January 03, 2005

Double Feature Picture Show

Some couples simply belong together. In the case of movies, watching a complementary pair of films is a texture experience. It's all about how one movie leads into the other, how the first affects the perception of the second, how the second informs understanding of the first—and, how the viewer feels from the cumulative effect.

You got your Willy Wonka in my Apocalypse!

Some couples just go together!The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) / The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course (2002)
Drink a bottle of Campari during Life Aquatic to adjust your mental capacity for the Crocodile movie. Life Aquatic knows it's clever; Crocodile Hunter knows its mental health is questionable. Both are thoroughly enjoyable. Goldfish and Animal crackers will help mute the munchies.

Harold and Maude (1971) / Better Off Dead (1985)
Classics of two different generations, on the same themes of love, death, despair, and dealing with parents. Serve these films with french fries, french toast, and Perrier.

Apocalypse Now (1979) / Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971 Gene Wilder version)
This recommendation comes from dorm friend Larry the Really Smart Guy, who says they are structurally identical. Chocolate or any sort of candy for Willy Wonka. I'm not sure what to serve with napalm; you might try ordering out.

Time Bandits (1981) / Brazil (1985)
Pairing two movies by the same director (Terry Gilliam) may be a no-brainer, but these two in particular work well in chorus. Usually I recommend watching the "heavier" film first and the second one for relaxation or wee-hours silliness, but in this case I suggest letting the wild whimsy of Time Bandits soften you up for the mind-trip through Brazil.

Little Big Man posterSilverado (1985) / Little Big Man (1970)
Substitute Dances With Wolves in place of Little Big Man for an evening of dancing with Kevin Costner. Silverado is the movie that won me over to the Western genre, with young Kevin Costner in young-Keanu Reeves mode. It's a sometimes-serious, sometimes-hilarious flick, good for folks who find Blazing Saddles too much wild, wild unreality. Little Big Man is a lot of movie, alternately slapstick and poignant, the tall-tale life of a pioneer boy (eventually Dustin Hoffman) raised by Sioux. As an ancient man he looks back over his long life, including his encounters with Custer and Faye Dunaway. Pork and beans and hash and pemmican, with an order of sarsaparilla for your horse.

Warlock (1989) / Timeline (2003) or
The Navigator (1988; Australia/NZ) / Warlock
The Navigator posterWarlock is a beloved guilty pleasure; I watch it when I'm feeling down and it never fails to take me away from whatever I'm escaping. It is so deliciously awful it may be my favourite bad film of all time; it doesn't eclipse Plan 9 From Outer Space's sheer incompetence, but it is a near-perfect B. The movie features Richard E. Grant, spectacularly slumming; Julian Sands, exuding the usual evil beauty; and time travel, one of my two favouritest scientifantasy themes (the other one being "last man on earth"). Timeline almost reaches the same froth of pure brain candy, so makes a good match. Or, if you'd like to start out your time-travelling jaunt with a thoughtful movie instead, track down the lovely and touching The Navigator, a 1988 Australian/NZ film about a group of 14th-century miners who try to dig their way to a nearby cathedral in search of a cure for the plague but end up in the 20th century instead. Recommended cuisine: anything extra salty.

Becket (1964) / Lion In Winter (1968)
This one is for you history buffs with time on your hands—these are two long movies. If you survive Becket (Peter O'Toole and the prince of players, Richard Burton, who set the screen on fire when they have at each other or when O'Toole's Henry II takes his exasperating family to task), reward yourself with the sharp-tongued wit of Lion (Peter O'Toole as Henry II again, and Katharine Hepburn and Anthony Hopkins and the most excellent John Castle and Timothy Dalton and now I have to mention Nigel Terry and Jane Merrow too). Serve these films up with a mediaeval banquet, but you might want to hide the knives.

