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The Darjeeling Limited

Familial dysfunction appears to be a source of great inspiration for Director Wes Anderson.  Using films such as The Royal Tenenbaums as a form of cinematic therapy, he lays bare the family structure.  The Darjeeling Limited continues this theme with a trio of wealthy brothers trying to re-connect after a long period apart.  With his usual sense of dry laconic humour and acerbic wit Anderson delivers another fine tale of the so called joys of family life.
After a near death experience, Francis Whitman (Owen Wilson) gathers his two brothers Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman).  Roping them onto an Indian train journey, Francis wants them to enter a spiritual quest to cleanse their troubled souls.  Ultimately wanting to re-unite with their mother who lives as a nun in the Indian mountains, Francis is determined to control the agenda.  A serious of mis-adventures involving snakes and trippy cough medicine makes their aim for enlightenment a hellish journey.
The quote of deep pain hiding behind the masque of comedy rings true here.  Despite some opaque humour the film’s characters have plenty of emotional and physical baggage to unload.  Whilst coming to terms with the death of their father, each have abandonment issues, culminating in confronting their mother.  Their Indian travels slowly open up old rivalries with the reality of their surroundings enabling them to divest past issues.  The cast are in tune with the director’s quirky world-view, with Wilson, Brody and Schwartzman effectively portraying the fractured bonds that binds their roles.
Preceded by an amusing short film Anderson keeps playing with his audience.  With acting cameos throwing the viewer off guard, the brother’s travels are always engaging.  The Indian locales show off the harshness and beauty outside and within their lives to good effect.  The cinematography and soundtrack add to the movies’ overall texture increasing the screenplay’s emotional framework.  Evidence of Anderson’s story-telling ability is shown in how he allows the viewer to interpret the various scenarios in which the men place themselves.
The Darjeeling Limited is a painfully amusing film that has a genuine emotional centre.  The stylish direction and acting shows that Anderson has increased his proficient satirical skills making for a memorable journey.
Rating out of 10:  8

The Golden Compass

Phillip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ books have provided a fulcrum for debate.  With organisations objecting to its’ religious themes, their arguments ensured the novels would linger in the public memory.  The Golden Compass is based on the first of the series.  Toning down some of its’ supposed ’shocking elements’, the film embraces a sumptuous production design that matches its’ epic expanses.
Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) is an eleven year old orphan living in a parallel world.  With her is a daemon, a living embodiment of her soul that changes into any animalistic shape.  When her Uncle Asriel (Daniel Craig) discovers a magic dust that can connect her world with another, her life suddenly transforms.  Given a magical golden compass to guide her journey, Lyra has to save her friends from the clutches of the Magisterium.  The Magisterium with the help of icemaiden Mrs Coulter (Nicole Kidman) will stop at nothing to prevent Asriel and Lyra’s quest from succeeding.  Lyra’s emerging talents ensures that the world’s fate is far from uncertain.
The Golden Compass has an unusually multi layered story rarely seen in a children’s film.  With themes of authority, self esteem and free will tying in neatly with Lyra’s growing confidence.  Whilst these are very engrossing issues in a fantasy movie, ultimately this is where things fail.  Being too intricately structured for pre-teen viewers and too simplistic for an adult one, the film doesn’t seem to know which audience to aim at.  The screenplay’s reasonably strong focus is marred somewhat by too many sub-plots taking interest away from the main story. The acting is of a high standard, although Daniel Craig only has an extended cameo role, with Kidman enjoying a chance to play a glacial villainess.
The film’s main asset is its’ stunning visuals.  Blending 18th Century architecture and early 1920s art deco styles enables the story to have its own unique look.  The costuming and CGI work are top drawer with the mega budget clearly evident.  This mixing of styles also extends to the story.  The broad cross sections of heroic myths utilising cowboys, witches and Russian Cossacks at least makes the film engaging viewing if nothing else.  It just seems a shame that the script doesn’t match these very strong aspects.  Unfortunately things are obviously set up for a sequel, rather than being a ‘complete’ viewing experience on its own.  With the film apparently tanking overseas, audiences may never know what happens next, making viewing this first chapter a frustrating experience.
It seems ironic that a film which promotes freedom of thought should get attacked before anyone has seen it.  This is a shame as despite some heavy handiness it does have some good messages to bestow wrapped in a visually exciting and complex narrative.
Rating out of 10:  6