Wes Anderson’s Criterion Journey: Bottle Rocket

I was never much of a Wes Anderson fan growing up.

Perhaps I was too young or too impatient to understand his style of filmmaking. I remember watching The Royal Tenenbaums when it came out and, other than the scene when Danny Glover falls into a ditch as he’s walking alongside Anjelica Houston, I didn’t laugh once. There were excerpts of critics praising that movie all over the case of the DVD, so what was I missing?

It wasn’t until it was screened for us during my senior year of high school that it finally clicked for me. I guess you have to experience your own period of growing pains filled with awkward moments before you can grasp that absurd and ironic sense of humor. Or maybe that was exclusive to me. Whatever the reason that it took me so long, I’ve been a fan of his ever since.

I’m also a fan of collecting movies. The guest bedroom in my apartment has shelves packed full of blu-ray discs, which is a testament to my fiance’s patience to put up with that sort of thing and a perfect example of why nowadays most people opt for streaming: storing that many movies is a big pain in the ass. For me, it’s more of a labor of love and when I found out that Anderson has gradually been remastering all of his feature films and releasing them on blu-ray through the Criterion Collection, I knew that I had to have them.

Which brings me here. If you’re going to buy all of these films, watch them and try to turn it into a series for your blog, you have to start at the beginning.

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I Always Come Back to Up in the Air

You may have noticed that it’s been a little quiet around here lately. I have a habit of not forcing myself to write unless I feel a great surge of inspiration. I wouldn’t say that this is the best way to complete your next piece as a writer, as it’s a good rule of thumb to fight through these periods of “writer’s block” and just get something down (a rule that I am admittedly very bad at following).

My goal for the future is to break this habit. My goal for today is to tell you about the surge of inspiration that hit me on Monday while I was taking the train downtown. It involves George Clooney and a little film known as Up in the Air. Why did a movie from 2009 randomly pop in my head while I was on the light rail? No idea. This is one of the reasons that I liken films to old friends: you can go months or even years without coming across them, but one day they just appear again and you instantly reconnect with them.

Maybe part of the reason it was this particular film is that Up in the Air is all about connections: the ones we don’t make, the ones we do and wish we hadn’t, and the startling realization that life just isn’t the same without them.

In order to truly explore this, I am going to go in-depth with the plot details here. If you continue, you’ve already seen the movie or just don’t care about spoilers. Power to you.

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Penny Marshall, Awakenings and Living Your Life

A lot of people remember her as the Golden Globe Award winning actress from Laverne & Shirley, one of the most beloved sitcoms of the 70’s and early 80’s. I watched Big all the time when I was a kid, so I remember her as the director who turned a small boy into Tom Hanks. Others may recall her witty cameo from Hocus Pocus (possibly without even realizing it was her), who as “The Master’s Wife” cracked wise and told those witches to get the hell out of her house. Thanks to A League of Their Own, I always wait for Tom Hanks to show up and chastise someone for crying in baseball whenever I see a person crying in baseball.

Whatever your memories of the indelible Penny Marshall are, either her career as an actress, her collaborations with Hanks or anything in between, there is no disputing the impact that she had on both television and film. A trailblazer if there ever was one, an entertainer with a rather underrated body of work and whom unbeknownst to me was also a major sports fan, even possessing season tickets to both the Lakers and Clippers. I’ve been watching basketball for years and never knew, but it was likely both her intention to stay out of the spotlight during those games and the camera only cutting to Jack Nicholson at courtside that caused me to miss that.

Marshall’s desire to avoid that kind of attention while still endearing herself to those around her encapsulates her career as a director rather well. When I heard she had sadly passed away just a few weeks ago, I made a mental note to rewatch Awakenings because I view it as the ultimate Penny Marshall film.

My reasoning is simple: it’s likely the greatest movie that you have never seen.

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What Makes a Christmas Movie?

