Monday, June 13, 2005

Reviews: The Royal Tenenbaums, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Magnolia

The Royal Tenenbaums

Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Gene Hackman, Angelica Houston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin
Year: 2001

Hot on the trail of Rushmore, I was looking forward to The Royal Tenenbaums as more of the same. I was not disappointed, though the tone struck me as quite different from the previous film. Less wackiness, more sanguinity.

The Royal Tenenbaums is many stories held together by family ties. Most obvious is Royal Tenenbaum's effort to return to his family's good graces by faking an illness. But the film also tells the tale of Richie and adopted Margot Tenenbaum's secret love, of Etheline Tenenbaum's romance with Henry Sherman, of Chas Tenenbaum's inability to cope with his wife's death.

The film was definitely funny, with an incredibly dry wit, and unafraid to find humor in what would otherwise be sad situations. The cast worked well together, with no major characters getting short shrift. The same goes for the storylines mentioned above; they are all given roughly equal time but none slipped through the cracks.

However, the somber subject matter and tone detracted from the film. Yes, it was funny--laugh-out-loud funny, at times--but it may have been too dry after all. We don't need Farelly brothers slapstick and fart jokes, but there wasn't that sense of ridiculousness that pervaded Rushmore. There were two exceptions, perhaps the best parts of the film: the opening family history montage, and the car-wreck finale.
The Royal Tenenbaums was a fine and funny film, and I'm glad I saw it.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn
Year: 2005

I wasn't sure what to expect from Mr. and Mrs. Smith. A ludicrously attractive pair of married assassins out to get each other, sure; that much was obvious from the trailers. But I had no idea if it would be played for camp or straightforward.

It is somewhere in between. First of all, the film is far funnier than I would have thought it to be, with Pitt and Jolie playing off of each other perfectly. But the humor comes from their relationship, both before and after the revelation that they are mortal enemies. It is not the one-liner insult-fest that the trailer might portray it as, either. The humor could best be described as ironic, as lie after lie falls away from the farce that was their marriage.

But there is a certain seriousness to the movie as well, and given that the body count numbers in the hundreds, I am a little surprised that it was rated PG-13. The action sequences are competent. The direction as a whole is quite good; Doug Liman is a pro at the raw right-there hand-held camera style of filmmaking.

But it isn't perfect. There are a few more one-liners than I would have liked, Vince Vaughn (playing the same character he always plays) is a little annoying, though usually amusing. It stretches credibility that the Smiths' relationship can take the directions it takes so rapidly [SPOILER: highlight to read] in that they go from having fallen out of love to hating each other to falling madly back in love in a matter of days. But it is handled as well as it could be.

All in all, Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a fun, well-made action movie with plenty of laughs.


Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Tom Cruise, Pat Healy, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Year: 1999

I don't remember people liking Magnolia very much when it came out. That's probably why I never bothered to see it, although I thought Boogie Nights was brilliant.

Magnolia is another three-hour string of seemingly unconnected stories that all share a common thread. I wouldn't dare try to describe every storyline that the movie follows, but suffice it to say that there are a variety of people in a variety of situations. The big story would seem to be Cruise's hypersexist Frank Mackey coming to terms with his dying father.

Cruise does seem to steal the show every time he is on screen, but then his character is over-the-top in his disgusting objectification of women. Even having never seen the film, I knew the line, "Respect the cock, tame the cunt." The entire cast is phenomenal and so numerous that the above list is extremely partial.

Magnolia is dense, and shot artfully. This is both its brilliance and its downfall. Anderson can make a single ten-minute follow-through-a-crowd shot seem effortless, he can follow ten different characters over fifteen minutes with the same musical cue overlaid, tying it all together. But does he have to do it constantly, for three hours? Really, even with all of the characters and storylines, Magnolia was a two-hour movie with an extra hour of slow zooms and pans and stedicam shots adding another hour. I hate to presume, but it almost feels like Anderson is trying to show off just how many artistic shots he can cram into a film.

Rachel and I had to stop the movie after about two and a half hours to take a break. This might seem damning, but it wasn't because the movie was bad, only that there was so much of it that, like when eating a large meal, it seemed wise to unbutton the pants and let the gut hang out for a while.

Magnolia is good, but be sure you sit in a comfortable chair.



  1. I'm curious, what spawned this sudden surge in movie reviews? Is it a writing practice or you just suddenly decided you wanted to or what?

  2. Mostly it's just because I've been watching movies about ten times more often than before and wanted to keep track. It also gives me something to blog about when I don't have anything else.

  3. can't wait to read your review of "Batman Begins."

  4. It was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Yay!!!!

  5. Royal Tennenbaums is one of my favorite movies...when I saw it the first time I knew why. I do believe it was based off of J.D. Salingers book re: the wiz kids...a great read BTW. Wes Anderson also ALWAYS attaches a great soundtrack with his movies.