Sunday, October 07, 2007

From hell's heart I stab at thee...

One of the slight benefits of having watched a lot of movies is that almost anytime you're having a conversation with a group of your friends and someone asks "have you seen [blank] movie?" you can usually say yes and be part of the conversation. It's a good little feeling; you don't have to worry if you should be hearing this spoiler or awkwardly ask someone to explain the plot; you're on the same page and the conversation flows. Sometimes a movie becomes such a pop cultural talking point between the people I meet that I make a deliberate effort on my part to catch up.

Then there are those movies that aren't really all that contemporary and that don't come up in everyday conversation but when they do people wonder why you haven't seen it. It's your White Whale, the movie that everybody else has seen and logically you probably should have seen as well. You may have even tried to see it at one point or another; or you caught a fleeting part of it on cable one night; or you know the actors in it, the director, the plot, even the twist ending but you've never sat down and actually watched it; it has somehow eluded you through chance and circumstance, this elusive piece of cinema.

I have a couple of White Whales in the back of my mind but today I finally got to harpoon via Netflix the wily beast that was "Bottle Rocket". For years everyone I knew, saw this supposed cult classic but me. Of course if you factor in the inherent movie snobbery of the average NYU undergrad, whom most of my friends were, it doesn't seem all that ridiculous that everyone saw this but me. Nearly all the conversations I can recall about talking about a recent Wes Anderson film, the line "but have you seen Bottle Rocket?" appears somewhere in the discussion. Also however now I like Ahab have finally completed my long quest only to have it in end in disappointment (sorry if I pseudo-spoiled "Moby Dick" for anyone out there who where planning to get their "Melville On" tonight. I'll post adequate spoiler alerts next time if I start blabbing about "Bartleby the Scrivener ").

Any time you nail down one of your White Whale movies there's a bit of a let down. It's unavoidable given the inherent hype it has just for being a White Whale movie, but beyond that sometimes the movie just isn't as good as you thought it would be. My sort of main beef with "Bottle Rocket" was actually the exact opposite of the main beef critics have about his latest film "The Darjeeling Limited". The main criticism about Darjeeling is that it was basically too Wes Anderson for its own good; the meticulous detail, the excessive preciousness, the archetypes of slightly offbeat characters, it's all just a retread of his previous movies, the signs of an auteur not maturing but regressing. I however thought "Bottle Rocket" didn't have enough of those trademark elements that for better or worse make his movies so uniquely him. There were some of the basic elements: the Mark Mothersbaugh 60's tracks laden soundtrack, that trademark blocky title font, upper class white folks with emotional problems, Kumar Pallana, and that slow motion closing sequence. I kinda wished there was more of all that: more aesthetic detail, more people talking in bizarrely calm tones with each other, more Salinger...ness. Too much of the movie seemed altogether too "real", too conventional to make it that memorable to me.

On a totally idiosyncratic note, I was also distracted by the fact that Owen and Luke Wilson had each other's haircuts throughout the film. The normally close cropped Luke had the flowing locks of the butterscotch stallion and vice versa. I couldn't shake it. On the plus side it had the chick from "Like Water for Chocolate" which I caught on HBO when I was in middle school and was totally hot for (My senior year English class actually read the novel which wasn't all that bad recipes and erotic magical realism). Also I'm pretty sure James Caan's been playing the same badass old school mafia type guy for the last 20 years.

Overall I pegged it a three star on my list. I might need to watch it again, Wes Anderson films usually turn out better after you've watch them more than once. For now, I'll continue on my next quest, maybe "Sixteen Candles" or "The Departed" or maybe even "Godfather Part III", steady as she goes, ready that harpoon Queequeg.

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