Sunday, 12 April 2009

The Cheap-Arse Film Review #28- "BOTTLE ROCKET."









PRICE: £1.00

I think Wes Anderson, or more specifically his movies, or even more specifically one of hi movies in particular, may have saved me from turning into a total prick.

I goes something like this- a few years ago, I was... angry. I won't go into details as to why, because they're boring and embarrassingly Emo. But I was angry, for quite a while, and because I'm not really the type to jump up-and-down and shout about things, the anger manifested itself in other ways, one of them being to develop a cartoonish sense of my own masculinity (I'd seen "Fight Club" one too many times, basically), and create a whole bunce of rules I had to abide by in order to be a man, one of which was to show as little emotion as humanly possible, because being overly-emotional was a sign of weakness (Christ...). And my big rule was I would no longer allow myself to be emotionally affected by fiction of any kind, because only a fool cared about the fate of people that weren't real.

Enter Wes Anderson. We'll, he'd already entered, I suppose. I'd been a huge fan of his movies ever since I'd seen "Rushmore," which I became interested in when I found out it'd been co-written by Owen Wilson, and was fascinated to find out what kind of movie the laid-back southern stoner dude from "Armageddon" would have a hand in creating. Suffice to say, it wasn't quite the movie I was expecting it to be. But I loved it anyway, and Anderson quickly joined the ranks of my favourite filmmakers, alongside Cameron Crowe and Kevin Smith (wow, that's a shocker isn't it, that a pop culture-obsessed nerd who doesn't know when to stop talking should love Kevin Smith's movies?). I've put this down before, but I saw "The Royal Tenenbaums" in cinemas five times, which is my own personal record (although, if I'm totally honest, three of those time happened when I was stuck on a cruise ship celebrating my sister's Birthday)(I also saw "Monster's Inc." twice whilst I was there). It was neither of those films that brought me out of the wanker hole I was slowly digging for myself, though. The honour belonged to "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou."

Some people really don't like this movie, but I think it's wonderful, for the exact reason most of them don't- the overwhelming fakeness of the whole thing, symbolising the fact that Zissou is a man with nothing real in his life he can be proud of, that is punctured right at the very end by a wave of pure, unadulterated emotion, brought on by both the man himself's sudden epithany, and the compassion of those around him, some of whom he's treated like absolute shit for the entire film. It was this moment, and the key line of the scene, "I wonder if it remembers me," that got to me. I hadn't cried at a movie for about five years at this point. And I didn't cry here, either. I think it'd be more accurate to say that I burst. I started howling, just bawling like a hungry baby screaming for its mother's tit. Infact, I cried so much, afterwards I was so exhausted I needed a nap! It was hysterical, and I can now look back on it and laugh. But at the time I was more than a little bit confused, because I couldn't figure out what about that scene set me off. I still can't really, and now that I've had a bit of time to think about it, I don't think I want to, because whether it's the entire scene or just that one line, whatever it was... I think it might be Pandora's Box. Best left closed, for the time being at least. Anyway, it's not important, because I came out the other side feeling... better. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, "What a silly sod you've been." It's a cliche, but I guess it's true- better out than in. So I had another reason to love Anderson and his films after that.

(Humourously, because I'm not a man to do anything by halves, since that day I think the pendulum may have swung a little bit too far the other way, because now I find myself getting emotional at the silliest things. I watched the "Garfield Christmas Special" over the Holiday Season, for example, and when it got to the bit where Garfield was sitting on Granny's lap listening to her talk about her dead husband... oh God. And most recently the trailer, the bloody trailer, for Spike Jonze's adaptation of "Where The Wild Things Are" made me go a bit misty, which I blame on their use of emotive music and my own feelings of warm nostalgia whenever I think of that book. Bastards)

Considering the utter gangbang of love the above paragraphs are for the man and his work, you have every right to be surprised by the fact that I've never seen this, his first full-length feature, until now. Well, I always told myself tha I was holding out until a version with decent extras had been released (which apparently is now happening in the US as part of the absolutely fantastic Criterion Collections new Blu-Ray line), but the truth is, I was always a bit scared to watch it, because I'd been told by people who had seen it that there's a very good chance I would't like it, because alot of the things I liked about his other movies aren't present. And I didn't like the thought of not liking a Wes Anderson movie. Not at all. But at some point you've just got to suck it up and be, well, a man, haven't you?

