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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As the weekend's opening releases dominated the box office charts, it was obvious moviegoers were only looking for one thing--the right Signs.
Buena Vista's Signs, about crop circles and creepy green men from outer space, landed the number one spot with a whopping $60.3 million, giving the film the second best August opening of all time. It follows last summer's smash hit Rush Hour 2, which made $67.4 million when it was released Aug. 3, 2001.
Signs is also the fourth best weekend release of 2002, following Spider-Man, Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones and Austin Powers in Goldmember, respectively.
The PG-13-rated thriller made it to 3,264 theaters nationwide, averaging an estimated $18,474 per theater, and proved audiences were more than willing to see a film pairing wunderkind writer/director M. Night Shyamalan with star Mel Gibson. Signs marks the best opening ever for both talents.
Signs also stars Joaquin Phoenix, Cherry Jones, Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin.
Of last weekend's new releases, only one remained in the top five--New Line's Austin Powers in Goldmember, which dropped from its top spot to No. 2 this weekend. The raucous PG-13-rated comedy took in an estimated $32.4 million, falling a rather significant 56 percent from its huge opening, but still managing to average an estimated $8,968 per screen in 3,613 theaters. Goldmember's cume so far is $142.9 million, making it the 11th film this year to pass the $100 million mark. Not too shabby.
Directed by Jay Roach, Austin Powers in Goldmember stars Mike Myers, Beyoncé Knowles and Michael Caine.
Opening in the third spot was Sony's Master of Disguise. The PG-rated comedy from funny man Dana Carvey was a family film alternative that brought in a respectable $13 million ($5,068 average per screen) and joins Sony's other top 10 summer winners, including Stuart Little 2 and Men In Black II.
Directed by Perry Andelin Blake, the film also stars James Brolin, Harold Gould, Brent Spiner and Jennifer Esposito.
The No. 4 slot went to another funny guy, although in a much different film. Opening with $7.5 million, Paramount's Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat proved its worth, taking in an estimated $9,973 on only 752 screens.
In this R-rated stand-up concert film, comedian Martin Lawrence discusses the many things on his mind, including his past troubles with drugs, his run-ins with the law and his near-death experience. It is directed by David Raynr.
At No. 5, some familiar faces return. DreamWorks' Road to Perdition, now in its fourth week, dropped from No. 2 to take the No. 5 position with a steady $6.6 million. Even though the R-rated film took a 41 percent cut from last weekend, the Tom Hanks/Paul Newman gangster drama, which is already being considered Oscar bait, managed an estimated $2,830 in approximately 2,332 theaters. Perdition's cume to date is a solid $77.2 million.
Directed by Oscar winner Sam Mendes, the film stars Hanks, Newman, Jude Law, Stanley Tucci, Tyler Hoechlin and Daniel Craig.
The No. 6 slot belongs to Sony's Stuart Little 2. In its third week, the little-mouse-that-could sequel brought in $6 million, slipping from last week's third place slot and falling 43 percent (averaging $1,939 per screen in 3,095 theaters). The PG-rated family comedy's total to date is $46.8 million.
Stuart Little 2 is directed by Rob Minkoff and stars Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie and Jonathan Lipnicki with the vocal talents of Michael J. Fox, Melanie Griffith, Nathan Lane, Steve Zahn and James Woods.
Sony's Men In Black II slid from No. 4 to No. 7 this weekend, taking in $4.7 million. Averaging only an estimated $1,620 per screen, the PG-13-rated comedy about policing those darned aliens on Earth, now in its fifth week, dropped 45 percent. But have no fear, fans, the film's total cume is still a respectable $182 million.
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Men In Black II stars Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Lara Flynn Boyle, Rosario Dawson and Rip Torn.
Talk about a little film that could. IFC Films' My Big Fat Greek Wedding is proving to be amazingly resilient. Now in week 16 and still only showing on 655 theaters, the PG-rated independent comedy about one woman's Greek family and the sweet man she brings into it moved up from the No. 10 slot to No. 8 this week. Taking in a healthy $3.013 million this weekend, Wedding averaged $4,601 per screen. Its total to date is a healthy $40.1 million.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is directed by Joel Zwick and stars Nia Vardalos (also writer), John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan and Andrea Martin.
