Ralph Fiennes is one of the very best things about Wes Anderson’s new film The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) as amidst the finely wrought, exquisitely cluttered, and utterly claustrophobic production design, Fiennes’ existence as an entirely human, ably comic actor shines through, much as a number of Anderson’s favoured actors have done in the past: Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson. All three have cameos in the new film, as does Harvey Keitel, a kind of placeholder to bring to mind his more substantive roles in the once-heralded Postmodern filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s films of the 1990s. But what over the top graphic violence (influenced by Sam Peckinpah) and burlesque sexuality (influenced by Russ Meyer) is to Tarantino, a kind of twee childish cartooned diorama is to Anderson (think stop motion holiday animations of the 1970s, H.R.Pufnstuf and the other creations of Sid and Marty Krofft—and yes, for now, I do think The Fantastic Mr. Fox is Anderson’s deserved claim to fame.) At one point I thought that Anderson’s affectations devoid of affect recalled Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. novelist Daniel Handler) but this would do a real disservice to the Wildean wordplay and depth of Handler’s literary works for (actual) children. As in Anderson’s previous films, cinematic in-jokes and anachronistic pop culture references abound: the always watchable Jeff Goldblum, who once played seminal American comedian Ernie Kovacs in an old biopic briefly appears as a lawyer named “Kovacs;” Willem Dafoe, a brilliant actor does yet another turn as a vampiric villain —something he previously did in a far better film Shadow of the Vampire (2000); Adrien Brody pounces about like a silent movie heavy with high pompadour, long coat, and dastardly moustache. While the Marx Brothers once upon a time used an imaginary locale called Fredonia as the setting for their amazingly funny yet horrifically prescient anti-war film Duck Soup, Anderson's film set in some fictitious Mitteleuropa ostensibly inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, seems only to harbour the goal of anti-reality, a kind of floating magical kingdom that's stylistically more satisfying than (recent) Disney, but ultimately rather empty. A maker of fine patisserie in the film creates terrifically scrumptious-looking concoctions of meringue, marzipan, biscuit, and icing, to which the dandy Fiennes is addicted. My partner shrewdly observed that watching the film resembled consuming those cakes, i.e. likely delicious yet solely a dessert. For such an acclaimed (and often over-hyped) filmmaker, who has indeed created lush and intriguing bits throughout his body of work, it would be interesting to see him finally create a substantial dinner.
So-called "character actors" are much maligned, at least until they become "movie stars." One case in point might be the amazing Harry Dean Stanton, who although he has appeared in over 200 films, might be unknown to many (particularly younger folk). Beyond his prolific body of work in films great to mediocre to awful, he offers a spookily resonant presence. Sometimes this has been used to great advantage, as in Wim Wenders' film from Sam Shepard's screenplay Paris, Texas. In that role, Stanton didn't even utter a word for the first third of the movie, but was intensely, compellingly watchable. Just saw a rather pedestrian European documentary on this riveting subject, and if you are interested in Stanton at all, it's probably still worth a look (trailer below). As this "actor's actor" is generally taciturn and dry, many of the comments are left to "star" friends including David Lynch (who directed Stanton in six films) and Debbie Harry (who wrote a song about him). In Wenders' estimation, Stanton "allowed himself to be very vulnerable. ... he dared to be fragile." I'm now keen to revisit some of Stanton's voluminous filmography, including Repo Man, the Missouri Breaks, Alien, and The Straight Story. Many will be most familiar with his creepy Mormon patriarch on HBO's Big Love. Stanton consistently evinces so much emotional resonance in even his slightest roles, yet shrugs off a lot of his formidable craft as "playing himself."