Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Design Production for Print//Wes Anderson Film Reviews (Critics).

Researching specific critic's reviews on Wes Anderson's films for more content and "back up" of why I think Wes is good, by gaining the insight of others, and, particularly professionals.
Of course, as I intend to create promotional tools I will be sourcing only the most positive of reviews in order to entice audiences to the event. My initial search has begun on IMDB, a reliable source of all filmic information and knowledge. On this occasion, I will only be researching information about his feature films, as reviews are far more commonplace. The most important, key notes have been highlighted BOLD for future reference/dictation.
Sources and reviews from a wide range of respected critics and publications.


Bottle Rocket

By Martin Scorsese

A couple of years ago, I watched a film called Bottle Rocket. I knew nothing about it, and the movie really took me by surprise. Here was a picture without a trace of cynicism, that obviously grew out of its director’s affection for his char­acters in particular and for people in general. A rarity. And the central idea of the film is so delicate, so human: a group of young guys think that their lives have to be filled with risk and danger in order to  be real. They don’t know that it’s okay simply to be who they are.
Wes Anderson, at age thirty, has a very special kind of talent: he knows how to convey the simple joys and interactions between people so well and with such richness. This kind of sensibility is rare in movies. Leo McCarey, the director of Make Way for Tomorrow and The Awful Truth, comes to mind. And so does Jean Renoir. I remember seeing Renoir’s films as a child and immediately feeling connected to the characters through his love for them. It’s the same with Anderson. I’ve found myself going back and watching Bottle Rocket several times. I’m also very fond of his second film, Rushmore (1998)—it has the same tenderness, the same kind of grace. Both of them are very funny, but also very moving.
Anderson has a fine sense of how music works against an image. There’s the beautiful ending of Rushmore, when Miss Cross removes Max Fischer’s glasses and gazes into the boy’s eyes—really the eyes of her dead husband—as the Faces’ “Ooh La La” plays on the soundtrack. And I also love the scene in Bottle Rocket when Owen Wilson’s character, Dignan, says, “They’ll never catch me, man, ’cause I’m fuckin’ innocent.” Then he runs off to save one of his partners in crime and gets captured by the police, over “2000 Man” by the Rolling Stones. He—and the music—are proclaiming who he really is: he’s not innocent in the eyes of the law, but he’s truly an innocent. For me, it’s a transcendent moment. And transcendent moments are in short supply these days.
This tribute originally appeared in the March 2000 issue of Esquire.

A bright, optimistic caper comedy from first-time director Wes Anderson, Bottle Rocket focuses on a group of young Texans aspiring to become master thieves. Their leader is Dignan (Owen C. Wilson, who also co-wrote the screenplay), an upbeat if naive charmer who convinces his friends Anthony (Wilson's brother Luke Wilson) and Bob Mapplethorpe (Robert Musgrave) to enter the crime business. After their first heist, a bizarrely-executed robbery of a local bookstore, the trio goes on the lam, taking up residence in a border hotel where Anthony falls in love with a maid played by Lumi Cavazos. When the three buddies decide that they need to return to the real world, they hook up with a master con-man (James Caan) who sends them on a daring -- if ill-concieved -- mission. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi

Bottle Rocket

Wes Anderson's suburban slacker comedy ``Bottle Rocket'' begins with a not so daring escape. Actually it's no escape at all. When Anthony (Luke Wilson) leaves the mental hospital in which he has spent time, he waves goodbye to patients and doctors and strolls away in open sight. Anyone in his right mind could tell that Anthony was leaving the hospital a free man.
However, this would still be news to Didgnan (Owen Wilson), Anthony's madly gung-ho friend. Didgnan looks on through binoculars while Anthony makes a showy concession to his friend's sense of high drama.
Anthony leaves his room by slipping out the window, even though this baffles a doctor who has come to see him off. ``Look how excited he is!'' explains Anthony, pointing to his friend hidden in the underbrush nearby.
With that, ``Bottle Rocket'' declares its own boyishness, which is as deep-seated as Didgnan's and sometimes just as entertaining. (No wonder: In addition to playing Didgnan, Wilson wrote the screenplay with Anderson, his University of Texas college friend.)
First made as a 13-minute black-and-white short, now expanded to a brightly colored family affair featuring three Wilson brothers in acting roles, ``Bottle Rocket'' makes the most of its taste for self-deluding adolescent games.
A mildly facetious tone limits Anderson's film to the lightweight, but the collective enthusiasm behind this debut effort still comes through. What's best about ``Bottle Rocket'' is not the laid-back pranks that inflate its story to feature length but the offbeat elan with which that story is told.
The big-sky minimalism of the film's visual style is attractively spare. And the Wilsons and Robert Musgrave, who plays the two younger brothers' partner in crime, have the deadpan intensity that this material demands. Like the penny-ante firecracker for which the film is named, the characters in ``Bottle Rocket'' turn fecklessness into part of their charm.
Didgnan's schemes to conquer inertia through a life of crime would be more annoying if these schoolboy desperadoes could do anything right. (Or if Didgnan's role models were not a band of suburban gardeners with the phone number 86WEEDZ.)
So against Southwestern backdrops that are given a bold look by Robert Yeoman's cinematography, these ineffectual friends play out their boyhood daydreams. It's not long before Didgnan's robbery plans, including a bookstore heist, land him and Anthony at a motel in the middle of nowhere. There, in mid-movie, Anthony falls in love.
It's typical of the film's tongue-in-cheek style that he becomes smitten with a Spanish-speaking motel chambermaid named Inez (Lumi Cavazos) and experiences innocent raptures just following her around. (Though Anthony chats a blue streak, Inez can't understand him without the help of a translator, who gets certain essential details hilariously wrong.)
It's also typical of this film's underlying sweetness that Ms. Cavazos, the star of ``Like Water for Chocolate,'' brings warmth and quiet grace to a potentially empty role.
Anderson has chosen the right actors, even when choosing among his close friends. And his biggest leap, the casting of James Caan as the party-boy criminal who is Didgnan's hero, gives the film a third-act burst of the manic energy it needed all along.
Caan presides over several festive scenes with a lunatic bonhomie that lights a welcome spark. He also commits a crime to wow even Didgnan when none of the story's schoolboy characters happens to be looking.
The filmmakers have described ``Bottle Rocket'' as a kind of road-movie allegory about friendship, but most of it seems more casual and undemanding than that. It's no more serious or less cavalier than the words of wisdom Anthony offers as advice to his kid sister. ``Take time in school to learn a foreign language,'' he says.


