FS, Contributing Writer
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Wes Anderson’s latest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (wide release), is as visually remarkable a film as you’re ever likely to see — a cornucopia of completely artificial images that can honestly be called eye-popping.
It’s also an evocation of a lost era of European elegance that manages to be both funny and poignant.
Ralph Fiennes stars as the concierge of the titular establishment, a palatial refuge for the aristocracy, during the early 1930s. One of his regular customers bequeaths to him a priceless painting that her family refuses to relinquish.
That sets off a zanily farcical chase in which the hotelier and his faithful lobby boy dodge hired thugs and fascist soldiers to secure his rightful inheritance. But the film also has a melancholy edge, mourning the passing of the golden age that the hotel represents, even if the beautiful epoch always existed more in the movies than in reality.
Film buffs will especially appreciate the references to classics that Anderson includes in his script, as well as his employment of different aspect ratios to indicate the time shifts that occur in the story, which is told in flashback.
But one doesn’t have to understand all those flourishes to enjoy the ingenuity and artistry of this “Hotel.”
The latest attempt to turn a series of young-adult novels into a movie franchise is “Divergent” (wide release), which is cut from the same cloth as “The Hunger Games” but is even sillier.
It too is set in a dystopian future in which residents are divided up — not into districts, however, but into five factions based on dominant personality traits. At the age of 16, all youngsters are tested to determine into which group they fall.
Some of them, however, are not easily categorized, and these “divergents,” as they’re called, are thought to pose a danger to the stability of the system. That’s the case with the story’s adolescent heroine Tris (Shailine Woodley), who must keep her uncommon status a secret while undergoing the brutal training required for entrance into the Dauntless faction of soldier-police that she’s chosen as her home.
Tris eventually discovers a plot by another faction — the snooty Erudites — to seize control of the government, and she and her hunky but sensitive mentor Four (Theo James) must use all their abilities to foil it. They succeed only to the extent of providing a basis for the pre-planned sequel.
It’s hard to imagine that this inane premise could have succeeded under the best circumstances, but the execution in “Divergent” is poor, even by the low standards of the genre. The cast — including Kate Winslet as the villainess — is bland, the direction lethargic and even the visuals dank and grim. And for a tale about the virtues of nonconformity, it slavishly conforms to every major element of the template “The Hunger Games” established. If you’re not a rabid fan of the books, you should certainly skip it.
Jason Bateman steps into the director’s chair for “Bad Words” (wide release), in which he also stars as Guy Trilby, a 40-year old man who crashes a national spelling bee that he intends to win — and destroy — by not only outscoring the young contestants, but also by mercilessly psyching them out.
Bateman obviously enjoys playing a supremely nasty fellow who spews out the most withering invective not only to undermine his young rivals, but also to demolish their angry parents and the competition’s officials. The language he uses isn’t merely blunt — as the title indicates — it’s vulgar in the extreme.
But he — and the movie — are actually softhearted. Trilby reluctantly bonds with one of his competitors, a chipper little boy whom he introduces to some pretty unseemly habits, but eventually develops a paternal concern for.
But happily, there’s enough tartness to the picture to keep it from slipping into the depths of sentimentality. The words might be bad, but the movie’s pretty good.
“Muppets Most Wanted”
One knows pretty much what to expect of a movie starring Jim Henson’s lovable creations, and “Muppets Most Wanted” (wide release) contains enough of the formula to please their long-time fans. But it’s distinctly inferior to their 2011 reboot.
This time around, the gang is taken in by a shady promoter (Ricky Gervais) who uses stops along their world tour as diversions for a series of heists leading to the theft of England’s crown jewels. Meanwhile, Kermit is kidnapped and locked up in a Siberian jail presided over by a musical-loving guard (Tina Fey) while he’s replaced among his fellow fluff-balls by an evil doppelganger named Constantine, who’s in cahoots with Gervais.
The movie has lots of lowbrow jokes, absurd musical numbers and pratfalls. But it lacks the verve of the previous movie, and despite the occasional sharp moment it’s no better than average Muppetiana.