Thursday, December 17, 2015

Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

There is a strange Soderbergh parallel here, more than this movie is an Ocean's 11 clone with impossibly more delightful characters and an actual confrontation with Role and Consequences. It is somewhat of a reawakening for the director after having a rough go of it with production and execution in two different films. I think he decided to finally start yelling at people to get his shit made the way he wanted it. GOOD. Even if Anderson was confined to only using a string of exclamation points, he managed to pull together an excellent, highly unpredictable cauldron of stop-motion delight that incorporates all of that early-career magic with the newer strictly storybook style, every new scene packed tight with world-building set pieces and quickfire zingers. Even the characters are wonderful, despite having Noah Baumbach's name attached to the script. We're back in country western territory, put on your bandit hat.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Review: The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Keep the rocket sled, get rid of the fuel and the runway. Place in an unnecessary flashback in the center of the dirt path that was originally meant to function the same way that Hotel Chevalier did, and what have you got? A new ride! A somewhat boring, unsatisfying ride. Anderson already brought us the Stumble. Now he brings us the Disappointment, and a really frustrating one with how close it is to being good. You don't have to break the entire thing and reassemble from scratch, per se. Just... remove major sequences. That's all!

Roman Coppola provides an element that, I imagine, no matter what his character surrogate says, is autobiographical. Seems like the Coppola brand is to portray affluent, incestuous families who are so far up each other's asses that they are the ones creating their own hell. He also brings another oddity in a Wes Anderson film: parallel dialogue. Characters running two conversations at once in a scene way too early to call for them: the scene where we first see the brothers interact. And what could be a newly formed habit from The Life Aquatic, scenes stick around past the punch line and linger in the awkward moment. This is why the jokes work in the trailer and don't in the film.

As with Rushmore, the title is a mislead. We don't spend the entire movie confined to a train, only about half, losing out on what I can only imagine is a bunch of Wes Anderson style stratagems and characters following a strict itinerary. Though I'm not sure the same metaphor can apply... Is The Darjeeling Limited confining the characters to their own behavior? A train is on rails but can get lost! They must go off the rails in order to be truly found! Eh.

The real ending of the movie is the funeral scene, but for some reason we still have half an hour to go, jibbiting around with the mother as though we were waiting for that reunion all along. Working against the obvious luggage metaphor, the brothers don't abandon their mother in the same way; they have to be betrayed by her just one more time before they can move on, far less of a potent closure. I know the final shot states that they all finally trust each other, but how long after the safari ends before they relapse into their original behavior?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Review: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Well, the sophomoric slump had to come sooner or later. We are treated to the usual Wes Anderson delights -- kickass music, real honest-to-god dialogue zingers, visually stunning staging, fascinating characters, sudden kinetic energy in an action sequence, a heartbreaking finale -- in a movie that doesn't quite deserve them. Overpowering its strengths are some major weakness. Scenes lack rhythm and don't connect to those around it, and cutting between a joke that actually works and the scene that follows it is jarring. Some scenes exist for seemingly little reason, lacking a strong button to justify them. We have some questionable line delivery from Bill Murray, an annoying affectation from Cate Blanchett, and Owen Wilson lacks the chops to make his character anything other than bland. Not even Willem Dafoe can save us.

Finally, I'm not so sure the Henry Selick sea aesthetic works. I've been fighting with people over this since the movie came out and have not gotten any headway in the argument. "It's distracting and it looks fake," isn't precise enough of a complaint on my part... I think it's that the characters in the movie are in on the joke? Telling Zissou his movies look fake (where, in the reality of the script version, they probably mean the staging or something) and are then unable to see that the sea looks fuckin weird until the very end dilutes the artistic choice. Their reasons for disliking Zissou could begin and end with "He seems like an idiot and he got a man killed." The end shot of the Jaguar Shark then means that it is the sea that is cold and cruel, and Zissou understands it. Not: "Oh, I guess your films told the truth all along."

You had the toughest of all acts to follow, and you made it even tougher by choosing to work with Noah Baumbach, who has made a career out of inflicting characters' shitty attitudes upon audiences everywhere and is probably to blame for everything else I hate. In spite of that, a Wes Anderson movie manages to happen. Somewhere in the back.

Review: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

The Pulp Fiction of Wes Anderson's career. It's like Rushmore, only more so. It's a photo album, a simulation of nostalgia filled to the brim with interesting characters, stunning tableaus, and gags that stick every landing. It's a story a relative tells you, a portrait of a family in the twilight of their success whose reasons for disliking one another are unfortunate, yet understandable, finally satisfying when the rifts are closed. Anderson weaves gold, mixing the mostly comic with hard-hitting drama(some real-ass motherfucking shit!), spinning an economy of vital information perfectly built to an emotionally devastating moment in an ambulance. This film can be about everybody. Life is mostly funny, mostly tragic, and we can take any of it. All of it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Review: Rushmore (1998)

We should give all aloof academics the job of writing a Titty Comedy. Shenanigans would turn into Overachieving in the Wrong Areas, Conquest wouldn't be as important or satisfying as Making Amends, Juvenile Jokes would be sucker-punches that take active parts in the plot. Comedies could be, yknow, consistently delightful. In fact, with all of the fun you have watching it, it's easy to miss that the second act, the Long Dark Teatime of the Soul, takes up most of the movie. Like he did in Bottle Rocket, Anderson plays with storytelling structure, speeding up the fun parts and slowing down the painful ones. He isn't afraid to make us watch Max spiral out of control in procedural detail, meanwhile jetting through the fun at the school in montage and then kicking Max out. The toil is so long that the resolution gives you permission to breathe again.

The title of the film ends up being sort of a mislead; it isn't about a school any more than Moby Dick is about a whale. As the characters helpfully state towards the end, it's the Thing You Think You Live For. It's the Dream.