'The Grand Budapest Hotel' recounts the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune -- all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing Continent.
I know that there are many critics and movie buffs out there that worship at the altar of Wes Anderson. For purposes of full disclosure, I want to make it clear that I have never been one of them. While I have admired some of his work in the past (most notably Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums), I just have not been able to fall in love with any of his directorial efforts. Until now, that is.
'The Grand Budapest Hotel' is, quite simply, a joy to watch from beginning to end and – like many of Anderson's movies – something that's very hard to describe in written text. At face value, it's a whimsical comedy (but not really a slapstick farce, although others have described it as such) that seems to be a throwback to a much earlier form of movie storytelling. However, it's also got a heart to it and hidden underneath all the fun and jokes is a deeper sense of sadness and loss.
Anderson's story isn't just a story, it's a story wrapped in a story inside a third story, as the opening of the film reveals. Tom Wilkinson plays an author who introduces us to a tale of himself as a younger man (now played by Jude Law) who stayed at the Grand Budapest Hotel in the late 1960s. While there, he meets up with multi-millionaire Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). He hopes to learn why Moustafa insisted on keeping ownership in and is staying at the now rather run-down hotel. Over dinner, Moustafa tells the writer the story of when he first got hired as a lobby boy (now played by Tony Revolori) at the hotel (back in 1932), as well as the tale of the former concierge of the establishment, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).
The bulk of the film takes place in 1932, as Gustave – who has a thing for bedding older…and I mean significantly older…women – is falsely accused of the murder of a wealthy benefactor and must enlist the aid of Zero to both help him get out of prison as well as track down the real perpetrator of the crime. Of course, all of this takes place within the structure of the movie's lighthearted humor and frenetic energy, ensuring that even when things are the darkest for Gustave, the film is still a great amount of fun.
The movie is peppered with both cameos and extended roles for many of Wes Anderson's familiar troupe of actors, including - but not limited to - apperarances by Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and Jason Schwartzman. The casting is also part of the enjoyment of watching the movie, as it seems every 10 minutes or so a new recognizable face will appear on screen playing an interesting individual.
In addition to the entertaining storyline and the sharp wit from almost all of the movie's characters, note must be taken of both the look and sound of the film, which is nothing short of fantastic. Almost every second of every frame of 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' has been intricately designed, making each shot a feast for the eyes. Actors, props, and backgrounds have been so specifically placed, it's as if every scene in the movie is Anderson's own little painting, worthy of pausing on the disc just to enjoy the thought that went into each design. Furthermore, Composer Alexandre Desplat's score so perfectly matches every moment in the movie, that it almost serves as an additional character in the film.
There's so much going on in 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' and so much of it going off so wonderfully, that this is the type of film that demands to be watched again…and again and again. It's by far one of the best movies I've seen so far in 2014, and it will be a crime if it's forgotten come awards season. In short, run (preferably in a straight line, like all the characters in this film) to your local store and pick this one up immediately. And stop at Mendl's on your way home…their pastries are delicious!
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Grand Budapest Hotel' checks in on Blu-ray with an eco-friendly Elite keepcase that houses the 50GB dual-layer Blu-ray along with an insert with a code for a digital copy of the movie. A slipcover is included, whose artwork matches that of the keepcase's slick. There are no front-loaded trailers on the Blu-ray, and the main menu consists of a still of the hotel (similar to the box cover) accompanied by some of Alexandre Desplat's score for the movie. Menu selections run across the bottom of the screen.
'The Grand Budapest Hotel' was shot on 35mm film and gets an excellent transfer onto the digital format. The first thing viewers will notice is that Director Wes Anderson makes use of different aspect ratios (2.35:1, 1:85:1, and 1.37:1) depending on what time period is being depicted in the movie. However, the large majority of the film takes place in the 1.37:1 ratio. They've actually put a brief message at the movie's opening to make sure one has their monitor set to 16x9, lest anyone try to distort the director's intention by using the zoom function on their TVs.
Wes Anderson's movie makes wonderful use of color…particularly when it comes to reds, purples, and yellows – which leads to immediate concern that those images may be over-saturated and result in 'bleed through' on home video. Thankfully, that isn't the case here, as colors are rich and bright without any visible distortions. Black levels are deep and inky throughout. The director and cinematographer (Robert D. Yeoman) have a lot of fun playing with different types of angles, different lighting, and (at least what appears to be) different types of lenses, so things like skin tones aren't always consist throughout, but they are consistent within each scene or segment of the movie.
All of the above adds up to a glorious home video presentation on Blu-ray that wonderfully conveys Anderson's lush palette used for the film. This is easily one of the best-looking Blu-ray releases of the year.
The primary audio here is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that is nicely immersive and also helps enhance the wonderful score by composer Alexandre Desplat. The dynamic range here is very good, and it seems as if even the smallest of background noises manages to come off as separate and distinct on this lossless track. Balance is also well-done, as neither the soundtrack music nor ambient noise ever drown out the spoken word from the actors. There's not much in terms of low-end 'oomph' from this track, but there are more than a handful of fun directional moments that will add to one's enjoyment of watching the film. The track also is free of any apparent glitches, such as popping or drop-outs.
In addition to the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 track, the Blu-ray includes an English 5.1 Descriptive Audio track, plus Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French DTS 5.1, Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, Russian DTS 5.1, Czech Dolby Digital 5.1, Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1, Polish Dolby Digital 5.1, and Turkish Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Estonian, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Chinese, Polish, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Turkish, and Ukrainian.
I did not go into 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' as a big Wes Anderson fan, as his releases have been hit or miss for me over the years; however, this is perhaps his best release to date – with a whimsical, humorous storyline that still manages to add a thread of humanity and sadness to the proceedings. Not only did I enjoy this film quite a bit, it's easily one of the best movies I've seen all year long. Highly Recommended.