Wes Anderson’s Hotel is well worth a stay

FILM
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Cert 15 | By Steve Dinneen
Four Stars

OF ALL the directors working in Hollywood today, Wes Anderson has the surest grip on his material. Every frame bears his unmistakeable indie stamp; he owns every costume, every carpet and cushion, every trundling tracking shot, every expression and intonation. His films feel like they’ve been made solely to titillate his personal artistic proclivities, and the fact they just happen to chime with his legion of fans is a happy coincidence.

His directing style increasingly bears more resemblance to puppetry – especially of the creaky eastern European variety – than it does to the output of his contemporaries. His sets are a giant toy box peopled by characters who are at once implausible caricatures and unmistakably human.

Ralph Fiennes is the star – or at least he commands the most screen time – playing Monsieur Gustave, the irascible concierge of the eponymous hotel. He is the mould from which other lesser concierges are forged, albeit one who harbours a predilection for servicing the more... intimate needs of his elderly female clientele. Fiennes plays him with two parts Noel Coward to one part James Stevens from Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, combining an unflappable professionalism with an urbane high-camp.

When one of Gustave’s favourites, Madame D (Tilda Swinton, almost unrecognisable under layers of wrinkly prosthetics), dies in mysterious circumstances, he travels to her estate in the hope of being left “a little something”, only to discover he has been bequeathed “Boy with Apple”, a wilfully hideous renaissance painting of immeasurable worth. Her son and apparent heir Dmitri, a wonderfully wicked Adrien Brody, is less than chuffed and sends his terrifying enforcer Jopling (Willem Dafoe, also on brilliant form) to make the problem disappear.

Anderson has never been a director faced with casting problems but The Grand Budapest Hotel is filled with an embarrassment of riches. It’s as if he set out to trump his previous movies: “I’ll take your Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray and Edward Norton, and raise you Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law and Tom Wilkinson...”

The sprawling ensemble cast means it inevitably lacks some of the emotional connection you form with the characters in his previous film, Moonrise Kingdom, and it’s a slicker affair than the DIY garage-indie of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. But the overall effect is every bit as poignant and adorable as anything in his canon.

Zubrowka, the mountainous pre-Second World War east European town where the hotel is located, is a tense, often violent place. But Anderson’s world is so lovingly crafted that checking into the Grand Budapest hotel is nothing short of a joy.

SECRET CINEMA
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Secret location | By Alex Dymoke
Four Stars

WHO wouldn’t want to spend an evening inside a Wes Anderson movie? Not only that, a Wes Anderson movie about a beautiful interwar hotel of unrivalled opulence and hospitality. The prospect of building an immersive theatrical experience around The Grand Budapest Hotel was tempting enough for Secret Cinema to break with tradition and focus on a film yet to be released, rather than one we’re all familiar with already. The organisers are keen to preserve the mystery so I won’t say too much, but even so, if you’ve got a ticket and want it to be a total surprise, stop reading now.

After being greeted at the door (at a secret location) by grinning maids, your “papers” are checked by a handsome concierge dressed to the nines in 20s finery. You’re then ushered into a grand hall with staircases leading to two upper floors, surrounded by rooms rendered in meticulous detail, mirroring scenes from the film.

Don’t be shy to engage the sprawling cast of maids, concierges and elderly guests – my friend asked for the cloakroom and seconds later found himself being interviewed for the position of bell boy. Just be wary of the leather-clad fascists who stomp through the hotel, interrogating unsuspecting audience members. After a couple of hours, Secret Cinema-goers are led into screening rooms dotted around the hotel to watch the film.

The partial validity of the old Anderson criticisms – that his films are too mannered, affected, unreal – make it all the more startling to see a vision of his realised so vividly in reality.

FILM
300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE
Cert 15 | By Steve Dinneen
Two Stars

ZACK Snyder’s 300 wasn’t for everyone. It was a heady concoction of geekery and machismo, a blood-red pint of style without a chaser of substance to take the edge off. It had a certain charm in its simplicity, though – 300 Spartans against an army. Its sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, lacks even this; it’s a bloated swords and sandals epic crammed with schlocky, B-movie-level acting and utterly dislikeable characters.

The chronology runs roughly in parallel with the first movie but focuses instead on the naval battle between the evil, marauding Persians and the holier-than-thou, democratic Athenians (draw whatever contemporary parallels you like from that), every one of whom bears an uncanny resemblance to Formula One driver Jenson Button.

Snyder displays a cavalier disregard for conventional pacing – right from the credits he turns it up to 11. There’s blood and hacking and slashing and raping and pillaging, often all in the same frame. There’s an entirely superfluous pair of gigantic, wobbling breasts within the first 20 seconds, possibly as an early counterpoint to the scores of glistening leather posing-pouches on display. Everything is filmed in slow motion; the running time is listed as 102 minutes but I’m genuinely interested to hear what that would fall to if it was played in real-time – I’d be surprised if you didn’t shave off at least 20 minutes.

The top-notch CGI and highly stylised visuals give it a veneer of aesthetic chutzpah but by the time the final battle kicked off I’d completely lost interest: stab him, slash her, jump that, hang around for the inevitable slo-mo blood fountain, blah blah blah. If that’s what you’re into – and it’s no bad thing if done properly – the upcoming sequel to Sin City promises visuals every bit as dramatic drawn from far more adept source material.

THEATRE
GOING DARK
The Science Museum | By Steve Dinneen
Three Stars

Sound and Fury’s production of Going Dark, a bittersweet story about a planetarium narrator suffering from a degenerative eye condition, has transferred from the Young Vic to a venue you could call its spiritual home: the Science Museum.

The one-man play follows Max as he struggles to hold together his life as an enthusiastic star-gazer and single dad as his world literally fades into darkness. The audience is seated as if in a real planetarium, with Max using a laser pen to point out the swirling constellation projected onto the ceiling. Darkness becomes a tangible presence, with the lights cutting out, leaving the audience in an uncomfortable, inky blackness.

The planetarium scenes are intercut with conversations between Max and his precocious son Leo – a presence in voice only – who retreats behind his Thunderbirds toys as a way of shielding himself from the reality of his dad’s situation. Removing the audience’s power of sight is an effective way of exploring Max’s feelings of powerlessness and loss, and you feel for him as he tries to resist taking the situation out on those around him.

The effect is dampened somewhat by the fact they’re both pretty annoying; a little-too-perfect representation of an intellectual middle-class family unit. It’s all well and good listening to your own child harping on about blasting off to the moon but having to sit through someone else’s is slightly nauseating, fictional or otherwise. The dramatic atmosphere created by the planetarium and the exceptionally good use of lighting, though, are just about enough to compensate – and being in the Science Museum without hordes of kids is a novelty in itself.