Normally I would make a brief mention of the credits sequence here, but there isn't one in this movie. Seriously. We get "Columbia Pictures Presents," then we get "BOTTLE ROCKET" in black text on a red background, and then we're straight into the story, picking things up with Anthony (Luke Wilson), who it would seem is about to escape from a psychiatric hospital with the help of his best friend, Dignan (Owen Wlison)(incidently, I find it humourous how, in all the movies they've done with each other at this point, I don't think they've ever played brothers), mirror used as a signal, bed sheets tied together to make a rope, the whole deal. However, as it turns out, Anthony signed himself in at the hospital willingly, and has already discharged himself, but didn't have the eart to tell Dignan any of that, as he was so excited about the plan he'd come up with. So out the window Anthony goes, pausing only to say goodbye to his doctor and some of the other patients. It's never really explained in detail why he was there, but he later mentions questioning his own life to such an extent that he ran away and lived in the desert for a period of time. A bit like Jesus. Hey, managed to find a way of tying this into Easter!

It is the next few scenes that the differences people were telling me about become obvious, mostly concerning the dialogue and the way the movie is shot. One of the things I'll accept about Anderson's movies is that they're often not that exciting to look at, most of the time shot in a static, almost storybook way, with the few movements the camera makes being very smooth and controlled. Here, there's a some of that, and it becomes more the norm as the movie goes on, almost as if whilst shooting you could see him decide, "This is how I like doing things," but to me it feels like the camera moves more in this one than it does in any of his other films put together, and it also feels a little ragged in places. Not that that's a bad thing, and it's not a constant distraction (hello, "Bloodrayne 2: Deliverance"), but it felt really odd seeing it in a Wes Anderson movie. Then there's the dialogue. It's not how it's written really, its almost the same as it is in all his movies, that being quirky but not totally out-there and zany, but rather how it's spoken- it's often delievered at a break-neck pace, and alot of the time, especially here at the beginning, there's alot of people talking over each other, which I think is done to better get across both the familiarity the characters have with each other, especially Anthony and Dignan, and also to convey their excitement at what they're planning. Again, it's not a bad thing, it's just different is all.

And speaking of their plan, all is laid out to us over the course of a bus journey- they plan to become criminals, thieves more specifically, putting into use all the things Dignan has learnt from Mr. Henry (James Caan), who he claims is a master thief. He has everything planned out for he and Anthony in the most fine detail (it's later claimed that he planning stretches a good 75 years), in a little notebook. He's even colour-coded the thing using different felt-tip pens, which frankly is something I would do. The first major part of this plan involves then performing a practice burglary, and I was amused to find out that the house the do this with belongs to Anthony's mother. It goes well, all things considered, until afterwards when they's discussing what they've just done and where they can improve, Dignan reveals that he stole Anthony's Mother's diamond earrings, the one thing he had promised he wouldn't, apparently.

This of course means Anthony has to return the earrings, which he does by giving them to is little sister, Grace (Shea Fowler). They then proceed to have a conversation based around a joke that's as old as the hills, that being the substancially-younger sibling that talks like she's 35. I still find it amusing, though. It doesn't crack me up, but it makes me smile, especially when she sighs at the mention of Dignan's name and explains, "I do like Dignan... but he's a liar." He's also a thief, kid. Speaking of Dignan, as this is going on he's interviewing a guy by the name of Bob Mapplethorpe (Robert Musgrave, who was also like Luke and Owen in the original short this is based on, and looks weirdly like what I suspect you'd get if Justin Long and Jimmy Fallon had a son), about the possibility of him being their getaway driver. I feel for Musgrave, because he's got what is really the least fun role to play, that of the slightly whiney wimp who goes through most of the movie being mocked and/or beaten up by his brother. He does a terrible job of selling himself during his interview, claiming they should use him because he's a risktaker, using the fact that he's growing Marijuana in his parent's backyard as proof of this, and when that doesn't seem to be doing it, he offers, "I really want to be a part of this team... and I'm the only one with a car." That somehow proves to be enough.

