Gotham Episode 1 Review

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I never had high hopes for this show. From the previews, it appeared as if the program was having difficulties deciding just whose story it was: Bruce Wayne or James Gordon. After the premiere, I was still left wondering.

One gets the sense that it will be Gordon’s vehicle, but his story is far less interesting than that of Bruce Wayne’s. Simply, and to emphasize a point that the Joker has always spouted, Gotham is just not interesting without Batman. He’s the reason we care, his story is one that has lasted 75 years and without him, there’s just not a lot to be emotionally involved in.

The show also makes the mistake of trying to do too much too fast. Thrown into the show at random moments are cameos of Penguin, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Carmine Falcone and Catwoman. There’s no mystery, no intrigue of characters involved in the production, just an excuse to shove in as many references as possible. The result is not exciting, but dreary.

With so much being shoved into the plot, there’s no time for character development. Gordon is your stereotypical just-trying-to-do-the-right-thing-cop, the mobsters are thugs and everyone else barely has enough screen time to register. The characters are distant and caricatures because they are never given an opportunity to breathe and interact, always the next moment of available screen time given to another cameo, leaving the audience with no hero to root for.

On top of that, the writing is stiff when it could have revealed much more. After Gordon returns home to his wife at the end of the episode, his wife opens the door, exclaims, “Thank God you’re all right. I was so worried,” and embraces him. What could have been a moment that revealed true character (perhaps Gordon brushes her off to show that he is afraid of letting her into his world, perhaps Barbara initially cares for him and then berates him for getting involved with the wrong people), is instead treated with the most basic emotion that reveals no inner emotion or subtext. In essence, the entire show is just trying to get itself from moment to moment.

I’ve always believed that Batman could be an excellent television series (the 1960s version and animated version are proof of that), but with current television styles and tastes, a grittier, more character focused attempt, focusing on the relationship between Gordon and Bruce, perhaps on a network like HBO that allowed a truer show of violence, would better serve the story. This just seems like a poorly thought out marketing grab.

Calvary Review

Sometimes, concept is everything. The film begins in a confessional where the confessor tells a priest that he was raped and abused by a minister when he was a child, but can not seek revenge because the man is dead. He then tells the priest he will kill him in one week’s time because murdering an innocent priest will make waves. So begins only the opening repulsion of humanity that the film then spends the next two hours piling on.

In the film, Father James (Brendan Gleeson), facing down his own mortality, tries to look after his congregation of broken individuals ranging from Simon, (Isaach De Bankole) the woman beater, to Teresa (Marie-Josee Croze) the temptress, to the Writer (M. Emmet Walsh) the old suicidal depressive, to Michael Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran) the manic, drunken rich man to even his own fellow Father Leary (David Wilmot), the boring faker. It is hard to believe that out of the community, not one person is of any real decency, but apparently in this land, where people have been screwed over by the wealthy, the Church and themselves, nothing is wholesome. The only saving grace for Father James is his daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly), a formerly suicidal addict who is just getting onto her feet. Their relationship is the only glimmer of any hope.

To say that Calvary (2014) has a pessimistic view of humanity would not do the film justice; it has one of the most depressing views of civilization put to screen, and it does not even feature Nazis, barbarians or terrorists. What it does feature are lost souls, each damaged in different ways, either through sex or money or laziness. Some try to repent, most do not, but they all live in this Irish town with no hope. With Father James trying to make amends with his parish before his possible end in just one week’s time, he has to look each of these individuals in the eye, and try to find something, just one thing, to represent some good he brought to the world. To sit through this agony is tantamount to torture at times, and where the film asks us to question our own humanity and the legacy of our world through the horrible portrayals of a small town, the optimists will instead wonder how much longer the depression onscreen can last.

The strongest thing the film has going for it is its concept, one that could have be handled in so many different ways that would shed true light on mankind and how we leave our world. Director John Michael McDonagh instead leaves us with a bleak view of humanity’s incompetence with no rewarding attributes, one that needs to be washed away with a shower of happiness immediately after viewing.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

Even five years ago, the idea of a Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) film would have been ludicrous. They were B-list superheroes at best. Most people had never heard of them. But with Disney now determined to churn out a superhero film every few months to hold onto their current popularity for as long as they can, it was only a matter of time before something near the bottom of the barrel was given a $200 million budget just for an open summer timeslot. None of this is meant to disparage the fun film, but it is interesting to think about how we have reached a certain apex in superhero film fashion where a ragtag team of losers that includes a giant tree and a talking raccoon with a machine gun is now a major motion picture.

Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), begins the film as a rogue thief looking to make a profit until one of the items he snatches turns out to be an object with immense power that is coveted by an evil warlord, Ronan (Lee Pace). Through his adventure, he meets allies in Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Racoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voice of Vin Diesel). With each working through their own complex pasts involving betrayals and strange lab experiments and heartbreak, they learn to move on from their needs for money or power or revenge and work together to accomplish a greater good. If this sounds somewhat similar to The Avengers (2012), that’s because it is, but with more bizarre, sci-fi elements at play it does distinguish itself. In fact, if you pay close enough attention, you will also see striking similarities to Star Wars (1977) in character types and plot structure.

In difference to other superhero films (though this film barely qualifies in that genre and should be considered more of a sci-fi comedy), Guardians focuses more on humor and action than heart and emotion. The aliens and costumes are bizarre and colorful, the characters and species are plentiful and there are so many laws and devices and objects of immense power that it is difficult to keep track of what may be going on at any particular moment in terms of plot. The filmmakers, director and writer James Gunn and writer Nicole Perlman, understood this bizarre dynamic inherent in the comic book and instead of attempting to create a serious work with sci-fi elements embraced the lunacy of the team, working in jokes and gags that not only mock the characters, their world and the plot, but also the conventions of the superhero film in general (the team deciding to work together, nobody trusting each other, the epic conclusion just to name a few). The result is the world’s first multi-million dollar, superhero cult film.

While the film is nothing truly original, it is a lot of fun along the way, full of colorful images, humor and above all, memorable characters. Marvel and Disney have found a formula that works to produce upmost audience satisfaction, and while it is not earth-shattering art, it serves as enjoyable entertainment.

SPOILERS

The film opens with the death of Peter Quill’s mother, a moment seemingly out of place with the rest of the film. One assumes this was meant to serve as some sort of motivation for his character for the rest of the film, but this falls flat as aliens, magic stones and epic battles begin to overrule the plot. With its somber tone and with it being seemingly the only scene that requires no visual effects, it starts the film off on the wrong foot.

The film then transitions to Quill stealing artifacts and selling them on the black market and this is where things really take off. We learn about his character as he uses strange froglike creatures as microphones and converses with guards who have no idea who he is. This should have been the true start to the film and perhaps a mention that he was of earth and cherishes his music as a last remembrance of his mother would have worked stronger. The music is used very effectively throughout the film, not only highlighting the plot but also Quill’s attachment to Earth and to his mother while also representing his own renegade personality.

Many of the plot elements of Guardians of the Galaxy are confusing. If viewers were not familiar with previous Marvel installments, they may be completely lost in terms of who is who, who hates who, what are the different species and who has treaties with whom. In the end, the film ultimately decides that the plot doesn’t matter that much and focuses on the characters and their relationship with the MacGuffin (Hitchcock’s term for whatever the characters want- in this case a stone that can destroy worlds). Once it is established that this bad guy (Ronan) wants this object that will destroy innocent people and the Guardians have to stop him, the film becomes a very straightforward heroes must save the world(s) narrative and this serves the film better.

The true strength of the film relies on the characters and the actors portraying them. Quill is charismatic and cocksure if incompetent, Gamora is deadly and looking to redeem her past, Rocket Raccoon is immature and greedy, Drax is angry and vengeful and Groot is just fun to watch interact with the others since he can only say three words. Each of the actors (and animators in some cases) brings them to life with vitality that makes the audience understand them and empathize. Watching them interact is fun and keeps the action and humor flowing even when the plot stumbles along.

In the end, Marvel and Disney deliver exactly what you’d expect: laughs, action and strong characters. It seems that the formula for the Disney/Marvel movies has been pretty much set in stone now: flawed heroes who need to learn to work with others against stereotypical villains who are seeking an object that will cause great harm to others. In comparison to great films that we can compare to fine Italian culinary, Disney/Marvel has perfected the sit down family restaurant: filling, full of fun, but nothing particularly memorable or moving. This would be suitable for comic book films in general as popcorn fare until you compare these Disney/Marvel films with other superhero films such as The Dark Knight (2008) or X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) which seem to push the envelope on the emotional range of what superhero films can be. A little more emotional depth and boundary pushing would truly elevate films such as Guardians of the Galaxy further.

