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Wes Anderson
Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, Bill Murray
Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson

Family Isn't A Word... It's A Sentence.
Box Office:
Budget $21 million.
Opening weekend $276,981 on 5 screens.
Domestic gross $52.332 million.
Rated R for some language, sexuality/nudity and drug content.

Academy Awards:
Nominated for Best Screenplay.

Widescreen 2.40:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby Surround

Runtime: 110 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 7/9/2002

• Audio Commentary by Director Wes Anderson
• “With the Filmmaker” Documentary
• Cast Interviews
• Outtakes
• “The Peter Bradley Show”
• Cut Scenes
• “The Art of the Movie” Still Galleries
• Trailers

Music soundtrack

Search Products:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Royal Tenenbaums: Criterion Collection (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

According to Kent Jones’ essay in this DVD’s booklet, “Wes Anderson is the most original presence in American film comedy since Preston Sturges”. That may be true, but only because they never let Yakov Smirnoff take the helm of a movie. Even without Smirnoff’s directorial potential taken into account, this seems like a bold statement, and I can’t agree. Anderson makes some interesting films, but I don’t know if they warrant such hyperbole.

Anderson reached a semi-mass audience for the first time with 1998’s acclaimed Rushmore. Though the film didn’t exactly rake in the bucks, it did quite well for that sort of vaguely indie affair, and it meant that Anderson would encounter higher expectations for his follow-up effort.

It took him three years, but Anderson eventually produced his next opus with 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums. The movie seemed to replicate the success of Rushmore, as it reached a modest audience but didn’t expand beyond that. Whether this matters to Anderson or anyone else involved with Tenenbaums I don’t know, but it’ll be interesting to see if he manages to find greater financial success in the future.

As for Tenenbaums, the fact that its performance and critical reception mirrored that of Rushmore shouldn’t seem like a surprise. I found the two to offer similar experiences, as both movies were good but flawed efforts.

Tenenbaums follows the story of its titular family. We meet patriarch Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) and wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston). They separated decades ago but never divorced. She remains estranged from Royal, and their kids do as well. The three Tenenbaum offspring earned great acclaim as children. Chas (Aram Aslanian-Persico) proves to be a financial wizard, while Richie (Amedeo Turturro) demonstrates tremendous skill as a tennis player. Adopted daughter Margot (Irene Gorovaia) graduates high school at 12 and earns a Pulitzer Prize as a playwright at 14.

Though still overtly successful as adults, none of the Tenenbaum children ever quite live up to their early billing. Margot (played by Gwyneth Paltrow as an adult) produces plays that don’t seem to get much praise, while Chas (Ben Stiller) gets stuck in a terrible funk when his wife dies in a plane crash that he and sons Ari (Grant Rosenmeyer) and Uzi (Jonah Meyerson) survive. Richie (Luke Wilson) peaks as the number two player in the world at age 17, but he later fades. He totally collapses after Margot - who he secretly loves - marries neurologist Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray).

After a prologue that sets up all of these circumstances, Royal tells Ethel that he’s dying and he wants to resolve issues with the family. He slowly begins to reintegrate with the family, despite lots of opposition from some parties. Richie always got along best with Royal, so he seems more open to things, but Chas and Margot retain a lot of bitterness. Another issue arises when financial advisor Henry Sherman (Danny Glover) announces his romantic interest in Ethel, which doesn’t sit well with Royal.

Tenenbaums doesn’t provide much of a plot, as it goes down a character-based path. It follows the effects that Royal’s return has on the others, and it shows the way they interact with each other when all return home to the old family manse. However, Anderson shows little interest in a genuinely realistic depiction, at least at the start of the film. As was also the case with Rushmore, Tenenbaums starts with pretty broad portrayals of its characters. Both films feature high levels of quirkiness during their first halves, but those tendencies start to subside as they progress.

Whether one regards this as good or bad depends on one’s perspective. Personally, I think both movies include a lot of funny bits, but at times Anderson seems quirky simply for the sake of being quirky. Occasionally this works well - Tenenbaums includes some amusingly bizarre bits that pop up out of nowhere - but at times the oddities fall flat.

Actually, I think the strange pieces fare best during the film’s more serious second half. The movie’s early moments pile on the quirkiness to such a heavy degree that it becomes a bit much. Everything and everyone appears so skewed that little of it makes much of an impact, and it seems like Anderson just wants to create some sort of bizarro world. Only when he finally grounds the characters in some sort of reality does the humor become more apparent.

