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This week:

The Royal Tenenbaums

Filthy says:
"The best three finger movie yet!"

Hitler Jr. is out at the AMC. I don't know why, whether it's because of what a fucking pig he was at the salsa bar in the Rubio's or if it's because of the repeated letters I sent to management claiming he made loud farting noises throughout the twilight showing of A Beautiful Mind. It doesn't matter why Hitler Jr.'s gone, really, just that I can now go to the movies secure in my knowledge that that little shit won't keep me from sneaking into second and third screenings.

Lord knows, Chas won't stop me. Chas is the new gatekeeper at the AMC. He is all that stands between me and long afternoons in plush stadium seating watching the latest bad, good and indifferent movies. The gatekeeper is the most important job in the movie industry, more than writer, director or even Best Boy. He has to do what Hollywood is incapable of, and that is to make sure that people see the right movies. If he fails to direct a youngster to the theater showing Jimmy Neutron, that child may end up seeing How High and grow up to be a drug-addled killer. If he mistakes Theaters 14 and 16, he may send nuns looking for Monsters, Inc. to Mulholland Drive and forever corrupt Catholicism. It's an overwhelming responsibility for a twelve-year-old. Maybe that's why Chas looks so nervous.

Our young hero tears the tickets with his chin buried in his wrinkled white shirt and his eyes gazing at his shoes, never looking up except for a quick glimpse of the prettiest girls he knows from school but who pretend they don't know him. He can pocket these stolen glances like lumps of coal and take them home to stoke the masturbatory fires in his dirty little heart for weeks. He's afraid of authority and adults, like I appear to be, and isn't going to question me when I wander out of one theater, take a leak and then wander into another. He's too fucking scared, which that flattop shithead Hitler Jr. never was. Hell, Hitler Jr. was capable of genocide, so tossing me out of a theater was child's play. But Chas looks like he has trouble wiping his own nose.

With Chas's help, I treated myself to a double dip of The Royal Tenenbaums and In the Bedroom, two supposedly "adult" movies, but not the really good kind of "adult." And while I always enjoy myself at the movies, this was a week of disappointment. It was a week where--similar to my life--things didn't turn out as great as all the early indicators suggested. (I did not have time to review In The Bedroom yet, and if you have a problem with that, don't start bitching until you've written your own complete review.)

I love Rushmore, easily my favorite movie from 1999, and I love Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson for having the wisdom, spirit and recollection of youth to make it. So, as soon as The Royal Tenenbaums could be seen by more than just the sophistoshits in Los Angeles and New York, I bought my ticket and was waved on in by Chas. What a fucked up, beautiful mess of a movie. It's like a million great ideas with nowhere to. Funny as a gimp in potato sack and so crammed with fucking great visual detail it's like spending two hours sifting through Aunt Clara's garage where she stored Uncle Johnny's stitches, old comic books, cap guns, her paperclip jewelry collection and 20-pound bags of Monkey Chow.

In the 70s, the Tenenbaums were a family of geniuses that lived in a mammoth brownstone in New York City. The children were a great playwright, a brilliant investment analyst and a world-champion tennis player. Gene Hackman is Royal Tenenbaum, a disbarred lawyer, who has been estranged from his family since the kids were little. Now, broke and kicked out of his hotel, he tries to come home. Through fate and luck, all three grown children return home at the same time, giving Hackman a chance to repair the damage of his absence. Since he left, the kids have lost the shine of genius. The playwright (Gwyneth Paltrow) was adopted, as Hackman constantly tells people, and is now a pouty, unproductive adult who takes day-long baths and hides her smoking habit. The investment analyst (Ben Stiller) has lost his wife in an accident and spends his days running his two sons through safety drills and dressing them in Adidas track suits identical to his own. The tennis player (Luke Wilson) burned out in the middle of a championship match and has been hiding out on cheap cruise ships, jonesing to see his adopted sister Paltrow naked. Their ungenius childhood friend, Owen Wilson, has meanwhile become a celebrated western author taken to wearing fringed leather jackets and cowboy hats and getting loaded on mescaline and coke with cosmopolitan intamellectuals.

Underneath the reunion of these people runs Hackman's need to be accepted by family, the mother's (Anjelica Huston) plans to wed the dull family accountant (Danny Glover), Wilson and Paltrow resolving their secret love, and the other Wilson coming to terms with his drug problems before he kills himself and destroys another classic British convertible. But, unfortunately, that's all secondary to just introducing the characters and their quirks.

