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.
It’s been a long time since I have sat down to watch a movie by directing legend Woody Allen. I’m not sure why but my love of his brand of whimsical, angst-ridden relationship comedies, has waned over the years, and have found myself less and less interested in his output, which continues to be one of the most prolific outputs of any director currently working. Yet post-Oscar season, this latest effort sparked my interest.
Owen Wilson plays a screenwriter who takes a holiday in Paris to work on his novel with fiance Rachel McAdams and her upper-class friends. Yet he finds their company disenchanting, and although adoring Paris and its inspirational mystique, finds himself taking solitary midnight walks to gather his thoughts. That’s when he is transported back into the 1920’s and starts mingling with the famous names of the era, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Pacasso and Salvador Dali etc. This is a great concept and a perfect fit for Woody Allen’s often over-used nervy navel gazing lead characters and relationship woes. The Paris locales are shot beautifully, clearly offering a love letter to the city like he did with New York in his classic Manhattan, and the writing is as sharp as he’s ever been. Owen as expected is playing the ‘Woody Allen’ role but it works wonderfully for one of the most likable Hollywood stars around, and the various actors playing the famous faces, deliver perfectly fascinating caricatures. McAdams is gorgeous, but doesn’t offer up anything various pretty actresses couldn’t have done just as well. Inception’s Marion Cotillard instead delivers a far more enjoyable performance, exuding French sexiness and mystery. Also for an Allen movie the comedy is played a touch too gentle and charming for my taste.
As a long time fan however, I feel so glad to be back in the director’s company, and although I’m sure he could have delivered just as good a movie if he had starred himself, his casting and choice of location won me over, leaving me with a really nice feeling as the credits rolled.
The Farrelly Brothers have gained quite a reputation for crude but usually very well made comedies, starting out with the classic Dumb & Dumber. Although I haven’t really followed their career that closely, something about this latest effort sparked my interest. Two married men (Owen Wilson & Jason Sudeikis), with a habit of checking out attractive women in their wives’ presence, are given a hall-pass, a week off from marriage where they can pursue other women whilst their wives are away. The two men along with their gang of friends (including brit-comedy star Richard Merchant) then attempt to get laid by any means necessary, but soon discover that things have changed, especially themselves since they were younger.
This at first gentle comedy, with a somewhat slow start, soon turns into a very funny and absorbing journey, filled with priceless moments (the girl in the bathroom for example) that although often crude and juvenile, couldn’t help but make this viewer crack up. Wilson and Sudeikis make for a likable duo, even if Owen’s bent nose distracted me throughout. Sudeikis though is obviously a talented comedy star. The wives, including Christina Appelgate are fine too, but are more like pretty set dressing than anything that will steal the limelight from the men.
It doesn’t do anything new for this kind of comedy, but what matters is that it knows how to hit the viewer and surprise them, even when you think you know how things will turn out. A solid recommendation.
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