Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Profile of a Director: Wes Anderson

All the directors I have covered so far here are easily some of my favorites - Billy Wilder, Sidney Lumet, Christopher Nolan etc. or at least the directors that I have been watching for many years and have seen majority of their films like Woody Allen or Martin Scorsese. Today, I am doing a little different experiment with Wes Anderson. Not that, I don't like him but it is different basically because until a month ago, I had not seen a single movie he directed. For an outsider looking inside, his movies looked like in a completely different world of their own and have a distinct style, look and feel. Some love his style and him for it, some despise him for the exact same thing. I for one was certainly intrigued by it but I still had to decide for myself which camp do I belong to? Then I saw The Darjeeling Limited(2007) and Fantastic Mr.Fox(2009) available On-Demand, Moonrise Kingdom(2012) also was getting a lot of positive attention and was running in a second-run theater nearby. I have been meaning to get into his films anyways. So, I took this chance and dived head-first into his whole filmography in over a month and instead of writing about them individually, I thought it will be a good idea doing this director's piece on him. So, taking a page out of Alex's book(Incidentally, today marks 5th anniversary of his blog as well. So, I could not have chosen a better day to do this), in this profile of Wes Anderson I am going to talk about every single movie he directed so far including his couple of shorts and rate them just like he does(Yup, Call me Copycat). Here we go !

Bottle Rocket(short)(1994): When I first saw it, I didn't really get the point of it. I mean it's just 13 minutes long and talks about a stupid book-shop robbery. Who robs a book-shop? Also Wes Anderson anyways covers everything that happens here again in full length feature anyways. So, I really didn't see the point. But after the feature film, I also found a little more appreciation for this short as well because this is much more well acted and probably well-scripted too than feature length. Grade: B

Bottle Rocket(1996): You should have guessed that I didn't really care for it much. To tell you the truth, this one and Life Aquatic are pretty much fighting for the bottom spot and I am leaning towards this one because even Life Aquatic had few saving graces to it. My main problem with it was plot looked like too stretched unnecessarily. It probably was only good enough for a short but them they made a full length movie out of it as well and it looses it. Whole side story with Inez was nice and sweet but completely removable. If they had to add it, they at least could have made sure to connect it properly with the rest of the story. Also, I was probably suppose to laugh through the whole robbery gig at the end but guess what? I was staring with the most blank face I could put on. I even started being irritated with Owen Wilson's voice. Grade: D

Rushmore(1998): I will be honest - I usually find it hard to get into movies in which I hate the central character and from the get go, I hated Max Fischer, so called 'good for nothing' King of Rushmore High School. In my opinion, he was just a snobby, stupid douchbag with a stuck-up attitude. But I have to credit Wes Anderson for couple of things - first of all, I think the way I felt is exactly how the director wanted us to feel about him initially for later half to make more impact and secondly, in second half, he made me warm-up to him quite a bit. Another Wes Anderson with beautiful supporting cast - Olivia Williams kept it grounded, Bill Murray was funny, I was even fond of Sara Tanaka's Margaret Yang. Grade: B+

The Royal Tenenbaums(2001): This is an easy decision for me - definitely the BEST of Wes Anderson's whole filmography. Going into the film, I was into how different this film 'looks'. I guess, all of his films look different. They have that distinct style to make them stand out easily from others but the greatest compliment I can give it after watching is their looks was the only weird thing about them. Every single character of this film is all so much real. Yes, they have their idiosyncrasies - Chas and his boys in their tracking suit and his security deals, Margot with her secrets and insecurities, Richie in his headband and long hair and on top of them all Royal and his broken family but there problems aren't artificial, on the contrary they felt very believable. Those characters won me over with their charm and soon enough I started rooting for them. Almost every characters goes through drastic transformation in their individual lives and never does it seem forced. Anywhere else, I will probably have problem with someone falling for his adopted sister. Not here. It was hilarious, it was beautiful, it was heart-warming, and more than anything it was entertaining. Grade: A