Two films that couldn't more different tied for the ninth and tenth spots--Paramount's K-19: The Widowmaker and Buena Vista's The Country Bears, both of which took in $3 million this weekend. Guess it was a toss-up whether to see a movie about a deadly nuclear submarine accident or one featuring giant bears singing and dancing. Hmmm.
K-19 dropped 59 percent from fifth place last weekend (averaging $1,139 per screen), with its cume to date being $30.8 million. The Country Bears fell from sixth with a 43 percent cut (averaging $1,175 per screen), with a cume of $11.7 million to date.
K-19: The Widowmaker is directed by Kathryn Bigelow and stars Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson and Peter Sarsgaard.
The Country Bears, based on the popular Disney theme park attraction, stars Christopher Walken, Stephen Tobolowsky, Eli Marienthal and the vocal talents of Haley Joel Osment. It is directed by Peter Hastings.
One other prominent film opened this weekend--Miramax's Full Frontal, directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh and starring Julia Roberts. Labeled a sequel of sorts to Soderbergh's indie hit sex, lies and videotape, Miramax only released Full Frontal in 208 theaters. The film still managed to make the top 20, bringing in $725,000 and averaging $3,486 per screen.
Directed by Soderbergh, Full Frontal stars Roberts, Catherine Keener, Blair Underwood and David Hyde Pierce.
One thing The Country Bears has in its favor is that the film keeps the plot simple. A convoluted storyline in which bears and humans interact would only make this even more painful to watch. Set in a music-video-type format where the bears and the humans sing and dance and have a grand old time the movie focuses on 11-year-old Beary Barrington (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) a young lad growing up with a very loving--and very human--family. Yet something doesn't feel right to Beary. Maybe it's because his jealous older brother Dex (Eli Marienthal) keeps telling him he has been adopted. Or maybe it's because he is a bear. Whatever the reason Beary feels connected only when he is playing his guitar and worshipping a hugely successful '60s rock band called The Country Bears--a quartet of big hairy fellows with names like Tennessee O'Neal Ted and Fred Bedderhead and Zeb Zoober who broke up over "creative differences" many moons ago. Beary decides to head out into the wild beyond to look for his true heroes--and find his place in the world. What he discovers is that the old Country Bear Hall where those wily bears used to perform is going to be torn down by the evil Reed Thimple (Christopher Walken. Yes we just said Christopher Walken.) Beary can't let this happen so he comes up with the plan to find the ex-Bears get them back together for a benefit concert and save the venue. Yee-haw.
Everyone associated with this film (from the actors to the long string of cameos by real-life musicians) surely believed they were making a fun-filled romp for the kiddies. You know "something to take the whole family to see " but they may not have realized how incredibly inane it would turn out to be. Or maybe Disney called in a lot of favors. Walken could have just lost a bet. The point is this--the human cast simply serves a purpose as the framework for the bears. Megan Fay and Stephen Tobolowsky are Beary's sugary-sweet mom and dad. Diedrich Bader and Daryl Mitchell play bumbling police officers looking for the hairy little fellow. Only Marienthal's Dex recognizes the absurdity of the situation--Beary is a bear and Marienthal gets to say probably all three of the best lines in the film. Cameos by artists such as Bonnie Raitt Don Henley and Elton John are fun but don't add much to the fray. Meanwhile the vocal talents are notable only when real-life singers like Raitt and Henley (who "sing" a duet as Tennessee and lady bear Trixie) and country singer John Hiatt (also as Tennessee) get to perform. Haley Joel Osment as the voice of Beary is more animated than the young actor has ever had the chance to be onscreen but there may be a reason for that--Osment is annoying as a chipper guy.
Most of us know about Disney theme parks and their most popular attractions--the Haunted House the Pirates of the Caribbean and of course the Country Bear Jamboree. Now Disney has gotten the bright idea to turn these attractions into movies--cashing in on the familiarity--and those singing dancing bears are the first guinea pigs. In other words Disney is grasping at straws. Granted the film is intended for children but let's not insult their intelligence as well. Besides a bad script so-so puppetry and sappy original songs the most bothersome thing about The Country Bears is that the bears walk and talk like their human counterparts have jobs eat in restaurants and play in rock-and-roll bands but there are only about six of them altogether. There aren't any other bears around. Or any other animals for that reason. At least in a Muppet movie the Muppets are everywhere and so it's understood they simply co-exist with humans. If you were to meet one of these Country Bears on the street you'd be very afraid.