In Hollywood, fuckers like Michael Bay and Frank Darabont set out to make great movies. They don't know what the movie is, just that it's going to be great and people will tell them they are great for making it. These people don't really have any terrific ideas, just this desire for credibility and shiny gold statues. Hell, sometimes they are so desperate that Golden Globes are good enough. Then there are filmmakers like Wes Anderson and David Lynch, who don't give a flying monkey's dick pimple whether their movie is great to anyone but themselves. Their minds overflow with ideas, brilliant gags and fantastic characters that they want to film. The second group of directors is hit or miss but way more interesting to watch. The movies always contain moments of true genius but how well those moments gel is unpredictable. Rushmore hit the fucking bullseye. The Royal Tenenbaums is like Einstein after a motorcycle accident; bits of genius splattered for miles, but not much body. And who wouldn't slow to look at that?

Actually, that was pretty fucking fun to write, but it's not true. The movie is more overstuffed than the Taco Bell burrito I ordered last week and in which Manuel, my Taco Bell nemesis, shit. Nice try, Manuel, but I smelled it before I bit. And I'll still call your boss if I see you smoking dope by the dumpster because I am a bored, unemployed jerk. The problem is that Wilson and Anderson squeeze in all their great ideas and leave no room for much story or a way to connect with the characters. Einstein on the highway is a chaotic mess, but The Royal Tenenbaums is a very organized one. Still worth seeing, though.

The oddball characters make for some really funny shit, and Owen Wilson's character has perhaps the coolest painting ever made in his apartment. It shows several shirtless men on mini-bikes and wearing African warrior masks while making threatening gestures at the viewer. That's fucking art. Other bits include Hackman teaching Stiller's over-protected kids to shoplift and jaywalk. And Owen Wilson's whacked out loadie spacing out mid-sentence on a talk show.

The story takes place in every midwestern kid's dream of New York: a decaying wonderland full of people with exciting jobs and interesting histories. Anderson exactly captures the city I imagined and still imagine when reading "Catcher in the Rye" and E.L. Konigsberg's "From the Mixed-up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler"; a city made up of dingy rooms, hotels that were once grand and fantastic museums you could secretly live in.

I can't remember all the funny moments because alcohol kills brain cells, but I probably laughed at more in this movie than any other this year. It's mostly because of the details, like the painting or the kids' bedrooms. Luke Wilson has covered his room in the neatest tiny paintings and Stiller has converted his into a stock trading bureau. The family house has a huge closet stuffed with every board game you thought only your family had ever heard of, like Payday, Careers, Masterpiece, The Magnificent Race and on and on for shelf after shelf. Every inch of every scene has that sort of detail.

But beyond the detail and the funny characters, Anderson wants the movie to have a sad core. It's supposed to be about lost chances, stunted brilliance, failure and renewal. But it never is, it's just about quirks and sight gags. The only characters who are more than grand caricatures are Glover as the suffering accountant with an inferiority complex, and Kumar Pallana as Pagoda, the servant whose loyalty to Hackman costs him his job. With everyone else, Anderson and Wilson choose to pile on more gags when a little sympathy is needed. It's the problem of having finite space and infinite gags. The lives which are detailed so greatly are never really lived, and they are concluded completely predictably, as though Anderson and Wilson said "Okay, enough fun, let's put the toys away." There is a big ending that ties everything up, but it doesn't mean much. I know these people's quirks, but I don't really know them enough to care if they're all right.

Hackman is very good as a jerk and liar who only discovers his need for affection once he has to rely on the kindness of others to get it. He plays the nearsighted Royal as shit that lets everything roll off him at the moment, but it builds up like red meat in the bowels over time. Owen Wilson is funny as ever. His whacked-out author made me laugh a lot of times before he even spoke Stiller is good because his screen time is limited and used wisely. He's crotchety and dark, but not for long enough to annoy. Paltrow is in over her head. She embodies her character's sadness by moping without any subtlety and no sign that a genius used to exist there. You'd think she was a teenager whose telephone privileges were taken away. Anjelica Huston is wasted in a role that goes nowhere, and Bill Murray is similarly misused as a sad guy who doesn't even have a heart for mischief.

This isn't a bad movie, it's just not great, which is what I wanted. I admire it while not loving it, which is a line I have tried to use on ex-girlfriends, but I'm hoping you guys buy it better than they did. Three Fingers for the Royal Tenenbaums.

Don't forget to check out the Big Empire's Best Lists of the Millennium!

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