Friday, November 2, 2007

if introspection were a sport...

...Wes Anderson would have the gold medal. Ever since I was a freshman in high school, I have been a devoted Wes Anderson fan. My friend Elisa and I used to watch movie trailers on the computers at school when we were bored in class, and we both became obsessed with the one for The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). When I finally saw it in theaters, it was one of the first times that I was conscious of a film experience really affecting me. I distinctly remember emerging from the matinee in the wintry afternoon and the sunlight reflecting off of my world a little differently. At this point, I've seen that movie so many times that I don't even know if I can pinpoint what it is that makes it one of my favorites, but something about it really struck me.

For some reason I cannot remember, I didn't see another Wes Anderson movie until my freshman year of college, when I was really looking forward to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). Unfortunately, I was terribly disappointed. Somehow it transformed all of the heartfelt charm I was expecting into silliness without meaning. It's highly possible that I need to watch it again, though. I wouldn't be surprised if I like it better upon a second you'll see in just a moment.

Now, what I'm about to say will be considered anathema to most Wes Anderson fans, but I have to be honest. I didn't see Rushmore (1998) until a little over a year ago. And I hated it! You can imagine my surprise. It's just as Anderson in form as my beloved Royal Tenenbaums, it stars my soulmate Jason Schwartzman at the zenith of his quirky confidence, and I myself went to a weird prep school where I failed to exceed academically. Not to mention the fact that I became an avid Brand New fan years before knowing the title of "Sic Transit Gloria...Glory Fades" came from this movie. I was upset that the only thing I really enjoyed in the film were the theatrical adaptations by the Max Fischer Players. So, a few weeks ago I decided to re-watch the movie, and really give it my full attention. I don't know what was different, but I really enjoyed it this time. I still prefer The Royal Tenenbaums, perhaps because it was my first, but I now think I could happily watch Rushmore many more times.

In between watching Hotel Chevalier for the first time on iTunes and seeing The Darjeeling Limited in theaters, I rented Bottle Rocket (1996), which I was pleasantly surprised by. It made me notice Owen Wilson as an actor more than I'd really paid attention to him in other Anderson films (even though he's great in Royal, he's excellent here). I think it may have been more true to the intent of the film to place an even heavier emphasis on the Wilson brothers' characters though, because I found myself so drawn to the Inez subplot that I wasn't that interested in the crime capers the movie was actually about.

As a longtime devoted fan of Natalie Portman and Jason Schwartzman, I couldn't wait to see Hotel Chevalier, which, incidentally, contains Ms. Portman's first-ever nude scene! Now, I know that sounds pretty sensational to be focusing on, but I know that she's been very selective about nudity in previous films that have called for it, so I figured that if Wes Anderson could get her to take her clothes off in front of the camera, she must have found it a worthy film to make. So, I really enjoyed the movie - I know some people found it slow, but it worked especially well with Portman's character, and the stasis that Schwartzman's had fallen into in his life. The dialogue was very honest, and I thought that the composition of the shots was even more painterly than I'd usually expect from Anderson.

This set the scene for just how much I'd like The Darjeeling Limited. I don't know exactly how, since none of the characters are really that sympathetic, but the film totally managed to evoke my affective response. From the very beginning, when Adrien Brody outstrips Bill Murray as they're both running for the train, I was completely delighted. I was surprised by how well the Indian backdrop complemented the tried-and-true subject matter of these grown men acting like children, and when the sad moments in the story come along, it is very effective. I caught a case of the giggles throughout, certainly, but when the scene in the river took me by surprise, I was not the only one gasping in the theater. The interplay between the brothers' interactions in India and in New York, portrayed in the final third of the film, punctuated the story very nicely, and helped me to understand so many of its nuances. Finally, the film's closing set piece was a marvelous sort of bow to the audience, reminding us how much Anderson likes to stage his films as tableau pieces, putting curious characters on display for our inspection.

According to IMDb, Anderson's next project is The Fantastic Mr. Fox, an animated (I think) adaptation of Roald Dahl's book. I am very interested to see what he will do with another author's source material, and can't wait to re-watch Rushmore and The Life Aquatic, hoping only to increase my regard for his entire body of work.

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