Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In the end, we all die. Unless you change.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, opens with Mr. Fox, and his wife Felicity, caged while raiding a farm. Felicity reveals to Fox that she is pregnant. Mr. Fox promises that if they escape from the trap, he will find a safer job.
Twelve fox years later, the Foxes and their son, Ash, are expecting their relative Kristofferson. The Foxes are living in a hole; this makes Mr. Fox feel poor. He moves his family to a tree, ignoring the warning of his friend Badger who tells Mr. Fox about how dangerous the area is.
The tree is close to the farms of three mean men- Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Mr. Fox, who misses the exhilaration of stealing from farms, decides to raid Boggis, Bunce, and Bean’s facilities. This starts a war, which endangers his family, friends, and community.

Mr. Fox’s son, Ash, who craves his father’s respect and pride, becomes increasingly jealous after his cousin, Kristofferson, arrives. His father, and community, adores Kristofferson, who is immediately talented at everything that Ash is not. Ash’s jealousy swells into a rivalry as his father invites Kristofferson on his raids, but instructs Ash to stay at home.
Ash, who always saw himself as an athlete, as his father was his age, is told by his parents that he is different, and that that’s ok. Ash comes to term with this, as he realizes that his parents accept him for who he is. Ash then forgives Kristofferson for being so perfect, when he is so flawed.
This is an example of Anderson’s emphasis on how being abnormal should be embraced. None of Anderson’s characters, even the minor and supporting ones, are perfect. This very human aspect of his films creates a believable reality.

Throughout the film, the audience has been made aware that Mr. Fox has a phobia of wolves. He freezes even when he hear’s the word. On his return trip back from rescuing Kristofferson, he finds himself in the same clearing as a wolf. Though he is afraid, he attempts to communicate with the creature. When that doesn’t work, Mr. Fox raises his paw; the wolf returns the sign. This shared moment is reminiscent of Steve’s with the jaguar shark. It is a reminder that the world is much bigger than one person, and that it is very beautiful.

This film is the only animated movie that Anderson has directed.   (Though he has created a few animated shorts for Moonrise Kingdom). It is also the only one based on a book. However, this does not make it an outlier. As Nick Flynn, my mentor put it, “The story that he eventually came up with for the movie is very much a Wes Anderson creation. The original story is really quite sparse, and much of what ends up on the screen is Anderson’s invention. Mr Fox is very much a standard Wes Anderson type protagonist who over the course of the movie changes and integrates into his extended “family” in a familiar fashion.”
There are reoccurring themes and occurrences in Fantastic Mr. Fox. It contains story-like explanations, “Master plan’s” (like Dignan, and Francis), cross-floor filming of the Foxes house (the boat in Life Aquatic, the train in Darjeeling, and the search for self (“Who am I,” Mr. Fox asks).
Mr. Fox wants to be a hero. Like most of Wes Anderson’s protagonists, he yearns to be the center of attention. Like Steve in Life Aquatic, who was consumed by the idea of being the “Zissou” in “Team Zissou”, Mr. Fox is fixated on being the “Fantastic” Mr. Fox.
Mr. Fox also shares the quality with the typical Wes Anderson protagonist of being an energetic, action-packed character. He feels like he’s not living up to his old glory after retiring from the raiding business. He cannot be the father and husband that his family needs and expects. He’s a wild animal, and can not contain his instincts.

Unlike most of Anderson’s films, there are three characters portrayed as being inherently evil. Usually, no Anderson character is evil- they are very dimensional; they have their share of faults and strengths. The farmers though, are bad to the bone. They are obsessed with killing Mr. Fox and the other local wild animals.

Friday, February 22, 2013

How can a train be lost? It's on rails.

Darjeeling Limited has a short film, Hotel Chevalier that acts as a prequel to the movie. It introduces Jack. His ex-lover visits him unexpectedly, at a hotel room in France. It sets the foundation for Darjeeling, and develops Jack’s character.

Darjeeling opens with a businessman in India. He is lost in a foreign culture, racing to catch his train as it pulls out of its station. He is beaten to the train by Peter Whitman, who is reuniting with his two brothers, whom he hasn’t seen since their father’s funeral a year before.
None of the brother trust each other. They are paranoid of being betrayed by each other, and wary of sharing to much personal information with each other. They are all very secretive, and often split into factions.
None of the brothers have yet recovered from their father’s unexpected death. Their mother hadn’t gone to the funeral, which they also missed. They lack closure.
Francis, the oldest brother, has invited them on a journey for spiritual self-discovery. He meets Peter and Jack covered in bandages, telling him that he was in a car crash. His brothers do not believe him, and become increasingly annoyed with his controlling behavior, which is a trait inherited from their mother. 
Francis is reminiscent of Owen Wilson’s earlier role, Dignan, in Bottle Rocket. He is afraid that factions between his brothers will leave him isolated. He likes being in control, and treats them like children. Like Dignan, who had a 75-year plan, his meticulous itinerary for the trip doesn’t follow its schedule.
Each of the brothers are at a turning point in their life. Francis is recovering from his car crash. Peter is expecting a child. Jack is reconnecting with ex. They are hoping, though not actually expecting, for their journey to help them find the direction they want their life to go.
At one point their train stops. They learn that, “The train is lost.” Someone even goes far enough to say, “We haven’t located us yet.” Francis takes this as an obvious symbol that their “train of life” is lost for each of them, and to succeed, they must each have a spiritual epiphany.
Halfway through their journey, they are forcibly removed off of the train after a poisonous cobra escapes, and they get into a fight over which brother was their father’s favorite son. On their way back to civilization, they see three boys fall into a river. Jack and Francis rescue two of the boys. Peter, who is expecting the birth of his own child, fails to save the third. He is deeply affected.
This scene is comparable to the other eye-opening scenes in Anderson’s films. It awakens the watcher, who beforehand, had become lost in the fantasy world. It reminds that reality is harsh and has unexpected consequences. 
After leaving the children’s village, they decide to go visit their mother, who is staying at a nunnery in India, even though she asked them not to come. Before searching for her, the brother’s freshen up in the bathroom at the airport.
Francis, takes off his bandages. He was hoping that their spiritual journey had healed his wounds- both his emotional and physical injuries. It hadn’t.
“I guess I still got some more healing to do,” he says
“You’re getting there,” Peter replies.
Their reunion with their mother is emotional, and they find that they accept and forgive her faults. In this realization, they also embrace who they are, and each other.
Throughout the film, the three brothers search for spiritual release. It is only when they weren’t searching for enlightenment that they found it.
In the last sequence of the film, they drop all of their suitcases to make it onto their train, a scene reminiscent of the opening. The suitcases represent their fears and stresses. They are now free of them. They have outgrown them as human beings.

