A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 32 – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – April 1, 2010

Okay, yes, we did an April Fool’s review this morning for a non-existent movie. We do so wish that Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League existed, but as of yet it doesn’t. Alas. So for tonight we picked a movie with a great Buckaroo Banzai reference.

Now, I will start out by saying that Wes Anderson movies are definitely not for everyone. They’ve got a definite style to them. You can spot a Wes Anderson movie from space. It’s rather telling that Wil Wheaton, not knowing that Fantastic Mr. Fox was a Wes Anderson movie, thought it was amazing how much like a Wes Anderson movie it was! Part of it is the visuals. My absolute favorite thing in the movie, aside from the closing credits, is the cross-section set of the ship. I mentioned before that Anderson likes dioramas and still shots and for Life Aquatic they built this huge boat set that’s got a cut away view of every room. It’s used in the beginning, when you get a tour of the ship, but then it’s used several more times to follow people as they move between rooms. Being a former theater techie, I have a bit of a thing for exposed sets, and I’ve mentioned my fondness for breaking the fourth wall. It’s a cute touch.

But then there’s more that makes this a genuine Wes Anderson film, and this is what I think probably makes or breaks his stuff for people. He’s got a sort of stock stable of actors who do the delivery he likes: Deadpan, awkward, awkwardly deadpan, and sometimes awkwardly enthusiastic. And always bizarre. Everyone in a Wes Anderson movie is quirky to a fault, which is the intended point. The quirks, I believe, are meant to be both endearing and repulsive. Sometimes it works, sometimes it falls a little flat and sometimes it’s a little more than I can stand. Usually I like it, but sometimes I’m just not in the mood.

In Life Aquatic the quirky characters are all associated with the quirkiest of them all, Steve Zissou, a marine explorer who’s obviously referencing Cousteau (even as he mentions Cousteau in the movie). He goes on adventures and explores and discovers bizarre animals and sea creatures that don’t really exist. His crew is a rag-tag bunch of folks he’s picked up here and there and when the film opens his latest documentary is a flop and his best friend and co-leader of his team has been eaten by a shark. And so he’s going to find the shark, film the quest for it, and hopefully come out on top. And that would be the movie, except it’s a Wes Anderson movie, so Zissou is played by Bill Murray and he’s an awkward loser who needs to find himself and added into the mix of his mis-matched crew are a pregnant reporter who worshiped him when she was a kid, a bond company stooge there to see how he’s spending his money, a bunch of unpaid interns hoping for college credit and a guy who thinks he’s Steve’s son. And then there’s Steve’s wife, who leaves him to summer in her ex-husband’s villa, and the ex-husband, who happens to be a super well-funded marine scientist who’s also a jackass. He’s played by Jeff Goldblum. Everyone except the bond company guy and the interns have fucked up interpersonal relationships and do the typical Wes Anderson thing.

The bond company guy gets kidnapped and all but one of the interns quit and get incompletes on their transcripts. One intern stays, so he gets to be in the awesome closing credits. Which I’ll get to.

Anyhow, I do enjoy this movie. It takes a little bit to get into it, even after seeing it before. But I do like it. It’s not Anderson’s best (I’d be split between Royal Tenenbaums and Fantastic Mr. Fox for that) but it’s good. It’s got some great moments between Steve and his supposed son, Ned. It’s got some great moments between Steve and his wife, Eleanor (she’s the brains of Team Zissou). It’s got one scene I love with Eleanor and the reporter, Jane. And it’s got some great performances even aside from Bill Murray and the rest of the main cast. Willem Dafoe’s Klaus, who is thoroughly devoted to Steve and the team, is a ridiculous and awesome character. And then there’s Bud Cort, yes, the guy from Harold and Maud, playing the bond company guy. Totally understated performance, but I love him. And then there’s Jeff Goldblum. To be honest, I wish he’d been on screen a little more.