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou(2004): Yup, I hated it. OK, maybe not hated but definitely disliked it and the worst part is Bill Murray who usually is a saving grace was the biggest turn-off. His Steve Zissou was tacky, he was stupid, bloated and the pirates fightback which was suppose to be his 'win me over' moment fell so flat, I didn't even want to continue watching the movie further. Anjelica Huston, who was great in so many other movies didn't work either. Maybe because I saw this one last in filmography but it felt like her character was pretty much similar in everything else. Thank god for Cate Blanchett though that this did not become Bottle Rocket: Part 2. Owen Wilson didn't do much for me, William Defoe and Jeff Goldblum irritated me even more(for some reason, Jeff Goldblum always does and I have no idea why). It just did not work. At all. Grade: C-

Hotel Chevalier(Short)(2007): Again, another film as an introduction to the main film which doesn't really achieve anything(Well, unless you can count making Natalie Portman take her clothes off an achievement). It may not even mean much on its own since it is hardly 13 minutes long, takes place inside a hotel room and feels like a middle portion of something bigger with no start or end but when you watch The Darjeeling Limited after it, you know who's messages Jack is listening to and then it makes much more sense. Grade: B

The Darjeeling Limited(2007): Of all the movie he did, this was the first one I saw. For obvious reasons(FYI, Darjeeling is in India) I have been interested in it for some time. The thing is, in reality there is no train in India called The Darjeeling Express, definitely not the one that goes through Rajasthan, state where this film is shot because Darjeeling is on almost eastern borders of India and Rajasthan on western. So, I don't know how did he come up with that name? but fortunately that isn't a big deal since I ended up quite liking this movie. I don't know how spiritual their journey was and did they really learn anything along the way but I was having fun all the while. Being first of his filmography, I noticed many things that I soon realized can be called his trademarks like eccentric but rather believable characters(it soon became make or break condition as well), his use of slow-motion in dramatic moments, his choice of music(I am so not the person to talk about this. For all I know, he may have used the same song in all movies and I wouldn't recognize) and use of antique set props. Grade: B+

Fantastic Mr. Fox(2009): I have seen a lot of animation movies and there are few that I can call as one of my all-time favorites but in general, I am not a fan. Even in the field of animation, in the debate of Computerized animations against Traditional animations, I tend to go with Traditionalist - main reason why Studio Ghibli is the only banner I will watch any movie of just because it is Ghibli movie and this is from someone who says Wall-E(2008) as a favorite animated movie and credits Monster Inc.(2001) to get him into animated movies. I am not much familiar with this whole stop-motion thing either and I have never seen any puppet shows or movies in my life. So, the odds were stacked up against Mr. Fox. Let me say this first that I did not hate this movie at all. I think it worked pretty well, especially considering the odds and I have to credit Wes Anderson for transforming his style so well even in this medium. But there is something in his use of that technique that distracted me time and again to keep me from enjoying it to the fullest. Grade: B-

Moonrise Kingdom(2012): Let me first get The Cousin Ben Troop screening with Jason Schwatzman(2012). Technically, it is a short film but I don't know why should I call it that. It is shorter than a usual trailer and it even works better as a trailer of Moonrise. So, I am calling it that and as a trailer, it is one of the bests. So onto Moonrise Kingdom. One of the reason I decided to go ahead with this marathon was because Moonrise Kingdom was getting great reviews and it was running in a second run theater nearby. I thought it will be good idea to experience it on big screen and it turned out I was mostly right as this story of two 12 year-old outcast kids falling in love turned out to be a delight. Most of his movies are set in some specific period like this one is in '60s but do not have much significance as they all still are completely in their own world. After going through all his movies, I can say that success of his movie depends on this aspect a lot. If 'being in there own world' works for you, there is a good chance you will like the movie as well. Both the leads do a good job of being very different, quirky but still very likable and relatable. Almost whole supporting cast from Edward Norton, Bruce Willis to Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman was great too. I did think that the ending went a little too far but that's forgivable. Grade: A

