Thursday, January 24, 2013

This is an adventure

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is the 4th film of Anderson’s.  It follows a washed up, no pun intended, ocean biographer, Steve, who vows to exact revenge on a “Jaguar Shark” who killed his best friend and partner during their filming of a documentary.

Steve is a pompous, self-centered, insecure man who feels like his life is falling apart. He is afraid that his best days are in the past, and his life will continue degenerating. He is cheating on his wife, running out of money, and is no longer respected as a captain, biographer, or human being. He’s become caught up in the idea of him being The Zissou in Team Zissou. Like Fantastic Mr. Fox, Max, and Royal, he no longer understands who he is, just who he was. He is aware that he is not living up to his reputation.
“Do you all not like me anymore,” he asks his crew later in the film, “I mean, what am I supposed to do? I don’t know.”
Though The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is fueled by a Moby Dick-like vengeance, it also features the sub plots of him finding someone who may be his son, his marriage being on the rocks, a pregnant reporter who is invited onto his ship to write about his newest expedition and whom both he and his son find themselves attracted to, pirates, and a bisexual ex-husband of his current wife who is his nemesis.
Obviously, this is a plot that could get tangled, confusing, and unbelievable very quickly. As Nathan R. Ossmann wrote, “…this film constantly walks the fine line between zany brilliance and sprawling catastrophe.” Only Anderson could keep this film from getting messy. However, many reviewers disagree that this movie succeeded in being clear and realistic, and it is one of Anderson’s most harshly criticized film.
            What I have always respected about Anderson, is that he does not go for the easy fix to have his film realized. When he uses CGI and fancy effects, he purposefully makes them unrealistic. Though his set is very stylized, it is also real. Most directors wouldn’t actually buy a real ship, and especially wouldn’t recreate it. This leads to a lost art of stage in film. Anderson resists the wold of computer animation, and I’m very happy that he does.
            The movie is filmed in a jittery way, which makes Steve’s documentary show truly come to life. In some scenes, there is also a binocular view, like in Moonrise Kingdom, which gives the film a personal feeling.          
The movie begins with the release of part one of Steve’s newest installment, which includes the gruesome, though unseen, death of his friend. His film is not well received. He is laughed at. The audience suspects that he faked the death for publicity. One man in the audience even goes as far as to mock the documentary by asking, “Who are you going to kill in part two?”
During the after party, he is confronted by a young pilot, Ned Plympton, who claims to be his son. Steve excuses himself, smokes, and then returns. He had been expecting this meeting for years, but it had still taken him by surprise. Steve invites Ned to be part of the crew for his next voyage, after realizing that a father-son subplot could make his film seem more interesting. Ned agrees. Steve also persuades Ned to invest thousands of dollars into his film, after comprehending that no one else would sponser the trip.
Ned is a standard southern gentleman. Steve learns that his mother killed herself just a few monthes prior.
In response to this, Steve replies, “You know my best friend just was killed.”
This conversation is reminiscent of the father-son moment between Royal and Chas in The Royal Tenenbaums. However, unlike Royal at that point, Steve hadn’t yet undergone a life changing metamorphasis.
Before the crew sets out onto sea, Steve’s wife, who is also known as the “brains” of Team Zissou, leaves him. She doesn’t want to be a part of whatever is going to happen.
  “I can’t believe you took that boy’s money,” she says.
 “He’s my sidekick,” Steve replies.
They watch a girl crab fight the boy crab on the beach. The girl crab steals his arm. She leaves after watching the “mating”. 
Steve does like the idea of a “sidekick”. He needs the attention, the adoration, and the love. At one point, Steve is asked why he believes in Ned. He says that it is because Ned looks up to him. Ned has worshipped him since Ned was a child. He had even written a fan letter to Steve when he was younger. (The importance of letters in this Anderson film is comparable to Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, though most of the letters in that film were dictated, not shown on screen, and Moonrise Kingdom.)
With Steve himself, and the world, questioning if he is any good anymore, Ned’s interest in him is more important than ever. However, this means that he’s using Ned for both emotional and economic reasons. Steve even changes Ned’s name to Kingsley Zissou.
