The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) movie poster

director Wes Anderson
viewed: 01/20/2018

I think you either like Wes Anderson movies or you don’t. No judgment either way. I fall into the former boat, and interestingly The Royal Tenenbaums was one of the first movies I logged on my movie site in 2002, when I started tracking all the movies I watch.

Thousands of movies later, I come back to it, to watch it with my teenage children, the first who was born the year it came out, the second who was yet to be a sparkle in her father’s eye, so to speak.

For all that, I think I feel much the same as I did sixteen years ago when I first saw this. I’ve come to have seen all of Anderson’s movies since and have much more of a spectrum upon which to measure it.

That said: Gene Hackman. All day. Every day. Especially in scenes with Pagoda
(Kumar Pallana, RIP). Other Anderson alums like Angelica Huston and Bill Murray, always appreciated as well.

The kids both liked it.

Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters (2016) movie poster

director Paul Feig
viewed: 07/17/2016 at the AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA

First and foremost, if you are going to hate this movie because of its female cast filling the re-boot, then fuck you.  If you hate re-boots in general, fair enough.  Hollywood is creatively bankrupt, ’tis true.  But if you hate them because they are ladies, you are an imbecile.

The new Ghostbusters will never be as good as the original for one clear reason: it’s not an original film concept.  Perhaps the most underappreciated thing about the original Ghostbusters (1984) was that it was an original concept by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, and as great as that movie was at the time, as fun as the characters were, coming up with something new for the cultural canon is something that the new Ghostbusters cannot begin to claim.

But you know what?  It’s good.  It’s fun.  In a lot of ways, it’s quite refreshing to swap out your typical re-boot mentality by gender-swapping the leads (even though they are all new characters, not literal versions of the originals).  Kate McKinnon is great, but so are Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth.  They’re a fun group and they are fun together.

My kids and I, we all enjoyed it, maybe my 12 year old daughter the most.  The end gets a bit CGI-heavy, but what action/fantasy/science fiction movie these days manages to avoid that?  It could have been funnier, sure, but what movie couldn’t be improved upon?

It’s good fun.

Kingpin (1996)

Kingpin (1996) movie poster

director Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
viewed: 11/29/2015

There was a time when the Farrelly brothers seemed like they might be the next great thing for comedy films.  It was right around the time of Kingpin in 1996 or even more specifically with their best film, the follow-up to Kingpin, 1998’s There’s Something About Mary.  I couldn’t tell you why exactly their careers went from strikes to gutterballs, but they’ve ceased to be real players in the world of hit comedies.

I’d recalled liking Kingpin but I probably could have lived my life without watching it again.  But my son selected comedies for our month genre theme and him having a liking for Bill Murray and Kingpin‘s presence on Netflix streaming all lined us up for a re-visit (or first visit) to the comedy of bowling, Amish jokes, hook hands, and smatterings of crassness that make Kingpin what it is.

Woody Harrelson and Randy Quaid are fun.  Bill Murray is always great.  Kind of nice to see him as a charmingly bad guy sleazeball.  Vanessa Angel is actually pretty good as the sexy gal pal (not that the role is particularly good).  It’s also kind of funny the way the film plays the “sports movie” genre.

1996.  Wow.  That is almost 20 years ago now.  And those 20 years Randy Quaid has gone from affable comic actor to super-crazy freakshow with his lunatic wife.

The kids liked the film.  There are a few good gags that hold up.  I’ve always thought that the crassness aspect of the Farrellys’ humor was not their strength.  But maybe they never figured out what their strengths were in the end.

Interestingly, I’d forgotten that Jonathan Richman also showed up in this one as well.

Rushmore (1998)

Rushmore (1998) movie poster

director Wes Anderson
viewed: 05/23/2015

Felix has decided that Wes Anderson is his favorite director, and who am I to argue?  I really like Anderson’s films.  Some of them are favorites of mine as well.

I hadn’t seen Rushmore since it originally came out in 1998, the first of Anderson’s films that I saw.  Unlike Felix, I only had Bottle Rocket (1996) of Anderson’s films to seek out at the time.  I’ve kept up with him since then.  Felix is interested in moving through them and I thought Rushmore might be a good place to start.

It’s funny, what you remember and what you don’t of a movie that you’ve seen nearly 20 years ago.

I’d forgotten that this was the film that introduced Jason Schwartzman, or that he was actually a teenager back then.  I had recalled the battle between Schwartzman’s Max Fischer and Bill Murray’s Herman Blume over a teacher at the school.  I’d forgotten how pretty Olivia Williams was (she’s shown up in a couple of more recent films that I’ve seen, the awful Seventh Son (2014) and the intriguing Maps to the Stars (2014)).

