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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Warner Bros. has been very busy lately, reteaming with old associates and inviting new ones in on the game. News today is that the production company has ordered three new series for the CW: J.J. Abrams' and Mark Schwahn's comedy/drama Shelter, sci-fi romance Joey Dakota (produced by Mark Harmon) and dystopian drama The Selection, from a pair of Vampire Diaries producers. Additionally, the network has cast a lead in its new superhero series, Arrow.
I haven't seen Abrams in a while, but I assume that he has grown a beard, and maybe taken up drinking. Because, after about ten years, Abrams is heaving a sigh and uttering, "We have to go back... to Warner Bros." Abrams is returning to the company of his old friends to develop a CW series called Shelter. He will be teaming with LOST collaborators Mark Pedowitz (CW President) and Thom Sherman (Executive VP of Drama Development), as well as with One Tree Hill creator Mark Schwahn to work on this new show.
The WB, the pre-2006 incarnation of the CW, is where Abrams started the television career that would eventually amount to creating a new show every month. Abrams co-created the drama Felicity, a story about a girl who followed the high school crush to college. Since this series, Abrams has become more associated with high-concept thrillers and science-fiction projects, such as Alias, Fringe, his newest shows Person of Interest and Alcatraz, and his most famous television venture, LOST. But Abrams is getting back into the "real world" with this new project he is developing for the CW. Shelter, formerly titled Maine, will study the day-to-day lives of the employees and customers at a New England hotel, and how they intersect dramatically and comedically.
The CW is not limiting itself to the Abrams/Schwahn creation, however. The network is also developing two other projects. One, Joey Dakota, is being written by Bert Royal (Easy A) and will being produced by NCIS leading man Mark Harmon along with Eric and Kim Tannenbaum. The project is based on an Israeli series called Danny Hollywood and is described by THR as a "romantic time-travel musical" (already very much sold) about a filmmaker who travels back to the 1990s, falls in love with a destined-to-die rock star, and then is launched back to the present day, where she makes it her mission to re-travel back in time and save the love of her life from his untimely death.
The final project is titled The Selection, and is an hourlong drama/romance based on a developing book series by Kiera Cass. The television project is being written by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain (The Vampire Diaries). The story will follow the journey of an impoverished girl who, in a dystopian society three centuries into the future, will be chosen via lottery to be the next queen.
In more CW news, the recently greenlit series Arrow has earned itself a star: Stephen Amell, an actor who has primarily worked in recurring guest roles on series like Queer as Folk, Heartland, Private Practice and, most prominently, Hung. Amell will play the lead in the new series, which is a modern-day incarnation of the DC Comics superhero story, Green Arrow. The titular hero is a vigilante who employs his exemplary skills in archery to fight crime when not posing as a Bruce Wayne-esque billionaire playboy socialite, with a bit of Harvey Dent's politicism in him.
Accept it; the days when MTV truly stood for Music Television are over. They aren’t coming back, so stop your whining. While the music video programming continues to dwindle, the cable channel is taking a tiny step back towards its roots with a new half-hour comedy pilot that features a strong musical component.
Patito Feo (Ugly Duckling in English) is based off of the Argentinean teen sensation of the same name. In Argentina, the show was wildly popular, running for 300 episodes and enjoying a hit soundtrack and sold-out concert tour.
The show’s main character is a young Mexican girl who moves to America where she finds herself in conflict with the lifestyle of the American teenager and the mean-girl hierarchy at school. It sounds a little like the teeny bopper hybrid of Ugly Betty meshed with Glee. Like Ugly Betty, the original Argentine version has enjoyed adaptations in more than 32 countries. In fact, this isn’t the first time an adaptation will reach American viewers – Univision happily aired 262 episodes of Mexico’s take on Patito Feo, called Dare to Dream.
