The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – A Movie Review

What can I say other than I loved this movie?  It’s quirky, it’s understated, it’s inadvertently hilarious, and it’s the opposite of most every other movie I’ve seen lately.  And that’s why I loved it.

This film is brought to you by Wes Anderson, the guy who gave us The Royal Tenenbaums (which was also an excellent film for the same reasons).  It stars a can’t-miss Bill Murray, a nearly-can’t-miss Owen Wilson, a gaining-respect-in-my-book Cate Blanchett, a can’t-miss-if-you-get-him Jeff Goldblum, a nice-change-of-pace William Dafoe, and a much- better-actress-than-I’ve-previously-given-her-credit-for Anjelica Huston.

This movie, for all its eccentricity, truly did touch an emotional cord with me.  At the heart of it we’ve got Steve Zissou, a man trying to bond with someone that may or not be his son, a man who can’t hold his marriage together, a man whose best friend was eaten by a jaguar shark that may or may not exist, a man whose once stellar documentary film career is waning, a man who has somehow become a pale shadow of his former self.  Pretty heavy stuff, isn’t it? 

Somehow these qualities don’t glare at you because of the overall underplayed hilarity of the film.  The sea life is animated in such a way that you’re never supposed to think for an instant that they’re real, the insides of the ship they sail on is purposefully supposed to look like a multi-layered set on a theatre stage, and, best of all, we’ve got a member of Zissou’s crew singing David Bowie songs throughout the film in Portuguese. 

Unlikely moments of somberness are met with over-the-top moments of action, all infused with mundane moments of life on an adventure paying homage to Jacques Cousteau.  I never would have thought these qualities had the makings of a superb comedy, and that’s why The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a rousing success.

The Darjeeling Limited – A Movie Review

Not as eccentric as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou or as dark as The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited falls somewhere in-between and is an entity unto itself.  However, make no mistake; this is a Wes Anderson movie through-and-through.  In other words, it’s well-made and very fun to watch.

Owen Wilson plays Francis, the oldest of three siblings who calls his two brothers, Peter and Jack played (respectively played by Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) to India.  They meet on the train called the Darjeeling Limited with no idea as to Francis’ plans for them.  It turns out they haven’t seen each other in a year, and Francis wants them to reconnect as brothers on a spiritual quest.  However, he also has some other plans for them that he keeps to himself for as long as possible.

Wes Anderson is one of those creators that I prize.  He brings a unique vision to his projects that I both revere and respect, no matter what the subject matter or presentation.  The Darjeeling Limited was equal parts funny and dramatic, but it was never laugh-out-loud, nor did it bring a tear to your eye.  At times, though, it had you on the verge of both.

Furthermore, it delved into the relationships between brothers and delivered dialogue and ridiculous situations that, while certainly “Anderson” in nature, were still relatable to anyone with a brother.

The quiet interpretations of such outrageous characters by Wilson, Brody, and Schwartzman made me love them and, at times, detest them.  Really, though, isn’t that what real life is like with people? 

I’d like to say that Schwartzman is always wonderful, Owen presented himself as the actor I wish he always was, and Brody was a fine addition to the Anderson universe.  We’ve seen Schwartzman and Wilson with Anderson before, so I knew they’d knock it out of the park with his direction, but Brody was a pleasant surprise.  He played both the most grounded and troubled of the brothers, and that’s saying something.  There were also some special appearances by Anderson’s favorites that I won’t spoil for you.

A pleasant surprise on the DVD was the inclusion of the short film, Hotel Chevalier.  Roughly ten minutes, it serves as a prequel of sorts to The Darjeeling Limited and fleshes out some of Jason Schwartzman’s character and that of his ex-girlfriend played by Natalie Portman.  It’s not totally necessary to understand The Darjeeling Limited, but it does help the film make a bit more sense in terms of some references.

If you didn’t enjoy any of Wes Anderson’s previous films, there’s no reason to believe you’d like one set in India, primarily on a train, exploring the complex relationship of dysfunctional brothers.  However, while I still consider The Royal Tenenbaums my favorite of his work, The Darjeeling Limited was very cleverly made with delightfully peculiar characters.