Sink or swim?


The life moronic

by Daniel Krow

Owen Wilson, where are you? You’re in "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, " but your writing partner Wes Anderson has replaced you with some obscure writer-director named Noah Baumbach. And while I can’t be sure who to blame for the mess that is "The Life Aquatic," it seems more than coincidence that Wes Anderson makes his first bad movie when you two stop writing together. If you don’t put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) together sometime soon, I’m afraid the world may forever lose the movie magic of Wes Anderson.

"The Life Aquatic" concerns marine biologist and filmmaker Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), whose career is on the wane when the film begins, his new movie premiering in Rome to a less than favorable response. Zissou’s new movie is a two-parter – "a cliffhanger," as he tells the audience. The first part concerns the death of Steve’s close friend and shipmate Esteban du Plantier (Seymour Cassel) at the hands of the infamous (and possibly imaginary) jaguar shark. The rest of the movie concerns the hunt for the Jaguar shark and the mess of a movie Team Zissou tries to film.

What’s wrong with "The Life Aquatic" is the story. The sets are incredible, rich with detail impossible to take in all in one viewing, and Zissou’s ship, the Belafonte, must have been a blast for the cast and crew to work in. But Zissou himself seems an enigma. Too much of Steve’s past, as a man and as a filmmaker, is left a mystery. It’s as if Wes Anderson spent so much time specifying what color which room should be and what gizmos the Belafonte should have, he forgot to create characters to inhabit his elaborate sets. Since Steve is at the center of the story, the lack of understanding extends to other characters as well, especially Zissou’s wife Eleanor (Angelica Huston), whose ambivalence towards her husband lacks any concrete motivation.

There are some good things about "The Life Aquatic." All the actors, especially Bill Murray, do their best with the material they’ve been given, sometimes even turning poorly written scenes into gems. And the jaguar shark is truly a sight to behold. Ultimately, though, "The Life Aquatic" just feels sloppy, and whatever you want to call Wes Anderson’s previous movies, they were not that.

The life poetic

by Eric Macey

On Dec. 25, something occurred that was even more exciting than an international religious holiday giving most of us the day off work. The new, long-awaited film by Austin director Wes Anderson, "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," opened in theaters across the country.

Why is it more exciting than a religious holiday, you ask? Because everyone can enjoy it.

I think most people who have seen Anderson’s retrospectively small though theoretically large body of work would agree to a total-career-thumbs-up, and "The Life Aquatic," his fourth film, is certainly another amazing addition to the 37-year-old director’s resum퀌�.

The film is an advancement in subtlety and certainly a step forward. However, those accustomed to the director’s (wonderfully) over-stylized movies such as "The Royal Tenenbaums" or even "Rushmore" might be just a little surprised to find less overtly pleasing imagery and more endearing comedic drama.

The entire film is still stunning to look at, but the only true major visual feats in the film are the fully constructed shots of the interior of the Zissou team’s vessel, the Belafonte, and the incredibly bizarre animated underwater creatures created by Henry Selick ("The Nightmare Before Christmas"). All of Anderson’s trade marks are still there: the overhead camera angles to show tabletop visuals, the effective use of slow-motion, the ’60s and ’70s rock soundtrack and another score by Mark Mothersbaugh. Without these elements his films would indeed be different pieces of work.

A Cousteau-like explorer (Zissou), his crew and documentary film team, a pregnant reporter and a pilot from Kentucky claiming to be Zissou’s son all embark on a journey to the sea to find and kill the elusive jaguar shark who ate Zissou’s partner. Wes Anderson’s understated, dry humor keeps every second of the film interesting, from the crew’s outfits and red beanies to the unusual violence, the stellar performances from the entire ensemble cast and the patience to give depth to the characters he and Noah Baumbach created.

The comforting thing about attending a movie like this (much to the dismay of the many bloggers out there who love to point the finger and label lovers of this film "movie snobs of the worst kind") is that it is not a self-proclaimed single genre of film. If your taste is for something unordinary and original, you can’t go wrong with this film. If you are looking for a Saturday afternoon hangover flick, or a relaxing late-night bender, this film should do very well for your tastes. Then again, everybody does have his or her tastes, but you won’t know what you are missing to love or hate unless you go see the film.