Wes Anderson

Bottle Rocket (1996, Wes Anderson)

Bottle Rocket is such a masterpiece of narrative design, it eschews drawing any attention to that design. Somehow Anderson and Owen Wilson manage to tell a satisfactory long short film and affix an additional thirty minute postscript to the whole thing.

It’s like a movie and a sequel all in ninety minutes. Or maybe they’re just setting up the train set for the first hour and loosing the trains for the last thirty minutes. It’s hard to say–Anderson employs obvious but unspoken connections and complexities. Even though the film is never simple, he refuses to make anything obtuse. The viewer just has to pay attention.

Like a metaphor for protagonist Luke Wilson’s romance with Lumi Cavazos. He’s ostensibly on the run from a book store hold-up and she’s a housekeeper at the motel where he hides out. Cavazos doesn’t speak English, Luke Wilson doesn’t speak Spanish. The script never goes for easy jokes; their romance is the calm. Even though it involves crime and occasional violence, Bottle Rocket isn’t dangerous. But through the performances and script’s delicate, deliberate treatment of the romance, the importance of a calming factor for Luke Wilson’s peculiarly troubled soul becomes clear.

Offsetting that Wilson is Owen Wilson as his frantic best friend. He gets all the fun stuff, only his performance can’t be easy. Bottle Rocket wouldn’t work if it were too fun or too silly. It’s absurd, but every moment’s real.

Great support from Robert Musgrave, awesome editing from David Moritz.

Bottle Rocket’s magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Owen Wilson and Anderson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by David Moritz; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Polly Platt and Cynthia Hargrave; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Luke Wilson (Anthony Adams), Owen Wilson (Dignan), Robert Musgrave (Bob Mapplethorpe), Andrew Wilson (Future Man), Lumi Cavazos (Inez), Shea Fowler (Grace), Donny Caicedo (Rocky), Jim Ponds (Applejack) and James Caan (Abe Henry).


Castello Cavalcanti (2013, Wes Anderson)

Castello Cavalcanti is really precious. It’s precious at the start when–director Anderson is shooting in a studio but it’s an intricately designed street scene in fifties Italy. It’s odd it takes place in the fifties, because Jason Schwartzman’s affected performance seems more appropriate for a thirties setting. At least at the start, he gets better later.

Anyway, Darius Khondji is the photographer so Cavalcanti should look but it doesn’t. It looks fake and all of Anderson’s camera movements point out the lack of reality. It feels more like an Anderson imitator than Anderson himself, down to what seems to be a reference to device he used in Rushmore.

It’s also trite and predictable. The charm is what’s supposed to sell the short and the charm wears thin during Schwartzman’s first rant. By the time he finds the character, the short’s over.

Cavalcanti’s extremely cute, but it’s a pointless exercise.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Wes Anderson; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Stephen Perkins; music by Alessandro Casella and Randall Poster; production designer, Stefano Maria Ortolani; produced by Roman Coppola, Jeremy Dawson and Julie Sawyer.

Starring Jason Schwartzman (Jack Cavalcanti) and Giada Colagrande (Waitress).


Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson)

With Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson has finally put his directing craft so far ahead of his narrative, the narrative doesn’t matter. Neither, in Moonrise‘s case, do the actors. There isn’t a single outstanding performance in the film… maybe because Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola don’t write one. They’re to the point of using Jason Schwartzman as a gag cameo.

Moonrise is purposefully, aggressively artificial–Bob Balaban plays an omnipotent, future narrator who interacts with the characters. But it doesn’t really matter because Anderson’s craft is outstanding and the writing is still decent. A lot of the scenes between preteen outcasts Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are lovely.

Anderson shoots as much of the film as he can in profile; the camera pans to introduce new action instead of cutting. Partially due to the film’s artificiality–partially to Anderson and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman’s photography–it works. Moonrise isn’t supposed to be real. For instance, Tilda Swinton’s reduced to her job title.

Swinton’s no great shakes in the picture, but she’s not supposed to be. She’s gag casting, much like Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel. Keitel’s the best of those three. Bruce Willis and Edward Norton both do pretty well, though neither have enough material. Anderson and Coppola give Bill Murray absolutely nothing–he doesn’t even interact with his kids in the film, just barks near them. As his wife, Frances McDormand is better.

