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Fiennes brings the funny to the delightful Grand Budapest Hotel

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FROTHY: Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel

FROTHY: Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel

FROTHY: Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Comedy. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson. Director: Wes Anderson. Cert 15A

EVEN a casual glance at the top half of the cast list for The Grand Budapest Hotel gives you some indication of just how much actors love working with Wes Anderson, being prepared to play against type for the privilege of being part of one of his projects.

In return, he's given them space to play with idiosyncratic characters, to create memorable roles. The biggest surprise here is how well Ralph Fiennes takes to comedy.

Fiennes showed us this side before with his role in In Bruges, but here he's allowed to stretch and take centre-stage in a silly, frothy delight of a film.

It begins with an author (Tom Wilkinson) recalling how his younger self (Jude Law) once met the mysterious owner of the titular establishment.

Played by F Murray Abraham, we're given a shaggy dog story about how the owner's younger self, Zero (Tony Revolori), came to work there and was coached in the ways of the business by the charismatic concierge M Gustave (Fiennes).

LUNACY

The setting is the fictitious middle European country of Zubrowka between the world wars as the suave M Gustave is gifted a painting by a deceased guest (Tilda Swinton).

This enrages her nephew (Adrien Brody) and triggers a sequence of ultimately daft set pieces and several crucial moments involving a young pastry cook (Saoirse Ronan) who Zero becomes smitten with.

Beautifully filmed, designed and occasionally coming close to the kind of lunacy that typified the Marx Brothers, The Grand Budapest Hotel bursts with vitality.

While the appearance of so many well-known faces in cameo roles could overwhelm a lesser movie, it manages to stay on its own crazy course.

And to hear the refined, measured tones of Ralph Fiennes describe a deceased, elderly lover as "shaking like a s***ting dog" during a passionate encounter is worth the price of admission itself. HHHHI

THE STAG

Comedy. Starring Hugh O'Conor, Andrew Scott, Peter McDonald, Amy Huberman, Brian Gleeson, Andrew Bennett, Michael Legge. Director: John Butler. Cert 15A

OKAY, for starters, let's get one thing cleared up: despite what the posters might lead you to believe, The Stag is not "the Irish Hangover". As a rule, Irish film-makers don't do gross-out comedy – indeed, there are many who'll argue that they don't do comedy, full stop, and there's plenty of evidence.

The Stag, while containing several ribald moments, is largely well-mannered and won't upset too many. Alas, it's hardly likely to have them rolling in the aisles either.

The set-up is pretty simple: Fionnan (Hugh O'Conor) is about to marry Ruth (Amy Huberman) but is reluctant to have a stag do, being something of a metrosexual wuss.

However, Ruth persuades his best man Davin (Andrew Scott) that such a bash might do the uptight groom-to-be some good, so Fionnan and three friends (Brian Gleeson, Andrew Bennett and Michael Legge) head to the country for a hiking trip.

The plan goes haywire, somewhat, when Ruth's brother, known as The Machine (co-writer Peter McDonald), a boorish macho grotesque, crashes the trip and unplanned events occur.

The Stag is intermittently amusing rather than actually funny and, while the script has a few interesting things to say about male interaction in the modern world, they surely belong somewhere other than in a movie where running about in the nude is an inevitability.

The acting is decent, but there's way too much hugging and learning, with the finale at the reception providing moments of teeth-grinding embarrassment. HHIII

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE

Animation/action. Starring Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro, David Wenham, Hans Matheson. Director: Noam Murro. Cert 16

ZACK Snyder's 2006 adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel 300 was a sizeable hit and a decent enough piece of work, blending live action and virtual backgrounds to create a blood-drenched version of the 480BC Battle of Thermopylae.

A brave band of Spartans holding off the vastly superior forces of the Persian god-king Xerxes before being slaughtered.

Here, Miller's follow-up book provides the source material and brings the action forward by several days.

The sacrifice of the Spartans allows the Athenian general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) to gather a fleet and confront the Persian navy at the battle of Salamis.

Director Noam Murro adopts the Snyder's template, with blood gushing from severed limbs from the off.

The presence of Eva Green as Artemesia, the ruthless commander of the Persian fleet, gives proceedings some dramatic weight but, after a while, the relentless gore becomes a bore. Please, let this be 300: End Of A Franchise. HHIII

WAKE IN FRIGHT

Drama. Starring Gary Bond, Donald Pleasence, Chips Rafferty. Director: Ted Kotcheff. Cert Club. Showing at the IFI

FIRST released in 1971, this Australian-set drama from Canadian director Ted Kotcheff (who went on to direct First Blood) is an astonishing-looking portrayal of life in the Outback and an unsettling piece of work.

Gary Bond plays a schoolteacher in a dustswept village who, on a trip to Sydney, winds up in a rough mining town, wins and then loses a pile of money and reluctantly accepts the hospitality of the alcoholic town doctor, played by Donald Pleasance at his eerily manic best.

Over the course of a few debauched days his veneer of civility gradually disappears as he blends in with the hard-living people he finds himself among.

Definitely recommended. HHHHI


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