A word about the soundtrack: The vast majority of it is done by the Team Zissou musician, who sits around with a guitar and sings David Bowie songs in Brazilian Portuguese. It’s rather perfect, in a quirky sort of way, which is to say, as I’ve alluded to, it fits Wes Anderson’s style.

So by the end of the movie things have mostly worked out, but not perfectly, because it’s Wes Anderson and that just wouldn’t fly. But they work out. And we get the closing credits, wherein the members of Team Zissou walk purposefully down the pier, growing in number as they go, until they reach the boat. According to Anderson, it’s a direct reference to Team Banzai at the end of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension and they even had Jeff Goldblum there. Not that Steve Zissou is anywhere as awesome as Buckaroo Banzai, but you know what? Eleanor might be, so that’s cool.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

April 1, 2010 (For reals this time)

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Man, it’s hard to review this movie.  Mostly because it’s a hard movie for me to watch.  It’s a Wes Anderson film – perhaps the most West Anderson film that Wes Anderson has ever made.  It’s full of neurotic broken people being brutally honest with each other.  It’s full of non-sequiturs and all the characters have baggage of some sort.  But this movie is a little more brutal to its characters than other Wes Anderson films.

Life Aquatic tells the story of a man who’s hit rock bottom.  The hard-drinking, womanizing, Steve Zissou, played with heartfelt vulnerability by Bill Murray,  is a documentarian very heavily modeled on Jaques Cousteau who has fallen on hard times.  His movies are being derided as contrived, fake and poorly made.  His best friend and mentor has been eaten by a shark which nobody believes actually exists because Steve got no footage of it.  His wife (Angelica Huston – brilliant as always) is fed up with his womanizing and probably knows she could do better.  His boat is in disrepair and he has no way to finance his next documentary.  In short, his life is hell and he’s a shadow of his former self.

Then – through the course of the whole movie – things get worse for Steve.  And worse.  He has to deal with violence, pirates and death as his already rock bottom life falls apart all around him.

I find I care for Wes Anderson’s awkward characters.  They never quite fit into the world.  In other movies like Rushmore and the Royal Tenenbaums they eventually find a way to accept that they are different and don’t really fit, but that they can live with that.  And Life Aquatic fits into the same mould, but it’s a much harder edged movie.  Which is why I find it so hard to watch.

Which is tough, since there are so many quirky things in this movie that I love.  I love the Portuguese covers of David Bowie songs.  I love the way they break the fourth wall to introduce Steve’s ship (and come back to it later to follow the descent of all the various characters.  Wes will later use this idea to fantastic effect in Darjeeling Limited.)  I love all the strange aquatic life that inhabits Steve’s world.  (Every species he encounters is something peculiar and magical which doesn’t exist in our mundane world.)

I will say that the payoff at the end of the movie works really well and still affects me the way it did when I first saw it.  And of course the Buckaroo Banzai walk that starts the closing credits is great (and it’s the reason we chose to watch this movie tonight.)  It’s just a hard film to watch.  Too chaotic and lose.  Too rough.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 32 – Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League

Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League – April 1, 2010

Since we had such a horrible direct-to-DVD sequel for The Lost Boys, perhaps it was karma that we have a not-horrible-at-all sequel today. I mean, it could have come off cheesy and dated and horrible, with its 1980s aesthetic and its cast of mostly-unknowns, but it didn’t. Instead it’s just nostalgic and fun.

One morning, while waiting for a table at IHOP (or maybe it was late one night – IHOP, after all), Andy and I discussed our dream cast for a Buckaroo Banzai sequel, except we decided on a prequel, because we could come up with a bunch of names for younger versions of the characters (Casey Affleck is still my go-to pick for young Buckaroo), but we couldn’t really think of anyone to play the characters at the ages they’d have to be for a sequel. Obviously the right people were out there, because the casting in this was spot on. My faith in the universe has been somewhat restored. Also going a ways towards the restoration? Big Fucking Norse. We’re going to run away together and kick ass (I can still be Emma Peel).