Moonrise Kingdom‘s a masterfully produced film. It’s just pointless, save demonstrating Anderson’s abilities as a director.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Roman Coppola; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Andrew Weisblum; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Adam Stockhausen; produced by Anderson, Scott Rudin, Jeffrey Dawson and Steven M. Rales; released by Focus Features.

Starring Jared Gilman (Sam), Kara Hayward (Suzy), Edward Norton (Scout Master Ward), Bruce Willis (Captain Sharp), Bill Murray (Walt Bishop), Frances McDormand (Laura Bishop), Tilda Swinton (Social Services), Jason Schwartzman (Cousin Ben), Harvey Keitel (Commander Pierce) and Bob Balaban (Narrator).


Hotel Chevalier (2007, Wes Anderson)

It’s wrong to call Hotel Chevalier Anderson’s best film. The end of the film is some of the best work he’s ever done and a lot of the writing is some of the best writing he’s ever done (alone). The dialogue in Chevalier cuts in a way similar to Hemingway (maybe the Paris setting implies it too). It’s fantastic dialogue.

And Chevalier even surmounts one enormous problem–Jason Schwartzman is nowhere near as good in the film as Natalie Portman. Some of it has to do with Anderson’s script–Portman’s character is, in her seven minutes of screen time, probably Anderson’s most developed female character. The idiosyncrasies Anderson fills his features with are present here… but mostly only for Portman. Schwartzman’s character is nowhere near as interesting.

Anderson even manages to make the story universal (even though a plot detail is Schwartzman’s wealth). It’s a stunning, beautiful piece of filmmaking.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Wes Anderson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Vincent Marchand; released by Fox Searchlight.

Starring Jason Schwartzman (Jack Whitman) and Natalie Portman (Jack’s girlfriend).


Bottle Rocket (1994, Wes Anderson)

It’s sort of hard to differentiate this Bottle Rocket from the subsequent feature. It looks like Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson had been working on parts of the script for a while (a handful of scenes appear verbatim in the feature) and, in a lot of ways, the short plays like an extended trailer.

As a director, Anderson has some of his distinctive framing—particularly in the two shots with conversation—but he doesn’t have a handle on how to film motion. Only at the end does he get it. The rest of the time, it’s problematic.

Owen Wilson is good—he has the character down already—but Luke has some problems. It’s like he hadn’t gotten rid of his accent yet and hadn’t decided if he was going to. Still, he’s fine. Robert Musgrave is good.

Anderson’s got his music choices down already… Bottle Rocket’s interesting, but clearly incomplete.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Owen Wilson and Anderson; directors of photography, Bert Guthrie and Barry Braverman; edited by Tom Aberg, Laura Cargile and Denise Ferrari Segell; produced by Cynthia Hargrave.

Starring Owen Wilson (Dignan), Luke Wilson (Anthony), Robert Musgrave (Bob Hanson), Elissa Sommerfield (Waitress at Diner), Isiah Ellis (Man on Street), Temple Nash (Temple) and Briggs Branning (Man at Golfs).


The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)

The Royal Tenenbaums is a profound examination of the human condition. It’s hard to think about Tenenbaums, which Anderson made as a precious object–he tends to put the actors on the right and fill the left side of the frame with exactly placed sundries, sometimes it’s the carefully placed minutiae, but he usually puts those items on either side of a centrally placed actor–as a character piece. The film tells the story of specific, highly fictional characters (I don’t think I’ve ever used highly to modify fictional before) in a very specific place–it’s New York, but it’s not New York. It’s an otherworldly setting. There are no “normal” people in the film until the end, and even then it’s questionable….

Watching Tenenbaums, the only thing I could think of as a comparison was something a writing professor once told one of my classmates. The student asked–after we just got through reading an interview with Faulkner–if he could write science fiction. The professor said sure, just as long as it was about the things (the human heart in conflict with itself, others and its environment) Faulkner had been talking about. The Royal Tenenbaums, with the meticulous sets, the strict composition and the exclusive characters, is like really good science fiction. The relationship between Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow (adoptive siblings in love) is not a Hollywood standard. Anderson and Owen Wilson’s script somehow makes such elements moving, but still funny (maybe not so much Luke Wilson and Paltrow, who are sort of the film’s protagonists–definitely the relationship between Gene Hackman and Danny Glover though).

