You don't arrive at the Grand Budapest Hotel without your share of Wes Anderson baggage. Odds are, if you've booked a visit to this film, you've enjoyed your past trips to the Wes Indies (I promise I'll stop this extended metaphor soon), delighting especially in Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and his most recent charmer Moonrise Kingdom. On the other hand, you could be the adventurous sort — a curious diplomat who never really got Anderson's uric-toned deadpan drudgings but can't resist browsing through the brochures of his latest European getaway. First off, neither community should worry about a bias in this review — I'm a Life Aquatic devotee, equally alienating to both sides. Second, neither community should be deterred by Andersonian expectations, be they sky high or subterranean, in planned Budapest excursions. No matter who you are, this movie will charm your dandy pants off and then some.
While GBH hangs tight to the filmmaker's recognizable style, the movie is a departure for Anderson in a number of ways. The first being plot: there is one. A doozy, too. We're accustomed to spending our Wes flicks peering into the stagnant souls of pensive man-children — or children-men (Moonrise) or fox-kits (guess) — whose journeys are confined primarily to the internal. But not long into Grand Budapest, we're on a bona fide adventure with one of the director's most attractive heroes to date: the didactic Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes mastering sympathetic comedy better than anyone could have imagined he might), who invests his heart and soul into the titular hotel, an oasis of nobility in a decaying 1930s Europe. Gustave is plucked from his sadomasochistic nirvana overseeing every cog and sprocket in the mountaintop institution and thrust into a madcap caper — reminiscent of, and not accidentally, the Hollywood comedies of the era — involving murder, framing, art theft, jailbreak, love, sex, envy, secret societies, high speed chases... believe me, I haven't given half of it away. Along the way, we rope in a courageous baker (Saoirse Ronan), a dutiful attorney (Jeff Goldblum), a hotheaded socialite (Adrien Brody) and his psychopathic henchman (Willem Dafoe), and no shortage of Anderson regulars. The director proves just as adept at the large scale as he is at the small, delivering would-be cartoon high jinks with the same tangible life that you'd find in a Billy Wilder romp or one of the better Hope/Crosby Road to movies.
Anchoring the monkey business down to a recognizable planet Earth (without sacrificing an ounce of comedy) is the throughline of Gustave's budding friendship with his lobby boy, Zero (newcomer Tony Revolori, whose performance is an unprecedented and thrilling mixture of Wes Anderson stoicism and tempered humility), the only living being who appreciates the significance of the Grand Budapest as much as Gustave does. In joining these two oddballs on their quest beyond the parameters of FDA-approved doses of zany, we appreciate it, too: the significance of holding fast to something you believe in, understand, trust, and love in a world that makes less and less sense everyday. Anderson's World War II might not be as ostensibly hard-hitting as that to which modern cinema is accustomed, but there's a chilling, somber horror story lurking beneath the surface of Grand Budapest. Behind every side-splitting laugh, cookie cutter backdrop, and otherworldly antic, there is a pulsating dread that makes it all mean something. As vivid as the worlds of Rushmore, Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise might well have been, none have had this much weight and soul.
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So it's astonishing that we're able to zip to and fro' every crevice of this haunting, misty Central Europe at top speeds, grins never waning as our hero Gustave delivers supernaturally articulate diatribes capped with physically startling profanity. So much of it is that delightfully odd, agonizingly devoted character, his unlikely camaraderie with the unflappably earnest young Zero, and his adherence to the magic that inhabits the Grand Budapest Hotel. There are few places like it on Earth, as we learn. There aren't many movies like it here either.
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
A judge and former prosecutor in New Jersey filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Sopranos creator David Chase, claiming he helped Chase create the hit HBO show and has yet to see any compensation for it. According to The Associated Press, Robert Baer claims he met with Chase several times to give him details about the North Jersey mob and even to critique an early draft of the show's pilot episode. At the time, they entered into an oral agreement that if the show took off, Baer would be paid.
A woman accused of stalking actor Richard Gere pleaded guilty to aggravated harassment Thursday. Instead of jail time, Ursula Reichert-Habbishaw, 51, agreed to return home to Germany, never to bother Gere again. The divorced mother of four children had faxed or called Gere roughly 1,000 times over the last 14 months, AP reported.
Paul Newman is returning to the stage. He'll star as the stage manager in a production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Conn., near his home. He was chosen by the theater's artistic director--Newman's wife, Joanne Woodward--after he wowed her by reading one of the speeches.
Hip-hop prince Ja Rule says he may call it quits in a few years. Backstage at the BET Awards on Tuesday night, he told a press conference, "I'm going to retire after two more albums," to pursue an acting career. He's in negotiations to star in the sequel to The Fast and the Furious.
