More Or Wes Worthwhile

Peter (Adrien Brody) : He said the train is lost.
Jack (Jason Schwartzman) : How can a train be lost? It’s on rails.

Wes Anderson’s latest opus THE DARJEELING LIMITED starts playing today in my area as it has now entered its nationwide release. It opened in New York at the end of last month and a few other places after that but now film geeks from all markets can rejoice. I caught a sneak preview of it last night so here’s my review :

THE DARJEELING LIMITED (Dir. Wes Anderson, 2007) Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and a new addition to the Anderson reparatory company – Adrien Brody are brothers who haven’t seen each other in the year following their father’s death. In a plan initiated by Wilson they meet up to take a train ride in India to bond and take “a spiritual journey” – also suggested by Wilson. They lug a huge amount of luggage with them on this trip – of course we get the symbolism there – baggage, right? Along the way they fight, embrace, engage in odd enforced rituals, and wonder where the Hell they are really going and what they are going to achieve. It is easy to wonder that about the film as well but Anderson’s visual mastery is absorbing as usual, his soundtrack choices exquisite (including The Kinks and music from Satyajit Ray’s films), and the acting superb so it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

It is hard though, maybe impossible to not think of Owen Wilson’s real-life suicide attempt when his character here had nearly killed himself by crashing his car on purpose and spends the film with his head wrapped in bandages. What makes it so difficult to separate the art from the non-fiction is his character is given practically no back story. In fact we are given so little to go on with just about everybody on the screen – Schwartzman is a published writer but of what type and is he respected or a hack? I can’t recall at all what Brody or Wilson’s occupations are and the info given on their parents is pretty vague too – their Mother (played by Anjelica Huston in a quiet but effective manner) became a reclusive Nun at some point but again we are given little motivation. They seem to have an unlimited amount of fundage to back their trip and to buy expensive trinkets so maybe their family was old money – who knows? These people don’t appear to have any life except what we see on the screen but maybe that’s the point.

Not fully thought out narrative threads and a pungent lack of pay-offs aside this is still a worthwhile night at the movies. Anderson may be treading water in some respects but it’s his own water and he stays afloat more than he sinks. The train of the films title winds down the tracks unconcerned with any existential meaning or the lack of it and that’s how moviegoers should be too when they get on board.

Postnote : I didn’t realize before seeing the film last night that the 13 min. prequel HOTEL CHEVALIER (reviewed on the post The Darjeeling Prequel – Now Playing On My iPod Nano 10/1/07) was going to be played before the main feature theatrically. It gave me the chance to re-evaluate the short and I admit I liked it a lot better on the big screen as opposed to my previous iPod postage stamp sized viewing. Go figure.

More later…

The Darjeeling Prequel – Now Playing On My iPod Nano

“She’s kind of like a movie everyone rushes to see, and no one understands it sittin’ in their seats.”
– The Replacements (“Achin’ To Be” from Don’t Tell A Soul, 1989)

So as every online film geek knows that the official “prequel” to the highly anticipated Wes Anderson joint THE DARJEELING LIMITED (well, anticipated in my area – I know it’s already opened in other markets) was made available free though iTunes last week. It was filmed a year in advance of THE DARJEELING LIMITED and titled HOTEL CHEVALIER (the end credits list it as “PART 1 OF THE DARJEELING LIMITED“).

Since I just got an iPod Nano and am really new to the world of podcasts and video downloads I thought it would be a good tryout to download and watch this 13 min. short. I know – I could easily blow it up on my computer screen but having heard the criticism of this new gadget as a valid visual medium I decided to view and review HOTEL CHEVALIER based on my iPod experience. So here goes :

Immediately I realize how silly this venture is because it’s presented in widescreen which makes the picture much smaller than the screen provides and there’s no way to zoom or enlarge in any way. A mustached Jason Schwartzman lounges in a Parisian hotel room ordering grilled cheese sandwiches and watching STALAG 17 on TV (I could barely see it on the iPod screen – thanks for the nerdspotting The Playlist!) until Natalie Portman calls up and wants to visit. She shows up shorthaired (I guess it still hasn’t grown back from V FOR VENDETTA) and clingy. They exchange cryptic dialogue – Portman : “are you running away from me?” Schwartzman : “I thought I already did” and have a brief sex scene that is really not done justice on my iPod’s postage stamp viewpoint.

This short film seems to completely be about the song “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)” by Peter Sarstedt – the bulk of which is played twice. The lack of back story and any further insight into either Schwartzman or Portman’s characters left me hanging and unsatisfied. Even though on my little screen it looked great – the colors and framing all held my attention and I loved the song but sadly the stylistic approach is the whole show – no real insight or memorable moments appear. The last tracking shot of the couple in question walking in slow motion is a Anderson trademark and it’s provided in this short as the payoff which uh…well, let’s just say it doesn’t bode well for THE DARLEELING LIMITED. Despite that the full length follow-up PART 2 already getting pretty scathing reviews so far I’m gonna wait and see for myself how disappointing it will be – snap! Nah, nah…we’ll just wait and see.

More later…