The Gang's All Here

BUNCH, SONNY

The Gangís All Here Ensembles are a strength, and a weakness, of directors. BY SONNY BUNCH When the Oscar nominations were announced back in January, few were surprised that There Will Be...

...with the broken nose and the lazy nasal drawl, was the rudder keeping USS Anderson on course, steering its captain away from solipsism and ironic overload...
...both have appeared in all but one of Wes Andersonís movies...
...The Indian character actor and Anderson favorite Kumar Pallana returned, as well, as did Jason Schwartzman, the idiosyncratic star of Rushmore...
...we lost touch after The Big Lebowski...
...The same faces popped up again and again, like seldomseen neighbors reminiscing at the annual block party: ďOh, thereís John Goodman in Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou...
...Not joining them are audiences: Their most recent production grossed less than $6 million...
...It wasnít a blockbuster at the time, and critical reaction remains mixed, but itís fair to say Hudsucker has become one of their more discussed fi lms...
...There were no regulars...
...Itís nice to see Jon Polito in The Man Who Wasnít There...
...For the past quarter-century, Ethan and Joel Coen have made fi lms focused on petty criminals and the consequences of their actions...
...Now and again directors need to do something really creative and unexpected...
...Joining them in all three fi lms are Michael McKean, Fred Willard, John Michael Higgins, Parker Posey, and Jennifer Coolidge...
...And Daniel DayLewis may not be Tom Cruise, but heís turned in his fair share of memorable performances over the years...
...No Country for Old Men may not be quite as different as Hudsucker, but it certainly isnít like anything the Coen brothers have done recently...
...Who hasnít seen a handful of Tommy Lee Jones movies...
...She comes to everything...
...And itís nice to see they were rewarded for it on Oscar night...
...Johnny Depp often lends a certain gothic sensibility to Tim Burtonís picturesóincluding this yearís winner for best musical/comedy at the Golden Globes, Sweeney Toddóand Ben Affl eck has brought his idiotic grin to every Kevin Smith movie since his breakout hit, Clerks...
...This isnít the fi rst time that the Coen brothers have ditched the regulars: Their 1994 homage to the old screwball comedies, The Hudsucker Proxy, starred no one the Coens had worked with before (though Charles Durning would go on to appear in several of their fi lms...
...This isnít to say there were no stars...
...Each picture also marked a powerful return to form for the creative masterminds involved: Bloodís Paul Thomas Anderson and No Countryís Ethan and Joel Coen had lost their way in recent years...
...Orson Welles and the members of his Mercury Theatre Company appeared in several of Wellesís early pictures, including Citizen Kane and The Magnifi cent Ambersons...
...These movies returned them to critical and popular attention...
...A director working with a familiar cast is neither new nor something to be avoided...
...Boogie Nights and Magnolia each featured turns by Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alfred Molina, Ricky Jay, and Luis Guzm?n...
...Sonny Bunch is assistant editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD...
...I point out these examples to show that there is nothing inherently wrong with a director leaning on familiar actors...
...As Field Maloney suggested a few years ago, ďWhat if Owen Wilson, Americaís resident goofy rou...
...Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro were very close, pairing up eight times in the 20 years between Mean Streets and Casino...
...Leonardo DiCaprio appears to be Scorseseís new squeeze, starring in three of his movies during the last fi ve years...
...A key ingredient was missing, something that escapes attention at fi rst but becomes more obvious in retrospect: There were no familiar faces on the screen...
...While itís hard to pinpoint a reason for Darjeelingís poor performance, Iíd venture a guess that audiences are tired of seeing the same family squabbles and cute dialogue played out on screen over and over again...
...In addition to cowriting those titles with Guest, Eugene Levy stars as well...
...Critics collectively shrugged their shoulders, and audiences did the same: This was Andersonís worst grossing major release...
...No such overlap existed in their fi lms last year, and each was its creatorsí best product in almost a decade...
...The Darjeeling Limited starred Owen Wilson and featured Bill Murray...
...Another directing Anderson (a Brit, Lindsay) worked with the same group of actors so often on stage and on fi lm that they came to be known as the Lindsay Anderson repertory...
...Directors often form connections and tight working relationships with individual actors...
...in addition to serving as the cowriter and second unit director, the Spider-Man director brought along his most frequent contributor, B-actor Bruce Campbell...
...BY SONNY BUNCH When the Oscar nominations were announced back in January, few were surprised that There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men led the way with eight nods...
...There Will Be Bloodís setting and subject matter are certainly a break from Paul Thomas Andersonís previous features...
...You might also argue that Wilson should be contributing in a more constructive way, as Andersonís cowriter...
...But itís important not to get caught in a rut...
...But as great as they were, something felt different...
...Wes Anderson isnít the only director employing a familiar troupe to diminishing returns...
...Itís good for directors to climb outside the box now and then...
...Searing visions of life in the American West, both struck a chord with critics from coast to coast...
...No, what I mean is that there were no faces common to the movies of Anderson or the Coen brothers...
...Blood and No Country looked like products created by Anderson and the Coen brothersó and yet, at the same time, they didnít...
...Paul Thomas Andersonís body of work is much thinner than the Coensí, but his two most celebrated fi lms had substantial cast continuity...
...As with Wes Anderson, the Guest formula has grown stale, and you have to wonder just how much that familiarity has dampened audience enthusiasm...
...Though PunchDrunk Love, Andersonís quirky take on the romantic comedy, dropped most of those actors it still featured memorable performances by Hoffman and Guzm?n...
...Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tenenbaums were all written by Wilson and Anderson, but since Wilsonís departure from screenwriting, the fi lms have suffered...
...Compare that with the work of another Anderson returning to the big screen in 2007...
...No two fi lms were directly connected, but there was a certain continuity...
...In truth, the movie feels more like a Sam Raimi fl ick...
...Frances McDormand again...
...Christopher Guest, the mockumentary fi lmmaker behind Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration, always works with the same core group of actors...

Vol. 13 • March 2008 • No. 25


 
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