 Ned, on the other hand, just wants a family. His mother has died. He wants to find out what the father-son relationshipthat he missed throughout his whole life is like.
Steve is not actively trying to be a jerk. He is a complicated man. Later in the film, Ned asks why Steve never tried to contact him. Steve replies, “Because I hate fathers, and I never wanted to be one.” Though Steve does struggle to be a good person, he does try. “Are you finding what you’re looking for out here with me? I hope so,” he says at one point. 
Jane Richardson, the pregnant reporter, arrives just days before the crew sets off to find the shark. The father of her child is her married editor. Steve is infatuated with her, even though she is much younger than him. He immediately tells his crew, “not this one,” as if she is something he can control.
Their relationship is awkward. She refuses his advances, and ends up falling in love with his son. Steve warns his son away from the reporter. When it becomes apparent that they are falling in love, Steve becomes increasingly jealous.
At one point, Steve takes her up in his hot air balloon. She compliments him. It is obvious that he was her childhood hero.
“Maybe it’s just me,” he tells her, “but I don’t feel like that person. I never did.”
He moves in to kiss her. She turns her face away.
“Why did you abandon, Ned,” she asks. Steve lowers the balloon, and leaves in response.
She aggravates him. Sometimes he calls her mean names in front of Ned. However, he is still keen to look cool in front of her. Later in the movie, Ned offers some insight about the voyage.
 Steve pulls him aside afterward and says, “Do me a favor, next time you have a hot idea in front of the reporter, whisper it in my ear first.”
 And yet, you have to feel bad for Steve. At another point in the movie, he breaks into her room, and reads the paper she had written about the voyage thus far. She gets angry with him.
He tells her, “Please don’t make fun of me. I just wanted to flirt with you.”
Right after setting off to sea, Steve steals his nemesis’ charting equipment. He finds that the Jaguar Shark isn’t too far away. Steve decides to travel on a course through unprotected waters to save money.  Ned, who is supposed to be on watch, is instead with Jane. Steve sees, and feels betrayed.
The Belafonte is hijacked by Fillipino pirates. They take Ned hostage. Billy, a bond company stooge who is on the boat to moniter Steve’s spending, speaks the pirate’s language. They take the stooge hostage instead. They steal Steve’s vault of money. 
The crew is crying and praying. They are blindfolded. Steve attacks the pirates in an adrenaline-packed dream-like sequence. The pirates escape with Billy, leaving their three-legged dog on The Belafonte.
After this event, his crew begins to question him. They had been with him thus far because they remembered how inspired he was before, even though that quality had begun to wane. Now though, some members are fed up.
 “We’re being led on an illegal, suicide mission by a selfish maniac,” one crewmate says.
 However, there are still some people who still respected him.
“I hear what you’re saying, but I think you misjudge the guy,“ responds Klause, a member of the crew who views Steve as a father.
Steve decides to settle the mutiny by the line test. Any crewmember that is fed up with Steve and is going to quit will cross the line.
“That was one of the most dramatic things that has happened on the boat,” Steve says later.
During a funeral the crew was having for one of the murdered pirates, Steve’s nemesis arrives in response to their distress signal. They throw the pirate overboard, and quickly hide the objects they have stolen.
His nemesis boasts that Steve’s wife is staying at his villa. Steve decides to pay her a visit to apologize and ask for money.
  During it, he asks, “What’s happened to me? Did I lose my talent? Am I ever going to be good again?”
She doesn’t say anything to console him, but does cigarette kiss him.
After returning from seeing his wife, Steve walks in on his son and the reporter together. He feels betrayed. He slams the door, and stomps away. Ned follows him.
 “I misread you, man,” Steve tells him
“You don’t know me,” Ned replies, “You never wanted to know me. I’m just a character in your film.”
They throw some punches on the roof.
“You call yourself my son, but I just don’t see it,” Steve says scathingly
 “I can’t believe that I asked if I could call you, Dad,” Ned tells him.
