Hey folks and Jeffrey Wells, Harry here... Well Jeff, seems like you have continual reasons to be shaking in those booties of yours awaiting this gem... Like all those that have fallen under Wes Anderson's spell with his last two films, Mr Wells has been eating up every nugget of news and reviews of these early cuts that I've been able to dish out. And with good reasons. This film looks to be absolutely remarkable. Now, first up we have a review that takes a look at the music soundtrack for THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS followed by two very well written lengthy reviews of the film. Enjoy and be excited!
call me mr. littlerjeans.
went to a screening of the royal tenenbaums last night in nyc, big theater (about 500 people). i'm sure you'll be getting lots of reports about the film, so i'd thought i'd write in about something that's very important in wes anderson films, the music.
in bottle rocket and rushmore, anderson stuck almost entirely to mid-to-late '60s tunes, mostly british stuff (kinks, stones). here he branches out just a bit into british punk but mostly it's still 60s stuff, all chosen with care to suit the mood of the scene. i seriously doubt that all the music he used in the cut i saw will make it into the film because a) it will be incredibly expensive and b) some of the artists may not let him use it.
"b" is also for beatles and the songs "hey jude" and "i'm looking through you" bookend the movie. they both work and i think it's a bit brave to put in such a well known song as "hey jude" in the opening (though maybe this will be replaced by mothersbaugh music??). you don't hear beatles songs in movies very often so i'm curious to see if they'll stay (i hope "i'm looking through you" stays especially).
there are at least three velvet underground songs, and i think they were all nico-sung. a very funny montage with gene hackman and ben stiller's two sons is set to paul simon's "me and julio down by the schoolyard." owen's character, "eli," always seems to be listening to the clash -- in his convertible we hear "lost in the supermarket" (i think) and at his apartment he's listening to "rock the casbah." there's also a early ramones song used.
but the two most effective moments are... a pivotal scene with luke wilson's character set to elliot smith's "needle in the hay" -- very powerful, sad.
my favorite, though, is a nice scene between gwenyth and luke wilson in a tent. she's listening to records and puts on the rolling stones' between the buttons LP and as the scene goes on, you actually get to hear it go from one song to the next, with the crackle in between songs etc. i think this is the first time i have ever seen this done in a movie (not to say it's never been done, but i haven't seen it) and it just rings so true. that's wes anderson's gift. he gets the details right.
in this version, at least, there were two songs from the peanuts christmas special and harpsichord music from rushmore that i know was just temped in. i'm forgetting some stuff, i'm sure, but that's a general idea of what songs are being used.
as for the movie itself, i liked it a lot. i'm not crazy about alec baldwin's narration (especially at the end, which i think is unnecessary) but they're still tweaking it and i'm sure stuff will change. just hopefully not the soundtrack.
And then we have the following wonderful rave....
Harry my friend,
It is with the greatest joy that i submit this, my first report, a hurried scoop from last night's test-screening of Wes (Rushmore) Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums. Along with my trusty companions Bigbie and Robespierre, I braved a brutal line of boisterous upper-east-side arthouse Jews and Gentiles in stifling heat. The only provisions for the test screening were that we were all between the ages of 18 and 44, that we be "appropriately dressed" and "not under the influence of narcotics" and of course, that we refrain from discussing the film with, among others, aintitcoolnews.com. I wasn't the only one looking forward to seeing this film. From the in-line banter around us, it was clear that this was definitely a Wes Anderson crowd: everybody seemed to have loved Rushmore had it existed. A girl behind me explained to her unsophisticated companion that "Rushmore was huge in Colorado" , speaking on behalf of her state in that way that young people and expatriates will.
We were the last people to squeeze into the theatre, and found ourselves in the front-most, side-most seats in the house, a viewing angle that made everybody appear bulbous and dizzying (Bigbie wasn't affected in same way-- as a victim of congenital myopia, his world has long been bulbous and dizzying!)
A tan and harried fellow introduced the film, explaining the print we were about to see was incomplete. This was true: the color balance and sound were patchy, the titles a work in progress, and i noticed that the films score was provissionally lifted directly from Rushmore. However, the print we saw, i believe, was a pretty approximate edit of what audiences will be seeing this fall.