'N Sync member Lance Bass may chuck it all for space exploration. According to Reuters, he recently underwent a minor procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat so he can qualify for a seat aboard a Russian rocket flight to the International Space Station. He claims it's been his lifelong dream to be an astronaut.
Putting his light saber in the closet for the moment, Stars Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones star Hayden Christensen is in negotiations to play a disgraced journalist in the fact-based drama Shattered Glass. The film centers on Stephen Glass, who was briefly a rising star in the journalistic world but was discovered to have made up sources, quotes and often entire stories.
In the Biz
Limp Bizkit's lead singer, Fred Durst, has decided to combine a lifelong passion with his feature directorial debut. His project Lords of Dogtown focuses on the birth of the teenage skateboarding revolution (an extreme-sports activity Durst has long been interested in), following a group of young California surfers who take their moves from the ocean to the streets. The film will start shooting this summer.
Looks like Sony Pictures Entertainment's president and chief operating officer, Mel Harris, will step down from the post when his contract expires in September. Variety reports it is only speculation at this point but that several Sony execs are vying for the position.
The Fox network is having to seriously reshuffle its new fall lineup, as two of its signature shows--Ally McBeal and The X-Files--are departing this year. Fox is looking to replace McBeal with another David E. Kelley drama about lawyers and may turn Sundays into strictly a comedy night.
Due to contractual reasons, the U.K. premiere of MTV's The Osbournes this Sunday has been delayed. MTV apologized to U.K. viewers and promised to have a new and confirmed air date soon.
Comedy legend Lily Tomlin will be joining the cast of NBC's The West Wing, as the new secretary to President Bartlet (Martin Sheen). She debuts this Wednesday in the series' season finale.
Napster, the song-swapping company that changed the music business, is up in arms. Chief Executive Konrad Hilbers and co-founder Shawn Fanning both resigned their posts Tuesday after Napster's board rejected an agreement to be acquired by German media company Bertelsmann AG.
Pop star Elton John will auction off 20 of his private stash of luxury and sports cars at Christie's on June 5, the auction house announced Wednesday.
The cars include John's Rolls Royce Silver Cloud named "Daisy" and an Aston Martin called "The Beast," according Christie's. Passengers of the cars, other than the ostentatious singer, include Sting, Hugh Grant, Gianni Versace and George Michael. Christie's estimates the cars will bring in approximately $1.4 million.
This is just the latest in a quite lengthy string of celebrity auctions to hit the block. A selection of Madonna memorabilia is currently up for sale online through Leland's auction house. Leland's is more noted for its sports collectibles, but has recently gained more exposure and credibility with the entertainment industry.
Leland's auction, only online, also includes Jimi Hendrix's personal stash box, Jim Morrison's humidor, Elton John's Elvis-like jumpsuit and a saxophone signed by former president Bill Clinton and band members of Fleetwood Mac. Sotheby's, not to be outdone, last week sold a bed and underwear belonging to British pop star Robbie Williams, with proceeds going to his charity, Give It Sum. Williams' undies may have been purchased for a cool $3,200, but Madonna's bra-and-panties set is already priced above $8,000 on Leland's Web site.
"Celebrity auctions are very popular," said Christie's spokesperson Patricia Clark, "especially Elton John, who's incredibly popular here in England.
"There is generally more interest in celebrity auctions. People love the idea of owning a bit of a star, a piece of history. It makes their lives a little more interesting."
Marty Appel, spokesperson for Leland's, agrees.
"Buying the items is a connection to someone they appreciate, someone whose performances they've enjoyed," Appel said. "The entertainment items draw a lot of press and attention to the auctions, which contain many, many lots other than those select items."
Sometimes, celebrity castoffs are bought as an investment, Appel said.
" People think they'll be even more valuable in 30 to 40 years," he said. "Madonna figures to be a 'forever' icon. Anything associated with her has value for a long time, as she's become a legitimate Hollywood icon."
Clark and Appel cited increased international interest in entertainment industry items over interest in more mundane pieces. Leland's claims that its "online only" strategy to auctions makes it even easier for the international buyer to bid and purchase an item, by leveling the auction playing field for everyone.
Christie's has held numerous auctions for Hollywood and the entertainment industry, including a James Bond-theme auction - Ursula Andress' famous bikini from Dr. No was sold - and Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana auctions.
John recently lost a court battle with his former manager and accountant. Christie's, however, insisted that The Rocket Man is selling his cars because he doesn't get a chance to enjoy them anymore because of his travel and other time commitments.
John also put his vast record collection on the market last year through Christie's.