Tag Archives: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson’s Isle Of Dogs

Wes Anderson’s Isle Of Dogs might be the guy’s best film so far, it’s miraculous on all levels. Now, I’m someone who previously wasn’t really an Anderson fan and had to warm up to his aesthetic as the movies came down the pipeline. With Life Aquatic and Tennenbaums I was left a little cold, a little meh. It took Moonrise Kingdom for me to be like “Ok.. this is pretty good,” by the time Grand Budapest rolled in I went “fuck yeah this is great,” and Dogs pretty much had me flipping over the moon. Much of the appreciation I have is for the breathtakingly detailed, tactile and textured stop motion animation technique employed here, a dazzling bag of tricks that brings a parallel dimension version of Japan to painstaking life, and fuels the story of one young boy (Koyu Rankin) looking for his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). The boy’s power mad Uncle (Kunichi Nomura) is the Mayor of Nagasaki Town, where dogs have been prohibited and banished to gargantuan Trash Island, where they live a savage, poverty ridden existence. The doggos here are voiced by an incredible cast of eclectic actors, which is par for the Anderson course. Bryan Cranston steals the show as Chief, a moody mongrel with violent tendencies who consciously contemplates why he is the way he is and has a beautiful arc. Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Anjelica Huston, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Fisher Stevens, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton and more round out the rest of the puppers, each with their own distinct furry idiosyncrasies to offer. The message here is obvious and plays a bit too much into the state of current affairs when it should have been content to be a fictitious romp, but all is well. Anderson & Co. have also whipped up a supremely elaborate script that is as full of stimulating details of language and interactions as is the visual palette. This is a rollicking adventure, a tail of friendship, a deadpan screwball comedy, a satirical sideshow and a gorgeous work of visual art rolled into one unclassifiable piece of ingenuity.

-Nate Hill

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THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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There’s always a certain amount of trepidation when a filmmaker like Wes Anderson, known for making intimate and personal films, starts making movies on a more ambitious scale – bigger budgets and movie stars in an attempt to appeal to a larger audience – that he will lose all of the qualities that made his movies so interesting in the first place. Easily his most accomplished film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) merged his stylized dialogue and quirky characters with elaborate sets and action set pieces in an exotic locale.

After his best friend is eaten by a Jaguar shark, famed oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) vows revenge. The problem is that the fish is endangered and he’s having trouble raising money for the expedition. He also meets Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) who may be his son by a woman he met 30 years ago. So, he convinces the young man to join his expedition in an attempt to make up for three decades of neglect.

Ever since Bottle Rocket (1996), Anderson’s movies feature a water motif in some form or another, whether it is Anthony and Inez’s first kiss in a swimming pool in Bottle Rocket or Max Fischer’s desire to build an aquarium in Rushmore (1998). With Life Aquatic, Anderson finally realizes his fascination with water head on by crafting an homage to Jacques Cousteau.

Life Aquatic also continues Anderson’s thematic pre-occupation with flawed father figures and their sons. There is the burnt out Mr. Blume and Max in Rushmore and Royal and his children in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). In Life Aquatic, Steve tries to reconnect with Ned in the hopes that they will bond while hunting for the Jaguar shark. Like Blume and Royal, the world seems to have forgotten about Steve. He’s washed up and hit rock bottom now that his best friend has been killed.

The film also continues Anderson’s structuring of his movies into segments. In Rushmore, the story was broken down into months serving as acts in a play, with Tenenbaums, it was chapters as in a book and now with Life Aquatic it is days as Steve’s mission is being filmed for a new documentary. This structure reinforces the magical, almost-fairy tale feeling that Anderson creates in every one of his films by drawing attention to itself as a fanciful tale.

Bill Murray turns in another excellent, low-key performance as the melancholy Zissou. With his beard and gruff, macho attitude, Steve comes across as a Hemingway-esque figure with a dash of Cousteau. And yet, no matter how extravagant things get, Murray always keeps things grounded with his sparse performance. Over the course of his career, the comedian has been gradually refining his style of acting. He gained fame in broad comedies like Stripes (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984) but has fine-tuned his style to a less-is-more approach with movies like Rushmore and Lost in Translation (2003). His turn in Life Aquatic is just the right blend of comedy and pathos.

