Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 28

Thread: REVIEW OF THE LIFE AQUATIC by Chris Knipp

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,495

    REVIEW OF THE LIFE AQUATIC by Chris Knipp

    Roaming the seas Wes Anderson style

    The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is about an insecure, not quite grown up Jacques Cousteau clone whose undersea adventure series has tanked for the last decade. His wife Eleanor (Anjelica Huston), who was the “brains,” some say, of the enterprise, and whose rich parents were its backers, is about to leave him. An illegitimate son who is called Ned Lipton (Owen Wilson, for the first time not the coauthor of a Wes Anderson screenplay) has just shocked Zissou by appearing, and a pregnant British journalist has come on board to do a cover story on him, but since she’s “honest,” it’ll be no puff piece. His big rival, Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum) is much richer and more successful. Zissou has declared before an Italian audience his newest project: to track down and kill a rare breed of shark which was responsible for the death of his partner. Thus begins this rambling, entertaining, quite original movie which above all is a vehicle for the ripening talents of the mature Bill Murray -- for which Lost in Translation now seems but a timid warm-up.

    Sofia Coppola’s second film showed Murray’s ironic wistfulness; The Life Aquatic showcases a far wider spectrum of expressions and emotions. Steve Zissou is the captain of his antiquated studio-like ship, and he knows how to command. But he also knows he's become a failure and he's often open about his insecurity. Anderson merges absurdity with sympathy throughout his portrait of Zissou.

    There are those who think Anderson had gone further out into the kind of quirky self-indulgence and preciosity he occasionally displayed in his previous film, The Royal Tennenbaums -- that his movies have become sequences of fade-out comic vignettes, static tableaux to set off one-liners. In fact The LIfe Aquatic isn't static at all. It crackles and pops with a spiky sense of direction. Steve's goal is to track the spotted leopard shark that ate his partner and best friend, and that goal really does drive the meandering action. (The movie's populated with digitalized underwater creatures that, weird though fish can normally be, manage to look even more absurd. The spotted shark is only the largest of them.) Along the way he must deal not just with self doubt but with pirates, financial and personal loss -- one mishap after another. His reunion with his son ends in tragedy. But he achieves his own redemption, even winning the friendship of his nemesis (Goldblum). The Life Aquatic has the satisfying arc of classic comedy, skirting failure and disaster and ending in happiness and union. The risk Anderson runs isn't of stasis but of declining into the kind of silly incidents you find in TV sitcoms. But that's a risk he manages to sail safely past.

    And he has assembled a great cast -- Cate Blanchett (more winning and human than usual here, in a performance that's not a shtick or a feat of mimicry but a portrait of nice lady); Willem Dafoe as a testy Germanic acolyte; Goldblum, in his posh mode as in Igby Goes Down; a relaxed, self-parodying Michael Gambon; the regal Anjelica; and above all Owen Wilson, who acts as Zissou's (and Murray's) chief foil. The movie is also enlivened by fun settings like the Italian theater in the opening sequence, the boat, and the ruined hotel on the little island later on.

    Essential is the wistful relationship with "Ned," Owen Wilson, whom Steve willingly appropriates yet is constantly uneasy about. He's glad to be needed, but terrified at the responsibility of having a son. Wilson is from Kentucky here, quietly charming, polite, unflappable. His simplicity and sense of security are an essential balance for Zissou's neurotic complexity.

    The characters are constructed out of precise and witty moments. There's a charming scene where Ned comes upon the journalist, Jane Winslett-Richardson (Blanchett), and finds her listening to a tape of Bach keyboard music while reading aloud from the English translation of Swan's Way -- with the other volumes of Proust stacked on a chair, and she explains she's reading them for the baby in her tummy. When Ms. Winslett-Richardson boards the boat and is assigned to her cabin Steve says "Not this one, Klaus" (to Dafoe's character) just like in Jules et Jim when Oscar Werner introduces Henri Serre to Jeanne Moreau, and when Ned gets involved with Jane, Steve says "I said 'not this one'" and Ned says "I thought you said 'Not this one, Klaus'."