Sadly, the quotes aren’t quite as quotable, but with a few more viewings they probably will be. I mean, obviously there aren’t as many “Monkey Boy” quotes without the Lectroids as baddies (though listen close and you can hear that Reno has replaced his signature ‘dumkopf’ once with a ‘Monkey Boy’ in the background). But I’ll give it time. I’ll give it plenty of time.

I do think it was a fantastic idea to keep the movie rooted in the 1980s, given the budget limitations of a direct-to-DVD release. I mean, look at the original movie. It’s not like those effects are super special these days, and in comparison look at how they tried to jazz up the effects in The Tribe from its source material. It doesn’t matter if the effects are better if the mood doesn’t fit. So kudos to whomever made the decision to keep the whole thing looking like it was filmed just after they wrapped the first movie.

It’s because of the cast and the whole general atmosphere and a series of great nods to the original that I can forgive a somewhat muddy plot involving a villain who’s made evil clones of the Cavaliers and plans to… what? Take over the world with them? Take over Buckaroo’s fanbase? Hold a few concerts? Annoy everyone? He’s sort of a flat character, just there to be evil and send his ‘death dwarves’ in and provide a means for the movie to bring us things like Pecos (who, it turns out, looks nothing like either Perfect Tommy OR Reno, what with being female and Asian) and the return of Rawhide, and some strike teams and a few more Johns hanging around the Institute for kicks. I mean, not that I don’t appreciate it all, and the end credits are fantastic, with the cast playing their dual roles as good and evil, purposefully walking in different directions, but it’s not as good as the original.

Then again, it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t come close to sucking, so that’s a win in my book.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 5 Comments

Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League

April 1, 2010

Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League

I really like the conceit of this direct-to-video sequel to the original Buckaroo Banzai movie.  Even though it came out fairly recently the film makers chose to set it in the eighties with all the same cool costumes and hairstyles.  They did manage to get D.W. Richter back to direct, and once again the characters and dialog are all from the fertile mind of Earl Mac Rauch.

For the most part the actors they have playing the crew do a good job living up to the characters brought to life by Jeff Goldbloom et. all from the first movie.  The only name I recognized was Lauren Tom (the voice of Amy Wong from Futurama) as Pecos – which is a joke held over from the first movie, when New Jersey mistakes both Perfect Tommy and Reno for Pecos… which is even funnier knowing that Pecos is actually a little asian woman.  And the uncredited cameo (the best cameos are uncredited) of Peter Weller as “Future Buckaroo” was brilliant – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The action of this movie follows close on the heels of the first one.  It turns out that Penny Priddy is not a twin sister to Bukaroo’s dead wife Peggy – she’s actually a clone.  Buckroo’s evil nemesis Hanoi Xan (who was mentioned in the book the first movie was based on but was excised from the movie) has actually created clones of all the Hong Kong Cavaliers… and these are the titular World Crime League.

Of course it’s not perfect.  The movie takes a while to get going because it feels it necessary to introduce all the characters again (as if anybody besides dedicated fans of the first movie would be watching it anyhow.)  And there’s a lot of awkward finger pointing and suspicion regarding Penny – weather she can be trusted once everybody realizes her connection to Hanoi Xan.  But it does a great job capturing the chaotic spirit of the first movie, and it does the eighties thing just enough to acknowledge the time period without descending into camp.

There were several things I really loved.  Such as the new members of the Cavaliers, Pecos and Big Norse, who make it more of an all-inclusive thing than a boys club.  The whole side-plot of reviving Rawhide so they can defeat his evil clone.  The “deathdwarfs,” who could have been laughably awful but were actually kind of cool.

All in all I don’t see this becoming a favorite of mine or being watched all the time like the first movie, but I was relieved that it didn’t totally destroy the first movie.  It’s a light-hearted and light-weight add-on.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 1 Comment