Lady Jane (1986) / Princess Bride (1987)
Cary Elwes, I still adore you, even if you dyed your floofy hair black for the recent unfortunate adaptation of Ella Enchanted. This double-feature pairing of two princesses and the same dashing princely blond couldn't be more different from each other—one a heady costume epic and the other a sarcastic romp. I'm not actually a huge fan of The Princess Bride, but a marathon viewing of the two movies together, what with all that Cary Elwes, I couldn't resist. Bring Twinkies—blond on the outside, fluff on the inside. (Oh, I'm only kidding, Cary Elwes.)

Looking for Richard (1986) / Henry V (1989)
Henry V, young and energetic and romantic, is still the best of the Kenneth Branagh films. The post-battle tracking shot alone is worth the price of admission (or DVD rental). Looking for Richard is postmodern and deft, infused with New York cynicism, and has what is possibly sly-eyed Kevin Spacey's best performance ever. It's half documentary (can Americans do justice to the Bard? Does the average American on the street even know who the Bard is?) and half the play itself (Richard III), filmed largely in Manhattan's Cathedral of St. John the Divine (the world's largest Gothic cathedral). The only wrong note in Richard is Winona Ryder's flimsy Lady Anne. The only wrong note in Henry V is . . . is there a wrong note in Henry V? Bagels and ale all around.

Looking for Neverland (2004) / Shadowland (1993)
Authors (J. M. Barrie via Johnny Depp and C. S. Lewis courtesy of Anthony Hopkins) and their fragile muses. And their initials. Don't confuse the latter film with the 1985 BBC-TV version Shadowlands starring Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom (which I haven't seen). Both these stories are quite bittersweet, so sweeten them up with peanut butter cookies (Peter Pan brand peanut butter) and Turkish delights.

Shadow of the Vampire (2000) / Young Frankenstein (1974)
Nosferatu, meet Frankenstein. Sly gruesome humour, meet classic send-up. Don't adjust your dial—both these movies are in black & white. On the menu: Garlic pasta eaten with a pitchfork.

Image from The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course © 2002 Metro Goldwyn Mayer. All Rights Reserved.

Posted by OutsideFood at 08:45 PM | Comments (39)

January 02, 2005

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Tally Me Bananas

posterThe Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Starring the crew of the Belafonte (et al.): Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Bud Cort, Noah Taylor, Seu Jorge channelling David Bowie, Robyn Cohen, Waris Ahluwalia, Niels Koizumi, sound mixer Pawel Wdowczak as the sound mixer, Matthew Gray Gubler and assorted unpaid interns, the Walrus, the gardening Octopus, Flipper, a scene-stealing Orca, and Leica as Cody the three-legged dog.
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach
MPAA says: Rated R for language, some drug use, violence, and partial nudity. Only "some" drug use? They must have seen a different version.
Running time: 118 minutes
Release date: December 10, 2004
Seen at: National Amusements City Center 15, my second home. The concessions staff have successfully recovered from their New Year's Eve fog.

You had me at "Belafonte"
The sublime and the ridiculous meet and do a two-hour tango in this understated, nearly flawless film. Its deadpan humour and quiet slow-burns will not be for everyone, but I was in hysterics. Because, let's face it, the aphorism is true: the root of true comedy is pain. Life Aquatic is populated with improbable characters that one can absolutely believe are real, as their experiences deepen them from their lives of painful superficiality, and drag them from the phony world to reality and back again to a sense of luminous wonder.

Your thermometer for this review: I found writer/director Wes Anderson's 1998 film Rushmore so puerile and unfunnily smug, I kept my distance from 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums in spite of its good press (mostly because the good-press-givers also tended to praise Rushmore as if it were something more than an adolescent boy's view of the world pretending to be worldly wisdom). Now you know another one of my deep dark cinematic secrets. Ooo.

Work all night on a drink of rum
Bill Murray gives us Steve Zissou, captain of the Belafonte, a stoned, surreal version of Jacques Cousteau, barely competent and stuck in the past, with antiquated equipment and an antiquated outlook on reality. His documentaries—low on production values but high on chutzpah—are failing to win the acclaim he once garnered, particularly when the documentary reporting on the mysterious death of his longtime partner Esteban (eaten by a giant spotted shark) is dismissed as possibly fake (eaten by a giant spotted shark?).