    These are the kind of little touches that give the movie its special charm, but they also lead us toward a sense of understanding, even enlightenment. Anderson's strength in this movie as in The Royal Tennenbaums is that he conceives his whole cast as an eccentric family throughout -- the family of a man who doesn't want to be a father because he didn't like his, but who just as clearly is dying to become a mensch in his own eyes, and can't accomplish that alone.

    It was rather odd to see this movie in the overblown cineplex where it was having one of its two opening "exclusive engagements." Somehow the scenes and dialogue didn't seem like what you'd expect in a cineplex at all. Still, The LIfe Aquatic is shot in a wide aspect ratio, and it looked great projected in the big auditorium, the same kind of room where House of Flying Daggers or Ocean's Twelve might appear. The mostly young audience was plainly delighted.

    What makes this one of the best American movies of the year is that it's very much an auteur piece but it's warmly inclusive in its use of movie traditions. Wit luck its comedy may reach across barriers of class and education: it could "go wide" in more ways than one.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Location
    Raleigh, NC
    Posts
    1,554
    I don't mean to sound like an admiration society, but I enjoyed your review. I consider your writing concise and fair. Since I am now in that "second class" market, the film has not opened here (nor Million Dollar Baby, much to my consternation!). However, after reading your shake down, I'm looking forward to it. Thanks for your continued fine series of contributions and my condolences on our recent debacle in November.
    Colige suspectos semper habitos

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2002
    Location
    New York
    Posts
    444

    Re: REVIEW OF THE LIFE AQUATIC by Chris Knipp

    I enjoyed your review as well Chris. I just saw the film last night and while it falls far short of what I would consider a great (dare I say 'good') film all around, I have great respect for Anderson's vision.

    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    Roaming the seas Wes Anderson style
    ...Thus begins this rambling, entertaining, quite original movie which above all is a vehicle for the ripening talents of the mature Bill Murray -- for which Lost in Translation now seems but a timid warm-up.

    Sofia Coppola’s second film showed Murray’s ironic wistfulness; The Life Aquatic showcases a far wider spectrum of expressions and emotions.


    perhaps first brought out in Anderson's Rushmore.

    There are those who think Anderson had gone further out into the kind of quirky self-indulgence and preciosity he occasionally displayed in his previous film, The Royal Tennenbaums -- that his movies have become sequences of fade-out comic vignettes, static tableaux to set off one-liners. In fact The LIfe Aquatic isn't static at all. It crackles and pops with a spiky sense of direction.


    Yeah, it's funny. There is one side of me that says it's extremely indulgent filmmaking, but I ultimately come away feeling that it is a clearer distillation of what Wes is interested in (is that the definition of indulgence?).


    The risk Anderson runs isn't of stasis but of declining into the kind of silly incidents you find in TV sitcoms. But that's a risk he manages to sail safely past.


    Just barely, though. Apart from the rambling plotline, my biggest complaint is how played-out his gestures become from film to film. At times, this felt like Royal Tennenbaums-light... Things are starting to feel a bit too familiar.

    It was rather odd to see this movie in the overblown cineplex where it was having one of its two opening "exclusive engagements." Somehow the scenes and dialogue didn't seem like what you'd expect in a cineplex at all. Still, The LIfe Aquatic is shot in a wide aspect ratio, and it looked great projected in the big auditorium, the same kind of room where House of Flying Daggers or Ocean's Twelve might appear. The mostly young audience was plainly delighted.


    Beautiful colors and I hear the animation was all stop-action which has been widely misattributed to cg in various reviews. Stop-action makes so much more sense with Anderson's crafty aesthetic...

    What makes this one of the best American movies of the year is that it's very much an auteur piece but it's warmly inclusive in its use of movie traditions. With luck its comedy may reach across barriers of class and education: it could "go wide" in more ways than one.
    You could be right. While Murray has occupied this role in both coppola and anderson films, much of the movie-going crowd is just now catching on to his appeal. I wonder how this will play with mainstream audiences as a result.

    All in all I really enjoy Anderson films. This may have been my least favorite of the 4, but it is still an enjoyable and singular aesthetic offering from a very creative mind.

