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January 08, 2002 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 2002-01-08

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The Michigan Daily - Friday, January 8, 2002 - 7

'The Royal Tenenbaums' places
Anderson with Hollywood elite

By Lyle Henretty
Daily Arts Editor
Melancholy ensemble comedies easily attract big stars
for short, meatier-than-usual roles, and the cumulative
effect is often an un-satisfying string of fine perfor-
mances in a film that collapses under its own creative
girth. The narratives of Charles
Dickens and Robert Altman sustain
themselves while juggling charac-
ters as varied as Hawkeye Pierce
The Royal and the Artful Dodger. Wes Ander-
son joins this exclusive, genius-
enenbaums approaching club with "The Royal
Tenenbaums," and cements his
Grade: A budding reputation as a major Hol-
lywood player without compromis-
At Showcase ing his sweetly-cynical outlook
and Quality 16 honed in his earlier works, "Bottle
Rocket" and "Rushmore."
"Tenenbaums" is Anderson's
most ambitious work to date, quiet-
;:_".____ quiet-ly moving from the insular worlds
of his past films into a never-
named (though recognizably New
York) city full of both people and buildings well past
their prime. Alec Baldwin, in voice-over narration,
explains how Royal Tenenbaum bought his family home
in his 35th year. An introduction explains how Royal and
his wife Etheline gave birth to three child prodigies, all
of whom, by their mid 30s, have become washed up

shadows of themselves. We then meet an elderly Royal
(Gene Hackman) virtually unchanged in over 30 years.
The house, like the children, has decayed; Only Royal
remains unchanged, and he is the least liked character in
the film.
Anderson again collaborates with actor/writer Owen
Wilson on a script that showcases the painful humor
involved in a truly dysfunctional family of geniuses. The
laconic Wilson clearly understands his limitations as an
actor, and is far superior speaking his own lines then he
is playing heroic in "Behind Enemy Lines." His role as
life-long Tenenbaum neighbor/best-selling author Eli
Cash is his best in years, and furthers the idea that he
should never play a part he does not write for himself.
In both "Bottle Rocket" and "Rushmore," Anderson
and Wilson craft characters with such energy that their
lack of ethics must be forgiven. In their earlier films,
though, this was usually isolated to one or two charac-
ters (Dignan in "Bottle Rocket," for instance). Here,
they take their premise to the ultimate level - an entire
film swimming with characters deeply flawed enough to
self-destruct at any second, yet the viewer becomes
deeply invested in their fates.
"Tenenbaums" flawlessly forges. character and actor,
each player uses their strengths to create entirely new
entities. Hackman's wayward patriarch Royal is as
charmingly greasy as Hackman's greatest characters,yet
has a certain humanizing pathos that allows the viewer
to share in his joy and sadness. Like his portrayal of B-
movie king Harry Zimm in "Get Shorty," the viewer
response to Royal has a positive correlation with his
ability to irk other characters. While any number of
actors deserve a Best Supporting Actor nomination for
this film, Hackman stands out as the most crafty. His
acting is not simply tweaking expectations, but develop-
ing a real, blood-and-guts character.
The main conflict arises when Royal is kicked out of
his home (well, his hotel room) and decides that it is a
good time to make peace with his "family of geniuses."
Son Chas (Ben Stiller) was a financial whiz as a pre-
adolescent has become a jump-suit clad widower so
paranoid about safety that he holds regular fire drills for
his own young sons. Stiller challenges himself by keep-
ing Chas hopelessly repressed, a martyr in his wife's
death. He avoids his trademark fits of anger until the
films end. His catharsis works on a dual level, both for
the character and the audience waiting to see Stiller
explode. It's a brilliant touch that shows the restraint of
both actor and filmmakers.
Owen's brother Luke Wilson plays Richie Tenenbaum,
a young tennis prodigy who melts down on the court, the
stress of stardom and his illicit love for his adopted sis-
ter Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) finally overtaking his

corts o ouhsoe itue

Must be nice when your brother writes the script, eh, headband?

sanity. Margot was an established playwright in middle
school who hasn't written in years, and spends most of
her time watching television and sneaking smokes in the
bathtub. The tension between Wilson and Paltrow is gei-
uinely sweet, which makes it all the more disturbing. Pal-
trow gives a brilliant character performance, relying
neither on her looks nor past achievements to breathe life
into the complex relationship. Luke is laconic like his
brother, yet has a subdued electricity that leaves him in a
limbo somewhere between leading man and mental
Anjelica Houston, as matriarch Etheline Tenenbaum,
gives her best performance in years, giving Ethelne an
inner sweetness and light confusion as to how her perfect
family life fell to pieces. Danny Glover plays a kindly
suitor drawn into the conflict and pitted against the ruth-
less Royal. As always, Glover is a solid character actor
who,' for some reason, makes a blue suit look dapper.
Seymour Cassel gives fine support as a doorman posing
as Royal's doctor and Anderson regular Kumar Pallana is
a riot as Tenenbaum butler and Royal compatriot Pagoda.
Bill Murray, as Margot's put-upon psychiatrist hus-
band, is tempered in his usual schtick, mixing dry humor
with complete repression. Nearly unrecognizable under
the worlds worst beard, Murray proves that his comic
timing is perfect, even when he abandons the absurd for
the painfully dry. While his role may be too small to