As the superhero film has progressed to an assembly line of various entries per year, Guardians represents a move towards the obscure as mainstream. One can only imagine with the multiple sequels, obscure franchises and hundreds of characters how long this current stretch of films can continue to generate revenue. History has taught us that superheroes have always gone through periods of death and rebirth, from the censorship of the 1950s with the Comics Code Authority to the Batman television show (1966-68) to Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) to Batman and Robin (1997) all crashing various waves of superhero popularity. Guardians of the Galaxy is not that crashing point, but it does represent a stretch towards a lack of ideas for Hollywood big-budget films. One hopes that studios recognize the need to change and adapt to superhero overuse and at least change some of the formulaic nature of these films before another crash hits us soon (I’m looking at you, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2015)). For now though, we can enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy as a fun, humorous adventure romp and rest assured that superheroes aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Boyhood Review

It takes a strong amount of dedication to film a project over 12 years with the same cast. What Richard Linklater has done here in Boyhood (2014) is nothing short of remarkable in a modern day sense with strict budgets, deadlines and churning out projects quickly the norm of today. He began in a world right after 9/11, full of paranoia, dominated in popular culture by Dragonball Z and Britney Spears, goes through the Harry Potter phenomenon and Game Boy and the insurgency of the Iraq War and finishes with the ascent of Barack Obama. Over such changing times and a world that has developed constantly, perhaps Linklater’s point is that some things in life are universal, including growing up, dealing with parents and discovering what you really want in life.

This journey is typified in the protagonist Mason, Ellar Coltrane, as he goes from literally a small child to a freshman in college. Along the way, he deals with his fluttering mother, Patricia Arquette, as she bounces from lover to husband, each one seemingly a drunk or an incompetent, his sister, Samantha, Lorelei Linklater, and her own journey, and his estranged father, Ethan Hawke, always trying to instill in him some guidelines and morals, often in unintentionally humorous ways. As each of them tries to raise Mason to be a good man and to make the best living for him while dealing with their own personal issues, Mason is finally able to see that growing up is not about achieving a perfect existence, but enjoying the right moments when they happen.

Mason goes through girlfriends, drugs, friends and fads, each changing with age and outlooks on life. Through each of them, he grows before our eyes, offering an interesting perspective on how not only things change as we age, but on how things changed over just the past few years. I imagine the film plays quite differently for the parents, empathizing with the older characters, and young adults, empathizing with the younger characters. Linklater attempts to create an understanding between both age sects, showing the perspective of each side and trying to allow understanding on all sides.

The film does however have faults in terms of pacing, excitement and character development. The film lights up when Ethan Hawke is onscreen, but fizzles when he is not, the story losing much of its humor and heart. At nearly three hours long, it is also stretching the boundaries of its necessity to continue. One cannot help but reason that perhaps a documentary would have been more dynamic approach at certain instances.

By attempting to create an all-encompassing picture of boyhood in the modern age, nothing really relevant happens in the lives of the characters. The film is more of a series of vignettes illustrating life lessons as gradual changes in age and circumstance affect Mason. The result is that the film maintains a very even tone and not much is risked emotionally throughout the story, the narrative teetering dangerously towards boring on several occasions. Indeed, without the charm of Ethan Hawke’s paternal character, the entire film may have been a snooze especially with its bloated run time.

Tying into this point, the film is told exclusively from the lives of reasonably well-off, family-oriented white people. Not that their lives are perfect, as is the message of the film, but by attempting to create a portrait for everyone of growing up, the far more difficult, and I dare say more interesting, lives of minorities, people without means or other socially relevant families are left disregarded. It is a disservice for Linklater to portray growing up as universal in this manner because his view is almost entirely of that of one social class.

Ultimately though, the film succeeds as a mostly engaging tale about growing up in modern society in the United States. What it lacks in excitement and strong plot points it makes up for in heart and understanding. An enjoyable if not world-changing experience.

 

24: Live Another Day Review

Jack Bauer was supposed to be gone long before this. He was an answer to post-9/11 fear and vengeance, an American hero for the modern age who kicked terrorist’s ass and made us feel safer because he was always willing to go the extra mile, always willing to sacrifice more for his country. Knowing that people like him existed led us to believe that we could be kept safe even as wars broke out all over the world and extremists multiplied where we never dared imagine. Jack was there every Monday night to save us.