    P

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,495
    Thanks for both your kind comments on my review. I recently re-watched both THe LIfe Aquatic and Sideways with my sister, because for one thing where we were in Baltimore we couldn't see Million Dollar Baby, which we both wanted to see, and I was more impressed by Sideways, essentially because of the acting. Paul Giamatti hits all his marks, as it were. He gets exactly the effect he wants to in each scene. Of course you can't compare Sideways with Life Aquatic, except that they are both by the same kind of young American director who is becoming more and more appreciated by the mainstream audience. Which of their films you like best may not matter so much because you will be looking at their whole body of work as a coherent whole. If it is one.

    I have to see Million Dollar Baby. I saved it to see in Baltimore and then it wasn't there. The "Best List" time is coming.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,674

    Shallow Wes

    In which Wes Anderson revisits his essential concern with a middle-aged, failed father-figure's relationship with a young man. The scenario was explored to considerable emotional impact in Rushmore and amplified in the very funny The Royal Tenenbaums, in which Gene Hackman strives to win back his wife and three kids. As in Rushmore, a sort of triangle emerges, when single-mom-to-be, journalist Cate Blanchett, comes aboard for the expedition. This time around the female rejects the father-figure(Bill Murray) to form an pseudo-Freudian attachment with the bastard Ned (Owen Wilson).

    In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Mr. Anderson gets derailed from the emotional core to concentrate on the peripheral elements. As a result, this ship drifts from amusing vignette to indulgent sequence (Filipino pirates, etc.) . Mr. Anderson has Steve finally admit he knew all along of a child being born to a woman with whom he had a relationship 30 years ago, serious doubts of Steve being Ned's father are raised by Eleanor (Anjelica Huston) saying something about "Steve shooting blanks", and then...NED GETS KILLED!!! Did I hear "cop out"? Kudos to the art director.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 12-30-2004 at 12:47 AM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    Houston
    Posts
    373
    Polarizing views on this film, to say the least, it's up there with "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "The Passion of the Christ" on the Love It / Hate It scale for 2004. I, for one, am still a big Wes Anderson film, and I really enjoyed this film. Maybe it's not in the same realm of brilliance as "Rushmore", and that must be the sticking point for many people, but I still found its simple, whimsical story very endearing and entertaining. As in "Royal Tenenbaums", I love how Anderson creates a parallel world of sorts, one that perhaps values creativity, loyalty, and forgiveness more than our own. Can you really dislike a film where a deep sea explorer is society's hero, where one of the deckhands sings David Bowie songs in Portuguese (I love the "Ground Control to Major Tom" setup), and where Willam Defoe adopts a spot-on German accent?

    I find a parallel here to the films of Woody Allen. True, his more recent films (e.g. Manhattan Murder Mystery, Small Time Crooks) don't have the gravitas of some of his earlier works, but they're still enjoyable in their own right. Woody Allen still makes me laugh, and Wes Anderson does too.

    Like Anderson's other films, I'm sure this one is destined to be a "cult classic", with frequent showings to the midnight screening crowds who've inexplicably developed the munchies.

    "Is that my espresso machine?"

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,495
    Thanks for these comments.


    In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Mr. Anderson gets derailed from the emotional core to concentrate on the peripheral elements.

    I of course think this a misinterpretation. Peripheral elements are what he uses to depict an emotional core.

    Polarizing views on this film, to say the least, it's up there with "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "The Passion of the Christ" on the Love It / Hate It scale for 2004.

    I hadn't realized that, but it must be true. Incidentally I was amused to see how the somewhat eccentric New York Press film review staff (headed by Armond White) excoriated Before Sunset in their Year's Best roundup issue as white bourgeois smug trash and trivia, while the more august Village Voice collective annual poll found it to be the year's best film; and J.Hoberman, the Voice's lead critic, said this was a great movie year, while Michael Atkinson, their no. 2 guy, said the year sucked. De gustibus....

    As in "Royal Tenenbaums", I love how Anderson creates a parallel world of sorts, one that perhaps values creativity, loyalty, and forgiveness more than our own.

    Very nicely put. I'm sure you're right in your other comments. I woudln't compare Anderson with Woody Allen though; he hasn't made nearly enough movies to have gotten to that.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-05-2005 at 07:25 PM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    Houston
    Posts
    373
    W. Anderson's films seems to exhibit a somewhat childlike naivete in spirit. This may be the source of both the frustration and the joy that people find in viewing these films. As an armchair psychologist, I'd say that his being raised as a middle child in a family of divorce has created this desire of his for a neater, more loyal world that he seems to want to keep creating. The realists out there will want him to take things more seriously; others may enjoy his whimsical daydreams. Remember that line in Rushmore, "Kids don't like it when their parents get divorced".

