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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

June 28th, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the latest film from auteur director, Wes Anderson, and it is also his biggest box office hit. I liked some of his earlier films, but after The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited, I didn't consider myself a fan of his work. Then I saw The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom and I loved both. Because of this, I was super excited to see The Grand Budapest Hotel and its box office success caused my expectations to rise even more. Did they rise too high? Is this Wes Anderson's best movie, as well as his biggest hit?

The Movie

The plot is a little complicated, because it is a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. We start in modern day, I think, where a young lady goes to a cemetery where there a national hero, a writer, is buried. She looks at the book her wrote, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and looks at the author's picture on the back. We then flashback to 1985, where we meet The Author who speaks to the audience about how when people know you are a writer, they tell you their stories. We then flash back to 1968 when The Author was younger and spending time at the Grand Budapest, a once celebrated hotel that had fallen on hard times. It was also the off season, so nearly no one was there. One of the new arrivals is an older man, whom the author learns is Zero Moustafa, the owner of this hotel, and several others. Zero Moustafa is a fan of the Author's work and when the Author asks how he came to own the Grand Budapest, Zero Moustafa invites him to dinner to tell him.

We then flashback to 1932. We are less than ten minutes into the movie and we've had three flashbacks. If you think Wes Anderson is pretentious and allows style to overcome substance, this film won't help change your opinion. Here we meet Monsieur Gustave H., the concierge. Gustave is very attentive of the needs of his guests, especially his older female guests. One such lady, Madame CĂ©line Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis, thankfully referred to in the movie as Madame D. As the plot begins, she is preparing to leave the Grand Budapest; however, she's appears to be in the middle of a nervous breakdown. She's convinced this will be the last time they every spend time together. When she leaves, Gustave gives a string of orders to Zero before realizing he doesn't know who Zero is. Turns out Zero is the new lobby boy, hired by the manager just that day, but Gustave has the final say.

We then quickly see many months of Zero's life in the Grand Budapest learning his job and learning a lot more from Monsieur Gustave. We also learn about the mysterious owner of the Grand Budapest, whom no one has met. We also meet, very briefly meet Agatha, a confectioner who lives in town and whom Zero falls in love with.

Act 2 begins with Zero returning to the Grand Budapest after purchasing several newspapers for guests. When he looks at the front page, he runs back to the Grand Budapest and runs straight to Monsieur Gustave. There the headline talks about war coming to their small nation. However, the story they are most interested in is the death of Madame D.. The pair of them immediately grab a train to pay their respects. Along the way, they are stopped by the military and things get rough when Zero's papers are not sufficient. Fortunately Captain Henckles steps in. He spent some time at the Grand Budapest and Gustave was always nice to him. When they get to Madame D.'s estate, there's more trouble. Among the items in her will is a painting, "Boy with Apple", which she gave to Gustave, which causes Madame D.'s son, Dmitri to react. First with homophobic slurs and then with violence. When they are left alone, Gustave and Zero go to see the painting and decide just to take it, asking two of Madame D.'s servants, Serge and Clotilde, to wrap it up. While doing so, Serge slips a confidential note into the package without Gustave or Zero seeing.

With that, they leave for the hotel. What happens next gets us too deep into spoiler territory.

If you dislike Wes Anderson's style as a director, this film will not convince you otherwise. The Grand Budapest Hotel is absolutely a Wes Anderson movie as his sense of style is practically a character of its own. For many people, this will get in the way of their enjoyment of the movie. For fans, it is not only what they come to expect, but part of the selling point. The acting from the ensemble is also very engaging, albeit just as stylized as you would expect. The characters don't come across as real humans, but creations of the screenwriter. Again, this will turn off those who don't like Wes Anderson's work, but it is part of the charm for his fans. Additionally, the movie looks amazing. Every shot is perfectly shot and the film looks incredible, overly stylish, but incredible.

On the other hand, while The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson's biggest hit, I don't think it is his best movie. I still like Moonrise Kingdom the most, while I would also put The Fantastic Mr. Fox ahead of this film as well, but that's because I really love heist movies. That said, it is really close and it is hardly an insult to say it is his third best movie.

The Extras

Bill Murray starts the extras with a tour of the town where the film was shot. There are also three Vignettes, slide shows, featuring Tom Wilkinson in characters such as The Author. Up next is a multi-part 18-minute long making of featurette. There is also a three-minute featurette on the cast, which is barely enough time to say their names. Finally, there is a four-minute featurette on Wes Anderson. That's not a lot of extras. It's enough to not feel barren, but I was hoping for more.

The technical presentation is nearly flawless. There was a lot of care taken to make sure the film looked great and the Blu-ray maintains the director's vision. Strangely, each timeline has a different aspect ratio and the video looks a little different each time. They all look good, but the main timeline with the 4:3 aspect ratio has finer details, but the colors are not quite as vivid. There are no compression issues or digital artifacts. The audio is just as good with clear dialogue and plenty of activity in the surround sound speakers. There's not a lot of action scenes in the movie, but when we get some, the surround sound speakers come to life.

Finally, the Blu-ray costs $20, which is $5 or 33% more than the DVD. This is a fine price to pay for this type of release.

The Verdict

The Grand Budapest Hotel is arguably Wes Anderson's best movie and while I wouldn't agree, it is still a must have for fans of the director. There are not a ton of extras on the DVD and Blu-ray, but it still worth picking up.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Wes Anderson, Adrien Brody, Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Lea Seydoux, Tony Revolori