BY ROGER EBERT / February 5, 1999

Max Fischer, the hero of ``Rushmore,'' is an activity jock, one of those kids too bright and restless to color inside the lines. Although he's a lousy student, that doesn't stop him from organizing a movement to keep Latin on the curriculum of his exclusive prep school. His grades are so bad, he's on ``sudden death probation,'' but in his spare time, he edits the school magazine and runs the fencing club, the beekeeping club, the karate team, the French club and the Max Fischer Players. With his bushy eyebrows and black horn-rims, he looks a little like a young Benjamin Braddock from ``The Graduate.'' Max, played by Jason Schwartzman, has a secret. He's in the exclusive Rushmore Academy on a scholarship; his dad is a barber. Always dressed in a tie and snappy blazer (unless in costume for one of his activities), he speaks with an unnerving maturity and is barely able to conceal his feelings of superiority for the headmaster (Brian Cox) and other adults, who enforce their stuffy rules because they are not, and never were, able to work without a net the way Max can.

Then Max encounters a problem even he cannot outflank. Reading a book in the school library, he finds a quote by Jacques Cousteau written in the margin. The book was recently checked out, he discovers, by Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), a first-grade teacher at Rushmore. She is, he finds, incredibly beautiful, and he falls instantly in love, devising a scheme to attract her attention by running a campaign for a school aquarium. Among the potential donors is a steel tycoon named Blume (Bill Murray). Murray has kids in Rushmore, but hates them. Soon he, too, is in love with Miss Cross.

Up until this point, even a little further, ``Rushmore'' has a kind of effortless grace. Max Fischer emerges as not just a brainy comic character, but as a kid who could do anything, if he weren't always trying to do everything. It's ingenious the way he uses his political and organizing abilities to get his way with people, how he enlists a younger student (Mason Gamble) as his gofer, how he reasons patiently with the headmaster and thinks he can talk Miss Cross into being his girlfriend. (``Max, has it ever occurred to you that you're far too young for me?'') Blume is played by Murray with the right note to counter Max's strategies. He is, essentially, a kid himself--immature, vindictive, lovestruck, self-centered, physically awkward, but with years more experience in getting his way. (Still, he winds up hiding from life at the bottom of a swimming pool, just like Benjamin in ``The Graduate.'') The movie turns into a strategic duel between Max and Blume, and that could be funny, too, except that it gets a little mean when Max spills the beans to Blume's wife, and feels too contrived. When plotting replaces stage-setting and character development, the air goes out of the movie.

``Rushmore'' was directed by Wes Anderson and written by Anderson and his college friend Owen Wilson. It's their second film, after the slight but engaging ``Bottle Rocket'' (1996). The legend of that film is well known, and suggests that Anderson and Wilson may have a little of Max Fischer in their own personalities--the film may have elements of self-portraiture.

They were friends at the University of Texas who made a short film, pitched it to screenwriter L.M. ``Kit'' Carson, got his encouragement, took it to the Sundance Film Festival and cornered director James L. Brooks (``As Good As It Gets''), who liked it enough to help them get financing for a feature from Columbia Pictures. I am writing this review at Sundance, where I have met a lot of kids trying to pitch their sort of films and get production deals, and having a good film is not enough: You also need the relentless chutzpah of a Max Fischer.

Bill Murray has a way of turning up in perfect smaller roles; he stars in his own films, but since ``Tootsie,'' he has made supporting roles into a sort of parallel career. His Blume admires and hates Max for the same reason: because he is reminded of himself. There are times where Blume looks at Max with a combination of hatred and admiration; he's frustrated in his desire to win Miss Cross for himself, but from an objective viewpoint can't resist admiring his strategy.

Anderson and Wilson are good offbeat filmmakers. They fill the corners of their story with nice touches, like the details of Max's wildly overambitious stage production of ``Serpico.'' But their film seems torn between conflicting possibilities: It's structured like a comedy, but there are undertones of darker themes, and I almost wish they'd allowed the plot to lead them into those shadows. The Max Fischer they give us is going to grow up into Benjamin Braddock. But there is an unrealized Max who would have become Charles Foster Kane.


Wes Anderson, USA, 1998, 93 mins
Max Fischer loves his school, he loves everything about it, from the French Club (President, Max Fischer) and the Debate Team (Captain, Max Fischer), to the Lacrosse Team (Manager, Max Fischer) and the Calligraphy Club (President, Max Fischer). Not forgetting the Astronomy Society (Founder, Max Fischer), the Fencing Team (Captain, Max Fischer), the Choir (Choirmaster, Max Fischer), the Bombardment Society (Founder, Max Fischer), the Trap and Skeet Club (Founder, Max Fischer), and the Rushmore Beekeepers (President, Max Fischer). You might think that Max is a sharp little guy, but actually he’s one of the worst students Rushmore has got…
Max Fischer is dedicated, not to his studies, but to his school; he makes it what it is, embodying every parents ideal of neatness, from his bow tie and carefully pressed blazer right down to his shiny black shoes. We join Max in his final year at Rushmore, when he meets Miss Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) and Mr Herman J. Blume (Bill Murray), and when trouble starts to brew.
Rushmore is the second feature film to be directed by Wes Anderson and co-written by Luke Wilson. Like their other films (Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tennenbaums) this is a beautifully warped comedy, showing a whimsical reflection of an American prep school. Jason Schwartzman is perfectly cast as Max, managing to capture the essence of geekdom, the loneliness of those that choose to live how they see fit, rather than just quietly fitting in. Bill Murray is also excellent as the self made millionaire ‘Nam veteran. His competition with Max for the affection of Olivia Williams’ character, Miss Cross, makes this film both touching and hilarious.
This is Wes Andersons romantic dream of what school should be like, but it never quite becomes ridiculous, there is enough bitterness and cynical humour to keep it plausible and brilliant.
Review by George Williamson
Taken from EUFS programme Autumn 2003

Meet Max Fischer: president of the Rushmore Beekeepers Club, founder of the Double-Team Dodgeball Society, alternate for the wrestling team, and altogether one of the quirkiest characters to emerge from a major studio film this decade. As the clever opening montage sequence makes clear, fifteen-year-old Max has a list of extracurricular activities that would make any overachiever envious. Nevertheless, he is actually on verge of being expelled from his beloved Rushmore Academy.
It is during this time of turmoil in his life that he befriends Herman Blume (Bill Murray, in a wonderfully deadpan performance), a downtrodden millionaire whose thick-headed sons are Max's classmates. Although the two initially hit it off - Max even convinces Blume to build an on-campus aquarium - their friendship soon turns to bitter (and often hilarious) rivalry. Both men fall head over heels in love with Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), a gentle first-grade teacher still mourning the death of her husband. With a little help from their friends (a colourful cast that includes Mason Gamble, Seymour Cassel, and Brian Cox), Max and Blume launch a full-scale war over Miss Cross's affections.
In Rushmore, director Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket) delivers a unique coming-of-age comedy which often defies the conventions of its genre. Jason Schwartzman gives an unforgettable performance as Max, whose self-assured, dorky charm sets him apart from other contemporary screen teens. Unlike the kids in She's All That or Scream, Max Fischer cannot be classified under a distinct label; he marches to the beat of his own drummer, and forces those around him to do the same. Mason Gamble is also memorable as Max's seven-year-old chapel buddy, and Williams displays sensitivity as the object of Max and Blume's affections.
Among the film's highlights are Max's full-scale, special-effects laden stage productions of Serpico and Apocalypse Now. Needless to say, scenes like these do not exist in your average teen movie, and consequently the studio that distributed Rushmore had some difficulty marketing it. Give Max and his cohorts a second chance this term at the film society.

