Review – Much Ado About Anderson (“The French Dispatch”)

There is only one Wes Anderson and nobody writes or directs a movie like him. His odd, symmetrical, and weirdly looking film style is unlike anybody else’s in Hollywood. Even his animated films (Isle of Dogs, The Fantastic Mr. Fox) are visually stunning. So, let’s dig in, shall we? 

An acquired taste, Anderson’s films are either loved, hated, or just shrugged off as “meaningless artsy drivel”. Personally, I love ’em. For his latest film, Anderson centers on a quaint American magazine outpost located in the fictional French city of Ennui Sur Blase. We’re told in a brief bookended prologue by a narrator (Angelica Huston) that chief editor, Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray) is trying to get out the latest issue. We also get a brief history lesson and travelogue by Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), when the first of three magazine stories are told in alternating color and black & white. . . with some animation thrown in, too!

The Concrete Masterpiece is about Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio DelToro), an incarcerated murderer and a brilliant abstract artist. His muse and naked model inspiration is sullen, but striking prison guard Simone (Lea Seydoux). Scheming art dealer, Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody), and his two uncles (Bob Balaban & Henry Winkler) sell his works, but Moses is quite temperamental and needs coaxing, which leads him to make a full-scale masterpiece, but on the side of prison wall! This episode is narrated by French Dispatch writer J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) while she is giving a lecture about Moses and his life.

Next is Revisions to a Manifesto, a sorta straight-forward telling of ace journalist, Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) who is covering the current student revolutions in town (think Les Miserables, but with chess). She falls in with their leader, Zefferelli (Timothee Chalamet), and is smitten with the boy, re-writing his manifesto and getting in trouble with Zefferelli’s no-nonsense, wanna-be girlfriend, Juliette (Lyna Koudri). This episode also jumps from the revolution to a stage play about a deserter, and it’s the only time in the movie a hand-held camera is used for a single scene! Very odd.

The final story is my favorite: The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner. During a TV talk-show taping with a candid host (Liev Schreiber), respected food writer, Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright)–who has a “write-o-graphic” memory–recounts the time he attended dinner with the Police Commissioner (Mathieu Amalric), while his superstar chef, Lt. Nescaffier (Stephen Park) prepares an exquisite meal. BUT! The Commissioner’s young smart-as-a-whip son, Gigi (Winston Ait Hellal) is suddenly kidnapped by the Chauffeur (Edward Norton), who demands to have prisoner Albert the Abacus (Willem Dafoe) released. . . or else! Through a series of crazy events (and Nescaffier’s cooking), the kidnapping is resolved. We then conclude with a quick, surprise ending that leaves you wanting more.

Written and directed by Anderson with his usual unique flair for the unexpected, he joyously throws movie tropes out the window. And nobody films a movie like Anderson. Except for a very brief scene where a steadi-cam was used (and I’m still trying to figure out why), practically every single shot is static, straight-on, locked & secure, then either pivots or swivels. This allows for some of THE most fantastic scenes that come out of nowhere to either make you LOL or gasp with awe. They are like picture postcards come to life. And his writing is outstanding, having the characters speak in either a rat-a-tat-tat, 40’s Busby Berkeley film style, or brilliant, Sorkin-like fluid word-play, or as if there’s no script at all.

And Anderson throws in a massive amount of actors to have fun with this material, even if some have only one line. Murray (his golden child) is in most of them, as is Edward Norton, but all of them are exceptional here and look like they are having SO much fun with the script, which is just plain odd and deliriously nuts. There’s full-frontal nudity, courtesy of lovely Seydoux, and occasional subtitles that pop up haphazardly all over the screen, so be prepared for that. Again, this movie is for those Wes Anderson fans who really love his quirky, off-kilter style, and his one-of-a-kind camerawork. I guarantee it’s a film experience that you won’t see from the others!              

**Now showing only in theaters

His Girl Friday (1940)

Newspaper comedies are hard to come by, but one of the very best is this glorious black and white screwball comedy by the great Howard Hawks. It’s SO good that it’s on the American Film Institute’s list of  “100 Years–100 Laughs”. Adapted from a stage play, it was originally filmed in 1931 with Adolphe Menjou and Pat O’Brien in the leads.

This one stars the great Cary Grant as Walter Burns, the hard-boiled editor for The Morning Post, a fast-paced newspaper, who learns his ex-wife and former star reporter, Hildegard “Hildy” Johnson (Rosalind Russell), is about to marry a bland insurance man named Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). And worse yet, she’s going to settle down to a quiet life as a wife and mother! Not if he can help it! Walter can’t stand the idea of his former ace reporter doing this and is determined to sabotage her plans by enticing Hildy to cover just one last story: the upcoming execution of convicted murderer, Earl Williams (John Qualen).

Not above playing dirty tricks, Walter does everything he can to keep Hildy from leaving town, including setting up her unsuspecting fiance so he gets arrested over and over again on trumped-up charges. He even kidnaps Hildy’s upcoming mother-in-law (Alma Kruger)! When the convicted Williams escapes from the bumbling sheriff (Gene Lockhart) and practically falls into Hildy’s lap, the lure of the big scoop proves to be too much for her. Falling back on her old habits (and loving it!) she starts writing the story and hardly notices as Bruce realizes his marriage to her is hopeless and he returns home.

Walter and Hildy find out just in time the truth about Walter and save him from the gallows. Afterwards, Walter offers to remarry Hildy, promising to take her on the honeymoon they never had in Niagara Falls. But there’s a terrific breaking news story on the way there, so. . . there goes their honeymoon! Lightning-paced dialogue by screenwriter Charles Lederer (Oceans 11, The Spirit of St. Louis) and Hawks’ blistering direction, this movie zips by so fast you better be prepared to listen and listen quickly to what everyone is saying.

The performances of Grant and Russell are pitch-perfect and their chemistry together is electric. They play off each other so well, it’s too bad they didn’t make any more films together. It’s fast, funny, frenetic, and a great movie to rent. Tasty tidbit: Cary Grant at one point tells the Mayor, “The last man who said that to me was Archie Leach just a week before he cut his throat”. Archie (Archibald) Leach is Cary Grant’s real name!

So popular was this movie it was remade twice more, once by the great comedy master, Billy Wilder, remade it in 1974 as The Front Page with fan-favorites Jack Lemmon & Walter Matthau, and then again in 1998 called Switching Channels, featuring a TV format starring Christopher Reeve & Kathleen Turner

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