This week in movies: ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel,’ ‘The Face of Love’

March 5, 2014

budapest

Here’s a quick note about my reviewing schedule for the next couple of months:

I’m about to launch a large project that is going to take most of the time I normally devote to the writing for this website, and even a little of the movie-viewing time. I will have more about the project itself when the moment is right.

I’m still going to be seeing and reviewing movies, because of other obligations I have, as both a critic and a curator. But I’m not going to have the time to write at the kind of length and depth that I hope I bring to my reviews for this space.

I hope to still write once or twice a week, including a weekly round-up of shorter reviews of the movies that are opening that Friday. With luck, I’ll also have time to pound out regular commentaries, again on a weekly basis, hopefully. (Those of you who read this space regularly have probably figured out that’s dictated by the presence or lack of ideas, more than anything else.)

There will be more to come about the project as it evolves. Meanwhile, here’s a look at a couple of this week’s movies:

How do I love the work of Wes Anderson? Let me count the ways. Anderson may be the most consistently original filmmaker to emerge during the 25 years I’ve been writing about film in New York. He has a distinctive style that only gets deeper as he matures – and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” may be his most emotionally engaged, dramatically varied film of his career.

A story within a story within a story, “Grand Budapest” features many of the familiar faces of Anderson’s stock company, if only in smaller roles: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and several others. But it also brings Ralph Fiennes into the Anderson flock, as the story’s central character, M. Gustave H., concierge nonpareil at the title establishment, a fictional mittel-European country in the years between the world wars.

The story itself hits a range of odd notes, from M. Gustave’s ambisexuality to the precision mechanics of running a luxury hotel to the fine art of wooing the elderly women who are its guests – to dealing with the rising threat of Nazism. But it is the deft, exceptionally light touch that Fiennes brings to moments both comic and serious that gives this engine its fuel.

The dazzling design of Adam Stockhausen, the wonderfully aggressive music by Alexandre Desplat and the delicious deadpan performance of Tony Revolori, the discovery who plays lobby-boy foil to Fiennes’ alternately persnickety and pragmatic Gustave: Anderson weaves them all together into a movie that will have you barking with surprised laughter and, perhaps, a little choked up at the end.

face of love

I also enjoyed Arie Posin’s “The Face of Love.” A friend recently referred to it as pure melodrama, and I can’t disagree. But without twisting the plot into pretzel-like machinations, Posin manages to take a leap-of-faith premise and ground it in real emotions that allow it to transcend the gimmick at its heart.

Annette Bening plays Nikki, first seen as a woman on vacation in Mexico with her husband, Garrett (Ed Harris). They’re having a ball – right up to the moment when she discovers his drowned body on the shore, the victim of a drunken swim and a riptide. And that’s the first five minutes.

Cut to five years later and Nikki is still a lonely widow with a concerned daughter (Jess Weixler) and a needy neighbor (Robin Williams). Then one day at an art museum, she spots Tom (also Ed Harris) and her life changes. Rather than tell him that he’s a dead ringer for her late husband, she finds a way to meet and woo him (he’s a divorced painter/art teacher). Though she doesn’t call him Garrett, she’s obviously involved in some heavy-duty projection on this reticent new guy, who succumbs to her charms.

It never gets creepy and yet there is always that element of unease and tension. Films like this – a relationship built on a fundamental lie or omission – are a formula, but Posin figures out how to make it feel less weird than touching.

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