February 5, 1999
Bill Murray drops the smirk that has always been his comic armor and gives an indisputably great performance in Rushmore by blending his sly humor with subtle feeling and surprising gravity. As Herman Blume, a steel tycoon with a cheating wife and teenage twin sons he hates almost as much as he hates himself, Murray artfully digs for signs of life in a character who thinks his soul is dead. No wonder Touchstone Pictures opened Rushmore for one week in December to qualify Murray for an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Just don't mistake Rushmore — opening nationwide in February — for a one-man show. Whether you see the film as a slowed-down farce or as a souped-up tragedy, Rushmore is packed with richly realized characters. Take Max Fischer, smashingly played by newcomer Jason Schwartzman (son of actress Talia Shire and nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola). Max, a fifteen-year-old misfit in glasses and braces at snooty Rushmore Academy, is befriended and then betrayed by Herman, a school benefactor. When both fall for first-grade teacher Rosemary Cross (the magnetic British actress Olivia Williams), Max and Herman try to kill each other. Rushmore manages to pay tribute to movies as diverse as The Graduate and Apocalypse Now and still brim over with the pleasures of the unexpected.
Credit the film's startling originality to director Wes Anderson, 29, and his co-screenwriter, Owen Wilson, 30. These friends from the University of Texas — they made an auspicious 1996 debut with the cult caper Bottle Rocket — have an unrushed knack for character development that doesn't translate into tedium. Anderson fills each frame of his rigorously constructed fable with detail. That extends to a terrific soundtrack of British Invasion hits — Cat Stevens, the Kinks, the Faces, the Who, the Stones — that catches the anger roiling under Rushmore's placid exterior. On subsequent viewings, the plaintive subtext of even the funniest scenes becomes readily apparent.
At first, Max comes off as a comic irritant — too many extracurricular activities and too few passing grades from a geek who wears an attitude of unearned superiority. Then there are Max's lies: His father, Bert (the excellent Seymour Cassel), is a barber, not a neurosurgeon; and Max did not get a hand job from the mother of his chapel partner, Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble), or any sexual encouragement from Miss Cross, whose feelings for Max are maternal. Max's mother died of cancer when he was seven. That fact is rarely discussed except in reference to the Rushmore scholarship Max won, just before his mother's death, by writing a short play she loved about Watergate. Yet it helps explain Max's link to Rushmore and his sense of loss at being expelled for trying to build Miss Cross an aquarium on the school's baseball diamond. You laugh at Max's blundering, at his revenge on Herman, at his hurt feelings when Miss Cross brings a date (Luke Wilson) to his play about Serpico. Max's school dramas, set in cities or jungles, always end in shootouts. (Anderson says he directed plays just like Max's at his alma mater, St. John's, in Houston, where Rushmore was filmed.) Despite his follies, Max earns our affection and our grudging respect. The same goes for Herman, a former poor boy and a Vietnam vet ("Yeah, I was in the shit"), who recognizes a fellow outsider in Max. For suggesting that his sons invite Max to their birthday party, Herman is told, "Pull your head out of your ass, Dad. There's gonna be girls there." It's a hoot to watch Murray's deadpan rage as he casually turns from the wheel of his Bentley to pummel his son in the back seat.
Later, Murray cannily crowds a lifetime into one small scene. As Herman distractedly throws golf balls in the pool, he notices his wife at another table, flirting with the tennis pro. Cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth, Herman heaves his way to the diving board, casts a look of disdain at his family and jumps, the camera noting his sad isolation at the bottom of the pool. The scene has no dialogue, only a Kinks song ("Nothin' in This World Can Stop Me Worryin" 'Bout That Girl") that catches just the right note of resignation. No wonder Herman responds so strongly to Rosemary. "She's my Rushmore," he tells Max. But Rosemary is haunted by her own ghosts. Her husband, a former Rushmore student, drowned the year before. She lives in a room filled with artifacts from his school days. Max reminds her of the boy she married, Herman of the man he never grew up to be.
To call Rushmore a romantic triangle about clinical depressives doesn't allow for the film's bracing humanism. No tidy happy ending here. Just a cotillion honoring Max's Vietnam play and allowing the major characters to come together, change partners and dance to a Faces song, "Ooh La La," that links youth and experience in a lovely, fleeting moment of reconciliation before the shooting recommences. Anderson closes the curtain on his movie as if he were directing a play by Max Fischer, which, of course, is just what he has done. Bravo.


Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, Friday 15 March 2002, 23.56 GMT
    All families have a secret; they are not like other families. Of no howlingly dysfunctional nuclear family unit could this maxim be more true than the Royal Tenenbaums. They are the tatty heroes of Wes Anderson's deliciously eccentric new comedy, for which he has assembled a heavy-hitting cast who are in a funky-indie premier league equal but opposite to the glam kings and queens of Ocean's Eleven.

