Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou


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"It's the closest thing he's done to an action film (with gunfights and explosions!) but it's just as amusingly eccentric as his other work."










The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
The Masked Reviewer

If you're an elitist movie snob, you probably already love Wes Anderson.  His offbeat films (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tennenbaums) have a particular quirkiness that doesn't appeal to everyone.  The reason is because Wes Anderson doesn't spoon feed emotion to his audience.  There aren't always big flashing signs that tell the audience what to feel and when to feel it.  For some people (like the Masked Reviewer) it's a beautiful thing. 

There are some movies that people will claim to like because they can tell that it's over their heads; they know that some people find it funny and moving, or that it's "critically acclaimed", but they hate it.  But if they say they hate it, then they worry that people will think they don't get it, so they say things like "it's good," even though they don't feel that way about the film  Look at Gangs of New York.  Who would like that movie?  The Masked Reviewer never saw it, but it can't be good.

The point is, you should know what you like or don't like about a movie.  If you like comedies that are laugh riots all the way through (and involve groin injuries or the word "shizznit") then you probably won't love The Life Aquatic.  Yes, Bill Murray is in it.  No, it's not like Caddyshack

One of the more interesting elements of Wes Anderson movies is that you never know where the characters will wind up.  Their developments follow fascinating twists and turns and wind up somewhere, rather than monotonously drudging from point A to point B.  Take, for example, Surviving Christmas with Ben Affleck.  While it's dangerous to compare any Ben Affleck movie to anything in order to make a point, the Masked Reviewer will try: Ben plays some guy who pays a family to spend time with him for Christmas.  What will happen?  You don't have to have seen the movie to know the outcome.  First, you know it'll suck (that's the Ben Affleck factor).  Then, you know the family will resent him, but will sell out because of the money.  You also know he'll learn about himself and they'll learn about him and everyone will have exactly the kind of predictable, Hollywood, ho-hum character evolution that's in every film.  Life Aquatic is different.

That differentness won't appeal to everyone.  While there are plenty of moments that will appeal to everyone (some scenes are unavoidably amusing), many people will miss the often subtle humor.  Other viewers will have problems with the juxtaposition of absurdity with reality, but Wes Anderson fans will enjoy the movie.  It'd be hard to call this his best film; it's different.  It's the closest thing he's done to an action film (with gunfights and explosions!) but it's just as amusingly eccentric as his other work. 

Basically, to put it in terms of an ice cream analogy: this movie is pistachio.  It's good, but not everyone likes it.  If they taste it, they'll probably like it, at least for a little while, but some can't handle a whole scoop of pistachio.  His other movies are peppermint, butter pecan, and bubblegum.  None are mainstream, but they're all good in their own way.

Life Aquatic isn't perfect, however.  Let's start with Owen Wilson.  Owen is from Texas.  You may have noticed that he speaks with a slight drawl and at a relaxed pace.  In this movie, his character is from Kentucky, so he's adopted a fake Kentucky accent.  The one he's chosen is very slow; it might be considered a draaawl.  Put that on top of his already "greatly at ease" manner of oration, and you've got one seriously laid-back dude.  It's not the best dialect you've ever heard, and it's a bit too much at times.  Imagine Kevin Costner doing an's not Owen's greatest skill. 

While all the characters do get a bit of screen time, the lion's share goes to Bill Murray, who gives his best performance in a Wes Anderson film. 

Cate Blanchett and Owen Wilson are the most active players; Willem Dafoe is the most entertaining he's ever been; Bud Cort adds just the right amount of Bud Cortiness; Jeff Goldblum is understated and used effectively; and Anjelica Huston has her moments, though she doesn't get much screen time. 

The visual design of the film is spectacular.  Segments of the film provide a nostalgic homage to Jacque Cousteau (no, not the guy from The Pink Panther).  The settings are gorgeous, and the underwater shots, while surreal, are nonetheless beautiful and memorable, looking more like a goofy 1970's aquarium than anything else. 

The sea creatures, too, have a peculiar look to them.  Most of them appear to be stop-motion animated, though they may have done that on computers (they use computers everywhere these days.  Crazy kids and their machines...).    The look is distinctive and fun.

The music, too, is memorable.  It's almost entirely provided by a solo guitarist who sings recognizable tunes in Portuguese.  Even if you don't know Portuguese, you may recognize the tunes. 

All in all, it's an interesting and quirky film that not everyone will love.  Some people will hate it.  Fans of Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums probably won't like The Life Aquatic as much, but some will.  It's one of those "highly subjective" films. 


Expectation from the Title: It seems pretty much like what you might think it might be about from the title.

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  Owen Wilson is always polite and looks dashing in a uniform.

The Pros: Quirky, nice visual style, unpredictable, funny moments.

The Cons: Less focused than his other films, won't have a mainstream appeal, feels a bit too long.

If you're looking for information on Angelica Houston or William Dafoe (or Wilhelm Dafoe) or Owen Willson, read above!

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