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.
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