Teen RomCom scribe Bert V. Royal (Easy A) worked to adapt the series for MTV, and after seeing what he did with Easy A, I’m hoping he lends some of the snark and wit he worked into Emma Stone’s character to Patito Feo’s little leading lady. While they nabbed a relative newcomer with Royal, MTV is also in talks with Andy Fickman (She’s the Man, You Again) and the young teen scene is kind of his jam. Together, I think they’ve got the power to get American teenage girls to tune in.
Affleck goes to town and Emma Stone proves she has A-list star power at this weekend’s box office.
Ben Affleck proves that he is a threat both behind and in front of the camera as Warner Bros.’ brilliant “The Town” topped the weekend with $23.8 million. The ensemble heist drama co-stars the Oscar-nominated Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”), “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm and “Frost/Nixon’s” Rebecca Hall and uses both action and pathos in equal measure to maximum effect. The film certainly has Oscar potential and also had obvious appeal to sophisticated audiences looking for a beautifully-acted, thought-provoking drama. Affleck is looking to take a page from the Clint Eastwood handbook by becoming a world class director while still maintaining his star status. Long term prospects for “The Town” look solid with strong word-of-mouth likely to propel the film well into the fall movie and awards season.
Sony’s “Easy A” was a very profitable student with a second place debut at $18.2 million against a very modest $8 million production budget. This innovative, quirky and fun riff on the classic Nathaniel Hawthorne tale of “The Scarlett Letter” found favor with female audiences who made up 67% of the film’s audience. Emma Stone, who first stole hearts as the object of Jonah Hill’s teen desire in “Superbad,” plays a modern day Hester Prynne, but with a major twist and to great effect. Director Will Gluck and screenwriter Bert V. Royal clearly have affection for the classic John Hughes 80’s era teen comedies and they wear that affection on their cinematic sleeves; much to the delight and benefit of the audience. Edgy dialogue ripped straight from the “Juno” playbook combined with an offbeat visual style, appealing performances and direct references to the films of the aforementioned Hughes make this unadulterated catnip for the high school crowd.
In third place with $12.58 million is “Devil” from Universal Pictures. Advertised as coming from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan this film may do for the elevator what “Jaws” did for the beach. Clocking in at a taut 80 minutes the film provides a very quick fox for the horror movie junkie.
Fourth place belongs to Milla Jovovich in Sony's "Resident Evil: Afterlife" with $10.1 million against a 62% second weekend drop and a cumulative domestic gross to date of $44 million. The film also grossed an estimated $103.2 million overseas in 10 days for a worldwide total of more than $147 million. The film effectively packed theaters in its debut last weekend and has been backed up by solid 3-D and IMAX powered grosses.
Rounding out the top with $9.2 million is Lionsgate’s animated 3-D wolf tale "Alpha and Omega.” The film saw a massive 80% uptick on Saturday and boasts a modest budget that will make it profitable for the distributor. Essentially the only game in town for kids since “Despicable Me,” “Alpha and Omega” had a perfect release date and thus was able to capitalize on that fact with kids and families. In other Lionsgate news, “The Expendables” crossed the $100 million mark on Friday.
An “up” weekend vs. last year by the smallest of margins, keeps us ahead on revenues with a nearly 4% lead, but we are still lagging behind on attendance by almost 2%. Help is on the way with “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole” from Warner Bros., “You Again” from Disney and the expected strong debut of Fox’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” starring Michael Douglas and Shia LaBeouf.
Top 10 Movies - Weekend of September 17, 2010 (Estimates)
The Town (R)
Easy A (PG-13)
Resident Evil: Afterlife (R)
Alpha and Omega (PG)
The American (R)
The Other Guys (PG-13)
Sony’s Easy A to get an Easy A (and close to $30 million) from audiences this weekend as tweens, teens and John Hughes fans everywhere have much to rejoice about in this innovative, quirky and fun riff on the classic Nathaniel Hawthorne tale of “The Scarlett Letter.” Emma Stone, who first stole hearts as the object of Jonah Hill’s teen desire in “Superbad,” plays a modern day Hester Prynne, but with a major twist and to great effect.