“I let you call me Stevesy,” Steve replies
“It doesn’t mean the same thing,” Ned says.
 “A week before my mother killed myself,” Ned continues, “she told me that you knew about me my whole life. Is that a fact?”
 Steve says, “It is.”
            Steve’s wife returns to help the voyage not fall apart. Steve is confident that with her back on the team, everything just may be all right. Steve’s wife and the reporter talk. His wife tells her that it is impossibility that Ned is his child.
The next adventure the Belafonte crew goes on is a rescue mission for the bond company stooge. Off the island they suspect the pirates to be on, they find Steve’s nemesis’ ship capsized.  It is obvious that the same pirates kidnapped them.
            The pirates are hiding in an abandoned hotel, which happens to be where Steve and his first wife went to for their honeymoon. During the rescue mission, Steve falls down the stairs of the hotel.
 “A washed up old man with no friends, no distribution deal, wife on the rocks, people laughing at him, feeling sorry for himself,” he says.
He asks to talk to Ned.
 “By the way, I’ve been trying to figure out a nickname that might mean the right thing. I came up with Papa Steve.”
 Ned offers him his hand, and helps him up.
Steve apologizes for not acknowledging Ned sooner. He promises that it won’t happen again. “You are like a son to me. Even more so. You see, for me to meet a guy like you at this time in my life, uh…I want to communicate my feelings to you. But I might cry.”
Ned tells him that it’s ok.
 The crew finds the bond company stooge in a closet.  Steve finds himself face to face with the pirates, who are playing poker with his nemesis whose whole crew was murdered. A battle ensues.
After dynamite is thrown, leaving the hotel in ruins. They run for the ship, while trying to dodge bullets. They find the stolen safe empty of the money, but escape with their lives. Cody, the three-legged dog, is left on the beach. Steve wants to retrieve him, but his crew refuses.
Steve gives up on the mission. He decides that he is going to retire after selling the boat and the machinery in it for scrap. Ned, however, persuades him to continue to search for the Jaguar shark. He points out that he has thousands invested, and that they are so close to it now.
Ned convinces Steve to go up one last time in the helicopter to search for the shark from the sky. They set off with the group wishing them off. Klaus, who had had some conflict throughout the film with Ned, makes peace with him. They salute each other. Jane gives Ned a letter; when Steve asks what it says, Ned replies, “Nothing to speak of.” Steve respects this, and accepts that she and Ned are going to continue to be together.
In the air, Steve shows Ned that he still has Ned’s fan mail that he had written him. In the letter, Ned asked whether Steve wished that he could breathe underwater. Ned says that he still wishes that he could. Steve agrees.
Things begin to go wrong.
The helicopter crashes.
Steve finds Ned holding onto an inflatable float. “Hi, Stevesy,” Ned says airily. He never calls Steve, Papa Steve.  Ned is losing blood.
This scene is so contrasting to the rest of the film. The majority of the movie is like a dream. This scene, however, is so violent and sharp. It exemplifies how fragile life is. His death is so unexpected, so quick, so heartbreaking.
It is, however, not entirely unforeseen for a searching eye. There are multiple foreshadowings before the event. Ned tells Steve after he is invited to be part of the crew that he doesn’t know how to swim. He even drowns in Steve’s pool during the pre-voyage training. Before he is resisitated, his heart stops beating. On an earlier trip in the helicopter, Ned even asks, “When was this whirlybird last serviced?”
The first time I saw this film, Ned’s death was completely shocking. I hadn’t anticipated it at all. Anderson had never before used a present character death to shake the viewer out of the dream state of his films.
However, there are always a few events in each of his films that do awaken the audience, and the characters, who have become enveloped in their fantasies. In Rushmore, it was Ms. Cross asking Max what he imagined their relationship being like if they ever got together. In The Royal Tenenbaums it is Richie’s attempted suicide, and Eli’s car crash.
Back on the boat, the crew holds a funeral for Ned. Jane gives Ned the rest of her letters. Ned is wrapped in the insignia that he made for Team Zissou. His pilot colleagues from Kentucky are there. They throw his casket into the sea.