Even Ben Stiller, who has the film’s easiest role (and gets the easiest out, which I always hold against him at the beginning of the film but never by the end), is irreplaceable. Stiller takes a backseat to Grant Rosenmeyer and Jonah Meyerson (as his sons); their interactions with Hackman are a much funnier way to spend running time, but the film still pulls Stiller in by the end, giving him one great moment in the film.

It’s incredible people–critics, the Academy Awards–didn’t recognize Hackman for this performance, because it’s the closest thing he’s ever done to a slapstick role and he’s perfect in it. It’s a magnificent performance, full of life–every time Hackman stops talking, there’s an anticipation for what he’s going to say next… the film’s a wonderful viewing experience, even after the drama takes over.

The way Anderson and Owen Wilson approach the drama is interesting. It isn’t the climax, which is a more comedic moment, it’s a little while before (I wonder if they used the same formula in Bottle Rocket and Rushmore–I know I should remember). Tenenbaums is so good it’s hard to write about, but five or six hundred words also can’t cover it all. I might never get around to mentioning the use of music–like the instrumental “Hey Jude” at the open or the Van Morrison at the close. I can’t remember it all.

Anjelica Huston’s great, Danny Glover’s great (why he doesn’t get more eclectic roles like this one I don’t understand), Paltrow and Luke Wilson are wonderful together–see, they deserve a few hundred words just themselves–and I haven’t even gotten to the narration read by Alec Baldwin.

I remember, going to see The Life Aquatic, wondering if Anderson could top Tenenbaums. He never will./p>

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Owen Wilson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Anderson, Barry Mendel and Scott Rudin; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (Royal Tenenbaum), Anjelica Huston (Etheline Tenenbaum), Ben Stiller (Chas Tenenbaum), Gwyneth Paltrow (Margot Tenenbaum), Luke Wilson (Richie Tenenbaum), Owen Wilson (Eli Cash), Bill Murray (Raleigh St. Clair), Danny Glover (Henry Sherman), Seymour Cassel (Dusty) and Kumar Pallana (Pagoda); narrated by Alec Baldwin.


Rushmore (1998, Wes Anderson)

The best moment in Rushmore, the one it all comes together, is at the end, when Jason Schwartzmann dedicates his play to his mother. There’s a brief cut to Seymour Cassel and his reaction. It’s a beautiful little moment and quieter than the subsequent (and also incredibly quiet) moment with Vietnam vet Bill Murray tearing after watching the play. There’s stuff going on in Rushmore and Anderson and Wilson aren’t going to explain it to us. They make us aware of it–there’s an early mention of Murray’s service and a good deal of material about Schwartzmann’s mother’s passing, but there’s never anything about Murray’s feelings about Vietnam or Cassel’s experience with his wife’s death. It’s a stunning little move, infinitely precise, which might be the best way to describe Rushmore.

The film runs ninety-three minutes. Anderson and Wilson’s narrative, so exactly told in scene, has a searching quality to it. It’s impossible to label the film–it’s not just a friendship story between Schwartzmann and Murray or a (albeit strange) romance between Schwartzmann and Olivia Williams or a romantic triangle between Schwartzmann, Williams and Murray. Rushmore is all of those things, in addition to being a father and son story, a friendship story (between Schwartzmann and sidekick Mason Gamble) and a romance between Schwartzmann and Sara Tanaka. I can’t even get into the relationship between Schwartzmann and Brian Cox. It’s all too intricate and complex. It’s a film where the way an actor walks into the frame changes a scene dramatically, so unraveling and codifying it is a lot more work than I want to do (and probably impossible without a lot of notes). It’s an exponential web.

The first time I saw Rushmore, it didn’t blow me away. Looking at it now, with the performances–there isn’t a single unimpressive performance–with Anderson and Wilson’s control of dialogue and scene, not to mention Anderson’s direction… it’s clear there was something wrong with me. The second time I saw it, I got it. But even getting it, I don’t think I really appreciated it the way one can appreciate the film now. Every line delivery is full of so much vibrance–the scenes with Schwartzmann and Williams, it’s hard to even listen, because watching Williams’s reactions to him is so great.

