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Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

by Corinne Rizzo

Totally sophisticated in most of his characteristics, Mr. Fox finds himself living in nature’s version of the suburbs after spending the majority of his foxhood stealing poultry and looting cider from the local farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean. In an effort to move up in the world and out of the fox hole his family began in, Mr. Fox buys a tree trunk for the family to move into—right across the valley from his old chicken thieving stomping grounds—and his old ways begin to haunt his instincts. The hardship of instinct versus the inclination to do what is right puts Mr. Fox, his family, and his friends in some compromising positions and Wes Anderson’s sixth film, Fantastic Mr. Fox (based on the original children’s text by Roald Dahl), not only tells the story of the secret lives of foxes, but builds yet another invitation only universe in which to entertain the endless details that create a classic Wes Anderson film.

So, Fox meets farmer, farmer has chickens, chickens get stolen, farmers get mad, Fox gets caught, farmer traces Fox to his residence, farmer does everything in his power to kill Fox.

This is the basic plot of Fantastic Mr. Fox, though if Wes Anderson has anything to do with it, the plot can be considered a bit more complex than that. In fact, Anderson makes it a habit in his films to show how complicated things can really become either by giving a character an inclination toward drawing maps or continually document, or expose early on in his films the tribulation that each of his characters bear. In The Royal Tenenbaums, for example, the audience is introduced to each character by Alec Baldwin’s monologue. The survey of personality traits gives the viewer all of the information that is needed to anticipate any combination of conflict between the characters, while in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson shows Mr. Fox himself as quite dexterous in the making of “master plans”.

The viewer is at that point given the essential plot out line and has become familiar with the players, leaving the imagination to begin piecing possibilities together, though you never can quite tell what Anderson has in store, even when the director gives you that essential information.

On that note, Fantastic Mr. Fox is complicated in plot and runs a good eighty-seven minutes, which is a whole lot longer than most want to sit through an animated film. Anderson’s twist on the story and the choice to use stop animation, though, is what drives the film. Voices like George Clooney, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman bring the familiar cynical tone to the characters that are popular in Anderson’s films, adding to the sophistication of the characters.

Important also to the film is the sense of humor these actors can bring to the characters. Often a scene that seems too sentimental or serious is broken by the true animalistic nature of each forest beast. Mr. Fox, wearing a suit with his hair all groomed does not hesitate to break a chicken’s neck with his teeth or growl and scratch when he doesn’t get along with someone. This is true for all of the characters and each one seems to have one of those moments in the film where they kind of just lose it and show what Mr. Fox calls the truth about himself, which is the fact that he is a wild animal.

The stop motion is incredible and crafty. Each creature has his own personae: Beaver, Beaver and Badger are attorneys, Kylie  (an opossum) is kind of like a superintendent, and so the list continues. But what is so stunning that the puppets are dressed to the nines, all throughout the film. Ash, Mr. Fox’s son, even wears layers and layers of clothes, all modified with holes for his tail and ears. The imagery is seamless and clean and the expressions of the characters are meaningful and distinct.

Everything from a toothy fox grin to the twitchy radar ears of a scavenger, Anderson and his stop motion team have taken a children’s story and mastered it into a film enjoyable to all ages. The tendency toward foul language is replaced simply by the word “cuss” and the only sign of alcohol or drug abuse is that of the Bean security rat living in a cider cellar, which is the cleanest we have seen Anderson yet, but also displaying some of his strongest creative moments.

Grade: A-


Top Five Reasons to Watch Fantastic Mr. Fox:

1)  Bill Murray plays a badger.

2)  You get a run through of every character’s latin animal names…so it’s educational.

3)  Really the whole film is about eating.

4)  The Beach Boys dominate the soundtrack.

5)  The film can be used as a gateway to exposing your family and friends to other Anderson films.

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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?

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.

Rushmore (1998)

by Corinne Rizzo

In Rushmore, Wes Anderson’s second film, the director displays a highly stylized form of storytelling. In watching a film like Bottle Rocket, the viewer can learn that our writer/director (teaming with Owen Wilson), has a knack for developing characters, but from Bottle Rocket to Rushmore, Wes Anderson takes a not just a step toward a style that will carry him through the duration of his career, but some sort of anti-gravity moon leap.

