‘Life Aquatic’: Deep or shallow? | AspenTimes.com

‘Life Aquatic’: Deep or shallow?

Stewart Oksenhorn
Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray star in director Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," showing today at Harris Hall as part of Aspen Filmfest's Academy Screenings series.

Where does Wes Anderson come up with these ideas? The 35-year-old Texan starts with the most basic of ideas: a prep-school misfit, a family of one-time child prodigies. And then he gives those would-be stock characters the most extreme of eccentricities and places them in the most bizarre of circumstances.So Max Fisher, the “Rushmore” prep school oddball in 1998’s “Rushmore,” falls in love with a first-grade teacher and falls in with a local tycoon who is Max’s equal in loopiness and his rival in love. The Tenenbaums of Anderson’s dazzling 2001 film “The Royal Tenenbaums” include a father faking terminal illness and his brood of former tennis champs, financial wizards and writers. Out of the bizarre, Anderson always manages to find the sad sweetness of humanity.”The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” finds Anderson back with his usual twisted tale. The film stars Anderson regular Bill Murray as Steve Zissou, a Jacques Cousteau-like oceanographer – with a score to settle. Some time ago, a mythical white shark may have killed Steve’s partner. Seeking revenge, Zissou assembles a ragged crew that includes his former wife (Anjelica Huston), a journalist (Cate Blanchett) and a man who may be his son (Owen Wilson). As this ship of fools sets out to hunt down the elusive shark, they encounter a set of obstacles that are typical on the high seas, such as piracy, and those that probably have never factored into a high-seas drama before, like bankruptcy.

Not surprisingly, Anderson’s films have divided audiences into those who find the humor shallow and the stories splintered, and those who find the depth of emotion in the quirky characters. Anderson is not for all tastes, and “The Life Aquatic” seems to have split reactions more than ever. For every “wonderfully weird and wistful” – from the Hollywood Reporter – there is a “most irritating, self-conscious and smug film of the year,” from Richard Roeper.The harsher criticisms from Aspen audiences should, perhaps, be given in hushed tones. Owen Wilson – who co-wrote Anderson’s first three scripts and has appeared in all of Anderson’s movies – has been seen about town recently with his brother, fellow actor Luke Wilson.Don’t expect Anderson to get any less offbeat in the near future. His next project also involves people seeking to exact revenge against vicious animals. “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” an animated comedy slated for release in 2006, is about a family of angry farmers looking to get back at a fox killing their chickens.

“Kinsey”There’s little wonder about where writer-director Bill Condon got the material for his latest, “Kinsey.” Condon’s film reaches back into the dark ages of American sexuality – roughly 60 years ago – to examine the pioneering sexual researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey.Condon, best-known for “Gods and Monsters,” his 1998 depiction of horror-film director James Whale, takes on a better-known subject in “Kinsey.” But the biopic has earned near-unanimous praise for making Kinsey a complex character, connecting his difficult childhood and troubled marriages to his controversial reports on human sexuality. The film is up for three Golden Globe Awards: for best drama, for lead actor Liam Neeson as Kinsey, and for supporting actress Laura Linney as his student-turned-wife.

“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” shows today at 8:15 p.m., and “Kinsey” is set for today at 5:30 p.m. Both films show at Harris Hall as part of Aspen Filmfest’s Academy Screenings series.Academy Screenings continue with multiple daily features through Jan. 1. There are no screenings scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Dec. 24-25. For a complete schedule, go to http://www.aspenfilm.org.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com