Wes Anderson films make me happy. I love the way he weaves music into his stories, and he's the only guy who can repeatedly use slow-motion walking sequences that continue to leave me smiling (as opposed to, say, that jackass Michael Bay). Anderson is one of a kind, and all of his films tend to have the same quirky, floating vibe.
This one follows three brothers (Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson) as they trek through India toward a rendezvous with their long-lost mother (Anjelica Huston). The brothers start off at odds, with some minor squabbling, but they eventually remember how to be good brothers and friends by film's end.
Wilson tends to excel in Anderson films, and this one is no exception. This is good Owen, as opposed to the bad Owen who inhabits dreck like You, Me and Dupree. Brody shows a nice gift for dry comedy, and Schwartzman excels as well. This is his second teaming with Anderson after making his incredible screen debut in Rushmore.
Special Features: A nice behind-the-scenes featurette shows the cast and crew clowning around and relaxing. There's a nice moment with the cobra that was featured in the film. Unfortunately, that's all you get; I'm thinking there'll be a bigger special edition down the line. Criterion Collection usually handles Anderson films on DVD, so what gives?
Twenty years ago, director Alex Cox followed up his critically acclaimed Sid and Nancy and Western comedy Straight to Hell with the critically crucified Walker. Starring Ed Harris as William Walker, an American mercenary who became dictator of Nicaragua in the mid-19th century, the picture was shown little confidence by Universal Pictures, which gave it a limited theatrical run. While it did get a video release, it has never seen the light of day on DVD.
Criterion Collection has remedied this with a new release of the film, and Walker is prime example of a movie that was well ahead of its time. It's not a great movie by any means, but it's remarkably adventurous.
After the film's release, Cox virtually disappeared from the filmmaking scene, with nothing but low-profile projects, and that's a shame. Cox, who also directed Repo Man, has never been one for entertaining through conventional means. Walker spends much of its running time as a standard war movie, as we see a generally well-minded American man carrying out a mission in Nicaragua. However, as the film progresses, Walker (hilariously depicted by Harris) begins to go mad, as do Cox's methodologies. By film's end, we're seeing Coca-Cola bottles and Marlboro cigarettes in the 19th century, a Mercedes racing through a shot and Walker on the cover of Newsweek magazine. The ultimate anachronisms occur in the film's finale and credits. I won't give them away, but they make a very modern statement on American imperialism, pretty much obliterating the notion of a period-piece biopic. By the time Harris' Walker pops a piece of human flesh into his mouth and displays a maniacal, wide-eyed look, it's clear that Cox was firing a shot right into the face of Reagan-era military strategies.
The late Joe Strummer provided an excellent, underappreciated soundtrack. He also had a role in the film.
Special Features: On the DVD commentary, Cox proudly explains that these anachronisms were meant to be comedic, although they managed to confuse and confound audiences and critics. It might be a fair argument to say these anachronisms helped derail Cox's commercial filmmaking career. There's a supplement in which Cox is seen reading the treacherous reviews for his misunderstood film while sitting in his secluded cabin with his dog. Intentional or not, the sight of Cox reading past reviews while sitting in his present-day, ramshackle cabin is a stark reminder of how a severe critical drubbing can destroy a filmmaker.
In this, another Criterion release, a classic Richard Harris performance gets a nice repackaging with This Sporting Life. Harris plays Frank, a Yorkshire miner who gets his big break when the city's rugby team signs him up for professional play. Directed by Lindsay Anderson (O Lucky Man!), the 1963 film is a British filmmaking landmark. Harris might remind many viewers of Marlon Brando in this, a picture reminiscent of On the Waterfront. Harris is a marvel, an earnest yet vulgar bruiser prone to mood swings; he spends a good chunk of the film with broken teeth and sad looks. Those sad looks are due to his strange living conditions: He's lodging with a beautiful widow (Rachel Roberts) who isn't quite ready to move on. Harris and Roberts received Oscar nominations, and they were deserved.
Special Features: The two-disc set features a commentary from screenwriter David Storey, as well as documentaries from Anderson, including his final, autobiographical film, Is That All There Is?