    Gene Hackman is the pater-unfamilias, Royal Tenenbaum, and his family is named after him in the American society manner, despite his flagrant and culpable absence from the family home, his appalling dereliction of family duty which, as well as perfuming the title with irony, carries a hint of "royal family" about it. The Tenenbaums are indeed like some dispossessed central european monarchy, living in the Ritz with all their possessions in a bunch of suitcases, unhappily exiled from a hazily imagined homeland.
    Royal does in fact live in a hotel suite, after being separated from his wife, Etheline, played by Anjelica Huston, a formidable woman and a distinguished archaeologist. Royal, a disbarred attorney, has been reduced to emotional and financial penury by his children, who are all former child prodigies. Gwyneth Paltrow is Margot, a woman with a penchant for fur coats and eyeliner, who has been an award-winning playwright since the age of nine, but hasn't had a hit for some time; Luke Wilson plays Richie, a sullen tennis pro who affects a chunky headband from the Borg-McEnroe era and publicly admires the Rod Laver grip, but whose career has spectacularly flopped, and Ben Stiller is Chas, an inspired property speculator since puberty, who sued his father for shooting him with a BB gun in a high-spirited boyhood game, but is now going through a breakdown due to the death of his wife.
    All of them look horribly like damaged children, bedraggled and bewildered by their own sense of ruined promise and shocked by grown-up life. And this weirdo bunch is further augmented by a family "friend" Eli, a wacky bestselling novelist played by Owen Wilson (the movie's co-writer and executive producer) whose own family resemblance to his brother Luke makes him part of the family in a way nothing else could. This group, already seething with a million unacknowledged resentments, is thrown into further turmoil when Royal, quite unable to pay his hotel bill, fakes stomach cancer in a bid to be accepted back in the family home, where everyone else has ended up.
    There are obvious echoes with Anderson's previous film Rushmore, where aberrant childhood talent is a poignant displacement activity for some deeper emotional hurt. The teenage Max there finds a soulmate in jaded Bill Murray, but that was a relationship which could hardly survive Max's growth into adulthood. Estranged from his own grown-up children, Royal manufactures for himself something similar: the air of a lovably disreputable old grandfatherly figure to insinuate himself into the affections of Chas's two bright motherless boys. He takes them go-karting and on shoplifting trips, to give them and the rest of his clan a hint of the fun they're missing out on without him and says grotesquely inappropriate things like: "I was so sorry to hear about your mother; she was a terribly attractive woman." Bill Murray in fact has a small and very funny role in this film too, as a psychologist making a study of an Asperger's-type patient with a lopsided spatial sense and intensely acute hearing which allows him to hear all the impertinent things Murray says about him.
    Anderson has created for his film a very distinctive look, furnished with a Coen-ish attention to offbeat detail and derived from the book motif which begins the film. It's prefaced with chapter-headings, and the "story" itself is a cheesy old volume from a lending library, stamped in the old-fashioned way: part of the coating of unworldliness and eccentricity that Anderson sprays over everything. He devises quaint rectilinear compositions, and shot-reverse-shot conversations where both parties look directly into the lens from the same central position, like something by Ozu. This contributes to the movie's fragmented, stylised form, but is also consonant with the pathological oddity which reigns in the Tenenbaums' bizarre household itself. It is as if they have no significant contact with anyone but each other, resulting in an inbred view of the world, an issue which raises its head when we discover that Margot is in fact adopted and Richie is secretly in love with her.
    The other film this resembles is Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia; often it looks like a happier, wackier version of the same movie, and the two pictures could almost be considered together like a double A-side. But the difference is that Magnolia was passionately serious about the terrifying Chernobyl of hurt contained within many families and the idea of childhood being an Eden to which we can never return and which is often poisoned anyway.
    Every single character in The Royal Tenenbaums is drawn with terrific wit and intelligence, and I grinned my way through it. But is it possible to feel moved by any of them, as Wes Anderson evidently expects? The answer - for all the soundtrack-melancholy that the director conjures up with vinyl classics from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s - is no, because, unlike the more humanly ordinary Rushmore, the Royal Tenenbaums are a quirk away from real life. For all that though, this is a film with a bracingly high IQ, bundles of wit and oodles of fun.

"The Royal Tenenbaums", quite frankly, is superb. Filled with expertly-crafted characters, award-worthy (and winning) performances and big laughs, it's everything that your average movie isn't.
In a "Hey Jude"-accompanied opening spiel narrated by Alec Baldwin, we learn that Gene Hackman is Royal, the selfish, tactless patriarch of a family of geniuses. There's financial wiz Chas (Stiller), tennis star Richie (Luke Wilson), and adopted playwright daughter Margot (Paltrow). Royal is eventually kicked out by his wife Etheline (Huston), essentially abandoning his family.
As the movie starts, several years later, Royal is making a desperate attempt at a family reunion. Something not made easy by his increasingly dysfunctional offspring and no-nonsense spouse, who, despite harbouring deep-seated dislike or distrust for their old man, have found their lives' successes and failures intrinsically connected to him - regardless of his absence.
For anyone who has seen co-writer/director Anderson's last film "Rushmore", you'll know that he peppers his movies with quirky personalities and visual gags, and "The Royal Tenenbaums" more than lives up to that tradition.
Each of the leading characters has a vivid past and hilarious foibles, brilliantly executed by all - especially Hackman, who won a Golden Globe for his role. The landscape meanwhile - a kind of otherworldly New York - is a richly-textured tapestry.
Funny, touching, intelligent, strange... well, let's just stop before we run out of superlatives. Suffice to say that it's unlikely you'll see a better or more unique movie this year.

Comedy: After being absent for many years, a scoundrel tries to prevent his ex-wife from remarrying by insinuating himself back into his adult children's dysfunctional lives.
Decades ago, the Tenenbaum kids -- Chas (BEN STILLER), Richie (LUKE WILSON) and their adopted sister Margot (GWYNETH PALTROW) - were something to behold. Chas was a natural born businessman who raised and sold Dalmatian mice, Richie was a championship level tennis player, and Margot an award-winning playwright. Yet, when their neglectful and callous father, Royal Tenenbaum (GENE HACKMAN), left their mother, Etheline (ANGELICA HUSTON), the kids never quite recovered and became poster children of dysfunctional living. Now 22 years later, things aren't much better, although the family is once again coming together.
When Royal learns that he's being kicked out of the hotel where he's lived ever since then and hears from the family's helper, Pagoda (KUMAR PALLANA), that Etheline is seriously involved with her friend and business manager, Henry Sherman (DANNY GLOVER), the scoundrel decides to insinuate himself back into the family by announcing that he's dying from a terminal disease.
Chas, whose wife died within the past year in a plane accident, has moved his two kids, Ari (GRANT ROSENMEYER) and Uzi (JONAH MEYERSON), into his mom's place after becoming increasingly paranoid about their safety. The perpetually depressed Margot has moved back home after an unhappy marriage to writer and neurologist Raleigh St. Claire (BILL MURRAY), while Richie has returned after traveling the seas lamenting his secret love for Margot. Then there's their childhood friend and current professor and novelist, Eli Cash (OWEN WILSON), who's also maladjusted, what with his drug problem.
As Royal tries to prevent Etheline from marrying Henry, he enlists the aid of his friend, Dusty (SEYMOUR CASSEL), to help him continue his illness ruse so that he can get back into his kids' good graces and thus use them in his plan.
If they're fans of anyone in the cast or the quirky films of director Wes Anderson ("Rushmore"), they just might, although older teens seem the most likely audience among kids.
For some language, sexuality/nudity and drug content.


Philip French, The Observer, Sunday 20 February 2005, 01.44 GMT
    Starting 25 years ago with Animal House, a new brand of raucous collegiate humour took over Hollywood and with the help of the Weitz brothers and the Farrelly brothers has continued ever since to push the envelope of adolescent vulgarity, getting (as the title of a Farrelly film put it) dumb and dumber.