The film also asks a great deal of its audience. The viewer has to fill in, in an instant, what Schwartzmann’s been doing since dropping out of school–Anderson and Wilson put the the onus on the viewer to arrange all the details him or herself. Or when it has to be clear to the viewer Murray and Williams have broken up before Schwartzmann asks about it. Rushmore is not a passive experience.

As for Murray… Rushmore really is Murray’s finest performance, before he started chasing Oscars. He’s as present in scenes where people talk about him as he is in his actual scenes.

Schwartzmann runs the film. He has to carry the whole thing not just with his performance, but with his presence. Schwartzmann’s expression rarely changes, but the character development–and seeing how he’s reacting–is stunning.

Williams, Gamble, Cox, all are great, all have some fantastic scenes. The script asks a lot of the actors, because they have to sell things in short periods of time, brief moments, and everyone comes through perfectly. Williams’s performance might be the film’s best, even better than Murray’s, which seems kind of impossible but kind of not.

Rushmore is a magnificent film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Owen Wilson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by David Moritz; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Barry Mendel and Paul Schiff; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Jason Schwartzman (Max Fischer), Bill Murray (Herman Blume), Olivia Williams (Rosemary Cross), Seymour Cassel (Bert Fischer), Brian Cox (Dr. Nelson Guggenheim), Mason Gamble (Dirk Calloway), Sara Tanaka (Margaret Yang), Stephen McCole (Magnus Buchan), Connie Nielsen (Mrs. Calloway), Luke Wilson (Dr. Peter Flynn), Dipak Pallana (Mr. Adams) and Andrew Wilson (Coach Beck).


The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004, Wes Anderson)

The problem with The Life Aquatic reveals itself quite clearly in the final act, as the cast all gives Bill Murray shoulder squeezes of support. The scene is supposed to mean something profound. It’s Murray confronting not just his Moby Dick (a quest for vengeance lost in the film, maybe because they knew it was a silly idea as a major plot point), but also himself. His mortality, his place in the world, you know, the yada yada. And it is the yada yada, because the viewer isn’t watching Murray’s character confront himself, he or she is watching Murray play a character confronting himself. The Life Aquatic manages to create a particular suspension of disbelief–the little stop motion undersea creatures are exquisite and fully part of the film’s reality–but it never manages to convince (or even try to convince) the viewer he or she isn’t watching a construct. A hipster event picture. It’s a great hipster event picture, maybe the best (since who makes decent hipster pictures except Anderson), but there’s no depth to it. It’s a fake.

The Life Aquatic wasn’t expensive by Hollywood standards–it was pretty cheap actually, considering the cast, effects and water shooting–but it’s a huge Wes Anderson picture. There are action scenes–Anderson’s pretty good at them too, incorporating both his self-aware style as well as the action scene necessities. There are huge sets–Mark Friedberg’s production design–is wonderful. There’s always something to look at in The Life Aquatic, which is good, because the film frequently gets boring.

Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach think swearing is funny. Swearing can be funny and some of the swear-based jokes in Life Aquatic are okay (they don’t get belly-laughs, but they’re okay), but they rely on them all the time. Or uncomfortable situations. It’s like Anderson sat down and watched the trailers to Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums and thought he should make a feature-length trailer. There’s not an honest human moment in the entire film, as the actors deliver their lines to the camera, not to each other. Owen Wilson–who really should have co-wrote the picture instead of acted in it–is the worst. His Kentucky fish out of water is an affected performance, with the whole hook being him being Owen Wilson acting in another Wes Anderson movie. None of his scenes are bad, but seeing him opposite Willem Dafoe, who hurls himself head first into his role as an insecure German crew member, is painful. Dafoe pushes through to the other side with his performance, while Wilson’s happy with staying celluloid.

After Dafoe, Cate Blanchett gives the film’s second-best performance, even though she has little to do… watching Blanchett act–even in a shallow character–is great. Murray’s fine, so is Anjelica Huston. Jeff Goldblum’s okay, playing the standard post-Jurassic Park Goldblum standard. Bud Cort’s got a great small part.

