Review – Don’t Steal the Towels (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”)

To quote Hunter S. Thompson, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro”, and baby, there’s no one making weirder films today than writer/director Wes Anderson. An easy successor to master director Stanley Kubrick, this bizarre and genuinely odd grandiose film is filled with delicious cinematic eye-candy in direction and set/production design. And the story is told in triple flashback; something peculiar in that as well.

The story centers, more or less, about a persnickety, snooty, and utterly polite (with bursts of comic violence) named Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) who runs the Grand Budapest Hotel, a lavish mountainside hotel and spa located in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, a quaint European town high in the Alps. The narrator(s) are The Author (Tom Wilkinson) who tells us that, when he was a young man (Jude Law), he met an old man at the run down hotel in 1960’s who happened to be the owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). At dinner, Zero then tells the young man how he came to be the owner of the hotel. And what a story it is!

In 1932, a young Zero (Tony Revolori) is an innocent lobby boy and under the tutelage of Gustave who delights in…uh, shall we say, “servicing”, the elderly women who stay at the hotel. One in particular, the filthy rich Madame D. (unrecognizable Tilda Swinton), loves Gustave so much that once she dies (under mysterious circumstances) she leaves Gustave a priceless and garish painting called “Boy with Apple” in her will. But her son, the crazed Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrian Brody), lashes out at Gustave and wants that painting back at all costs, even going so far as hiring J. G. Jopling (William DaFoe), a brutal thug to get things done.

Gustave is framed for Madame’s murder by an unknown source and locked away in prison by Inspector Henckels (Edward Norton). But, thanks to Zero and his new girlfriend, the lovely Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) who works at Mendel’s bakery, they help in his escape along with the mastermind in the breakout, Ludwig (Harvey Keiteil).

Once out, Gustave is now on the lam with Zero in an epic chase scene with the murderous Jopling hot on their every heels, despite the help from every hotel concierge in the area, including Bill Murray and Bob Balaban. The chase leads them back to the Grand Budapest where, hidden in the painting, is a revised will the Madame left behind that ultimately leaves everything she had to Gustave and, after he dies, to Zero.

The ending, or should I say endings, have all the back stories resolving themselves to bring us forward to the present to where we began. Some of the stories don’t have a happy ending, but the the journey is an amazing one and told through the eyes of a humble lobby boy who grew up and grew up fast.

Even though the story bounces back and forth from era to era and from narrator to narrator, it never loses track of the action. The characters are each so bizarre and so strange that you can’t imagine a world inhabited by these people, but you sure wouldn’t mind spending an afternoon with some of them. The real gem here is Revolori as Zero. He’s done almost zero TV or film work, but is excellent and stands out as he goes toe-to-toe with Fiennes in every scene. I especially love Anderson’s use of his repertoire company of actors to fill in the ensemble with the likes of Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Jeff Goldblum who are seen either in small roles or extended cameos.

Wes Anderson, adapted the screenplay from the writings of Stefan Zweig, also did the producing (along with Jeremy Dawson, Steven M. Rales, and Scott Rudin). Anderson, and his love of quirkiness, shot this movie in three aspect ratios (1.33, 1.85, and 2.35) one for each of the flash-back timeline. Talk about unique! And the set design and production values are just awesome. With cinematography by Robert Yeoman, every shot is breathtakingly rich and sumptuous to look at, even the dingy prison cells are gorgeous! I guarantee you that, even if you don’t like the movie as a whole, you won’t forget the movie as a picturesque travelog of cinematic beauty.

What’s Up, Doc? (1972)



“Screwball comedy” came back  in a BIG way in 1972 with this frothy film courtesy of Peter Bogdanovich.  A stellar cast and a dynamite scrip came together to produce a “G”  rated film that the whole family could see and enjoy. The winning combination of Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal worked in this hair-brained movie about a shy mineral academia and a nutty con girl whop wreaked havoc wherever she went.

Multiple storylines whiz through the movie, but they all had a central theme: it all starts with a simple red and black plaid overnight bag. Well, several of them. All look alike and belong to several people who wind up at San Francisco’s swanky Hotel Bristol. This hotel is also hosting a convention full of “musicologists”, who are all vying to get the coveted Larrabee Grant; the one can prove that music came from rocks.

Thrown into this mayhem is Howard Bannister (O’Neal), a PHD in rocks and stones traveling with his wound-way-too-tight fiance, Eunice (Madeline Kahn–her first screen role, BTW). Howard, shy and scatter-brained, meets a whirling dervish of chaos named Judy Maxwell (Streisand), who literally hijacks Howard’s life (and his hotel room).

Meanwhile, crazy side stories play out in the hotel about stolen gems and secret stolen government documents that are just as nefarious and witty, but it’s Judy and her infatuation of Howard that’s the real story here. She gets him into SO much trouble that he actually turns to the camera at one point and says, “I’m living a nightmare!”.

She infiltrates Howard’s convention masquerading as Eunice and, thanks to her quick wit and fast talking, single handily wins the prized Larrabee Grant from Mr. Larrabee (Austin Pendleton). Although Howard is delighted he won, a dubious and suspicious fellow musicologist named Hugh Simon (Kenneth Mars) is not only a sore loser, but will stop at nothing to prove that Eunice isn’t Eunice.

The last 30 minutes is a non-stop, rollicking chase all over San Francisco as everyone is chasing everyone else for those switched plaid bags, and boy! Is it ever a hoot! No CGI back in 1972, boys and girls, all of this was shot for real! HUGE panes of glass, Chinese dragons, leaping Volkswagen beetles, out of control bicycle driven carrying carts, speeding Cadillac’s, and the dead pan wit of O’Neal spouting some hysterical dialogue throughout.

In the end, everyone gets their just reward and the heroes get hooked up as you’d expect, but getting there was totally worth the wait and leaves you with a huge smile on your face. Bogdanovich directed, produced, and co-wrote this comic gem along with SNL’s Buck Henry, David Newman, and Robert Benton. For a scant 94 minutes on screen you get a delicious clean comedy that doesn’t rely on today’s “Adam Sandler” type jokes to make you laugh. It was all in the writing and sight gags. THAT is the sign of a true and honest film maker at work; one that can make you LOL without having to sink to the lowest common denominator to force a chuckle. Peter Bogdanovich, I salute you!

FWI: “What’s Up Doc” was a ginormous seller when released on VHS in 1982,  it made over $28mil in rentals! Watch the end where Sorrel Brooke (as the hotel detective) is pretending to drown in the San Francisco Bay. That wasn’t acting. He almost did!

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