Zissou is a man too crazy or jaded to be afraid when a fishy situation turns hairy. He occasionally sees the world above water in the same multicolour, glow-in-the-dark haze the underwater world has, which has not done his marriage any good. That, and his constant attempts at womanising. One such attempt appears to have resulted in a son, as Ned (Owen Wilson) arrives on the Belafonte to meet his long-lost father. Zissou isn't entirely certain he wants to be a father, but he issues Ned the requisite red knit cap and blue speedos and welcomes him to the team. With a precariously low budget and a precariously maintained ship, accompanied by their cynical dolphin recon team, they embark on a mission of revenge. They will find the shark that ate Esteban, and/or die trying. And, Zissou promises, he will not blow up a unique zoological specimen with the huge amount of dynamite he will be taking along, no, not at all.

We all live in a yellow submarineBeautiful bunch of ripe banana
There's not a bad performance in this eccentric bunch, including that from the frequently topless script girl played by Robyn Cohen (Owen Wilson is topless a bit too often, and it's not quite as bizarrely funny). Willem Dafoe's pom-pommed second-in-command Klaus reaches excruciating heights of insecurity. Anjelica Huston as Zissou's brainy wife Eleanor is severe and beautiful, but you suspect there's more than a little insanity packed away under the ivory-covered exterior. Seu Jorge spends his time on watch covering David Bowie songs in Portuguese and not paying particular attention to imminent dangers. Which is a bit better than Ned, who spends his time on watch in bed. Cate Blanchett is the spunky lady reporter covering the voyage, who may or may not be out to discredit Zissou and expose him as a delusional fraud, or at least as washed up. The Belafonte itself, sometimes seen in cutaway as the action flows from cabin to cabin belowdecks, expresses its disapproval over the entire ordeal by slowly falling apart. In contrast, Zissou's sleek, high-tech rival, Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum), runs a tight ship, impeccably decorated with tight-bodied blond crewmen. The voyage, or, rather, the confusion, is well underway.

Day, me say day, me say day, me say day . . . You get the picture
A keyboard in the rickety shipboard laboratory reminded me of the incongruous detail of the watermelon in a vise in the laboratory in the film Buckaroo Banzai (1984). Although the mood of this movie is different—more mature, if you will—they share the same oddball, mock-serious, the world is not what it seems sensibility that John Lithgow in particular brought to the older film (which, incidentally, also featured Jeff Goldblum). Whereas Buckaroo Banzai often pointed right at its weirdness, Life Aquatic simply sets the world spinning in the background.

To See or Not To See
To give too many more details would be to spoil the unrolling of this strange episode in a strange man's strange life. In short: Highly recommended. My companion for the film wanted to turn right back around and see it a second time, to catch all the odd details and spend another two hours in Zissou's mind. The funniest, saddest movie I've seen in a long time.

Product placement included Campari on the rocks and RC Cola, but Zissou might have been hallucinating that one. Visit the website, where you can join the fan club and keep things surreal.

Sitting through the credits so you don't have to: It's hard to say where this film actually ends. Not until the last reel plays out the final frame, I would say. The credits eventually spin into a Buckaroo Banzai-style march and another guitar performance by Seu Jorge. Sit through it and let the entire movie wash over you.

Double feature picture show: See this, have a bottle of Campari, then see the Crocodile Hunter movie. No, really, trust me on this. But be sure to drink the Campari first.

Outside Food should have been Goldfish crackers (the snack that smiles back until you bite their heads off) and Swedish Fish candy and other food appropriate for the munchies, but I had a tummy ache brought on by wasabi cashews. Which may be suitably weird for this film.

Previews included Disney's Chicken Little (Signs meets War of the Worlds meets KFC); John C. Reilly in Dark Water, a soggy-looking translation of a Japanese horror movie by the author of The Ring; and White Noise, a movie promo that scares me senseless in a 30-second commercial in my living room, much less in an entire trailer in a darkened theatre.

Images © 2004 Touchstone Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Posted by OutsideFood at 07:30 PM | Comments (3)