Most films don’t warrant much thought or discussion, but Anderson gets more and more interesting with each new effort. They are filled with so many fascinating little details crammed in each and every frame, repeated thematic motifs and minor characters who often wander in and out of the background of scenes. His movies are magical, existing in their own unique worlds and bursting with ideas that are almost too much to absorb in one sitting. As was the allure of David Lynch’s short-lived T.V. show, Twin Peaks, one of the appeals of Anderson’s films is that we want to be in these quirky worlds he creates and we want to know his characters. We want to lose ourselves in his universe and the beauty of DVD is that they allow us to revisit the worlds of his movies any time we want.

Anderson is not only more ambitious in terms of structure and scale but also with the visuals of Life Aquatic. Shot in Italy, he utilizes the striking landscape of the country for a sun-kissed warm color scheme of yellows and browns. There are also the striking images that linger long after the film ends: the glowing jellyfish on a beach at night and the stop-motion animated fish (by Nightmare Before Christmas’ Henry Selick) and portrays them so vividly and in an exciting way.

Anderson’s career had been building up to this film. With The Royal Tenenbaums, he was able to juggle a large cast of name stars while still maintaining his artistic integrity. With Life Aquatic, he continued to use stars but upped the ante in production values and scope. However, he did not lose the intimate feeling that all of his movies possess. No matter how ambitious or big the scale, his films have hand-crafted feel to them. One gets the feeling that Anderson cares about every detail and every aspect and it is this personal touch that makes his movies so unique.

Top Ten Harvey Keitel

Harvey Keitel is one of cinema’s most valued actors.  His brand: tough alpha male, career criminal, and the all-around bad motherfucker.  His filmography is unique; he has been a mainstay in the works of Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, James Toback, Abel Ferrara, and most recently Wes Anderson.  While his hallmark is the tough guy, he’s been able to transform that archetype into colorful dimensional characters that only he could have portrayed on film.  Whether he’s in a crime film, a big budget opus, or an incredibly small independent film, Keitel is always on the mark and he is always fascinating to watch.

ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE 1974 Dir. Martin Scorsese

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In his third collaboration with his friend Martin Scorsese, Keitel gives a dual layer performance.  He starts out being the affable and charming suitor of Ellen Burstyn’s Alice – until he isn’t.  He’s the all too real sociopath that is able to cover his anger and inner frustration with his charm.  Keitel is frightening in this film, the way he’s able to camouflage the character’s actual motivations and drive is unique to the range he has as an actor.

BAD LIEUTENANT 1992 Dir. Abel Ferrara

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There has never been a performance like Keitel’s turn in BAD LIEUTENANT.  It is as pulverizing as it is soul bearing.  He removes the audience from their comfort zone, and takes them into the heart of darkness, watching a man spiral out of control.  He’s a killer, a gambler, a junkie, a cop – yet he accidentally finds a reason to live through redemption.  While the Bad Lieutenant is incredibly vile, the subtle vulnerability that Keitel graces makes this performance all that more tragic.  Aside from being one of Keitel’s finest performances, this remains one of the best performances in cinema history.

DANGEROUS GAME 1993 Dir. Abel Ferrara

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Off the heels of BAD LIEUTENANT, the seminal trio of Abel Ferrara, Harvey Keitel, and cinematographer Ken Kelsch embarked on one of the most daring and transgressive pseudo autobiographical films, DANGEROUS GAME.  Like Fosse’s ALL THAT JAZZ or Felini’s 8 ½ Abel Ferrara uses his actor as a vessel to tell his own story on film.  Keitel completely shakes his gangster vibe but leaves his darkness and intensity completely intact to play filmmaker Eddie Israel in a movie within a movie.