Son of a barber, fifteen year old Max Fischer (played by Jason Schwartzman, attends Rushmore Academy where he is the founder of every extracurricular activity known to man.  And while Max reigns supreme at bringing groups together for everything from the Beekeeper’s Society to Calligraphy Club, his ability to keep up his GPA ends up standing in the way of the thing he loves most: Attending Rushmore Academy.

In perfect synchronicity with his academic probation, Max falls in love with Rosemary Cross, an elementary school teacher at Rushmore. Following their initial meeting, Max takes monumental measures to ensnare Ms. Cross’ affection by breaking ground on a new addition to the school in honor of her. An aquarium.

When his actions get him expelled from his cozy prep school and thrust into public high school, it takes Max a bit to acclimate. Rushmore is the story of Max’s acclimation to the outside world—and finding ways to combine the best of both worlds.

The film opens with a series of theatrical vignettes representing the characters of the film, followed by a similar series, displaying Max’s extracurricular accomplishments. These short vignettes that give the viewer an inside look to the makings of a character is Anderson’s first attempt at the aesthetic, which appears in each sub sequential film.

If you’ve ever seen a Wes Anderson film outside of Bottle Rocket and have been impressed with how cool his characters can seem, how much cooler they are set to a rocking soundtrack, and what slow motion can do for a character’s development, note that Wes Anderson’s ability to convey these things begins with Rushmore. It combines an the elegance of pomp and the grit of the human condition. Like a muddy ballet flat.

On the topic of elegance and grit, Bill Murray makes his debut in the Anderson cannon, paralleling Royal Tennenbaum’s relationship luck down to a long term hotel check in. Also in the film is Luke Wilson, playing a character at the butt of the most popular joke in the film.

With a perpetual fall in the air, the leaves constantly turning and changing, and the overcast skies, Rushmore is the foundation of Wes Anderson’s moody, intellectual, and character driven style.

Grade: B+

Top Five Reasons To Watch Rushmore:

1) You’re going to want to know if they really are O.R. scrubs.

2) It is the beginning of all stylistic choices made by Anderson in his films.

3) Kumar Pallana (keep an eye out!)

4) Can you just see Anderson’s gears churning with the marine biology thing?

4) The soundtrack.

Bottle Rocket (1996) and announcing Anti-Film School’s Wes Anderson Wednesdays!

Hey readers,

Anti-Film School is proud to announce that throughout February, every Wednesday will be Wes Anderson Wednesday, where Corinne posts a new review of one of his films. This may spill over into March but will that really bother you? IT’S WES ANDERSON! So enjoy all the quirkiness!

-Steve

by Corinne Rizzo

While the idea of two friends reuniting to embark on an escapade of robberies isn’t the most original concept for a film, Wes Anderson finds a way for those pieces to function. In his first wide release, Bottle Rocket, Anderson’s ability to pull functioning bits of an already existing reality and twist them to create an alternate, though awkwardly appealing reality, creates a solid foundation for his subsequent releases and promotes a ring of characters that an audience will grow with beyond the film.

The film opens with Luke Wilson’s character, Anthony, breaking out of what looks like a minimalistic hotel setting, while signaling to Dignan, played by Owen Wilson, out on the lawn who is equipped with binoculars and a signaling mirror. The audience learns quickly in this scene that Anthony is not in a motel, but in a clinical setting centered around what he calls “mental exhaustion, ” despite never working a day in his life. This very first scene also clues the audience in to Anthony’s character beyond his sensitivity to mental stimulation, but also to his fear of letting people down. Here we see Dignan outside looking like he is on some covert mission while Anthony explains to his doctor that his friend didn’t know that Anthony’s visit was voluntary, creating an elaborate plan to break him out of the nut house.

Meanwhile, Dignan is an over-stimulated and under-mature counterpart to the introspective and quiet Anthony. Upon breaking Anthony out of the clinic, Dignan exposes him to what he calls his “Seventy Five Year Plan,”on a bus trip that will initiate a sequence of robberies, starting with Anthony’s parent’s house for start up cash.