The Life Aquatic is a frustrating film. As filmmaking, it’s masterful and exciting. As a fiction, it’s a complete waste of time. There’s more insight into the human condition in mediocre fortune cookies.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Anderson, Barry Mendel and Scott Rudin; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Bill Murray (Steve Zissou), Owen Wilson (Ned Plimpton), Cate Blanchett (Jane Winslett-Richardson), Anjelica Huston (Eleanor Zissou), Willem Dafoe (Klaus Daimler), Jeff Goldblum (Hennessey), Michael Gambon (Drakoulious), Bud Cort (Bill Ubell) and Seymour Cassel (Esteban de Plantier).


The Darjeeling Limited (2007, Wes Anderson)

The first sequence in The Darjeeling Limited suggests a far worse film than Anderson actually delivers. A frantic taxi race to a train station with Bill Murray suggests Anderson has become–well, I really don’t know who, but someone who miscasts incredibly. Besides the Murray cameo coming off like Anderson fulfilling his image, the taxi race also features really fast editing… suggesting Darjeeling is going to be, just like The Life Aquatic, more in love with the Anderson composition and editing than actual storytelling content. It gets better quickly, but it’s still empty. The glib answer is Anderson obviously needs Owen Wilson co-writing, but The Darjeeling Limited provides various other reasons….

The film does feature the best lead character since Bottle Rocket, in this case, Adrien Brody’s. Brody definitely becomes the main character after a specific plot twist, but long before it occurs, he’s the one. For a simple reason too. Because Owen Wilson is playing the standard Owen Wilson in a Wes Anderson film role and because Jason Schwartzman is playing… well, Schwartzman isn’t really playing anyone. He never learned, apparently, to act. But he’s generally fine, even though his most frequent form of emoting is mugging knowingly at the camera. Wilson’s good, occasionally even touching with Schwartzman and Brody, but it’s not a stretch. It’s the kind of role he’d do in a television commercial.

Anderson released a prologue to Darjeeling online and the film annoyingly starts with a reminder to go and watch it, then the film proceeds to directly reference it… which is more annoying than Murray’s dumb cameo and the second cameo (though this one turns out all right) combined. It really does feel like Anderson’s turning in to the hipster Kevin Smith with Darjeeling, particularly the use of Schwartzman and his vapid character. It takes the entire movie (ninety minutes) to figure out what Schwartzman’s supposed to be doing and he co-wrote the screenplay.

Did I already mention Brody’s absolutely fantastic, a really wonderful performance in what turns out to be a wonderful role? I think I did.

Darjeeling is also very funny. I’m not sure who wrote the best jokes, but they’re played more for audience response than Anderson usually tries for. They keep the movie going.

When the film gets really good for a while, really effective, it’s unfortunately in a moment the film cannot close on. Instead, it keeps going and going, trying everything it can to force a satisfactory conclusion. The one it comes too, unfortunately, is cheap and awkward, like Anderson wasn’t ready to stop writing the characters yet.

Strictly speaking about Anderson’s direction–and not his writing–Darjeeling shows off how good a director he’s become. Unfortunately, his writing has become lazy. In order to allow his characters this adventure, Anderson makes them limitlessly wealthy. It gets annoying after a while, after the third crack about the six thousand dollar belt.

Because Brody’s not central throughout (in many ways, it’s Anderson’s most traditional film), it’s… like I said, a little empty overall. And people do too much for laughs, say too much for them, don’t say too much for them.

It’s a fine enough film–with some excellent scenes in it–but Anderson very obviously needs different co-writers.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Andrew Weisblum; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Anderson, Scott Rudin, Coppola and Lydia Dean Pilcher; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Owen Wilson (Francis), Adrien Brody (Peter), Jason Schwartzman (Jack), Amara Karan (Rita), Wallace Wolodarsky (Brendan), Waris Ahluwalia (The Chief Steward), Irfan Khan (The Father), Barbet Schroeder (The Mechanic), Camilla Rutherford (Alice), Bill Murray (The Businessman) and Anjelica Huston (Patricia).


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