The Morning After: Sep. 1, 2014

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Royal Tenenbaums

When Wes Anderson burst onto the filmmaking scene with Bottle Rocket, he was declared a wunderkind, a director of such potential that his eclectic future could be dotted with some brilliant films. As his Moonrise Kingdom and The Fantastic Mr. Fox have proven, this is a true statement. I now get to add to that list of his films that I love with The Royal Tenenbaums, a clever riff on family dynamics in a disjointed and emotionally bereft home environment.

The story follows the lives of the Tenenbaum family headed by the selfish Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), his brilliant but aloof wife (Anjelica Huston), his three children Chas (played in adulthood by Ben Stiller), Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Richie (Luke Wilson). Chas was a brilliant businessman before his wife died in a plane crash leaving him and his two boys in a perpetual stayed of paranoia. Margot was a budding playwright, but was adopted into the family leaving her tenuous connection to the family, including her father, keeping her at arm’s length. Richie was a child prodigy at tennis before he flubbed a prominent match and descending into a bout of melancholy driven largely by his forbidden love for Margot. His childhood best friend Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) made a career for himself as a renowned author while pining for Margot who married the clever psychologist Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray). The film also stars Danny Glover and Seymour Cassel in supporting roles.

This is Anderson at the top of his game, carefully controlling the pieces of his chess board as they maneuver through expected obstacles coming out on the other side victorious, but against whom no one knows. Is their emotionless childhood to blame or are they merely disaffected youth born of money. The film seems to derive much of its enjoyment from the tackling of bourgeois malaise and severe dysfunction. Anderson’s film is clever, insightful and outlandish, a stylistic calling card that secures his place as one of the foremost auteurs working today.

A Simple Plan

Many prominent directors started out in the realms of horror films. Ridley Scott, James Cameron and Steven Spielberg each took the genre to new places before ultimately becoming three of the biggest names in cinema. Another director who brought humor to horror with his Evil Dead II has a more modestly noted career, the height of which is more than a decade old.

Three buddies happen across an airplane crashed in the snowy wildlife preserve near there homes. When they discover a stash of cash inside, they hatch a simple plan to hold onto the money, find out if anyone comes looking for the plane, and divvy it up only if it’s clear no one is missing it. That plan starts to unravel as a series of unfortunate events begin to plague the trio, leading to death, betrayal and bitter recrimination.

The cast is stellar, headed by the affable Bill Paxton as the trio’s de facto leader, an educated general store clerk whose wife (Bridget Fonda) is about to have a baby. Billy Bob Thornton plays Hank’s less intelligent brother Jacob and Brent Briscoe rounds out the threesome as the combative Lou. Gary Cole has a late-film appearance as an FBI agent looking for the missing plane.

The framing, compositions and flow of A Simple Plan show a strong filmmaker working in a tempo and setting that seems intimately familiar. Sam Raimi’s other films have all be high on bombastic simplicity, frequently diverting the audience with gaudy visuals instead of sumptuous narrative cognizance. This film shows what a solid screenplay can be in the hands of someone who knows and appreciates the art of filmmaking. It’s unfortunate that no film he’s done before or since has even come close to this late-90’s gem.

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