Harry, this is a really wonderful film. It as such a unique energy: I can't remember feeling so giddy in a film since, well, Rushmore. And where The Royal Tenenbaum's isn't as touching as Rushmore, it has all the innocence and twice the absurdity. The film, and the charcters, are introduced through an extended series of montages and flashbacks by an unseen narrator (Alec Baldwin i believe). The Tenenbaums, we are told, are a family of geniuses, but these are not geniuses in the vein of Luke Perry's Dylan MacKay, with his copy of Byron in the passenger seat of his Porsche Spider. Nor are they snobbish virtuosos. Rather, they are eccentric, over-achieving, under-developed oddballs. The Tenenbaums are a idiosyncratic and hysterically dysfunctional Carter-era aristocracy, who live in a cluttered and stately old townhouse, with an Indian butler called Pagoda.
The Tenenbaum family consists of: Gene Hackman (who nearly steals this film) as the scurrilous title character Royal, the family's unreliable and somewhat gr! an! diose patriarch. Angelica Houston plays his headstrong archaeologist wife, prideful of her three children: youngest son Chas, (Ben Stiller), who runs a business from his bedroom at age 12 and breeds "Dalmatian mice", Richie (Luke Wilson) a tennis prodigy, and aspiring artist; adopted daughter Margot (Gwenyth Paltrow) a brooding disaffected young playwright, and their neighbor and childhood pal, Eli, (Owen Wilson) who just seems to be around all the time.
When the introductions are done, the children have all grown up, but into stunted, larger versions of themselves. We learn that Richie climbed to the top of pro tennis, before suffering an hilarious mid-match meltdown. We find him dropped out, (still dressed in 70s tennis grab, looking very much like the lovechild of Bjorn Borg and late Beatles Paul Macartney in a shaggy beard and tinted glasses) cruising the world alone in the solitude of the cabin abroad a stately steamer. Margot has married an old! er! clinical neurologist, played wonderfully by Bill Murray, and has maintained a fiercely secretive existence, (including a 20 year smoking habit and a 9 day marriage to a Jamaican recording artist). She spends most of her time sulking in the bathroom and is also, mysteriously, is missing half a finger. Chas is a neurotic widower and father to 2 mini-Ben Stillers: just watching these 3 little men racing about in their matching red Adidias sport is reason alone to see this movie. Childhood pal Eli, meanwhile, has become a celebrated beat-style poet, but one who dresses exclusively in cowboy outfits. The casting is perfect. You cannot imagine anybody else playing these roles.
Without really giving much away, (though this is not a heavily plot driven film), The Royal Tenenbaums is principally concerned with Gene Hackman's Royal and his efforts to win back the affections of his family, from which he has become estranged. Many japes ensue, although wouldn't call this a comed! y ! of errors but rather mannerisms and talk. The writing in this film is absolutely fantastic.The dialogue is wry and poetically absurd. And it just keeps coming and coming. The characters say the things you expect them to say, only it always manages to come out in an unexpected way at the last minute.
The crowd exploded in applause at the end of the film. As we ambled out into the sticky night Bigbie, Robespierre and I each had our own ideas on why this films works so wonderfully, and didn't melt down from its cleverness and star power.
Bigbie marvelled at the films sense on anachronism. The grown up Tenenbaum children are still dress like hippie art-kids from the 1970s, (some of the films shots, and almost all of those with a smoking, pouting Gwenyth, look like cover shoots from Wallpaper Magazine), but their world is thoroughly modern. The hotels are old, and everybody gets around is a hideously decrepit livery cab that keeps popping up, ---and yet, cha! ra! cters use as many pagers and iMacs as they do faded beige Xerox machines and boxy old office phones. For me the film is like the children's books I grew up on: Eloise, The Mixed up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankwiler, Roald Dahl. Its very much a media-free world of dress-up, overstimulated imaginations and bad fashion. A larger than life playground. And you are never quite sure where or when the film is set... it's both London (where it seems to have been filmed) and New York--but in a fabled and fantastical way: there is 375th St Y, and Angelica Houston's Etheline conducts full-scale archaeological digs in what appears to be the Bronx. The movie literally proceeds by a series of "chapters" and even opens with a shot of an library book "The Royal Tenenbaums" being checked out. And for Robespierre, it was the films attention to details. One of the great achievements of the films opening 15 minutes, is that it introduces dozens of little touch! es! the visual props really help build the movie's world.
And of course, the soundtrack is fantastic: I recognized The Beatles, Nico, The Clash, and some Velvet Underground along the way.
The only criticism I would have of the film, is that when it moves into a more dramatic and emotional phase, it leaves us a little cold, if only because the characters are so many and mannered. These are people that behave and gesture, but with the exception of Gene Hackman's Royal, don't quite seem flesh and blood. We love these characters but its hard for us to take them too seriously. I also would have liked more Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. But that would have been a different film then, I suppose. And while this film is very smart and sharp, there is always a genuine feeling of warmth and kindness throughout.