    There has been something of a reaction to this trend recently with a gentler kind of wit that might be called the new whimsy or rock'n'droll. These films go not for belly laughs but for wry grins, often of a rather puzzled kind, and they're aimed at a different side of the campus - graduate school rather than fraternity row. Their heroes are eccentric outsiders, not anarchic clowns, and the chief practitioners have been Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson, David O Russell, Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson, and Alexander Payne.
    The high points to date have been Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Sideways. Though usually modestly budgeted, they have been able to attract not only such actors as Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and George Clooney, but also performers from the Animal House stream such as Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey, who have performed with uncharacteristic restraint, and Bill Murray, to whom restraint comes naturally.
    The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is Bill Murray's third movie with Wes Anderson and as in Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums we're in a world of dysfunctional and surrogate families, of obsessive oddballs, of linear narratives that turn out to be as serpentine as Möbius loops. Its off-the-wall humour comes from left-field, and is given a dreamy, distanced quality by cinematographer Robert Yeoman and the film's various designers.
    Murray's Steve Zissou is a world-famous oceanographer celebrated for his underwater documentaries. He's now middle-aged. His empire is crumbling. His once devoted team grows mutinous. His brainy wife (Anjelica Huston) threatens to leave him. His deadly rival Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum) treats him with contempt.
    The picture opens impressively with the premiere at an Italian film festival of Zissou's new film, in which his closest friend is killed by a jaguar shark.
    This film-within-the-film is a brilliant parody of Jacques-Yves Cousteau's stiff, contrived, now highly dated, documentaries. It's followed by a Q&A session, in which Zissou is asked what is the scientific purpose of the next film, a hunt for this rare shark. 'Revenge,' says the deadpan Zissou.
    The Life Aquatic initially proposes itself both as a re-working of Melville's Moby Dick (famously adapted by Anjelica Huston's father) and as that familiar stand-by, the ageing hero's last desperate attempt to hang on to the empire he's created, which in this case consists of his expeditionary ship, the Belafonte, a private island in the Mediterranean, a helicopter, a seaplane, a hot-air balloon and a submarine, all in a state of decay. But in fact there is no true sense of urgency about either undertaking, and there is nothing farcical, tragic or even risky about the affair.
    An accountant is put on board to ensure that Zissou sticks to the budget of his make-or-break movie. But he proves to be just as eccentric as everyone else on the ship, including a pregnant journalist (Cate Blanchett), who's writing a profile of Zissou and is reading the whole of Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdu aloud to her unborn child, and a pilot for Kentucky Airways (Anderson's regular collaborator Owen Wilson), who is the long-lost son that Zissou has never met. There is an attack by Philippino pirates, to whom the accountant speaks in Tagalog, but this is treated as if it were a charade in a home movie.
    What the movie exudes is a calculated lack of concern for sequentiality or consequentiality. Its mockery of life is represented by Bill Murray's passivity, that personal (and to some of us irresistible) brand of send-up, put-on and dumb insolence that seems simultaneously malevolent and benign.
    A deliberate and irritating absence of dramatic momentum is accompanied by delicious, often magical, moments. At the film festival Murray is given a plastic bag containing an exotic seahorse and when it begins to leak he snatches a champagne glass from a passing stranger, puts the fish into it and proceeds on his insouciant way.
    During the pursuit of the pirates Zissou's team visit the deserted Ping Island which was destroyed by a tidal wave (a weird and fortuitously topical touch this) leaving the once grand Hotel Citröen crumbled and overgrown like an ancient city found in a jungle. The exotic computer-generated fish seen from Zissou's submersible, are at once ludicrous and beautiful. Best of all is the cross-section of the Belafonte which at first we take for a model before realising it's the real thing, four decks high, an image of surreal beauty. We're first escorted through it by Zissou in an introductory lecture, and it's later used for a beautifully choreographed sequence involving half the cast.
    The movie is accompanied by a series of David Bowie songs performed in Portuguese by Seu Jorge, who plays the ship's safety officer. Some viewers may think this needs no justification or explanation. Others, like me, will be puzzled.



Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is a legendary underwater explorer, notorious blow-hard, and known around the globe for his documentaries about life beneath the sea. But life is not going so smoothly for Zissou of late. Out of the blue (as in sky), comes a Kentucky co-pilot named Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) who claims he might, or might not, be the long-lost son Steve never got to know, after an affair with Ned's mother over 30 years earlier. So Zissou sets sail in a state of uncertainty and takes Ned with him, to make his latest film. His crew is enlarged with pregnant journalist Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett), who is doing a cover story (he hopes) on Steve, his loyal German engineer Klaus Daimler (Willem Dafoe), but not his wife (and brains behind his accomplishments) Eleanor Zissou (Anjelica Huston). And just over the horizon is his nemesis, Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum).
Review by Andrew L. Urban:

It is my duty to tell you to stop reading this review right now. Come back to it after you've seen the film if you like, but even reading the synopsis is more than necessary. All you need to know is that the film is a rare original, something of lasting value that will keep you engrossed and entertained in a dry, downbeat tone that is focused and filmic and fantastic. Now go.

So you've seen it now? Great, isn't it. Don't you love the dryness, from Bill Murray's underplaying to Anjelica Houston's minimalism. Even Owen Wilson gives us minimalism in performance. Wes Anderson's direction has created an ensemble in which Cate Blanchett's pregnant English journalist is as perfectly in sync as Willem Dafoe's sensitive and complex German engineer.

Of course the script is the goldmine; didn't you admire the opening set up in an Italian theatre? No, it isn't a cinema, hence the curtains. And then we're back there while under the credits we get that terrific singer and guitarist from the crew... The brilliance of the script is in its constant inventiveness; yet we are never thrown out of the story as it weaves and changes, because it remains sharply and sincerely observed. The constant dips into character darkness, the black humour of the conflicted Steve Zissou stumbling in and across relationships from his wife, his crew and his (maybe) son, all play with the same edgy desperation as our own lives. I speak for myself, but I suspect I'm not alone.

It's in these moments of recognition that we find satisfaction, as well as confrontation. The film also confronts with its jagged mood switching, but Anderson never loses his balance and his grip on our feelings.

Technically proficient, and with a David Bowie song book behind it, The Life Aquatic is the film we've been waiting Bill Murray to make after Lost In Translation, and Wes Anderson to direct since Rushmore (1998). Worth the wait.

Review by Louise Keller:

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a most unusual film. It's dry and laid back, while the rub is that it is set on the wet landscape of the sea. Like The Royal Tenenbaums, writer/director Wes Anderson's new film also has a bunch of eccentric, looney characters that live in an artificial world of documentary film making. So artificial, even the fish are fake. But there's nothing artificial about Bill Murray's wistful, isolated Steve Zissou, who lives his life as dictated by his image. Murray has an innate ability to endear himself to us, whatever the circumstances, and here he has plenty of rope with which to reel us in. The film may not work in a traditional sense, but its wacky characters are as colourful as the underwater fish world, and the cast looks as though they are having a whale of a time.

Zissou is an oceanographer, who is more of an icon than a serious scientist. His wife Eleanor (Anjelica Huston, wearing a stunning array of necklaces) is the brains of the team, that includes Willem Dafoe's ultra-loyal German engineer Klaus, Cate Blanchett's pregnant journalist Jane and Seu Jorge's guitar-playing, singing Pelé dos Santos, who creates the film's rhythm with David Bowie songs translated into Portuguese. Zissou is fast becoming a has-been, and funding is tight as he is about to embark on his latest documentary adventure, which is committed to finding a man-eating shark with animal-print skin. He has just met Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), who could well be his son - a fact that creates all kinds of complications for Zissou, who has no paternal instincts whatsoever. Adding to Zissou's insecurities is Eleanor's ex-husband Alistair (Jeff Goldblum), who has better funding, more elegant clothes and a much bigger boat.