Previous Profiles:
Billy Wilder
Christopher Nolan
Woody Allen

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy

One of the questions that we are so frequently asked and one that I can never answer is what is your favorite trilogy ? Even the current poll at LAMB asks the same question and I still do not have the answer. There just are too many options to choose from like
(a) Nolan's Batman trilogy: with The Dark Knight Rises(2012) epic ending to the trilogy this summer, we have another brilliant option available.
(b) Three Colors trilogy: White(1994) is inferior of the three only because it has likes of Blue(1993) and Red(1995) alongside and together they just hit it out of the park.
(c) Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy: After I saw all three movies earlier this year, it has become a serious contender as my favorite. Only thing keeping me is the quality of the competition.
(d) Lord of the Rings trilogy: Another one of personal favorites and certainly one I have seen most. More than everything else put together in this list
(e) Toy Story trilogy: Probably the weakest of the list but I love Toy Story 3 and can not argue with the iconic status of first one.
(f) Bergman's Faith trilogy: probably the best trilogy I haven't seen yet.
and I am sure there are quite a few more I am forgetting here but then this labor day when I sat down in front of the TV and saw all 3 movies from Sergio Leone's Dollar trilogy, I added one more name to the list.

Starting out with A Fistful of Dollars(1964) as the first installment, it is adaptation of Kurosawa's Yojimbo(1961) set in the west. Eastwood's iconic character Man with no name, arrives in one of the small towns on Mexican border where there are two gangs fighting with each other over the control of the town. One of them is Gang of Rojo Brothers - Don Miguel, Esteban and Ramon while the other is so-called sheriff of the town John Baxter. Because of the constant feud between these two families, rest of the town is pretty much dead as there are no more businesses alive except one hotel. After this stranger arrives in the town, he decides to make use of this divide in the two families to make some quick money. He gets his chance to play these two families against each other pretty soon as Ramon, with the help of his gang dressed in American uniforms, steals the gold being delivered to Americans by Mexican soldiers. He feeds false information to both the gangs that couple of American soldiers survived Ramon's attack and are hiding in the cemetery. Both the gangs rush to cemetery, Rojos to silence these soldiers and Baxters to use them against Rojos. When they both square up against each other in cemetery, Ramon becomes successful in killing both the soldiers who are actually just the dead bodies planted by stranger. With this success under his belt, stranger tries to do something bigger and soon realizes that he is biting something bigger than he can chew. But, he is the Hero right? So, he has to win in the end and with the help of couple of friends in the town, he does. Of all the three movies, this is probably the weakest in my opinion but for the first film in trilogy, it does a lot of groundwork for more greatness to follow. It establishes the character which pretty much made Clint Eastwood Clint Eastwood, that is of of 'The Man with No Name', though he does have a name in the other two, in his signature costume with his typical hat, poncho and munching the cigar. We never know anything about his background, here we don't even know what he really does, he speaks only when it is necessary and rather prefers to let his gun do the talking for him. It also sets you up with what to expect visually because lets be honest, if I ask one thing that is of prime importance in this movie I am sure majority of us will say it is visual style. It also marked first collaboration of Leone and his composer Ennio Morricone which would bring us to another very important aspect of the trilogy - background scores. Even though the weakest of the three, it certainly is marks a great start to the trilogy.

Rating(out of 5):

