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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Fahrenheit heats up box office
Michael Moore's controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 broke single-day box office records at the two New York theaters where it played Wednesday, Reuters reports. The movie, which criticizes President Bush and the war in Iraq, sold $49,000 worth of tickets at the Loew's Village 7 theater, beating the venue's single-day record of $43,435 held by 1997's Men in Black, according to distributors Lions Gate Films and IFC Films, while at the Lincoln Plaza theater, Fahrenheit took in more than $30,000 to top the $24,013 set by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000, Reuters reports. A spokesman for Lions Gate Films said the company debuted the movie in the two theaters to help build good word-of-mouth ahead its wider debut June 25 in 868 theaters.
And on to more record-breakers...
Bill Clinton's My Life sold more than 400,000 copies in the United States on in its first day of release, the most ever for a nonfiction book and double the believed previous record holder, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Living History, The Associated Press reports. Clinton's publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, announced an additional printing of 725,000 copies, bringing the total to 2.25 million. Clinton's book has also topped the Amazon.com best-seller list in the United States, England, France and Japan, AP reports. Still, the record holder for the most books sold on one day belongs to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth in the Harry Potter installments, which sold an estimated 5 million copies on its opening day last year.
Crystal hits Great White Way
Billy Crystal is bringing his autobiographical one-man show, 700 Sundays, to Broadway in November, AP reports. The play marks the comedian first extended return to live performing in 16 years, in which Crystal portrays numerous characters drawn from his childhood, his teen years and adulthood. The title relates to Crystal's father, Jack, a jazz concert producer who died when the comic was just 15. "It's not a concert, but there are elements of that. It's deeply personal and liberating at the same time," Crystal explained to AP. "I've never been as excited about anything since I starting working in this play. It's been such a great energy at this point in my life, to be able to bring the show to New York."
Walters thinks today's journalists should follow upBarbara Walters criticized the current state of political reporting, Reuters reports. When asked whether journalists go too lightly on politicians, Walters, who steps down as ABC's 20/20 co-anchor in September, said, "No, I think journalists are tougher on politicians," she said. "One thing they don't do enough is the follow-up question." The veteran newswoman known for her in-depth interviews with celebrities, said she's looking forward to doing specials and reporting on people that she finds interesting once she leaves 20/20. "Even with the hideousness of the other parts of the world, we still seem to be in the throes of (celebrity culture)," she said. "People would still like to see Paris Hilton rather than Paris, France."
Celebs, musicians line up to raise money for John Kerry
Barbra Streisand, Billy Crystal, Neil Diamond, Dave Matthews, Whoopi Goldberg and others are lending their support in raising money for Democratic candidate John Kerry, Reuters reports, by putting on two gala concerts on both U.S. coasts. A Los Angeles concert on Thursday, and a concert in New York on July 8 are expecting to raise about $10 million. Ticket prices range from $250 to $25,000 a seat. The two shows are the biggest political outings by the Democratic entertainment set since early 2003 when actors and musicians joined forces in opposition to the imminent U.S.-led war on Iraq, Reuters reports.
Playgirl magazine searches for sexiest TV newscaster
Anderson Cooper we could understand, but Andy Rooney? The 85-year-old 60 Minutes commentator is among the candidates on Playgirl magazine's online ballot for sexiest TV newscaster. "We're looking for all the elements that make the perfect guy--intelligence, personality and good looks," Playgirl's editor in chief Michelle Zipp told the AP Wednesday. "We know that 'handsome' is really in the eye of the beholder. We're anxious to see what the outcome will be." Among the 18 men on the ballot are CNN's Bill Hemmer, MSNBC's Lester Holt, Fox News Channel's Shepard Smith, ABC's Peter Jennings, CBS's Dan Rather and NBC's Tom Brokaw. The winner will be announced in September and profiled--fully clothed--in Playgirl's October issue. The magazine will make a contribution to a charity of the winner's choice.
Tommy Lee denies being forced out of Bellagio gig
So what exactly happened at the Bellagio's Light nightclub in Las Vegas on Sunday night? It depends on whom you choose to believe. Former Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, who was at the club for a disc jockey gig, claims he walked off 30 minutes into the Father's Day party because the management was asking him to play top 40 hip-hop songs. But the club's director of marketing, Sean Christie, is spinning a different tune. "He was playing lousy music," Christie told the Las Vegas Sun in Tuesday's edition. "We told him to wrap up his set and make a graceful exit. When he refused, we said we would just pull the plug on him, which is what we ended up doing." Christie added the club was bothered that Lee kept ordering $800 bottles of Cristal champagne and didn't pay for them, something Lee's publicist denied. Christie said he'd welcome Lee back if the 41-year-old drummer cleaned up his act, but added, "dealing with him was probably one of the worst experiences I've ever had in this business."
Times they are a-changin' for Bob Dylan
Musical icon Bob Dylan was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Music by the University of St Andrews in Scotland Wednesday. Dylan, whose hits include Like a Rolling Stone and Mr. Tambourine Man, has only accepted one other honorary degree, from Princeton University in 1970. Dressed in a black academic gown, the 63-year-old rock legend arrived 50 minutes into the 90-minute ceremony and did not address the audience of 180 graduating students and their relatives. According to the AP, Dylan sat motionless, sometimes yawning, and showed no reaction as a university choir performed a version of his early classic, Blowin' in the Wind-- but his presence brought a strong dose of star power to Britain's third-oldest university.
Korn singer sued over serial killer museum
A collector of criminal artifacts filed a $4 million lawsuit Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court on against Korn frontman Jonathan Davis after the singer announced plans for a museum of American serial killers. According to court papers obtained by Reuters Wednesday, Arthur Rosenblatt claims Davis, a former mortuary science student, approached him in June 2001 about his collection of "Americana," which included a Volkswagen once owned by serial killer Ted Bundy. Rosenblatt said when he told Davis of his plan to open a museum of criminal artifacts, the singer offered him $250,000 to fund the museum, which Rosenblatt suggested be named the "Museum of Justice & Odditorium." Rosenblatt alleges Davis and other partners never provided any money and that his life was threatened on various occasions.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.