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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Charity has a posthumous friend in (the recently deceased and ex-Beatle) George. The George Harrison hit "My Sweet Lord" is on sale in record stores again starting today, this time with proceeds going to charity. (The last time the song was released, in 1971, the proceeds benefited George.)
The lucky charity is the Material World Foundation, which Harrison set up in 1973 to help agencies that help poverty stricken children worldwide get, um, er, materials.
Hollywood heartthrob Tom Cruise (Vanilla Sky) revealed to Entertainment Tonight that he'd love to marry again, though there are no plans to marry current flame Penelope Cruz; loves being a father, though there are no plans to father a child with current flame Penelope Cruz; and that he is again talking to ex-wife Nicole Kidman, though there are no plans to talk with current flame Penelope Cruz--which makes you wonder how Terrific Tom spends his time with the sultry Latina star.
Robert Redford (Spy Game) didn't stop at unveiling movies at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Redford also announced a new fund for documentaries, aided by a $4.6 million grant from George Soros, and a new cable TV network devoted to nonfiction film. Now if only Redford can find viewers devoted to nonfiction film...
Also at Sundance, Jennifer Aniston (TV's Friends) is trying to shed her goody-goody image with a small-budget, low-profile (probably not for long) film entitled The Good Girl. The title is ironic, as Aniston's lead character is a woman trapped in a childless marriage who has an adulterous relationship with a younger man. Is art imitating life? Gossip writers in Hollywood can only hope.
Noah Wyle (TV's ER) doesn't stop at acting on a doctor show; he's a big fan of NBC's new comedy Scrubs, also a doctor show. According to The Associated Press, Wyle called Scrubs "very funny," which makes that one person in the U.S. who thinks so.
The producers of Ally McBeal will stop at nothing to lift their sagging ratings, including bringing in some outside star power. Jon Bon Jovi joins the cast tonight and Christina Ricci will guest star in a five-episode arc later this season. Of course, the only real way for Ally to get higher ratings is to rename the show ER.
From the David vs. Goliath Department: The Palm Springs International Film Festival debuted this weekend, with India's Monsoon Wedding getting the coveted opening screening. The few guests in attendance were heard saying, "I don't think we're in Utah any more."
Jason Mewes (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) failed to appear last month in a Monmouth County, N.J., court in connection with a probation violation, leading the judge to issue a bench warrant for his arrest, TheSmokingGun.com reports. Since Mewes was bright enough to hide his heroin in his sock (which the police found, leading to his probation), New Jersey authorities figure he's bright enough to find the county courthouse. The jury is still out on that one.
Adam Ant, famous in the 1980s for a couple of seconds with a couple of completely forgettable hits, has been charged with assault and possessing a firearm after a dust-up in a London pub on Saturday. Ant's planned comeback tour will now include a stop at one of the UK's finer penitentiaries, where the rock star will have a captive, if not enthusiastic, audience.
It's taken ABC more than two years to replace Hugh Downs on 20/20, but John Miller--whose claim to news fame is that he interviewed everybody's favorite terrorist Osama bin Laden in May 1998--is now poised to join Barbara Walters as co-host of the news show. The show is also moving back to Friday nights, where ABC--fast becoming America's fourth network--is hoping the show can draw at least as many viewers as the numbers in its name.
For those of you scoring at home, or even if you're by yourself, former ESPN SportsCenter anchor Keith Olbermann is returning to CNN (where he worked in the 1980s) as a contributor to NewsNight with Aaron Brown. Olbermann is also returning to ABC (whose parent company, Disney, owns ESPN), at least on radio, with two new shows, "Speaking of Sports" and "Speaking of Everything."
Well, we still have death and taxes. After 42 years and 17,162 shows, The Fantasticks has seen the curtain drop for the final time at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village. As reasons for the closure, the producer cited rising costs, new theater owners and the fact that everyone in the eastern half of the country has already seen the show.
Aurelie Brun, who was stripped of her Miss Loire-Forez title and disqualified from competing in the Miss France competition for being too short, has accused the recently crowned Sylvie Tellier of not measuring up to the 5-foot-7 height requirement, either, PageSix.com reports. Brun's statements once again prove the old adage, "Hell hath no fury as a short Frenchwoman scorned."