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REVIEW: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou


With a $50 million dollar budget and Disney’s blessing, somebody somewhere obviously thought that Wes Anderson was ready for the big time. Like a deep-sea diver with a bad oxygen tank, it looks like the pressure got to him.

    Not that The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a bad movie. It’s not. This latest of Anderson’s stylish and offbeat tales of colorful dysfunction has many excellent moments. But it falls apart under the weight of expectations.

    Bill Murray plays Steve Zissou, a dissolute oceanographer setting out to revenge the death of his best friend at the hands a mysterious “Jaguar Shark.” Facing bankruptcy and a flagging reputation, Zissou leads his team in search of the elusive and possibly fictional creature. Abandoned by his wife Eleanor (Anjelica Huston), he takes on two new crewmembers — a pregnant reporter (Cate Blanchett) and Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) who may be Zissou’s illegitimate son.

    In trying to be more accessible, Anderson dilutes his earlier films’ appealing qualities. The Royal Tenenbaums had a compellingly convoluted plot, but Zissou is practically straightforward; subplots are merely alluded to by the fleeting appearance of colorful supporting characters. Murray’s character in Rushmore, Herman Blume, was rakish and debonair, while Zizzou is Lost In Translation‘s Bob Harris gone irredeemably sour.

    The film itself has a cynical view of human relationships: they are only repositories of loss, illusion, disillusionment and regret. Despite some dryly humorous moments, Zissou‘s air of melancholy and mostly deadpan performances make it a very solemn comedy indeed.

    Anderson makes best use of his budget visually. The explosions and boat chases, the surprising, clever CGI creations of undersea life, the whimsical design of Zissou’s ship (complete with yellow submarine) all confirm Anderson’s status as an auteur with a distinctive style. But as witnessed by other auteurs such as Hal Hartley or David O. Russell, credibility and a bigger budget don’t guarantee popular appeal. — Andy Horwitz

The Aviator

Once upon a time, there was an innovative young filmmaker whose obsessive genius transformed the way we think about film. Sadly, as he got older, he began to lose all tenable grip on reality. This is the story of Howard Hughes, the great movie producer and airplane designer. It is also the story of this Hughes biopic’s director, Martin Scorsese.

    With this new film, Scorsese continues his downward spiral of self-indulgence, which started with Bringing Out the Dead and came to a head in Gangs of New York.

   The Aviator stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes, a role that requires significantly more than the actor can give. Dicaprio does a lot of squinting, trying to look serious or haunted; he struggles to maintain what’s presumably a Texas accent. As his character descends into madness, he borrows heavily from Brad Pitt’s turn as the psychotic animal-rights activist in 12 Monkeys.

   Indeed, the entire portrayal of Hughes’s deepening insanity seems to have been rehashed from better films, mainly Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. There are moments were Dicaprio babbles while a fire rages behind him, or sparks fly. The symbolism is tired, and so is the dialogue. When Hughes’s lover, the actress Ava Gardner (an appallingly unconvincing Kate Beckinsale), enters his trash-filled lair, she jokes, tediously, “I love what you’ve done with the place.”

   What does work about the film is Cate Blanchett as Katherine
Hepburn. Blanchett’s Hepburn has depth and weight, unlike the characters
around her. Her scenes with Hughes — two powerful, eccentric outsiders
finding solace and understanding in each other’s arms — are
genuinely touching. There are also some lovely flying sequences set to stirring
classical music, but haven’t we seen that before? Running close to three
hours, The Aviator needs trimming far more than Hughes’s infamous fingernail. — Nic

REVIEW: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
by a dozen rewrites, two different directors, and author Lemony
Snicket himself asking to have his name removed from the project
(even though that’s not his real name), the film version of A
Series of Unfortunate Events
was ripe for disaster. Surprisingly,
it’s anything but.

   For those who haven’t read the books, Lemony Snicket’s A
Series of Unfortunate Events
tells the tale of the Baudelaire children and
the terrible disasters that befall them, starting with the death of their parents.
In this adaptation, directed by Brad Silberling, Jim Carrey lends his somewhat obnoxious talents as the children’s
hook-nosed, uni-browed guardian, Count Olaf, who wants to kill the orphans so
he can steal their family fortune. All this is set in a Tim Burton-esque Victorian
mansion, full of leeches and snakes and three-eyed toads.

   The great thing about this movie is that it never tries to
be anything but silly. Even Meryl Streep hams it up marvelously as the orphans’
neurotic Aunt Josephine. Of course, this being Hollywood, they do throw in some
sappy moralism found nowhere in the books. Still, it’s funny, sweet, and preserves
the books’ macabre sensibility. — Nic Sheff
DVD #12:
Paris, Texas
There’s not exactly an obvious date film this week. Maria Full of Grace and Collateral are excellent films, sure, but murder and drug-smuggling tend to dampen the mood. And to rent The Ultimate Matrix Collection is to embrace celibacy.

So why not take a chance with Paris, Texas, perhaps Wim
Wenders’s only great film, a landmark in arty 80’s cinema.
It’s a strange, smart movie that moseys along, with one of those
laconic Sam Shepard scripts that can slow even the strongest
actor to a crawl. But in this case, that main character, Travis,
is played by the jagged, weather-beaten Harry Dean Stanton, who
really seems
like he might collapse under the weight of the world, even bolstered as eh is by a sly Ry Cooder soundtrack.

   There’s a whole lot of metaphysical foreplay in this film, but it’s ultimately
a romance, even if it’s a failed one. Shepard’s always interested in what men
have lost (mainly through drinking), and Travis, mainly through drinking, has
lost his wife (the much younger Nastassja Kinski) and son. There’s a heartbreaking
reunion between Travis and his son in Los Angeles, and then some almost endless
conversations between the two as they seek out the mother. It all peaks in some
difficult, dueling monologues delivered by Kinski and Stanton that are as
powerful as anything Shepard’s ever written, and more passionate than anything
Wenders has filmed since. Featuring a couple who screwed things up the first time they got together, the film is a passionate argument for why you ought to treat your date right tonight. — Logan Hill  

©2004 Nerve.com.