receive an Oscar nod, it just proves that Murray's snub
for "Rushmore" must soon be vindicated.
The film centers on Royal's return to the family home,
claiming a terminal case of stomach cancer. The rest of
the family returns home to deal with the loss of their
father, a man that they never much cared for to begin
with. Richie, the only Tenenbaum who felt close to
Royal, must battle his brother over how to treat their
"dying" father while nursing/fighting strong feelings for
his own sister. Eli, fighting a drug addiction (though not
fighting it very hard) also-has feelings for Margot. Mar-
got's husband enlists the help of Richie to find out
whether or not he is being cuckolded himself. The dys-
functional subplots are not intended to run together, but
simply create an atmosphere of life in the family.
Anderson holds the story together with his brilliant
pacing and use of music. The film is more about tone
than plot, yet it never once lags. In a year where film
continued it's seemingly endless decline in quality,
'Tenenbaums' restores faith in the medium while leaving
room for rumination and laughter.
The film is the most enjoyable, unself-conscience
comedy in years. Wes Anderson has become a hot com-
modity in Hollywood, and one can only hope that he
influences the Hollywood mainstream instead of the
much feared "watering down" of another fine film

Courtesy ofToucnstone rictures

Face goes east, nose goes west.

Russell something to Crowe
about in Howard's 'Mind'

Hallstrom delivers
the same good
'News' this year

By Jenny Jeltes
Daily Arts Writer
It is-sometimes difficult for actors who hit it big
in action flicks to effectively transition to a dramatic

Grade: B+
At Showcase
and Quality 16
etc.), is in constant

role, but Russell Crowe
("Gladiator,") drowns out any
lingering doubt and gives a
compelling and truly amazing
performance in "A Beautiful
Mind," directed by Ron
Howard. "A Beautiful Mind,"
based on a true story, tells the
story of John Forbes Nash Jr.
(Crowe), a brilliant yet social-
ly incompetent mathematician
who gets diagnosed as para-
noid schizophrenic.
Nash, who obsessively
works out algorithms and can
make patterns and equations
out of anything (a gathering
of pigeons, groups of women,
search of an "original idea." He

because of his delusions, cannot even give his child
a bath or simply conduct a conversation without see-
ing imaginary people at the same time. The film
painfully reveals the torment and anguish caused by
one who must live with the chronic disorder, and it
also shows its effects on those rnost dear to him,
especially his wife, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly,
"Requiem for Dream"). As his condition intensifies,
those around him have to deal with the pain of toler-
ating and loving a man who cannot think clearly.
An original element in this film is the director's
choice to make us look at situations from the per-
spectives of both Nash and those around him. The
film progresses through his life, taking us from his
early days at Princeton to a job at the Pentagon as a
code breaker to him as an old man being congratu-
lated with the Nobel Prize. More importantly, we
see Nash's delusions through his eyes, therefore not
knowing for ourselves what is real and what is not.
When Nash is first diagnosed with paranoid
schizophrenia and taken to a mental hospital, he is
completely preoccupied by the presence of a man
named William Parcher (Ed Harris), who had found
him at school and then even at home, telling him
how his new governmental duties are a severe threat,
and that Russian spies are after him. These "delu-
sions" are of course symptoms of paranoid schizo-
phrenics, and although one quickly realizes that
Parcher is not real, Harris' eerie performance makes
Parcher the driving force behind Nash's erratic
The pace of the film is just right up until the end,
but then it moves way too fast, skipping years at a
time. These lapses are common in other films, but
they seem too-rushed here, and this unfortunately

eventually wins the Nobel Prize in game theory in
1994, making valuable contributions to economics,
global trade and labor relations. This accomplish-
ment, however, is at the expense of his relationship
with his colleagues, his family and most of all, his
Although "A Beautiful Mind" has a few flaws that
place it below "Good Will Hunting" and "Forrest
Gump," two other films with a similar theme, the
premise of "A Beautiful Mind" is heartbreaking. We
are talking about a man who finally finds love, but

Co.urtesy ofUUnisl irTUes
Sitting waiting for the rain, waiting for his man.
puts a damper on the incredible buildup established
throughout. The film finds a way to end the story
realistically, but some themes that were so wonder-
fully explored seem to fizzle out, rather than
strengthen the story. Connelly, for example, gives
an outstanding performance, and one might wish
there was more focus on Nash's family rather than
his mathematics. However, these two elements are
connected very well, and they reveal that Nash's
talent is a hindrance just as much as it is a benefit,
and that his very delusions involve his mathematic
Despite the rushed feeling at the end of the film,
"A Beautiful Mind" does one thing - it compli-
cates one's notion of reality by boldly exposing
what it just might feel like to know a person like
Nash, such a beautiful person, but a man so utterly
conflicted by a painful and debilitating disease of
the mind.