Felix noted how some of Anderson’s aesthetics had yet to come into full development, which is true, though this is the first that I think we see of some of his theater and artifice, what I’ve referenced as cinematic dioramas.  You see this in particular in two pieces, the science fair displays and in Max’s many theatrical re-stagings of crime films.

The film seems to possibly be the most personal of Anderson’s films, though it’s hard to project on it like that, co-written as it was with Owen Wilson (as many of his best films have been).  Maybe it’s Wilson’s most personal film?  Max’s unending search for places in the school, clubs, teams, interests, while ignoring actual schoolwork, his eventual triumphant staging of elaborate dramas finds him his ultimate place in the world.

Felix enjoyed the film.  As did I.

Scrooged (1988)

Scrooged (1988) movie poster

director Richard Donner
viewed: 12/18/2014

Of the 86 bajillion Christmas movies ever made, at least half of them have to be adaptations of Charles Dickens’ 1843 “A Christmas Carol”.  It’s doubtful that Dickens could have forseen the ongoing cultural impact of that one novella, much less the litany of interpretations of it.

Of those 43 bajillion versions, I’d be willing to guess that more than half of them are relatively straightforward and literal attempts to bring the story and its original settings to life.  But of that still enormous number of lesser half, there have been so many modernizations filtered through so many popular characters and schemes…I imagine that the list goes on and on and on.

So what of this (then contemporary) late 1980’s modernization called Scrooged, directed by Richard Donner and starring Bill Murray?

It’s one of those movies that I’ve always liked despite myself.  And I say this because though I don’t recall exactly the first time I saw it, I wasn’t expecting to like it at all, I believe.  And while I might have begrudgingly appreciated it at first, I came to like it more and more, as I saw it (however many times — many!) over the eons and eons since 1988.

It’s Bill Murray, of course, in what would have at the time seemed like mid-career Bill Murray.  Though technically, being more than 25 years old, might these days still fall into his “early” film career.  It came in a fecund mid-career resurgance among the likes of Ghostbusters II (1989), What About Bob? (1991), and Groundhog Day (1993), cementing his movie star cred.

He plays the Scrooge character TV executive without a heart Frank Cross, who makes his whole network perform a live version of A Christmas Carol on live television.  Everything is modernized and renamed but it’s the visit from his old colleague and the trio of ghosts of Christmases past, present and future that ensure that we’ve got a modified but not really irreverent interpretation of the classic.

It’s got quite the supporting cast including the wonderful Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Karen Allen, Bobcat Goldthwait, Alfre Woodward, and John Murray (actually all of Bill Murray’s brothers appear in different roles).  It’s also got Jamie Farr, Buddy Hackett, John Houseman, Robert Goulet, Lee Majors, and Mary Lou Retton in various cameo roles.  I’ve always been very partial to Carol Kane’s ghost of Christmas present, but the kids liked David Johansen as the ghost of Christmas past.

Yes, I shared it with the kids.  Clara had been asking about “A Christmas Carol” and for all those 43 bajillion traditional interpretations, I don’t know which of them is the best to choose.  I knew Scrooged and figured they would like Scrooged, and they did.

I haven’t been feeling the least Christmasy this Christmas season.  But I too enjoyed watching Scrooged again for the umpteenth time (though the first time in a long, long while).

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

The Life Aquatic (2004) movie poster

director Wes Anderson
viewed: 05/23/2014

After watching Meatballs (1979) with Felix, I felt kind of inspired to watch a second Bill Murray movie, and suggested one of my favorites, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), which I’ve already acknowledged as one of my all-time favorite films.  Such a category is a slippery slide, but it’s actually a kind of interesting contrast, Murray’s first starring role with a starring role 25 years later (and here it is even a decade out from it).

Felix has actually developed a liking for Wes Anderson films.  He had me take him to see his most recent, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).  I’m not entirely sure what he thought of this one, my personal favorite of Anderson’s.

There is an interesting trope that I picked up on more this time through the film, the film within a film, which is typically meta, but in the case of documentarian Steve Zissou, it’s about the artifice versus the reality.  Zissou’s documentaries are full of artifice, are questioned for their veracity, are shown to have been constructs of both reality and embellishment.  Anderson seems less interested in deconstructing “the documentary” as a form and more interested in the way that Zissou constructs his entire world, perception of himself.  He tries very openly to hijack the journalist (Cate Blanchett) who is there to write about him.  He’s absolutely intent on managing his image in every form.

I guess that is one of the things about the film that I like so well, the density of constructs within it.  There is plenty to see anew in any viewing.  It’s as ornate and lovingly developed as any of Anderson’s films.

I’d actually been kind of wanting to watch the movie with Felix for a while.  Like I said, I don’t know entirely yet what he thought of it.

