Review Roundup - Dollhouse


Wes Anderson seems to be someone who can rub people the wrong way. However this isn't because of any common complaints - he doesn't make over produced blockbusters, badly written teen melodramas or sleazy, immature popcorn cinema. Here it's a fairly specific issue in that the direction is seen as... pretentious. I don't personally agree but there is sometimes a feeling that with a little nudge in the wrong direction things could veer off into the territory of style over substance. But I do like the style. There's something that appeals to me about all the stage like framing, the weird and neurotic characters, and the off beat, awkward semi seriousness of the acting. So, in a film brimming with intentionally obvious miniatures, gaudy colour schemes and even more odd personalities than usual, does it all fall nicely into place or is all the madness a bit too much for it to manage?

A few new things have been introduced that set this apart from the previous releases by the makers of The Life Aquatic and Moonrise Kingdom. Immediately there is a strange framing narrative, that goes back in time to not one but two settings, where the narration is done by an author who changes in age before it then moves to another character entirely. However the most obvious addition to the style of the film is the use of aspect ratios that are historically accurate in a film that is in no way an attempt at retelling history. Since most of the story takes place in a pre widescreen era, there's a squared off 4:3 visual for much of the plot which can be a little distracting - though many classic films of the period are now available in home release like this. Along with the usual on screen lettering and camera angles, this adds another layer of artificiality to the whole thing. Adding that to the storybook effects shots and intricate dolls house sets mean that it feels a bit too... mechanical. The humanity of those earlier movies is rarely shown as the plot rushes between humour, murder, and stolen painting caper. This isn't to say there is no sense of depth or that it lacks any touches of melancholy along the way, but those moments are rather fleeting.

Fortunately it does have a lot of charm and the characters, while not particularly fleshed out in that broken, depressive Anderson way, are all memorable and entertaining in some degree. The big credit goes to Ralph Fiennes who drops the sneering Voldemort act to become the hotel concierge M. Gustave; a very particular, over perfumed man who's love of his older guests spurs the story on, and a figure who can be surprisingly foul mouthed despite his fussy personality. It's a dry, humorous performance which carries the movie. While Tony Revolori does a fine job as his protegé Zero, at times it seems as though he has become lost amongst the excessive amount of supporting cast members, particularly at the parts in the story in which they become separated. There are a vast number of bit parts and cameos and the movie is full of the usual suspects like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson. It's an impressive list, but perhaps something that detracts from the central duo at the core. Ultimately like the titular hotel this is a fun, colourful but over elaborate piece of work that goes a little too far in the way of intricate setups at the cost of serious drama. But it has to be said it's still a lot of fun and there are many aspects to admire during the adventure. Perhaps it's fitting there are so many moments about cake decoration.


ALL IS LOST (2013)

"....Fuck" ~ Robert Redford

In sharp contrast to the overflowing list of cast members seen in 'Grand Budapest...' this is a one man show. A lean, engaging survival story of one man versus the sea. In a way it's almost a version of Life of Pi that has been stripped of excess fat, or a film that could be seen as an antithesis to Gravity - there is almost no dialogue in comparison to Sandra Bullock's chatty space farer, and it certainly has none of the over played sentimental moments. Without any kind of inessential context or back story, you're left with just a nearly mute protagonist and his immediately problematic situation. Redford's grizzled performance allows for many great moments as you follow his efforts to stay alive as he discovers the limits of his sailing knowledge, and the film has lot of great photography, particularly the beautiful underwater moments amongst all the harrowing disaster. A simple story that is effectively told, what more can you ask for.