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This week:
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Filthy says:
"At least it gets the details right!"

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
raises a lot of questions. Like, why does it have such a stupid fucking name? Then, the next question that comes up as the movie goes on is, why are they wasting so many opportunities? I don't know the answer to either, but the flick's as half-baked as the frozen turkey I tried to deep-fat fry in a plastic trash can for Christmas. Probably not as many people got violently ill from the movie. Then again, I didn't charge anyone ten bucks for my fuckup. I gave it away free, and I even gave my family the leftovers as a way to say sorry without actually having to say that.

In The Life Aquatic, Bill Murray plays Steve Zissou, a sort of Wal-Mart version of Jacques Cousteau, who leads a band of misfits on poorly-planned ocean adventures. He makes low-budget, ill-informed movies about oceanic wildlife, but his business and his inspiration are in the crapper. He's grown disillusioned and ended his most recent film with a tacky cliffhanger ending after his lifelong friend is supposedly eaten by a fantastical Jaguar Shark, a creature nobody else has ever seen. Owen Wilson is a young Air Kentucky pilot and bastard who meets up with Murray and joins his crew because he believes he's his father.

Along on the journey to hunt down and kill the Jaguar Shark is Cate Blanchett as a pregnant, but single, reporter who once idolized Murray. Her grade-school adulation is quickly dashed as she realizes he's an immature, unprepared and monumentally insecure fool. Wilson and Murray's father-son relationship is challenged first by Murray's indifference, and then by their mutual attraction to Blanchett. Underlying everything in the Life Aquatic is a fumbled tone of wistfulness for the lost innocence and the disappointment of confronting adulthood. It's a story better told by J. M. Barrie, and writers West Anderson and Noah Baumbach seem to know it. Blanchett plays Wendy to Murray's Peter Pan and his crew of Lost Boys. Murray's elaborate ship, the Belafonte, is Neverland where they never have to grow up. Shit, there are even pirates. The problem is the movie isn't committed to the theme, or anything sentimental. And there are far too many detours, including stealing the equipment of a rival marine biologist, a pointless pirate attack and a near mutiny. Some are funny, all look great, but they don't mean anything.

The film captures the colors and imagination of a sixth-grader really well. I should know, I got held back that year twice. And damned if I still wasn't the last kid to hit puberty. The movie blends in make-believe sea creatures and boys' dreams of seaplanes, helicopters and unlimited freedom, but fails to be disciplined enough to really make its point with them. Mostly they serve as great visuals or punchlines to jokes that knock the main story on its ass.

The movie is seriously numb, like your ass after falling asleep drunk in the snow. It left me as underwhelmed as when, drunk but sincere, I bawled to my father how much I loved him and he responded with a pause, a clearing of his throat and then asked if I stole his reversible drill. So I punched him in the nuts. So for the same reason I have a hard time giving my relatives passing grades, I can't love a movie that shows no love.

Well, no love for its characters. Director Anderson sure as shit loves making movies and cramming them with details, contraptions and fantastic visuals. He even loves dialog and writes bits that other writers would kill to have. It's just that he seems to be getting so God damned disinterested in people that he can't give them any sort of emotional trip that makes the physical one worth following. He did the same thing with Royal Tenenbaums, where he spent so much time sketching the characters' quirks that he never bothered letting them express anything. Finally, in its last ten minutes The Life Aquatic becomes bittersweetly beautiful. It is almost enough for me to forgive director Wes Anderson for the rest. But then I thought, what the fuck? Why couldn't the other 100 or so minutes be that nice? It could be with a little more attention to the big things and less attention to the details.

Being that they don't show emotion, the actors don't have much to do. Shit, that's the sort of job I could do, stand around and do nothing. That is, with the exception of Willem Dafoe as a jealous deckhand, who displays a very funny jealous loyalty to Murray. His scenes are emotional and sympathetic and give me a glimpse of what could be. Wilson and Murray, though, have no chemistry because they stand wooden and spout lines at each other. Blanchett, who is a damn good actress and a really pretty one, gets a meaty role on paper, as a disillusioned, pregnant and romantically confused woman. Again, though, it's completely stunted by the direction and lack of story.

The Life Aquatic is a beautiful mess and a fucking waste of potential. I know, I've heard that somewhere before, mostly from teachers. I just hope Anderson doesn't do what I did and keep ignoring others until they just stop caring. Three Fingers for The Life Aquatic.


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Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times

Phantom of the Opera is "One of the best films of the year. Sumptuous and sweepingly romantic!"

Flight of the Phoenix is "Excellent!"

Filthy's Reading
Graham Greene - Collected Stories

Listening to
Dub Narcotic Sound System - Out of Your Mind


A Charlie Brown Christmas