The French Dispatch – A Movie Review

I truly wanted to see The French Dispatch when it was in theaters but simply couldn’t find the opportunity. Fortunately, it found its way to Blu-ray in record time. Thanks to my local library, I was able to watch it the other night.

The French Dispatch is Wes Anderson’s latest film. You know Wes Anderson as the director of Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

If you enjoy Wes Anderson’s general style, you’ll love The French Dispatch as well. Although, I have to admit, it is slightly edgier than his normal work. More on that in a moment.

The French Dispatch is about an American man who started a branch of his father’s newspaper in a French town. The film delivers five separate vignettes depicting local stories in the newspaper’s final edition. Why is the newspaper coming to an end? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

As usual, Wes Anderson manages to deliver something new with each of his works. The French Dispatch utilizes some fascinating angles, lighting, use of black and white, and even animation. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

Furthermore, in my opinion, The French Dispatch is a touch more adult than previous works. There is quite a bit of full frontal nudity, which is completely related to a particular story within the movie, as well as a bit of violence that I found unusual for him as well. In fact, those five vignettes are thematically linked but fairly unique from one another, which is perhaps why we see some atypical offerings from Anderson. Of course, as you would expect, each story within the movie is all at once whimsical, revealing, thought-provoking, irreverent, and bold.

Anderson brings back his old favorites as well as some new faces for The French Dispatch. You’ll recognize Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Adrien Brody, Timothée Chalamet, Tony Revolori, and even Henry Winkler.

I happen to love Anderson’s approach to film. I’m not sure a casual movie-goer would find The French Dispatch all that enticing, but for fans of the filmmaker, it’s a noteworthy addition to his body of work.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – A Movie Review

I don’t know much about the technical aspects of movies.  I don’t completely understand how movies are even made.  I do know this, though: I like weird, I like original, I like passion, I like real characters, I like visual stimuli, and I like unpredictable plots.  Because of this, I like Wes Anderson.  A lot.

The Grand Budapest Hotel has all of the above qualities.  It’s a story within a story within a story, but the third “within a story” is really the core of the film.

I won’t bother trying to explain it other than by saying it’s about a charismatic concierge who finds himself in the mix of a murder mystery.  But it’s actually about so much more than just that.  Seriously.

Though the movie is pretty typical Wes Anderson, that fact makes it no less lovable.  Nobody does Wes Anderson better than Wes Anderson, so I don’t fault him for maintaining a certain status quo.  His status quo, by the way, is much more innovative and novel than anyone else in the industry.  I think that may be why almost every new Wes Anderson movie becomes my new favorite Wes Anderson movie.

Anderson does dive into some slightly darker material with this film.  I think I’ve seen most of his work, and while I wouldn’t describe the movie as violent by any stretch of the imagination, it has a little more edge when it comes to the grotesque than is standard for him.

Also, The Grand Budapest Hotel utilizes far more star power than any of his previous films.  Look for appearances by Jude Law, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, and Owen Wilson.

Four people, though stole the show.  Ralph Fiennes delivered my favorite performance of all time by the man.  His concierge is unlike anything I’ve ever seen from Fiennes, and I’m frankly shocked he could pull of such unique comedy.  His character is notorious, tough, flamboyant, dainty, verbose, and charismatic beyond belief.  It’s his greatest stretch, and his best work.  Totally serious, by the way.

Adriene Brody played sleaze like I’ve never seen from him, either.  His part was pretty small, but he owned every scene in which he appeared.

Much like Brody, William Dafoe rocked.  I bet Dafoe didn’t have fifty total words in the movie, but he brought an extraordinary level of creepiness to his character through sheer body language and facial expressions.

Of course, I should say that Dafoe and Brody were hilarious nonetheless.  Creepy, deplorable, but hilarious.

Finally, Tony Revolori’s “Zero” cannot be resisted.  As a young man who takes his role as “lobby boy” deadly serious, I dare anyone to dislike his character.  Like Fiennes, Revolori brings an aspect of toughness to his part, but also infuses a magnetic innocence as well.

While the dialogue and visuals are in tune with Anderson techniques, I’d say The Grand Budapest Hotel is unlike his other movies due to a deeply layered plot, lots of movie stars, and probably more action than we’ve seen before.  Anderson should not be underestimated as a director (and I don’t think he is).  Beyond all the humorous pranks and visual oddities, this man can draw out fantastic performances from his actors.