Steve informs his wife that he planned that they would adopt Ned, because he thinks that it would’ve meant a lot to Ned. Eleanor says that she would’ve thought about it.
Ned’s death transformed Steve. He now realized that he had been trying to be someone he wasn’t. This character transformation is similar to Royal in The Royal Tenenbaums, and Max in Rushmore.
Jane shows Steve the first draft of her article. He says that at first he was a little embaressed because it made him seem like a jerk, but then he realized that that was just who he was. He compliments her writing. They are no longer tense around each other, for they share the same loss.
One of the crew identifies the signal of the Jaguar Shark.The team files into the submarine to search for it. They wait. Fish swim past their submarine. A large spotted shark, much larger then their submarine, follows the fish.

 “Are we safe in here,” someone asks.
“I doubt it,” Steve replies.
 “It’s beautiful, Steve,” his wife tells him.
 In that moment, Steve forgives it for killing his best friend, and himself for becoming what he has and losing his son. The team all reach out their hands in support. He cries.
Unlike part one of Steve’s film, this one becomes an instant classic during its release. The whole crew is there; even Jane with her child. Zissou is not. He is outside smoking. Klaus’ nephew comes and sits by him. Steve gives him Ned’s Team Zissou ring.
 “This is an adventure,” Steve tells him.


 Ossmann, Nathan. "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou." . N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan 2013.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What kind of bird are you?

How can you tell that I’m such a Wes nerd? For Christmas, I got both the DVD and the soundtrack of his newest film, Moonrise Kingdom! So, although I was planning on reviewing each of his films in the order that they were released, it’s not going to happen. I’m just too excited to not review Moonrise Kingdom now. I’ve watched it at home three times already!
Moonrise Kingdom is the newest, most well known, and most loved of all of Wes Anderson’s films. To me, it is the most beautifully filmed, and musically pleasing of all of his movies.
 Fantasy and reality merge together to create the unrecognizable environment of New Penzance, an imaginary island set off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965. Two twelve year olds, Sam, an orphan who is involved with the Khaki Scout troop on the island, and Suzy, a semi-depressed and semi-violent girl who lives on the island, have just run away. (They had met a year before, and had fallen in love instantly.) The adults of the island, and some armed Khaki Scouts who are going after the “fugitives”, come together to search for them. Meanwhile, a dangerous storm is forming that threatens to destroy the island.
Suzy and Sam journey to an inlet, which they rename “Moonrise Kingdom”, free from the constraints of adults and society telling them what to do. There they can explore their relationship, and their place in the world. During their journey they both stun the other with their ignorance. When Suzy opens up to Sam about finding a, “How to Cope With A Troubled Child,” book, he laughs. She informs him that it’s not funny, and stomps off. At another point, Suzy, an avid reader and a lover of fantasy novels, tells Sam that she believes that orphans are more special than children with families. (I can relate. When I was a child, I would play “orphan” with my neighbors, who I could persuade to believe me.) Sam tells her that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. They realize that it is the bumpy parts of their relationship that actually bring them closer together, a lesson most adults still haven’t learned.
After a day of freedom, the adults arrive. Sam and Suzy, inside their small tent, awaken at the sound of a helicopter. Sam unzips the tent to find the cause of the noise. The whole search party is there. Sam quickly zips the tent up again. Suzy’s father yells, and uncovers them. Sam and Suzy clutch each other as they are torn apart.
Sam and Suzy are in separate, secluded sections of a boat that is bringing them to the main part of the island. Suzy is promised that she shall never see Sam again. Her brothers call her a traitor. Sam is visited by his ex-Scout Master who delivers a letter from Sam’s foster parents. Sam, who believed that he and his foster parents were finally becoming a family, learns that they have decided not to allow him to return. They have left his fate to Social Services, who will decide whether he will be placed in an orphanage, or undergo shock therapy to cure his behavioral disorders.
