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The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

by Corinne Rizzo

The death of an immediate family member can take time to recover from. Weeks, months, years can pass and still one might find themselves just below the lines of reality, almost waiting for the next fucked up thing to happen, but when you’ve got a brother like Francis, played by Owen Wilson in Wes Anderson’s fifth feature, who hides the fact that he’s attempted suicide and executes an elaborate trip to India via rail, all to become close to his two other brothers again, the mourning process expedites and the bullshit habits that have been sliding by since that death are no longer tolerated. As Francis says best, after getting his shoe stolen, “We’re in an emergency here,” and with that, The Darjeeling Limited thrusts these three brothers onto a path of healing that none of them would have taken alone.

The film opens with Adrien Brody’s character, Peter, chasing down a train that he’s about to miss, bypassing Bill Murray as the business man, who was simply casted for this one scene, and this is where the symbolism begins. Yes, all great movies have hidden and blatant attempts at sending a message, but The Darjeeling Limited is defined by these moments without getting cheesy or overworked. Here, Peter is a hair away from missing the opportunity of a lifetime, to recover from a personal tragedy and reconnect with his brothers, though it is apparent, just as it is apparent that he is about to miss the train, that Peter is the one that needs the most convincing. In fact, it’s possible that he wasn’t going to get on that train at all, considering we learn that he never told his wife Alice that we was going in the first place.

When Peter does make it onto the Darjeeling Limited, a character in herself, brightly colored in turquoise and golden yellow, he travels down the entirety of the train, the commuter portion, the economy travel portion, to the compartments of the upper class, where he finds his brother Jack asleep and his brother Francis missing.

The audience can immediately see Peter’s mood change once in the presence of Jack. They celebrate by smoking cigarettes and when Francis gets to the cabin, the phrase “Let’s get a drink and smoke a cigarette,” is used for the first time to signal a state of celebration. Almost as a marker to signify getting over a hump.

The use of painkillers and alcohol in this film are commonly attributed to the three brothers being addicted to these substances, though the use of these drugs is directly related to the family experience and nowhere in the film is anyone fiending or even talking about them other than the one scene where everyone is explaining what they have after a coincidental moment of everyone trying to relieve their own pain. Again, symbolism exists here, even for the most conservative audience member.

Peter is wearing his father’s sunglasses, which have a prescription in them, causing his head to constantly ache. Francis ran his motorcycle into the side of a hill, smashing his face in and Peter…well Peter has a lot of growing up to do. Not that Anti Film School condones the use of drugs, though the use of drugs in film can have an interesting outcome.  We are open to these things.  In film.

Peter, Jack, and Francis stop in what are considered the most spiritual places in India, all coordinated by Brendan, Francis’s only friend and assistant, and while in these spiritual places are overcome by consumerism attempting to track down power adapters, shoes and pretty much anything else money can buy, including a deadly poisonous snake (chosen by Peter), which eventually gets them confined to their compartment, and ultimately thrown off the train, upsetting the plan to find their mother, Sister Patricia Whitman, somewhere out on a mission.

The plan to find Patricia was also masterminded by Francis, and never unveiled to his brothers until just before they were thrown off the train.

The boys go through stages of wanting to kill each other, then stages of unrelenting affection and back again and The Darjeeling Limited is the story of their estrangement and their subsequent bonding, all of which couldn’t happen in a more beautiful setting.  The colors are extravagant and breath taking, the scenes are crisp, the wardrobes, when not stunning, provoke a sense of humor.

Inspired by the films of Satyajit Ray and peppered with the sounds of classic Indian films (and also The Kinks), Wes Anderson kills it in The Darjeeling Limited, bringing again his sense of adventure to the story of family dysfunction and unconditional love. His passion for story telling is apparent in this film more than any other by saturating the story of Francis, Peter and Jack with color, sound, and humor.

Grade: A +

 

Top Five Reasons to Watch The Darjeeling Limited:

1) Adrien Brody’s debut in Anderson films (let’s hope he sticks around).

2) All of Anderson’s films have a sense of antiquity that in this film is broken with the use of an iPod and dock.

3) The music!

4) Kumar Pallana

5) Check out that scene where Peter “goes to pray at a different thing”. What the hell is that kid watching him for and what is he holding?

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The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

by Corinne Rizzo

In Bottle Rocket, Anthony falls in love with Ines while swimming in the hotel pool, a pool that was the center of the hotel universe with multiple scenes shot in and around it. In Rushmore, Max plans to build Ms. Cross an aquarium the size of a baseball field and brings additions to the classroom aquariums in the meantime. The Royal Tenenbaums finds Margot in the bathtub for hours every day, while Ethylene practices archeology in the inner city. Similarly, Richie and Margot runaway to live in the public archives for a few weeks to get away from their family. The ocean, water and exploration are major themes in Wes Anderson’s films and in Anderson’s fourth film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the filmmaker displays an outward celebration of aquatic life and adventurism, themes Anderson has previously suppressed in earlier films.

Set on the Belefonte (Zissou’s research ship) , and subsequent island locales, Steve Zissou, played by Bill Murray (formerly Raleigh St. Claire), is an aging explorer bent on discovering the shark that killed his best friend Esteban, and rediscovering his edge as a documentary film star.

The film begins at a festival in honor of Team Zissou’s latest documentary in which it is revealed that Esteban has been consumed by an unrecognizable shark he names the Jaguar Shark. It is apparent that the documentary has fallen flat with the audience and in a fit of defeat, Steve swears to make his next documentary the one of exposing this new fish, hoping to regain his strength as an explorer.

During the after party for the documentary, Steve is approached by Ned Plimpton (played by Owen Wilson). Plimpton is at the wrap part y to meet his father, who he believes is Steve Zissou. Steve is unexpectedly warm toward Ned, soon offering him his own last name and suggesting he change his first one also, to Kingsly, what Steve says he would have named him, had he had a say.