Darjeeling was influenced by the movies of Satyajit Ray, the first master Indian filmmaker. He is well known for refusing to make most of his films in any language other than Bengali. He considered script-writing to be an important part of direction, and used actors from diverse backgrounds. He is most celebrated for his use of children actors. His work has been described as full deceptivelysimplic, with a deep underlying complexity.

In Darjeeling there is a sequence like that of the tour of the Belafonte in Life Aquatic. In the guise of a train, each character, wherever they are, are traveling to a new place in their life. It reintroduces us to minor characters, such as Bill Murray’s earlier businessman, and major characters, such as the Indian hostess from the train.

Darjeeling Limited is the Anderson movie that I’ve never understood. I’ve watched it multiple times, but never truly been able to untangle it. It is beautifully filmed in an amazingly beautiful country, and I believe that it has an important message, but it is a message that doesn’t reach me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ain't it funny how you used to be in the nut house and now I'm in jail?

Bottle Rocket is Wes Anderson’s first film. It’s based on a short that he created a few years earlier. Anderson, and his roommate, Owen Wilson, wrote the script for the full-length film.

It begins with Anthony being “rescued” by his friend Dignan from a voluntary mental hospital, where he had been staying for exhaustion.  On the train back to their hometown, Dignan explains his elaborate 75-year plan that he has created for the two of them. The plan is to pull off several heists, and then meet Mr. Henry, a landscaper and part-time criminal. On the way, they hire a getaway driver named, Bob.
Anthony is a kind guy who feels like he is a failure. At the beginning of the film, he breaks into his mother’s house. When he realizes that Dignan stole the earrings that he had bought his mother, he takes them to his sister to return. He wants his sister to look up to him, and when she doesn’t, he breaks down. He is manipulated by Dignan, and feels like it’s his responsibility to help Dignan feel needed.
Dignan is the jealous friend. He wants to be the leader, the one that gets that attention, the one who is loved, and respected. He is fueled by buzzing energy that needs a direction; he focuses it on petty crime. Though he is rather unstable, and his relationship with his friends is tense, he is loved by the people around him. He is betrayed by Mr. Henry later in the film.
Bob is repeatedly beat up by his brother. However, he returns from the team’s incognito Mexico trip to bail him out of jail. He wanted really badly to be part of the team, but in the moment of truth, he flakes out; so does Anthony.
After the three lost boys steal a small sum of money from a bookstore, they hide out at a motel in Mexico until everything blows over. There, Anthony meets the maid, Ines, and falls in love with her instantly, even though she cannot speak English. Anthony requests her to return with him to Texas, but she declines. He leaves without knowing that she loves him.
Dignan and Anthony get in a fight over him giving Ines all of their heist money, and go separate ways. Months pass before Dignan, who has now joined Mr. Henry’s gang, attempts to reconcile with Anthony. Dignan tries to persuade Anthony to join him in a crime for Mr. Henry. He declines until Mr. Henry guilts him into it, by telling him that he has broken Dignan’s heart.
They plan on breaking into a cold storage facility. Their heist quickly turns to chaos. They accomplish nothing. Dignan is arrested.

It is obvious in this film that Wes Anderson hadn’t yet developed as a director. It’s messier than his other films, and not as impacting. However, there are reoccurring themes, like family and finding a direction for life, and evolving filming techniques that are familiar. He uses close ups to show details and to develop characters; he even uses a binocular view at one point, which is repeated in his other films.
In all, this film is weak compared to the other Anderson films. Its low budget, disorganized, and comparable to a low caliber Indie film- it gets close to being good, and you can tell that it is really trying, but it just doesn’t make it. However, even though it is not my favorite, I still enjoy it. The dialog is more emotional than his other films, and reminiscent of Salinger’s books. Some scenes are very well done, and it feels like there’s a secret in the movie that I still don’t quite understand. It’s worth watching, and worth liking, but, even though you can see Anderson’s style evolve in it, his aesthetic isn’t there, his characters aren’t as developed, and his plot has some tweaks. The movie just doesn’t have a lasting impact.