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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This week's episode of The Vampire Diaries is equal parts amazing and baffling. The unveiling of Damon's history is a bit over the top and confusing, but the story line involving Stefan and Katherine is completely brilliant (even though we totally saw it coming). Let's break it down, shall we? Here's the 10 best reveals from "The Cell."
1. It turns out that in 1953, Damon's Uncle was the one to hand him over to the Dr. Whitmore of the Augustine Vampire Secret Society. Greedy Uncle Joe claimed the money was just too good to pass up. Fortunately Damon is able to stab Joe before Dr. Whitmore injects him with vervain and drags Damon away.
2. In present day, Caroline decides to help Stefan overcome his PTSD by bringing the safe (yes, that safe) to his house and locking him in to show him it's not that scary. Unfortunately, poor Stefan still finds it pretty effing terrifying until Katherine climbs in with him. As Stefan holds her by the neck (why does he keep trying the strangle her?) Katherine explains that the death of his and Elena's relationship is the true cause of his PTSD and the safe is just his trigger. Afterwards, Stefan is miraculously cured, and just as the two almost kiss, annoying Caroline opens the safe (sigh).
3. Elena visits Aaron and basically pries him for information about Wes. She explains that her boyfriend went to visit Wes and she hasn't heard from him since. Aaron says he will help her find him, and as the two walk to Whitmore house Aaron reveals that Wes is his legal guardian because his aunt Sara died a few months ago. Elena convinces him that it's kinda weird that his aunt, his roommate (Jesse), and his hometown friend (Megan) all died so close to each other. Since Elena is no dummy, it's obvious she's trying to figure out if Aaron knows about vampires. She also drops the bombshell that Wes faked Megan's death certificate, which convinces Aaron to look into his guardian.
4. The Damon flashbacks come often and relentlessly throughout the episode, and honestly, they're mostly shots of gross blood and gore. In pretty much all them we see Damon being tortured by Dr. Whitmore who is studying how vampires are able to heal themselves and how their blood can heal others. Whitmore in fact takes out Damon's eyes and organs, which was a bit horrifying, I can't even think about a world without Ian Somerhalder's baby blues.
5. At Whitmore house, Elena realizes she can't enter without being invited in. However, when Aaron tells her to come in she is able to walk through the door. Confused, she asks who owns it, and Aaron reveals that his name is Aaron Whitmore and he basically owns the school. In the entrance way, Elena sees a photo of her dad standing with the Augustines. Just in time, Wes appears and says Grayson Gilbert was one of the best doctors the Augustine ever had (gasp!), he then stabs Elena in the neck with vervain. Outraged, Aaron asks Wes what he's doing, giving us confirmation that he didn't know anything about vampires or the Augustine Society.
6. Elena wakes up and realizes that she and Damon are trapped in the basement cells together. Damon begins to explain his history with the Whitmores, saying that, for five years, Dr. Whitmore cut into him and studied him. Luckily, Damon made a friend down in the cells named Enzo. Day after day, the two were given small cups of blood that kept them alive but not strong, so, that on each New Year's, Dr. Whitmore could parade them out and show the society how vampires could heal themselves as well as heal others. After the fourth year of this, Enzo comes up with the idea that if one of them gave up with rations of blood and drank double for a year, he would have enough strength to escape and and break the other one out in time for the next gathering. Damon wins rock, paper, scissors, so he begins drinking his double doses of blood.
7. Wes tells Aaron the history of vampires and shows him bloody pictures of his parents murders, explaining that vampires killed his parents. Wes also gives Aaron his great grandfather's watch that is filled with vervain. Enraged, Aaron punches Wes, which for a second, made us viewers really excited. But, Aaron quickly disappoints us when grabs a gun and bullets and heads to the basement.
8. In the cells, Damon tells Elena the rest of his story. At the next New Year's Eve bash, Damon, who has regained his strength, breaks out of his handcuffs and stabs Dr. Whitmore in the eyes. (An eye for an eye, ha!) As everyone runs away, Damon starts killing off and drinking from party guests, but, in the chaos, someone knocks over a candle which quickly ignites the house. Enzo yells for Damon to free him, but when Damon tries break the cell bars he realizes they're coated in vervain. Unable to stands the burn of the vervain, Damon turns off his emotions and walks out, leaving Enzo to die in the fire.
9. Once Aaron makes his way down to the basement he holds a gun to Elena's head and explains that he blames her for his parents murders as well as the death of Megan and Jesse. Damon quickly explains that Elena didn't kill anyone. In a flashback, we see Damon explain to Enzo his revenge plot. Damon vows continually kill every member of the Whitmore family except one. He would let that one grow and raise a family, then he would kill all the family except one, over and over for generations. In the present, Damon reveals that he's killed countless Whitmores since he escaped in 1958. In fact, a few months ago, he killed a woman named Sara (Aaron's aunt). After these shocking and horrifying truths, Aaron shoots Damon in the head.
10. In the Salvatore house, Stefan is cleaning up the the chairs he broke when he was having his angry PTSD episodes. Katherine walks in and the two have a seriously hot make out sesh after a ridiculously long build-up scene. However, it was definitely worth it because honestly, who saw these two ever getting back together? Sure, we kind of knew it was coming from the last episode, but still, it was shocking. Yay for new(ish) and weird TVD romances!
Cliffhanger: When Damon wakes up after the Aaron gunshot (thankfuly Aaron didn't aim at the heart) he calls out for Elena, but she isn't there. For a second I totally though Aaron released her, but it was not to be. Instead, Elena wakes up strapped to a gurney in Wes' lab. And, surprise, who is next to her? ENZO! He isn't dead and most likely has been held hostage for all those years, probably fixating on how he is going to rip apart Damon if and when he gets out.
Let the questions commence. Why is Damon's history just being revealed now? Can Elena ever forgive him? Was Damon the one to kill Elena's parents since her dad was an Augustine doctor? Will Enzo get released and take out his revenge on Damon? Where is Matt, Bonnie and Jeremy? Is Katherine going to die soon and break Stefan's heart all over again? And finally, who manages to come up with these insane story lines? So many loose ends!
Check out the promo below for next week's mid-season finale episode, "Fifty Shades of Grayson." (TVD, you're so witty).
The Vampire Diaries airs Thursday's at 8 PM ET on The CW.
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