Owen Wilson

With quirky characters, colorful settings, speedy dialogue and a splash of melancholy, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” encompasses all of the tools director Wes Anderson uses in his films.

Anderson, a UT alumnus, showcased his latest feature at the Paramount Theatre last Monday as a part of South By Southwest Film. People arrived two-and-a-half hours before the showing started — creating a line that wrapped around two downtown blocks.

The enormity of the turnout contrasts Anderson’s first movie screening of his 1996 feature “Bottle Rocket” at Hogg Memorial Auditorium. Only nine people attended, two of which, Anderson said, left as the credits started rolling.

The idea for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” began first with a short story Anderson and a friend wrote about someone whom they knew. This character turned into Monsieur Gustave, the concierge played by Ralph Fiennes. Anderson made this transition after being inspired by writer Steve Zweig’s work. He decided to turn the short story into a film following characters set in the ’30s in wartime Europe. 

“It started with this one character, and then eventually having an idea of the setting that this was going to be a European war background,” Anderson said. “Then making the script, then all the visual stuff came after the script was finished.”

The movie follows an orphaned lobby boy named Zero, played by Tony Revolori, and his mentor Gustave. The story is told by Zero decades later, as he sits at dinner with a writer, played by Jude Law, in the now-dilapidated hotel.

“The writing is the first and foremost thing,” Anderson said. “The actors, they invent their performances themselves, but they work with the script.”

Jason Schwartzman saw the film for the first time at Monday’s SXSW premiere. Schwartzman is only in a few scenes, but his appearance, in addition to Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and others, follow Anderson’s fashion of sticking to the same company of actors with each of his movies.

“It was exciting; I’m a fan of [Anderson’s films] so much,” Schwartzman said. “It’s so funny.”

This movie takes after Anderson’s earlier films with the same style of framing, dialogue and use of color. He also uses animation and miniatures alongside live action in “Grand Budapest Hotel,” as he did in his 2009 animated feature “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” While the live-action portions were shot on location in a town between Poland and Germany, many miniatures and the animation used were created in Berlin.

“With the stop motion, you edit the whole thing and then you shoot it,” Anderson said. “I started doing that with the live-action movies more where we do the same kind of animatic [sic] and kind of prepare it in more detail.”

Anderson’s trademark style is visible in “Grand Budapest Hotel,” but he does include new techniques. The film jumps around between various time periods, with a different screen format to denote each one. 

Anderson is known for meticulousness. The numerous perfumes worn by Gustave and the fake mustache worn by Zero during the movie intensify characterization and give a more tangible representation of the personality these characters have. 

“It’s either inspired by something we’ve stolen somewhere and forgotten where it came from, or it came from our life or something,” Anderson said on the subject of coming up with different details to use in his films.

Having Anderson’s latest success premiere in Texas, where his career began, emphasizes the all-encompassing feeling that his latest movie holds.

While back in Austin for the SXSW premiere, Anderson took time to visit the UT campus, his alma mater and the place where he met close friend and actor Owen Wilson.

“It’s great,” Anderson said. “I went to all my old classes and my old house where me and Owen lived. It’s the same. There are a few new buildings, but it’s very much the same.”

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” released this past weekend in select theaters making $811,166, the highest grossing amount for a limited weekend debut.

“Cars 2” lacks the usual heart and warmth of Pixar’s films. Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar

Back in 2006, Pixar Studios was on something of a hot streak. They were doing some of their best work, both financially (“Finding Nemo”) and creatively (“The Incredibles”). And then they released “Cars,” which still made boatloads of money, but was easily the weakest of the Pixar repertoire. Now, after four years of producing not only some of the best animated films of their respective years, but some of the best films period, Pixar returns to sequel-making with “Cars 2,” which is not surprisingly its weakest film since its forebearer.

The first film was a simple love story between Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and the small town charms of America. Its sequel couldn’t be a bigger departure, casting McQueen and the rusty, dented tow truck Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) overseas for an international racing competition.

And then the film strays into the absolutely ridiculous by introducing secret agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine), who, by a farcical series of misunderstandings, ends up working with Mater to save all the cars participating in the race (including McQueen) from a nefarious plot.

While the film’s spy plot provides most of the entertainment found in “Cars 2,” it also makes some colossal mistakes. The biggest is placing Mater in the center of the film and sidelining Lightning McQueen except for the occasional race scene. Mater only occasionally worked in the first film, and that’s when Larry the Cable Guy reigned with his shtick. But placing him front and center couldn’t be a worse choice creatively. As a character, Mater is nothing short of grating, and watching him stumble his way through various scenarios ripped off of the Bond and Bourne films alike only underlines how irritating Larry the Cable Guy’s delivery is without Owen Wilson.

Another problem with this story is how it requires its characters to be absolute idiots. First off, Mater is completely oblivious to the fact that he’s involved in espionage. Even worse, his spy colleagues didn’t immediately recognize that Mater couldn’t be further from a secret agent, which is a bit harder to swallow.