As concerns about terrorism (still a very real worry) ebbed towards issues about secret covert actions and government surveillance, 24 failed to adjust to the times and the show was cancelled in 2010. There were rumors of a film, but things never seemed to quite get out off the ground. The country’s love of Jack Bauer though was insatiable. He had become a cultural icon, a mix of Superman, James Bond and Rambo. Even as times change, his appeal doesn’t, and 24: Live Another Day promised to reintegrate Jack into our changing times for at least one more outing, this time in a 12-part series instead of the full 24.

Jack, the always perfectly intense Kiefer Sutherland, stationed this time in London, is attempting to save President Heller, William Devane, from the terrorist Margot Al-Harazi, Michelle Fairley. Along the way, he is helped by his ever trusty sidekick Chloe, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and newcomer CIA agent Kate Morgan, Yvonne Strahovski. This being 24, the plot constantly changes as we transition from Al-Harazi’s daughter to Al-Harazi to drones to Edward Snowden doppelganger Adrian Cross and finally to one of our favorite villains from 24’s past, Cheng Zi. Played by Tzi Ma, he is the perfect villain to bring 24 full-circle, a bridge character connecting Jack, Audrey and President Heller and this version of 24 to previous seasons. His mere presence raises the stakes for the characters as they must confront years of torture and anger at his expense.

There were moments during the season when the show strayed too much towards familiar territory, principally the coordination with a CIA station that does not trust Jack Bauer and their ineptitude costing Jack valuable time. With eight seasons, one mini-movie and now one television short series, the writers may just feel that some things are routine with 24 no matter how overused they are and an inept bureaucracy, unyielding terrorist mastermind and less interesting subplots involving characters we’ve just met are some of them. I could poke and prod the subplots of Kate Morgan, President Heller, Mark Boudreau and Steve Navarro for being unoriginal and contrite in the face of the action going on, but they are simply standards for the 24 series to keep the pace moving. In a way, it is almost a compliment to Kiefer Sutherland and Mary Lynn Rajskub for being so intense and so involving that it makes everything else seem like a distraction. Perhaps in some future iteration of the show, we will be given some breathing room to just focus on Jack and Chloe principally. The show would be stronger for it.

What this season of 24 did manage to pull off was the transforming of current fears into the narrative. With Edward Snowden, the expansion of spying programs, the carrying out of covert wars in faraway regions and resentment towards the United States globally for perceived war crimes carrying news broadcasts and headlines in recent months, 24 was able to present these issues while still maintaining its original premise. Chloe, Adrian Cross and all of their hacker comrades are disillusioned with a government they see as carrying out actions outside of the public eye that are criminal. They are working to reveal U.S. secrets in order to gain some transparency from a government they feel has breached too far, leading up to Cross’ decision to release the override to the world. The protests of Londoners against drone strikes is reflected all over the world as more and more covert actions replace actual war activities. Margot Al-Harazi is as much a terrorist as she is also a symbol of the fears we share about new technology such as drones ending up in the hands of the wrong people. As causes spread and social media allows cells to connect all over the world, the advancements in war robotics and their spread is cause for concern for all citizens. One of the interesting things about 24 is that it merely presents the issue rather than comments on it. Chloe and Cross are never portrayed as villains or heroes for attempting to reveal government secrets until Cross’ actions endanger people. The protests against drones and the antipathy towards the American government are never resolved so much as insinuated that something must be done. Jack simply stops Al-Harazi rather than makes any declarative statement about what we need to do with our military robotics. The writers are wise to defer judgment to us rather than attempt to write it into the narrative.

The conclusion of 24: Live Another Day reveals heartbreakingly the true soul of the show and its appeal all these years later. If Kate had saved Audrey, Jack had stopped Cheng and prevented the Russians from kidnapping Chloe in order to save himself from being handed over, the season would have ended on a false note, full of too much hope for the world we currently live in. Jack doesn’t get happy endings no matter how hard we may wish him to. Audrey’s death elevated this final episode and the entire season from being just one last go around for Jack to a persistent reminder of what he represents, a man who has to endure pain and suffering to keep us safe. It is what makes his character so compelling to watch after 9/11, after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, after covert drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Jack sacrifices everything, his wife, a relationship with his daughter, his sanity at times and even the respect of the government he protects, to keep us safe. In a world that scares us with new threats every day, an ever-changing environment of murderers and wars and destruction, knowing that there is someone out there who will give everything, literally everything, to keep us safe is comforting.