After Anthony has a small breakdown over his sister's cynical attitude and his belief that she thinks he's a failure (which causes Dignan to hilariously ask what she's done with her life that's so great), a quick stop of at Bob's family's place, some shooting practice out in a field somewhere which proves to be funny just by virtue of watching these three guys who clearly have never held a gun before fire off a few rounds (Bob is especially hilarious with his tiny firearm)(that's what she said), and a final going over of the plan that almost ends in disaster when Dignan and Bob get into a fight over Bob's insistance in touching the gun because he bought it, they perform their first really robbery, knocking over a book store. Their plan is to get Anthony in there first by saying he forgot his sweater, then having him overpower the guy on the door and get Dignan in, too. Amazingly, this all goes off without so much as a hitch. Okay, not totally- the money has to be stuffed into little bags due to the fact that they don't have any big ones, and despite the fact that he's got a gun pretty much in his face, the clerk has no problems calling Dignan a punk in retaliation for being called an idiot, which causes Dignan to go all meek and and refer to him as "sir" from that point forward. But even with those small details, it's a roaring success, and now all tey have to do is get out of town for a little while and wait for things to cool off.

It's when they leave town and set up home in a dingy-looking motel that things start to fall apart. For a start, Bob recieves word from his brother that he's been arrested for drug dealing and needs him to come home and bail him out, leaving them without a driver, or even a car for that matter. But before that, Anthony finds himself distracted by (what else?) a woman- Inez (Lumi Cavazos, also returning from the short), their sweetly-pretty housekeeper that speaks virtually no English. Their courtship is fast but rather sweet. Anthony first lays eyes on her when he's taking a dip in the pool and she's attending to her duties, and later that day he just starts following her around like a puppy, helping her out as she cleans the rooms. At first she seems to be bewildered by this attention, but eventually she seems to become amused by it, even letting Anthony keep a picture of her sister she had inside her locket (which he asks to keep even after he finds out it wasn't her, as he first thought, which struck me as a very strange thing to ask, even for a character in a Wes Anderson movie), and then seemingly throwing a party for he co-workers in the guy's room.

Over the next couple of days, things really end up in the shitter. Bob's gone, and Dignan ends up getting beaten up when he goes to a bar with Anthony and Inez (who have already kissed and had sex at this point), by a guy who was being friendly to him only a second earlier (sample dialogue- OTHER GUY: "You in the army, yes?" DIGNAN: "No, I just have short hair." Then they both chuckle). At his wits end and desperate to get out of there, Dignan proposes a new plan to Anthony- they use Inez's master key to break into one of the rooms, so they can find car keys and make off with a car. Anthony flat-out refuses to do that, in what I thought was going to be a version of that old sitcom gag where, say, the guy goes, "There's no way I'm ever wearing that chicken suit!" and then in the very next scene you see him in the chicken suit. But no, Anthony put his foot down, and it was never mentioned again.

Realising he's totally in love with her, Anthony decides to try and convince Inez to come with them. Realising there's no way he can communicate this to her alone, he recruits one of her co-workers, Rocky (Donny Caicedo), to translate for him. This is a set-up almost guaranteed to have a couple of funny instances, and I wasn't disapponted, getting two moments that made me laugh out loud- firstly, when Anthony is trying to get across how special she makes him feel, he mentions how much he enjoyed the sex they'd recently had, which causes Rocky to stand there looking all embarrassed, not wanting to repeat what he's just heard, only for Inez to insist and then pull a face that's the perfect representation of, "Oh Christ, I can't believe he just said that to somebody I work with." Then later, when she's refused to go with him, Rocky again translates her rejection. It's obvious what she's trying to say is that he's just passing through, but when Rocky tranlates literally, it comes out as, "You're like paper... trash... like paper floating by, y'know?" Then, when seeing the way Anthony takes being told this, he mutters apologetically, "It sounds better in Spanish."