Meatballs (1979)

Meatballs (1979) movie poster

director Ivan Reitman
viewed: 05/23/2014

I really liked Meatballs as a kid. The funny thing about it is that it’s a “clean” kind of comedy summer movie.  It’s the early Bill Murray movie.  He’d go on very quickly to make better movies, more classically funny, even with director Ivan Reitman a year or two later in Stripes (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984).  Between Meatballs and My Bodyguard (1980), I really liked kid actor Chris Makepeace.

Looking for movies to watch with the kids, I’d queued both of those up.  I hadn’t seen either one in eons.  But interestingly someone somewhere in my internet circle of information made some comment about “Rudy the rabbit” and the bell rang.  I thought we’d give it a shot.

It’s a summer camp movie, centrally focused on Bill Murray’s head counselor role of Tripper Harrison, the good-natured goof, who pranks and charms his way around camp, taking the shy Rudy under his wing, while rallying the camp against the opposite rich Camp Mohawk across the lake.

Murray carries the movie, which really is pretty average at best.  It’s funny to see him, all shaggy-haired, the romping silly.  It’s funny that he would go on to become one of the great American comic actors, or maybe it’s not so odd since he was always very funny.  I guess it’s just interesting how he evolved from there.

Felix was more or less amused.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) movie poster

director Wes Anderson
viewed: 03/16/2014 at Century San Francisco Centre 9 and XD, SF, CA

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the new Wes Anderson movie and it is indeed new and indeed a Wes Anderson movie.  Me, I really like his movies, so I get excited by such a prospect.  But even so, a Wes Anderson movie is a Wes Anderson movie, not really like anyone else’s films and if you didn’t care for Wes Anderson movies, chance is that you won’t like any Wes Anderson movies.

I was struck by how much a Wes Anderson movie is like a cinematic diorama.  A little world seen through perhaps a peephole, an elaborately detailed, perfectly wrought microcosm, operating almost like an automaton, wired perfectly to do its thing that it does.  In fact, in The Grand Budapest Hotel, as in a couple other of his films, Anderson uses miniatures for scenes of scale, to depict the complex totality of his universes in cross-sections.  It seemed like animation sort of opened this world up for him in Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), but here he adds it to an overall aesthetic mixing artifice with location and scenery.

The other big thing of a Wes Anderson film is his hilarious, extremely particularlized characters.  He has his group of actors that appear consistently in his films and many are here as well, playing almost cartoonish creations each of whom is “ever so” him or herself.  Again, to some, this could be a criticism, to others, it’s just wonderful fun.

The stars of Grand Budapest are Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori.  Fiennes is M. Gustave H., concierge at the titular hotel, a perfectionist of meeting every need any hotel guest should have, and also an avid lover of aged women who visit the hotel.  Revolori is the young Zero Moustafa, lobby boy in training under M. Gustave H.  It is Zero’s story being told, after all, in flashback by F. Murray Abraham, the aged Zero, relating the story to a young writer, Jude Law, who is in turn a flashback for the established writer played by Tom Wilkinson.  It’s a bit like the stacked babushka dolls, the packaging and telling of the story, miniature within a miniature, artifice within artifice.

Felix was actually keen to see this movie, which pleasantly surprised me.  Both of the kids love Fantastic Mr. Fox and were both kind of warm to Moonrise Kingdom (2012), though I guess it grew on Felix in retrospect.  I’m not entirely sure what he thought of Grand Budapest in the end.  He seemed to like it fairly well.

I do like Wes Anderson films.  I guess my favorites being Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) and with The Darjeeling Limited (2007) at the bottom of the scale.  I’d read some assessments of Grand Budapest that placed it as his best work.  I don’t know.  I still like the ones I do, but I did enjoy it quite well.  Fiennes is perfect as the impeccable M. Gustave H.

The film is a fantasy of a Europe that only possibly ever existed in anyone’s imagination and Anderson plays that well.  All of his worlds are perfected fantasies, wonderfully detailed, ornate, nearly sublime.

I’ve had a nagging question though in my mind about Anderson’s very WASPy universes.  There are Indians often, and Zero, as played by Revolori is of undetermined Mediterranean background.  I was struck by this in Moonrise Kingdom and see it here again, too.  It’s not that I think that movies should be meeting quotas of ethnic diversity or anything, but I do wonder about these wondrous fantasy worlds and why they so often seem so white.

Ed Wood (1994)

Ed Wood (1994) movie poster

director Tim Burton

viewed: 11/01/2013

After watching the legendary Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) with the kids the weekend before, it seemed an apt way to delve into the backstory of Edward Wood, Jr. by visiting .Tim Burton’s affectionate biopic of the man. I’ve long cited Ed Wood as Burton’s best film.  I’ve thought so since 1994 when I first saw it (the only time I had seen it).  And I think I still stand by that statement.