At the conclusion of the mini-series, President Heller is just waiting for his Alzheimer’s to advance so he can forget about his life, Kate turns in her badge and in so doing her honor after failing to keep the President’s daughter safe and Chloe is left in remorse after her best friend gives himself up for her. In a way, all of these characters have suffered so much that the audience can forgive them for just trying to move on with their lives. Jack, however, we know deep down, will still lay it on the line, sacrificing everything we hold dear to keep us safe. There is a line in season four where then Secretary of Defense Heller tells Audrey, “The world needs people like Jack.” This has summed up the show for all these years. Until we reach that apex where we are free from fear whether it be from terrorists, foreign governments or covert spies, we will need to believe in people like Jack Bauer. I hope that we get to see him again. He makes us sleep better at night.

The Lego Movie Review

The Lego Movie (2014) may initially seem like a corporate ploy to sell toys, and in a way it still is. Infused into that commercial scheme however is an hysterical narrative about potential and imagination. There is literally a laugh a minute, and the humor is spread out evenly amongst all age groups.

Emmet, voiced by Chris Pratt, the most ordinary character without imagination you will ever see, is seemingly “the special”, a being who will stop the evil plotting of Lord Business, Will Ferrell, who wishes to destroy all creativity and playtime in the world of the Legos. With Vitruvius, Morgan Freeman, as his mentor and Wyldstyle, Elizabeth Banks, and Batman, a hilarious Will Arnett, as sidekicks among others, Emmet engages in a daring quest that caravans through pirates, cowboys, superheroes, fantasy lands and a little boy’s basement. There is never a strong sense of danger involved in the events of the story, but that does not make it less compelling, instead adding a level of carefree fun absent in so many films.

While Emmet and Vitruvius have compelling characters and strong narratives, Batman steals the show in just a few scenes just because he is Batman. For fans of the character, they will not be disappointed with the Dark Knight.

Humor drives the narrative through its weaker points so the audience is always entertained. The end of act two and the beginning of act three do drag a little bit and some might have issues with the conclusion and its diverting focus, but it is where the film’s heart lies and makes the movie truly memorable.

 

SPOILERS

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Protagonist: Emmet

Antagonist: Lord Business

Desire: Prove his worth

Value: Self-esteem

Inciting Incident: Emmet finds the Piece of Resistance, igniting a prophecy that he will save the realm

Act One Climax: Emmet is rescued by Wyldstyle who takes him to Vitruvius where he agrees to be trained as The Special

Midpoint: After Cloud Cuckooland is destroyed, Emmet is forced to lead the team to Lord Business’ layer in a last desperate attempt to save the realm

Act Two Climax: After Vitruvius is killed, Emmet sacrifices himself to save the Master Builders from Lord Business, giving Wyldstyle the command to stop his plan

Act Three Climax: Returning back to Legoland, Emmet uses his skills as a Master Builder to save his friends and uses his power as The Special to turn Lord Business towards the light with the knowledge he has learned

 

The film stresses a belief in the power of imagination. Finn is a boy who just wants to let his mind take him places and explore, but his father believes that things must be done according to a set of rigid instructions. While this may seem a flimsy premise for an entire film, it actually pits two contrasting views on creativity and the value of imagination against each other: one that values venturing out and attempting to create something unafraid of criticism, another that believes in strict interpretation and the achievement of perfection above all else. There is no doubt that the film is biased towards a belief in venturing out, but it is an interesting dynamic to consider. These two differing philosophies clash, symbolized by Lord Business’ incessant desire to create order and Emmet’s need to prove himself as “the special”.

Emmet’s journey is interesting in how he needs to prove himself to so many: Vitruvius, Wyldstyle, Batman, Lord Business, his friends who have all forgotten him and all of the Master Builders. This is very similar to the pressures put on to the boy representing him, Finn. As all children of that age, he is trying to prove himself to the world, trying to define himself for the first time in his life and terrified of failure. He needs a haven of escapism, somewhere where he is free to make mistakes and experiment with different things. The stories he invents with his Legos give him an avenue of freedom difficult to find in the adult world, something that his father has lost through his years in an environment that demands exacting interpretation. Only when Lord Business sees the value of pure creation, without the need to acquiesce to other people’s notions of perfection, can he appreciate the beauty of the freedom of youth that he has lost.

At the center of this conflict is the belief in the special, a made-up prophecy that aspires to everyone. As Emmet explains at the end of the film, the special can be anyone who sees the value in creation and expressing one’s thoughts. It is not limited to individuals of greatness (Emmett indeed is incredibly ordinary), but by those who learn to not be afraid of expressing themselves, especially to those of authority as Finn does with his father.