That shouldn’t lead you to believe that I didn’t like the opening parts of Tenenbaums, for I did. I simply feel that Anderson can be a little too smart and clever for his own good. That doesn’t mean I think he should “dumb down” the product, but I don’t think he needs to try so hard to toss all those eccentricities at us all at once.

One area in which Tenenbaums excels relates to its cast. The film boasts a terrific compendium of actors, and virtually all of them do very well in their roles. Although I see no weak links, Gene Hackman really outdoes the rest of the crew. How he failed to garner an Oscar nod for his work as Royal seems very mysterious, for he simply does wonders in the role. He brings life to some of Anderson’s less winning material in the wacky parts, and he adds substance to Royal as the film deepens. Hackman offers a stellar performance from start to finish.

While I don’t feel that strongly positive about The Royal Tenenbaums as a whole, I still think it provides a reasonably interesting experience. I guess I’m doomed to unenthusiastically enjoy Wes Anderson’s films, for my opinion of Rushmore was virtually identical; maybe I should have just cut and pasted my review of that flick. In any case, despite my lack of fervor for Tenenbaums, I do recommend it, especially due to some fine acting by its excellent cast.

Geeky footnote: anal Rolling Stones fans will note that the film tampers with the tracklisting of Between the Buttons. At one point, Margot cues “She Smiled Sweetly”, but when it ends, the record launches into “Ruby Tuesday”. In real life, “Cool, Calm and Collected” follows “Sweetly”. Horrors!

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B / Bonus B

The Royal Tenenbaums appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For the most part, the picture looked quite good, but a few problems kept it from achieving greatness.

Sharpness generally appeared strong. Sharpness usually seemed crisp and well defined. A few wide sequences displayed a slightly soft appearance, but those occurred infrequently. Most of the movie looked detailed and accurate. Jagged edges created no problems, but I did discern a little shimmer and a smidgen of edge enhancement. For example, Glover’s blue jacket tended to show a modest glow. Print flaws seemed absent. I saw no signs of grain, speckles, grit or other concerns; the movie looked clean and fresh.

Colors provided one of the film’s strongest aspects. The tones always remained solid, and the hues often seemed absolutely brilliant. The movie featured a wide array of vivid and lively colors that the DVD replicated with excellent richness. Black levels also appeared deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not overly opaque. Ultimately, I felt pleased with the picture quality of Tenenbaums.

The Royal Tenenbaums offered both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. I won’t call this overkill, since I always appreciate the extra effort, but I detected no difference between the two. Tenenbaums provided a very simple auditory experience that didn’t exactly stretch either format.

The soundfield maintained a very heavy emphasis on the forward speakers. Within that spectrum, music demonstrated positive stereo imaging. Otherwise, the effects showed some general sense of atmosphere but little else. The surrounds contributed almost no noticeable effects or music, and the front domain remained nearly monaural except for the songs. I didn’t regard this as a negative since the movie didn’t require audio fireworks.

Sound quality seemed fine. Dialogue appeared natural and distinct. A few shouted lines displayed some slight edginess, but that only happened a couple of times, and the speech always appeared easily intelligible. Effects were a minor factor, but they seemed accurate and clean. Music presented a more substantial element, and those elements appeared reasonably vivid and bright, with decent low-end response. In the end, The Royal Tenenbaums offered a quiet and subdued soundtrack that worked well for the material.

This two-disc Criterion Collection release of The Royal Tenenbaums includes a reasonable roster of extras. Most of these appear on DVD Two, but DVD One also tosses in one significant component. We get an audio commentary with director Wes Anderson, who offers a pretty good running, screen-specific affair. On the negative side, a few too many empty spaces occur, and occasionally Anderson simply tells us what we see on-screen or offers a laundry list of influences; at times, I started to wonder if any part of Tenenbaums was original.

However, it’s interesting to hear that information, and Anderson gives us a lot of other fine facts. He discusses the cast and how they worked, various technical aspects of the production, story notes and alterations that occurred along the way, and many other pieces. Criterion create some excellent audio commentaries, and this one doesn’t quite live up to that legacy. Nonetheless, I think it works well for the most part, and I enjoyed it. Hey, at least Anderson acknowledged that he altered the tracklisting of Between the Buttons, though I felt disappointed he never stated why Eli listens to the Clash so much; he mentioned this fact but didn’t expand on it.