For the second installment of the trilogy, we have For a Few Dollars More(1965), only movie of the trilogy that I could remember properly before I saw it again that day. It may be isn't the most popular or even the best of the trilogy, but in my opinion it is most compact of the three in a sense that I may be in the minority who thinks so but it is better than A Fistful of Dollars and is shorter than The Good, the Bad and the Ugly(1966). This time around, as I said, The Man with No Name has a name - Monco and we also know that he is a bounty hunter. There is also another bounty hunter in picture by the name of Colonel Douglas Mortimer. After getting their hands on some smaller bounties both happen to set their eyes on the big prize of Indio and his gang. Being good at their job, they both guess correctly that Indio who has just escaped from prison, his first target will be Bank of El Paso which is considered as the safest bank of all. When they both arrive in the town of El Paso and square off against each other, they have already learned about each other from different sources. After testing each other out, they both realize that the best thing for either of them will be to join forces against Indio. Mortimer proposes an idea of one of them joining Indio's gang so that he can work from inside and Monco reluctantly agrees to be that man. However, not everything can go according to plan, after all there is a reason why Indio isn't an easy target. This duo of bounty hunters also try to come up with a counter plan to make up and with some more twists and turns we get to the eventual ending but not without revealing why Mortimer is so badly behind Indio. Building on the elements from first installment, it adds a lot in various departments, especially characters. We get to know Clint Eastwood's character a little more in depth here after first installment. He still has all his signature articles - his poncho, cigar, his hat and he still prefers to let his gun do the talking which should be clear from the scene when Monco and Col. Mortimer face each other. But to tell you the truth, Van Cliff's Douglas Mortimer is much better and even more interesting character in this. He is the brain of their partnership whereas Monco is pretty much of a follower. Even Indio's villain is little more dangerous as he is just as savage as Ramon but this time around works more with his head than his heart. If not better, this movie has as much visual flair as the first one and also Morricone scores again with his whistling soundtrack. Something else that did stand out for me this time is sound editing in general but specifically the use of echo mostly in their gun fights and the use of chiming of a watch in final duel was amazing.

Rating(out of 5):

And finally, we come to the most iconic, most popular and certainly the best of the trilogy The Good, the Bad, the Ugly(1966) as the final installment. Now, I had seen it before but it was long ago and I almost remembered nothing about it. So, despite the fact that it would mean I will be watching 3 movies in a row, 10 hours non-stop, I sat down for this classic yet again. This time we have three men we are focusing on. The Man with No name goes by the name of Blondie here who is a professional gunslinger, Angel eyes is a man on hire who makes sure that the job he is hired for is done gets done while Tuco is a wanted criminal. Tuco and Blondie have a kind of partnership where Blondie will arrest Tuco and give him to police, collect the bounty on him and when he is about to be hanged, he will rescue him and then they share the bounty. After a while Blondie gets tired of doing this every time and he ditches Tuco in the desert with not even water to drink. Tuco not only survives the scare but he soon enough finds Blondie out and makes Blondie go through the same routine he did. Just when he is about to bolt Blondie to death, he sees a stagecoach full of confederate soldiers. Only one of them, by the name of Bill Carson, is alive and he tells Tuco about cemetery where he has hidden a lot of gold but he is dying of thirst and will not tell the name on grave unless he has water to drink. By the time, Tuco finds water for him and brings it to him, he is dead but not before giving Blondie the name on grave. So, the two men again have to form an uncomfortable partnership and keep each other alive to get that gold. Now Angel eyes has also been looking for this gold for quite some time. He knows that Bill Carson is the one who knows everything about it but unfortunately he hasn't been able to get hold of Carson. Through a lot of interesting twists and turns where at one point Tuco and Blondie disguised as confederate soldiers, even fall in hands of Angel eyes in Yankee prison Camp, where he is disguised as Yankee Captain; we finally get to the cemetery and to the grave where we witness probably the most iconic moment in western movies ever - all three men for themselves in a three-way shootout. Almost all the elements Leone has been building so far have been almost perfected in this movie. Characters are much more richer, deeper and best example in this case is Eli Wallach's Tuco who is like chameleon changing its color and he gives probably the most entertaining performance of the whole trilogy. It has much better storyline which maybe isn't really complex but there is a lot that happens in it. Soundtrack is unforgettable, I am sure even those who haven't even seen movie know about it(e.g. my parents). Cinematography is breathtaking. Even though I do feel like it is little too long, especially towards end and sudden disappearance and reappearance later in the film of Van Cliff's Angel Eyes bothers me a little, there is no denying at all that this is Western Cinema at it's very best from any angle you choose to look at.

Rating(out of 5):

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...