The story is a bouillabaise of what happens to Zissou and his friends as they start filming the documentary. There are a few chuckles, but most of the humour lies in the writing and in the creation of the characters. The pleasures of The Life Aquatic are in the journey, and there is plenty to absorb.

Review by: Arno Kazarian
Starring: Bill Murray (I), Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Cate Blanchett
8 out of 10 stars

Technically, in the strict sense of the term, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is Wes Anderson's most ambitious and successful film to date. So militantly artful is Anderson's objective that I can look beyond his sketchbook of a screenplay and measure the picture as a whole; Aquatic is proof of a director who, while exploring the themes of his previous films, is arcing out further in search of deeper significance. (If the size of Aquatic's bulging cast is any sign, he's aiming for an emotional impact that's three times that of Rushmore's.) The film is also an indication of Anderson being less concerned with the shrewd management of his audience's emotions -- you know, the hey-that's-me underdogs and their spastic romantic gestures, the too-perfect accompanying music -- and more focused on the subtleties underlying the grandeur. This approach spills over into the ensemble acting; in particular Willem Dafoe, who revels in his character's insecurities and empty threats. While it is true that this is one way to draw attention from the underdeveloped story idea, the production is nonetheless a remarkably chichi affair.
A colleague has said that Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tenebaums have all made her embrace pretension, and I think that's one of the most penetrating ways to assess the feelings belonging to those of us on this side of the Anderson Divide. (I'd add to it the notion that it's somewhat pointless to critique his films -- particularly this one -- after only one viewing; each of his pictures takes time to work through your system.) Yet by the end of the first scene of his latest, The Life Aquatic already surpasses the initial promise (and overall pretension) of its predecessors.
At an Italian film festival, oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) introduces his new documentary, a bloody, tragic production that claimed the life of his longtime partner, Esteban du Plantier (Seymour Cassel), who was eaten by a mythical Jaguar shark. During the Q&A session that follows, Zissou announces his team will hunt down and kill the shark on their next adventure. This declaration, and Zissou's presence at the afterparty, are met with relative disinterest, thus framing his current status as a man in decline. While his producer (Michael Gambon) works the crowd for Team Zissou funding, and his wife, Eleanor (Anjelica Huston, may she be in every Anderson film to come), seems taken with his professional nemesis (Jeff Goldblum), Zissou is approached by Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), a pilot from Kentucky (and possibly Texas and Louisiana, as Wilson's accent slips throughout) who may or may not be his son.
Here, Anderson sets the tone for the rest of the film, where the members of Team Zissou endure money woes, ego clashes, an attack and kidnapping in unprotected waters, and near-mutiny. You can choose to get drunk on the heady first fifteen minutes of the film (or don the blue Speedo and red cap, you pick the metaphor) and ride that buzz for the duration of the adventure, or you can cling resolutely to one of the "abandon ship" warnings currently employed by the Anderson haters and spend the rest of the film sober, with a frowny face and your arms crossed. But if you do, you'll be shut out of the fun inherent in Anderson's patented techniques: the way his characters move through a scene, how he cuts dialogue, his color palette, and his soundtracking -- here mainly Bowie songs, performed live and in Portuguese by Seu Jorge, who plays Team Zissou member Pelé. And you'll feel like an outsider while Anderson conducts tours of Team Zissou's ship, the Belafonte, which feature some of Robert Yeoman's most innovative camerawork to date -- gorgeous long shots through an inspired cutaway-style model, the work of production designer Mark Friedberg and his crew. Also, you'll remain unaffected by the final act, a beautifully realized sequence that begins with the crew deep under the sea in a primary yellow submersible contraption and ends at the same film festival, one year later.
Most importantly, you'll allow yourself to feel alienated from Murray's performance. Steve Zissou is more defeated than Herman Blume and Bob Harris combined, and Murray makes every scene better than the one before. And if you're not knocked out by his explanation of why he never wanted to be a father, I envy your upbringing.
Sure, Murray's presence, combined with the clever lines, teeny swimsuits, and behind-the-scenes magic, can't hide the fact that Steve Zissou is essentially an aged Max Fischer, and that Aquatic's narrative is based on recycled themes, but Anderson -- via his star -- continues to explore the mechanics of father/son relationships with an increasing sense of humanity. And beauty.