However, as ridiculous as the spy plot may be, it adds quite a bit to the film. It’s always interesting to see how a Pixar film handles real life-or-death stakes, and from its thrilling opening scene, it’s clear that “Cars 2” will have a body count. While none of its main characters are ever in too much danger, much of the film’s spy bits work mostly because Pixar doesn’t shy away from the ugly consequences of gunplay (as ugly as they can be in a G-rated film about talking cars anyway).

As always, even when they’ve stumbled creatively, Pixar has made an absolutely gorgeous film. Their rendition of Tokyo (punnily renamed Towkyo) is a marvel, and the film’s action is uniformly exciting. “Cars 2” shines in its all-too-brief racing scenes, which are a rush of color on their own but are given real weight and depth by the 3-D effects, which are among the best of the summer.

Also good is the customary pre-film short, which is presumably the first in a series of “Toy Story Toons,” lovely little postcards that allow us to catch up with Woody and Buzz. Unfortunately, even this lacks the entertaining simplicity that comes with some of Pixar’s other shorts, but is still sweet in a low-key way.

What makes the “Cars” franchise such a misstep is that it’s everything Pixar isn’t. For the last decade, Pixar has been making films that tell heartfelt, human stories set in a world with some semblance of internal logic, and the “Cars” films couldn’t be less logical or less human. The biggest questions looming over both films, one that is entirely glossed over, is why do cars exist in a world without humans? Who built them? And more importantly, why do they have interiors? When the film’s world doesn’t make a lick of sense, it’s hard to get invested.

The nonsensical nature of the world might actually work if it was a bit easier to invest in these characters. The “Toy Story” films are built around a similarly ridiculous premise but take place in a world that is recognizably ours, and more importantly, have characters with hearts and souls, something the “Cars” films sorely lack.

So we’re left with the second film in a franchise that has never really worked for Pixar, one built around celebrities voicing talking objects and lots of merchandising opportunities for cars with silly names. While kids will most likely love the colorful, never boring “Cars 2,” fans looking for the maturity and heart they’ve come to expect from Pixar will be sorely disappointed.

Woody Allen’s return to form, “Midnight in Paris,” stars Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams.

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics | Daily Texan Staff

You never know what you’re going to get in to when you watch a Woody Allen film. Because of the director’s rigid film-a-year production schedule, some of his films come out desperately in need of a rewrite or two, and some come out just right. Thankfully, “Midnight in Paris” is one of the latter: a delightful, romantic film deeply infatuated with the city of Paris.

Allen’s comedies typically feature some sort of surrogate for Allen, an actor or actress who clearly displays the neuroses and personality of the filmmaker. In this film, we have Gil (Owen Wilson), a Hollywood screenwriter and struggling novelist who goes on a trip to Paris with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams). Gil finds himself yearning for the Paris of the 1920s, where some of the most brilliant creative minds in history gathered to produce an endless list of classic works of art. After a night drunkenly roaming the city, reveling in his own discontent, a taxi pulls up next to Gil and whisks him away to his own Golden Age, where along the way he meets the irresistible muse Adriana (Marion Cotillard).

“Midnight in Paris” is by no means short on romantic elements, be it Gil’s rocky relationship with Inez or the white-hot connection he develops with Adriana. But the film’s true love story is between a man and a city, something evident from every frame of the film, which almost drowns Paris in fawning adoration. Allen makes the city look endlessly appealing, sending Gil on a tour of Paris’ most beautiful locales and casting his Golden Age as a creative nirvana, a perfect blend of minds bouncing off each other to create some truly timeless art.

Even while Allen perfectly captures the spirit of several distinct time periods, he has also made one of the best films he’s made in years. His script is concise and funny, and while the old-fashioned rhythms of Allen’s dialogue have eluded actors in many films, it fits perfectly with his 1920s setting. While a few scenes are too farcical for their own good and the film’s ending is entirely too neat, Allen is doing some of his best work since 2005’s “Match Point.”

As Allen’s representative in the film, Owen Wilson has perhaps the hardest job, but Wilson nails every note. His performance here is stripped of the unstoppable charisma and confidence that made him a star, replaced with a more lived-in charm, and his chemistry with Marion Cotillard is off the charts. As Gil’s mysterious and beautiful muse, Cotillard is easily the best part of the film. Allen makes great use of Cotillard’s vulnerable features and fragile disposition, and the easy rapport she and Wilson build lends to some of the film’s funniest exchanges and sweetest moments.

While Wilson and Cotillard stand out, the rest of the cast more than pulls their weight. Rachel McAdams tears into her unapologetically awful character with fervor, breathing energy and even a hint of heart into a one-note villainess. As F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill are hilarious together; especially the zesty Pill, who continues the trend she began in “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” of taking small supporting roles and making them indispensable. Corey Stoll’s brash Ernest Hemingway is similarly memorable, a strong showcase for an actor currently floundering on “Law and Order: LA.”

While “Midnight in Paris” is a film deeply in love with Paris, it makes sure to pointedly remind audiences how dangerous the pitfalls of nostalgia can be. It’s also a worthy addition to Allen’s extensive filmography, an elegant film drenched in Parisian romanticism and magical realism. While it will likely be largely forgotten at the end of the year, “Midnight in Paris” is a lovely little film, and one well worth your time.