By Todd Weiser
Daily Arts Writer
The studio that brought us "The
Cider House Rules" and "Choco-
lat" in the past two years has once
again assembled the same unit
behind those Oscar contenders for
this year's "The Shipping News."
While I may sound like a TV trailer
for the Miramax released film, I
am actually
pointing out
the pattern
here. Combine
The a script by
Shipping Robert Nelson
News Jacobs With
direction from
Grade: B Lasse Hall-
At Showcase strom and what
and Quality 16 do you get?
The answer is
multiple Oscar
from the heart-
warming Acad-
emy voters but
a film that encapsulates good,
while being nowhere near great.
"The Shipping News" does
weave a very unique and interesting
story in an intriguing, slightly for-
eign setting with a "who's who?"
cast of recent Oscar winners and
nominees. However, I simply desire
to make clear the all-too powerful
advertising machine at this studio
which may once again wrongly ele-
vate a good film to status of Best
With that out of the way, let's
focus on the actual film, which is
based on E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer
Prize-winning novel of the same
name. While many directors and
actors have tried to bring this story
to the big screen, it is finally here,
with Kevin Spacey tackling the role
of Quoyle, a timid man who lives
alone, until he meets his train-
wreck of a wife, Petal (Cate
Blanchett, "Elizabeth"). Quoyle
falls head-over-everything in love
with her, and they have a child,
whom Quoyle takes care of as Petal
continues to live the single life. But
Petal's antics finally catch up to
her, and Quoyle is left alone with
daughter, Bunny.
Concurrently, Quoyle discovers,

explored in 'Worst-Case'

By Laura LoGerfo
Daily Arts Writer
As a devoted fan of the Worst-Case
Scenario book series, I was elated to
spot the survival handbook for Dat-
ing and Sex. Having trusted the
authors, Joshua
Piven and David
Borgenicht, to
help me commu-
The nicate to border
officials, "Please
Worst- accept this wine
Case as a token of my
Scenario appreciation" in
Survival six different lan-
Handbook guages, I knew
this duo would
Piven et al provide invalu-
Grade: B+ able assistance in
Chronicle Books negotiating the
most dangerous
situation of them
all: romance.

serial dater of religious cultists and
Tears for Fears fanatics. The
woman's touch is evident in the sec-
tion on how to unclasp a bra, advice
few men could possibly give.
Loud guffaws inevitably follow
from a reading of the "Worst-Case
Scenario Survival Handbook: Dat-
ing & Sex," because the incredibly
practical and thoughtful advice
addresses the most ludicrous of sit-
uations. For example, the authors
very plainly outline the necessary
steps to determine the gender of
your date. Specifically, you should
look for an Adam's apple, suspect
baggy clothing, and watch how the
date ascends stairs (Do the hips
wiggle? Women tend to sway, due
to the position of their pelvises).
What a valuable lesson in human
Other chapters address more
mundane, yet crucial issues.. Per-
haps you attended a wild party on

cussion of such action cannot be
censored and proves almost as
much fun as the action itself.
Convenient appendices provide
the skeleton of a "Dear John" letter
(blank spaces are provided for the
name of your ex-beloved) and list
excuses that can be employed effec-
tively: "I asked you first," "It won't
stain," and "I can't bend over that
For some readers, the "Worst-
'Case Scenario Survival Handbook:
Dating & Sex," should be the only
book on the shelf, available for
ready consultation. For others, who
have "mastered" the dating scene,
the handbook can be a consistent
source of amusement and hilarity.
And to the rest of us, those alter-
nately scared and fascinated by the
challenges of dating, the intriguing
handbook becomes a bible, a joke,
and occasionally a grim reminder of

courtey o -.iaa
Kevin Spacey a.k.a. Keyser Soze.
ering car crashes and boat move-
ment. Quoyle cannot get over the
loss of Petal, and his new-found
life in Newfoundland is the anti-
dAll the characters are peculiar
and wonderfully acted by the extra-
ordinary cast, assembled for a story
that is unique in that it follows a
character drowning his whole life,
and measures success, not in the
act of swimming, but simply get-
ting his head above water. New-
foundland becomes a character of
its own, creepily hanging over and
embodying the actions and desires
of characters.
Yet, with almost everything
going for it, the film still cannot
reach that pinnacle it is climbing
for. "The Shipping News" trudges
on dispassionately as key scenes
are so underscored that their impor-
tant incidents just blend in with the
common. While this is the film-
maker's intent, and it is a welcome
departure from the normal draining
of every emotion a script can offer,
the overall feeling of "The Ship-
ping News" ends up being one of
disrespect for the story being told.
This is a remarkable story and a
wonderful script, but beautiful

Curtesy" " Chronicle
of common windows). Or flip to
"How to Survive If You Wake Up
Next to.Someone Whose Name You
Don't Remember" where you can
find tricks on perusing medicine
cabinets for prescription labels,
"comparing" drivers' licenses, and
calling your unknown partner

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