I made a promise to myself last year that I’d check out the other movies by director Wes Anderson. This followed my absolute love and admiration for his acclaimed Grand Budapest Hotel. I loved his visual style, his quirky, larger-than-life characters and well, just about everything that movie had to offer. So when I learnt that prestigious label ‘The Criterion Collection’ were releasing one of the director’s best known movies as part of their UK collection … I jumped at the chance.
This whimsical tale follows Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) who wants to reconnect with his dysfunctional family on hearing the news that he is dying. His family however are made up of a group of former child geniuses, now washed up has-beens and a feisty ex-wife on the brink of excepting a marriage proposal. Time isn’t on Royal’s side. Immediately it’s clear this has that same beautiful visual style, albeit less fantastical of Grand Budapest, with Anderson’s clear love of wide angle lenses and vibrant colours. Each and every frame of this is eye-catching, even for a movie set in modern day Manhattan. It is a light hearted, gently paced snapshot of a family and their various personalities and eccentricities. We get Ben Stiller’s over-protective father to his two young sons, Gwyneth Paltrow’s moping loner, and Luke Wilson’s troubled former Tennis star. However it’s Hackman that stands out and for an actor I hadn’t seen much of in a long time, I loved every time this ‘his own worst enemy’ character was on screen, complete with his bizarre Indian man servant / accomplice. We also get appearances from Owen Wilson (who co-wrote the movie) and Bill Murray.
I’d have preferred this to have had more humour, as it’s an ensemble piece ripe with comic potential, but instead we mostly get fascinating but overly miserable characters all trying to get on with one another but clearly failing. It’s charming and very watchable … but not traditionally entertaining. Whilst never boring, it plays its cards leisurely and proves an easy-going experience that still managed to make this viewer smile.
The Blu-ray as expected from Criterion is exceptional. The image quality has a lovely warm sheen to it with colours that pop and plenty of detail. For a fairly gentle-paced drama this doesn’t wow the surrounds audio-wise but has crystal clear dialogue and the various music cues work a treat (Wes Anderson’s tastes being suitably quirky). Extras are plentiful with a very welcome commentary and a nice collection of behind the scenes featurettes. In addition we also get booklets comprising of exclusive artwork and an essay on the movie. Welcome treatment to a likeable but in my opinion, not exactly essential movie.
I had wanted to see this much talked about comedy for a while. I have a liking for Will Ferrell, that former Saturday Night Live comedienne who proved so likable and funny in the popular yuletide hit ‘Elf’. So sitting down to this was quite enticing. Farrell plays Ron Burgundy, a TV channel anchor in the seventies who see’s his chauvinistic, macho persona in jeopardy when he falls for a pretty and ambitious reporter (Christina Applegate).
From the off it’s clear this may have been a fun sketch on SNL, but does it hold up to a full length movie? Not really. Burgundy as a character is a limited ‘gag’ that’s been done before and his surrounding news team, featuring the likes of Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell are equally limited in their appeal. The pairing of Farrell & Applegate works well enough as they make for fun rivals, but after a while the forced humour and the general gooning and pratfalls gets tired. The idea just isn’t all that special, and despite obvious enthusiasm from the cast – the general feeling I was left with was of a simple gag milked for all it’s comedic value, of which there was only very little.
That being said it’s not like this isn’t funny. Farrell gets some good moments (his encounter with Jack Black, his descent into self-loathing), and a showdown between rival news teams with cameos by Tim Robbins and Ben Stiller proved quite funny. Overall though, this was a movie trying to be a lot funnier than it clearly was.
Although when I was younger I would enjoy watching movies starring Danny Kaye on a Saturday afternoon, the original 1947 whimsical comedy wasn’t one I recall seeing. Therefore although I usually hold remakes in some disdain, this one was more welcome. Ben Stiller stars as loner office worker Walter who lives his life day dreaming about adventures, more than often featuring his workplace crush Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). When the threat of redundancy puts everyone on edge at the magazine he works for, a telegram from a renowned explorer / photographer (Sean Penn) sees Walter clutching onto his last hope for adventure.
This utterly charming and clever movie has Ben perfectly casting himself (he also directs!), equally well supported by the always lovely Kristen. The movie takes the blueprint of the Danny Kaye movie and attempts to really go to town with it, resulting in lavish and outrageous fantasy set pieces such as rescuing a dog from a burning building and a Matrix-like street surfing battle with his boss (!). It’s an idea that proves a bit hit-and-miss (who came up with the Benjamin Button sequence?) but livens up what would otherwise be a pleasant but very gentle story. Add to this stunning cinematography with a Forest Gump-like tone for Walter’s globe trotting scenes, and this also proves a visual treat.
I found Walter’s motivation for setting off in search of the explorer, considering his employers are a bunch of arrogant dicks, lacked plausibility and the love story sub-plot with Wiig could have been more engaging if she’d tagged along (for real, not just in his head). Add to this some artsy effects that didn’t always work (we see a brief text message displayed on the side of a mountain, that I had to rewind because I missed what it said…) and a (mostly) forgettable soundtrack … this almost fell short. Thankfully Stiller is excellent and very likeable throughout and there’s enough feel good, heart-warming moments (Wiig’s Major Tom bit) and creative razzle-dazzle to make this one to check out.
I like Ben Stiller, as although I don’t consider him a laugh-out-loud funny actor on a par with Jim Carey at his best or Steve Martin when he was funny, he remains a likable screen presence elevating otherwise run of the mill fair like Meet The Parents to classic status.
This directorial and star outing for him seems his most ambitious film yet with some big names filling out the cast with Robert Downey Jr, Jack Black, Nick Nolte and even Tom Cruise. Following the story of a maverick director (Steve Coogan) intent on making the best Vietnam War movie ever, the big pull here is that the actors suddenly find themselves faced with a real conflict involving Vietnamese drug dealers, who think the actors are real U.S. marines. A great concept, I’m sure you’ll agree, and with no small amount of big-budget action and some tongue-in-cheek references to classic war movies thrown in, this is great entertainment.
Ben Stiller plays a past-his-best action movie star that is an obvious stab at the 80s reliance of be-muscled no-brain action icons, and is an interesting if rather pathetic creation. Jack Black’s drug-addled comedy actor is quite simply irritating and out of place, but the casting is saved by a superb Robert Downy Jr as the method thesp who has had his skin colour changed to play a grizzled black Sergeant … and is a gag that never wears thin. Tom Cruise lends support as a loud mouthed media mogul, all bald head, hairy chest and flab, and is obviously Cruise trying to reach out to a wider audience … but his comedy is over the top and rather embarrassing.
Thankfully the action and pace of this is fairly unrelenting and there are some priceless moments. For a NAM movie it looks superb, represented vividly on Blu-ray and is worth having in your collection as an ‘impress your friends’ disc when wanting to show off your system. Some of the humour may feel a bit stretched at times, but the characters on a whole make for a likable team of fish-out-of-water buddies up against impossible odds.
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