The next day Inez is given an envelope by Dignan and suddenly has a semi-change of heart, sending Rocky after Dignan to tell him that she loves Anthony. Of course, upon hearing the guy say, "Tell Anthony I love him," he assumes... oh fuck it, you don't need me to tell you what he assumes, it's obvious what he assumes. But there's not even enough time for him to share this piece of information with Anthony, as no sooner are they one the road in a sweet-but-beaten-up convertable of some kind, than the thing breaks down (well, Dignan did just find it abandoned in some alley...), and they get into a fight, partially over whether or not this great sceme of theirs is worth continuing, but mostly due to the fact that Anthony had just given Inez pratically all them money they had left in the world, around $500, in that envelope. He then gets angry when Dignan shouts, "YOU DO NOT GIVE THE HOUSEKEEPER A $500 TIP!" This is the first time their relationship in any way angers Dignan, as the movie had done a good job of not portraying him as, to quote the man himself, "the jealous best friend," so it's not like this is one of many blow-ups. I can also see his point. I mean, yes, you love the girl, but giving someone you love everything you have, everything you may need just to survive, is stupid, there's no other way of putting it. Plus (and oh Christ, how do I put this...), giving a woman you've just had sex with money is not really treating her like you love her. That's treating her like... something else. It gets physical, with Dignan popping Anthony one on the nose and making him bleed (at first I thought he's slashed him across the face with the screwdriver he was holding, which shocked me a little bit because that would have easily been the most extreme example of violence I'd ever seen in a Wes Anderson movie), and they literally go their seperate ways, both of them walking off in different directions.

Seeing as he's the main character, it's Anthony that we follow during this split, as it's shown to us in a montage meant to be the visual representation of a letter he's writing to his sister what's going on in his life right now- he's reunited with Bob, and togehter they're working several jobs and have become productive members of society, even if Bob's dickhead brother takes almost all his money to pay for his legal fees. Anthony seems happy with the way things are going, even if he's still pining for Inez. Which is of course the cue for Dignan to show up again with another plan. However, this time he's bringing his own crew, having reunited with Mr. Henry (it was revealed earlier that Dignan only knew him through his front-business, working as a landscaper, which meant he mowed people's lawns, really). He wants Anthony to come on-board for a job they're planning, and he's initially reluctant. Really reluctant actually, both Dignan and Mr. Henry try to talk him into signing up, and it's only when he sees Bob's brother treat Dignan like scum that he finally agrees. And even then he puts up the stipulation that Bob has to be brought in too, which Dignan agrees to only so his friend will come with him (and the scene where Dignan and Bob make up is hilarious, starting with Dignan offering Bob outside so they can handle their problems like men, saying men don't settle their disputes by hugging, then throwing the towel in when Bob lands one punch and deciding to hug it out with him).

I think I should talk a little about James Caan here. He's so fucking cool, without even trying really. And he's probably the best thing in this movie, even with what is basically a glorified cameo. In his brief time on-screen, they manage to work in a few memorable character traits, the main one being his interest in Oriental culture. He's shown training something they try to pass off as a Martial Art that's really just one man pushing another (that happens to be wearing Tighty Whities and not much else), he puts Bob's brother in a submission hold that looks like something we'd put each other in when we were in Junior School (before proclaiming him a "cocksucker")(as in Mr. Henry calls Bob's brother a cocksucker, not that we called each other cocksuckers in Junior School), and then at the party just before the heist, he's wearing... well, it's supposed to be traditional Asian garb, but the way it looks when he's sitting down, it's just a skirt. He's wearing a floaty patterned skirt with sandles and socks. Amazing.

Of course, with things going so well, Dignan finally tells Anthony what Rocky said to him, and him being slightly quicker on the uptake than his friend puts two-and-two together and realises Inez loves him. I expected him to run off and abandon the job, but instead they reconcile over the phone, andthe robbery of the warehouse goes off as planned.