The Wes Anderson/Owen Wilson collaborations are becoming for me what Woody Allen used to be. Each of these films is different but everybody is breathing in the same air. I definitely recommend everybody go see this movie
Your man on the upper-east side,
And here's another rave, beware of spoilers folks...
Harry! I'm so happy to be able to make an offering to the site I've frequented for so long.
Last night I attended an early screening on the Upper East Side of Manhattan of Wes Anderson's new feature, The Royal Tennenbaums. What a treat, not just to see the film, but to see it in it's present, fragile state. I didn't know what to expect but I was on the edge of my seat as the temp track (borrowed from Rushmore and Bottle Rocket throughout) began to play. I love Bottle Rocket, I think Rushmore is one of the best films of the last decade and Anderson the true original filmmaker of my generation. The Royal Tennenbaums will do nothing to dispel this opinion for anyone who shares it. Though at first it seems a very close cousin to Rushmore, almost too close, after a short time it takes on a personality of it's own as the scope of the relationships broaden and deepen. The miracle of Anderson's (and writing partner Owen Wilson's) touch is that it remains light as a feather even as his characters plunge into such a variety of darknesses, while simultaneously acheiving a kind of poetry of simplicity that's comparable to other great artists such as Hal Ashby, The Beatles, and J.D. Salinger. Which brings us to the Tennenbaums.
Loosely inspired by Salinger's "Glass Family" stories ("Franny and Zooey", "Seymour-An Introduction", and "A Perfect Day For Bananafish") and Orson Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons", the Tennenbaums are a family of former child geniuses who are brought home to a sort of "alternate" Manhattan by a series of personal traumas that are so perfectly and hilariously introduced to us that we know more about these people inside of fifteen minutes than any movie family since the Corleones. The Tennenbaums who consist of "Son-Of-A-Bitch" patriarch Gene Hackman, lonely anchor Angelica Huston, and their three children, the explosive but internally devastated Ben Stiller, the completely lost Luke Wilson, and the implosive Gwyneth Paltrow, circle each other, dance in and out of those circles, and right under their own noses, almost imperceptively change each other through the course of one sad winter. Circling in and out of their periphery are other unique personalities brought vividly to life by Danny Glover, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Seymour Cassel, Anderson stalwarts Deepak & Kumar Pallana, and a wonderful narrative performance from Alec Baldwin that is reminiscent of the straight-forward, literate voice-over in Truffault's "Jules & Jim". Each character is written and acted with such pathos, humor and most importantly, incredible economic detail that not only is it easy to follow them all, but we understand them completely as they jump through their own psychological hoops. Anderson and Wilson's ability to get at a kind of existential comic beauty has expanded here both in scope and depth by creating a universe filled with such shockingly original detail (the set design alone is as important a part of character development as the performances). There is a scene early on that I won't give away between Gene Hackman and Angelica Huston so brilliantly played out (in one confident master shot) that so effortlessly careens from dark drama to high comedy and back again in the space of sixty seconds that my jaw was on the floor. The camera work throughout is by turns commanding, unobtrusive, and gracefully inventive.
Now, what state is the film in? It needs some cutting. It's a little long. There are plenty of scenes throughout the middle that, while nicely played, are unnecessary to the overall arc of the characters. They'll make some nice gems for the DVD but the impact of the wonderful third act is lessened by several indulgences early on. And there's one sequence involving Gene Hackman and his faithful friend Kumar Pallana that makes no sense whatsoever and really upsets the delicate balance of the universe these characters inhabit. Overall (I know we love him but) Kumar is used too much. He's much funnier in small doses. I hope Anderson has the courage to bleed the movie to save the whole. And I'll be interested in seeing what music stays in the movie (I assume the unavailable "Hey Jude" and "I'm Looking Through You" were an understandable self-indulgence but I hope Nick Drake and Nico stay right where they are). Wes' brilliant use of music is always the final punch that makes me lose it. When "Ooh-la-la" comes on at the end of Rushmore I cry like a baby. I'm still not sure why. I guess it's all just so beautiful.
But overall, it's a wonderful addition to the growing Anderson/Wilson chronicles. As it stands now, it's more ambitious but not as perfect as Rushmore. With a little tweaking, it could blow it away. Outside the theater, I caught a glimpse of Wes himself walking down the street talking animatedly with some other studio (?) people. I hope they were discussing changes. It's such a fine line. Such a fine line.
---Shrevie, NYC, 2001