There’s been a lot of debate regarding the classification of Die Hard as a Christmas movie. John McTiernan’s 1988 action smash-hit is an iconic film, but is it a holly jolly one? Does it belong on your watchlist during the holiday season? Or should it be far removed from more family friendly entertainment that doesn’t feature gunfights, drugs and yippie ki-yay, mothe… well, you know the rest.

That’s a question that people have been asking for 30 years now, and there are plenty of articles out there that try to answer it. My purpose here is to instead list all the qualities that a Christmas movie should have, and if it turns out that Die Hard possesses all of them? Well, then I guess you are allowed to put it on after It’s a Wonderful Life.

Let’s get to it!

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Mockingbird is a Flawed, Beloved Classic

I was flipping through the channels on my TV the other day and ultimately decided on a couple episodes of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Yes, I’m one of those weirdos who still pays for cable. I also love dad jokes, prefer a night in over a night out and often find myself wide awake by seven in the morning. In other words, I’m old.

The reason the Daily Show caught my attention that day was because of the guests who were on it. First up was Dwyane Wade, who was reflecting on playing his last season in the NBA and his plans for his post-playing career. This did nothing to make me feel any younger and I think I fell into a small but brief depression. The next guest was Andrew Gillum, the Democratic Candidate in the recent Florida Gubernatorial election.

Gillum wound up losing that race, but he inspired a lot of people during his campaign and something he said to Noah in the interview caught my attention: “My grandmother used to have this saying, ‘Never, ever, ever wrestle with pigs,’ she said, ‘because you both get dirty, but the pig actually likes it.’”

I was reminded of a key scene in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch is at Tom Robinson’s home to inform Tom’s wife of her husband’s death. As he is trying to console her, Bob Ewell arrives to confront Atticus. Mr. Ewell is just a bit peeved at Atticus for defending Tom after the latter was accused of raping Ewell’s daughter, Mayella, and he sure is hell is going to make it known. Even though Tom was clearly innocent and convicted anyway, it makes no difference. When Atticus comes outside, Ewell spits in his face. Instead of retaliating or simply objecting, as most people would’ve done, Atticus wipes off the spit, gets in his car where his son Jem is waiting and drives home.

If Gregory Peck ever faced that scenario in his real life, I’d imagine that he would’ve resolved it virtually the same way. As Harper Lee put it: “Atticus Finch gave him an opportunity to play himself.”

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12 Angry Men

I’ve been selected for jury duty once in my life. While I shan’t reveal any details here, mainly because most of them elude me at this point, I do remember feeling the weight of responsibility in making my decision. If the parties involved decided that they wanted me to sit in on their jury, I felt that I owed it to them to carefully consider all the arguments and ensure that I had my facts straight. Plus they gave me free food. What kind of monster would I be if I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain?

So imagine my surprise during my first viewing of 12 Angry Men when a young man will be sentenced to die if the jury reaches a guilty verdict, and yet some of the jurors just want to hurry up and vote so they can get out of there. If Henry Fonda’s juror was as shocked as I was, he hid it well, merely suggesting that it’s worth talking about the trial because he has “reasonable doubt.” A few of these other men are annoyed and don’t see the point in discussing anything. The kid is guilty and that’s that. Fonda remains steadfast in his belief and the jurors have no choice but to reluctantly oblige him. The seeds have been planted for 90+ plus minutes of required viewing for anyone curious about the filmmaking process, and the importance of dialogue, camerawork and body language.

And I suppose I should mention we’re going to get into some spoilers here, so if you are lucky enough to have the chance to see 12 Angry Men for the first time, do yourself a huge favor and go check it out before you read this. I promise you won’t regret it.

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The Dark Knight

Everyone remembers seeing The Dark Knight at the theater. Whether you were eagerly anticipating its release or aren’t the biggest fan of Batman or movies but got dragged to the premier with your friends anyway, you were there. It was one of those event films that transcended the typical movie-going experience. And while Christopher Nolan has made equally engaging films before and since, this is the one that he’s best known for. Fresh off of its 10th Anniversary, how has The Dark Knight continued to stand out in the ever-crowded field of superhero movies?

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