October 26, 2007
The dumb rap against the gifted Wes Anderson is that his comedies (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic) all hit on similar themes of broken dreams and shattered families. Damn him. And damn Hitchcock for his obsession with suspense. And what's with Scorsese and violence? My point is, an artist can spend a satisfying lifetime developing personal themes and deepening their resonance. Sure, they can trip up (see The Life Aquatic). But the Texas-born Anderson, 38, has managed to absorb a vast number of influences, from J.D. Salinger to Francois Truffaut, and forge a style all his own.
The magically compelling Darjeeling Limited strikes me as the fullest blossoming yet of Anderson's talents as a total filmmaker. To render the fable of the three estranged Whitman brothers on a spiritual journey to India, Anderson — himself the middle child of three brothers — paints on a broad canvas. But his storybook brush strokes are unmistakable. Francis (Owen Wilson), the eldest, has bullied his brothers into a train trip on the Darjeeling Limited as a bonding adventure. The boys haven't spoken since their dad died in a Manhattan car crash a year ago. (Anderson regular Bill Murray hauntingly evokes the paternal spirit in a mute cameo.) Middle brother Peter (Adrien Brody) annoys Francis by claiming he was Dad's favorite. Young Jack (Jason Schwartzman) is smarting over his ex-love, but he's not above sampling the sweet lime of a hot train attendant (Amara Karan).
It's a setup for knockabout farce, as these privileged, narcotized boys drag their cumbersome Louis Vuitton luggage from stop to stop, oblivious to the wonders of the Rajasthan landscape vividly captured by cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman. But this is an Anderson film, meaning telling details have to be caught on the fly. Catch Peter's wince when he reveals he's about to become a father. Or Jack's desperation when he hacks into his ex's voicemails. Or Francis' head bandages, remnants of his attempt to off himself on his motorcycle. It's impossible not to draw parallels to the recent suicide attempt by Wilson, who collaborated with college-buddy Anderson on the scripts of his first three movies. Wilson had no hand in the Darjeeling script; it's the work of Anderson and their mutual friends Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, but you can't miss the undercurrent of melancholy and pain. I'm not saying that the Marx brothers turn into the Karamazovs. Anderson's touch is too nuanced for that. Powered by evocative cuts from the Kinks, the film uncovers layers of emotion as the brothers confront the mother (a dynamite Anjelica Huston) who abandoned them to become a nun in a Himalayan convent.
All the acting is exemplary. Brody, new to Wes' World, is revelatory as Peter. An intimate encounter with tragedy in a local village leaves him dumbstruck. And that moment of silent reflection about a world outside his own shifts this whirl of a movie into still waters. Wilson skillfully blends humor and heartbreak. And Schwartzman, the iconic Max Fischer in Rushmore, cuts to the bone as Jack wonders if the Whitmans would have been friends if they weren't brothers. Another key to Jack's character can be found in Hotel Chevalier, a thirteen-minute short (inexplicably available only online) that shows Jack and his girlfriend (a harsh, never-hotter Natalie Portman) shacked up in Paris. Like Anderson, Jack is a die-hard Francophile. He listens repeatedly to a Peter Sarstedt song about a lover who asks, "Tell me the thoughts that surround you/I want to look inside your head." Anderson struggles hypnotically with the same impossible goal. In a final train shot of surpassing beauty and sadness, characters hurtle down the same track but in separate cars, still alone inside their heads.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
15Contains strong language and moderate sex
Three brothers embark on a railway journey through India in Wes Anderson's latest portrait of a dysfunctional family. The Darjeeling Limited is the train that carries them closer to reconciliation after a year of not speaking, but it's the rapport between Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody that really drives the story. The plot is otherwise slight; still those who relished Anderson's candy-coloured bittersweet style in The Life Aquatic should enjoy the trip.
Anderson begins with a short film, Hotel Chevalier, introducing Jack, aka Jason Schwartzman in his usual angst-ridden geek guise. It's an amusing albeit redundant vignette focussed on the growing rift with his girlfriend (Natalie Portman). But the focus draws away from Jack when eldest brother Francis (Owen) invites him to India. Badly injured after a road crash, Francis has decided to embrace life in a meticulously timetabled railway journey. That aggravates Peter (Brody) who only tags along to avoid the drama of impending fatherhood.
Despite their loosely sketched back stories, Anderson struggles to justify why Peter and Jack so readily indulge their brother's whims. And unlike The Life Aquatic, the point of the expedition isn't properly defined. Of course, as the brothers come to realise, it's all about the journey not the destination, and there are plenty of entertaining diversions along the route. A series of fun but unfortunate events includes a stolen loafer, an escaped cobra and the reckless use of pepper spray. As usual Anderson opts for equal parts comedy and tragedy, meaning less belly laughs and more gentle snorts of appreciation as the tension between Francis and Peter builds. Brody is easy to feel for with his hangdog charm and Wilson's turn as Francis approaches the subtle wit and poignancy of his debut role in Anderson's Bottle Rocket. It may be a bumpy ride, but the film will satisfy those with a spirit of adventure.

The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson finally realises his potential with this moving comic tale of a trio of brothers making a 'spiritual journey' across India

Philip French, The Observer, Sunday 25 November 2007
    While admiring the fluency and invention of Wes Anderson's work, I have never taken to the cultivated eccentricity and arbitrary conduct of the characters and families in such (to me) tiresome, whimsical films as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. I was thus surprised to find myself warming to, enjoying and finally being oddly moved by his new picture, The Darjeeling Limited, which is the name of a train taken across India by three American brothers. It's scripted by Anderson himself in collaboration with Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, a fixture in Anderson movies and similar offbeat independent productions.

    The movie is preceded by a 10-minute short, Hotel Chevalier, in effect an oblique pre-credit sequence to the main film. In it a writer, Jack Whitman (Schwartzman), has a brief reunion with a former girlfriend (Natalie Portman) in a smart Parisian hotel. Shortly thereafter he appears on the train in India with his two older brothers, all in their thirties. The film proper begins with an American businessman (another Anderson regular, Bill Murray), racing by taxi through an Indian street to catch a train. He just misses it, but a younger man, Peter Whitman (Adrien Brody), overtakes him on the platform, catches up with the accelerating train, and makes his way from the observation platform through the crowded third-class carriages to his first-class berth. This is a graceful, wonderfully comic scene about age, agility, frustration and the term 'missing the boat'.
    Murray is glimpsed again, very briefly. Brody as Peter is in virtually every shot with his younger brother Jack and his older brother Francis (Owen Wilson), who has arranged and is paying for this lengthy train journey from Mumbai to the foothills of the Himalayas. Peter is a troubled married man, worrying about divorcing his pregnant wife. Jack writes autobiographical fiction that he pretends is entirely the product of his imagination. Francis is a rich businessman, using his wealth to finance the reckless adventures and romantic dreams that challenge his place in the capitalist establishment. His head is swathed in bandages, a tooth is missing and he walks with a stick, all the result of a motorcycle accident. He's planned the trip as 'a spiritual journey', 'a life-changing experience' to mark the year that has passed since their last meeting in New York at the funeral of their father, for whose affection and attention they've competed since childhood. In a characteristic Anderson way, Francis has installed in a second-class sleeper a trusted employee who prepares the brothers' itinerary and regularly slips copies of it under their door printed on laminated cards.
    The brothers bicker, fight, reminisce, engage in recriminations, fall into old patterns of behaviour and gradually find a new kind of friendship as they make their comic, sentimental journey, and it all rings true. Some years ago I had a similar experience when meeting my brother, whom I hadn't seen for 15 years and had only occasionally corresponded with during the preceding quarter of a century, as we were driving for two days across the North Island of New Zealand where he lived. We were both in our fifties. Away from home and far from our difficult shared childhood, we came together in a manner that would have been impossible under other circumstances.
    The Darjeeling Limited is of course infinitely more dramatic and comic than that reunion with my brother, and Anderson packs an extraordinary amount of incident and observation into a mere 90 minutes. The brothers argue over who should have their father's razor and sunglasses. Jack, while constantly monitoring his ex-girlfriend's answering machine, has a fling with a beautiful railway hostess (Amara Karan). The train gets lost in the Rajasthan desert. The manipulative Francis reverts to bossing his brothers, insisting on ordering their food and carrying their passports. Peter buys a deadly snake, which escapes in the compartment. This, along with other offences, gets them ejected from the train, along with their excessive Louis Vuitton luggage, by a firm, scrupulously honest Sikh conductor. Wandering the country they see three peasant children about to drown, save two of them and carry the corpse of the third to his village. This results in an affecting sequence in which they're drawn into the life of this poor community. Here they meet people in a way that differs radically from their pretentious hopes of achieving spiritual epiphanies and making mystical transactions with the land. A journey that begins as a homage to the dead father ends in a pilgrimage to the Himalayan monastery (clearly modelled on the one in Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus) where their strong-willed, independent mother (Anjelica Huston) has become the presumably unofficial mother superior.
    Most of the music comes from the soundtracks of Satyajit Ray and the Merchant-Ivory movies, and thanks to the work of production designer Mark Friedberg, cinematographer Robert Yeoman and costume designer Milena Canonero, the picture looks magnificent. The Darjeeling Limited is a wonderful creation, a combination of Indian colour and faded imperial grandeur and one of the great movie trains. There's a beautiful tracking shot in which, in the collective minds of the three brothers, the camera passes from compartment to compartment in the train, visiting people and incidents from their past, including Natalie Portman from Hotel Chevalier, Bill Murray from the film's opening and the tiger that stalks the village near their mother's monastery.

