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Flashback: on 1996’s Bottle Rocket

It’s been a superb summer of 2012 for director Wes Anderson. His “Moonrise Kingdom”(reviewed on this blog in June)has been the runaway art house hit of the season. Hey, with “The Avengers”, “The Amazing Spider-Man”, “Brave”, “Madagascar 3” and “The Dark Knight Rises” burning up the box office for multiple weeks, discerning adults would like something to be for them too—that doesn’t include caped superheroes, cartoon creations, re-boots or sequels. And “Moonrise Kingdom” has apparently somewhat satiated that thirst, making 51 million dollars worldwide(so far), and becoming Anderson’s best moneymaker of his career outside of 2001’s “The Royal Tenenbaums”(which grossed 71 million). But there’s still time to topple that too. Anderson has become one of my favorite filmmakers, and his 7 features all offer a variety of quirky charm, marvelous performances and dollops of real heart. There’s not a clunker among them, and his most recent just may be the very best of all.   Wes also has a signature style that has become easily detectable. In fact, any new film from this burgeoning auteur is identifiable within seconds of the rolling of the first reel. This always raises a smile on my face, and ignites a warmth inside me. It’s as comfortable as donning your robe and slippers and sitting in front of a roaring fire while nursing some hot cocoa. This film could be Anderson’s grandest accomplishment. And it all had to begin somewhere. And it began in the mid 1990’s with “Bottle Rocket”.               “Bottle Rocket” not only introduced us to the world of Wes, but it was also our very first glimpse of his constant conspirator, Owen Wilson. Anderson fans certainly realize that his films often display a regular roster of certain performers. Watch one of his works and you are likely to see Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, or Anjelica Huston—among others. But I believe(google seems to confirm)that only Mr. Wilson has appeared, at least vocally, in all seven Wes Anderson movies. Heck, he’s even co-written and executive produced some of these. So, if you’ve seen something from Anderson, you’ve at least glimpsed and/or heard Owen Wilson. It may have been the tiniest of cameos, but he’s there. And “Bottle Rocket” contains his motion picture debut. Wilson inhabits the character of Dignan, an eccentric small-time criminal who maps out his life via his “75-year plan”. The story begins with Dignan breaking his friend Anthony(real-life brother, Luke Wilson)out of a voluntary mental hospital. Seems Dignan and Anthony plan on perpetrating some local heists before going on the run and linking up with a more established group of thieves led by a certain Mr. Henry(a priceless James Caan). They practice for this by robbing Anthony’s own house(!), and linking up with getaway driver buddy Bob(Robert Musgrave)—mostly due to the fact that he’s their only pal who has a car. Their first real hit-job is a local bookstore, and their ineptitude is apparent for(among other reasons)idiosyncrasies like running off with the cash in a bunch of little plastic bags because they failed to bring something bigger and better. It’s the type of flourish that Anderson excels at, and Owen Wilson enhances to maximum comic effect. While on the lam, the troubled, misdirected, but far from destitute Anthony, falls head-over-heels for Ines(the luminous Lumi Cavazos from 1993’s art-house smash “Like Water for Chocolate”)—a stunning maid at the motel the men hide away at. Btw, she can barely speak a word of English, and Dignan and Anthony part ways over a matter of Anthony giving their stolen money to Ines, but these bungling bozos eventually manage to reform when Dignan finally locates the elusiveMr. Henry and proceeds to go forward with their biggest heist of all.          Film giant Martin Scorsese once released a list of his 10 favorite films of the 1990’s, and “Bottle Rocket” made that cut. This reviewer feels that just about all of that tally is superior to Anderson’s debut, but it’s invaluable as the first out-of-the-gate for one of our current motion picture mavericks. Also, I’m not about to go head-to-head with the cinematic knowledge of Marty—he would bury me. So, Scorsese very well could be recognizing something I’m missing with his assuredly more refined taste than my own. But I do admire “Bottle Rocket” a great deal, even if I consider it to be the least of Anderson’s oeuvre. All the Anderson elements are there in their infancy. Bottle Rocket” is a work still in diapers until Wes later learned to walk in long pants. And we also have “Bottle Rocket” to thank for enabling us to meet Owen Wilson, a college buddy of Anderson’s when they hatched the screenplay and short film that eventually metamorphisized into the 1996 full-length feature that Anderson’s groupies know and love. I’m very fond of the interplay among the lead players of this debut, as well as the expert utilizing of the “minor” roles. And James Caan is a gas. I guess my appreciation of Wes Anderson grew as he fine-tuned his devices over the course of the last twenty years. But make no mistake, “Bottle Rocket” is far from being a misfire.         Grade:  B+

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2 comments on “Flashback: on 1996’s Bottle Rocket

  1. Just for the record, I’m pretty certain that the lead in Moonrise Kingdom, played by Jared Gilman, does, in fact, wear a cape during the film. : D

  2. I guess I managed to block that out! Also, while being one of the few refuges for adults this season—it’s a movie with a cast full of kids!

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