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Utah, USA
    Posts
    1,638

    Mixed Bag

    It's taken me months to get bored enough and desperate enough to have gone out and rented the DVD as I had my doubts.

    oscar jubis: "indulgent sequence (Filipino pirates, etc.)"

    tabuno: I have to agree with oscar jubis here. One of the biggest jarring moments that seemed like oil and water in this movie was the light, mesmerizing emotional feel to this movie that was then shattered by this overly serious, dramatic and somewhat unbelieveable heroic escapades with the private subplot. For me this whole sequence tore the movie disturbingly and I had to down rate this movie just for these sequences. The approach and the dissonance it created in me didn't seem natural to the core of this movie.

    chris knipp: "Sofia Coppola’s second film showed Murray’s ironic wistfulness; The Life Aquatic showcases a far wider spectrum of expressions and emotions."

    tabuno: In some ways I enjoyed Bill Murray better in Lost in Translation because Bill Murray himself didn't intrude on himself in that movie. In this movie Bill Murray remained too much in the foreground, that in itself was distracting to me. I agree that Life Aquatic allowed for a wider spectrum of expression and emotions but that doesn't necessarily translate into better. In Lost in Translation, he had the more difficult job of restricting his expression into a narrow band of realism in a foreign city without his typical assortment of corny humor. In Life Aquatic, we do get both his outlandish (a somewhat toned down version that not enough in my mind) humor and also the more complex subtlety of mixed emotions, confusion, regret, sorrow, sadness. Yet again the Pirate subplot rips to shreds the believability of this character, with him coming through unscathed. It would have been perhaps even more touching if Bill Murray and the rest of his crew had been as dramatic as the pirates and then perhaps the movie would have really become a much more difficult yet more accomplished achievement. But Bill Murray remains Bill Murray in this movie. It's too bad that Bill Murray couldn't have been fitted with a out of character role that Willem Defoe or Owen Wilson had to perform with great effect.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,495
    I would agree with you that the pirates sequence is not the best part of The Life Aquatic, though I don't think it 'destroys' the movie; like everything else, it's not meant to be taken too seriously. Anderson excels at character, rather than at action, and he is getting into something that isn't his strongest suit with that sequence. However, by the same token, I think Bill Murray's character in Life Aquatic is a very rich character, something very human, very rounded, though weak, a buffoon, a harmless egotist, a loveable goofoff, something you couold relate to a great tradition, like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza or Falstaff, but low energy, a sort of aging swinger, a Seventies guy in benign but unmistakable decline (still, though, an achiever, a man with an empire, however it may be crumbling). Naturally, since this is such a large character, Bill Murray has to "intrude on" it: an actor playing a rich character must use all of himself. I would not feel it necessary to compare this performance and film with Sofia Coppola's excellent, if in my view a bit overrated, second effort--two very different sorts of things. The differences between the two do not reflect unfavorably on eitther movie. I am sorry that response to The LIfe Aquatic has been generally so lukewarm, whereas Royal Tennenbaums was so well received. I went to see Life Aquatic at Lincoln Center during its NYC exclusive premiere. I can assure you that the big auditorium was packed, and the audience was very, very appreciative. However, the critics as far as I can recall had little good to say for it overall, and so, if you are just getting to it now, you are to begin with not primed for an exciting experience. But I'm sure you formed your own judgment, and that most people just haven't responded to it, because otherwise word of mouth would have counteracted the critics. I can't change that, and I respect your viewpoint, but I don't feel that the film can be completely damned on the basis of these two points: because Bill Murray has a big role and because the pirate sequence is a bit lame. I still think it's a very charming film. And I don't think I'm mtoo far out on a limb in thinking that; I've heard from a friend recently who saw it and loved it.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Utah, USA
    Posts
    1,638

    A Special Movie In A Difficult To State Way

    If one isn't focused on this movie, it could be considered quite bland and boring, yet on a more sustained experience, this movie has a different stylistic feel and approach that almost defies classification. The different photographic techniques, the colors, the sets are vibrant with energy. The acting style at times is amateurish yet deliberately rebelliously anti-polished.