It’s anomalous in Burton’s oeuvre for although it’s a comedy, it’s the most realistic, least fantastic of all of his films.  No magic, no monsters, but also quite a significant emotional center that while extremely positive and upbeat seems more honest than any of his other films.  It’s a paean, a non-critical one largely, to film-making, old Hollywood, the creative drive and cinematic artistry.  Couched in goofy good humor about a cross-dressing oddball and his extended, inclusive world of misfit friends and partners, I really think it’s the most emotionally true film in Burton’s career.

And it’s also very good.  Johnny Depp is charming and lovable as the ever-positive hack artist Wood.  The heart of the film is the relationship between Ed Wood, Jr. and Bela Lugosi, who was played by an Oscar-winning Martin Landau.  His portrayal of the aging, drug-addicted movie star is a fine one.  But it’s the relationship that Wood shares with Lugosi that gives the film its heart.  It’s about friendship, but more so it’s about acceptance of the social outsider: the drug addict, the cross-dresser, the transsexual, the oddballs, the passionate hack artists.

Burton kept the film inherently positive, picking to portray the lives of these people in a sweetened light because there was a lot of darkness in the reality of their lives.  It’s part of the reassessment of Wood, saving him from history’s derisive trash heap of laughing stocks in the world of bad cinema.

And of course it’s ironic that your best film is about the worst film-maker of all time, isn’t it?

The kids enjoyed the film.  Really appreciating the scenes of the making of Plan 9 from Outer Space, getting how someone (even if not historically accurate) managed to make such a bad film while having the best of intentions.

Two odd upshots of watching Ed Wood.  One is that the kids didn’t really know who Johnny Depp was.  I guess we’d never watched a film in which he appeared in the flesh (they didn’t recall having watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)).  Though we’ve watched a number of other Tim Burton films, we hadn’t watched any of the several films that Depp and Burton did together.  So next week, we’re planning on watching Edward Scissorhands (1990).

The other odd upshot was explaining the difference between transsexuals and transvestites.  One of those conversations every parent should have with their children.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) movie poster

director Wes Anderson
viewed: 06/09/2012 at AMC Loews Metreon 16, SF, CA

It’s easy enough to see how Wes Anderson’s films aren’t necessarily going to appeal to everyone.  Their intensely crafted worlds are fantastical fictions, ornately, intricately detailed, loaded with whim and whimsy.  His characters are characters all, not so much people as characters.  His visual style is idiosyncratic.  His stories, little wind-up dioramas, generally of a wistful East Coast Americana, a very largely Caucasian Americana, gleaning the cool and the weird into these strange pristine visions.

Derisively, he’s potentially very twee, cute, too clever, lacking depth, diversity.

On the other hand, if you’re like me, and you really like Wes Anderson’s films, you might be watching a film, like his new one, Moonrise Kingdom, hungrily devouring the images as the whiz and bang by, trying to succor the details too refined for a single viewing.  As contrived as the characters can be, you utterly enjoy them, as contrived, but vivid, pleasurable artifices.  Anderson’s craze for schematics, details, maps, blueprints.  Every house is a dollhouse and can be traveled through room to room floor to floor as the camera eye declares.  And though, like his cast, like many of his themes and ideas, carries over film to film, it’s perfectly unobjectionable because who doesn’t love Bill Murray?

Honestly, I enjoyed the film thoroughly.  I took Felix and Clara because they had enjoyed Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) enormously, so enormously, I was willing to give a shot to a non-animated version of Anderson’s hijinks.  Though I also thought that Fantastic Mr. Fox was fantastic and benefited in breaking from his characterizations by repopulating his world with stop-motion creatures.

Moonrise Kingdom takes place in 1965 on a fictional island off the coast of New England, in which an orphaned “khaki scout” named Sam (Jared Gilman) and a troubled girl named Suzy (Kara Hayward) run away together to experience some life on their own, away from their tormentors and disappointments.  The whole island gets looking for them as a massive storm approaches.  That’s about all you need to know of the story.  It’s a pre-teen love story.   It’s sweet.

I found myself thinking as the film was rolling past how wonderful it was to be watching a new Wes Anderson film, perhaps at the peak of his game.  It’s one of those odd positive emotional asides that strike me while watching movies, an awareness of the great joy of some things in their time, seeing them fresh, experiencing them new and of the moment.  It’s a joy that I’ve only else thought to attribute to Hayao Miyazaki in recent years.  In fact, I was sort of surprised how much I was enjoying it.

Clara also really liked it.  Felix didn’t care for the narrative breaks in which Bob Balaban, dressed in storm gear, addressed the audience directly.  One of my main thoughts, though, was how we could have been watching Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012), which had opened the day before and would likely have been the kids’ first choice had I offered it up that way.  I don’t mean to entirely denigrate the Madagascar series because I think they’re created some very funny characters.  But I much preferred sharing the quirky Moonrise Kingdom with them over the more blatantly child-friendly animation.