This is a delightfully weird movie, and that’s why I love it.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) Poster

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – A Movie Review

What can I say other than I loved this movie?  It’s quirky, it’s understated, it’s inadvertently hilarious, and it’s the opposite of most every other movie I’ve seen lately.  And that’s why I loved it.

This film is brought to you by Wes Anderson, the guy who gave us The Royal Tenenbaums (which was also an excellent film for the same reasons).  It stars a can’t-miss Bill Murray, a nearly-can’t-miss Owen Wilson, a gaining-respect-in-my-book Cate Blanchett, a can’t-miss-if-you-get-him Jeff Goldblum, a nice-change-of-pace William Dafoe, and a much- better-actress-than-I’ve-previously-given-her-credit-for Anjelica Huston.

This movie, for all its eccentricity, truly did touch an emotional cord with me.  At the heart of it we’ve got Steve Zissou, a man trying to bond with someone that may or not be his son, a man who can’t hold his marriage together, a man whose best friend was eaten by a jaguar shark that may or may not exist, a man whose once stellar documentary film career is waning, a man who has somehow become a pale shadow of his former self.  Pretty heavy stuff, isn’t it? 

Somehow these qualities don’t glare at you because of the overall underplayed hilarity of the film.  The sea life is animated in such a way that you’re never supposed to think for an instant that they’re real, the insides of the ship they sail on is purposefully supposed to look like a multi-layered set on a theatre stage, and, best of all, we’ve got a member of Zissou’s crew singing David Bowie songs throughout the film in Portuguese. 

Unlikely moments of somberness are met with over-the-top moments of action, all infused with mundane moments of life on an adventure paying homage to Jacques Cousteau.  I never would have thought these qualities had the makings of a superb comedy, and that’s why The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a rousing success.

The Darjeeling Limited – A Movie Review

Not as eccentric as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou or as dark as The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited falls somewhere in-between and is an entity unto itself.  However, make no mistake; this is a Wes Anderson movie through-and-through.  In other words, it’s well-made and very fun to watch.

Owen Wilson plays Francis, the oldest of three siblings who calls his two brothers, Peter and Jack played (respectively played by Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) to India.  They meet on the train called the Darjeeling Limited with no idea as to Francis’ plans for them.  It turns out they haven’t seen each other in a year, and Francis wants them to reconnect as brothers on a spiritual quest.  However, he also has some other plans for them that he keeps to himself for as long as possible.

Wes Anderson is one of those creators that I prize.  He brings a unique vision to his projects that I both revere and respect, no matter what the subject matter or presentation.  The Darjeeling Limited was equal parts funny and dramatic, but it was never laugh-out-loud, nor did it bring a tear to your eye.  At times, though, it had you on the verge of both.

Furthermore, it delved into the relationships between brothers and delivered dialogue and ridiculous situations that, while certainly “Anderson” in nature, were still relatable to anyone with a brother.

The quiet interpretations of such outrageous characters by Wilson, Brody, and Schwartzman made me love them and, at times, detest them.  Really, though, isn’t that what real life is like with people? 

I’d like to say that Schwartzman is always wonderful, Owen presented himself as the actor I wish he always was, and Brody was a fine addition to the Anderson universe.  We’ve seen Schwartzman and Wilson with Anderson before, so I knew they’d knock it out of the park with his direction, but Brody was a pleasant surprise.  He played both the most grounded and troubled of the brothers, and that’s saying something.  There were also some special appearances by Anderson’s favorites that I won’t spoil for you.

A pleasant surprise on the DVD was the inclusion of the short film, Hotel Chevalier.  Roughly ten minutes, it serves as a prequel of sorts to The Darjeeling Limited and fleshes out some of Jason Schwartzman’s character and that of his ex-girlfriend played by Natalie Portman.  It’s not totally necessary to understand The Darjeeling Limited, but it does help the film make a bit more sense in terms of some references.

If you didn’t enjoy any of Wes Anderson’s previous films, there’s no reason to believe you’d like one set in India, primarily on a train, exploring the complex relationship of dysfunctional brothers.  However, while I still consider The Royal Tenenbaums my favorite of his work, The Darjeeling Limited was very cleverly made with delightfully peculiar characters.