Criterion Sunday 300: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

A lot of people I follow on Letterboxd really like this Wes Anderson film, and it surely has all of his familiar touches: an emotionally resonant central story about grown-up fathers and sons trying to find some common ground; incredibly precise set and costume design; elaborate multi-room sets; bright colours; stop-motion animated ocean creatures; and all the actors you could want, most of them returning from previous Anderson endeavours. Of course, there’s also a frequent criticism of Anderson’s style that he is detached as a filmmaker, though it’s something that also used to get levelled at, say, Stanley Kubrick, and neither of them strike me as being unemotional. Quite often their stories revolve around very fraught, even melodramatic, relationships and that’s the case here too. However, for the first time in Anderson’s oeuvre, I don’t feel able to connect to these characters beyond their surface characteristics. The filmmaking, the texture, the detail is all there, but somehow for me, in this film, these traits are all just ciphers for some story ideas Anderson and his co-writer Noah Baumbach were working through. There are little generic touches, like gun battles and pirates, which seem oddly out-of-place, even when filmed in Anderson’s elliptical and deadpan style, and elements which seem perfunctory at best and possibly a little ill-judged (the Filipino pirates, or the topless woman who assists Zissou as scriptgirl). That said, it’s certainly never boring and has ravishing production values that are probably worthwhile even if the story itself feels beside the point.

CRITERION EXTRAS:

  • There are a number of deleted scenes (and one outtake), none longer than a minute and most around 20-30 seconds in length, which are just further little vignettes that round out some of the characters and situations, although it’s interesting to see how they look before post-processing and colour correction.
  • There’s an Italian television interview on a show called Mondo Monda which has an interview between the slick Italian host and Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach which is clearly a parody (like the fake talk show included on The Royal Tenenbaums as an extra). That said, you can spend some time imagining it’s real, except that it has all these deadpan reactions as the host largely refuses to translate his questions despite speaking perfect English, and in which Anderson and Baumbach are often reduced to single-word answers to extravagantly self-involved questions touching on poetic and philosophical nonsense.
  • There’s about half-an-hour of short interview featurettes compiling interviews with various actors and crew, as well as behind-the-scenes footage, on topics such as two of the main characters (those of Cate and Owen), the fastidious costume and production design, the animation of the sea creatures, et al.
  • A series of still photographs of the production and the design are included, which are visually striking.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Wes Anderson; Writers Anderson and Noah Baumbach; Cinematographer Robert Yeoman; Starring Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum, Noah Taylor; Length 118 minutes.

Seen at Ritzy, London, Tuesday 22 March 2005 (and most recently on Blu-ray at home, London, Monday 16 March 2020).

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Tom Cruise has made a bit of a career in recent times at the thoughtful big-budget science-fiction genre. Perhaps he wanted to be in Inception and is trying to make up for it? In any case, while he’s very much front and centre in Edge of Tomorrow (or “Live Die Repeat” as the trailers and the, er, hashtag prefer to call it), the real standout hero is Emily Blunt as Sgt Rita Vrataski. She holds the key to unlocking the mystery of Cruise’s Major Bill Cage and his ever-recurring present (think Groundhog Day but with less comedy and more guns and violence), and she also proves herself the emotional centre of the piece. The film may not advance the genre, but it fills its generic shoes with uncommon concision and, much like the first Bourne film by the same director, makes for reassuring pleasures. Major Cage starts as a battle-shy media relations man in the Army at a time when the world is battling a shape-shifting seemingly invincible monster and has a great (and humorous) scene-setting tête-à-tête with Brendan Gleeson’s General in charge of all the world’s forces. If the media collage opening, with its glimpses of current-day political leaders intercut with Cruise, Gleeson and others in Starship Troopers newsbite form, seems to stretch credulity, it also hints that the film takes place in an alternate universe – or should that be “multiverse”, given the repetition at its heart. Cage is soon busted down to Private, and it’s here that the interplay between Cruise and Blunt takes over, to excellent effect. From thereon in it’s all fairly straightforward, with a few subtle shifts of setting that serve to keep the audience engaged, and a redemptive finale that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Edge of Tomorrow film posterCREDITS
Director Doug Liman; Writers Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (based on the novel オール・ユー・ニード・イズ・キル Oru Yu Nido Izu Kiru “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka 桜坂洋); Cinematographer Dion Beebe; Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Taylor; Length 113 minutes.
Seen at Genesis, London, Monday 9 June 2014.