Roald Dahl's beloved tale of a fox who just can't help rustling chickens is brought to
stunning life in a stop-motion masterpiece sure to delight both children and adults alike.

Yes, director Wes Anderson, purveyor of the weird but not always wonderful (The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore), at last delivers a movie for a mass-market audience. And
fans will be pleased to know it comes complete with all his trademark tics intact.
In a role recalling Danny Ocean, George Clooney voices the titular red-haired rogue who, despite telling his wife he's retired from chicken rustling, can't resist the call of the wild. And shortly after moving to a new den, he's back to his old tricks raiding farms owned by farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean - "one fat, one short, one lean. These horrible crooks, so different in looks, were nonetheless equally mean".
Naturally, his nefarious nocturnal deeds cause all manner of bother with Mrs Fox (Meryl Streep), while his sulky son (Jason Schwarzman) feels left out when his athletic cousin Kristofferson is chosen to go on the raids.
With Anderson regulars Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Anjelica Huston and Willem Dafoe also voicing a series of wild animals, it's a defiantly offbeat feature. There are no cute Disney creatures here, with the animals looking more like careworn taxidermy models, while their characters are equally rough around the edges, chomping chickens, neglecting their kids and even indulging in spousal abuse. But then, as Mr Fox nudgingly reminds us at least twice, he is a wild animal.
The humans are just as dodgy, particularly farmer Bean (Michael Gambon), a chain-smoking gun nut who guards his enormous stash of cider with a rabid bloodhound. Watch out, also, for a banjo player voiced by Jarvis Cocker.
Much like Terry Gilliam, who gave us last week's Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus, Anderson is a director largely loved or loathed, yet perhaps animation was always the perfect vehicle for his unique brand of droll humour.
Dahl himself would no doubt have approved.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
BY ROGER EBERT / November 24, 2009 

Some artists have a way of riveting your vision with the certitude of what they do. This has nothing to do with subject or style. It's inexplicable. Andy Warhol and Grandma Moses. The spareness of Bergman or the Fellini circus. Wes Anderson is like that. There's nothing consistent about his recent work but its ability to make me go zooinng! What else do "The Darjeeling Limited" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" have in common?
Now here's "Fantastic Mr. Fox," an animated picture with nothing in common with traditional animation, except that it's largely in one of the oldest animation styles of all -- stop motion, the one used in "King Kong." The animals aren't smaller than people but often larger, and more mature.

They live in a sometimes flat dimension; the cameras are happier sliding back and forth than moving in and out. The effect is sometimes like a old-fashioned slide projector. The landscapes and structures of this world are mannered and picture-booky. Yet the extraordinary faces of the animals are almost disturbingly human (for animals, of course). We venture into the UnCanny Valley, that No Man's Land dividing humans from the devised. Above all, their fur is so real. I've rarely seen such texture in a film.

The story involves a valley somewhere, by which is meant the world, which is ruled by:

Boggis and Bunce and Bean,
One fat, one short, one lean.
These horrible crooks, so different in looks.
Were nonetheless equally mean.

Nor are the animals all saints. Mr. Fox, voiced by George Clooney, was a flourishing chicken thief until times grew risky. Then, like a bootlegger after the repeal, he went straight -- or, more precisely, into journalism. He's the Walter Winchell of the valley, until he slips back into dining on takeout chicken, taking them out himself. This he keeps a secret from the upright Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep).

His deception is blown, to everyone's great disappointment, when the fat, short and lean ones all turn into mean ones and declare war. Leading a team of other animals, Mr. Fox starts tunneling like the heroes of "The Great Escape" -- but in, rather than out.

These adventures provide the setting for personal drama, as an uncertainty arises between Mr. Fox's callow son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman), and a cousin named Kristofferson (Eric Anderson). Kristofferson is all a fox should be, as with that name how could he not? He's the family golden child, or fox. Does Mr. Fox admire the cousin more than his son? What kind of pop has he been, anyway?

All of the animals have excellent tailoring, which adds to their stature. They're not forced to wear silly sailor suits, or like Donald Duck, never to put on pants. The art design is a large part of the film's appeal. It stays fresh all the way through. Think back to the color palettes of "Darjeeling" and "The Life Aquatic."

The film's based on the famous children's book by Roald Dahl, which like all of his work, has ominous undertones, as if evil can steal in at any moment. These animals aren't catering to anyone in the audience. We get the feeling they're intensely leading their own lives without slowing down for ours.

Like the hero of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," also based on one of his books, the creatures of Dahl's valley seem to know more than they're letting on; perhaps even secrets we don't much want to know. Children, especially, will find things they don't understand, and things that scare them. Excellent. A good story for children should suggest a hidden dimension, and that dimension of course is the lifetime still ahead of them. Six is a little early for a movie to suggest to kids that the case is closed. Oh, what if the kids start crying about words they don't know? -- Mommy, Mommy! What's creme brulee?" Show them, for goodness sake. They'll thank you for it. Take my word on this.

In his first foray into animation, director Wes Anderson lends his trademark quirky humor to a children's tale, rendering it a sometimes witty, if odd, cartoon for all ages.
Fantastic Mr. Fox imaginatively re-works Roald Dahl's 1970 storybook into a zippy, stop-motion adventure, with top-notch voice talent and an appealing-looking gaggle of furry creatures. While much of it is entrancing and the tone is endearingly peppy, the humor is uneven and the tale grows repetitive.
It's an intriguing match of material and filmmaker. Dahl's distinctive, edgy storytelling seems to fit well with Anderson's idiosyncratic worldview and visuals. The world in Fantastic Mr. Fox looks cozy and pleasant, but there's malevolence lurking.
The film's theme centers on growing up, having a family, resisting becoming tame and retaining a sense of spirit. Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a likable former bandit. Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) is equally clever. But she has tamed her wild nature since the birth of her son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman).
Still a risk-taker at heart, Mr. Fox endures the life domestic. He owns a house and has a job writing a newspaper column, but he hatches a plot to raid three despicable farmers, throwing everyone into a tizzy.
Meanwhile, Mr. Fox dismisses Ash's efforts to impress him and instead admires the athletic prowess of a cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson). Family attention and approval is lightly raised here.
Prolonged chases and fights are among the least intriguing scenes. Willem Dafoe voices a villainous rat, and Bill Murray lends humor to his Badger character. Clooney's low-key comic timing contrasts with his frenzied bursts of animal behavior.
These weirdly effective shifts in tempo, combined with an attention to detail and distinctive dialogue, make for the best moments in this offbeat adventure.

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