Director Will Gluck and screenwriter Bert V. Royal clearly have affection for the classic John Hughes 80’s era teen comedies and they wear that affection on their cinematic sleeves; much to the delight and benefit of the audience. Edgy dialogue ripped straight from the “Juno” playbook combined with an offbeat visual style, appealing performances and direct references to the films of the aforementioned Hughes make this unadulterated catnip for the high school crowd.
There is certainly a whole bunch of evil going on in theatres of late. First we had The Last Exorcism, then we got Resident Evil and now we have Devil from Universal Pictures. Advertised as coming from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan and likely causing much consternation over at the Otis Elevator company, this film may do for the elevator what Jaws did for the beach. Clocking in at a taut 80 minutes and Boasting a terrifically creepy ad campaign, Devil will likely scare up grosses around $20 million while simultaneously increasing the use of stairwells everywhere.
Ben Affleck shows off major directing chops and that his Gone Baby Gone was no fluke in Warner Bros.’ brilliant The Town which co-stars the Oscar-nominated Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), Mad Men’s Jon Hamm and Frost/Nixon’s Rebecca Hall in a story of friendship, brotherhood and the consequences of the criminal life. The film has Oscar written all over it and should appeal to sophisticated audiences looking for a beautifully-acted, thought-provoking drama that does not skimp on the action and should thus wind up near the top the chart with about $18 million. Long term prospects look solid with strong word-of-mouth likely to propel the film well into the fall movie season.
Milla Jovovich, who so effectively packed theaters last weekend in Sony's Resident Evil: Afterlife, has been backed up by solid 3-D and IMAX powered grosses all week long and will likely remain in the fight at No. 4 with a gross in the $10 to $12 million range.
Rounding out the top five should be the animated 3-D wolf tale Alpha and Omega from Lionsgate, with a likely take of just under $10 million.
Easy A a teen sex comedy with no actual sex aims rather conspicuously to plumb the best bits of Diablo Cody and Alexander Payne in its upside-down self-consciously campy take on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In the role of its high-school Hester Prynne is Emma Stone the sly husky heroine of last year’s surprise hit Zombieland. Tested by a film that is far less clever than its director Will Gluck or screenwriter Bert Royal would have us believe (and they desperately want us to believe) she passes with flying colors delivering a performance that should elevate her into the upper echelon of actresses possessing brains and beauty in equal measure.
Stone plays Olive the kind of quick-witted hyper-literate teen that our educational system produces in ever-diminishing numbers. (If it ever produced them to begin with.) More knowing and sophisticated than others her age she is nonetheless not immune to the pressure of peers and the dread of being labeled a loser. Under duress by a prying friend (Aly Michalka) to dish the details of her birthday weekend a rather mundane affair mainly spent jumping on her bed to the tune of Natasha Bedingfield’s pop monstrosity “Pocket Full of Sunshine ” she feels compelled to embellish a bit and concocts an entirely fictional account of losing her virginity (dubbed the “V-Card” by Royal trying too hard) to a boy from a junior college across town.
Word of Olive’s deflowering spreads with startling speed aided by the incessant rumor-mongering of a catty Evangelical eavesdropper (Amanda Bynes). Suddenly branded a tramp on account of a seemingly harmless little lie Olive opts to embrace her newly tarnished reputation and put it to good use. In a viciously stratified social environment where even the most awkward acne-plagued pariah can earn respect and even admiration from members of the upper castes for having gone All the Way Olive anoints herself the Mother Theresa of (fake) sluts bestowing her blessing upon downtrodden gents in need of a reputation boost. And she resolves to look the part too traipsing around in scandalous bustiers and affixing the letter “A” to her chest.
There are limits to Easy A’s Scarlet Letter conceit overly Glee-ful tone forced repartee and pop-culture references (John Hughes is invoked so many times he should get a producer credit). Which is why director Gluck must be grateful to have found Stone who handles the verbal calisthenics of Royal’s script with charm and verve and a certain effortless appeal that keeps us engaged even as the film wallows in contrived irony and heavy-handedness. Keep your eye on her.