Well, not quite as planned. Actually, it's a total fucking disaster. Neither Anthony nor the cowardly Bob's hearts are really in it, the safecracker (Kumar Pallana, who caused me to go "YAAAAAAAAAY!" the second I saw him. I mean, I knew he was in this, because Anderson is very proud of the fact that he's been in all his feature-length productions. But still, YAAAAAAAAAY! Also his son Dipak played a book store clerk earlier), can't crack the safe, saying he's lost his touch ("Did you ever have a touch?" Dignan asks), they get discovered by some worker who they sort-of take hostage, and then Bob accidently fires off his gun, causing one of the crew to have a heart attack. Oh, and whilst all this is going on, Mr. Henry is robbing Bob's house, stripping it of practically everything. They make a break for it, but realise they dude who had the heart attack has the keys on him, so somebody will have to go back and get them. Dignan says he will and tells Anthony to run for it, and I can't decide if he was willingly sacrificing himself for his friend, or if he's just an idiot. I could be either. It could be both, in all honesty. So he gets arrested (and beaten up by the cops in quite an excessive manner, I thought), and sent to jail for two years. He doesn't seem to bothered about this to be honest, as when Bob and Anthony come to visit him there's not a hint of bitterness. It's almost as if going to prison may have been part of his plan, as if it makes him a real criminal. That probably is the case, thinking about it. The last scene of the movie involves him punking out (is this still a cool thing to say?) his friends by pretending he has an escape plan all worked out, before walking into the prison in Anderson's trademake slow-motion finish, as his friends look on.

I don't really know what the people who kept telling me I might not like this were on about. Yes, if I'm honest, as it stands right now after a couple of viewings, this is probably my least favourite Wes Anderson film. And it has flaws, the biggest being the fact that there's literally no story whatsoever. I won't pretend otherwise, I know this review doesn't feature the most detailed plot breakdown I've ever done, but believe me when I say I didn't really have much to work with. It's just a bunch of stuff happening, then a bunch more stuff happening. But I still enjoyed it, it was fun and quirky, there was wit and charm, and some, if not all, of the trademake Anderson storytelling techniques. Where I had the most fun though was watching one of my favourite directors slowly become the fimmaker he is today, as he discovered seemingly on the fly what he was and wasn't good at, and discovering his style as he went. It's beautiful, really.


Almost beautiful enough to bring a tear to the eye.

Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and I just wanted to say I'm sorry I threw rocks at you that day.


Chris said...

I agree with you, Bottle Rocket is my least favorite Wes Anderson film. I often think I'm missing something and try to re-watch it, but I find myself being bored every time.

The Cheap-Arse Film Critic said...

The thing is, when I say least favourite, it's really just in comparison to his other movies. I still like it, just not as much.

J said...

1. Puncture? Perhaps punctuated.
2. It's epiphany not epithany.
3. I gave up after that sentence.

You should take a little more time reviewing your work before submitting it to the world. Normally I enjoy your reviews. However, this one should be deleted and never spoke of again.

The Cheap-Arse Film Critic said...

Believe it or not, I DO edit these before I put them out. Pretty extensively. I'm just very BAD at it, and since I'm usually finishing them right up until my deadline, I've no time to get anybody else to look at them. And I've also convinced myself the little mistakes that sneak through are charming.

Redunbeck said...

You. Me. Zissou. Same wavelength. I cry like a bitch when they meet the shark, too.One of the most perfect moments I've ever seen in a movie, and TLA as a whole is what I consider a perfect movie. Beautiful from beginning to end.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen Bottle Rocket yet (should have scooped up the new special edition by now, but I'm an idiot). It's the only Anderson I don't own/haven't seen. I suspect I would love it because I love everything the man produces, regardless of whether it has a "plot" or not. Darjeeling Ltd. was fairly lacking in that area, too, but he made up for it with incredible emotional depth in even the tiniest of "throw-away" moments and that's good enough for me any day.

Thanks for reminding me I need to see BR!

The Cheap-Arse Film Critic said...

If you've loved all the stuff he's done before this, I heartily recommend giving this at least one go-through.

And I'm glad I'm not alone with that bit of "The Life Aquatic."