The Lego Movie will indeed sell toys and merchandise as it is intended to do. It is a corporate money-grab not that different from the Transformers (2007-present) movies or Space Jam (1996) or Battleship (2012). But Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have created their own imaginative romp that explores the value of youthful expression inside what could have been another stale appeal to the masses. The film contains all the joy and humor that modern audiences may have forgotten about in dark times and gives us a glimpse back into the wonderment of a child’s eyes.

The Grand Budapest Hotel Review

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) combines so many genre elements from drama to comedy to murder mystery to prison escape film it’s amazing that it doesn’t fall apart at some point. Instead it seems to thrive on how many themes it can represent.

The star of the story undoubtedly is Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave. He very much embodies the smooth, congenial and self-obsessed hotel concierge and captivates in every scene he is in. With Mr. Fiennes leading the action, all the other Anderson familiar crew follow suit, including Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman along with newcomers F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel and Tony Revolori. It’s an impressive cast to be sure and they are almost all given adequate screen time and story presence.

What does present somewhat of an issue however is tone. The audience will be laughing at one moment, depressed at another and disgusted at another (a certain scene involving four fingers). Sometimes these contradict each other and are hard to digest emotionally.

Wes Anderson has also maintained a very unique and rigid visual style and if you can not stand it (as I know some people can not), they would be best to avoid this film as it continues the pans, center framing and pastel-like visual palette. If you are a fan of his work, this fits right into his cannon as one of his greatest stories, not quite as strong as Moonrise Kingdom (2012), but still offering profound lessons on hospitality in the modern world, the treatment of all social classes and a reflection on a time period of war that destroyed so much for so many.

SPOILERS

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The marketing behind the film is slightly misleading. I went to the movie after seeing the trailer believing this to be a murder mystery with a wrongly accused man. What the film is actually about are the class differences between the elite who attempt to control everything and the lower class that is just trying to survive.

M. Gustave is revered by the elite for his manners and hospitality. He seems to control them and in a way views himself as one of them, sleeping with all of the old ladies and believing in a just world of politeness. When one of the old ladies he had been schmoozing leaves a rare, priceless painting to him after her death, the remaining elite of her family, epitomized by Dmitri played by Adrien Brody, go berserk and refuse to stop at anything to discredit and eliminate the perceived lesser individual. Through all of this, M. Gustave is then put in jail for her murder while the henchman Jopling, played by Willem Dafoe, goes on a killing rampage to make sure that the missing painting is found and all those who stand before the family are eliminated.

The trials that M. Gustave and his lobby boy, Zero, have to endure epitomize the plight of the lower class as the elite attempt to force their way on the masses. The actions of the antagonists, Dmitri and Jopling, drive the action. The film frames them as totally unsympathetic, further pushing the audience towards M. Gustave and Zero if they weren’t already likable enough. Zero in particular is presented as a rather shy, naïve and tepid boy, completely overwhelmed by the situation around him while M. Gustave is so charismatic and genial. What the film lacks in complex characters however it makes up for in a constantly moving plot, never allowing the audience to sit complacent for too long as it switches from murder mystery to prison escape to ski chase to hotel shoot out. So much happens so quickly, and it is all very fun to watch.

Anderson’s sets are always very lavish in a homespun kind of way, and this film is no exception. With the characters nearly always in the center of the frame, this allows the filmmakers to design elaborate vignettes around them, highlighting certain aspects of the story (such as Dmitir’s evil home symbolized as a throne with dark hanging objects and low light or Gustave’s hotel lobby as his sanctuary with bright chandeliers). The color palette is also very interesting in the warm hues of the Grand Budapest Hotel, making it very inviting, the dullness of prison, symbolizing lifelessness and the soft white tint of the snow, characteristic of a struggle to see through as Zero and Gustave cross paths with Jopling. If you pay close attention, you will also notice the aspect ratio of the film change several times depending on what time period we are in. This creates several distinct feelings for each era.

Perhaps the most fun aspect that tickles the brain is just how the story is told. We start with a young girl reading a book that cuts to an author writing a book that cuts to a fictional author finding a man who becomes the narrator to another man’s story. In a way then, this film is about a girl reading a book by an author writing about an author who meets an old man who tells us about a hotel concierge. We are then peering through a narrative that has gone through many voices and has become a story for the masses, symbolizing The Grand Budapest Hotel’s message of common bond between man beyond social class.

Understanding films from all angles