Northampton Press

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Movie Review: Check into a 'Grand Hotel'

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 by PAUL WILLISTEIN in Focus

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" is an actor-studded comedy-drama that bristles with the joy of cinema. The film is a concoction of dizzying dialogue, madcap pacing, larger-than-life characters, bizarre encounters, manic escapades and stunning visuals.

While the film seems to have little to do with Budapest, Hungary, it is inspired by the sense of time and place of Eastern Europe sometime between the wars: World War I and World War II.

Director Wes Anderson, who wrote the screenplay based on a story he co-wrote with writer-actor Hugo Guiness ("Fantastic Mr. Fox"), has said the film was inspired by the books of Austrian author Stefan Zweig (1881 -1942).

Anderson (Oscar screenplay nominee, "Moonrise Kingdom," 2012; Oscar animation nominee, "Fantastic Mr. Fox," 2009; Oscar screenplay nominee, "The Royal Tanenbaums," 2001") is also clearly inspired by films of the era in which the film is symbolically set.

The story's framing is similar to director Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941), whereby a present-day character narrates a story that is recounted in flashbacks.

The hotel setting, array of characters and interlocking subplots is reminiscent of director Edmund Goulding's "Grand Hotel" (1932), replete with the casting of celebrity-gawker actors.

The plot is rich with detail. Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) tells a writer (Jude Law) how he came to be proprietor of The Grand Budapest Hotel, "this enchanting old ruin," in the Republic of Zubrowka.

The young Zero (Tony Revolori), a lobby boy, befriends hotel concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), a suspect in the death of Madame Celine Villenueve Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Tilda Swinton), whose will has bequeathed Gustave a valuable painting, "Boy With Apple."

Fiennes pulls out all the stops in the lead role with an amazing range of exasperated expressions and clever-insistence body language, counterbalanced nicely by the almost motionless Revolori's blank looks.

Many of Anderson's film-acting company are back: Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and Owen Wilson. Also along for the stylized fun: Tom Wilkinson and Saoirse Ronan.

The music by Alexandre Desplat ("Fantastic Mr. Fox," "Moonrise Kingdom," "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Parts 1, 2") invokes Russian folk songs.

Director of photography Robert D. Yeoman ("Moonrise Kingdom" and most of Anderson's films) utilizes three aspect ratios: the majority in the Academy ratio (1:37) for the 1930s flashbacks, anamorphic widescreen (2:35) for the 1960's scenes, and 1:78 for scenes taking place in the present. Shot framing is straight-on or side-view, with few, if any three-quarter angles.

Vivid production design by Adam Stockhausen ("12 Years A Slave," "Moonrise Kingdom"), art direction by Stephan O. Gessler ("Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters") and set decoration by Anna Pinnock ("Skyfall," "Life of Pi") emphasizes lurid red (hotel elevator walls), purple (hotel uniforms), pink (Mendl's Bakery cake boxes) and blue-gray-browns (prison and military scenes).

Costume design by Milena Canonero (three-time Oscar costume recipient, "Marie Antoinette," "Chariots of Fire," "Barry Lyndon") is smartly exaggerated. For example, the size of the "Lobby Boy" letters on Zero's pillbox hat is very large.

The visual effects department credits are lengthy, owing to digital composition and use of miniatures (including the hotel facade) and great special effects.

"The Grant Budapest Hotel" is one grand, goofy conceit. That's all right. The densely-plotted film may only grow more fascinating with time and repeated viewings.

"Hotel California" has nothing on "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

As for me, I have no reservations. I want to make a return visit.

"The Grand Budapest Hotel," MPAA rated R (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.) for language, some sexual content and violence; Genre: Comedy; Run time: 1 hr., 40 min.; Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "The Grand Budapest Hotel" was filmed on location in Berlin and Saxony, Germany. During the closing credits, there's a black and white animation of a man doing a Russian dance.

Box Office, April 11: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is making the spring season look like the summer blockbuster movie season, repeating at No. 1, $41.3 million, $159 million, two weeks, edging out "Rio 2," opening at No. 2, with $39 million; "Oculus," opening at No. 3, with only $12 million, and "Draft Day," opening at No. 4 with a bomb-like $9.7 million;

5. "Divergent," $7.5 million, $124.8 million, four weeks; 6. "Noah" to No. 2, $7.4 million, $84.8 million, three weeks; 7. God's Not Dead," $5.4 million, $40.7 million, four weeks; 8.."The Grand Budapest Hotel," $4 million, $39.4 million, six weeks; 9 ."Muppets Most Wanted," $2.2 million, $45.6 million, four weeks; 10. "Mr. Peabody & Sherman," $1.8 million, $105.2 million, six weeks

Unreel, April 18:

"Transcendence," PG-13: A terminally-ill scientist uploads his mind and becomes a cyber criminal. Johnny Depp stars. Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy co-star in the sci-fi thriller.

"A Haunted House 2," R: Marlon Wayans is back in the horror spoof. Jaime Pressly, Cedric the Entertainer and Essence Atkins co-star.

"Bears," G: The documentary is about a family of Alaskan bears. John C. Reilly narrates the DisneyNature film.

"Heaven Is For Real," PG: Greg Kinnear stars as a small-town father coping with his son's life-changing experience. Kelly Reilly and Thomas Haden Church co-star.

"Fading Gigolo," R: John Turturro directs himself, Woody Allen, Liev Schreiber, Vanessa Paradis, Sharon Stone and Sofia Vegara in the comedy about a professional out to turn a fast buck.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site,; the Times-News web site,; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, and, where they're archived. Email Paul Willistein: pwillistein@ You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.