The second robbery is small time as well and genuinely excites Dignan when the manager of a bookstore they are holding up actually has money to hand over. The robbery is time consuming and awkward and while Dignan made the plans, he is excitable and sloppy. Anthony at this point becomes the collected and focused half of the duo.

When they hit the road with their neighbor, Bob (the only character in this equation with a vehicle), they stop at a nameless motel. While Dignan and Bob are at eachother’s throats about how to get away with their crimes, Anthony spots Ines, one of the motel staff members, falling very quickly but very passionately (and awkwardly) in love with her.

Cars are stolen, lips are busted and irrational behavior ensues. Camaraderie is the lesson.

Though they couldn’t appear any different or display more diverse personality traits, the chemistry between Owen and Luke Wilson in the film seems to be responsible for more than just the success of Bottle Rocket, but for the success of Wes Anderson’s career. It’s possible that Anderson recognized how two brothers could love and hate each other so much and utilized that chemistry to successfully portray these two characters.

Based on the performance given by the Wilsons, it is easy to understand why Anderson would choose these two for future films.  The actors chosen for the roles that Anderson creates are just as important to the film as the characters themselves and seems key in deciphering Anderson’s style.

In Bottle Rocket, Wes Anderson creates a core of true characters in a film where plot might not be enough. While the film has its cynical and surprising turns, Bottle Rocket is a true display of excellence in character building. Each character is so carefully crafted and placed, no character seems irrelevant and if someone appears in the film, you can bet that Anderson will find a way for them to function somehow, in the grand scheme of things.

Grade B+

Top Five Reasons To Watch Bottle Rocket:

1)  Luke Wilson’s 90’s hair.

2)  Its like a test drive for the awkwardness you might experience in later Anderson films.

3)  Kumar Pallana…pretty much.

4)  We get to meet the third Wilson (Andrew Wilson plays Future Man).

5)  Bro-love before it was cool.

Midnight in Paris (2011)


by Jamie Matty

An American couple, Gil and Inez (Owen Wilson, Wedding Crashers and Rachael McAdams, Sherlock Holmes) tag along with Inez’s parents on a business trip to Paris.  While touring the sites, Gil considers moving to the city to reinvigorate his writing career and unexpectedly finds himself in 1920’s Paris, hobnobbing with artistic greats like Picasso and Fitzgerald.  During Gil’s adventures through time, the film takes you on a comical and philosophical ride of catchy music, scenic shots of Paris, and truly colorful acting.

A lovely cross between Back to the Future and The Sun Also Rises (yes, I just paired those two titles), the movie mocks obnoxious pedantry and yet only delivers humor to those who understand its literary/historical jokes.  As you laugh at the obvious portrayals of Hemingway and Dali (that you only get because you took that Modernism course sophomore year), you realize that Midnight in Paris is simultaneously a slap in the face to pseudo-intellectualism and a brilliant opportunity to stroke your own intellectual ego.

As with Woody Allen’s other recent films, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, this movie allows the viewer to identify with different characters at different times, leaving you to wonder how you really feel about art and ex-patriotism.  While the characters may seem almost stock (the aspiring writer, the Tea Party ass, the blonde American prep), you realize this is the beauty of Allen’s work: he proves that there is a reason some stereotypes exist. The film practically serves as a mirror for its audience, as I observed during the ending credits. “This was stupid,” the Abercrombie-wearing bro snapped as he stomped out of the theater, his sad-eyed girlfriend in tow (meanwhile, my own academic boyfriend proudly guffawed at the Bunuel jokes).

Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, Tron) stands out as the wine-swilling art history buffoon and Corey Stoll’s breakout Hemingway had me choking on my popcorn with laughter. Sincere performances by Wilson and Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose, Inception) make us question the beauty and terror of nostalgia, while the film’s magical realism unapologetically entertains.  All in all, Midnight in Paris is a delightful evening stroll away from the summer’s exploding CGI cash cows, truly a walk in the park. Grade: A-