Paul Greenwood's movie reviews - The Grand Budapest Hotel, 300: Rise Of An Empire, Stranger By The Lake

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Ralph Fiennes is on wonderful form as the imperious concierge Gustave
Ralph Fiennes is on wonderful form as the imperious concierge Gustave

The Grand Budapest Hotel (15, 100 mins)

Director: Wes Anderson

4 stars

Wes Anderson's films can often be take-them-or-leave-them affairs. But his latest, another of his trademark exercises in wit, wackiness and visual panache, has the content to back it up this time too.

It's content that's light as a feather mind you, but floating along on the breeze with it for a couple of hours offers many pleasures.

The titular hotel is situated in the fictional eastern European republic of Zubrowka, with most of the action taking place there in the 1930s, centring on a concierge who gets mixed up in a mystery involving a murdered countess and her crazed family, and who ends up being arrested for murder.

In a rather clumsily put together bit of framing, Tom Wilkinson is an author in the 1980s writing a book on the Grand Budapest Hotel. We flash back to the 1960s, when he looked like Jude Law and was a guest in the near-derelict hotel, with only a few guests rattling around. The owner is F. Murray Abraham, who tells him the Grand Budapest's history, leading to another story within the story.

So it's back to the 1930s, when Ralph Fiennes was the imperious concierge, Gustave, who basically ran the place. A new lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori) has just started, with Gustave showing him the ropes and all the many ways in which a good concierge should operate.

One of these ways involves, well, looking after a rich countess (Tilda Swinton), one of many elderly ladies Gustave favours. But she soon turns up dead, leaving Gusatve a priceless painting in her will, much to the displeasure of her extended family, in particular her son (Adrien Brody) who will stop at nothing to get it back.

Endlessly quirky, but not overly arch, mannered in dialogue delivery and physical movements, yet never in an off-putting way, this is just one of those movies with something in its bones, a sprinkling of magic dust.

Visually it's just ravishing, all cake-icing production design and beautiful sets, while the screen's aspect ratio changes for the different time periods.

Perfect performances from Fiennes and an amazing cast combine with a sly script and Anderson's eye for impeccable detail to deliver a funny and entertaining delight.

As is usually the way with Anderson, you get a ridiculous parade of stars for your money. Alongside the main players there are also prominent roles for Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan and Edward Norton, as well as cameos from Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel and more.

And the main thing is that it's very funny indeed. Fiennes is a revelation, having only really hinted in In Bruges before that he's capable of this level of comedic performance.

Pretty much everyone just uses their own voice, which is a good thing, and the sometimes incongruous sounding swearing only makes it even funnier.

It exists on its own plane of silliness, whizzing along with a zip and a cheek to a bouncy score that at times gives it the wit and irreverence of a cartoon. But on top of that there's a mystery plot that gives us chases and murders and all sorts of intrigue on top of the devilish laughs.

On the downside, for a film called The Grand Budapest Hotel, not very much of it actually takes place there. And the finale seems a little on the rushed side, not really wrapping things up as neatly or as cleverly as you might have anticipated or deserved.

And if in the end it's really nothing more than a shaggy dog story, at least it's a hugely entertaining one.

See it if you liked: The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

300: Rise of an Empire (15, 102 mins)

Director: Noam Murro

2 stars

The reams of backstory and exposition that make up much of this somewhat uncalled-for action sequel fill us in on how Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) made an enemy of Xerxes, who became the god-king that Gerard Butler and his Spartans fought in the original 300 seven years ago.

None of this is particularly relevant to what's being told here, a battle being waged by Xerxes' second-in-command, Artemisia (Eva Green), and her massed Persian forces, with Themistocles wanting Sparta to join the fight.

What follows is essentially the same sea battle played out over and over, doused in torrents of computer generated blood that passed muster back when this sort of thing was a novelty, but which is now just kinda boring.

Grand-scale carnage and destruction it may be, but there's very little to engage with thanks to woeful dialogue and scarcely more believable performances.

A couple of stunning shots offer little respite, and it's rather cheapened by the fact it's all taking place at more or less the same time as the events of 300, meaning we're watching this third division stuff while the Champions League is on. It seemed these words would never be written, but Gerard Butler is badly missed.

See it if you liked: 300, Clash of the Titans, Immortals

Stranger by the Lake (18, 100 mins)

Director: Alain Guiraudie

3 stars

This languorous, sometimes unnecessarily explicit French drama stars Pierre Deladonchamps as Franck, who spends his summer days at a lake, a popular cruising spot for men.

When he witnesses what appears to be one man drowning another, things get complicated because the potential murderer is a guy Franck has had his eye on.

An intriguing relationship builds between them, with Franck's growing feelings for him making him unwilling to turn him in to the police, who are starting to ask questions.

But the real heart of it is a friendship Franck strikes up with an older man, and their conversations offer depth lacking elsewhere.

It's beautifully shot, while the murder element is an unusual one, providing a growing tension even as everything unfolds at an unhurried pace.

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