang-ho and Go Ah-sung are spectacular as father and daughter and give the movie the real emotional stakes it needs.   Kang-ho is unpredictable as Namgoong Minsu, a man with a pretty interesting ulterior motive and Ah-sung is charming as his sweet natured daughter.  But for me, Tilda Swinton steals the show as a ridiculous Margaret Thatcheresque agent of Wilford's, Mason.  She has ridiculous teeth and wigs and makeup and accent and costume, and pretty much everything and she so easily could be caricature and only used for comedy.  When she delivers a speech to the tailies about how they are shoes and she is a hat is is funny and chilling all at once, she may look silly, but she is deathly serious in her devotion to Wilford and her true, slimy nature is revealed piece by piece. She is so fascinating and strange and charismatic that you can't take your eyes off of her.  Swinton is over the top in the best way possible, its the kind of performance that can't help but be memorable.

 Unfortunately in the end, Snowpiercer, like so many ambitious film can't quite make it work.  Its difficult to discuss in this review without spoiling to much so I will be delicate and apologize for being cryptic. Eventually Curtis makes it to the front of the train and confronts Wilford in a perfectly calm antechamber.  All the while, the remaining rebels are in a fight for their lives.  The juxtaposition of complete calm and complete chaos diminishes both.  What bothered me the most though was the conversation between Curtis Wilford and the ultimate reveal about the nature of the train and the rebellion.  What Bong does with this revelation essentially makes nearly the entire film meaningless.  The journey, the deaths of his companions, the people he trusted, all becomes senseless. I understand the need for an "Explanation" of Wilford and his train but the way it was staged, edited and acted sucked all the life out of the movie.  Bong tries to end the film with a bang, but it ends up more like a whimper.  Snowpiercer is a pretty fun journey, but unfortunately the ultimate destination leaves much to be desired.

Julie

Monday, July 14, 2014

It's Twelve O'Clock Somewhere….Polynesian Mule


One of the things I love most about cocktails is the glassware.  In fact, K has forbidden me from buying any more until we get a china cabinet.  That means every time I go to any store it is a struggle for me to not buy some adorable glasses I just have to have for some drink or another.  I mean, if you are going to make a hurricane I think you should have a hurricane glass!  So when I got into Moscow Mules awhile ago I knew I had to score some glasses.  K was kind enough to buy me the beautiful copper mugs you see in the photos below so that I could properly enjoy this spicy, gingery concoction.

After having some Moscow Mules in a couple different restaurants, I realized I didn't actually like Moscow Mules all that much, I really just liked the cups!  Ginger ale and ginger beer have never been my favorites and adding vodka, a flavorless spirit, to the mix didn't really excite me.  Instead, after I got the cups at home I found myself never using them.  I made K add more and more lime to try and brighten it up but I wanted something more.  One day I suggested adding pineapple juice and the Polynesian Mule was born!

As readers know I love rum and therefore all things Tiki so pineapple juice was a natural addition for me.  Lots of acid from the lime and the sweet yet tart bite of the pineapple perfectly complement the sharp taste of the ginger beer.  Using a smooth vodka is definitely recommended as well, my usual low priced brand is Svedka, but I prefer Absolut (Swedish vodka for life!).

Serving in a copper glass is recommended but not required.  Serving it over crushed ice is.



Polynesian Mule

2 oz vodka
3 oz ginger beer
1 oz pineapple juice
Juice of 1 lime
Garnish with lime and pineapple wedges

Fill glass with crushed ice.  Pour ingredients over ice and mix.  Garnish with lime and pineapple wedges.








Imagine you are on a beach in Tahiti!

Julie



Tuesday, June 10, 2014

La Femme Recommends…The Grand Budapest Hotel

La Femme Julie Presents:  The Grand Budapest Hotel, a review in Four Parts.  (Indulge me, this is my homage to Wes Anderson, cute, quirky, twee and hopefully only slightly cloying.)



