The Darjeeling Limited

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What a relief. After The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, I wasn’t alone in diagnosing Wes Anderson with a damn-near terminal case of arrested development. With this story of three brothers on a spiritual quest through India, the precocious director with a sweet tooth for all things quirky proves that he has found a way forward: The Darjeeling Limited is his best work since Rushmore. With Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman. Roman Coppola, director of the underappreciated CQ, co-wrote the screenplay.

The film screens together with a short film, Hotel Chevalier, that serves as a prequel and stars a very naked Natalie Portman. We’ll have a full review and much more from the New York Film Festival on About.com as soon as we get rid of this leaden jetlag. The Darjeeling Limited will open on September 29.

Update: Marcy’s review of The Darjeeling Limited.

Hotel Chevalier. Wes Anderson, 2007. ****
The Darjeeling Limited. Wes Anderson, 2007. ****

The trailer:


Paris, je t'aime

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…and moi non plus. If there’s a kind of movie I hate to review more than any other, it’s the one that sounds too good to be true. Like a jilted lover obsessively reliving every painful moment, it requires rehashing your embarrassing anticipation and then laying out every deflating pinprick of disappointment. Besides, readers really hate the bearer of bad news. It can sap the joie de vivre right out of you.

So here we go again. Paris, je t’aime sounds like a connoisseur’s delight: two hours of short films celebrating the most romantic city in the world, directed by an impressive roster of international auteurs and starring a legion of favorite actors: Olivier Assayas, the Coen Brothers, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Christopher Doyle, Alexander Payne, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant; Natalie Portman, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gerard Depardieu, Juliette Binoche, Ludivine Sagnier, Steve Buscemi, Bob Hoskins, Nick Nolte, Ben Gazzara, Marianne Faithfull, Miranda Richardson, Fanny Ardant, Gena Rowlands, Barbet Schroeder, Gaspard Ulliel. Surely, this could be nothing but a pleasure?

Paris, je t’aime. Olivier Assayas, Frédéric Auburtin, Emmanuel Benbihy, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Gérard Depardieu, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravenese, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydès, Walter Salles, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Daniela Thomas, Tom Tykwer, and Gus Van Sant, 2006. **

Cleopatra, Sith, Death Proof

Prompted by the grand finale of Rome, we took another look at Cleopatra, which is one of those movies I can rewatch every few years. Compare-and-contrast is a fun enough game, and Marcy, who was never entirely sure which of the HBO characters were fictional, was entertained by noting differences in motivation and plot. Every frame of Cleopatra must have cost more than an entire episode of Rome, but the storytelling is much more contemporary on HBO. The movie nearly bankrupted Fox because it was designed to trump TV by outspending it. Forty years later, it has been shown up by… a TV show. But the images are still twice as wide, and the characters twice as grand.

Here’s what fascinated me, though: the palatial sets, outlandish backdrops, and outsized drama of Cleopatra resemble another, much more recent epic about larger-than-life figures. Along with forties serials, The Hidden Fortress, Ray Harryhausen and all the other usual suspects, there is no doubt that the Cinemascope epics of the fifties and sixties, and specifically Cleopatra, served as a blueprint for the Star Wars films. Archetypes in ever-morphing hairdos and caped costumes acting out eternal tragedies and reciting awkward, overwritten lines of dialogue — especially Revenge of the Sith, the episode in which the galactic shit hits the fan, is the spiritual and cinematic heir of Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s four-and-a-half-hour epic.

Read on for more about Star Wars, Grindhouse, and why Jar-Jar Binks is cooler than Stuntman Mike. Also, lots more screenshots.

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Casino Royale

Everybody’s wondering whether or not Daniel Craig makes a good James Bond, but of course he’ll do nicely. The truth is, the role of 007 doesn’t really take much more than a cold stare and the capacity to look snazzy in a dinner jacket. The real question: what about Eva Green? We’ve adored the French ingenue since her debut in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, and truth be told, she was the real reason we attended yesterday’s screening at New York’s Ziegfeld theater. Casino Royale starts out very strong, with gritty bathroom fights and a breathtaking, Ong-Bak-inspired chase through a construction site.

Just when the film starts losing steam, Green appears to save the spy from his own smugness. As Vesper Lynd, the smart but reserved accountant who lords over Bond’s finances while he plays high-stakes poker for terrorist funds, Green’s not only the most intriguing Bond girl since Sophie Marceau, she’s also the most important since George Lazenby got hitched to Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Their banter’s charming, the outfits are glamorous, the villian’s creepy, and the locations are splendid as always (even if they borrow Natalie Portman’s space retreat from Attack of the Clones.)

In other words, the ingredients are right, and Casino Royale had the potential for a truly great Bond movie. The franchise, which is really an endless series of remakes, always tends toward bigger, louder, and more cartoonish installments (Die Another Day was a superhero comic book), and every decade or so, the producers feel obliged to dial down the nonsense and reintroduce grit and a real sense of danger. Director Martin Campbell succeeds on this score, but he doesn’t know when to stop.

If Casino Royale had kept to a lean, mean 90 minutes, it could have been the perfect James Bond flick. But it just keeps on going, and after two and a half hours, all the drama and tragedy Campbell is obviously aiming for have bled from the movie, leaving us with nothing more but a headache and the familiar catchphrase. You’d be better off–and you’d see more of Eva Green–if you just rewatched The Dreamers, twice.

Casino Royale. Martin Campbell, 2006. **