The Films of Wes Anderson
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Life Aquatic
The Darjeeling Limited (November 13/07)
The Darjeeling Limited delivers no more and no less than what one might've expected, as the film comes off as a prototypically quirky effort from director Wes Anderson. Those with a predilection for his off-the-wall antics will probably find plenty worth embracing here, though it's just as clear that Anderson's detractors will likely throw their hands up in frustration. The storyline - which follows three brothers (Owen Wilson's Francis, Adrien Brody's Peter, and Jason Schwartzman's Jack) as they reunite for a train voyage across India - has been peppered with precisely the sort of oddball stylistic and thematic elements that one has come to expect from Anderson, and there's certainly no denying that the movie initially comes off as an oppressively loopy piece of work. There does reach a point, however, at which Anderson starts to ease up on his more overtly eccentric tendencies and instead punctuates the proceedings with a number of genuinely heartfelt moments, ensuring that the relationship between the siblings ultimately does provide the film with a minor (yet palpable) emotional catharsis. (It doesn't hurt, either, that the three leads are fantastic in their respective roles.)
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson's first foray into the world of animation, Fantastic Mr. Fox follows several wild animals (including Meryl Streep's Mrs. Fox, Bill Murray's Badger, and Jason Schwartzman's Ash) as they're forced to go on the run after an irate farmer (Michael Gambon's Franklin Bean) declares war on their ringleader (George Clooney's Mr. Fox). The degree to which Fantastic Mr. Fox retains Anderson's notoriously off-kilter sense of style is actually somewhat astounding, as the movie boasts many of the elements one has come to expect from the unabashedly irreverent director (ie meticulously conceived visuals, a soundtrack bursting with classic rock, etc). There's consequently little doubt that the film generally fares about as well as Anderson's previous endeavors, with the pervasively easy-going atmosphere ultimately ensuring that even the filmmaker's detractors will likely find something here worth embracing (ie the whole thing is just irresistibly affable). And while it's hard to deny that the movie is sporadically just a little too quirky for its own good - ie a musical interlude featuring Pulp's Jarvis Cocker as a banjo-wielding character named Petey - Fantastic Mr. Fox, anchored by the uniformly stellar voice performances and a surprisingly singular visual sensibility, establishes itself as a thoroughly agreeable piece of work that will undoubtedly have a far more positive impact on Anderson's fans.
A typically quirky and erratic Wes Anderson effort, Moonrise Kingdom follows a pair of precocious adolescents (Jared Gilman's Sam and Kara Hayward's Suzy) as they flee from their respective homes and subsequently become the focus of a massive manhunt. It's clear right from the outset that Anderson isn't looking to reinvent the wheel here, as Moonrise Kingdom has been infused with, for lack of a better term, as Andersonian a feel as one has come to expect from the off-kilter filmmaker. The pervasively twee atmosphere doesn't become problematic until well past the half-hour mark, however, with the propulsive narrative and uniformly charismatic characters proving instrumental in immediately capturing the viewer's interest. There's little doubt, however, that the film begins to demonstrably run out of steam as it enters its increasingly stagnant midsection, as the emphasis is placed, for the most part, on the progressively underwhelming exploits of the various characters - with the less-than-engrossing vibe compounded by a pace that slows down to a veritable crawl. And though the film remains relatively watchable from beginning to end (ie the performances alone perpetuate the passable atmosphere), Moonrise Kingdom builds to a rather endless final stretch that'll leave even the most forgiving viewer checking their watch - which effectively (and ultimately) cements the movie's place as the latest underwhelming effort from a persistently (and stubbornly) idiosyncratic filmmaker.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Set primarily during the 1930s, The Grand Budapest Hotel follows the title establishment's concierge (Ralph Fiennes' Gustave) as he battles several oddball characters for control of a valuable painting. There's ultimately never any mistaking The Grand Budapest Hotel for anything other than a Wes Anderson film, as the writer/director has suffused the proceedings with all the touchstones for which he's become associated - with the movie featuring, for example, breathtaking, meticulous production design and an assortment of almost excessively off-kilter figures (inhabited by, of course, various Anderson regulars). And although the novelty of the flamboyant universe is initially difficult to resist, Anderson's notoriously whimsical sensibilities ensure that the film grows more and more tiresome as time progresses - with the movie's style-over-substance atmosphere paving the way for a midsection that's often as tedious as it is entertaining. (There is, for example, an ill-conceived prison-break stretch that seriously tests the viewer's patience.) It's not until The Grand Budapest Hotel progresses into its comparatively thrilling final act that the viewer is finally engaged, with the movie, which is otherwise content to operate at an almost infuriating level of consistent quirkiness, ultimately establishing itself as just another disappointment from a filmmaker with, seemingly, no qualms about repeating himself over and over again.
Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson's first animated film in almost 10 years, Isle of Dogs follows a young boy (Koyu Rankin's Atari) as he travels to an island populated by exiled canines in search of his lost dog - with the narrative detailing Atari's quest and his decision to enlist the aid of several residents of the aforementioned island (including Bryan Cranston's Chief and Edward Norton's Rex). It's clear that Anderson isn't looking to deviate even partially from his well-established sense of style, as Isle of Dogs, right from the get-go, boasts exactly the sort of larger-than-life, endlessly quirky sensibility one has come to associate with the oddball filmmaker - with this vibe reflected most keenly in Tristan Oliver's meticulous, exacting cinematography (ie there's no mistaking the picture for anything other than a Wes Anderson joint). And although Anderson's overstuffed screenplay suffers from a few needless digressions - eg virtually everything involving Greta Gerwig's unnecessary character, Tracy Walker - Isle of Dogs benefits greatly from a midsection devoted mostly to the growing bond between Rankin and Cranston's respective characters. The engaging atmosphere is heightened by an assortment of spellbinding stand-alone sequences, including Chief's tale of biting a small boy, and there's little doubt that the various performers deliver entertaining, memorable voice work that remains a highlight. The somewhat ineffective third act, which is in desperate need of streamlining, confirms Isle of Dogs' place as a solid endeavor that could (and should) have been better, with the movie's proliferation of positive attributes ultimately compensating for its few missteps (ie a more innovative animated production one is not likely to see for quite some time).