Part 1: In which the machinations of the plot are discussed.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a Matryoshka doll of a film, a story, within a story, within a story.  The film begins with an aged Author (Tom Wilkinson) introducing the story and his younger self (Jude Law).  The Young Writer (that is the character name, is it too twee or just right? )  is a guest at a formerly renowned hotel, now an ugly communist run palace, in the fictional land of Zubrowka, a tiny, much invaded country.  There the Young Writer meets the mysterious owner of the hotel, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who invites him to dinner to tell him the story of how he came to own The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Much of Mr. Moustafa's story focuses on his mentor, the former manager of the hotel, Monsieur Gustave, played with gusto by a lovely Ralph Fiennes.  M. Gustave has the habit of doting on and sleeping with the elderly women who stay at the hotel, he takes this duty as a  very important and sacred part of his job as a concierge.   M. Gustave's most recent conquest, a wonderfully made-up Tilda Swinton, is found dead, and foul play is suspected.  When her will is read and and she leaves her lover a priceless painting, "Boy with Apple, and M. Gustave finds himself accused of murder. Knowing that he will never get the painting, Mr. Moustafa encourages him to steal it and replaces it with a lewd pornographic painting in the estate (one of the best gags of the film is how long it takes the "grieving" family to notice their prized possession is gone).  What happens next include: pastry, ski lifts, a secret society, but also, a dead cat, severed fingers and an the ominous cloud of world war.


 Part 2: In which the cast of characters are lauded.


Fiennes is dignified, deathly serious and terribly funny, he brings an old fashioned feel to the character of M. Gustave.  Gustave is snobbish but also able to fit in to almost any situation, but instead of making him too much of an enigma, Fiennes fills him with a humanism that is sometimes missing from Anderon's characters.  He has the poignancy that this soon to be relic of an earlier time, needs as well as the light handed touch that a character this silly needs.  The enormous cast can't go unmentioned: a cavalcade of actors that are beloved by me, at least.  Jeff Goldblum as the very moral lawyer, Mathieu Almaric (mon boo!) as Serge X, a servant caught in the middle of the investigation, Wilem Defoe at his most menacing as a unrelenting heavy and Sariose Ronan as Mr. Moustafa's love interest, a pastry chef with a birthmark the shape of Mexico. I also loved Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Adrien Brody, etc. The list could go on.  Newcomer Tony Revolori is delightful as the young Zero Moustafa and while he does have some of the quirks of some of the traditional Anderson characters, particularly the young ones, he is winning and funny as the lobby boy hero.  I did find some of the cameos later in the film to be a little distracting but also a lot of fun. I won't spoil them here.

Part 3: In which the mise en scene of the auteur is analyzed.




The sets are gorgeous: whimsical, over the top and amazingly detailed but not to the point of distraction as it can be in some of his other films.  Instead they fit the opulent and bygone world depicted in the film.  Anderson has always had a razor like focus into his own worlds, nothing seems to exist outside of the characters and the same is true here, but the scope is so much bigger that I think it works a bit better.    I loved a lot of the sight gags (the painting above) and the light handed Lubitsch touch that he brought to the film.  So  many times I think Anderson can wear his influences on his sleeve and veer too much into homage but in The Grand Budapest Hotel the movie felt like it could be a Lubitsch comedy, mixing romance and drama and world war all at once. The presence of a dark cloud over this candy covered world made the film seem more mature and overall it had more pathos than any of Anderon's previous films.

Part 4: In which the themes of the film are investigated.




What shocked me most about The Grand Budapest Hotel were the themes that I saw Anderson working with: nostalgia, always, but in this film it was nostalgia for something that wasn't just fading away like the Tannenbaum's home or the summer in Moonrise Kingdom.  Instead it was something, a whole way of life that was about to be wiped out.  This film featured shocking (well for Anderson)  moments of violence, not realistic or over the top, but nevertheless, jarring and fresh. The palpable sense sense of foreboding and dread, throughout all eras of the film worked so well for me.  For example: twice, once at the beginning and once at the end Mr. Moustafa and M. Gustave are stopped at a border crossing and both times there is a palpable sense of fear.  The first time the Lubitsch touch works and M. Gustave's world keeps going.  The second time the outcome is much much different.  War is coming to this tiny country and although we don't see it, we feel it.  The world is changing and it can't go back to the world of M. Gustave.  Along we Anderson we mourn powder pink hotels, lobby boys and dapper mustachioed concierges who know how to make every guest feel like royalty.

Julie