The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The trailers for this had been killing me for a while, and on the strength of Wes Anderson’s previous work I was well up for it. The film is a perfect blend of completely straight acting and outstanding whimsy. In that respect it’s much like (the also brilliant) Steve Zissou and The Life Aquatic. If anything the eccentric setting of the ageing hotel on a mountain makes this slightly more concrete, which allows an even more fantastical tale to unfold. Ostensibly this is the tale of the finest concierge the Grand Budapest has ever known, and how his lobby boy ended up owning the place. In practice it’s a master-class in playing ridiculous characters straight-faced and making every single scene look utterly gorgeous.
There’s further whimsical confusion in making this a story within a story within a story (I think it’s that many), introduced by Tom Wilkinson playing an older Jude Law who writes the book of the Grand Budapest Hotel after staying there and hearing it from the owner (F. Murray Abraham). So that’s just the introductory cast… add to that Ralph Fiennes on extraordinary form (he wasn’t this funny in Schindler’s List, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe (check out that underbite – half Shadow of The Vampire, half Sloth from The Goonies), Saorise Ronan, Jeff Goldblum – all with splendid facial furniture (including Ronan) the wonderful introduction of Tony Revolori and an astonishing string of cameos I won’t spoil for you here, save that they all too have great moustaches, and it’s a pitch-perfect film.
I laughed continuously, clapping hands at the use of stop-motion, camera angles that would delight Police Squad, prison escapes, the Zigzags (more amusing Nazis), chases, slapstick, moustaches, quirked eyebrows, disguises, witty dialogue, great costumes, set design… everything. It’s affectionate, lovely, clever and drenched in the kind of creative whimsy you usually only find in the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Of course, if you don’t like that sort of thing you’ll absolutely hate this.
300: Rise of An Empire (2014)
‘300: Risible Empire’ would be a better title. This is a staggeringly bad film. The original 300 was a faithful, highly styled version of a gorgeous painted comic book written by Frank Miller. This is a mere slow-motion shadow of the original. All the misogyny, war porn and laughably homoerotic nonsense of the original just doesn’t bear repeating.
Since the first one we’ve had to suffer the ghastly pastiches of Immortals (Mickey Rourke in a gold lobster hat) and the remake of Clash of the Titans (mock Harryhausen’s Bubo will you?) and its unwelcome sequel Wrath of the Titans (oh…) and they’ve covered all the ground that was left to tread.
With this dire sidequel we get heavy handed voice-over narration stating the obvious and uninteresting, and even helpfully flashing back to a sequence we saw earlier, just in case the audience’s brains had atrophied. I can’t bear to look at the running length of 300: Rise of an Empire – it felt like it was about three hours long. Three hours that if it were at normal speed could possibly be crammed into twenty-five minutes. Even that would be dreary. Most of the film is a demonstration of imaginary fluid dynamics, with improbable jets of 3D blood and stationary seas. There are a number of battles, including footage straight out of the first film, some at sea. All are absurd, and will likely make you laugh out loud.
There’s a script, by someone who lacks subtlety, storytelling, wit and language. The best lines are hugely out of sync with the characters and situations: on arriving at Sparta to get some help our man (Sullivan Stapleton as ‘Themistokles’) the lady-leader (yes – there are like, two girls in this!) says “you’ve come a long way to stroke your cock watching young men train”. It’s possible that was a statement. I was surprised the Spartans were scrapping instead of just having a big oily man-orgy, which the whole film seems to be implying throughout. There’s also some terrible inspirational speeches on the eve of battle stuff. Sadly there are about twenty of these and they’re rather half-hearted and presumably only audible to a handful of soldiers. And they’re awful.
Mainly though, this is the story of Captain Hotpants and his mental sister/general/mate/lunatic and her travelling war-wardrobe. It’s stupid, boring, overlong and the rare moments of humour come solely from it being stupid, overlong, stupid (and repetitive). A list of the stupidest things in it has surely already been compiled by a click-bait site – skip it, your life can still have meaning.