Suzy is returned to her home, and Sam is released into the Policeman’s care until Social Services arrives. During the night, the Khaki Scouts realize that they have been terribly mean to Sam, and help him and Suzy escape together again. They all row to the nearby island Scouting Community, where a cousin of one of the scouts, named Ben, will be able to find work for Sam in a new life. The storm is finally beginning to develop as they reach the shore.
The group finds Cousin Ben, who agrees to help, and even to non-legally marry Sam and Suzy. After the ceremony, Sam, Suzy, and Ben sail away into the sea, leaving the Khaki Scouts on the shore. However, they soon return. Suzy forgot her binoculars, which she likes to think of as her magic power. Sam runs quickly to retrieve them. The storm is becoming active.
 Sam runs into his enemy, another Khaki Scout, while searching for Suzy’s binoculars. They fight. His enemy yells, which alerts the rest of the other Scouting Community of Sam’s presence. Sam runs for it. They chase him into a field. He is struck by lightening.
 Everything begins to unravel into the unbelievable: A flood caused by the storm ravages the town, the Scout Commander at the neighboring scouting community is the victim of a fireworks fire, Suzy and Sam are saved by the local Policeman, after lightning blows the church top off, leaving them hanging off the edge of the building, and Sam is adopted by the Policeman. The movie has a happy ending. Sam has a home. Suzy and Sam are allowed to see each other. They are still in love. Though their inlet disappeared because of the storm, it is still their special place.
The chaos that follows the lightning strike has inspired some conspiracies. The most popular ideas are that Sam actually died when shocked, and the rest of the movie is his sort of dream sequence. Another is that the lightning strike was actually shock therapy and the rest of the movie was his way of coping with it.
            Like I said earlier, Moonrise Kingdom is the most visually striking of all of his films.  It was filmed with the goal of looking like a 1960’s film. The result is magical. Every scene looks like artwork- so beautiful that is must be unreal.
One of the reasons for this is the film they used. 16 mm film is often used in low budget videos, such as educational or industrial. It was most popular in the 1960s. This film gave Moonrise Kingdom its’ warm, faded visual.
            Though Wes used retro film, he also decided to use modern editing systems to tweak the visual result.  “Before this movie, Wes always kept it as true to the original as possible in the DI,” says Yeoman. “But this time he pushed himself to use the tools more extensively, and I was very excited with the results.”
             The soundtrack is absolutely stunning; it utilizes a varied array of genres to create a rustic, mysterious, and thrilling atmosphere. Some songs, like Kaw-liga, Long Gone Lonesome Blues, and Ramblin’ Man help substantiate the time-period and rural area that the movie takes place. Others, like the children’s choir and instrumental segments emphasize the mystifying, and adventurous aspects of the film. In all, the plot truly benefits from the musical environment that it is in.
            Like many of his other films, the themes of coping with death, searching for a family, and finding one’s place as an adult, can be found in Moonrise Kingdom. Sam has lost his parents, and cannot find another family that accepts him unconditionally. Suzy feels isolated from her family, and wants to feel like she belongs. They discover each other, and, by loving one another, find their place in the world. Sam is adopted. Suzy gradually feels not as alone. They realize that they can be their own family.  Suzy and Sam are unsure and confused about what they’re feeling.  However, they are ready to be what they think it means to be an adult. They want to be free to love each other, and to create their own world independent from adult control.
            One of the symbols of this film is letters. The most important letters are the ones that Suzy and Sam corresponded with while they were pen pals. It reminds me of Rushmore, where letters were also used for character development. The stationary, writing utensil and writing style illustrates the kind of person they are.
            Overall, I truly enjoyed this film. It perfectly exemplifies the uncomfortable-in-one’s-own-skin feeling that children, who are ready to be adults, go through.

Heuring, David. "Cinematographer Robert Yeoman Talks Super 16 Style on Moonrise Kingdom." Studio Daily. 25 2012: n. page. Web. 8 Jan. 2013. <>.

" 16 Frames the Story of Teenaged Sweethearts in Moonrise Kingdom ." In Camera. 14 2012: n. page. Web. 8 Jan. 2013. <>.