As we move to DVD Two, we find a mix of additional supplements. The Cut Scenes includes two deleted sequences. One lasts 33 seconds and shows Eli’s family - which features a cameo from Rushmore’s Olivia Williams - while the other runs 113 seconds and depicts a little more of the courtship between Henry and Ethel. Neither did much for me.

Within the Interviews domain, we get a collection of videotaped comments from the actors. We hear from Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Danny Glover. The segments run between 128 seconds and six minutes for a total of 26 minutes, 52 seconds of footage. These provide discussions of topics such as working with Wes Anderson, how they got cast, and their thoughts on their characters. The material seems reasonably compelling and perceptive at times, but it doesn’t provide any terrific depth.

Similar issues regard With the Filmmaker, an Albert Maysles documentary about the production. Obviously, the 27-minute program focuses on director Anderson. He provides some interview comments, but mostly we watch footage from the set. We see Anderson deal with topics like the sets, the paintings done by “Richie”, the falcon, camerawork, editing, and some other areas. The show offers a decent look at Anderson’s job but fails to provide a great deal of insight.

Under the Scrapbook domain, we get a collection of materials. “Covers” shows eight of the books “written” by the characters, while “Murals” shows 83 images of the painting done by “Richie”. Also, if you click on the portrait of Margot, you’ll find 11 more pieces of “Richie” art.

”Storyboards” gives us 30 examples of that form, and “Stills” offers scads of production photos. It includes 205 pictures and begs for a thumbnailed presentation, which doesn’t occur, unfortunately. Click the portrait above “Stills” and you’ll get a little Easter egg: a 40-second outtake in which Anjelica Huston’s wig catches fire. Also, if you highlight the Dalmatian mouse and hit enter, you’ll see a 19-second bit from Bill Murray during which he mocks the documentarians.

Lastly, the “Scrapbook” concludes with a piece about artist Miguel Calderon. Click on the painting with “MC” on the frame and you’ll be able to access a Studio 360/Public Radio segment about Calderon. While the piece runs, it shows some of his work. You can also access 13 separate frames that cover four of his paintings.

The Peter Bradley Show offers an unusual experience. This fake talk show - which uses the same host as the program on which Eli was interviewed - features chats between “Bradley” (Larry Pine) and some of the lesser-known actors from Tenenbaums. We hear from Stephan Dignan, Sanjay Matthew, Kumar Pallana, Dipak Pallana, and Brian Tenenbaum. (Allegedly, Andrew Wilson - brother to Owen and Luke - will appear, but he doesn’t arrive.) The program lasts 14 minutes and 20 seconds and essentially parodies a standard talk show. It’s silly but vaguely entertaining.

The front page offers a connection to two trailers as well as another Easter egg. Highlight “The Criterion Collection” at the top of the screen and hit enter. This will show a 12-second welcome to the DVD from Ben Stiller.

Criterion produces the best booklets in the business, and Tenenbaums is no exception. Actually, we find two separate packages inside the case. I alluded to the first at the start of the review. It includes chapter listings, film and DVD credits, and an essay from film critic Kent Jones. I can’t say I cared for this gushing text. From comments like “Anderson’s attunement to his actors as individuals is fairly breathtaking” to his arrogant and self-congratulatory discussion about how he “gets” Anderson’s work and can’t comprehend why some others don’t, Jones comes across like a stereotypical pretentious critic.

Called “The Tenenbaum House”, the second booklet offers an introductory note from Wes Anderson. The rest of the material shows the cartoonish but detailed drawings used to depict the details of the Tenenbaum home. It’s a nice little piece that demonstrates the extreme amount of work put into the production design.

As with Wes Anderson’s prior film Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums provided a quirky but ultimately sweet fable that sporadically worked well. The movie seemed a little too self-consciously eccentric at times, but the terrific cast helped make the material work. The DVD offered very good picture with subdued but acceptable audio and a moderately positive roster of extras. Like Rushmore, Tenenbaums won’t be for everyone, but I’d recommend this reasonably engaging affair to fans of this sort of material.

Footnote: while Rushmore appeared in both Criterion and “movie-only” DVDs, that isn’t the case for The Royal Tenenbaums. Apparently it will only exist as a Criterion release. That’s a good thing, since it means the Criterion package will get more widespread distribution, and less consumer confusion will occur. However, since I’d been confused about the issue, I thought I’d mention it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.912 Stars Number of Votes: 125
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