Tag Archives: Wes Anderson

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

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Wes Anderson, it cannot be denied, has his own style. HIs shots are framed with a laser accuracy on an oddly organised and symmetrical world that seems to have fallen through a bath of retro whimsy. This style came to a beautiful fruition in both Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel. The Royal Tenenbaums is an earlier film, and one of the films that gained Anderson his religiously obsessive cult following. As the film opens with an unbearably twee chapter heading, as if the fairytale was coming to life before our eyes you understand that you’re in for the same Anderson style that we’re all now used to.

The Royal Tenenbaums are a family where each member is a universe and personality unto themselves, apart from their servant Pagoda (Kumar Pallana) who is a loosely sketched Indian stereotype, and apart from Richie (Luke Wilson) who is a vague re-imagining of Bjorn Borg. The rest have their own clichés and foibles that constitute the entirety of their personality. This is carried through in everything they do, right down to their unchanging costumes, flagging to the viewer that these are not real people, they’re archetypes from someone’s imagination play-acting at being people. For example, Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), is an ex-playwright going through a creative slump. Her role in the film is the disenfranchised outsider since she’s the “adopted child”. She has emblematically been a smoker since age 12 but hid it from her family in order to create distance and mystery. The whole film could be her creation, dispassionate, sarcastic and depressingly hollow.

Fittingly the mother figure, Etheline (Anjelica Huston) is an archaeologist. The Royal Tenenbaums is a film entirely about bringing out the skeletons in closets that hang around family homes. This happens when Royal (Gene Hackman), the absentee father who never bothered to get a divorce tries to win back his family’s love – not for any good reason, but out of a misplaced misogynistic and racist outrage that his wife wants to divorce him for her black accountant, who he makes racist quips at throughout the film. His plan to do so is to fake a terminal illness so that he can live rent-free in the family home and mess up his wife’s burgeoning romance.

However, despite all the forcibly injected quirk and orthogonal camera angles it would be naïve to think that this family has anything radically different to deal with than any other, over and above their affectations. If anything, the problems these people deal with are exclusively the result of the pigeon-holes they all put themselves into. Margot is perfectly capable of living a fulfilling life and falling in love, away from her family. Richie had a successful tennis career before he confronted his relationship with his sister. Chas (Ben Stiller) is the only character who sees any real emotional growth through the film, neurotic and paranoid after his wife’s death he decides to clear any danger from his childrens’ lives and thus starts to rob them of any childhood. Even here the message is unclear – Royal manages to win back Chas’ affection by lavishing the attention he never gave Chas on Chas’ kids and by buying them a dog.

All this is epitomised in the character of Eli Cash (Owen Wilson). He was Richie’s childhood friend and now Margot’s lover, although there’s not really any love shared between them. His contact with the Tenenbaums led him into their messy incestuous world and a drug addiction. When Royal eventually does die of an unrelated cause the whole family, as well as Eli, shows up to his funeral. Even his gravestone is a lie, making him out better than he was. At the end of it all you can only conclude that sometimes people who make each other’s lives significantly worse will somehow end up sticking together anyway. It’s too flippant to be a tragedy but too depressing to be a comedy, The Royal Tenenbaums just leaves a taste of dissatisfaction with life lingering in the mouth.

  • Entertainment: 1/5
  • Artistic:             3/5
  • Intellectual:      2/5
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The Grand Budapest Hotel – 2014

WEK_GrandBudapestHotel_0307Wes Anderson’s newest film is full of pastel-pink dollhouse glamour, as always. At the beginning of the film we see a girl reading a book entitled “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. We then cut, and change aspect ratios to an author, who is being told they story that would later become the book the girl is reading. Cut again and we’re even smaller on the screen and starting the primary action: The Lobby Boy’s account of the story that happened to the Concierge at The Grand Budapest Hotel. The story which would later become the events he told the writer and were made into a book that a girl is reading. Confused yet? The film cuts between these two layers, the older man’s narration and the story he’s recounting, the whole way through. It’s interesting to see the use of aspect ratio, a largely ignored cinematic affectation until recently, but it cuts off the emotional thrust of the story since it feels like we are seeing it at least third hand. It’s hard to relate to a story told from such a great distance, even when it’s set in the same location only 30 years previously.

It seems to me that the film would be more successful if it just told the original story. The story of Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his inexplicably adopted protégée Zero (Tony Revolori). Both of these two give fantastic, tongue-in-cheek performances tinged with deep melancholy. Fiennes is dynamite, exuding effusive, camp wit through his very body language and Revolori matches him, grounding the characters and providing the audience with a lens. Through Zero’s eyes we see the obsessive, sycophantic M. Gustave entirely positively. Despite all his flaws we only see him as flamboyant and refined, a relic of a greater age, when elegance ruled the land.  The farcical nature of his whole world is revealed through the name of the fictional European land we find ourselves in, Dubrowka, which is, in fact, a brand of flavoured lime green vodka -A ridiculous indulgent frippery akin to the hotel at the centre of this film.

This candy-floss pink world is set against the unfortunate backdrop of war, both past and future. In a Europe still recovering from the loss of a generation it seems fitting that an old hotel finds that all its clients are dying and no new ones are appearing. In the midst of a Nazi invasion it’s natural that the luxury and decadence wouldn’t survive. None of the magic of the hotel survives, not M Gustave, not the sweet romance that Zero finds there, not even the whimsical building. War and politics strips the world of its beauty and intrigue and all that’s left is a book and an old man in a decrepit hotel. It’s very strange, Anderson went from Moonrise Kingdom, the moving-image fairytale to this, an assertion that time is fleeting and all the best things will disappear, only to be remembered in tiny 4×3 snapshots. The real world is much larger, and much more brutal, it surrounds us in widescreen making the dingy colours and indifference all the more upsetting.

Wes Anderson films have always been full of the kind of cinematography and visual wit that makes the world seem like a better place. The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception and it’s entirely possible to find yourself giggling along with many of the scenes based purely on their whimsical, witty and perfectly calculated design. Anderson is, in his own way making the cinema into a hotel where he can create the perfect world during our stay.

  • Entertainment: 5/5
  • Artistic:             4/5
  • Intellectual:       2/5

Moonrise Kingdom – 2012

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A whimsical film, most likely a polarising one. From the very start the cinematography is bold and challenging, self-consciously constructed and filled with oversaturated bright colours. Soon, however the film shows itself to be a warm and touching illustration of childhood.

But is exactly that; an illustration. More than a snapshot but less than a coming of age film. The self-aware and deliberate style of the opening reveals the whole film as a moving storybook, simple, symmetrical and with a limited colour palette. The characters follow suit, being suitably one dimensional throughout, with the amusing addition of a character known only as “social services”.

In fact the only two real characters are our protagonists, the two children who plot to run away together through pen-pal letters. These are the most inherently childish children I have seen in a film for many years. They are naïve, troubled, confused and frightened but they are not stupid as films so often portray them. The script plays to this world, the world where what adults dismiss as a spat between children is a real fight for truth and love to those involved. The children do not become adults, they parody them. There are echoes of Bugsy Malone as children seem to play at being adults, yet their struggles are for truly adult causes, self-determination, freedom and the ability to follow your heart.

I would recommend this film to almost anyone, I cannot guarantee that they will enjoy it but it is certainly a fascinating watch, a film that oddly continues to inspire my thoughts despite its apparent simplicity. Frankly I watched this as part of my personal goal to watch every single film nominated for any Oscar and I was shocked to find that such films as Silver Linings Playbook are higher in the Academy’s ranking than this odd shaped jewel.

I was a child and she was a child,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
   I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
   Coveted her and me.
                                     Edgar Allan Poe