Bottle Rocket

Dignan and Anthony chat in Bottle Rocket

“Here are just a few of the key ingredients: dynamite, pole vaulting, laughing gas, choppers—can you see how incredible this is going to be?—hang gliding, come on!”

In 1996, before Wes Anderson was really making Wes Anderson movies, he made his debut with Bottle Rocket. He involved some of his friends, including Luke and Owen Wilson, neither of whom had acted before. This film is far from perfect and is definitely not Anderson’s best, but it was enough to crown him the new king of indie filmmaking and put Luke and Owen Wilson on the map. Woven into the story, you’ll see the themes that are so prominent in Anderson’s later works: subtle ennui, loneliness, and chronic abnormality, all glazed over with quirky humor and a rebellious streak. For his first feature film, this is actually a very impressive feat. The writing is clever, the story is memorable, and the soundtrack is killer. Overall, this is a pretty impressive indie comedy that’s a great glimpse into the formative years of Wes Anderson’s career in filmmaking.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.”

Wes Anderson films have sort of carved themselves their own genre: quirky, beautiful, smart, and funny, with a lot going on behind the scenes. It’s that last bit that makes or breaks them for audiences. Sometimes, the deep metaphors are essential to understanding and enjoying the film, as is the case for some of his less popular works like The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited; others are enjoyable whether you grasp the deep and usually obscure underlying themes or not. The Grand Budapest Hotel, starring Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori, is one of the latter. There are some deeper themes here that I admittedly don’t fully understand, including some parallels to the Holocaust, but the film is accessible for a general audience that doesn’t want to watch the film multiple times to pick up all the subtle clues. This all adds up to one of the most purely entertaining Wes Anderson films in his collection, keeping everything that makes his films great while going light on what held audiences away from some of his earlier films.

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Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

“I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Do you remember the first time you fell in love? That’s the feeling Wes Anderson tried to recreate with Moonrise Kingdom. It’s a story that focuses primarily on two kids—a rarity for Anderson. Even his children’s movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox, focused on the father of the family. The closest he’s come to this before was with Rushmore, which focused on a high school student. Moonrise Kingdom focuses on a pair of 13-year-olds, and it is, appropriately, filled with a sense of wonder and innocence that’s missing in most of his movies, which are more about disenfranchised adults who have trouble with relationships. Those adults are still here, but they’re in the background. The real story is in how these kids come together, although the relationships the adults have serve as a terrific foil for this. I wouldn’t say this is Anderson’s best film, but it’s probably his sweetest and most wholesome, and it absolutely deserves some attention.

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The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums

“All memory of the brilliance of the young Tenenbaums had been erased by two decades of betrayal, failure, and disaster.”

We’ll probably never get a movie version of J.D. Salinger’s classic book Franny and Zooey; but The Royal Tenenbaums feels like it could be a sequel. Directed by art house director Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fantastic Mr. Fox) and starring Gene Hackman and a host of other famous people, it tells the story of a troubled family that’s trying to discover what the word “family” means, even years after they’ve parted ways. It’s quirky, touching, and funny, and the Wes Anderson retro style is as charming here as anywhere else. Also, words can’t express how much I love the ending of this film. This is one of my all-time favorite movies and may be the most charming of Anderson’s films.

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The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go on an overnight drunk, and in 10 days I’m going to set out to find the shark that ate my friend and destroy it. Anyone who wants to tag along is more than welcome.”

Have you ever thought something was great even when a lot of people disagreed with you? That’s how I feel about The Life Aquatic, directed by Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Fantastic Mr. Fox) and starring Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Anjelica Huston. According to movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, this is the lowest-scored film on my list with a score of just 56%. Critics called it smug, ironic, and artificial. This is actually my favorite Wes Anderson movie—and that’s saying a lot, as he’s my favorite director. Whether it’s a guilty pleasure or an underrated gem, I found much to love in this dark, irreverent comedy.

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Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox

“We’re all different. Especially him. But there’s something kind of fantastic about that, isn’t there?”

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stop-motion animated film written and directed by arthouse darling Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel), based on a book by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach), and packing an all-star cast including George Clooney, Jason Schwartzman, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, and many more. The writing is clever, the art direction is stellar, and the characters are charmingly quirky. It’s suitable for kids, but smart enough for adults, and accessible to just about everyone.

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