Oct 25, 2009

My Week with Wes Anderson

Every now and then, I get into an ambitious mood to explore catalogs of work by certain actors, writers, or even directors. It's been awhile, but then I stumbled across one that would work very well.
I chose director/writer Wes Anderson, who debuted with "Bottle Rocket" and is currently doing the promotion circuit for "Fantastic Mr. Fox", based off of the Roald Dahl book and many critics are calling it a triumph in animation. For some reason, I figured it would be an interesting time to explore Anderson's catalog to see what he has done and why he is appreciated in the artistic circles.

On the cover, he already hooked me by having co-written and had Owen Wilson star in majority of the movies as well as prominent roles for my man Bill Murray (who remains the only "Saturday Night Live" original to still make relevant movies). But then there is my brief run in with him... I had seen "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" then and I didn't like it.
He seemed dull and very dry, even for me.
But I figured with movies starring people I loved, it was worth a shot. I started on Tuesday, October 20th with the feature debut "Bottle Rocket" starring the Wilson Brothers as thieves who manage to fall in love with hotel attendants and ride on motor bikes that clearly were out of date.
From then on out, I was hooked. The movies were not exactly all that dry as "The Life Aquatic"... in fact, they were for the most part very well written thanks to the Owen Wilson/Wes Anderson team up.
It went on to Jason Schwartzman's debut "Rushmore", which proves to be my favorite Wes Anderson movie. It's a movie about high school and the art of extra curriculars taking over your life. I loved it because there was dignity and heart in the character even though he clearly was aiming too high on trying to get it on with a teacher. The jokes are subtle and clever and Schwartzman's chemistry with Bill Murray definitely is something to be reckoned with.
Then the Oscar nominated writing for "The Royal Tenenbaums" followed it and was one of the better dysfunctional family movies ever, featuring a very popular cast. I also saw the choice of songs range more from the folk and early rock of the earlier movies to the modern day equivalence, including music from Elliott Smith. The performances are in the same dry, subtle vein as "Rushmore", but when you have that many big names doing it that good, it really makes the movie shine and definitely should be in a running for my Top 100 of the Decade.
Of course, we all know that followed with the boring, dull "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou", which was Bill Murray's first lead in a Wes Anderson movie. It was more dull due to a slow pace and probably my lack of interest in life aquatic. Sure, the storyline of Owen Wilson as Bill Murray's son was amusing, but not enough to save the movie for me.
He rebounded with "The Darjeeling Limited", but not by much. Instead of co-writing with Owen Wilson, he co-wrote with Jason Schwartzman (though both co-starred with Adrien Brody). It was about three brothers who go on a spiritual journey to try and patch things up. It was a little faster than "The Life Aquatic", but still was no "Rushmore". The analyzation of being brothers was very well written, however, and the chemistry made the movie somewhat tolerable.
If I had to predict "Fantastic Mr. Fox" by the patterns, this movie stands a chance of being good as it features many familiar faces from Anderson's collection, including newcomer George Clooney (who was absolutely awesome in "Burn After Reading"). It is not a guarantee, but with the movie being geared at children, this could be the second movie this season ("Where the Wild Things Are") to not dumb it down just because it's rated PG.
I assume it will introduce children also to folk music and Mark Mothersbaugh scores, but it will not make difference, because it manages to add a unique appeal to the movies.
So overall, I don't find Wes Anderson on my favorite list, though he did do some good work, notably "Rushmore" (probably a new entry into my personal Top 100?) and "Royal Tenenbaums". I think his ability to write about family and class really makes his subtle, dry wit more endearing, even if it's not really over-the-top funny (then again, I try not to be either).
So, how do I rank them?
1. Rushmore
2. The Royal Tenenbaums
3. Bottle Rocket
4. Darjeeling Limited
5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

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