    I can accept the outlandish pirate sequence that was so jarring and unbelievable (that in some ways is typical of the whole movie's premise). Yet when it comes to Bill Murray's character, his presence as Bill Murray in the movie becomes a distraction. I would have preferred to have seen Bill Murray's character in "Lost in Translation" in "Life Aquatic" rather than what the audience experienced in "Life Aquatic." With the more convoluted scenario, Mr. Murray's character in "Lost in Translation" would have been forced to expand and his dry humor would have leached out in what I would have imagined would have been delightful ways.

    The movie on the whole was an original, entertaining, and creative experience that I'm glad I had a chance, reluctantly, to see.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,495
    I guess you liked it better than I thought at first, but you probably wouldn't rate it one of the top ten US films of the year as I did?

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Utah, USA
    Posts
    1,638

    Going to Put this Movie Into My Reserve Pile

    This movie defies classification and as such, it's so difficult to evaluate and judge it based on criteria for which there may be none. I'm just going to have to put this movie on it's own shelve and then at the end of the year review all of my favor 2005 films and then see what happens when I get to the Life Aquatic's own shelve of experiential challenges.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Location
    Buffalo / NYC
    Posts
    1,107

    Exquisite Failure

    That’s the term Kent Jones used to describe The Life Aquatic, and after reading as he deciphered it further in his article, I agree with its overall intent. However, one thing I don’t consent with is his blame laying squarely on the shoulders of the film’s star: Bill Murray. (I believe Tabuno said something similar a little earlier.) Jones is a HUGE Anderson fan so I wasn’t shocked to read such a piece, but he was quite explicit in his remarks. In the article which was titled "Kill Bill," Jones stated that "Anderson’s films are nothing if not perfectly calibrated, and one piece of miscasting can sour the whole bowl of punch. So while Steve Zissou seems like the ultimate Bill Murray role, it is in fact about as wrong a role for him as I can imagine. As you watch scene after scene level out at Murray’s feet, you get the feeling that he may have been the first one to realize the mistake. Zissou is a role for an actor who, whether through technical skill, power of perception, or iconic power, suggests a glorious and heroic past. Murray’s is a presence with nothing but unrelieved absurdity, disenchantment and quiet withdrawal behind it -- it’s in his face, his physique, his stance, his gaze, his line readings, and his history as a comic icon."

    Watching it again last night (on a newly released Criterion disc), I once again felt that Anderson didn’t quite flesh out his screenplay. The Life Aquatic’s sudden shifts in mood and tone worked against the atmosphere Anderson created during various stretches. I don’t have a big problem with the Filipino pirates, and some of other surreal touches, as after all, the film started out with the mission to track down a "Jaguar Shark." After watching the sequence involving the crew’s excursion onto the island, I realized what Jones beautifully described as a "genuinely haunting sequence," and a "tribute to Anderson’s gifts for spatial and geographical correlatives to his characters’ internal states (it’s one of the few settings in the film that doesn’t depend on Murray’s acting in order to register emotionally) and to his sharp sense of rhythm." Jones also brought up the breathtaking shot which I felt not too many others did: the one where Murray is climbing stairs to reach the station of his nemesis, it’s set against a dark stormy sky. Kent Jones’s penchant for clear and concise criticism is what sets him apart, he’s no need to impress anyone with clever wordplay.

    A key event late in the film, which has already been mentioned a couple of time earlier in this thread, truly turns the film upside down. The final shot of Murray sitting alone on the sidewalk, seemingly trapped inside Anderson’s frame, does much to fetch some focus, but I think it came a bit too late. I didn’t mention the film in my "Best of 2004" list, but it’s possible that a few years from now some of the films that I did might not seem as endearing as this "exquisite failure."

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,495
    I hope people are going to get this film in years to come. In discussing what the character is and who should play it other than Bill Murray, who I think was splendid in it, you are second-guessing the filmmaker/screenwriters. How come there's a Criterion release of it? I tend to wonder how they decide something is an instant classic.

    "Exquisite failure" is fine with me. We could use more of those.

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •