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The Grand Budapest Hotel: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) movie poster The Grand Budapest Hotel

Theatrical Release: March 7, 2014 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Wes Anderson / Writers: Wes Anderson (screenplay & story); Hugo Guinness (story); Stefan Zweig (inspiration)

Cast: Ralph Fiennes (M. Gustave H.), Tony Revolori (Young Zero Moustafa), F. Murray Abraham (Mr. Zero Moustafa), Mathieu Amalric (Serge X.), Adrien Brody (Dmitri Desgoffe und Taxis), Willem Dafoe (J.G. Jopling), Jeff Goldblum (Deputy Vilmos Kovacs), Harvey Keitel (Ludwig), Jude Law (Young Writer), Bill Murray (M. Ivan), Edward Norton (Inspector A.J. Henckels), Saoirse Ronan (Agatha), Jason Schwartzman (M. Jean), Léa Seydoux (Clotilde), Tilda Swinton (Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis), Tom Wilkinson (Author), Owen Wilson (M. Chuck), Larry Pine (Mr. Mosher), Giselda Volodi (Serge's Sister), Florian Lukas (Pinky), Karl Markovics (Wolf), Volker Zack Michalowski (Günther), Neal Huff (Lieutenant), Bob Balaban (M. Martin), Fisher Stevens (M. Robin), Wally Wolodarsky (M. Georges), Waris Ahluwalia (M. Dino)

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The first seven features written and directed by Wes Anderson have ranged from good to great. His eighth, The Grand Budapest Hotel, falls short of his high standard of storytelling.
This one is more an exercise in technique than a traditional narrative. It's like a feature-length short or an anthology of them with a couple of characters running through dissimilar, clearly defined parts.

The film opens with a reader visiting a statue of an author who's presumably long deceased. Then, we're in 1985 where that same author (Tom Wilkinson) is alive and recording a video explaining his inventions channel experience more than imagination. Shortly after, we journey back to 1968 where the palatial titular hotel residing in a made-up part of Eastern Europe is scarcely populated by solitary types, including a curious writer (Jude Law), who may or may not be a younger version of the author. His stay at the Grand Budapest coincides with one of three yearly visits made by Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the establishment's enigmatic proprietor. In the hotel's Arabian mineral baths, Moustafa addresses the writer and agrees to tell him his story.

That story mostly takes place in 1932 and constitutes the bulk of the film. It involves a teenaged Zero (Tony Revolori) joining the hotel as lobby boy and being instructed by the erudite head concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). Always busy either privately romancing guests, many of them elderly and all of them blonde, or responding to queries from the hotel's large staff, Gustave takes Zero under his wing. The two become accomplices when one of Gustave's loves, the aging Madame D. (a brief Tilda Swinton, unrecognizably aged), dies suddenly. The death is ruled a murder and Gustave the prime suspect.

M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) are the two constants running through the zany primary 1932 narrative of "The Grand Budapest Hotel." Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and family friend Jopling (Willem Dafoe) are not at all pleased with Madame D's will.

Madame's will entitles Gustave to Boy with Apple, a priceless Renaissance painting that he considers the only worthwhile possession in her substantial estate. That decision does not sit well with Madame's many surviving relatives, especially her son (a mustachioed Adrien Brody) and a hired assassin (Willem Dafoe). Gustave winds up incarcerated, enabling Anderson to make a prison escape mini-movie building upon the Shawshank Redemption-inspired disappearing act of Moonrise Kingdom. It involves digging tools hidden inside pastries, long ladders, and a bald Harvey Keitel.

Grand Budapest Hotel largely exists to indulge the filmmaker in his distinctive artistic interests inspired by the French New Wave and other underappreciated European cinema. It feels like a 100-minute challenge to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to continue denying Anderson's films the Production Design and Cinematography Oscar nominations many would argue they deserve. Here, production design overshadows characters and storytelling, areas that have earned the director a passionate following. Yes, Anderson's fans enjoy Chaz Tenenbaum and sons' matching track suits and Team Zissou's shoes (come to think of it, has Adidas sufficiently compensated Anderson?). But without substantial characters and story, costumes, details, and all those things identified onscreen with pink, yellow or white Futura text wouldn't be worth appreciating and celebrating. That is the experience Grand Budapest offers: a parade of opulent sets, stylish visuals (Anderson and DP Robert Yeoman's most colorful yet and most of them in the classic 1.37:1 Academy Ratio), and assorted genres that fail to compel and excite.

The story of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is relayed in 1968 by proprietor Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) to a young writer (Jude Law).

Chockfull of Anderson alums (including such staples as Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman,
and Owen Wilson along with numerous second-timers like Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Keitel, and the Angela Lansbury-replacing Swinton), the giant cast is game. Those new to Anderson's world, whether accomplished like Fiennes (who replaced Johnny Depp) and Saoirse Ronan or green like Revolori, are at ease with the material. But that material only takes them so far. Anderson's movies have always been eccentric affairs, but this one offers an overdose of quirk (e.g. a Mexico-shaped facial birthmark, a penciled-in mustache, and a secret legion of concierges).

That might be the most troubling thing about this film. It plays like a movie making fun of Wes Anderson movies or a poor attempt at aping one. Jokes are scattered and light. Sadly, not a single one delighted me, a person you may know from eight reviews of his first six films as a huge fan of Anderson's wit. The comedy of Grand Budapest is broad and remarkably off-target. This world and these characters could not be of less interest to me.

Perhaps Anderson benefits from script collaboration. His past films have attributed their screenplays to him and others, including Wilson, Schwartzman, Roman Coppola, and Noah Baumbach. This one's screenplay is solely credited to Anderson, though British artist and Anderson friend Hugo Guinness shares story credit and Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig gets one whopper of an "inspired by" screen at the start of the end credits. (You may suspect it's Anderson having more fun with creation, like the political struggles he invents for his made-up Republic of Zubrowka, the species he concocted for The Life Aquatic, or the game of Whack-Bat, but you would be wrong, which may be why he even includes Zweig's birth and death years and locations).

So full of passion and detail, Anderson's films are several years in the making, which renders this more disappointing than a misfire from a less talented or meticulous auteur. We probably can't expect to see anything new written and directed by Anderson until 2017 at the earliest. By then, this might very well have already gotten released by The Criterion Collection, as the director's first six films have (if not, Moonrise Kingdom should be overdue for that treatment). I can't say I'm anxious to give Grand Budapest another shot, after falling flat for me twice, once at a crowded, receptive theatrical screening and now on Blu-ray.

Jail is a momentary setback for M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). It's always snowing in Zubrowka.

I am well aware that my disappointment in the film is a minority opinion. It currently ranks fifth among all 2014 releases on Rotten Tomatoes by adjusted critics' scores. Nothing currently in wide release even comes close to its 88 Metacritic Metascore. Surprising me far more than the approval of my fellow critics (which was near-universal on each of Anderson's two previous films):
the film's success with the general public. To date, Grand Budapest has grossed $58.3 million domestically and another $104 million in foreign markets, both easily personal bests for the director.

The powerhouse performance, from a 1,467 North American theater count, is a puzzle to me. Even setting aside my opinion that it's Anderson's coldest and least funny work to date, the film defies everything we know about commercial filmmaking, using an eclectic cast light on star power, an eccentric title, a period setting, international flavor, an R rating, and a versatile narrative that seems secondary to production design. I am at a complete loss to understand how globally, this film could earn more than three times as much as Fantastic Mr. Fox and more than twice as much as Anderson's summer sleeper Moonrise Kingdom. Grand Budapest also currently ranks 137th on IMDb's all-time Top 250 list, narrowly above Rebecca, It Happened One Night, The Deer Hunter, Cool Hand Luke, and Gone with the Wind. While it's sure to drop, it seems likely to remain above the 7.8 average rating shared by Anderson's three top-rated films, Rushmore, Moonrise, and Fantastic.

With its leggy, formidable run (where it never got any higher than 6th place at the weekend box office) winding down, The Grand Budapest Hotel recently came to DVD and this Blu-ray + Digital HD from 20th Century Fox.

The Grand Budapest Hotel Blu-ray Disc + Digital HD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.33:1 - 2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), DTS 5.1 (French), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service, Spanish, Russian, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Turkish)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Dutch, Russian, Czech, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Latvian, Mandarin, Polish, Romanian, Slovenian, Turkish, Ukrainian
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: June 17, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Grand Budapest Hotel employs different aspect ratios for the different years in which it is set. The bulk, set in 1932, utilizes the approximately 1.33:1 Academy Ratio, which is pillarboxed within Blu-ray's 16:9 frame. Scenes set in 1968 opt for the anamorphic 2.40:1 of most Anderson films (it actually measures 2.30:1, for some reason). The few other stragglers, set in 1985 and presumably the present day, appear in windowboxed 1.85:1. In each case, the visuals are clean, sharp, and vibrant. Leaving nothing to be desired, the stellar transfer shows off the production values too dazzling and ambitious for the Academy not to remember come next Oscars.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio also earns high marks. Alexandre Desplat's versatile, playful score is forceful and bassy at times, enveloping you as intended. For some reason, audio and subtitles cannot be toggled during playback, seemingly because some onscreen text and newspaper articles appear in the language you have chosen.

Bill Murray orders spicy bratwurst at a German food stand near the Hotel Börse. Those with culinary ambitions can try their hand at making Mendl's famous Courtesan au Chocolat.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Grand Budapest Hotel leaves room for improvement in the bonus features department, should the film someday join Anderson's first six in the Criterion Collection.

The all-HD video extras begin with "Bill Murray Tours the Town" (4:17),
which has the funnyman show us around the Hotel Börse, the German building hosting the production, and the street around it.

Three creative Vignettes run 9 minutes together. "Kunstmuseum Zubrowka Lecture" is an image-supplemented speech given by Tom Wilkinson's author. "The Society of the Crossed Keys" details the history of the secret society of hotel concierges, after Bill Murray tries dodging a paparazzo's questions about it. "Mendl's Secret Recipe" provides directions for making the bakery's "Courtesan au Chocolat." It's not something you'll be able to make with ease.

Wes Anderson inspects the colorful concierges of the Society of the Crossed Keys in "The Making of 'The Grand Budapest Hotel.'" This Trans-Alpine Yodel front page story is one of forty items found in the stills gallery.

Promotional Featurettes houses three items.

"The Making of The Grand Budapest Hotel" (18:08) serves up the usual, palatable blend of talking heads and behind-the-scenes footage. The four shorts comprising it address the story, the cast, the production design, and other technical considerations.

The shorts "Cast" (3:24) and "Wes Anderson" (3:46) live up to their titles with brisk celebration of the actors and writer-director.

Navigable by remote or as an auto-advancing slideshow,
a stills gallery consists of 40 images, showing newspaper articles, artwork, hotel keys, graphics and other props created for the film.

Grand Budapest's theatrical trailer (2:26) is kindly preserved.

Finally, a Sneak Peek section grants individual and group access to "Discover Digital HD", Fox Searchlight 20th Anniversary, and MGM 90th Anniversary promos and trailers for Dom Hemingway and 3 Days to Kill. None of these play automatically at disc insertion.

The menu is a static shot of the hotel which only sometimes attaches some yodel score. The Blu-ray supports bookmarks and gives you the option to resume unfinished playback as well.

The lone insert supplies your Digital HD code within the eco-friendly keepcase which is topped by a textured slipcover reproducing the same artwork below.

Madame D (Tilda Swinton) lays her head on M. Gustave's (Ralph Fiennes) shoulder as they take a colorful elevator ride down The Grand Budapest Hotel.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

After two underwhelming viewings, I feel perfectly comfortable calling The Grand Budapest Hotel Wes Anderson's weakest work by far to date and the first of his movies I can't even claim to like. It's unusual for there to exist such a gap between my opinion and critical consensus, especially from a filmmaker I greatly admire, but I simply do not see much beyond technical flair to appreciate in this indulgent, unfunny comedy.

Fox's Blu-ray offers delightful picture and sound, but a just okay 40 minutes or so of bonus features. Should they decide to handle it (a safe assumption, given their track record), Criterion could provide improvement in the latter regard, but those who only wish to have the movie in the best quality available should be satisfied with this release.

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Related Reviews:
The Films of Wes Anderson:
Bottle RocketRushmoreThe Royal TenenbaumsThe Life Aquatic with Steve ZissouThe Darjeeling LimitedFantastic Mr. Fox



Ralph Fiennes: The Invisible WomanCoriolanus | Saoirse Ronan: Violet & DaisyCity of Ember
F. Murray Abraham: Inside Llewyn Davis | Jude Law: HugoContagionSherlock Holmes | Bill Murray: The Monuments Men
Adrien Brody: Midnight in Paris | Willem Dafoe: The Last Temptation of Christ | Mathieu Amalric: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

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Reviewed June 23, 2014.



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