The adventure ensues. A motley crew of characters, including Willem Dafoe, all wearing matching light blue uniforms with bright red skull caps, set off to find the shark. In the meantime, the Belefonte is pirated by strangers, Team Zissou breaks into the Hennessey laboratories (Captain Hennessey played by Jeff Goldblum), boats are blown up and three legged dogs are left behind. All lead by Zissou and all conquered as well.

Anderson’s depiction of the sea is magical in this film. It is not a dark scary place down in the depths like biology books would have one believe. It is a place of illumination and Anderson shows that in a very unique way. All sea and island life are clay-mation interjected into the film with neon color. Electric jellyfish, neon trout, Technicolor pony-fish, and even the jaguar shark himself are bright, vibrant creatures that illuminate the sea with a magic that displays an affection for the ocean and the wonder involved in exploration.

In the film, all colors are paired with their contrast, where there are blues there are yellows, where there are reds there are greens. Anderson does an awesome job at creating this world of discovery and adventure that harkens to classic marine biology documentaries one might have seen in middle school—colors heightened to show the viewer an image not witnessed before. Obviously inspired by the deep-sea creatures that illuminate their own way through the ocean and other phosphorescent life forms that glow.

The Life Aquatic is a film packed with sarcastic humor and an almost obligational form of love for exploration.  The relationships that evolve around a Steve, designated as delusional by his peers at the onset of the film, would be impossible without the situations he pulls everyone into. Bill Murray is a most excellent addition to Anderson’s films and his role as Steve Zissou can easily be touted as one of his best. The film mixes his lust for excitement with the reality of his apathy.

Featured also in The Life Aquatic is yet another musical journey set by Mark Mothersbaugh, complimented by Pele played by Seu Jorge, and David Bowie. The multiple renditions of Life on Mars, reminds the viewer that the ocean is a frontier, just like space and there is still so much to know. Wes Anderson in no way hits his peak with The Life Aquatic, but sure does give himself a run for his own money in his next film.

Grade: A

 

Top Five Reasons to Watch The Life Aquatic:

1) The colors. Did you know that Mark Mothersbaugh attended Kent State?

2) The music.

3) The adventure.

4) Willem Dafoe as Klaus!

5) The idea that life’s drama, highs and lows, can occur anywhere, even in the middle of nowhere.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

by Corinne Rizzo

Imagine every screwball moment of your exploited genius childhood narrated as a prelude to your adulthood by Alec Baldwin. Then imagine your adulthood reaches its pinnacle way early and the only way you see fit to recover from the disappointment of an early peak is to move back home. At the same time as your bother and adopted sister.

This is the premise for Wes Anderson’s third essay into character structure and storytelling (also co-written by Owen Wilson)—and  so far his most successful.

As Royal Tenenbaum, the father of these three genius children, is evicted from the lofty conveniences of his hotel residence for payment delinquency, he receives news of a suitor after his wife, whom he’s been separated from for most of the children’s childhood and even adulthood.  When the news hits that Henry Sherman, Etheline Tenenbaum’s accountant, is interested in marrying her, Royal takes the opportunity to get back into her life by faking a terminal illness, scoring himself a place to live as well as an advantage to win over his the affection of his estranged children (who one by one have found themselves living with their mother, Etheline).

Our characters consist of Richie, played by Luke Wilson, a tennis professional by the age of thirteen by the nick name “Baumer”. Richie Tennenbaum was the apple of Royal’s eye which lead his brother Chas, a financial and technical prodigy, into a lifetime of sibling rivalry that keeps him at a distance. Our third character in the list of siblings is adopted sister Margot, an early successful play write in love with her brother (but not by blood) Richie.

Richie’s best friend, played by Owen Wilson, brings back the original chemistry that jumpstarted Anderson’s career, though the cast of The Royal Tenenbaums is held up by each actor in the film and lead by no one in particular. Even the narration of the film by Alec Baldwin is essential as well as the smallest parts played by Bill Murray (as Ralleigh St. Claire) are crucial to the twisted familial clusterfuck that is the Tenenbaum reunion.

But this isn’t just your run of the mill, everyone hates each other and fights type of dysfunction. The entire family rallies behind Royal, even Chas who is reluctant to do so. So no family member is left behind. Everyone loves each other, though there are some who love each other more and those with more of an even keel on the situation.

The drama in the film exists in places you would most expect it to live within your own family, but certainly not on the screen. Think about it for a minute: You and your siblings living MTV’s Real World style. Pretty much the best and worst of everything you’ve ever known with an ending that is as hopeful as the Real World is hopeless.

And Wes Anderson knows this drama and knows how to portray it. The themes and colors of previous films exist in The Royal Tenenbaums and the themes and colors of films to come are hinted in it. Seamlessly, Wes Anderson has created almost a centerpiece to his cannon of work, not as a pinnacle (by no means has he hit his peak) but as a confident stride.

Plus, I mean, the soundtrack! If you ever wanted to seem cool in front of anyone, just down load a few of Wes Anderson’s soundtracks and act like you know exactly what you’re listening to. Or better yet, get to know what you’re listening to and be extra cool.

 

Grade: A

 

Top Five Reasons To Watch The Royal Tenenbaums:

1) You learn what a javelina is! Unless you already know and if you do already know, skip to reason #2.

2) The kid who plays Richie Tenenbaum as a child is a riot.

3) Find Kumar Pallana.

4) Shameless smoking and drinking.

5) If you are unsure of where your style of dress is going, you could just adopt the style of one of the Tenenbaums and never think twice about it. Or even look to Henry Sherman for an example.