FINDING GRACELAND 1998 Dir. David Winkler

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In the vastly underseen FINDING GRACELAND, Keitel plays a quietly broken drifter who claims to be Elvis Presley.  While on the road to Graceland, he gives his most quietly heartfelt performance with an incredible amount of soul and reach.  We’ve seen characters like this before in cinema, but seeing Keitel playing a man claiming to be Elvis, along with singing SUSPICIOUS MINDS, is a one of a kind performance.  Yes.  Harvey Keitel sings Elvis.  That’s worth watching it on its own.

FINGERS 1978 Dir. James Toback

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Somewhere there needs to be a theatre showing a double bill of FIVE EASY PIECES and FINGERS.  This is a key performance from Keitel, where he plays the gangster and the intellectual.  He’s a brutal enforcer for his father, yet doubles as a piano prodigy.  Both sides of himself have one thing in common: sexual addiction.  FINGERS is Toback’s finest hour as a filmmaker, and is yet another performance of Keitel’s that is chalked up in the underseen category.

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST 1988 Dir. Martin Scorsese

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Martin Scorsese’s most seminal film, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST is controversial and monumental for a variety of reasons.  One of the most enamoring aspects is Keitel’s reinvention of Judas.  He’s an insurgent warrior, he’s the loyal follower, and then he becomes the voice of reason while Jesus is being guided through his final temptation.  Keitel’s turn earned him a Razzie nomination, and that is completely off base.  Keitel is brutish and forceful; purposely directed to speak with an overt Brooklyn accent with a new take on the Biblical character.

MEAN STREETS 1973 Dir. Martin Scorsese

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MEAN STREETS is often mentioned as the film that birthed the brilliant collaboration of Scorsese and De Niro, but the film is much more than that.  Keitel takes the lead, as the morally conflicted Charlie who is set to take over for his gangster Uncle, yet having to constantly juggle his wild card best friend Johnny Boy (brilliantly played by De Niro).  De Niro has the flashy role, but Keitel is the foundation of the film.  He’s Scorsese’s alter ego; he is struggling with his faith, his family, and his identity.  Keitel gives an incredibly soft and vulnerable performance as a man who is stuck in his own quagmire, having no way out.

RESERVOIR DOGS 1992 Dir. Quentin Tarantino

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This is the performance where everything Keitel has done before comes to a perfect culmination.  There isn’t an actor who has delivered Tarantino’s dialogue with as much weight as Keitel.  Keitel walks Tarantino’s walk, and in particular talks his talk.  There is a Shakespearean quality to Keitel’s performance in this film.  From the start of the film, we know he’s heading for impending doom, and he does it all with gravitas and honor.

TAXI DRIVER 1976 Dir. Martin Scorsese

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Originally, Scorsese wanted Keitel to play the campaign staffer Tom (the role Albert Brooks knocks out of the park), but instead Keitel wanted to play the pimp who had only a few lines of dialogue in the original screenplay.  Keitel transforms into a smooth and funny character, yet in his private encounter with Iris (Jodie Foster) we see what a master of manipulation and control he is in a creepy and quiet way.

SMOKE 1995 Dir. Wayne Wang

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SMOKE is another one of those quietly underseen gems of independent cinema.  In a very low key way, we see Keitel in a new light. He’s himself, in a certain regard, a brash New Yorker who smokes, runs a tobacco shop, yet he has an undying pension for art.  In this film’s case, he’s a photographer, who has taken the same photograph in the same intersection every day for the past twenty years.  This is a very touching film, and Keitel gives one of his sweetest performances.

YOUTH 2015 Dir. Paolo Sorrentino

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In a character that is fusion of Charles Bukowski and John Cassavetes, Keitel plays writer/director Mick Boyle who is on his annual holiday in the Swiss Alps with his best friend, Michael Caine.  This was a role that Keitel was born to play.  He’s the artist that is overflowing with creativity and inner torment.  He’s being torn apart by his own emotions and ego, and he gives is a bittersweet showboat of a performance of what it is truly like to be an artist.

Honorable mentions: BAD TIMING, BLUE COLLAR, BUGSY, CITY OF INDUSTRY, COP LAND, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, THE PIANO