The Muppets pass by The Grand Budapest Hotel

Attempting to round up two recent films in this entry with a certain combination of brevity and detail.

As a lifelong Muppets fan I was eager to catch their latest romp Muppets Most Wanted. While the central casting (Ricky Gervais et al) seemed to hint that it might be a lesser entry in the series, the gang has an undeniably enduring charm. And their camaraderie shined in this escapade. It borrowed liberally from The Great Muppet Caper, and seemed to veer between homage and copying plot elements of previous Muppet films, but it’s hard to fault the lovable characters for that — and they are clearly enjoying their “comeback” in popular culture.

I did feel that the writers made the central plot conceit (the rest of the gang does not recognize Kermit after he is kidnapped/swapped out for an evil frog lookalike) slightly disingenuous to the history of the series and emphasis on teamwork/working with your friends … surely those that have known Kermit so long would know other ways to recognize him? As well, the task of recognition oddly fell to the “new” character, Walter, who I feel continued to get too much screen time at the expense of some of the other more established characters… but I know those are adult-minded criticisms for a film designed for a younger audience.

It seems that the film also lacked the transcending/moving/timeless elements of the Muppets, such as the iconic Rainbow Connection, countless scenes from the Great Muppet Caper (my personal favorite of the films) and the arc of the gang conquering Broadway in The Muppets Take Manhattan, not to forget the numerous guests and gags that came fast and furious during The Muppet Show days. While I ultimately enjoyed the film (and it was a great payoff for an exceedingly stressful Wednesday), I’m having a hard time remembering key standout moments as I write this commentary 10 days later.

I decided that today would bring a visit to The Grand Budapest Hotel, the current art house film of choice from inimitable (and well on his way to becoming – if not there already) iconic filmmaker Wes Anderson. While this film is showing (on both screens!) at Ann Arbor’s downtown State Theater, I changed it up and incorporated it into a visit to western Oakland County and Novi’s Emagine complex, since it was an appealing early spring day and it was good to get out of the Ann Arbor fishbowl. I’d also heard good things about the Emagine chain, but somehow had not been there yet. They definitely are the large scale complex that needs to exist in 2014, with a spacious but not cavernous interior complete with beer and wine offerings (!), well thought out design of the complex, and a reasonable $6 matinee admission price.

Ralph Fiennes refreshingly loosens up in the central role of Gustave H., the head concierge of the massive Grand Budapest Hotel somewhere in Europe. He’s joined by a typical for Anderson large group of supporting players, including — in no particular order — Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum (who seems to have been off screens for some time) and many others.

While the title emphasis on the hotel suggests that the movie is going to be a situation comedy set there, the hotel itself is really the central character and launching point for the rest of the plot. I enjoyed how the film often took an unexpected old-school James Bond style air of intrigue as a mystery plot is hatched involving Fiennes and other characters. As often happens with other Anderson films (IMO), the premise may not live up to the payoff, plot-wise, but the journey getting there is so appealing (design, framing of shots, performances, overall production values, and so on and so forth) that it makes the experience worth the effort along the way.


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