Reel Critics: A 'Grand' hotel, indeed

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" is a crazy roller-coaster ride of a movie with the promise of future cult status.

The story masquerades as a parody of Eastern European culture and manners between the two world wars. But Wes Anderson's mile-a-minute plot unfolds with equal parts of comedy, tragedy and elegant madness.

The screenplay defies standard Hollywood labels unless you know about the Coen brothers. Their complex and outlandish films like "The Big Lebowski" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" are the closest you'll get to the zany yet sophisticated mix of humor and melancholy that fill this movie.

Ralph Fiennes is a marvel as Gustave, the educated and refined hotel concierge of a bygone era. His peculiar adventures with hotel guests parallel the great upheavals occurring in the world of the 1930s.

Many great actors magnify the energy of this dynamic screenplay. Edward Norton, Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton and Bill Murray play characters that jump off the screen and grab you by the collar. But young Tony Revolori steals the show as the savvy lobby boy.

This is classic entertainment of a rare kind, adult humor that is both literate and wickedly funny. This stylish satire is sure to make the top-10 lists of many movie critics this year, including my own.

—John Depko


'Lunchbox' leaves sweet taste

Not feeling the need for speed? Relax and cozy up with "The Lunchbox," which warmed my heart and left me hungry.

Ila, a lonely housewife, prepares a wonderful lunch in hopes of pleasing her husband. Through bustling Mumbai's incredible delivery system, it lands on the desk of the misanthropic Mr. Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), who is planning to retire after 35 years in a crowded claims office.

The scene where Mr. Fernandes opens his lunch is wonderful as each little dish reveals a savory delight. You can see his face subtly change from grumpy to content within seconds.

However, Mr. Fernandes is not Ila's husband — the "dabbahwallah" has made a mistake and switched lunches. Ila realizes this when her empty dishes are returned with a note complaining "too salty."

Thus starts an unlikely friendship between two lonely people, and as someone mentions, "the wrong train can bring you to the right station." Through shared notes tucked in the lunchbox, Ila and Mr. Fernandes feel free to open up about their lives, and it opens them up to thoughts of happier possibilities in life.

Khan (from "Life of Pi" and "The Namesake") and the lovely Nimrat Kaur as Ila convey their roles with delicate humor and pathos. This story has very much the feel of "You've Got Mail" set amid an exotic culture, and I liked that it didn't go where I thought it would.

"The Lunchbox" is a wonderfully understated movie about the power of a good meal and friendship to transform one's soul. Enjoy it with some Indian food afterward for a perfect combination.

—Susanne Perez

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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